Carlos G. Gutierrez - Passion Statement

Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year National Winner
Carlos G. Gutierrez
Professor of Chemistry
California State University, Los Angeles

Chemistry is an intensely human activity in which we attempt to explain the world from a molecular perspective. As chemists, we seek to gain through experimentation a molecular understanding of reality, and with that, the ability to describe, manipulate, and create. It is fundamentally an experimental science, and I am mindful of this when teaching chemistry—both in my classes and in the research laboratory.

Through my teachings of introductory organic chemistry, I have sought to have students recreate for themselves the intellectual process that allowed for the development of chemical knowledge. Rather than present a reaction mechanism as fact, I mimic the research process that created our current understanding of the chemical phenomenon. It is important that students understand organic chemistry is a work in progress, subject to modification as chemists produce new experimental data. This is necessary to counter student preconception of chemistry as a canon of immutable natural laws. I also teach synthetic chemistry, which I believe is one of the most creative of the chemical disciplines: sculpting at the molecular level. The ability to efficiently make complex molecular structures with an economy of steps, with simplicity and with elegance, is of great value to chemists and, ultimately, to society.

Science education involves not only the assimilation of existing information, but also the participation in the creation of new knowledge. I am committed to undergraduate research as an important part of the development of young scholars. Participation in laboratory research is an exceptionally valuable educational tool for science students; it is much more effective than the usual formal lecture/laboratory format alone. And, it is useful for all students—not just those who excel academically. Students with a wide range of grade point averages have collaborated with me in laboratory research. All say the experience enhanced their educational development as well as their professional careers. Most say it was one of their most positive educational experiences.

My interest in enhancing undergraduate education through research participation extends beyond my own laboratory. I direct several programs designed to increase the participation of minority groups underrepresented in the sciences. It is arguable that science is made richer and better by differences among scientists—in gender, race, ethnicity and culture, for example—since we all look at the world in slightly different ways. There are groups in American society, notably African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics, whose participation in science is disproportionately low. These populations are sources of talent that can bring additional intellectual diversity into the enterprise, but they have not participated in science in significant numbers.

Grants provided through the programs that I direct—Minority Access to Research Careers, the Minority Biomedical Research Support and the Beckman Scholars Program—support 80 minority students each year in 25 laboratories in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry, biological sciences, and psychology. A number of students who have participated in these programs have gone on to hold academic positions at Cal State L.A. and other universities while others have taken positions in scientific industries and health care.

It is through collaborative work in research groups that faculty and undergraduates within the natural science departments at Cal State L.A. have been able to create and sustain vigorous intellectual communities.