October 2018 – In his 14 years of teaching high school chemistry, Drew University alumnus Derrick Wood has earned three national awards.
The latest is the James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching from the American Chemical Society. That recognition follows the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching in 2015 and the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation Life Sciences Award in 2010.
Wood’s desire to teach was born in The Forest, where he had several faculty mentors. He reflected on those seminal years in an interview with Drew.edu.
Who were your biggest mentors at Drew?
My analytical chemistry professor, Juliette Lantz, was one. Also, Alan Rosan, my organic chemistry professor, who showed a passion for chemistry in the world. In my teaching, I’m always pulling in real-world examples and that’s where it came from. My biggest influence was Jim Miller, a former professor who was involved in RISE [Research Institute of Scientists Emeriti]. He was my research advisor and really close friend and mentor over the years.
How did they help you?
They really pushed me to work toward my strengths and pursue excellence. They enlisted me to work on instrumentation in the lab and as a mentor to other students in organic chemistry.
What did you take away from RISE?
Jim Miller and I used a novel technique called single-drop microextraction to sample for impurities in pharmaceutical products. The technique was relatively new at the time, cheap, simple and robust. We published a paper on our research.
What internships did you have?
I did two summer internships at an analytical chemistry lab.
What led you to chemistry?
I was always interested in science and the chemistry courses at Drew really resonated with me. Not that it all came easily, but it all clicked, it made sense. It helped me discover an understanding of the world through that particular lens.
Why do you love teaching?
I’m passionate about science and I’m passionate about educating the next generation. So many times when I tell people I’m a chemistry teacher, the most common reaction is, “Argh, chemistry, that was the worst.” It has been a life goal to change that paradigm so that when my students are out in the world, I want them to say, “Wow, chemistry was awesome.”