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Joe Houck receives the 2021 Priestley Teaching Prize

29 April 2022
Joe Houck


The Department of Chemistry is pleased to announce that Joe Houck, associate teaching professor of chemistry, has been named the recipient of the 2021 Priestley Teaching Prize, which is awarded annually by the department.  

The Priestley Prize was established in 2002 to recognize the best undergraduate teachers in the Department of Chemistry, as measured by the increase in learning and enthusiasm for the subject in chemistry courses.  

Houck’s recognition acknowledges his many successful contributions to the Undergraduate Chemistry Program. Specifically, Houck developed an online version of CHEM 110 and 111 through World Campus, which launched in the Fall 2017 semester. His detailed instructional videos and interactive modules allow students to feel connected and engaged despite not being in a classroom. In his time teaching organic chemistry, CHEM 210, Houck has found success in reorganizing the curriculum to maximize student learning through means of LA (Learning Assistant) led workshops to developing a bio-based section of CHEM 210. 

“I am honored to have received the Priestly Prize. I am especially thankful to my instructional team of teaching and learning assistants for their help to make class engaging and interactive, as well as for providing feedback," notes Houck. "For about three years, I have been using worksheets in-class for students to complete. They are scaffolded in a way that allows students to build on foundational knowledge. We often pause for students to work in groups and ask questions of the team before they share them out to the class. I also use an app, Mechanisms, to help students understand organic reaction mechanisms where they use their finger to move electrons in the same way that curved arrows show this on paper. Students have found this to be a valuable tool to get instant feedback and make it more fun. At the end of the day, it is all about the students and their learning of chemistry. I try to create a classroom that is welcoming and engaging and provide students with context and multiple ways to demonstrate mastery (quizzes and case studies). I’m not asking students to memorize a bunch of reactions. I am training them to think and apply – this will build their foundation for biochemistry.” 

The continuously evolving digital learning experiences and organic chemistry courses Houck has developed for the undergraduate students are recognized and praised by many. Phil Bevilacqua, head of the Department of Chemistry, added, “I’m thrilled to see Joe received this well-deserved award. He has been innovating in organic chemistry and World Campus for several years. Joe is very student-centered and has also innovated in outreach with the Chemistry Olympiad and local ACS section. We are truly fortunate to have him on the faculty and I look forward to seeing the fruits of his ongoing work in integrating biology into organic chemistry.” 

The Priestley Teaching Prize will be formally presented to Houck during the upcoming commencement reception set to honor the Fall 2021, Spring 2022, and Summer 2022 chemistry graduates.