Graduate Teaching Award: Nicholas Tito

On June 4, 2013 by Elizabeth Molina-Markham

tito_feature_editedNick Tito, a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry, was selected as one of this year’s recipients of the Graduate Student Teaching Award.

Tito has been at Dartmouth since the fall of 2008. Born and raised in Maine, he earned his Bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of New England, located in his home state. As an undergrad, Tito tutored students in chemistry, first developing his teaching skills. At Dartmouth, he’s been a teaching assistant for Physical Chemistry 2—a theoretical chemistry course based in quantum mechanics. The course matches Tito’s own interests in theoretical chemistry.

“I never really enjoyed the lab work as much,” he said. “There’s a certain creativity that theory offers. In lab, mixing and experimenting, you’re limited to working with what’s tangible and real. I’ve always enjoyed working with ideas, with the intangible side of this science. It’s very creative.”

Theoretical chemists are harder to come by than their lab-loving counterparts, which makes Tito a valuable asset to Dartmouth’s chemistry faculty.

“I was recruited to teach Physical Chem right off the bat. There’s just not as many of us in the department.”

Physical Chemistry is a course reserved for those students who are pursuing degrees in chemistry or biomedical or premed fields. It’s important that these students walk away from these classes with more than just good grades.

“For each new topic, I try to remember how I best learned the subject. I use that as a starting point, and try to encourage the students to give me a lot of feedback on the lessons. I always try to study facial expressions and body language—anything that helps me judge how well the material is sinking in.”

Tito also tries hard to bring in real-world analogies. Noting how tough it can be to fully grasp theoretical subjects, he appreciates the importance of offering easy-to-remember takeaways.

Tito’s own research focuses on polymer phase behavior. “I study the physical state of liquids and polymers (plastics) at different temperatures,” he explains. Tito works with Professor Jane E. G. Lipson, the Albert W. Smith Professor of Chemistry here at the College. Lipson’s research group attempts to add to the chemistry industry’s understanding of the microscopic structure of polymers.

Tito will be defending his thesis this summer. After five years at Dartmouth, he says he’s ready to move on, but that he’ll miss the unique “freshness” and cosmopolitan feel that Hanover offers in a small-town setting. Tito is an avid piano player and web designer, and he helped the Graduate Student Council to launch a new website this year. He hopes teaching will be part of his future too.

“I chose Dartmouth because of its emphasis on teaching. Being a teaching assistant was a very different experience from tutoring, but I learned things and got through challenges that will certainly help me in the years ahead.”

The Graduate Studies Office would like to commend Tito for his excellent work in teaching and wish him the best in his upcoming thesis defense.

by Zach Williams


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