Professor Kim Farah Makes Chemistry Come Alive
Not every distinguished scholar of science can claim to have been a platoon leader in the Army. But Lasell Chemistry Professor Kimberly Farah can.
Farah joined the Lasell faculty in 1993 and was Exercise Physiology department chair from 1998 to 2006. She is the current (and seventh) Arnow Scholar, a three-year rotating professorship established by Robert and Joan Weiler Arnow '49 to provide support for a faculty member "whose commitment to teaching and personal interest in students would enhance the learning process and make a significant contribution to the overall Lasell community." And that Farah more than does.
The New Jersey native holds a BS in Materials Engineering from Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University, an MSE in Civil Engineering, an MS in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science from the University of Florida Gainesville and PhD in Chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her scholarly interests involve new analytical techniques for environmental analysis, toxicology, storm water engineering and statistical process control. Additionally, Farah has published numerous articles in scholarly journals, including The Journal of Environmental Science and Health, and presented papers at national meetings of the American Chemical Society and the Society for Applied Spectroscopy. Her current research involves the thermodynamics of liquid crystals and inquiry based learning in undergraduate science education.
Farah has been recognized in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in American Education and Who's Who in Science and Engineering. The daughter of a retired chemist and university librarian, she lives in Danville, NH, where she is on the Board of Selectmen, works with the local conservation commission and is active in the American Legion. Leaves caught up with the Arnow Scholar in her Wass Hall laboratory.
Define your educational philosophy. The last 20 years have seen a transformation in learning that is quite remarkable. Instead of passive students who digest information delivered by a professor, students now are able, and indeed expected, to participate in their own learning. Students now benefit more fully from a collaborative pedagogy where the both student and teacher are engaged in transforming fact into knowledge and thought into action that applies to the reality of individual lives.
Meaning what, in practical terms? I believe that the guide/ instructor/teacher/facilitator must be sensitive to the individuality of all learners, engaged in their educational experience and in search of new and creative ways to link new knowledge to the learner's work environment. Over the course of my career, I have incorporated group research projects, semester-long case studies, mock crime scene set-ups, "clicker" technology, online homework and course management systems into the classroom. Such dialogue, both internal and external, encourages problem solving, critical thinking and a movement of boundaries that can exist in perceptions and perspectives.
What scientist(s) have influenced/inspired you most? My high-school chemistry teacher was fabulous. I'll never forget his ‘dance of the electron.' And my doctoral dissertation adviser taught me how to conduct research and combine my dual interests in analytical and environmental chemistry.
What's best about teaching at Lasell? The small class size allows me to really get to know my students, even mentor some undergraduates in research projects that can result in presentations and publications.
Talk about the impact of your Arnow Professorship. It's allowing me the luxury of more time for scholarly work. I co-authored an article for The Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry on the use of liquid crystals in teaching undergraduate physics, co-presented a paper at an American Association for Gerontology in Higher Education's conference in Nashville, TN, and am writing articles for the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher.
You are part of the faculty task force charged with reforming Lasell's Core Curriculum. Thoughts? It's been a great collegial experience. I'm heading up the resdesign of the science knowledge perspective course, so that each meets the core "way of knowing" benchmark: applying the process of scientific inquiry to comprehend the natural world, solve problems and ultimately communicate results to others.
What are your hobbies/passions? I'm passionate about being outdoors. I walk every day (with my dog) on conservation land that abuts my farm (I have two horses). I love horseback riding, dressage competition, biking, downhill skiing and reading. And I play the flute professionally at weddings and recitals.
What's currently on your night table? Die Again by Tess Gerritsen (whose books are the basis for Rizzoli and Isles TV series and touch on medical forensics); Grain Brain by neurologist David Perlmutter, about the pitfalls of gluten in the diet.
Is a focus on science relevant for non-science majors? The analytical thinking skills developed in science courses can be applied to any area of inquiry and study. Additionally, there is a real need for students and citizens to become aware of the significance of science in order to make wise decisions both in the workplace and in the community.