Interview with Jennifer Mihalick, 04/28/2016

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Kaylyn Haefner, Interviewer | uwocs_Jennifer_Mihalick_04282016.mp3
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |


KH: Okay so I'm here it is March 28th 20--

JM: April.

KH: April 28th 2016! I always get those confused. And I am interviewing Jennifer Mihalick and my name is Kaylyn Haefner. This interview will be about an hour and a half we're at the University of Oshkosh in the Halsey center and this interview is for Oshkosh's campus stories oral history project. So I'm just going to start off with asking some background questions on your childhood.

So, where did you grow up?

JM: I grew up in a suburb of Rochester, New York. So the town was called Penfield.

KH: And what was your household like growing up?

JM: Well it was my two parents, my younger sister and I, and we got a dog when I was five.

KH: What kind of dog?

JM: A poodle.

KH: A poodle! (laughs)


KH: Tell me about them, your family, your parents and your younger sister.

JM: Well what would you like to know? (laughs)

KH: Just I mean--

JM: My sister was younger, but we were less than two years apart so I don't remember her not being alive so--as far as back as I can remember she was there. Uhm, and my mother did not have a job, most women did not work at that time. My father was an engineer, worked for one of the technical companies in the city of Rochester. Rochester is a center for a high tech industry so there were lots of scientists and engineers in my neighborhood. Other kids I went to school with, their parents were scientist and engineers and that's something that's different here in Oshkosh. A lot of students come to the university never having known anyone who was a scientist or an engineer so they don't know about those career options.


KH: Right. Is that kind of what sparked your interest then to go into the--

JM: It definitely helped it. I liked all my classes in high school, but I knew that there were a lot of people who weren't so confident about their math and science skills.

KH: Yeah, so you told me what your parents did, the kind of community you grew up in as a kid, how would you describe that?

JM: It's not a lot different than Oshkosh is. Penfield was a town rather than a city, but we had one high school that's the size of Oshkosh West High school, so not hugely smaller than the city of Oshkosh.

KH: Okay, so growing up, what were some of the values, would you say, that your parents kind of tried to instill in you, or that your community put in you?

JM: That--I don't think about those things.

KH: No?


JM: (laughs)

KH: Okay well that's fine.

JM: It's not something I look back and reflect on.

KH: Okay.

JM: Go to school and I just, I developed my own ideas very much. I learned to read at a very young age, I could read when I went to kindergarten. And I spent all my free time reading books. So I got a lot of ideas from different books I read. We went to church, and I think being part of the United Methodist church is a little different. [John Wesley] founded this branch of Christianity, started from the Anglican Church to minister to the people who were not being reached by the more formal traditional churches.

KH: Okay.

JM: And so there's an idea of service there of trying to help people who are less fortunate.

KH: Yeah, so that kind of played a big role in your life then and your family's life?

JM: Some role I would say.


KH: You went regularly with your family?

JM: Yes, yes.

KH: Okay, cool. So those values, then, you learned a lot through that church?

JM: Yeah. We're also a musical family. We took, both of my parents played piano and my sister and I took piano lessons and then I also played the cello at school. And I think playing music is very important for developing discipline and persistence and I think being a department chair now, I have to pay attention to a lot of different details and being a pianist is good training for that because you have to worry about what notes you're playing, what dynamics, what rhythm, and things like that. There are a lot of things to pay attention to. (laughs)

KH: Yes there are. So church, is that something that you've carried through all 5:00of your careers? Is it something that's still important today?

JM: I did not always go to church after graduation from high school, but I started going again once I had children old enough to go to Sunday school. My husband and I thought they should have some religious education.

KH: Yeah, so how many children do you have?

JM: I have two children.

KH: Two children, and what are their ages?

JM: One is almost 20 and one is almost 16.

KH: Tell me about some of the schools you attended growing up, elementary, middle school--

JM: Well I went to what I thought were very good schools. New York State has a very good reputation for public education and they have state wide final exams in high school. So we were held to certain standards in all of our different high school courses. I was at the end of the baby boom so, actually my younger sister closed out our elementary school and our middle school. The schools 6:00closed as she was leaving them. So that was sad because we thought they were very good schools, but the town didn't need as many schools anymore with the school age population dropping. Most of the time we would have between 25 and 30 students in a class, so I think that's considered on the large side now, but that was what was expected, there were a lot of kids, (laughs), so that was how they worked it. And we were fortunate, I think now from a perspective o f a science professor, I know that we had good lab facilities in middle school and in high school. In high school, the science classes were scheduled for 6 periods a week. We had a double period once a week to do lab experiments.

KH: Wow, so that definitely sparked your interest.

JM: So that was very helpful for getting to do better experiments than some 7:00people had the opportunity to do. It's hard to set up a chemical reaction, watch it happen and get it all cleaned up in 45 minutes.

KH: Mhmm, definitely. So would you say that it was really important to your parents for you two to go to school and get a good education?

JM: Yes. But they didn't really have to tell me that.

KH: Right.

JM: My sister and I were both pretty self-motivated.

KH: Okay. Did they, what did they really expect from you? Did they have high expectations of you guys going into school?

JM: They didn't really say it because they didn't have to, we were just good students, we went and we did what the teacher said and we always did our homework and they didn't have issues about our study skills. They didn't have to tell us, you have to do your homework before you watch television, and in fact we watched television a lot while we were doing our homework (laughs). So it 8:00was, we didn't have issues like that to worry about. Mostly my parents worried about us fighting with each other. Siblings are good at that.

