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Chemistry Department Goals and Objectives

Chemistry is a fundamental science in the study of the molecular nature and interaction of matter, and the application of chemical knowledge in solving scientific problems. Chemists are interested in studying the structure, properties and reactivity of organic, inorganic and biological compounds from a molecular perspective, and in the application of this knowledge in advancing fundamental chemical understanding and technology. 

Liberals arts colleges offer high quality instruction in chemistry at the undergraduate level through small student/faculty ratios, fostering interactive learning in the classroom, and individualized engagement of students at all levels in collaborative research. 

Vassar offers students a creative, supportive, and challenging environment for an intellectual pursuit of study in chemistry. Students interact closely with faculty at all levels of the curriculum, from coursework and hands-on experience in the laboratory to faculty mentorship and interaction on guided senior thesis and summer research projects. The chemistry department offers students a wide choice in experimental independent projects and interdisciplinary collaborations, from probing fundamental questions in chemistry to applying chemistry in the study of materials, the environment and in biological systems. The department is fully equipped with modern instrumentation to support rigorous and vibrant research. Students have the unique opportunity at Vassar to work closely with faculty on research throughout their undergraduate career and to become proficient in the use of modern instrumentation and methodology. 
Non-majors taking chemistry courses are typically pre-medical students, students from other science disciplines fulfilling prerequisites, or freshmen with a general interest in the sciences. Our goals for such students are the same as those for majors in the first two years of study. The first two years of chemistry provide an overview of the main areas of chemistry from a molecular perspective. They also provide students with the intellectual foundation and the basic laboratory skills to pursue more advanced studies in chemistry or in other scientific disciplines. 

Non-majors may pursue several options, ranging from one semester of introductory chemistry to the 6 ½ units required for the correlate. In the first year, students may either take a year of general chemistry (Chemistry 108, 109) or, if they have AP credit or two years of high school chemistry, they may opt for a condensed one-semester accelerated course (Chemistry 125). In the second year, students may pursue organic chemistry (Chemistry 244,245), which is often a prerequisite for a variety of disciplines and professions, including biology, the health sciences, the pharmaceutical industry, and elementary and secondary education.

Students interested in the correlate must fulfill an additional 2 ½ units of advanced courses in their area of interest that includes an independent project or an advanced laboratory course. 

With the growing interdisciplinary nature of science, the study of chemistry is becoming critical in furthering intellectual and technological advancement in many areas of science. We require majors and correlates to develop a rigorous molecular understanding of chemistry, grounded in both theory and scientific methodology, and its application in problem solving. Students acquire both breadth and depth in the study of inorganic, organic, analytical, and physical chemistry through course work and laboratory experience. In addition to building a theoretical foundation in chemistry, students deepen their knowledge of chemistry through interacting with faculty supported by tutors and supplemental instruction learning communities, through the study of advanced topics and primary literature, and by undertaking novel research projects. Building on the basic laboratory skills acquired through the second year, students are taught to use more sophisticated instrumentation in collecting and analyzing data, and they develop interpretative and communication skills in reporting their work through oral presentations and scientific reports. Chemistry majors are also required to complete an independent research project as a capstone experience that emphasizes critical review of literature, ability to work independently, problem solving, and the writing and presentation of a senior thesis. Students also give poster or oral presentations at research symposia and professional meetings.

Chemistry majors pursue a structured course of study that moves from the basic theoretical foundation at the introductory and intermediate levels to an in-depth, nuanced understanding of the structure, properties, and reactivity of compounds at the advanced level, where they study in-depth at least one core area in chemistry. Chemistry majors also complete a senior thesis research project based on hands-on collaborative research with a faculty member.  Students with four years of chemistry acquire a rigorous preparation that provides them with the intellectual breadth and critical scientific skills to pursue graduate studies or work in chemistry-related disciplines.