(4fe) RECAPS in the Chemical Engineering Classroom | AIChE

(4fe) RECAPS in the Chemical Engineering Classroom


Harmon, R. - Presenter, Northwestern University
Teaching Philosophy

I take pride in ensuring high-quality engineers graduate from my program. I also believe in an interactive classroom, and comments from my course evaluations indicate that I am delivering on this goal: “[Becca] established an engaging class environment” and “...seeks to foster a genuine interest in the material.” In my classes, I will emphasize RECAPS: Resources, Ethics, Creativity, Access, People-oriented, and Safety. Chemical engineers must know where to find resources and critically think about the applicability, assumptions, and details as they design creative solutions. In addition, chemical engineers do not work in a bubble, but their work impacts daily life in nearly every way, so an underlying base of ethical and safety standards is paramount as they work towards solving great engineering challenges. I also want my students to have access and create access for others to education and basic needs. Finally, my classroom will accept students as whole people—understanding that students have lives and experiences that shape what they bring to class, their needs, and what they can give as an individual. Similarly, I want my students to take away from my class looking at engineering problems with different lenses and objective functions beyond the financial bottom line and how people will be impacted by their decisions.

Teaching Experience

I have had several opportunities to engage in classroom teaching. Most notably, I participated in our department’s Teaching Apprentice Program (TAP) as a co-instructor for ChE 330 Statistical Mechanics and Molecular Engineering with Prof. Randy Snurr at Northwestern University. For this position, I had to apply and was one of three PhD students accepted to teach this academic year. I taught half of the lectures, developed course objectives, organized homework sets that supported the objectives, and designed exam problems. Additionally, the course was a hybrid format, so I have experience engaging remote and in-person students through activities and lectures.

Additionally in my graduate career at Northwestern University, I have connected my research to core chemistry and chemical engineering curricula. I created a lesson plan that applied my current research on the chemistry of oil paints to high school chemistry topics aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, a national curriculum framework for K-12 science classes. I had the opportunity to lead a Saturday course on the Chemistry of Paint for high school students through the Splash! program in 2019 and at an evening workshop at the Chicago Public Library on the same topic using art as a tool to share science and engineering concepts. One attendee commented afterwards, “I really liked how we learned about the paint and then did a still life. It was cool because we got to use the material we just learned about.”

In Northwestern’s ChE 355 Chemical Product Design course, I crafted and delivered a module as a guest lecturer to introduce chemical engineers to art conservation science. I utilized case studies to emphasize the fundamentals of product design applied to paint formulation and navigating consumer-producer relationships. The course also included an opportunity to brainstorm product solutions for an art conservator to reattach and stabilize flaking paint under the constraints of safety, reversibility, and eco-friendly materials.

During my years as an undergraduate at Iowa State University, I participated in a diverse set of teacher experiences. I served as an undergraduate TA in ChE 160 Chemical Engineering Problems for three semesters, writing daily clicker questions, testing problem-solving skills with in-class examples, and lecturing several times. I followed that experience as a supplemental instructor for the course, planning three, 50-minute sessions each week to reinforce content using active learning strategies. I have also developed two lesson plans with team-based learning methods and a flipped classroom-style. One lesson plan was for an introductory molecular dynamics simulation unit, which was later incorporated into a graduate-level course led by Prof. Monica Lamm at Iowa State.

As a graduate student at Northwestern, I have TAed three times—Process Optimization, graduate-level Kinetics and Reactor Design, and Kinetic and Reactor Engineering, with the latter in an online format. Participating in this non-traditional classroom reinforced my motivation to work with the teaching team and find ways to support the students. With each of these opportunities, I actively sought feedback from students and faculty to continuously improve how I engage in the classroom and deliver content in an effective and efficient manner.

During my graduate education I have tried to keep up on evidence-based teaching practices and provide support to my fellow TAs. I participated in Northwestern’s Foundations of Online Teaching Practicum, a three-week introduction to course mapping, Universal Design for Learning, assessment strategies, and motivating students in online learning environments. I am active on our department’s graduate student Teaching Committee and redesigned the Teaching Assistant Handbook.

I have no preference in courses, but through my research I have in-depth training in kinetics and reactor design. I also enjoy thermodynamics, numerical methods, and have a particular interest for chemical safety. Regardless of the course, I will incorporate computer simulation to supplement students’ understanding of concepts and their comfort with accessible programming languages like MATLAB, Python, and in Excel.

Research Interests

My current research focuses on the application of reaction kinetics to art conservation via computer simulation. Due to the complex chemistry and crosslinked polymer formed in the initial curing of oil paints, there is an incomplete understanding of the autoxidative curing mechanism, so microkinetic modeling is used to offer insight into this dynamic chemical system on the molecular and macroscopic levels. The autoxidative curing of oil-based coatings is captured using stochastic kinetic Monte Carlo simulation and reaction families paired with a graph-theoretical, multifunctional monomer approach to overcome challenges in exploring the chemical space and crosslinking polymerization. My research is supervised by Professor Linda Broadbelt at Northwestern University and prof. dr. Piet Iedema at the University of Amsterdam under a joint PhD agreement.

Future Directions

My future research will focus on the effective interdisciplinary integration of projects and research to the classroom. Connecting students to cutting-edge research is a way to reinforce the relevance of course material. Pairing this with interdisciplinary projects also emphasizes the development of communication skills in cross-functional teams.

As the chemical engineering classroom adapts from pandemic implications, I want to shape the next generation of what the classroom looks like—whether it is virtual, hybrid, or in-person. The current and future students will be moving into a more virtual world and workplace, and I want to both study and implement evidence-based practices that will help them find success as they adapt.