KH: (laughs) Yes they are. Did those goals of you being that kind of self-learning type of person, did they only grow as you went to college and high school or would you say--

JM: I don't think it really changed.

KH: Okay.

JM: When I went to college I was more, a little bit more worried because I didn't know whether the high school preparation I had would be sufficient for the college level work.

KH: Okay.

JM: So I took advanced placement classes my senior year of high school which you know, people take them because they think they're good preparation for college. I had advanced placement English, calculus, US history and Spanish.


KH: So when did you, when was kind of the first time that you started thinking about going to college? Was it immediately when you were in high school?

JM: Oh much earlier than that.

KH: Earlier!

JM: I just assumed I would go to college.

KH: Oh okay, it was just kind of that second nature type of thing.

JM: Right, right.

KH: And so when you were starting to think about going to college, did your parents have much influence on, you know, where you wanted to go or..?

JM: They did and they, well we, and what we really did was find out from kids a couple years older than I was, where were they going. So, my parents knew some of their parents so we were learning from kids two years and then one year older than I was where, where are students from my high school going to college, what were the options that people are finding.

KH: Okay, yeah that makes sense.

JM: And they took me to visit colleges.


KH: Okay.

JM: When I was a senior we took a couple of trips to visit some of these colleges that we knew other students had been interested in.

KH: Yeah, and so kind of going into college, what interested you most about the college experience? What did you want to get from college?

JM: I don't know it's hard to remember what, at 17, what did I think I would get out of college. Well I liked school and wanted to keep learning. I wasn't ready to be finished (laughs). I knew there was a lot more and I thought I would be a scientist or math major.

KH: Okay, so you knew that prior.

JM: I thought that I probably would. So when I was looking at colleges, I was looking at what kind of programs they had in math and science.

KH: Okay.

JM: Potentially engineering. But what I majored in is what I thought I would (laughs).


KH: Yep, so I know you said the older kids you looked up to going to college, did people in your grade and your friend group, did most everyone go to college?

JM: Yes, yes.

KH: Okay, so it was just kind of--

JM: Well I was, our high school had three levels of classes and I was only in the honors classes, so all those kids in the honors classes were going to college.

KH: Okay. And so in preparation for college, how, from a financial perspective, how did you support going?

JM: I got what part time jobs I could, my parents paid most of it. After my sister started college, we were eligible for financial aid so with two kids in college, so I had work study job at that point. We could get student loans, 12:00guaranteed student loans, they were, they have different names now, but I had a loan every year.

KH: Okay.

JM: But I didn't have to pay the interest on it at all. Nothing was going to be due until I graduated from college. And because I went to a PhD program, immediately following, I didn't have to pay the loans then either, not until I finished all of my education did I need to pay back the student loans.

KH: Right. Okay, so where did you go?

JM: I went to Princeton University.

KH: Okay, and what was most important to you, making that decision of where to go?

JM: I was accepted to very well-known universities, but Princeton did not have a medical school, no law school, no business school, most of the students there 13:00were undergraduates and not graduate students so they had a primary emphasis on the undergraduate education. And I found out later, you know, that that impression I had as a high school senior was correct. All students at Princeton do a research project with a professor, starting junior year. So you get that individual attention which is really nice.

KH: Yeah that helps a lot.

JM: Yeah.

KH: So do you remember what were your first impressions walking on campus that first week of college?

JM: Well it rained a lot (laughs). And so we were trying to get around to all of the freshman orientation meetings and through the rain, it's like oh. We had to 14:00take a swim test and the pool flooded and I thought how could the pool flood? (laughs). My roommate couldn't take her swim test when it was scheduled because the pool flooded, so that was an impression. And I know I met a lot of other freshman, we, a lot of us all lived on the same hallway and we just, we didn't know people so we all hung out together and that was really nice, to meet all these other freshman from all over the place! And everybody was friendly; we wanted to get to know each other.

KH: How big was your college? How big was the campus?

JM: In area?

KH: Yeah, like how many, how long did it take you maybe from walking to your dorm to the buildings?

JM: Oh, it's not a lot different in dimension from UW Oshkosh, it's more square. Oshkosh is very long and thing but we had just 10 minutes between classes thought so similar to here. One year I had a math class down at the bottom of 15:00the hill and had 10 minutes to get to my German class up the hill, and that was, that was tricky because the German class was at 12:00 and most people didn't have a 12:00 class so the math class kind of would run late, they didn't think about people needing to get to another class.

KH: Yes.

JM: But usually 10 minutes was fine to get between classes.

KH: Okay. And so speaking of some of the classes, what were they like there? Did you like your classes? What kind of classes did you take?

JM: Oh they were all different, I took, as a first semester freshman, I took economics 101 which was the largest class offered on campus. We met in the largest lecture hall with 400 students. But there was only one lecture a week, with those 400 students. And then we were broken up into sections that met twice a week so there were only 15 students in the section. So I really like that class, the professor had written the textbook and he gave very interesting 16:00lectures. Physics, again, all of the science and engineering majors were in the same big physics class but the lecture was only one big lecture once a week and we had small sections. So all the classes there they had a small section, even if it was a really big class, we met once a week in the small section and sometimes more. The math and foreign language were always small sections like here at UW Oshkosh.

KH: Okay, and did you just take German or were you--?

