Chemistry professor a leader in teaching, research, service

illustration of Stacey Lowery Bretz in front of molecule

Chemistry professor a leader in teaching, research, service "Memorizing is
not understanding"

Inside Hughes Hall on Miami’s Oxford campus, Stacey Lowery Bretz will hand students magnetic models of compounds and ask them to show her how a simple compound like table salt (NaCl) dissolves into water. She’s teaching them to demonstrate their understanding of concepts, rather than reciting calculations from memory.

“Most students just memorize the symbols and equations,” she said. “If you ask them to draw a picture of what the particles are doing, most of them get it wrong. Memorizing is not understanding. That’s not to say there’s nothing to memorize. But it’s not sufficient.”

Bretz standing in front of class explaining slide.
Stacey Lowery Bretz uses 3D models to help students learn difficult concepts.

This is Bretz’s life’s work - improving the teaching of chemistry. In 2019-2020, the University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry earned the Award for Achievement in Research on Teaching and Learning of Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (ACS). She also was named a fellow by the American Council on Education (ACE). Along with professor of English Tim Melley, she earned the Benjamin Harrison Medallion, Miami’s top faculty award for teaching, research, and service. Her laboratory, which typically includes up to 15 undergraduates and graduate students, has attracted more than $5.2 million in external funding since 2001.

Michael Crowder, chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry (now dean of Miami’s Graduate School), described a “typical year” for Bretz: Six peer-reviewed papers published, $600,000 in external funds procured, 10 conference posters presented, 11 invited speaking engagements (department seminars at other institutions and conferences) and seven contributed conference papers presented.

Helping protect Miami’s long-term financial sustainability

Four years ago, Bretz joined the Fiscal Priorities and Budget Planning Committee of the University Senate. She has become a leader among faculty in communicating the importance of practices and policies that shape Miami’s financial sustainability, including difficult conversations about the size and scope of Miami’s academic programs.

“It’s essential that we be able to offer academic programs that not only meet both student and employer demand but also generate enough net tuition revenue to sustain the costs of delivering our entire portfolio of academic programs,” Bretz said.

Those commitments make Bretz a “leading strategic thinker” on campus, Crowder said. “I’m confident that she will continue to lend her expertise to solving important problems,” he said.