Wander the halls of the L building at 11 a.m. on Monday or Wednesday and you might stumble upon a class taught by Michael Fuertes.
Fuertes, a new Chemistry professor, said that he is enjoying his time here at MCCC.
“I have no complaints because I am doing what I love to do,” he said.
Before arriving at the college at the beginning of Fall semester, Fuertes taught and researched for nine years at Texas Tech University. Before that he was a graduate student at Michigan State University.
“I kind of miss getting my hands wet with chemicals,” he said.
Fuertes added that while he misses research, his true passion is for teaching.
When he was researching at Michigan State and at Texas Tech, his focus was mainly on organic synthesis, which is building molecules by combining different chemicals.
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“The challenge of the research, I think, is what’s so addictive about it,” Fuertes said.
He said that in research you have more failures than successes, but that is part of the learning experience.
“It’s those few moments of success that always bring you back to the laboratory,” he said.
He emphasized that students don’t learn well by memorization, rather through trial and error.
“When you learn something through practice, it gets ingrained into your head, and that’s how I want you to approach chemistry,” Fuertes said.
He said that one of his main goals while teaching here is to show students that science is fun.
“Part of my goal here at MCCC is to educate students that chemistry is not just for those who want to go into medicine,” Fuertes said.
Fuertes said that he first realized he was passionate about chemistry when he was a junior in college.
He entered graduate school thinking about going to med school, but loved research and teaching so much that he never looked back.
Fuertes said that while college is the time to get a good education, it is also the time to start discovering passions.
“I encourage students to try different areas at the outset if they can, and sooner or later they are just going to find a subject that they truly love,” he said.
Fuertes said when students try new things and discover that they are good at something, they will become passionate about it.
He said it started for him when he realized that he was good at chemistry; that’s when he decided to pursue it as a career.
Creating an interest in chemistry might create demand for alternative chemistry courses, he said.
“If we could get the demand and the enrollment that we need for a special topics course in chemistry, I would love to teach that,” Fuertes said.
Fuertes said that he works to generate interest in his classrooms.
“Part of what makes me an effective teacher is just bringing that energy into the classroom. I love the whole subject of chemistry and it shows in my teaching,” he said.
Students in his classes notice how passionate he is about chemistry.
One student who noticed his passion for chemistry was Cara Hudge.
“He’s my favorite teacher this semester because you can tell he’s really into what he’s teaching,” she said.
She and another student, Christian Hartford, said they both would definitely take more of his classes.
Fuertes said that teachers are almost like salespeople, and that if a salesperson is trying to sell a watch to you, they have to be energetic about the watch.
“If my goal is to promote interest in chemistry, I have to be really excited about it,” Fuertes said.
Fuertes said that being approachable is another way of generating interest.
“I don’t want students to be afraid to come to me and ask questions when they need it,” he said.
“I always tell my students that my door is always open to them for anything.”
He said that because of the small class sizes, he can get to know all of his students, and he is not afraid to ask them if they are struggling.
Hudge also noticed this aspect about Fuertes.
“He’ll explain everything like three different ways, and go over something four times to make sure everybody gets it,” she said.
Fuertes said that at Texas Tech, a classroom of 200 to 300 people was not uncommon. The smaller classes at MCCC make it easier for him to teach one-on-one.
Hudge said that is what she likes about his class.
“He said he came from Texas Tech, and I really feel like I have a university teacher in front of me in like a classroom of 25 kids,” she said.
Fuertes also said that one of the many ways he makes chemistry engaging is by making real world connections to the classroom.
“The biggest question that a student might have is why do I need to take chemistry?” he said.
Fuertes answered that question by saying that chemistry has connections with everyday life.
We all love having our smartphones, laptops, and tablets, he said, but these things run on batteries.
A battery is just stored energy that is released with chemicals, Fuertes said.
“Wouldn’t that be kind of cool to learn exactly how a battery works?” he said.
Fuertes said that it is okay when an experiment fails, because you have to fail a couple of times before you can succeed.
“It’s all about being positive. I think as instructors we have to always be encouraging regardless of how well or how poorly a student is doing in class,” he said.