Frank Schmidt guides students to become scientists in the classroom, to learn science by doing science.
To do this, he structures his classes to include models of the way science is done professionally. Scientists, he says, ask questions, gather existing knowledge, identify needed knowledge, find out information they need to know and test their ideas on something new.
He is known for his ability to cause students to think creatively, not only through his teaching methodologies but also through his evaluation process. He uses deductive reasoning, problem-solving examples from real-life applications and natural phenomena to reinforce learning and understanding.
“The skills he has developed in his students will not only assist them in becoming successful researchers but also will carry them far in working in intellectually stimulating environments,” a colleague says.
Schmidt led an interdisciplinary team of faculty members to develop and implement a two-course introductory science sequence for the MU Honors College. The courses were founded on principles of interdisciplinary and inquiry-based instruction and a “less is more” approach. As a result of his teaching of these classes, he was selected as the campus Honor College Professor of the Year in 2000.
“Dr. Schmidt’s striking effectiveness as a teacher are his uncanny memory and brilliant ability to weave into his lectures stories that crystallize the central points of a lesson,” a colleague says. “His gift for storytelling makes real the ways scientists discover via deductive reasoning, testing hypotheses and designing critical experiments to reveal molecular mechanisms of life.”
A former student notes that interactive learning and promoting critical thinking are hallmarks of Schmidt’s teaching style that are noticed by his students. For example, in one of his lectures she says, Schmidt arrived with a plastic grocery bag stuffed with 12-inch segments of red ribbon. “Initially we supposed that he raided his wife’s craft bin. However, our silly mood changed when he pulled two ribbons out, twisted them around each other and visually displayed how DNA supercoils to effectively package itself inside the cell.” With that, each student was prompted to pick out their own ribbons and repeat what he was doing.
“Dr. Schmidt is exceptional in the degree to which he continually challenges himself to enhance his teaching,” says a colleague. “He serves as a role model and leader, demonstrating that excellence in teaching must be pursued continually and passionately.”
Schmidt, who has been at MU for 29 years, received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Marquette University in 1968 and a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1973.