Of all of the positive traits that Lyndsay Munro possesses as a Teaching Associate Professor and General Chemistry Coordinator in the College of Science’s Department of Chemistry, it is her deep-rooted sense of empathy for her students that stands out.
“My entire teaching philosophy revolves around empathy,” said Munro, who received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University in 2013, and her undergraduate degree from the University of West Florida in 2006. “I really struggled in chemistry and remember the anxiety and discomfort I felt around the subject. I reflect on this often and really strive to provide students with a positive and fulfilling experience. My personality meshes well with this as I am a very energetic and humorous individual, so naturally I include jokes or funny stories in my classes.
“I believe science doesn’t have to be taken too seriously.”
In April, when Munro learned that she was this year’s recipient of the F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Award, her reaction was one of surprise. President Brian Sandoval, several colleagues from the Department of Chemistry, as well as members of the Tibbitts selection committee and her husband, Jake, all marched into her classroom for Chemistry 121A – General Chemistry I – in the Davidson Mathematics and Science Building to break the news to her.
“My gosh!” Munro said as the presentation party made its way into her classroom. Upon seeing what was happening, her students broke into immediate applause. “Do I have to say something? … I love teaching and I love my students.”
According to Sarah Cummings, a longtime colleague of Munro’s in the Department of Chemistry and the University’s Director of Advancements in Teaching Excellence, it is Munro’s ability to create a “dynamic and enjoyable learning environment” in all of the courses Munro teaches that makes such a profound difference. Munro, Cummings noted, is a teacher who constantly makes an effort to stay engaged with her students, during and after class.
“Lyndsay builds community in both small and large classes through well-designed activities that promote interactions between students, effectively creating an interactive and dynamic smaller class feel even within a large lecture environment,” Cummings said. “Lyndsay creates multiple ways for students to engage with course content and demonstrate learning, including real-world case studies and technologically-enhanced problem-solving sessions. She connects with students outside of class, such as through ‘Chemistry After Hours’ via Zoom during pandemic remote instruction or weekly review sessions.
“Lyndsay developed a chemistry-specific walk-in tutoring center -- ChemHelp -- mentors graduate student TAs through their first experiences teaching laboratory classes, and has been an integral part of NevadaFIT since its inception.”
Munro said her path in becoming a college professor was one that wasn’t entirely discernable at first. She added that a number of “excellent professors” during her time as a student helped her continue to take chemistry courses and grow to love the content. Michael Huggins, a chemistry professor at West Florida, was one of the early professors who helped her realize she had a passion for chemistry.
“I like to think I became a professor serendipitously,” she said. “I had no idea what to do or where I belonged professionally during my undergraduate and graduate careers; it wasn’t until I was about to graduate with my Ph.D. that I considered teaching in higher education. Once I started applying for positions and thinking deeply about the possibility of teaching, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Munro, who is known for her enthusiasm in the classroom, said she has “always been energetic and positive and I probably get it from my mom. She turns 79 this year and has an unstoppable amount of energy. I think this is so important, especially in courses students view as being difficult because it allows you to create an experience for students that they are not expecting.”
When a course and a semester is over, Munro said her hope is that her students will walk way with “an appreciation and respect for chemistry.”
“I want them to be open to the possibility of becoming a scientist regardless of their history or background,” she said. “I believe that when my students leave my classroom, they possess the ability to reflect on and assess their own learning and abilities, and can – hopefully – build on this in subsequent courses."