Office Hours with Aldo: Manny Rodriguez (w/ video)

Office Hours with Aldo: Manny Rodriguez (w/ video)

On Thursdays throughout the semester, staff writer Adalberto Toledo will book an appointment with a local professor. Today: Parkland College chemistry Professor MANNY RODRIGUEZ.

Rodriguez started college with the goal of making it to medical school. The moment he took chemistry, though, he was hooked.

Biology, he says, was too much about memorizing things. Chemistry, on the other hand, is about everyday life.

It's an idea he's kept in his lesson plan, trying everything he can to relate what he's teaching to human beings.

Here's more from the native Puerto Rican:

What's the most interesting thing about chemistry?

For me, chemistry just makes sense. I see the applications of chemistry to everyday things. So I think that's what makes chemistry really fascinating — it's the fact that you can explain something that happened in the macro world to things that happen in the microscopic world. So being able to understand how molecules interact and then being able to see how that actually applies to our daily lives is fascinating to me.

So in class, I spend a lot of time just trying to get students to make those connections. Something I do is give compounds and molecules human features. I treat them like humans. They have feelings, desires and everything. So we'll sit down and talk about chemicals and reactions like they're just people.

Some of the things that chemicals do is a thing that we would do. As an example, we talk about reactions and whether they happen or don't happen. One of the measurements we do to see if reactions happen has to do with energy related to work. In general, if molecules add to the work, then they don't do that. So a reaction will never happen if the molecules have to work.

So we talk about stuff like Mondays: "This reaction is feeling like a Monday, because no one wants to go to work on Monday, so this reaction won't happen unless you help it out."

Are kids nervous when they first get to your classes?

I think they're all pretty smart.

Chemistry is not really difficult; I think it's just really scary. It puts that barrier when you start doing chemistry. People come in for 101 and they'll come into my office and ask "What do I need to know; what do I need to do?"

And sometimes you just need to relax, listen and hope that it makes sense. Other people get here thinking that they can just do a worksheet and fill out a checklist and "Oh, this is all I need to do to pass the exam," so they never really sit down and think "OK, I can actually make sense out of this" and not have to make it as a chore.

They're really scared about it, so it's really about getting them to understand that it's really not that complicated.

I mean, there are few things that are hard to grasp. There are things I find really difficult, and I'll joke with them about it. In general, though, I just say that there are some things that you won't understand, but most of the things will make sense. At some point, it will click.

Tell me about your office and the L wing, where you teach.

For the most part, most people are in the same area of Parkland. I'm all over the place.

But mostly because there are different classrooms I like. In general, most life sciences and physical sciences stay in the L wing. The only thing we do outside of this wing is the laboratories, which are in the M wing.

Something cool about Parkland is that your lecturer is also the same person that runs the lab. I always hated the fact that labs were taught by different people. And I think it's very beneficial, because that's my time for me to talk to them about other things outside just lecture. It breaks the barrier.

Students come in here all the time and ask questions, and I think you really make that connection with your students during lab. It's more laid back and relaxed.

How did you end up in chemistry? What's your background?

So, I'm originally from Puerto Rico and did my bachelor's there. I was always really interested by science from when I was very little. Growing up, I was one of the kids who would ask for a microscope for Christmas because I wanted to see the water and the onion and see the cells of the onion. So, I was that kind of kid.

When I went to college, I was actually in the medical field. For most people, when they want to go to medical school, they have to take a few chemistry classes. I took them and they were super easy. My friends were struggling, but for me it somehow just made sense.

I switched my major to chemistry just to have a better GPA, which not a lot of people can say. I'm not good at memorizing things, so I wasn't great at biology. Relating things in chemistry to daily life just made sense. It was a easier for me.

One of my undergraduate professors actually asked me to work with her in her lab. She was working on her Ph.D. at the time. I really enjoyed doing research, so I decided not to go to med school and stay researching chemistry.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you.

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