Prof. Joel Burley Held Safe, In-Person Chem Lab Last Fall

When the pandemic struck, Professor Joel Burley was determined to hold an in-person Chem lab at Saint Mary’s. While few campuses around the nation maintained in-person classes, he and the Science Department worked hard to make his vision a reality. 

“We were able to offer in-person Chem 9 lab to residential students, in a form that was nearly identical to the pre-pandemic version of the course,” said Burley. 

Rules and new additions were set into place to make the lab a safe space for students and professors alike. The College put plexiglass into the lab room, enforced strict mask wearing, and required social distancing. Burley felt the lab was COVID conscious and safe. 

Students appreciated the efforts. Bella Rawlings ’24, who lived on campus during the fall semester, decided to take the lab. “I looked forward to having an in-person class during the pandemic!” she said enthusiastically. “It was easier to make friends when I met them in person rather than on Zoom. It was a nice alleviator to the typical restlessness of Zoom university.”

Burley was also very satisfied with the outcome of the class. “Holding in-person labs offered a welcome respite from the endless hours of Zoom and provided a reminder that some really good stuff was still chugging along, despite the pandemic,” he said. 

Despite the lab’s successes, Burley and his students faced plenty of challenges. These included small inconveniences such as lab goggles fogging up due to constant mask wearing, maintaining six-foot distances in the hands-on environment, and scheduling issues. But both the department and students agree the class was a success.

Burley says he is looking forward to teaching several in-person classes this spring. These include Chem 9, General Chem Lab, Chem 10, General Chem II, and two sections of Chem 115 Physical Chem Lab. Saint Mary’s has continued to ensure that on-campus instruction will be safe and effective. “We will need to remain vigilant to keep everybody safe, but it should be a smoother process overall based on what we learned last semester,” said Burley.