Professor Jane Wissinger retires after 25 years of teaching and service

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (9/1/2023) – Distinguished University Teaching Professor Jane Wissinger retired in mid-August after 25 years of teaching and service for the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota. Since she joined the department in 1998, Jane has served as the Organic Chemistry Laboratory Director. 

Jane E. Wissinger

Wissinger grew up in central Pennsylvania and attended Susquehanna University (SU) to earn her undergraduate degree in chemistry. “My first influential mentor was Professor Tom McGrath from SU. He provided summer research opportunities to develop pesticide analyses protocols for the EPA, encouraged me to work at Argonne National Labs for a summer, and apply to graduate school. Yes, a small town girl from central Pennsylvania could earn a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.” 

Wissinger completed her MS in Organic Chemistry in 1983 at Georgia Institute of Technology, followed by her PhD in Organic Chemistry in 1987 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She then worked as a research scientist at Rohm & Haas Company for five years, coauthoring several patents during her time there. In 1992, Wissinger began adjunct lecturing for the Department of Chemistry before formally being hired as the Organic Chemistry Laboratory Director and lecturer in 1998.

Over the course of her quarter-century career at UMN, she was recognized with advancement through the ranks of professorship, being named a full professor in 2016. Wissinger’s research interests have focused on the development of curriculum materials for the college and high school levels that exemplify modern green chemistry methodology, advances in sustainable polymers, and guided-inquiry pedagogy. Her resolute dedication to education, mentorship, and curriculum research was recognized with a UMN Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor award in 2014.

Committed to education 

Wissinger taught organic chemistry lecture and laboratory classes, as well as green chemistry courses, but says it's hard to choose just one favorite aspect of her teaching career. “At the top of the list is when students would seek me out as I walked through lab or send an email to share their beautifully recrystallized product, 1H NMR spectrum, fluorescent product, or thin film polymer. They were proud of mastering new bench skills, success with the experiment, and simply making something new and ‘cool,’ … Working with the organic chemistry graduate student teaching assistants and watching them mature both professionally and scientific from the first days of TA training to their Ph.D. defenses has also been extremely rewarding. This includes the privilege of working very closely with many – I lost count, but maybe 15 - Head TAs, some of whom are now involved in teaching organic laboratories themselves at their own institutions,” Wissinger says when she thinks back over the years. In her lecture courses, Wissinger always loved the structural beauty of organic molecules and predictability of reactions through understanding mechanisms. “I especially enjoyed having students in office hours that discovered, to their surprise, that they ALSO enjoyed and could succeed in the course through learning the language, patterns, and applying mechanistic skills,” she says.

Green chemistry advocacy

An ardent advocate for green and sustainable chemistry, Wissinger has been involved in green chemistry education and outreach at the local and national levels. In regard to her green chemistry courses at UMN, she says “I learned so much from the students while teaching this course. At the junior and senior level each student brought their own unique interests to class presentations and term papers. The interdisciplinary nature of the course allowed chemistry majors and chemical engineers, along with food science majors, sustainability minors, bioproducts and systems engineering majors and more to share their passions and concerns about chemistry, public perception, and advances in solving environmental problems with the class.” Outside of the traditional classroom, Wissinger has been involved in numerous green chemistry activities on campus. She was the founding chair of the Green Chemistry Committee, the faculty advisor for the American Chemical Society student group (ACS-UMN), and the lead mentor for the annual Green & Sustainable Chemistry Workshop for high school teachers. 

Under her mentorship, ACS-UMN earned the organization’s Green Chemistry Award in 2022 and UMN’s Systemwide Sustainability Collaborative Team Impact Award in 2023. Statewide, Wissinger’s annual Green and Sustainable Chemistry workshop for high school teachers – aims to provide instructors with tools to integrate green and sustainable chemistry into their classrooms – was honored with the 2018 ACS-CEI Award for Incorporation of Sustainability in Chemistry Education. Summer 2023 was the sixth year UMN Chemistry hosted the workshop, which has now served more than 100 high school instructors. “Working with Cassie Knutson Lydon and Cassie Javnier on our workshop for high school teachers has been a highlight of my career,” Wissinger says.

Outreach and recognition 

For the past ten years, Wissinger collaborated with the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Polymers (NSF CSP) as a Senior Principle Investigator. “Being part of the education and outreach efforts of the Center for Sustainable Polymers overall has had a profound impact on my academic career. It altered my career path in an extremely positive direction that I could not have anticipated,” Wissinger says. For her unwavering dedication to outreach and community, Wissinger was named an ACS fellow earlier this year. This prestigious title recognizes and honors ACS members for their outstanding achievements in and contributions to the science and the profession and for their equally exemplary service to the Society. Wissinger’s contributions to the ACS community include ten years of creative and diverse programming at National ACS meetings and Green Chemistry & Engineering conferences, as well as service on the Committee for Environment and Sustainability.

Looking forward… and back

When she looks back on her career at UMN, Wissinger says: “I feel extremely fortunate to have been a member of this department. It was an interesting road from organic laboratory coordinator to term professor status. This happened through the efforts of Michelle Driessen and the support of colleagues and Department Heads who valued the importance of our department’s teaching mission and being open to change. I felt supported in exploring new approaches to teaching our courses and laboratories and move forward in incorporating green/sustainable chemistry. I am grateful to the many faculty collaborators who agreed to allow their graduate students to work on curriculum development activities with me and/or incorporate new experiments in their courses.”

Even though her time at UMN is coming to a close, she’ll still be plenty involved in the chemistry community. “I plan to continue contributing to the green and sustainable chemistry community through publications and work with the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, Beyond Benign, and ACS and IUPAC project committees. I greatly enjoy the global perspectives and ideas gained from working with people from diverse academic and industrial experiences,” she says. 

As she enters retirement, Wissinger says she is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, enjoying flexibility for traveling, having more time to workout and read, and perhaps learning to do some bird watching. “If I can, [I’d like to] use my scuba diving to help restore our ocean reefs.”