Christian Ray received his B.S. degree in Chemistry in 1999 from the University of Detroit Mercy and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2005. After spending one year as a visiting assistant professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, he joined the General Chemistry teaching faculty at the University of Illinois in 2006. In addition to teaching in the General Chemistry division, Christian is the faculty advisor for Project SEARCH (Science Education and Research for Children).
My approach to teaching is largely based on my desire to get to know my students. I want them to see how much I care about their progress, and I want to help them have the success I know that they are capable of. The students are my first priority in my job, and I try to show that to them as much as possible by taking a genuine interest in their well-being both in and outside of the classroom (within professional limits). In conversations before and after class, during office hours, and through student organization events I can learn many things about my students such as: What do they want to get from this specific class? What material are they struggling with? What are different ways I could present the material to help more people get it? What interests do they have both inside and outside of the classroom? What do they want to do when they grow up? If I know what makes my students "tick" I can use this information to tailor how I teach both to the class as a whole and to individual students. This information will also prove useful when giving them advice on possible career choices. I strongly believe that the students we have are one of the greatest resources we have at our University, why not get to know them a little bit better?
In discussion sections we have more of an opportunity to work through problems together in order to learn how to think about chemistry and address the misconceptions we are all bound to have. Whenever possible, I try to relate the problems to "real world" situations that the students are familiar with. The problems we work through in discussion section not only impart knowledge to the students but also serve to fulfill my other main teaching goals: I want my students to hone their critical thinking skills in my class. I realize that most of them will not go on to be chemists, but critical thinking skills will help them to be successful regardless of what profession they decide to pursue! Additionally, I hope to instill an appreciation of the sciences in my students. During the course of our lectures I will strive to demonstrate that the chemistry (and other sciences) that we are learning about is all around us and affects almost every aspect of our lives!
One of my favorite teaching moments is watching the "light bulb" turn on when a student makes a connection with a difficult concept. Seeing a student's facial features change from a furrowed brow filled with struggle and mild (or not so mild) frustration to a Zen-like look of clarity during our conversations is so rewarding! I look forward to helping more students have something "click" in their careers as students at the University of Illinois.
One of my dreams is to have a former student start a story by saying, "I had this great chemistry professor who once..." I see my time with the students in the classroom as a great opportunity to let them know how much I enjoy chemistry and teaching. I am constantly fascinated by the world we live in and how chemistry impacts us in so many different ways! While the bulk of chemistry covered in text books is no longer cutting edge, lecture provides a great platform to teach basic chemistry principles, introduce new advances in the field, perform relevant and fun demonstrations, and perform experiments that the whole class can be involved in.