Amherst Humans in STEM Salon Profile: Professor Stephen Cartier
Professor Stephen Cartier’s journey in STEM began when he thought it was just ending. After graduating as a chemistry major from Boston College, he swore he would never do chemistry again.
Post-graduation, Professor Cartier joined the Peace Corps, where he taught high schoolers physics and chemistry in Togo for three years. This transformative experience forced Professor Cartier to relearn physics and chemistry and develop engaging lessons to teach to his French-speaking students. It was this experience that motivated Professor Cartier to attend graduate school for physical chemistry at Penn State. During his third year, a professor from Colgate came to talk, which instilled within Professor Cartier a desire to teach at a small liberal arts school where he would have the opportunity to work closely with students. After graduate school, he went to work for two years as a visiting professor at Colgate and then at Regis University in Colorado. Professor Cartier taught at Regis for over ten years where he was inspired to focus on pedagogical research, which he has pursued ever since. Interested in working at an urban high school to experience teaching students with a wide range of backgrounds, Professor Cartier moved to Asheville, North Carolina where he served as a teacher of the highest and lowest level physics courses for the year. This was an invigorating experience, that also made him realize he wanted to teach undergrads, so he pursued a teaching opportunity at Warren Wilson College where all classes are taught with hands on experience with a strong emphasis on student led research. In his ten years there, Professor Cartier advised over 30 students in their research in various disciplines of chemistry exposing him to many domains of chemistry. Professor Cartier, a Western Massachusetts native, always knew that he wanted to move back to New England. So, when the opportunity to be a visiting professor at Amherst College presented itself, he took it.
Professor Cartier research is focused on pedagogy. He has published a self-guided curriculum for physical chemistry and for general chemistry. His model gives students ways to visualize and interpret concepts from different perspective and a more active way to engage with the material. In developing his pedagogic curriculums, Professor Cartier was inspired by his own way of learning. As a student, he like many others struggled with chemistry, and wanted to make his classroom as interactive as possible in order to give students opportunities to express misunderstanding and their questions, go at their own pace and work collaboratively. Professor Cartier’s curriculum seeks to give students an engaging and interactive way that does not simply provide students with answers, with the hopes of creating a more fun learning experience and to increase retention of information. At Amherst, Professor Cartier teaches introductory chemistry. He has sought to incorporate interactive and more personal activities into the large lecture-based class. For instance, instead of giving quizzes during discussion section, he uses this hour to have students work together on worksheets and activities. To get to know his students better and to create a more inclusive environment, Professor Cartier invites small groups of students to enjoy a delicious burrito dinner with him!