JM: I took German for several semesters. I had taken Spanish through high school, and then I fulfilled the language requirement for that in a placement test. So I didn't take any foreign language freshman year but then I decided to take this other language because it was recommended for graduate school a lot of the time.

KH: Oh I was going to say, what made you want to take German!


JM: Yeah, yeah. A lot of times people, I was not sure about math, physics or chemistry originally. I just, to jump a little bit, I'm a physical chemist.

KH: Okay.

JM: Which is the physics side of chemistry and we do all these math problems all the time with calculus three which is the requirement for the class that I'm teaching this semester. So physical chemistry combines my interest in math, physics and chemistry (laughs).

KH: Yeah pretty perfectly!

JM: And when I went to graduate school, we did have a foreign language expectation, Spanish would not meet that. Modern chemistry really started in Germany and German was strongly recommended for people. At this point everybody publishes in English internationally for chemistry so the new papers that we would read would all be in English.

KH: Okay.

JM: Even in China, Japan, they all publish in English. So most graduate schools 18:00no longer have a foreign language requirement.

KH: But they used to!

JM: But they used to (laughs).

KH: So when you were on campus then, you lived in the dorms?

JM: Yes, yes everybody was required to live in the dorms for the whole time.

KH: Okay, so where did you spend most of your time while you were on campus?

JM: I would hang out in my dorm room.

KH: Yeah.

JM: If I wasn't in class I did all of my studying in my room I didn't tend to go to the library.

KH: Okay. Did you go--?

JM: Or I would hang out in my boyfriend's room (laughs).

KH: So was he in the same building as you?

JM: Originally yes, I met him the first day I was there--

KH: Oh wow!

JM: --because he lived down the hall and there were 20 freshman all assigned to the equivalent of a CA here? We called it a residential advisor. So his roommate was taking physics and some of us would go study there for the weekly quizzes, so he wasn't taking Physics

KH: Oh okay.

JM: But we would be hanging out--

KH: In his room.

JM: In his room (laughs).

KH: And so did you go home a lot during the semester?


JM: Just on the breaks, so we had a midterm break both semesters and I went home for Thanksgiving, even though that was very short.

KH: How long did it take for you to get from school to back home?

JM: When I was in college there was a very cheap airline that I could fly on, so Princeton is in New Jersey and so I would go to New York airport and that could take a couple hours depending on the availability of a van service to get me to the airport but then it was less than an hour flight to Rochester New York. So--

KH: So not too bad!

JM: So most of the time I flew and it took longer sometimes to get to the airport than it did to actually get all the way home.

KH: So your dorm life, how many girls--were you just on an all-girls floor?

JM: One year we were.

KH: Okay.

JM: Most of the dorms were co-ed.

KH: And you said you met a lot of your friend's through the dorms?


JM: Yes.

KH: So what are some of your fondest memories with your friends in the dorms?

JM: Oh, we, one of the first things we did freshman year was take a train to New York City and go, we went to the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park--

KH: Wow!

JM: The one that's been on TV, with like 100,000 people and I had hardly ever been to New York City even though I'm from New York State, it's a long distance from Rochester to New York City. So our residential advisor took us (laughs) to this giant thing and we got on the train, and the next stop Rutgers College students got on the train and we were all going up to New York for the free concert! So that was quite an amazing experience.

KH: Yeah that's really cool.

JM: Yeah.


KH: Are you in touch with many of your friends from college?

JM: Yes. We have regular college reunions I was just at a reunion last summer.

KH: That's neat. I like that, that's cool that you guys stayed together. Did you do many extracurricular things in college, like in any organizations or clubs?

JM: I didn't get into the orchestra, so that was kind of a disappointment. Then I had a job, I worked selling tickets for the athletics department. And I joined a student organization which was a Peer Counselling program, so we got some training on being good listeners to try and help our fellow students who were, 22:00who might be struggling with things.

KH: Yeah.

JM: I did a little bit on the newspaper.

KH: Okay, like just writing for it or--?

JM: I wrote a few articles and did layout and copy editing. But that, once I was seriously established as a science major, the scheduling didn't really work, because the newspaper pretty much did everything in the afternoon to evening and I needed afternoons for lab so.

KH: Okay.

JM: So I did some newspaper my first two years but kind of phased that out because it didn't fit in with the schedule of my classes.

KH: So what would you say the student culture was there, was it mostly education, you know, did they mainly focus just around their classes?

JM: There were a lot of students who were very academically motivated, but I did 23:00know people who goofed off a lot, you know just did the minimum so they would pass. And I knew there were some people who got very involved with the student organizations. My residential advisor was in theatre.

KH: Okay.

JM: So he was in like every play that went on all the time so he didn't spend as much time on his classes (laughs)--

KH: Right (laughs).

JM: --As he did on theatre stuff, but I found him again on Facebook and he's a theatre professor.

KH: Oh is he?

JM: Yeah (laughs).

KH: Well then that worked out then!

JM: So that's what he loved.

KH: Yeah. So what was the social life like? What did you guys do?

JM: Well there were a lot of parties on campus.

KH: Okay.

JM: So we went to movies a lot, there would be like, people would show classic movies like I went to see 2001 Space Odyssey at midnight and it was very boring 24:00and we would, they had famous movies, it was very cheap to go to those film series. So film series was popular and then there would be parties. The freshman dorms would sometimes have parties with music where you could dance and there would be other parties that were more oriented towards the upper class.

KH: Okay. Your dorms had the parties?

