Department News Page 2
Professor Nishimura: The New Kathleen Smith Chair of Natural and Behavioral Sciences
Allan Nishimura, professor of chemistry, has been installed in the Kathleen Smith chair of natural and behavioral sciences, the first endowed faculty chair in the sciences. A reception and induction ceremony was held on Wednesday, April 11 on the Westmont College campus.Three former students gave short, personal descriptions of Dr. Nishimura as a professor, research mentor, friend and colleague, followed by a presentation by the awardee on his current research. Chancellor David Winter bestowed the award and gave the Kathleen Smith metal to Dr. Nishimura. Below is a picture of the three former students with Prof. Nishimura and the Academic Dean (middle) Dr. Warren Rogers.
Dr. Ken Martin, Point Loma Nazarine University; Dr. Kathleen Purvis, Claremont Colleges; Dr. Rogers, Dr. Nishimura and Dr. Niva Tro, Westmont College.
In his 26 years at Westmont, Allan Nishimura has received many honors. The first recipient of the Faculty Research Award in 1984, he was named a Professor of the Year in 1998 and a Distinguished Professor in 2003.
“It is a fitting tribute to someone who has done so much for the sciences at Westmont,” said former Provost Shirley Mullen when she announced the appointment. “You have not only done consistent research, but you have done this in a way that befits a liberal arts college.”
The chair includes a stipend for research.
Nishimura has continually been involved in his own work since coming to Westmont and has more than 50 publications on his vita.
Specializing in physical chemistry and molecular spectroscopy, he has received more than 15 external grants, including funding from such sources as the American Chemical Society, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Pittsburgh Conference of National College Grants and the American Physical Society.
Like many Westmont professors, Nishimura routinely includes his students in ongoing research — 56 of his undergraduate chemistry students have been coauthors in his publications over the years. Nishimura’s protégés are regularly and actively sought by the best graduate schools.
“It’s impressive that so many chemistry students have been involved in his research,” Mullen said.
“These graduates are now doing significant work in a wide range of areas including scientific research, high school teaching, missionary service and medicine. We all know at least one of the students who benefited from Allan’s summer research program — our own chemistry professor Niva Tro.
“His goal of building a student research program has shaped Allan’s vision of his own vocational calling,” Mullen added. “He has chosen research that can go on in the context of a small liberal arts college with students. At times, his commitment to the program has meant that he has deferred his own sabbaticals to ensure that both the students and faculty in the department are getting what they need.”
Besides his professional work outside the college, Nishimura has worked with the community through the CalSoap Program and various local schools to inspire young people to consider science as a career.
Kathleen Smith left $1.7 million in her will for Westmont when she died in 1988. A longtime neighbor of the college, she hired students to work around the house and was impressed by their character. In 1997, Westmont installed Robert Gundry as the first Kathleen Smith professor of religious studies. But with his retirement and the development of the Robert Gundry chair in biblical studies held by Tremper Longman III, the college decided to award the Smith chair to a professor in the natural and behavioral sciences.
The group with Chancellor Winter
Molecule by Molecule
Chemistry Professor Explains the Molecular World in Three Successful Chemistry Texts
Niva Tro loves teaching chemistry, but he wasn’t satisfied with the textbooks available for college courses. So he started writing his own. His first venture, “Chemistry in Focus: A Molecular View of Our World” (Thomson, 2001), has reached its fourth edition. Students at more than 70 colleges and universities use the book in classes for non-majors. Emphasizing the role of the molecular world in daily life, Niva demonstrates the relevance of chemistry by covering issues such as global warming, acid rain and drugs.
The success of this book encouraged Niva to produce a second work, “Introductory Chemistry” (Prentice Hall, 2006). In use at more than 220 institutions, the text is the best-selling volume for preparatory chemistry. He discovered the need for such a book when he taught at Pepperdine; Westmont doesn’t offer this kind of class. As he did in the earlier book, Niva ties chemistry to current events and helps students understand the value of mastering scientific concepts. Clear writing and clever graphics make the text appealing.
Niva next spent four years completing a general chemistry book for advanced students. To date, more than 70 schools plan to incorporate “Chemistry: A Molecular Approach” (Prentice Hall, 2008) into their classes next fall. Just released in the spring of 2007, the text has drawn strong and immediate interest. Niva attempts to meet the needs of both faculty and students by covering complex material in depth while striving to make it as easy to grasp as possible.
“I set the bar high and then gave students a lot of help in mastering the con-tent,” he says. “With support, they can reach a higher level of understanding.”
He accomplishes this goal by the way he presents information. Relying on a variety of visual images, he structures them to help students solve problems step by step, teaching them how to reason. Illustrations consistently portray matter in three ways: the macro-scopic (what we can see), the molecular (which is invisible to us), and the symbolic (how chemists represent the molecular world).
Online resources provide additional assistance. Students can find tutoring, do homework assignments and take tests through a Web site, which will tell them how long they spent on each problem and keep track of common mistakes.
Niva had a lot of help in creating the text. Nine different Westmont students worked with him, researching and testing problems. The publisher held focus groups for professors and students throughout the country to evaluate the approach and the problems.
Until three years ago, Niva also conducted research in surface chemistry. For now, he has put his lab work on the back burner, focusing on keeping the three volumes updated. Niva quotes C.S. Lewis to explain his passion for producing texts. “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects,” Lewis said. “It is not the books on Christianity that will really trouble [the materialist]. But, he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap, popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.” Niva is pleased to do something he enjoys so much. “I can combine my love for chemistry, my love for teaching and my love for writing,” he says.
His commitment to teaching and his determination to make chemistry appealing and understandable have contributed to the success of the books. He developed his interest in the subject as a student at Westmont, and his professors encouraged him to go to graduate school, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry at Stanford and did post-doctoral research at UC Berkeley. He returned to campus in 1990 as a professor, and has won the Teacher of the Year award twice (1994 and 2001) and received the Faculty Research Award (1996). “I appreciate being at Westmont, which places so much value on teaching students,” he says.