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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Light and matter

July 16, 2009

Doreen Geller Leopold.

Doreen Geller Leopold is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry within the Institute of Technology.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

Doreen Leopold has a talent for helping students see that they can find the answers

By Kristin Cleveland

Doreen Geller Leopold refers to her B.A. in philosophy as something she earned "in a previous life." But to those who know her, it’s clear that the inner philosopher is still there, giving her teaching a dualistic nature not unlike the nature of light and matter she introduces in her quantum mechanics courses. One of them, Quantum Mechanics and Popular Philosophy, which a student called "a treat for the brain," is a perfect example of her unique talent for relating to students with varied skill sets.

"From day one, Doreen presented herself as a friendly, approachable teacher whose devotion to students as learners and students as people was both refreshing and inspiring," says another former student, whose children Leopold invited to a chemistry demonstration she did for the Girl Scouts. That ability to relate to students as individuals with real lives and interests is what makes her so adept at helping them integrate previously compartmentalized knowledge and realize that they can find the answers on their own.

"I love to recount...the birth of these ideas, the simple experiments whose explanations gave rise to a scientific revolution, and the discoveries of the basic equations by the leaps of imagination of a few individuals whose scientific creativity resembles that of the greatest artists, musicians, or writers."

Doreen Leopold is a 2009 recipient of the Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.

"In the classroom, she is ever aware of the needs of the students," says one colleague. That awareness is what helped her spot that students’ proficiency with calculators was actually masking a lack of basic math understanding, which correlated to their final grades. To help them improve, she developed a calculator-free assessment exam, then organized student-led problem-solving sessions designed to help students help one another. Her published findings about the problem and solution prompted discussions nationwide.