JM: Well, they called it residential colleges.

KH: Okay, wow! That's crazy.

JM: Yeah, and the dorm I lived in freshman year had a dark room and a little theatre and a coffee shop.

KH: Well that's neat! All in your dorm building?

JM: Student run yeah.

KH: That's awesome! I wish we had that here (laughs). So the movies then were they shown in your dorm or just somewhere on campus?

JM: They used the big lecture halls for the film series.

KH: Okay, they set it up there.

JM: Yeah.

KH: Okay that's cool.

JM: And we would pay like $2 to go see them.

KH: We kind of have something like that in Reeve.

JM: There's a lot of movies all the time in Reeve Theatre.


KH: Yeah. So the campus community, how did it differ from your home community?

JM: Well, there are people from all over obviously, not just people who had grown up near me. Although there were, because Rochester New York had so many jobs for scientists and engineers there were people who had moved there from many places to come and work. I had friends in high school whose parents came from India or Taiwan or other places and came to work for Kodak or Xerox. Those were the biggest employers there. So it was… there were not as much international students as now here at UW Oshkosh, we have a lot of international students but it wasn't very common when I went to college for people from other countries to come to the United States to come to go college.


KH: Okay.

JM: So it was mostly just different parts of the United States.

KH: Okay and do you remember there being any major campus issues while you were there politically or educationally?

JM: There was a bit, there were big movements for divestment for businesses involved with South Africa. So South Africa had a apartheid at the time, it legalized discrimination against people of African descent and Indian descent, they had different categories of people so the European descended people in South Africa controlled the Government and most of the businesses and they had different schools and things like that. So the students were pushing the trustees of the Universities to stop investing in companies that did business with South Africa. So that was a national movement at the time to divest from 27:00South Africa. And now we hear pushes to divest from companies involved in like Petroleum or things like that.

KH: Yeah.

JM: But it was much noisier than what I've heard most recently about the divestment movements. So that was a big thing going on the whole time I was there. The campus was still, still had more male students than female students, and there were some organizations that did not want to admit women, some of the social clubs. So that was something that people were challenging.

KH: Which were they, do you remember?

JM: They were social clubs.

KH: Oh I see okay.

JM: So we didn't have fraternities and sororities. Most of the clubs were for everybody.

KH: Yeah.


JM: But there a few old clubs that had been around that were just trying to have male members.

KH: I see. So, I don't know, just in a broad sense, what was one of your fondest, looking back on being at school there, education wise, social life, what was one of your fondest memories of college?

JM: I know there's a lot of things that were good--

KH: Like when did you feel most proud to be a student there?

JM: I think it would be hard to identify one thing, but I had a lot of interesting classes, and I made a lot of really good friends. I think the late night conversations with other students is really what you remember long after you've graduated. Talking about Philosophy and Bugs Bunny cartoons (laughs) 29:00anything. Politics--getting to talk to students and not having to go somewhere else. That's one of the advantages about being at a residential college is that people are there, they're not going home for the weekends.

KH: Right, you guys were all living there together. So going into college, everyone kind of has this image of what the social life is going to be like, and what the classes are going to be, do you think that Princeton met those expectations for you?

JM: I don't really remember now, but I think so. Yeah, the classes were hard, but I could do a lot of the work and got help from classmates who have studied 30:00together and work on problem sets together if we were stuck.

KH: Okay so, kind of moving onto post-college, how did you feel when you finally graduated?

JM: Well it was exciting.

KH: Yeah.

JM: And I was sad that I was going to leave. One of the best things I did was, my last semester of college, I took a lot of fun classes. Not just chemistry classes because I knew I was going to graduate school in chemistry.

KH: Okay.

JM: So I took Shakespeare, my last semester, and I took a Philosophy course, I had never had a Philosophy course, so it was nice to fit those in.

KH: Yeah.

JM: And get somethings that are interesting, and wait a little bit on the chemistry.

KH: Right. So, tell me what you did after you graduated with your undergrad.


JM: Well I spent the summer working at Xerox in a research lab and then went to grad school at the end of summer.

KH: Where is it that you went to grad school?

JM: I went to Stanford.

KH: Stanford, okay. And so when you were at grad school, your main focus was chemistry?

JM: Right, you're in a department--

KH: Okay.

JM: And I already knew that I would specialize in Physical Chemistry. There are five branches of chemistry and so we took classes and were teaching assistants and then we had to figure out which research group to join because most of the time in graduate school you're working on a research project in a professor's research lab.

KH: Right. What is it that made you want to do Physical Chemistry?

JM: Because I love math.

KH: Because you love math.

JM: So it's the physics side of chemistry so I already knew that's what I liked. 32:00As an undergraduate when I got to take Quantum Mechanics, which was first semester junior year, and we declared majors end of sophomore year, so I'm like I think I'm going to do chemistry and not math. But, so I got to take Quantum Mechanics right away and all this math and this chemistry class, this is what I really like! So I knew that that was the area that I wanted to specialize in.

KH: Okay and how long were you at graduate school for?

JM: It was about five and a half years.

KH: Wow. So you were ready to be done when you were done with graduate school I bet, that's a lot of schooling!

JM: Yeah well it was about average for the people I started with, not many people finish in four years with a PhD program.

KH: Yeah, okay so I know you're working at the University of Oshkosh now, so do you want to tell me what it is that you do here?

JM: Okay, I teach Physical Chemistry, and everybody in the chemistry department teaches in their specialty area.


