- Sean Cayton
It's not hard to imagine why UCCS assistant professor of chemistry Rahda Pyati is a smashing success in the classroom.
Now in her sixth year on the Colorado Springs campus, Pyati teaches general, environmental, quantitative and analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis. Explaining what instrumental analysis is to this chemistry-illiterate reporter, Pyati posits the example of the swab used at airport security checks to test for explosives.
"I'm burning with curiosity about the explosives agent used at the airport," she exudes. Pyati's curiosity and enthusiasm practically burst through the telephone wires.
Recently named Outstanding Teacher of the Year by the University Club, a group of corporate people in the community concerned with the success of the Springs campus of the University of Colorado, Pyati sees her job as a dual challenge.
"Some of my job is about chemistry," she says. "But a big part of it is taking a young person and plugging him or her into the right opportunity -- maybe it's a summer internship, maybe it's graduate school.
"Maybe," she laughs, "it's a new major."
Pyati received her academic training at Ohio State University and says teaching at a relatively small school is a plus.
"Part of what makes my interaction with students so rewarding is that at a school this size, we can give students a lot of TLC," she says. "It's not like I have to deal with 300 freshmen in a general chemistry class. In my department, we know what every single graduate is doing after they graduate."
Pyati attributes much of her success to a strong department that actively seeks to engage students by using new technology, taking different approaches to teaching, talking about real-world applications and bringing people into the classroom from the outside world who use chemistry in their work.
But it is the individual students who are at the center of this outstanding teacher's point of focus.
"Everyone who comes through my office has human talent," she says. "It's my job to help them explore all the possibilities, to help them find a place to use their unique talent."