Distinguished Teaching Lecturer Award

Aparna Waghe, Teaching Lecturer, Chemistry

Kaleb Hart '11 photo.
Kaleb Hart ’11 photo.

When Professor of Chemistry Aparna Waghe was growing up in her native Mumbai, India, her mother was a beloved high-school mathematics teacher who was credited with making complicated concepts understandable for all learners for nearly four decades. Even with her mother’s example, Waghe never imagined that she would be a teacher too. Her ambition was to be a pharmaceutical researcher—though on her mother’s advice, she did earn a bachelor of education in addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry.

Waghe came to the US to begin her doctoral studies at the University of Maine, Orono, and her adviser periodically asked her to teach classes for him. “Each time I taught a class, students would approach my adviser to say what a great job I’d done,” Waghe says. “Based on their feedback, he suggested that I might be well suited to a career in academia. I thought it was interesting, but I still wasn’t persuaded. My involvement in my research and finishing my PhD was foremost in my mind at the time.”

In 2005, Waghe and her young family relocated to Plymouth when her husband, Anil, joined the Plymouth State University Department of Atmospheric Science and Chemistry. A year later, Waghe was offered an opportunity to join the PSU faculty to teach general and physical chemistry. This time, the idea of teaching felt natural and Waghe accepted.

At PSU, Waghe has earned a reputation for her ability to help students synthesize complex concepts into the understandable. Students have called her “inspiring and engaging,” and have noted that her teaching style extends beyond the traditional lecture to encourage dialogue and interaction. “Effective teaching and learning require three key elements: inspiration, engagement, and connection,” Waghe notes. “Chemistry is a ‘central science’ and is a requirement for all science majors, yet for first-year students in particular, it can be overwhelming. That is why it is critically important to complement lectures with hands-on learning that makes chemistry relevant. Students are motivated and involved when they can see the applications of science to everyday life, whether they’re chemistry majors or biology majors or exercise and sport physiology majors.” In one example of the way her students “learn science by doing science,” Waghe describes an inquiry-based project in which students consider the chemical reactions that take place in hand warmers, a common sight on nearby ski slopes each winter.

Outside the classroom, Waghe is recognized for the connections she has fostered with her students who reach out to her with their concerns about the subject, as well as about their future coursework and career aspirations—virtually any topic that is important to them. “My students and I interact before, during, and after class, and especially over the course of our three-hour labs. I also encourage them to see me in my office anytime,” Waghe comments. “I value the chance to get to know my students personally. As they advance into physical chemistry, I’m able to refine the coursework to align with their career goals and learning styles. Beyond that, I just enjoy them. I love talking to students about their future plans, whether it’s what courses to take in the next semester or which graduate programs or medical schools might be the best fit for their goals. Then, of course, I love to hear how much they’ve accomplished.”

While Waghe may not have planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps, the comments from her students illustrate the similarities between the two, and, like mother, like daughter, both were recognized with distinguished teaching awards.

Donna Eason ’85 

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