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ASU School of Molecular Sciences professor receives teaching award

Laura Ackerman-Biegasiewicz honored with Distinction of Merit and Scholastic Occupation award from the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society

Laura Ackerman-Biegasiewicz

April 13, 2022

The 2022 Distinction of Merit and Scholastic Occupation (DMSO) teacher award was presented to Laura Ackerman-Biegasiewicz, who teaches in Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences. The award is given by the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS).

The award was named in reference to the organic solvent, dimethyl sulfoxide, abbreviated DMSO. DMSO has the ability to transmit compounds through the skin; a teacher winning the DMSO award has the ability to transmit knowledge and character into the hearts and minds of their students. 

"We are grateful for the opportunity as the SAACS organization to nominate Dr. Ackerman-Biegasiewicz for this faculty award," the organization said in a joint statemet. "She is an incredible professor that cares deeply about each of her students and wants to ensure their success at Arizona State University. She recognizes the unique challenges that students experience, and helps motivate and encourage them to keep pushing forward. She breaks barriers and builds bridges allowing students to reach their full potential."

Ackerman-Biegasiewicz, who has been teaching at ASU for two years, says teaching the next generation of scientists from diverse backgrounds a dynamic discipline in a changing world drives her commitment to excel.

“I constantly have to be reading, talking with experts and doing research in the lab so I stay at the forefront of knowledge and discovery,” Ackerman-Biegasiewicz said. “Every person, class and research team is different, so I need to become a better communicator to be in a better position to help my students learn.” 

“It is remarkable and unusual that a faculty member should receive a teaching award so early in their career,” School of Molecular Sciences President’s Professor Ian Gould said. “This points to the extremely high regard that the students have for Dr. Ackerman-Biegasiewicz . She understands the students, she really cares a lot about their success, and she has already figured out effective teaching strategies that work!”

Ackerman-Biegasiewicz’s teaching strategies are intentionally student-centered, understanding that whether it’s a single mom coming back to school or a student working multiple jobs to support a family, they have unique pathways.

“I place a lot of emphasis on students’ perspectives and where they are coming from,” Ackerman-Biegasiewicz said. “I hold a lot of small group meetings where I get to know my students individually and concepts with which they struggle, which helps inform my subsequent lectures.”

Organic chemistry is widely considered a challenging subject, in that it is difficult to teach as well as to learn. It is through those challenges that learning and growth occur. Seeing growth in her students and in herself motivates Ackerman-Biegasiewicz.

“There are so many struggles,” she said. “I gravitate toward students who struggle because I can relate. I wasn’t good at organic chemistry as a student. I struggled. I had to sacrifice. I had to learn to focus and to go see tutors and professors during office hours. They helped me and serve as my mentors to this day.”

Ackerman-Biegasiewicz credits her teaching style to growing up in Hawaii and its culture, as well as her parents, who are both teachers, and the many teachers and professors who have inspired her throughout her own education. She has a love for the outdoors, whether running, surfing or playing water polo, and also enjoys writing songs and playing the ukulele.

“Being born and raised in Hawaii taught me to lead with my heart and not just my head,” Ackerman-Biegasiewicz said. “My first intention is to be respectful and compassionate, and then we can do chemistry together.

“So many students are in need of a champion. Every student needs someone to help them see and nurture their gifts and strengths so they can move toward achieving their potential. Together, I hope we are all better tomorrow than we are today.”

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