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Sharing the stories of Saint Xavier University students, alumni, faculty/staff and friends.

The Coolness of Conducting Experiments: Dr. Bindhu Alappat's Story

Maria and Joe IMPACT Stories

As anyone who has taken her class knows, SXU chemistry professor Bindhu Alappat, Ph.D, loves to teach. One of her biggest goals in teaching is to help students not just to understand the material, but also to actually enjoy chemistry. However, unless they are required to take chemistry courses for their majors, few students actually have a chance to see the inside of a lab or do chemistry experiments. Dr. Alappat is doing her part to fix that problem on our campus and in the greater community.

"Chemistry is everywhere,” Dr. Alappat says, “but the math often scares people away. This is unfortunate; too many students are denied the coolness of conducting experiments.”

Dr. Alappat’s approach is a favorite among students. “Her passion for what she teaches is contagious,” sophomore Raymond Baniewicz says. “Now, I go to class each day eager to learn about our world.”

Expanding her approach to reach outside the walls of Saint Xavier, Dr. Alappat created Chem 150: Connecting the Dots to Community, which enhances the University’s general education program in community-based learning and creates an appreciation for chemistry among students of all majors and interests through hands-on activities. Even better, students use what they learn in her class to develop demonstrations and activities to communicate the material (and its undeniable coolness) to elementary school audiences. This semester, her Chem 150 students are working with students in afterschool programs at Donoghue Elementary, a University of Chicago Charter School; Sutherland Elementary, a CPS school in Beverly; and the Maria Kapaus Center in the Marquette Park neighborhood. Dr. Alappat’s class is directly impacting approximately 75 elementary-aged students with hands-on chemistry demonstrations.

Junior Maleka Suleiman says, “Dr. Alappat is the perfect professor to teach a chemistry class with non-majors. She enjoys breaking down chemistry concepts and will spend loads of time on the basics in order for students to build a good foundation in chemistry.”

It’s not surprising that students of all ages and ability appreciate Dr. Alappat’s approach; she is already well-versed in creating cool chemistry experiments geared at engaging young people. When her teenaged sons, Haroun and Harith, were in elementary school, Dr. Alappat began a science club in their basement. Over the course of five years, she designed and carried out experiments with her two sons and their friends on most Saturdays. The science club got so popular that she had to expand it from just a handful of kids to 15 of her sons’ classmates. These days, Dr. Alappat runs a different kind of science club; she now spends her Saturdays at Syro-Malabar Church in Bellwood working with young girls who are interested in science, building upon her massive collection of activities and using equipment and chemicals that she supplies from her own pocketbook.

Dr. Alappat loves teaching and working with young people, but her work is not self-seeking. She says, “I hope some of the students and kids I work with adopt an attitude of inquiry, pursue higher education and consider careers in science.” 

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