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Dr. Susan Bates mentors undergraduate research in inorganic chemistry

Dr. Bates working with two students in the labDr. Susan Bates, associate professor of chemistry, didn't plan to become a teacher when she first began studying chemistry, but now she is a dedicated teacher, determined to give her students the research opportunities that she didn't have as an undergraduate.

Bates' education began with a BA from Rockford College in Rockford, Ill., which had about 2,000 students and a very small chemistry department.

"There were only four faculty members in the chemistry department. I graduated with four other chemistry majors, and five students was just a huge class," she explains.

Bates had never considered a teaching career. However, while pursuing her master's degree at Washington University in St. Louis, her experiences as a teaching assistant took her down that path. In contrast to the five-student classes at Rockford, the introductory chemistry lectures at WU were huge.

"There were hundreds of students and one faculty member. I thought that certainly couldn't be the best learning environment for students," she explains.

After graduating, she decided that she wanted to teach inorganic chemistry at a small college in the Midwest. After a friend told her about Ohio Northern University, she applied for a job and joined the Donald J. Bettinger Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1996.

Most of Bates' research involves improving mechanical properties of organic polymers using titanium oxide. In her first few years at ONU, Bates mentored three students in this field. This year, however, that has changed.

"This year I have three students!" Bates says. "It's been a very busy, very fun and productive year."

In comparison to her undergraduate experience, Bates believes that Ohio Northern gives students amazing opportunities for research. As an American Chemical Society accredited chemistry department, students can do many hours of research in all five areas of chemistry: organic, inorganic, biochemical, physical and analytical.

The size of the chemistry department, with two professors in each of the five sub-disciplines and a third in inorganic chemistry, also allows each professor to concentrate on his or her field of expertise.

"At a smaller school, I would probably have to teach inorganic chemistry and another field such as analytical or physical. Here, I can focus on teaching introductory and inorganic chemistry," says Bates.

After 13 years, Bates has no interest in leaving ONU. "I think that going to another teaching position would be very difficult, because ONU is such a good place."

Carlie M. Ellis
Senior, professional writing
Sardinia, Ohio