David CartretteDavid Cartrette

Position Title: Associate Professor
Department: Chemistry & Biochemistry
Area of Research: Chemistry Education

What motivates you about your chosen field?

There are two main reasons behind my decision to become a chemistry instructor and to study how students learn chemistry. The most important of these reasons is my own experience as a student struggling with the concepts; it was a frustrating time and I knew there had to be an easier way to ‘get’ this stuff. I never forget that feeling when I’m teaching or working with students in research. The other reason is the great fulfillment I have when my own students finally do ‘get’ it and can show their understanding in sometimes brilliant ways. Watching students develop a solid understanding of chemistry is a very strong motivating force for me to do what I do. 

Why did you choose to conduct your research at SDSU?

Every educational experience I’ve had as a student occurred at a public, land-grant institution. When I was searching for teaching positions, I wanted to place myself in a public, land-grant institution. SDSU offers this type of setting and much more, including excellent colleagues and outstanding students.

What roles do your colleagues and student research assistants play in the work you do?

Research is unquestionably a team effort. In my research program, graduate and undergraduate research assistants are largely in control of their research ideas, from the conception of the project to implementation procedures. I encourage that level of freedom because doing someone else’s work can be tedious and unfulfilling. My research assistants have inherent interests in the projects they’ve chosen, and as such their commitment to their work is stronger, ultimately leading to rewarding outcomes for all involved. I also cannot stress how important colleagues are to research success. They listen to your ideas, provide critical feedback, laugh with you when sharing successes, and commiserate with you when things aren’t going smoothly. They push you to be your best, which is an invaluable source of motivation to break through barriers in a project. Plus, they are just some really good people.

What have been some of your greatest research accomplishments while at State?

Given that my research directly relates teaching and learning of chemistry, I find it difficult to separate my teaching accomplishments from my research accomplishments. The two work together to inform each other. What I learn by doing research, I apply in the classroom, and things I notice in the classroom give me new ideas for research projects. This marriage of teaching and research is perhaps the greatest accomplishment that any teacher-scholar can hope to achieve.

What do you enjoy most about SDSU?

This is a long list, but the people at State rise to the top. In my short time here, I’ve met some really wonderful people with whom I’ve formed what will be lifelong friendships and working relationships. 

What piece of advice would you give new students?

Don’t get arrested. Ask any student I’ve ever had in class, at some point I always give this advice. On the more serious side, my best advice to anyone (student or otherwise) is this: motivate yourself to be more outstanding than you already are, accept new challenges in whatever form they come in, and don’t be afraid of living. Go out, explore the world, ask questions about it and let it teach you something. Undergraduate years should be for exploring what you like and who you are, so make the most of it!

From your perspective, what does the Honors College contribute to the larger university community?

The Honors College at SDSU serves many important roles to the university, but in my view the most important of these is the collaborative synergy that Honors spawns. Faculty and students from nearly every academic discipline come together in the Honors Colloquia series to study issues of regional and global importance. Without the Honors College and its efforts to bring together persons of diverse backgrounds and interests, I believe the entire university community would be somewhat more fragmented and less communicative.

Why do you believe it is important to have an Honors College at SDSU?

The importance of an Honors College at SDSU cannot be overemphasized. From a faculty member’s perspective, the Honors College allows for a deeper engagement of students in all types of learning environments, with the students’ expectation that you will challenge them to achieve higher goals. Student friendships formed via Honors College participation are long-lived, as are collaborations between faculty members who are involved in Honors teaching.