Zhang:  You mentioned you were always interested in Chemistry as your major and career choice.  Why was that?

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Blossey:  Probably started— Yeah, started out at a very young age.  When we moved from Toledo to a small town called Maumee, in the house we moved into in the suburban small town, there was a chemistry kit.  And so I soon took up chemistry there at about the age of seven or eight.  And today this would not be possible because most mothers would never allow their children to, first of all to ever to have a chemistry kit.  I think this is what’s wrong with society today.  It’s like, “Oh they can blow up the house!”  Well, yeah, they might.  But they also can explore things and learn things, and if they understand what they’re doing, you can also become very, very interested in a variety of things and I did.  From that point on, there never was any doubt in my mind, and still there still is none to this today.  It’s exciting.  Everyday is really exciting to me, in terms of new things happening and stuff that we’re doing, and research.  Largely I think it’s the research that motivates me.  And then from the research is to actually impart that excitement to students.  We try to interpret for them what all this excitement I have, what it means to them in their own life, and how chemistry does impact your life, in every day, in every minute, in every second.  It’s so important to everyone.  And unfortunately, society doesn’t know that.

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Blossey Discusses the Origins of the Faculty-Student Summer Research

Program  (Play Audio)


Blossey:  And that’s where this comes in.  Because I had three fantastic students who were all Cram  scholars, and they did a fantastic job that summer and what I did was to show them like lab manuals and here’s a technique you need to know to work on your problem.  And okay, so here’s a motive for that student to learn; they had to learn that material.  So they’d go do their little lab experiment that’s like most organic chemistry students would do and they knew what the answer should be for that, and they said, Okay now I’ve mastered that, now I can go do this thing on our own, which is our research.  Research is always about learning new things and new compounds and so forth.  So it was like, Okay now I can understand this.  So that’s how they learn, and they learned a tremendous amount in ten weeks that summer.

Ah, two are M.D.’s now; one is probably going to head up a surgical unit down in eastern Miami.  He’s very good, well known down there as well as here in town.  The third one is now a director of a pharmaceutical company in Virginia; and he’s a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Virginia.  And so all three of those were obviously outstanding students to begin with, but that thing also motivated them to go into something like this.  That this is, this kind of student faculty research is really exciting for them. For me, too.


Zhang:  So that’s really the first of the students that did summer research?

Blossey:  Yep, it started in chemistry.  Yep, that’s right.  Started that summer of 1994.  With no money.  We had some money we used out of the chemistry budget to buy stuff and the faculty received no money whatsoever, which is normal for the summers.  I just like to do research.  I think the students were paid principally a sum of five hundred dollars, which even in 1994 wasn’t much.  But they enjoyed the experience and they always remark about it.  And came back, all of them came back, and did summer research after that as they progressed through Rollins.

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Blossey Discuses the Benefits of the Winter Term   (Play Audio)

Blossey:  We did not have the semester system that we have now until, I guess, about twenty years ago.  But that also led to the winter term, the infamous winter term, which the students today have no knowledge of (laughs) and it was a very exciting time in terms of doing winter term courses that were different, where a student took only one course and could do things that were not possible in other ways.  Field trips in biology that were not necessarily possible during the academic year, the normal academic year.  And in chemistry, largely to do, everyday, doing research in the laboratory, which is very difficult to do in a normal academic year.

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Zhang:  I understand you were always a strong supporter of faculty research. Could you tell us more about your work in that area?

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Blossey:  Yes, I think to me I fought administrations up to the deans in the past here about this.  To me, the highest form of education is research, and we need to understand that.  And I have little respect for those that don’t understand that because if you really understand anything about learning, learning theory and so forth, that’s where the highest form of, actually education, is research.  But it’s not the faculty’s research, and that’s what administrators tend to misinterpret.  They do that I think because, again, lack of knowledge and it’s, the onus is put on the faculty to try to describe to them, what we’re talking about in terms of collaborative student faculty research.  And that’s what, how we’re learning and to me it’s probably one of the highest forms of education simply because a student is going to see that they must learn something to do their problem, which they get very excited about.  They need to learn something, you know, some background, or some concept, some fundamental to be able to do their particular problem at hand.  And I don’t care what area it is, it doesn’t matter, doesn't have to be science, it can be anything.  So that I think culminated in about 1994, when Pedro Bernal came to me in the summer, actually, not in the summer, and said, “You know, what we ought to do is try a collaborative research program.”  Suggested by Pedro and by Steve Briggs who was the dean of faculty at that time, and rising sophomores, people who’d just finished their first year of chemistry or physics or whatever could be involved in a chemistry program doing research in the summer.  And it really was unheard of.  And the results are very new nationally. Michigan State had tried something like that and a few small colleges had, but most institutions had research in the summer only for rising seniors, okay, because it’s going to be part of their senior thesis or whatever, and we had done that since day one when I came here.  We already had that, in 1965, established at Rollins of having senior research and summer research with rising seniors.  But to have a first year student do research? And at first I talked to Pedro about this.  “I’m not so sure about this. They have no knowledge— They haven’t had organic chemistry yet! How can they do a problem with me that— I’m an organic chemistry professor.”  And he said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to teach them that.”

