Loved by a majority of her students, teaching professor Renee Falconer imparts on her students more than just the chemistry that is taught in her classes. She welcomes all of her students with open arms and an open office, and makes the courses she teach about them and their learning experience rather than her. With a BS and a PhD in chemistry, she teaches Chemistry I and Chemistry II and makes CSM 101 an enjoyable and fun class.
Renee Falconer grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania. “Everyone knew all their neighbors. It was a small town and comfortable. No one locked their doors and everyone knew everybody.” Her childhood was not one where her parents would just answer the questions. “Both my parents were elementary school teachers. They made me figure it out.”
Her interest in chemistry was first sparked during her years in high school. “I blame it on my chemistry teacher. He was the first teacher to challenge me to think outside the box.” She does not think of chemistry as a mere subject but as a puzzle. In response to each question, she asks, “Can we figure out the puzzle?”
She follows the example set by her PhD advisor at the University of South Carolina. His actions told her that “it wasn’t about him and his reputation and his career. It was about me.” She advocates the same ideology, becoming a warm demander. “The students know I care while demanding that they have to work. They know I have high expectations and will help them through it.”
To meet that standard that she has set for herself, she makes her office more accommodating to the students, offering them candy and posters to look at when they go to see her. “To me, candy is a way to make students less nervous when they come into office hours.” She loves seeing the students one on one when she can focus just on that one student and what he or she needs. “I want them to come talk me. I like getting random students, any students. I need students more than students need me. They give me purpose.”
To her, CSM 101 is a class that allows her interaction with students that she does not get in a lecture hall. “I get to have 25 students that I get to know personally. It is a small class and interactive.” She likes students and she tries to let them know, “It is okay to interrupt me during the day.”
Dr. Falconer knows that a majority of the students are afraid of professors, unsure of how to approach them for help in studies or advice. “For many faculty, they are just as uncomfortable talking to you as you are to them.” Because most of the students are worried about individually talking to a professor they tend to forget “that faculty are human too.”
To the freshmen that have not decided their majors, Dr. Falconer tells them, “Explore all your options. There are so many cool and amazing things that you can do for a career. Explore all your options and keep your mind open. We only know the big categories. Explore and keep an open mind. It is not about money!” It is hard to not think about the money especially when the future is taken to account. However, Falconer advises, “You can do any job if you love it. But even doing a job for a lot of money is not going to work well. Think about what you love and enjoy and do not think about the money. Go to some of the outside speakers that are brought in. Talk with the faculty and see what they do or what their friends do.” This advice leads to an exploration of the careers available and does not limit the roads that are possible.
Dr. Renee Falconer is a teaching professor that thrives on the students she teaches. She loves the Mines campus. “There’s still a range of student abilities but what I love is that the students are so motivated and don’t give up. Students are my lifeblood.” Her office doors are open to more than just her students; they are open to the entire campus student body and she offers candy to any student that walks in and introduces themselves to her.
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