KH: Okay.

JM: And then everybody also teaches general chemistry so we rotate around through the general chemistry courses.

KH: Okay. What made you want to choose University of Oshkosh to teach at?

JM: Well, I applied to lots and lots of advertisements, these are all nationally advertised, and got interviews at several places, and got offers at several places, but UW Oshkosh has a nice size chemistry department. I would not be the only person in my specialty area if I came here. There's some schools that only have four chemistry professors, we have twelve. So it's nice to have colleagues. Between getting my PhD and coming here, I had a postdoctoral fellowship, which is very common in science to do an extra training period before getting a permit 34:00in academic job. And that department I came from was large like that even though it was primarily undergraduate institution, they had like ten professors so I knew that, I thought that was good to have colleagues to talk about and I saw they collaborated on research projects and they shared ideas about teaching so I liked the idea of being at a larger place. The dean here as able to give me some money to equip my research lab when I came, so we call that "startup money", so that's a good thing, not every school has money available but if you want the professors to do research with students, it's kind of hard if there is no equipment (laughs).

KH: Right.

JM: So they had lab space for me and some money for me to help me get started on a research project. We had very good benefits here. There's a good retirement 35:00program and good health insurance.

KH: Okay.

JM: And those are not as good now as they were when I was hired unfortunately, they're still good but they were better than what I was hearing from some of the other places I had offers.

KH: Okay so, talking about your postdoctoral thing, where did you do that?

JM: It was at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. So that's a very small college, only about 2,000 students.

KH: Wow that is pretty small compared to what you were used to.

JM: I had been only at research universities where they have graduate students and I wanted to take this position at Franklin and Marshall College because I knew the research I did in graduate school required very complicated equipment, and a bunch of grad students to keep it working, because it broke a lot. I knew 36:00that if I wanted to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution, I would only have part time help from undergraduates. I wouldn't have as much money, so by having the postdoctoral position, I was able to get ideas for research that would be less expensive and not be so complicated for the equipment to keep running.

KH: Okay and you said that is a common thing that people do after graduate school, to go into education and teaching.

JM: Yes, right, almost everybody in our department had a postdoctoral fellowship. I can only think of one who did not.

KH: So yeah, what do you do with your PhD once you, I mean, if you don't go into teaching?

JM: Oh well Chemists can get industrial jobs with PhD's or work in government laboratories.

KH: Oh okay. So at the University you kind of touched on what classes you teach, 37:00can you tell me which ones you all teach?

JM: Yes, okay, so me personally, this year I'm teaching physical chemistry 1 and 2, so that's a class for junior chemistry majors. Last year I taught a Quest II class.

KH: Okay.

JM: Introduction to Chemistry of Materials. And that one is a lot of fun because we talk about metal ceramics and polymers so the clothes you wear, what the desk is made of, what the walls are made of, everything around you, teach enough chemistry to understand why it has the properties that it does.

KH: Okay that's cool, kind of connecting it to everyday life.

JM: Yes, so this is sustainability class because there are concerns about where do you get the raw materials and how do we dispose of them when they're done. 38:00You know, landfills, toxic waste issues, for some materials, so it's a fun class to teach.

KH: Yeah!

JM: And I regularly teach general chemistry 1 and 2 which are the starting place for students of almost any major. Students majoring in Biology, Geology, a lot of pre-engineering students take it, pre-medical, pre-veterinary, lot of people doing health care, medical technology, a lot of different majors take general chemistry. So general chemistry is fun because the students learn so much in one, their first semester, they don't believe how much they're going to learn (laughs).

KH: Yeah, it's true (laughs), I can attest to it!

JM: Yes!

KH: So you did also mention that you were on a lot of the committees here at Oshkosh?


JM: Right, yes, professors teach classes, do research and then the third area is, we call service. So we work on various committees.

KH: So which ones?

JM: So the department has committees to do things, and then as far as broader university committees, the first big one I was on was on the Faculty Senate Committee for Assessment of Student Learning. So I was on that for quite a while. More recently I've been on the University Studies Program Committee, so I helped brainstorm ideas for this new USP during the summer especially and then was appointed to the committee that approves all the classes that are part of USP so I've read syllabi for all of these classes in addition to developing a 40:00Quest II class.

KH: Okay.

JM: I've also been on the College Diversity Committee and the University's Inclusive Excellence Council.

KH: Okay and what was your position on those two, like where did you--what part did you take in it?

JM: Okay, for the College Committee we broke up into teams and I'm mostly working with faculty workshops on best practices for teaching. One of the things we're trying to do it help all students succeed in college, especially our dean has promoted gateway success, to try to help all professors figure out how to reach freshman students, first year students, so that you succeed in your 41:00courses that are gateways to the majors and other programs so general chemistry is a gateway course for science majors.

KH: Okay.

JM: So we share our ideas of what works well for keeping students engaged with the material and passing the classes.

KH: Mhmm, yeah so what's your favorite part about teaching and being a part of the faculty system here?

JM: Well, I really like meeting students all the time. It's, even if I teach physical chemistry or general chemistry multiple times, there's new students every time and it's interesting to get to know the students and find out what they're interested in and help them learn about chemistry. And we have a great department; I really like interacting with my colleagues in chemistry. We support each other and share ideas with each other, give each other advice and 42:00we try to be helpful.

KH: Okay, and do you, so you said you are in research, and so do you do that with your fellow colleagues or is it kind of more of a personal research?

