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Assumption College’s Professor Brian Niece
By Sasha Fastovskiy
Science in the classroom is a tricky, tricky subject. Now try applying science to the outside world and you may get your molecules out of whack. Assumption College’s Professor Brian Niece may be just the guy to get your neurons back to normal. The professor of general chemistry, analytical chemistry, and inorganic chemical is the master of the classroom, where he excels at combining science with theology, philosophy, and ethical perspectives.
In essence, Professor Niece teaches the philosophy of science. His tactics are clever in getting his students to think about now only how science works, but why things work the way they do and the social conventions they imply. “We could spend whole days thinking about science in the community and government. I try to give them chemistry as a science, the use of that knowledge, along with other worlds. It’s about giving [students] ability and interest.”
It was while doing graduate studies and teacher’s assistant work at the University of Illinois that Niece discovered he truly liked the process of teaching; that at heart, he was more of a teacher than a chemist. Niece really found his niche as a teacher in a smaller institution when he came to Assumption College. “I wanted to be in a smaller environment because I was part of a much bigger one. It’s different here. I get feedback, eye contact, I spend more time wandering and individualizing.” With class sizes ranging from 12-40, he can do just that.
Niece enjoys the interaction with Assumption College so much that he even gives future chemists their starts. He is very involved in the running and organization of the Science Olympiad, where middle school students create projects, present them to students at Assumption College, and then potentially win medals and receive awards. Again, this allows for time to get to know his own students on a more personal level, which helps him help them. “I get to know what they’re good at, what they need help with. Ultimately, I’m helping them go from chemistry students to chemists.”
Goals for his students are always on his mind. While preaching his various techniques, he wants his students to remember that they must always look for connections between their and other sciences. Niece is the perfect catalyst for getting students thinking on their own. “Science has to do with the world around them; the social, economic, and political worlds. What they do as scientists has repercussions; nothing is done in a vacuum. There will be times with no right answers and they have to learn to see the shades of grey.”