Professor of the Year finalist finds satisfaction in his students’ accomplishments

Chemistry Department head Professor Michael Fultz reflects on American Chemical Society chapter’s ongoing recognition

Award-winning WVSU Chemistry Professor Michael Fultz engages with his students in a recent class session.
Award-winning WVSU Chemistry Professor Michael Fultz engages with his students in a recent class session.

The Yellow Jacket

West Virginia State University (WVSU) has built quite a resume as far as the Chemistry Department goes. For the past 11 years, the American Chemical Society (ACS) chapter at WVSU has received the Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award for its outstanding outreach techniques. This is considered quite an honor, especially considering the society has been recognized and awarded consecutively for a decade.  

Professor Michael Fultz serves as the chair of the ACS chapter at the university as well as head of the Chemistry Department. He is no stranger to being awarded for his efforts. For the second straight year, Fultz has been nominated as a finalist for the West Virginia Professor of the Year Award. He has been surrounded by support from his student and fellow peers in hopes that he brings home the award.  

Fultz teaches with a palpable level of enthusiasm that sets him apart from some of his peers. He constantly makes sure his students are engaged in his lectures, asking questions to jog their memories. Speaking with a clear voice and keeping his lectures moving at an upbeat, but manageable pace, Fultz maintains his intense demeanor from beginning to end.

In his office, Fultz toils amidst a good bit of clutter. Papers are stacked all over his desk and the floor. Considering what an average day looks like for him, one can understand why. When Fultz is not taking part in his lectures, he searches local high schools and middle schools for students who are interested in joining ACS. The upper walls of his office are decorated with plaques and awards related to his teaching. He and his students take up a good bit of room in the display case in the hallway outside Fultz’s office.
Despite his clearly busy pace, Fultz found time to talk to with The Yellow Jacket (YJ) regarding his nomination as well as the state of ACS.  

The Yellow Jacket: On the WVSU website, you said “the American Chemical Society is successfully continuing their mission to bring science education to young people. We are taking science into schools on a regular basis to enhance science education at all grade levels.” Could you elaborate as to what kind of outreach techniques are practiced?  

Michael Fultz: We are currently going to schools with grades K-12. We are doing what we call The Chemistry Olympiad. It is a multiple-choice test that we have the students take. We do it at no charge to the school. We then take the top ten students who scored the highest and bring them back to campus. This starts the second stage of the competition where they do a short answer, lab-based component test. This further decides who will go on to the national competitions in June. Whoever excels in the nationals goes to the internationals and so forth. Students have also begun taking part in the Yellow Jacket Unite program. We take our students and use them to mentor the younger kids. Our program is to get students in the lab. We want them to get familiar with it. We want the kids to find out what it is genuinely like to become successful in a science field while taking a hands-on approach.”

YJ: What kind of effects has COVID-19 had on all of this? 
Fultz: A lot of it is dependent on the schools. Many schools are trying hard to minimize exposure. They do not want to bring in people from outside the school and risk contamination. It has been a lot harder and a lot more difficult to do hands-on learning techniques. Schools have not been able to do their annual science bowls because they cannot risk large social gatherings. We are finally getting back to going to schools and doing hands-on activities. Of course, we are practicing all the preferences the hosting school has set in place. We practice social distancing and make sure to use a lot of hand sanitizer. 

YJ: How many students are currently enrolled in ACS?  
Fultz: Right now, we have about 20. It has been that number for a few years now.

YJ: The American Chemical Society at WVSU continues to receive the Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award for its challenging work. Last year, the group was invited to attend the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia to share your outreach techniques. Did the group attend the event?Fultz: We did attend. However, it was all virtual. No one has been able to attend in-person for the past two years due to the pandemic.Some of the various awards earned by ACS. Including multiple Green Chapter awards.

YJ: You have been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Professor of the Year award by the Faculty Merit Foundation of West Virginia. What do you believe led to you being recognized for such an honorary award? What kind of approaches and practices did you put toward instructing your course that led to this recognition? 
Fultz: I have been a finalist the past two years. As far as different practices and different approaches are concerned, I am here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. That is 12 hours a day I am working with students. I do not think I am doing anything too different. There is nothing that I am doing that is special. I am just trying to work closely with the students and give them as much experience as I can. I have a passion for chemistry, and I want to help any other person that shares that passion. Being a first-generation college student makes you want to share success and knowledge.

YJ: Now that you’ve been recognized for this award for two years in a row, do you feel a sense of pride or honor to be recognized? 
Fultz: I am more excited about my students getting into things like medical school and pharmacy school. I mean, no one in the school’s history has won this award. I was the first to be named a finalist. I want to bring it home. We have so many talented faculty on this campus. My main hope is that it brings attention to WVSU and its faculty. However, what my students accomplish gives me more recognition than anything. All the gifts and awards my students have gotten have been displayed all throughout my office. Those are more important to me than any plaque I receive.” 

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