JM: Well most chemistry professors have experiments that they're doing working with undergraduates.

KH: Oh okay.

JM: So it's more common to have a research group with undergraduates. But some professors have skills that complement each other so they may be involved in a more complicated research project, so in the past I've collaborated with a Biology professor on a research project, but we also had students working who were biology and chemistry majors so it was a broader group, not just professors.

KH: So what is some of the research you guys are doing? How many different things?


JM: Well, that project, that's been pretty much finished with, we were studying a microorganism that lives in Lake Winnebago, so that was what the biology professor was interested in and she found that it produced a polymer, a polysaccharide that binds metal ion.

KH: Okay.

JM: So I was interested in how strong the binding was of ions to the polysaccharide. So you've had enough chemistry to know about energies of reactions.

KH: Yep.

JM: So we were doing a research in my lab to try an measure binding energies, but it's hard because polymers don't dissolve very well, they're gooey and they might not come out very well. But we studied Manganese and Iron and things like 44:00that, binding to polymers.

KH: Okay, cool.

JM: So those were experiments that students could do.

KH: Right.

JM: And I wrote grant proposals for money to get better equipment to buy some of the chemicals.

KH: Okay. Does the university typically fund research like that pretty easily or..?

JM: Well the university doesn't have much money for that, so we write grant proposals to other places. There are, I don't know if you've heard of the student faculty collaborative grants..?

KH: No.

JM: So students can get paid in the summer to work in a research lab so that's university money. Some of it comes from the differential tuition committee so that's the student fees help give students a chance to work in a science lab or work on a history research project, it's not just for science majors.

KH: Okay.

JM: But I have had students get money from that so that they could work in my 45:00lab in the summer and earn some money at the same time. So that's a great program, they just recently announced the students who will be doing it this coming summer.

KH: That's cool, so how long would you say that researches usually take? I know that it probably depends on the research you are doing.

JM: Well it takes years usually to finish a project.

KH: Okay.

JM: And sometimes you can publish papers, several papers, along the way to really being finished. But yeah it takes year to come up with an idea, apply to places to get money to buy equipment, chemicals, to pay students to work, and then you collect the data, and then you say oh we need to change the experiment because it didn't turn out the way we expected. And then you collect more data, so it may take several years to collect enough data to write a paper.

KH: Okay and you're only doing one of these at a time?

JM: Sometimes I have several different research projects going on, it depends somewhat on student interest. What's happening in the lab and how much help 46:00there is. We'll be winding down one project then starting a new one. Some of our biochemistry professors have research projects that might need one of the instruments in my research lab, so we're kind of watching when do we need to recruit a student to work on that part of their research project and then I'll train them on using the equipment.

KH: Okay, so in a general sense, what would you say that your research with the undergrads brings to this university?

JM: It brings some recognition of the university because we present research at national conferences as well as publishing in journals. Students get the opportunity to see what they like to do; it helps them to decide on their careers. You do labs with your classes, but you have to be done in two hours or 47:00three hours then you come back the next week and you do something completely different. In a research project, you come back every time and you keep redoing the experiment until you're satisfied with it. It helps students to decide do they want to research career, do they like cooking chemistry mixing things up or do they like analytical chemistry. If you've have Chem 101 and 102 you've done some different types of experiments, sometimes you mix up reagents and see what happens or something you're observing the spectrum or something else.

KH: Yeah.

JM: So students get to try a lot of things in our classes but then working in the research lab, you don't know what's going to happen.

KH: Right.

JM: It's more realistic.

KH: Definitely.

JM: So our department puts a priority on providing opportunities for our students to try research projects and we encourage all of the chemistry majors 48:00to do research. It's not required, but we try to talk them into it.

KH: Right, it helps to prepare them for the future.

JM: Helps them decide what they want to do.

KH: And so do most students, is it still similar, where most students majoring in chemistry still go to their grad school to get the PhD and then kind of the same route?

JM: About half our students get jobs as chemists without going to graduate school.

KH: Wow.

JM: Yeah, our students are sought after by Wisconsin companies so you know they've got enough skills to work as a chemist with a bachelor's degree. The students who want to run a research lab, want to be a professor, they need to get a PhD.

KH: Right.

JM: So about half our students get a job, the other half, will go to a PhD program in science or maybe they'll go to Pharmacy school, that's also pretty common in chemistry majors. Not very many going to medical school, but we've had 49:00two people who graduated last year are going to be starting medical school this fall.

KH: Cool, there's a lot of doors open.

JM: Yes, and that's one of the reasons I majored in chemistry is that it's not very limiting, there's a lot of things you can do after you graduate.

KH: Definitely. How do you think the university has changed much since you started in, correct me if I'm wrong, 1993?

JM: Since 1993, there's not a lot of changes, we have a few more students, it's gotten a little bigger. We have a few more chemistry majors in recent years but we had quite a few my first few years here as well.

KH: Okay.

JM: We have one new building, Sage Hall (laughs). Our chemistry, well all of 50:00Halsey science was renovated, so our teaching labs especially are much nicer than they were. And I was here soon enough to be able to help draw up the plans for some of the teaching labs. So it was nice to be able to do that but it was a big mess for a couple of years. We tried to maintain our teaching and research while we really only had a small amount of space to work in.

KH: True.

JM: We have more women professors than when I came.

KH: That's good.

JM: I was when I was hired, there was one woman chemistry professor but she retired right then so when I came I was the only woman professor in the 51:00department and I'm still the only one who is tenured.

