Open letter: Students of Professor of Physics and Chemistry David Keeports oppose his potential layoff

By and
June 26, 2017

This letter was written and submitted to college officials and the Board of Trustees by a number of Keeports’ students. It was submitted to The Campanil by Courtney Koetz and Hannah Szentkuti.

As Dr. David Keeports’ students, we believe that it is our responsibility to inform you all of his limitless passion for teaching physics to post-baccalaureate pre-medical students, as well as the most core and challenging courses- thermodynamics and quantum mechanics to chemistry majors.

Many of Dr. Keeports post-baccalaureate students come into the program dreading physics due to its perceived difficulty. During their first year, Dr. Keeports evening exams are legendary and nerves are high as that second year approaches. However, what no one mentions is how approachable Dr. Keeports makes the material from the get-go once the class actually begins. On the first day of physics class, he strolled into the classroom, seemingly unaware of the tension that filled it. He smiled a wide smile and exclaimed, “I’m so excited you’re here!” That tension and anxiety evaporated, as the sincerity of his statement was unquestioned. His passion for the subject was contagious. While the material was difficult and his exams and quizzes were challenging, he continually prepared us for success. He held exam reviews during his free time (making sure as many students as possible could come to his reviews), and he would often stay long past his scheduled office hours to make sure that every student in the line that formed outside his office had been met with and their questions answered. He is also the only professor in the post-baccalaureate program known to sit with students at lunch and engage them in academic conversations, which was something we all greatly enjoyed. Finally, Dr. Keeports himself takes his post-baccalaureate students to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. He speaks of this day like it is a major holiday – and to us, it started feeling that way, as well.  He took us around to the various exhibits, explained them and related them to our classroom learning, and had fun with us. He cares deeply about his students’ success, something that often does not occur at large universities – and the difference it makes is stunning. The post-baccalaureate program would suffer greatly from losing Dr. Keeports, as he is a highlight of the program to many of us and provided us with such a strong base in physics. We feel more prepared to take on whatever challenges medical school or any other science-based discipline thanks to the confidence and knowledge of physics Dr. Keeports has instilled in us.

Though non-majors may only get to see Dr. Keeports in the physics lab when they take general physics, the chemistry majors are privileged to have this professor teach them two of the most difficult but ultimately satisfying courses, fundamental to the major.

In general chemistry and organic chemistry we get an idea for how various species behave. For example, in general chemistry we become familiarized with atoms first, then diatomic molecules like the nitrogen and oxygen gases we breathe, we learn about ionic molecules, acids and bases, things of this nature. In organic chemistry we learn the behaviors of dozens of common functional groups, like the alcohols and amino groups common in our body chemistry. It is also in organic chemistry that we begin to understand how companies can produce a desired drug. We examined around a hundred frequently used reactions on these groups, giving us the tools to build a compound with our desired level of specificity.

Though those endeavors may sound daunting, the mission of thermodynamics is arguably more so. It is in thermodynamics that we aim to answer the question, to what extent do chemical reactions occur? A question which requires not only a hefty knowledge of chemistry, but also physical and mathematical sophistication. For most chemistry students this may be their hardest course, as we build the answer to this question from the ground (what is heat, work, entropy, enthalpy etc.) up (Keq= e-G/RT) using some algebra, and a ton of multivariable calculus.

Throughout the experience that is chemical thermodynamics, Dr. Keeports was nothing less than brilliant and devoted. No matter what the circumstances of the day, he always came in with a smile on his face and a story to tell. In a school like Mills, where literally every professor is engaging and outstanding, we bet it would be incredibly difficult to find a professor whose care competes with his.

In the first week of class, Dr. Keeports entered with a large bandage wrapped around his hand, an injury he obtained in lab. Instead of being upset about his burns, he was excited to have the opportunity to explain to us the behavior of superheated water, that its vaporization is a spontaneous and irreversible process, which actually tied in well with our material that week.

The fun of this course comes hand-in-hand with the difficulty of the material. Practicing derivations and consistently working out practice problems are essential to understanding this course at any school. Thus, every Tuesday, Dr. Keeports would announce his available hours for our weekly workshop, where he would go through the homework to the extent that everyone’s questions were answered, no matter how long it took, and no matter how many attendees there were. In fact, these sessions mattered so much to us, and thusly to him, that if during class a single student said they were unable to attend his preferable workshop hours, Dr. Keepots would sacrifice his personal time to accommodate them. The quality of both the mandated lecture periods and the optional workshop periods was at such a level that people would routinely record the lectures in video and audio, and some would even attend the sessions by web camera if they could not show up in person.

We hope we have been able to convince you of the character of Dr. Keeports, both as a professor and as a human being. The undergraduates particularly hope we will be able to continue our studies with him during quantum mechanics in the fall.

Sincerely,

Dr. Keeports’ students


Open letter: Students of Professor of Physics and Chemistry David Keeports oppose his potential layoff was published on June 26, 2017 in Community, Letters to the Editor, Mills in crisis, News, Opinions

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