Students mentoring students stretches boundaries of learning at Fort Hays State

By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
Two Fort Hays State University students are taking advantage of the philosophy, “To teach is to learn twice.”

Drake Kee and Wyatt Engel began the fall semester at FHSU with a different perspective on learning after mentoring other students assisting with their chemistry research project.

Kee and Engel spent part of their summer working at a camp on campus with visitors from the Daejeon Science High School for the Gifted in Daejeon, South Korea.

The Korean students, led by Kee and Engel, helped with a research project of designing and fabricating new organic materials to harness solar energy.

“The best way to learn is through teaching someone,” said Kee, a junior biology major from Beloit. “I taught the Daejeon students things they didn’t know, and I learned some things from them, too.”

Besides getting exposed to more research opportunities, working with the Daejeon students also served as a cultural education.

One particularly valuable lesson Kee said he learned was how to communicate in ways that the Daejeon students would understand him, taking into account their limited knowledge of the English language.

“This definitely pushed Drake and Wyatt to be better communicators,” said Dr. Arvin Cruz, associate professor of chemistry.

Cruz is in charge of the research project and recruited Kee and Engel to participate. They both were eager for the unique opportunity.

“It’s really hard to get to do this kind of research as an undergrad, so I feel really fortunate to be here at Fort Hays State,” said Engel, a sophomore chemistry major from Victoria.

The duo accompanied Cruz to the American Chemical Society Conference in Orlando, Fla., last spring, and presented Kee’s paper on the project.

Cruz said having undergrad students involved in research projects is not all that uncommon. What makes this situation unique is the supervisory roles Kee and Engel were charged with as well as taking on a level of research that is usually done at much larger research universities.

“This is a high quality research project, on something that’s really in demand. And this is being done by underclassmen who haven’t yet taken advanced courses in chemistry,” Cruz said. “What a great learning opportunity for them.”

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