Dr. Sachiko Ito Howard, Professor of Chemistry, was named 2005 Professor of the Year at New England College.
Dr. Howard came to New England College in the 1980s when a teaching position opened up during the academic year. She taught at the College for a few years but left to pursue her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at the University of New Hampshire where she specialized in enzyme mechanism. After teaching at UNH, she returned to New England College in 1993 when a position in the Chemistry Department again became available.
“It never entered my mind,” said Dr. Howard of the award. “I was very surprised and very pleased! I think the award is a reflection more of my students who worked so hard this past year. It’s really nice to share this with them.”
Dr. Howard, who graduated from Harvard with an interdisciplinary major in biochemical science, is keenly aware that chemistry is “not always the most beloved subject at college.” Adding to that challenge is the fact that Dr. Howard’s organic chemistry class starts promptly at 8:00 a.m.
“Students often come to class with a preconceived notion that they are not going to like science,” she said. “Science is a lot of work and I want to maintain a certain standard. When they are done with the course they have to show me basic competence in the subject. It’s not so important to me where they go after they’ve had my class but when they say they had Sachie Howard for General Chemistry that says they know the basics.”
But students concerned with the rigors of science, particularly at eight o’clock in the morning, are greatly relieved as soon as they become acquainted with Dr. Howard’s teaching style. “I bring coffee, orange juice and donuts,” she jokes. “They have no excuse for being late to class!”
Dr. Howard’s gift for teaching, which played a significant role in her selection as Professor of the Year, is her enthusiasm for supporting her students’ work outside the classroom. “When a student comes to class with gaps in their backgrounds, I spend a lot of time with them in one-to-one tutorials working on problems and finding the solutions together,” she said. “I work really hard with them to help them develop good study habits.” The rewards for Dr. Howard are the special moments when a connection is made between teacher, student, and the material. “I teach for the “ah ha!” moments,” said Dr. Howard. “Chemistry is not the easiest subject to grasp. My students always have questions that I have never thought about. In teaching, there is always something new.”
According to Dr. Richard Greene, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs at New England College, nominations for the Professor of the Year Award are made by faculty, students, and even staff members. “At New England College, teaching is highly prized,” he said. “It is the number one standard for promotion at the College and the number one standard on which we judge each other. What students like about Sachie is her vibrant personality and this really comes across in her teaching. ”
In her spare time, Dr. Howard has found other ways to use her special gift for making things grow. She is a volunteer for the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension Master Gardner program and shares her expertise on gardening with the public. “My philosophy on gardening is if you are going to bother to grow something, make it special – it’s the same amount of work and the “ooh and aah” factor is so much higher,” she noted. And she takes her own advice. A big fan of international cuisine, Dr. Howard grows the exotic vegetables that are not available in local supermarkets. “If they don’t have it, I grow it,” said Dr. Howard. Her students would undoubtedly agree.
New England College (NEC) is an independent liberal arts college that prides itself on fostering close working and mentoring relations among faculty, staff, and students. With approximately 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students and a low student to teacher ratio, the NEC experience offers real world preparation through internships, service learning, and a proactive career center. NEC’s goal is to ensure that all students thrive as they strive to achieve their full academic, personal and social potential. The College is located in Henniker, New Hampshire, a community of 4,000 residents just 18 miles from Concord, the state capital, and 85 miles from Boston. More information on NEC can be found at www.nec.edu.