KH: Okay.

JM: We have several who are assistant professors who hopefully will get tenure.

KH: Okay, how was that? I mean being the only woman?

JM: There are other women who are academic staff--

KH: Okay, well right.

JM: --And other women professors in other departments. I just think it's not, it's, you never know if the students realize that. If the women students might feel like it's a problem, they don't tell us if it's a problem. We don't know if they worry about it, and I'm not discriminated against. My male colleagues are fine, but it's, that's one of the reasons I wanted to be a professor because then I was in college there were no women chemistry professors in my department.

KH: Wow.

JM: So that was something that made me want to be a professor. I thought, well 52:00we can do this (laughs).

KH: Yeah, let's get a move on it ladies!

JM: Yeah.

KH: Okay so what would you say are some of the big lessons you've learned from teaching here at UWO or your research here?

JM: Well for teaching, there isn't a right way to do anything. There's lots of right ways, there's no one, there's not any secret to it. And we just need to try things.

KH: So trial and error.

JM: Well we do, we need to experiment in the classroom with how we teach our classes, just the same way we experiment in the lab.

KH: Yeah, you have to apply that to more than just one thing.

JM: Yeah.

KH: Right.

JM: Yeah we can't say, oh I've taught this class now I know how to do it, every time I teach the class every day, I have to try to think about is there a better way to approach this topic so that students will learn more.

KH: Yeah that's very beneficial for the students too.


JM: A lot of college students don't realize this, but your teachers through high school had to take education classes, professors don't. We don't get any specific training in education, unless we go search for it. So we learn kind of on the job (laughs).

KH: Right, you learn through mistakes and what works.

JM: Yeah and some things will work with one class and not work the next time even though we think we're doing it the same way, the students change too.

KH: So how do you learn that? Do you learn it through exam scores, or..?

JM: Well, there, we collect problem sets a lot in the chemistry classes so I can see before I get to a test, hopefully, if students are having difficulties understanding a concept I try to ask them questions in class. The class I'm teaching now is fairly small so I can get students to talk in class, there's not 150 students, so if I have 16 students I can try to get them to talk a little 54:00but while we're discussing it they'll ask me questions if they don't understand what we're doing. We have a lot of workshops you can go to, the professional organizations that we belong to have sessions about teaching, and we can read journals about how to teach chemistry, how to teach science, things like that.

KH: For your physical chemistry class, are there tutors available or any SI sessions?

JM: We have a STEP position for a tutor, so it's somebody who took the class last year.

KH: I'm sure there's, with only 16 students--.

JM: They can always come ask me too.

KH: Right, that's a good size for you to be able to help them out.

JM: But they can go ask the tutor also if they want a different perspective on it.

KH: So you have regular office hour students can come in freely and talk and ask questions.


JM: Yes.

KH: That's good.

JM: And since they're all junior Chem majors, they all know where to find me, they come when they have time and see if I'm there even if it's not my office hours.

KH: You have a good relationship with them.

JM: And that's pretty much the way the whole department is. Yeah the students know where to find their professors, they can go find them in the research labs or wherever.

KH: Do you do research with a lot of the physical chemists in your class that you're teaching?

JM: Not necessarily, so students will find a research project and usually stay with it for several semesters so it's not necessarily people who are in my class at the time.

KH: Okay.

JM: It might be one of my academic advisers might get interested in what I'm doing, so they don't have to have taken my class to work with me.

KH: Okay, that makes sense. So overall though, you enjoy being a teacher, being able to work with the undergrads?

JM: Yes, yes.

KH: Okay so kind of moving onto later life, how do you think overall, looking 56:00back, that college prepared you for your current position here?

JM: Well, since I'm a college professor, going to college was obviously important in seeing, you know, what I learned, how I was taught there. The basic knowledge and skills for chemistry, you know, I learned there. The things that I need to teach my students.

KH: Okay.

JM: I found out what it was like to do a research project and it made me want to offer those opportunities to students. I probably wouldn't have gone to graduate school if I hadn't got to work on a research project as an undergraduate.

KH: Right, yeah that provided a lot of opportunity.

JM: Because it's different than taking a lab in your class.

KH: Yeah definitely, that's not, I mean like you said, a two hour lab every week doesn't really give you the benefits that a huge research lab would be.


JM: Sure.

KH: So what are your impressions of UWO today as a school?

JM: We have a lot of exciting things happening. The USP has been a big change, I get all these emails about the cool projects that first and second year students are doing, especially Quest III. Like your project you're doing.

KH: Yep, like this project.

JM: Grace Slims class has a program tonight unveiling their Humans of Oshkosh project. They interviewed teachers from the area so I'm read interested to read the stories that they've collected.

KH: Yeah.

JM: So it's nice that we're trying to give students, earlier in their academic career, the chance to look at some interesting and realistic projects I guess. 58:00You don't have to wait until you're a senior to act like a scholar.

KH: Right, yeah it's really cool that we are doing that. I'm glad that when I started, it's kind of when it really kicked off, the program.

JM: Yes, yeah. So from the science departments point of view, there's terrible scheduling problems with the students trying to fit all of these USP courses around their math and science class that's they need. So we're working on that trying to figure out better ways to solve those problems. But seeing how exciting some of these outcomes are from the Quest courses that's fun.

KH: Yeah, definitely. There's a lot of cool things going on. So I guess, what's some advice that you would give students either here now in your classes, or 59:00give to yourself back when you were in college?

