By Shanna Smith ’18
My friends from other schools think I’m crazy when I say the best class I’ve ever taken is organic chemistry. Across the country, organic chemistry has been characterized by its “terrifyingly difficult” reputation, and generally feared by all students who know this infamous course is in their near future. I was also afraid when I entered lecture for the first day; however, my worries were immediately squashed in the first 15 minutes of class. My professor, William Dichtel, stood in front of the class and declared his love for organic chemistry, stating his seemingly-ambitious goal: by the end of the semester every single one of us would love organic chemistry as well. People generally dislike organic chemistry for its difficulty level; the subject matter alone is quite hard, and adding ambiguous lectures and unclear exam questions to the mix makes it virtually impossible to understand. While I can’t speak for the rest of my class, he definitely won me over.
Almost every day, Professor Dichtel – or his co-teacher, Professor Bruce Ganem – gives us examples as to why organic chemistry is so important. During many lectures, Professor Dichtel and Professor Ganem have a “Molecule of the Day” segment in which they show commonly-used organic molecules that many of us never knew involved organic chemistry. I had never before thought an organic molecule was responsible for the smell of oranges or understood why our tongues can distinguish between two molecules of the same molecular formula and same atomic connectivity. The professors make sure to state everything clearly in a non-arbitrary way, so as to prevent unnecessary confusion. Office hours are provided by both the professors and teaching assistants on a daily basis – for most hours of the day! – to make sure that everyone who is confused gets the help they need. Yes, the class is difficult, but only because the content is tricky. The lectures are interactive, exciting, and comprehensible. As a result, we are able to solve higher-level problems, contributing to our high-class organic chemistry education.
Organic chemistry is not alone; in my experience of classes at Cornell, the lecturer often goes out of his or her way to make sure everyone understands and is excited about the subject matter at hand. We then are able to solve more difficult problems and think on much higher levels, giving us the thorough education we desired when we chose Cornell University. This is one of the reasons I love Cornell; the professors here truly want their students to learn as much as possible and think as critically as possible.