2020 Education Innovation Award

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PhD students Tim Boit, Jason Chari, and Rachel Knapp receive the 2020 Education Innovation Award for creating and teaching a successful online summer course. 

The team created and taught the online summer course Chemistry 101 “Catalysis in Modern Drug Discovery” and will split the $3,000 prize, which is made possible by the generous donations provided by our alumni.


Recipients of the 2020 Education Innovation Award – Tim Boit, Jason Chari, and Rachel Knapp

The success of the class was reflected in the comments from the course evaluations:

“This class was really awesome! Before, I didn’t really have much interest in the subject, but after seeing so many examples of how these reactions were used, I saw the importance and applicability of catalysis in drug synthesis. I feel like the class was structured very, very well, and the schedule was very logical. I really liked how some of the drug discovery processes were presented like a story. Very engaging and interesting! Helped me to see the thought processes of the chemists, and how they figured out solutions when things didn’t work.”

“The course was helpful and opened my eyes to my different aspects in chemistry. The guest lecturer[s] were also appreciated because they gave students an understanding of what it is like to have a chemistry degree and different careers in this field of study.”

About the Team

The three recipients are senior organic chemistry graduate students. Boit received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics from Bowdoin College in 2016 and his studies are focused on synthetic organic chemistry with an interest in basic research, industrial applications, and education. Chari received his bachelor’s degree in biostatistics in 2017 from Cornell University and his studies are focused on using arynes and other strained organic molecules to manipulate the structure of metal-centered photosensitizers and developing new educational tools for students and instructors. Knapp received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Loyola University Chicago in 2017 and her research interests include medicinal chemistry and utilizing unconventional building blocks, such as amides and strained intermediates, in chemical synthesis.  

About Chemistry 101 – “Catalysis in Modern Drug Discovery”

The upper division elective course provided an overview of the drug discovery process with a focus on transition metal catalysis in the synthesis of medicines. The aim was to highlight how organic chemistry can impact the world around us, particularly in the development of pharmaceuticals. Throughout the course particular attention was paid to the discussion of “case studies” that emphasized the broad impact of medicinal chemistry and the importance of catalysis in drug discovery. The course began with a discussion of the process by which drugs are discovered, from lead optimization to process development, followed by an introduction of transition metal catalysis, an area of critical importance in modern drug development. This section covered the fundamental concepts of transition metal catalysis and the history of the important role catalysis has played in the synthesis of modern medicines. Although the class was open to anyone, with a prerequisite of Chem 14D or 30B with a grade of C- or better, it was geared towards undergraduates, introductory graduate students, and pharmaceutical chemists. The course featured a guest lecture series with talks by UC Presidential Chair in Medicinal Chemistry Professor Michael Jung, Dr. Margaret Chu-Moyer (Vice President of Research, Chemistry, Characterization, Technology & Externalization at Amgen), Dr. Kate Ashton (Principal Scientist at Amgen) and others.

About the 2020 Education Innovation Award

In 2020, the Department put forward a new initiative intended to enrich our summer sessions’ curriculum, while also providing new teaching opportunities for our students and postdocs. Proposals were solicited from our senior graduate students and postdocs, for new summer 6-week courses that they would like to teach in the summer 2020, subject to approval by their faculty advisors. Students were encouraged to propose creative and innovative course content not currently offered in our undergraduate coursework during the academic year. Besides the originality, it was stressed that the proposed course should be of interest to a large number of undergraduate students. Students were also encouraged to create teams for co-teaching.

The Department evaluated the proposals, interviewed the finalists, and determined the winners. The winners were invited to develop and teach their courses in summer sessions A or C, 2020. Departmental leadership offered guidance and mentorship during the course development and teaching. 

Following the completion of the 2020 summer session, the instructors with the most successful course (as deemed based on enrollment, student evaluations, peer evaluation, etc.) receive a $3,000 award, named the “Education Innovation Award”.  

Click here to learn more about Summer Sessions 2020.

The 2020 Education Innovation Award is funded by the Education Innovation Fund. Click here to learn how you can contribute to the fund and continue to enable our faculty and students to launch transformative educational initiatives to benefit UCLA students.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.