Chemistry to alter course offerings

Students planning to take chemistry courses next year will encounter some changes in course options.

A year after the chemistry department restructured its undergraduate major requirements, the department will put a greater emphasis on life sciences in organic chemistry and provide students greater flexibility in fulfilling introductory requirements. Partially in anticipation of upcoming changes in pre-med requirements, the second semester of organic chemistry, CHEM 221: “The Organic Chemistry of Life Sciences,” will have an even greater focus on life sciences and biochemical cycles, said Kurt Zilm, director of undergraduate studies for the chemistry department, and CHEM 115: “Comprehensive Chemistry II” will be offered in both semesters. In addition, the Course of Study Committee, which examines and approves new courses, is currently evaluating a new chemistry senior seminar, which would be the first of its kind, he said.

“I wouldn’t say these are huge changes, but more than tinkering too,” Zilm said.

The larger emphasis on life sciences in chemistry classes makes sense, chemistry professor Jonathan Ellman said, as a majority of chemistry students prefer the biological sciences or would like to become doctors, so the changes would better serve them. Zilm added that the content of CHEM 124/125: “Freshman Organic Chemistry” would not change significantly.

But students currently enrolled in the affected courses were divided on whether the changes would have a positive impact.

Jordano Sanchez ’13, who is currently enrolled in CHEM 221, said he wishes the course focused more on biological processes.

“I would definitely have enjoyed this class more if the material seemed more relevant to my future career as a doctor and not just as a course that is meant to weed out pre-meds,” he said.

But Fabian Ortega ’13, who is also enrolled in the course, said the class already has a large enough focus on life sciences. He added that pre-med students like himself can take courses in the biology department, and the professors should make sure to retain the focus on “real chemistry” instead of descriptions of biological processes.

“I don’t think making organic chemistry too biology-driven is a good idea,” he said, “because then it’s not fair for the chemistry majors.”

The additional offering of CHEM 115 in the fall will give students more flexibility and reduce class sizes, Zilm said. He added that the new option will help students who want to begin the year with a course more challenging than CHEM 114: “Comprehensive General Chemistry I” but less advanced than CHEM 118: “Quantitative Foundations of General Chemistry.”

For Sanchez, the option to take CHEM 115 in the fall would have provided a “happy medium” between CHEM 114 and CHEM 118. But Jerome Anyalebechi ’13 said the change does not make much sense because CHEM 115 is a natural continuation of CHEM 114.

All three students in chemistry courses interviewed said they appreciate that the addition of CHEM 115 in the fall would lead to smaller class sizes.

“One of the most frustrating things about science classes at Yale is how big they are,” Sanchez said. “The sense of anonymity in a class with so many people disengages you from the material, which severely impacts the way you perform in the course.”

The desire for a more intimate learning environment was one motivation for the proposal of the new senior seminar, in which students would read and discuss literature on chemistry, Zilm said.

Zilm said these changes come after altered requirements for the chemistry major last year make it more consistent with other majors at Yale. Students now have more flexibility in how they fulfill requirements for advanced courses, and they have to take fewer laboratory courses, Zilm said.

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