Stephen “Steve” Heller, Ph.D. joins the Loyola Marymount University community as an assistant professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. Heller began teaching this semester in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering and looks forward to facilitating the development of intellectually and ethically engaged students.
“I’m not solely interested in the development of our students’ minds,” said Heller, “but also in the development of their moral and ethical compasses. We at LMU care about their development as whole people.”
Heller earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and sociology at the University of Chicago. Next he began working at Merck (pharmaceutical company) in New Jersey for two years in drug development or “medicinal chemistry.” Heller then attended graduate school at UC Berkeley where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry working on new methods to make organic molecules.
Being a teaching assistant in his second year at Berkeley, convinced Heller to become an educator.
“It was formative for me as an instructor and I was convinced that the best thing I can do with my life is train new scientists,” said Heller.
After Berkeley, he spent four years on the faculty at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where he taught general chemistry and organic chemistry. In addition to his teaching role, Heller maintained a research group of undergraduate students. At LMU, Heller’s group is developing more efficient and environmentally friendly acylation reactions—one of the most important classes of reactions in organic chemistry.
Though he is excited about his group’s results, Heller believes that working with undergraduates in a research setting is a form of teaching. “Hopefully a few of my research innovations will be remembered or used, but at the end of my career my legacy is going to be the people that I trained,” said Heller.
What brought Heller to LMU? Class sizes are small enough that he can engage students in classroom dialog and facilitate students taking an active role in their own learning. Heller was also attracted to the support the university provides for faculty.
“It’s very difficult to provide students with a meaningful education when you have a thousand of them, but because we’ve facilitated small learning environments across campus, faculty and students can work together to explore ideas, think through ethical or moral dilemmas, and generate new knowledge,” said Heller. “LMU is unusual in that it also provides equal weight and support to the two major missions of a faculty member: teaching and research.”
The one thing Heller wants his students to take away from his class is “fundamentally, science isn’t about facts, it’s about reasoning.”