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Blossey Describes the Personalized Institution Study Method

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Blossey:  Fred Keller was a psychologist who had devised this particular program.  And at first I was like, Okay.  He wasn’t too sure of all the details of it.  So we got some more materials and that summer we put together this physics/chemistry course, that actually I had brought to Rollins from Wabash.  This is how Wabash taught their non-majors as well as their majors at Wabash.

But we devised the course during the summer.  We wrote in the neighborhood of about twenty units or chapters each for the two semesters, wrote four quizzes for each unit, which meant we wrote about eighty some quizzes each.  And our Oh yeah, it’s a tremendous amount of work, and started the course of that fall, which would’ve been the fall of 1974, and it was very successful and I decided, okay well besides doing this first year course that I would try organic chemistry.

So I did, and on the side I was also teaching that.  And so I did a PSI [Personalized System of Instruction] unit on that, which I think that paper is referring to, is some of the stuff that we did in that course.  And also, we did the biochemistry course, which was the other course I taught at the same time.  So it was a very large effort, which was very, very successful.  We did a lot of measurements of the outcomes of the students.  In particular, their ability to retain information.  We found that the Keller/PSI method was very good for retention of information in science.  And that attracted me in terms of organic, which is usually taught as a lot of facts. I don’t teach it that way, but some people do.  And then soon students forget all the facts.  But the other is biochemistry, which is all very fact filled, but one has to be able to see the relationships from one thing to another, and again the PSI method was very good for that.

But I killed myself doing all that work in that time period because again, writing all these units, we published a book with John Wiley and Sons Inc., which was a PSI method for organic chemistry and the biochemistry went on their own.  The unfortunate thing is, in the PSI method, you use student tutors that are, normally, are the people who’ve had the course the year before.  Well biochemistry was the senior level course and so there was no students that wanted to come back in the fifth year and help me as tutors into the biochemistry course and so that was all on my own.  I was the tutor, the writer of all the units, the grader of everything, and so on. So that, that probably was bad.  And eventually I did drop doing that. I think by 1980, when Larry Eng-Wilmot came, we were still doing, we’d separated out chemistry and we were doing that PSI and I was doing organic PSI, but about year or two after that we decided it was just too much work, and Larry convinced me that it probably was just too much involvement in that and that we ought to do some other things as well. So we dropped it, but it was highly successful.

Probably some of the greatest teaching experiences I’d had, working as the tutor in the courses, because a student would come in, you’d grade their little test.  Usually about a twenty to thirty minute test.  You’d grade it and you’d point out their errors, and if they did not succeed at the ninety-five percentile level, they failed the test.  And what that meant was that they’d have to go back and study some more and come back and take another form of that test.  And it was the same kind of questions, but different problems.  And so at that point, when you graded this, you had an opportunity to talk to them about the mistakes the student was making.  And at first it sort of bothered me that I was sitting there with this student watching me grade, when most of the time professors grade papers without the students ever watching.  So they’re watching you as you grade this, and you put a big red X on something and it’s like This fear and trepidation on the part of the student and I think it might manifest in a negative reaction toward me.  But this is, I learned that this is okay and that they actually then enjoyed the fact that I would talk to them.  “Okay, you need to look at this, and look at this.”  And they’d open the book and say, Okay.  “And what don’t you understand about this?”  So they would have an immediate response from what they had just put down on a quiz.  That to me was probably really exciting because there were times when you could see the student go “Oh!”  The ‘Ah!’ moment.  It’s like, Okay, ah, that’s how you do that.  And that was extremely useful and very exciting to me as a teacher to have that experience.

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