Materials Chemist, Professor

Gordon Yee

Nature or nurture? When it comes to teaching, for Gordon Yee, the answer is both. "Teaching is in my blood," he says. "My mother was a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. So were four of my aunts." But what really inspired Gordon was his freshman chemistry professor, Alex Pines, at the University of California at Berkeley. "He’s not only a world-class scientist but a world-class teacher, too."

Today, Gordon is an associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and his research area is molecule-based magnets. His classroom teaching usually consists of large general chemistry sections. "Most of my students are science or engineering majors, many of whom see it as their biggest hurdle," he says. "I consider it to be part of my job to turn these kids on to chemistry."

Gordon is also trying to change the nature of learning materials, with his teaching efforts for a small, privately owned company in Texas called Thinkwell. "You don’t just take a regular print textbook and transfer the words onto a CD," he explains. "To take best advantage of the medium, you want video of someone who talks to you and explains chemistry—someone who shows you chemistry." Currently, 50 schools in the United States are using the CDs as a replacement textbook or as a supplement.

"I should warn you," he stresses, "that outside the CD arena I’m very much a chalk and chalkboard person. You can’t take the teacher out of the equation." When one of his students recently told him that she wanted to become a professor because of teachers like him, Gordon was really touched. "It made me think about the people in my past who did the same thing for me."

"From age 17 on, I knew that I
wanted to be like my freshman
chemistry professor!"