Chemistry at Illinois University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Gretchen Adams

Director of Undergraduate studies

Gretchen Adams received her undergraduate degree in Teaching of Chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1998. She earned her Masters of Science in Teaching of Chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1999. She joined the Chemistry Department in January 2003. Prior to this, Gretchen taught high school science in Iowa for four years. She subsequently started her Ph.D. program in 2011 and finished with a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2016, also from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In addition to teaching chemistry courses with the General Chemistry division, she directs the Chemistry Merit Program for Emerging Scholars and serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Teaching Philosophy

"My teaching philosophy has many facets, interconnected, as none of these areas are mutually exclusive to each other. Overall, at the core of science teaching, is to teach students the nature of science. This includes the scientific method and research, in addition to the fundamental principles of chemistry that pertains to the course or phenomena. Ideally, I hope to ignite curiosity – a wonderment and desire to understand how the world works. That drive inspires questions. It’s then pivotal to help students obtain the tools and skills to search for those answers, in a thorough and evidence-based way.

I ultimately believe that all students are capable of asking questions and demonstrating and/or evaluating strong scientific practices, however students must be pushed towards higher-order thinking such as critical thinking, application, evaluation, and communication through modeling, explaining and writing. Achieving this level of thinking as a novice is very difficult to achieve on one’s own. Thus, as a teacher, I see myself as a mentor – a person who truly cares about each student and their learning. Not only do I serve as an “expert” and facilitator of knowledge from the viewpoint of a student, I am responsible for taking a vested interest in each student – how they learn best and appreciating their unique strengths and challenges. I must think about how knowledge is constructed, creating a roadmap towards understanding chemistry, but also recognizing that not every student learns in the same way or constructs understanding in the same way. Thus, I must provide multiple opportunities and ways for students to learn the material.

As part of this mentoring relationship, I am also guiding students so they ultimately recognize how they learn best, as an individual. Achieving higher-order thinking and understanding is not possible without the active role of the student. Thus, emphasizing to students their active role, including metacognition, is very important to my teaching philosophy as well. Guiding students to recognize what they know and don’t know, and helping them figure out what questions to ask themselves are part of my teaching and mentoring roles, even though these are much harder to teach than content.

And finally, I believe advocating for the success of all students, particularly underrepresented populations, is a matter of social justice and improving scientific research for the future. Thus, improving my own teaching techniques and creating student communities to foster the success of all students is critical to my teaching mission and purpose."


Gretchen does several large demonstration shows, small-group presentations, and hands-on activities every year for the state of Illinois community and schools at large. She is most known for her demonstration shows and presentations to prospective and incoming freshman on how to be a successful science student in college (often co-presented with colleague Don DeCoste).

Courses Taught

  • Chemistry 101, Introductory Chemistry
  • Chemistry 108, The Chemistry of Everyday Phenomena


  • 2017 University of Illinois Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Instructional Faculty
  • 2017 College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Instructional Faculty
  • 2014 University Distinguished Teacher-Scholar
  • 2012 Faculty Honoree, Illinois Women's Basketball Team
  • 2011 School of Chemical Sciences Outstanding Staff Award
  • 2011 IlliAAC Annual Outstanding Established Program Award
  • 2010 Alpha Lambda Delta Outstanding Teacher of Freshman Award
  • 2008 School of Chemical Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award
  • ICES List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students: Fall 2004 to present
  • 1999 School of Chemical Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award as a TA

Grants Awarded

  • The Dow Chemical Company Aid to Education Grant, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
  • National Science Foundation S-STEM Grant, 2012
  • National Science Foundation STEP Grant, "Merit-Based Immersion Program for Students and Teachers (MIST)", 2007
  • The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc. Special Grant Program Recipient, 2003


G.M. Adams and J.M. Lisy, “The Chemistry Merit Program: Reaching, Teaching, and Retaining Students in the Chemical Sciences”, Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 84, pp 721-726, April 2007


Gretchen's current research involves investigating the factors that influence the retention and success of all STEM majors at the University of Illinois (especially chemistry majors), with a secondary emphasis on underrepresented groups.

Conference Presentations

  • LAS Teaching Academy, Featured Monthly Workshop Speaker, Nov 2015
  • Chambana Science Café, Featured Monthly Speaker, Nov 2015
  • Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) Associate/Assistant Dean Annual Meeting, Curricular Innovations in LAS, Roundtable Facilitator, Oct 2015
  • Botany 2015 International Conference (Edmonton, Canada), Diversity Luncheon, Keynote Speaker, Jul 2015
  • UIUC Faculty Retreat Conference, Video Vignette, Mar 2015
  • College Teaching Effectiveness Network (CTEN) Discussion Panelist, "What the Best University of Illinois Teachers Do", Feb 2015
  • NSTA National Conferences, Mar 2015, 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2008
  • AAC&U Transforming STEM Education Conference, Nov 2014
  • UIUC College of Business Academy for the Advancement of Learning, Fall 2014 Teaching & Learning Series, Oct 2014
  • UIUC Collaborative Learning Spaces Symposium, Sep 2014
  • UIUC Faculty Retreat Conference, Feb 2014 and 2013
  • UIUC Graduate Academy, Aug 2015 and 2014
  • College of ACES Teaching Seminar, Nov 2013
  • Illinois New Teacher Collaborative STEM Beginning Teacher Conference, Jul 2014 and Jul 2013
  • Partnership for Implementing the Framework for Science Education (PIFSE), Jun 2013
  • NCTM Regional Conferences, Nov 2012 and Oct 2011
  • NABT National Conference, Nov 2009
  • Celebrate Youth Conferences, May 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2008
  • ACS National Meetings, Mar 2009, 2006 and 2005
  • Enhancing Chemistry Conference, Mar 2006, 2008
  • UIC STEM Conference, Sept 2007 and 2009
  • ICUC FYI Chemistry Conference, May 2007
  • EIU Math Conference, Mar 2007


Photo of Gretchen Adams