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Guidance through a pandemic: Matt Stoltzfus

Chemistry mentoring program creates a community for all participants.

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Matthew Stoltzfus lecturing his class at Ohio State

Ohio State chemistry faculty member Matt Stoltzfus speaks to a class in a file photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a freshman starting at Ohio State fall semester, Shivani Patel knew her general chemistry class would not be a cakewalk. Not only was it a large class with 300-plus students, but the subject matter was notoriously challenging.

Add to that an online environment and Patel was surprised that she ended up enjoying the class.

A big reason for that is a mentorship program her lecturer, Matt Stoltzfus, had in place. The program matches current students with peers who successfully completed the course.

Shivani Patel

Shivani Patel

“It was a huge reason I got through the class and even the next one (general chemistry 1220 spring semester),” said Patel, an environmental public health major. “I do really well with more human interaction and having that (with a mentor) made the class less intimidating. Once it felt less overwhelming, I started doing much better.”

Patel was paired with Carlie Shover, a junior biology major and a pre-med student, and the two have become friends outside the class mentorship. While most interaction was through Zoom, they sometimes met for coffee.

Carlie Shover

Carlie Shover

“We started with how to prepare for exams, how to take notes, but it quickly transitioned to, ‘How’s dorm life? How are you adjusting to college?’” Shover said. “We discussed so much about being a freshman at Ohio State and it made this time feel much less isolating and easier to navigate.”

After going through Stoltzfus’ mentoring program this summer, Shover helped start a similar one for an organic chemistry class this fall. When she graduates in May, she’s pushing pause on medical school and looking into teaching and missionary work.

“I benefited from this program, absolutely. I learned I care a lot about people’s hearts and learning journeys,” Shover said. “It was a phenomenal experience.”

Stoltzfus said both mentors and mentees should benefit from the program to help them acquire more skills for their future careers, such as listening to people and finding ways to help them.

“Ultimately, I want students to be the best version of themselves,” Stoltzfus said. “For a lot of our students, being the best version of themselves means helping others.

“I'm big on not only teaching chemistry but also building culture. And giving students the tools to succeed not only in gen chem but in every aspect of their academic career.”

Through the summer, Stoltzfus prepares his mentors through weekly discussions, this summer via Zoom, and a Carmen Course called “Investing in Yourself,” which helps his mentors reflect on core values. The course includes writing reflections after listening to podcasts and reading books Stoltzfus has selected.

This fall, he had 237 mentors — some new and some returning — sign up for the program. It resulted in about a 2:1 ratio of mentor to mentee, based on how many students sign up to be mentored.

“I can’t sugar coat it; this is a hard course,” Stoltzfus said. “But I can come up with a good plan for the students and help them find ways to execute it.

“We’ve had to get creative this year and find avenues for students to interact, but our students have been incredibly resilient. They deserve an incredible amount of credit for navigating the environment they’ve been in these past two semesters.”