Take Five with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Tamara Pease

June 19, 2017

By Erin Olson - Yankton Press & Dakotan Reporter

Pease earned her bachelor’s degree at Augustana University and her master’s degree at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg for Marine Sciences and Oceanography. Pease earned her PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and then did postdoctoral research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Recently, Pease spoke with the Press & Dakotan about her life as the assistant professor of chemistry at Mount Marty College.

Why did you choose to study chemistry?

Actually, I was kind of chemistry first, then I went into biology. I’m actually a marine biogeochemist, which makes it kind of crazy to be an oceanographer in South Dakota. I really liked looking at the intersection between biology and biological organisms, and the impact they have on the environment and how the environment impacts the biology.

A lot of organisms have a large impact on chemicals, and chemicals have a large impact on those organisms. We don’t think about that, but it’s true. For example, when organisms die and they break down, they turn into carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide stays in the water and the water becomes more acidic because it becomes carbonic acid, so the pH will drop down and become very acidic. If it becomes too acidic, if there’s too much CO2 in the water, it can cause ulcers on fish and things like that and can cause those fish to die. So there’s always a balance. I became very interested in that balance between organisms and how they impact their environment. How we currently impact the environment by putting out carbon dioxide or by putting balloons in the environment and how those things, in turn, impact us and what that means for our future, and how we can solve the various problems of pollution that we have. I really like that area and that’s how I got into that.

What is the hardest thing about teaching?

Surprisingly, it’s not the challenge of getting people to learn, and it’s not the challenge of when people aren’t getting it. The hardest part is when you’re trying really, really hard and dealing with somebody who feels that you’re maybe not teaching or not getting it across to them. It feels like a failure if somebody else fails at getting it. I have the belief that anyone can learn anything. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, it takes work. But I do believe if you work, you can learn those things. For some people, it comes really easy; for some people, it doesn’t. What I find very difficult is when I feel like I’m trying, trying, trying, and the other person is not trying as hard. There’s a tendency for people to think that learning is memorizing. Learning the basics is memorizing, but going beyond that and learning to think about things and create new things and synthesize new ideas and make new things that are out there. That’s what we really want you to do to learn. Some people fight that. They don’t want to do that. The hardest part is getting people to understand to go beyond that. Even with kids. That’s why I like Camp Invention. It’s getting them to think about new ideas, not just memorizing words.

What is the best part of teaching?

Absolutely the best part is when, not only that they get it, but, especially in college, when I get to have students for four years, and at the end of the four years, the cards that I get that say, "Not only did you teach me the subject matter, but you taught me about life and you mentored me through this. I am further along on this path then I’ll ever be." That just touches me so much to know that you’ve had an impact to send people on their way wherever they want to go. That is just so cool because you know that not everybody follows the same path, but they’re going on a path that’s going to be good for them and they’ve learned some skills to handle things in the future.

What should a student expect when they sign up for your class?

To work hard and to learn a lot. Chemistry is known not just at Mount Marty, but everywhere as a class that’s very difficult and traditionally as a weeder. You have to work hard. It’s not an easy subject for most people, so I would say, if you sign up for my class, know that you’re going to work hard. I’m not going to teach at Mount Marty with any less rigor than I taught at the University of Texas at Austin or than I learned at MIT or UNC Chapel Hill. That would be a great disservice. Expect to learn in more ways than you thought you would...


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