It’s not difficult to see why the American Chemical Society Greater Houston Section chose Dr. Laimutis Bytautas, assistant professor of chemistry at Galveston College, as the 2020 recipient of the Two-Year College Award for excellence in teaching, leadership and service to the profession.
His resume boasts a robust list of academic accomplishments – from research published in prestigious publications to service with professional organizations. But it’s his love for teaching that truly stands out among his numerous accomplishments.
Originally from Lithuania, Dr. Bytautas received a degree in physics from Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1990, and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Vanderbilt University in 1996.
Among his many professional achievements, he has performed scientific research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, Rice University, the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M University at Galveston.
Chemistry is Fun
Passionate about teaching, Dr. Bytautas encourages his students to become engaged in the process of learning.
“First, I try to convince my students that chemistry can be a lot of fun. I must say that it is not always an easy task. Sometimes I try to encourage my students to achieve a ‘black-belt’ mastery level in chemistry. Successfully teaching natural sciences or any other subject requires a lot of passion from a teacher,” he said.
“The best way to teach is to get students thinking deeply about the subject. I say to my students: ‘Try to look at solving chemistry problems like you are trying to solve nature’s mysteries.’ Sometimes, I also try to encourage my students: ‘Who knows, maybe one day you will get a Nobel Prize in Chemistry as an additional reward to having fun with chemistry already.’”
His efforts have not gone unnoticed by his colleagues.
“Dr. Bytautas’ extraordinary patience, love for teaching, and effort helping students to develop profound knowledge and competency in the chemistry and physics fields are highly recognized by his students and peers,” said Dr. Ana Sanchez, division director of science and business.
“We are so fortunate to have Dr. Bytautas here at Galveston College,” added Dr. Cissy Matthews, vice president of instruction. “He is committed to our students and committed to remaining current in his field so that he can be the best faculty member that he can be.”
Research is Important
A member of the American Chemical Society since 2001, Dr. Bytautas is no stranger to the spotlight. His most recent research in quantum chemistry has been published in the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry and Computational and Theoretical Chemistry, both of which are leading professional journals.
He has also been published recently in The Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of Chemical Physics, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, Molecular Physics and Croatica Chemica Acta.
He served as co-principal investigator for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Technology Instrumentation Project at Galveston College and as co-organizer of an international symposium on the “Present, Future and Applications of Ab-initio Atomic and Molecular Electronic Structure Calculations” in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
“Having ongoing research projects helps in teaching sciences to students who often like to ask questions that go way beyond scheduled lesson topics. Also, keeping track of scientific discoveries is essential in teaching natural sciences at the college level,” Dr. Bytautas said.
“I like to share my research findings with my students. Sometimes I get a question from a student like ‘Is this going to be on the next exam?’ Learning that my latest research findings in quantum chemistry will not be on the next exam in their chemistry course reduces students’ stress levels considerably.”
Life is a Chemical Reaction
“Of course, teaching chemistry has its fair share of challenges. It is not always easy to convince my students that chemistry is fun when heavy computations are involved. Students much more readily appreciate chemical reactions and visual effects associated with chemistry experiments like color changes. It takes quite a bit of effort and practice in problem-solving to achieve deep understanding in chemistry and develop critical thinking skills. Clearly, it helps when students realize that chemistry is everywhere in their lives,” Dr. Bytautas said.
“In fact, it is sometimes said, ‘Life is a chemical reaction.’ Of course, mastering chemistry is highly rewarding, especially when at the beginning of the semester chemistry appears to be a hard subject for many students.”
Passionate about service, Dr. Bytautas has chaired the Galveston College professional development committee lecture series committee since 2016, bringing distinguished speakers to campus in order to engage the college and community in compelling and purposeful discussions addressing contemporary issues and events.
The committee will host Dr. Kourtney Moore of Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina on Monday, Nov. 2, at 6 p.m. via Zoom videoconference for the first lecture in its 2020-2021 lecture series on Diversity, Inclusion and Empowerment titled “I Still Love H.E.R.: Hip-Hop and African-American Culture Concerning Systemic Racism and Oppression.”
The ACS Outstanding Chemistry Teacher at a Two Year College Award is designed to recognize, encourage and stimulate outstanding teachers of chemistry at a community college in the American Chemical Society – Greater Houston Section. Selection is based on the nominee’s teaching, including unusually effective methods of presentation, a professor’s ability to challenge and inspire students, extra-curricular work in chemistry, keeping up-to-date in the field, and evidence of leadership and/or active involvement within the profession.
“This award from the American Chemical Society Greater Houston Section recognizes the contribution and hard work of all people at Galveston College in making a difference in students’ lives so that they can pursue their dreams, career goals and be able to take excellent care of their families,” Dr. Bytautas said. “I would like to thank all faculty, staff, administration, and of course, our students because they all contributed to this award.”
Dr. Bytautas received the award on Saturday, Oct. 24, at the 2020 ACS Greater Houston Awards Ceremony, which was conducted virtually this year.
Above: Dr. Laimutis Bytautas