A Formula for the Future
Chemistry student excels in the classroom as she prepares for teaching career
By Tara Roberts
An enthusiastic high-school teacher inspired University of Idaho senior Brianna Knudtsen’s love of chemistry – and now she’s heading back to her old classroom to encourage the next generation of scientists.
After walking at U-Idaho’s commencement ceremony May 11, Knudtsen will return to her hometown of Coeur d’Alene, where she will complete her teaching internship in the fall at Coeur d’Alene High School. Her favorite teacher, Erik Karns, will serve as her mentor.
Knudtsen hopes to follow in Karns’ footsteps in the classroom.
“He was enthusiastic about everything. He made it interesting,” she says. “He would blow up gas bubbles in the room, make a trash can explode. Science was just exciting, for once.”
Knudtsen – who recently earned the College of Science Dean’s Award and the chemistry department’s Excellence in Chemistry Award – is a double major in chemistry and secondary education. She says she’s appreciated the chance to dig into chemistry and see what’s “behind the scenes” on a molecular level.
She particularly enjoys physical chemistry, which examines how the laws of physics apply to chemistry, and analytical chemistry, which involves parsing out the individual chemical components of a material.
“It’s been cool to understand the details behind everything you observe,” she says.
Knudtsen studied for two years at North Idaho College before transferring to U-Idaho. While at NIC, she spent a summer interning at a winery through Idaho’s IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program. There, she honed her chemistry skills testing the sulfur dioxide levels, alcohol content and acidity levels in batches of wine.
While she considered studying oenology, the science of wine, for a while, she’s now ready to share her chemistry skills with high-school students – though she admits she’s a bit nervous about going into the classroom.
“I don’t know what that’s going to be like yet,” she says. “Nothing can prepare you besides just going and doing it.”
She will meet with her mentor teacher over the summer and begin planning lessons. Her ultimate goal, she says, is to bring her students to an understanding of how the chemistry lab is relevant in the outside world.
“I want to convey knowledge effectively, and also inspire interest in chemistry,” she says.
Knudtsen has prepared for teaching by working as a teaching assistant in a Chemistry 111 lab this past semester. Because many of her students are freshmen, she’s had the chance to help them become familiar with the equipment and procedures in the lab.
“I just enjoy interacting with people,” she says. “I think teaching is a great opportunity for that.”