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Online Organic Chemistry Teaching Professor Inspires Students to Learn

Kay Sandberg

Kay Sandberg has been teaching at NC State for almost 20 years. For 13 of those years, she’s taught Organic Chemistry to NC State Online and Distance Education students.

“I believe I was born to teach,” Sandberg said.

Teaching was always something Sandberg enjoyed, even when she was a high school student,  teaching piano lessons or Sunday school classes. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Temple University and earned her Ph.D. from NC State.

“I find teaching allows me to be creative with the purpose of drawing others into enjoying what I enjoy, Sandberg explained. “Sometimes this purposeful creativity may require me to spend time creating pictures to help students visualize concepts.”

Sandberg said sometimes she provides a more light-hearted or fun approach to help students better understand certain concepts.

“It’s worth it if the students come to understand the wonderful world of organic chemistry,” she said.

No matter which teaching method she uses, her goal is always the same, to educate her students.

“[Her] teaching style is unlike any teacher I’ve ever had and it translates flawlessly to her online courses,” said Shadoe Stewart, one of Sandberg’s online students. “She is able to take a topic that can be horribly dry and teach it in a way that is approachable and interesting.”

Rosemary Hallberg, another one of Sandberg’s students, likes how Sandberg uses unique examples to help students remember course material.

“In quite a few instances, she gave little sayings or had a picture of a screaming cat to help you remember some of the concepts,” Hallberg said.

But Sandberg uses a variety of techniques that students find really effective.

“She tests you throughout her video lectures to help make sure you’re actively learning and not just passively watching,” Stewart explained.

“Students need to realize my desire is for them to succeed and any advice I give them, they should take to heart,” Sandberg said. “To use a building analogy, this course builds on itself where we start building from the ground floor. I supply the tools students need for this building project, but students who fail to build a firm foundation, or fail to recognize which tool is needed for a particular job, tend to find their building crumbling.”

And it’s not just about making sure individual students succeed, it’s making sure the entire class succeeds. To help with that, Sandberg requires her online students to participate in a forum with their classmates. Students either ask a question to one of their classmates about an assignment or provide guidance to another student seeking help on an assignment.

“In terms of guidance, you had to provide enough help so that the inquirer would understand how to approach the question without giving out the answer,” Hallberg explained. “Personally, I think that every distance learning class should have a forum like that. It was really, really helpful  and I felt that I got to know some of the frequent posters and [it] gave me the feeling of being in an actual classroom setting.”

Her teaching style has struck a chord with many of her students. When asked what her greatest accomplishments have been while working at NC State, Sandberg said, “It can’t get much better than to have students tell me that I changed their lives.”

Some of her students end up loving organic chemistry so much, they join her team of volunteer teaching assistants.

“These students get infected with the organic chemistry bug and just can’t seem to shake it,” she expressed.

But teaching organic chemistry isn’t Sandberg’s only passion. For the last 20 years, she’s also been spending time with the elderly community about once month. Sandberg says she spends an hour with them, singing and sometimes playing the piano for them.

“The funny part is, I’m not that great of a singer or pianist,” Sandberg said. “I sing and play with gusto and a smile, much the same way I teach.”

This post was originally published in Online and Distance Education News.