JM: Okay, well the students here, there's a ton of things to take advantage of at UW Oshkosh. We have great classes we have great extracurricular service opportunities. Take those four years, or two years if you're a transfer student, and really try to take advantage of these opportunities. College is unusual that there are people planning all these things for you to do. You'll have other times of your life to do the things, do other things. I worry about students who go home every weekend and don't find out what's going on on campus. I didn't have the choice, I couldn't go home every weekend and so I had the chance to be 60:00in extracurricular and hangout with other college students, and you learn a lot outside the classrooms. But professors always wish students would come to class all the time clearly (laughs). Yeah those 8am classes are hard but, if you're not at them you're missing out on what you're paying a lot of money for really.

KH: Yeah.

JM: So yeah, try to do things you never thought you would do before. Go to talks. I didn't go to too many of the talks by visitors, I see here emails with advertising concerts, visiting musicians, there was one on Tuesday. I thought oh that would be nice to go to, but I'm so busy I didn't go. And in college, the homework came first. I didn't go to talks and to too many concerts and things like that. So it's, you have to learn how to manage your time clearly. But it's 61:00so concentrated here, there's so much of a 'shmorgishborg' being offered to the students.

KH: Right, right. Along with studying, there's all these extra things going on.

JM: And you can learn a lot by going to these other events too.

KH: Well exactly, it's about learning more than just educational things. Just to better your social life and everything. So would you say, looking back on your college experience and your current job is there anything that you either regret doing, or wish you would've gotten more out of? Or anything you would change?

JM: I don't really think of anything I would change. I had, I made good decisions I think about where to go to college and being a chemistry major was the right choice even though I worried about it a lot. What would I do? I figured out it was the least limiting as I said before.


KH: Right.

JM: You can, we can call a lot of things chemistry. I can talk to biologists. At Celebrations of Scholarships this week I spent a lot of time talking to a Geology student about his poster because I knew a lot about the techniques he was using and I could talk to the Physicist and it's fun to be able to know what's going on in all these areas. I didn't know for sure about being a scientist, but I'm glad that I made that decision. I like reading about scientific discoveries that are going on, and trying to explain to my students why these are so important.

KH: Well that's good that you feel like there's nothing you would change in your whole process coming to Oshkosh.

JM: I don't think so.

KH: You like Oshkosh? You wouldn't want to go anywhere else.

JM: Right. I would've liked more restaurants but we have better restaurants now. 63:00When I first came here, food was kind of boring. A lot of fish fries, but now we have Thai restaurants, and a Philippian restaurant and a Japanese restaurant a lot of different things.

KH: Yeah.

JM: And we have the internet, so that takes care of shopping! If you're interested in history, when I came, they set up my computer, and they said there's this new thing, a web browser, let's put it on your computer.

KH: Really?

JM: So the internet, we could get somethings from the internet, if you knew where to look before I came here, but the web browser where you can search widely, you didn't have to already know the address for where the information was, that's been my career at Oshkosh.

KH: It's advanced a lot then!

JM: Yeah, so that's been incredible for us to be able to get information so quickly about so many different things.


KH: Yeah, well awesome! I'm glad that you feel happy here and that you've made the right decisions because it can be hard when you're at a place and don't know if, you know, if it's right for you.

JM: Sure.

KH: Or if you've made any mistakes along the way. So, okay awesome. Is there anything else that you want to add to talking about your career?

JM: I don't think so.

KH: Because those are all the questions that I have for you.

JM: Okay, okay.

KH: So now I guess, I can have you sign this agreement and Deed of Gifts, just to, so you know what's going to be happening with this oral history interview and how it will be in the archives here at Oshkosh, and part of this celebrating the 150th year. So I think the interviewee, you just kind of fill in some of this information about it, there's a place for you to sign. Signature of--

JM: So who am I, you have a narrator, and interviewer, and a project director.


KH: So I am the interviewer.

JM: Okay.

KH: This is, up here, where you put--

JM: My information?

KH: Yes, so you are the narrator.

JM: Okay.

KH: I will also give you a copy for you to keep of this. So you're going to sign--


JM: Here..?

KH: Yes.

JM: Okay.

KH: Yep, okay and then you sign by the narrator. And I also can get you a copy of this interview. I will be transcribing it and all of that, so if you would like--

JM: That's a big project!

KH: Yes (laughs), so if you would like a copy of it, you can tell me and I could get that to you as soon as possible, if that's something you would be interested in?

JM: Well there's not a hurry but yeah you can just email it to me.

KH: Okay, yeah. Okay I do have your email still so I can do that. I'm excited to 67:00see the full project all in its glory, once all the groups are done.

JM: How many interviews are being collected?

KH: There's nine groups and about five to six people in each group, all interviewing someone so it's going to be really cool to see what everyone has to say. This is your copy then. And so, I want to thank you though because this is an awesome, it's good to get some background information on the faculty here and how you like it and all of that, it's just really cool. So thank you for being open and interviewing.

JM: You're welcome.

KH: I also, if it's okay with you, to get a picture of you?

JM: Sure.

KH: So we can place that with the interview.

JM: Okay. I also have, like formal portraits.

KH: Okay.

JM: That they've taken over in this photo studio if that would be better?

KH: Okay yeah, I could just do that. Just take it, is it over here in the hall?


JM: There's one on my website.

KH: I can just do that too.

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