Las Vegas, New Mexico – Highlands University named organic chemistry professor Brooks Maki as Professor of the Year for 2015 – 2016.
Each spring an independent selection committee composed of students, faculty and staff reviews the nominations from students for Professor of the Year and selects a winner.
A coalition of students nominated Maki for the award.
“Dr. Maki shares his vast knowledge and critical thinking strategies with his students, patiently and enthusiastically explaining complex scientific concepts,” said Kathryn Storms, a chemistry junior who nominated Maki. “In the lab, Dr. Maki goes out of his way to share his experiences and point out nuances in lab techniques. In classes, Dr. Maki insists that we ask for clarification of material. Dr. Maki is always available to help his students, and truly cares about their academic endeavors.”
Graduating organic chemistry senior Melecio Perea also nominated Maki for the award. Perea begins his doctoral studies in organic chemistry at Berkeley fall semester 2016.
“Dr. Maki is both my academic and research adviser, and I have enjoyed every second of working in his lab these last two years,” Perea said. “Some believe that success is measured in accolades, but I truly believe that success, especially as a professor, is measured by the success of his students. Dr. Maki’s exceptional mentorship and guidance have led to his students being accepted to top research internships and graduate programs.”
Maki earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Northwestern University in 2009 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas. He joined the Highlands faculty in 2013 and established his Organic Chemistry Laboratory.
“When I was an undergraduate, I had an inspirational research adviser who was very approachable,” Maki said. “This solidified both my decision to choose organic chemistry as well as be that kind of professor who provides hands-on research experiences for students. One of the main reasons I chose Highlands is because it’s the kind of small university where I can work one-on-one with my students.”
Over the past two years, Maki and his students have presented six research posters at the two national conferences for the American Chemical Society. Each semester, about nine students work in his lab.
“Our primary research focus is synthesizing small organic molecules with the overall goal of making new compounds that have the potential for medicinal applications. For example, one study involved synthesizing a new compound based on the chemical structure of an anti-inflammatory compound isolated from day lily flowers,” Maki said.
Maki’s own research focuses primarily on developing new ways of making organic molecules that could be applied to synthesizing new medical compounds. His work is published in scholarly journals such as Organic Letters, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters, and Journal of Biomedical Screening.
He teaches courses such as Organic Chemistry I and II, Inorganic Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and Advanced Organic Chemistry: Synthetic Chemistry.
Maki said his teaching approach is directly related to what intrigues him most about organic chemistry.
“In my teaching, I highlight the creative reasoning that is required in organic chemistry to make subtle connections that lead to new scientific discoveries. It’s a challenging discipline, and the most gratifying aspect of teaching it is when the students make those connections for themselves. It’s incredibly gratifying that the students nominated me for Professor of the Year,” Maki said.
Since Maki took over as academic adviser for the Chemistry Club in 2013, membership has grown from eight to 38 students.
“The Chemistry Club is important because it builds enthusiasm for the subject, and the students have the opportunity to do outreach with local youth to help get them excited about science,” Maki said.
He is also the academic adviser for the ARMAS Scholars class that organizes Highlands’ Student Research Day, which is April 29 this year.