The Catholic University of America

Diane M. Bunce, Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry

Where are you from?

I was born in Queens, New York (the I,000,000th baby born in Flushing Hospital) and grew up in Suffolk county on Long Island.

Educational background

After attending an all-girls convent school on Long Island (St. Joseph’s Academy, Brentwood, NY), I attended a Jesuit College in Syracuse, NY (Le Moyne College) where I earned a BS in Chemistry (1972). From LeMoyne, I went to Cornell University for a Masters in Arts in Teaching (1973). Following my masters, I taught high school chemistry on Long Island for two years (Holy Trinity High School and Farmingdale High School), married and moved to Durham, North Carolina. In North Carolina, I taught junior high school physical science for one year (Durham County Schools) and high school chemistry and physics (Hillsborough High School) for one year. After North Carolina, we moved to Maryland where I taught high school chemistry in Prince George’s County (Oxon Hill High School) for two years before returning to graduate school at the University of Maryland—College Park to work on my PhD in chemical education (1984).

Your discipline/research and accomplishments

I do research in the field of chemical education. Chemical education uses the tools and research techniques commonly found in educational psychology and sociology but focuses on problems in teaching and learning chemistry. Chemical Education research is an interdisciplinary field whose research tradition is about 30 years old. I believe that we can better understand the mismatch between the way we traditionally teach chemistry and the way students learn if we approach the topic from a scientific or research point of view. This means that we have to understand learning from a cognitive point of view and devise ways of investigating it that allow us to address and measure the real issues. Such a systematic approach to investigating problems such as problem solving; the effect of interactive pedagogies on student learning; the effect of teaching chemistry using a molecular approach instead of only a mathematical or symbolic approach; the length of time that students retain chemical knowledge following a test and the factors that affect it; and the difficulty that students have in explaining why something happens chemically are research questions I have investigated and published.

Part of the chemical education field is concerned with curriculum development. As such, I have served as part of the original writing teams for three curricula projects developed by the American Chemical Society and now published commercially (ChemCOM, Chemistry in Context, and Chemistry-A Project of the American Chemical Society).

Obstacles to overcome along the way?

Interdisciplinary fields often face obstacles in being accepted in their home department. Such interdisciplinary fields ask different questions and use different methods for collecting data to address the questions asked. I have seen great progress in being recognized for the quality of the research we do as chemical education researchers within chemistry departments in this country but there is room for more growth.

Mentors/Role models who encouraged you

I have been encouraged by many people both within my field and within this University. Mentors have a way of turning up when you need them the most. Sometimes it is a real help in attaining grants or learning how to refine your methodology. Other times, it is a smile and a pat on the back when you are at a low point. No one achieves anything in life without the help of others. I have tried to pay back my debt to those who have helped me by offering help to students, post doctoral associates, new professors, and established professors who want to do research in my field. It is true that we rarely have a chance to pay back the favor to those who actually mentored us but if we use our energy to mentor others, the debt is repaid.

What do you do for fun in leisure time?

Leisure time is found tucked in here and there among work and other responsibilities. My passion, which I share with my husband, is with rowing. He and I row competitively with the Annapolis Rowing Club both in sweep boats and sculls. It is an amazing experience to begin the day in a boat with 4 or 8 other people pulling on an oar in the dark as the coxswain guides the boat under bridges and around crab boats as we row in unison. It is only after we have rowed for 3or 4 miles up the river and turn around to head back to the dock that we often see the spectacular sunrises in all their pink and gold glory. Then it is back under the bridges, lifting the boat out of the water, grabbing a quick shower and heading into work for a day of teaching and research.