While many professors dread difficult student questions, Dr. Angie Sower loves the special moment when a student raises his or her hand and asks a question she cannot answer. Dr. Sower is in her second semester as an Associate Teaching Faculty in the Chemistry Department here at Colorado School of Mines and is incredibly excited to continue working with the students. Among other approaches, Dr. Sower firmly believes that classes should be interactive and that teaching is a continuous learning process refined by student feedback and questions.
Originally from Golden, Dr. Sower received her undergraduate degree at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and her graduate degree at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She chose both universities because they were a nice distance from her home here in Colorado.
“Golden is quaint and feels like a little town,” says Dr. Sower on returning home after so many years. “It still has its charm.” One of the things she appreciates about teaching at Mines is how it allows her to be close to the family that she has living around Denver. Additionally, she enjoys hiking the area and spending time outdoors.
While many of the students in her Chemistry 2 class have already decided that they enjoy the subject, a love of Chemistry is actually not something Dr. Sower discovered until a few years into college. An instructor at Northern Arizona University first inspired her to try a Chemistry course and she found it was something that she really enjoyed.
“It wasn’t that it was easy,” Dr. Sower explains. “It was just that I loved it and it was fun.” Dr. Sower is specifically interested in biochemistry, and consequently uses everything from cells in hypertonic solutions to intermolecular forces in molecules found in the human body as examples for her class. She spent several years doing neurobiology research at MIT on molecules important in visual system development and likes working with Chemistry students in the laboratory component of the course.
“I’ve always wanted to teach,” expresses Dr. Sower. “As a kid I remember loving to play school.” After finishing school herself, she began teaching at a community college in Rochester, Minnesota and then spent 11 years in the Chemistry department at Montana State. While instructing a Mines lecture of 250 students is different than a smaller class, Dr. Sower works hard to ensure that students feel comfortable and important amidst the large community. The sheer energy and size of the class is a piece that she really enjoys.
Dr. Sower says of her teaching philosophy that “It always comes down to accessibility.” She uses template-style notes, online animations, and group activities to reach out to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Additionally, one of Dr. Sower’s goals is to make lecture feel both organized and cohesive by tying new material to previous chapters and courses. While her biggest teaching challenge is feeling effective as an educator, the best part of her career at Mines is interacting with the students during lecture, lab, and office hours.
“This is really a special place because of the group of students you are working with. They will work as hard as you push them, and it is neat to see students excel in the intensity of the program,” she explains. Dr. Sower feels that it is a special opportunity to be at Mines and she hopes to participate in activities that support student learning as she continues to teach here.
“There is a real sense of community here that is a reflection of the students and faculty,” acknowledges Dr. Sower. “My advice for Mines students would be to continue working hard, as that will carry over to the career process.” And from welcoming her class with a smile, to going above and beyond to be accessible outside of class, this new faculty member is using her passion for chemistry to inspire each and every one of the 250 students who walk into her classroom.