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A Successful Experiment

Posted by: Date: October 4, 2015
HS teachers in PLU's chemistry lab

Brian Weisenstein, who teaches in jakarta indonesia, right, and Ray Guest, of Missoula, MT, working during the AP (Advanced Placement) Summer Institute chemistry class taught by Duane Swank in the open lab of Rieke Science Center at PLU on Wednesday, July 8, 2015. The institute, celebrating 30-years at PLU, is for high school teachers who want to be certified to teach AP classes. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

By Zach Powers '10
Marketing & Communications

Chemistry professor helps make history with PLU's AP Summer Institute

Brian Weisenstein is a teacher at Jakarta Intercultural School who spent one particularly toasty July afternoon conducting an experiment on canned pineapple juice in PLU’s Rieke Science Center.

That’s not really as random as it sounds.

Weisenstein plans to teach Advanced Placement courses this year, so while he was in the Pacific Northwest for another conference, he searched online for accreditation opportunities—and found PLU’s AP Summer Institute.

Brian Weisenstein is a teacher at Jakarta Intercultural School who spent one particularly toasty July afternoon conducting an experiment on canned pineapple juice in PLU’s Rieke Science Center.
That’s not really as random as it sounds.

Weisenstein plans to teach Advanced Placement courses this year, so while he was in the Pacific Northwest for another conference, he searched online for accreditation opportunities—and found PLU’s AP Summer Institute.

Now he’s one of thousands of teachers—from PLU itself to Argentina, Europe, Russia, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia (and, now, Indonesia)—who have benefited from PLU’s prestigious program, which arms participants with strategies, materials and information to help them successfully teach AP courses.

PLU has hosted the AP Summer Institute for 30 years—longer than any other university in the state of Washington. And since its very beginning, PLU Professor Duane Swank has taught (or co-taught) the Chemistry class every year it’s been offered.

Swank, who helped bring the program to PLU, said it launched with 20 or 25 participants, and all sessions were taught by PLU faculty; these days, 120-170 teachers come to PLU each year for the multiday institute.

Swank offers a few explanations for the program’s longevity (and popularity): “We’ve had leadership interested in maintaining the program. Presenters are always interested to come—with 8, 10 or 12 in a class, they can work closely with participants,” Swank said. “It just comes down to people.”

Maybe not surprisingly, he credits people for his own longstanding involvement, too.

“I just like working with the AP teachers,” he said. “They’re a dedicated group and a special group—AP classes are more demanding than typical high-school courses, so it’s like working with another faculty member when it comes to their professionalism and dedication.”

Swank has more than a little experience with those traits himself. He began his PLU career as an assistant professor of Chemistry in 1970, then served as chair of the Chemistry Department (twice), Dean of Natural Sciences, director of Interdisciplinary Studies and Chair of Environmental Studies. He’s been honored for his efforts in advancing scientific education by NATO, an NDEA Fellowship and a Faculty Development Award from the National Science Foundation; is a member of academic scientific societies such as the American Chemical Society and Alpha Chi Sigma; and has published many peer-reviewed articles on his research.

As a 15-year “reader” for the College Board, which oversees the AP program, he also contributes to the syllabi audit and exams for AP Chemistry programs and works closely with instructors and students of the course.

AP (Advanced Placement) Summer Institute chemistry class taught by Duane Swank in the open lab of Rieke Science Center at PLU on Wednesday, July 8, 2015. The institute, celebrating 30-years at PLU, is for high school teachers who want to be certified to teach AP classes. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

“I want to be able to share what I know about the College Board program—how students perform and new things,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for me to bring that content back to the teachers.”

On that toasty July day in the lab, Swank guided seven teachers through one of 16 experiments that will make up a new lab manual from the College Board.

Dressed in a brown T-shirt that read, “Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions. Chocolate understands,” Swank moved from team to team to guide the teachers’ methodology and understanding.

He smiled often as he spoke.

“This keeps me regenerated,” he said.

ZACH POWERS '10

Zach Powers

Zach Powers ’10 worked as PLU’s media and content manager until April 2017. He holds a Master of Public Administration from The Evergreen State College and previously served as the director of marketing and communications for The Grand Cinema and Tacoma Film Festival, as a political campaign manager and consultant, as an aide in the Washington State Senate and as a freelance writer.