Molecular sciences made personal: Developing curiosity in general and organic chemistry with a multi-semester utility value intervention

Jose A. Zavala, Rajat Chadha, Diana M. Steele, Christian Ray, Jeffrey S. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Freshmen and sophomores in college are historically at risk of disengaging with general and organic chemistry courses, performing poorly and not continuing in STEM. Utility value (UV) interventions, though, have increased the achievement and retention of low-performing students in psychology and introductory biology courses. In this study, a multi-semester UV intervention is being implemented to increase curiosity, a predictor of increased learning and retention, of three student cohorts going through general and organic chemistry. In General Chemistry II, student groups complete a research project applying abstract chemistry concepts, such as acid base properties, to clinically prescribed drugs, considering inter-individual variations based on personal genetics. In Organic Chemistry I, students complete a series of short journal prompts connecting organic chemistry with nutrition. Based on a preliminary analysis of cohort 1 and 2, students exposed to the multi-semester intervention perform a half letter grade better in introductory biochemistry after controlling for their ACT Composite and Math scores. Based on cohort 1's self-reported evaluations at the end of Organic Chemistry 2, a significant (p =.003) increase in curiosity occurred with the intervention group students (N = 42) compared to the control students (N = 167). A focus group of intervention participants who had recently completed Introductory Biochemistry indicated these students believed the intervention had better prepared them for biochemistry. These preliminary findings suggest the multi-semester UV intervention increases student engagement in introductory chemistry and increases students' self-confidence in applying independent scientific thinking and higher-order problem-solving skills, particularly during the culminating biochemistry course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-118
Number of pages14
JournalACS Symposium Series
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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