BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The night before Ken Takeuchi started teaching
Chemistry 101 back in 1983, he walked into the empty classroom in
Acheson Hall on the University at Buffalo's South Campus, where he
was about to begin his career.
"I wrote something on the board and then I went and sat down in
the very last row," he says. "I realized that if I wanted the
students in the back row to see, I would have to make my letters
eight inches high. It started me thinking, how can I present this
information so that if I were sitting in this chair, it would mean
something to me? I had to present the science so as to captivate
the students' imagination."
This initial insight prompted Takeuchi to begin developing a
philosophy about teaching, about transforming the classroom
experience into something that would resonate with students.
That philosophy has served him well over his 27-year career,
during which he has instructed more than 4,500 students.
This month, Takeuchi, a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor,
was named the 2010 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching New York Professor of the Year, a first for a UB faculty
member. He will receive the award Nov. 18 at an awards luncheon at
the W Hotel in Washington DC, followed by an evening reception at
the Folger Shakespeare Library.
With an active research agenda and a challenging teaching
schedule, mentorship of individual students is clearly a top
priority for him.
"I think it takes an extraordinarily rare gift to talk to 80
students, or even 400 as Dr. Takeuchi sometimes does, and make them
all feel like they're part of the same experience, but he manages
to do it," says Brian Danielak, formerly a UB Distinguished Honors
Scholar and now a doctoral candidate in science education at the
University of Maryland. "When he's teaching, Dr. Takeuchi strikes
an exceptional balance between deep thoughtfulness, personal
attention to students and an insuppressible sense of wonder toward
Illinois State University professor of chemistry and UB alumna
Lisa Szczepura notes, "Dr. Takeuchi has the ability to inspire his
students to strive for excellence, while providing them with the
skills and motivation necessary to reach their goals. He is the
reason I am a chemist today."
Takeuchi says it's all about establishing a dialogue.
"If all you do is present information and your students don't
understand why it's important or if they think you don't care about
it, then why should they? But if a professor provides motivation to
students, that will get through to students more than anything
That approach has made Takeuchi one of UB's most popular
professors, a feat that is all the more significant because
chemistry isn't considered the most student-friendly subject. As
one student noted in an anonymous course evaluation for Chemistry
105 in Fall 2009: "I enjoyed taking this course with Dr. Takeuchi
and had he not been the instructor, I might have felt differently
about the entire course. Dr. Takeuchi definitely had an impact on
my attitude toward chemistry and his inspiration and belief that
his students will become something great has influenced my
self-esteem and confidence."
Takeuchi is especially interested in communicating science so
that students understand not just the mechanics of science, but the
whole research enterprise. "We can give our students historical
perspective on scientific discoveries," he says, "but students need
to see how the pioneers made those discoveries."
In Chemistry 105, for example, he discusses Ernest Rutherford,
considered the father of nuclear physics. Takeuchi discusses
Rutherford's experiments involving alpha particles that were fired
at a very fast rate into a thin sheet of gold. Takeuchi explains to
his students that Rutherford then had the idea to place chemical
detectors at different angles, allowing him to detect particles
which scattered in different directions, including some which
bounced back toward the source, a phenomenon that was absolutely
From that result, explains Takeuchi, Rutherford concluded that
radioactivity goes straight through the electrons in the gold atoms
but when it hits the nucleus, it bounces off at different angles.
Rutherford then realized that an atom's mass must be located
primarily in the positively charged nucleus, creating a foundation
for the modern view of the atom.
It was Rutherford's curiosity and interest, Takeuchi emphasizes,
that led him to do the additional experiment, leading to a
"If I had been doing the experiment," he says, "maybe I would
not have taken that second step, not because I'm not intelligent,
but because I limited the importance to what made sense to me."
The lesson? "In reality, you have to try things that don't make
sense!" he tells students. "Do experiments that go beyond your
understanding. Be curious, be patient and go past the unexpected.
You could be the next Rutherford!"
In this way, he tries to get across to his students that
determination and curiosity can be even more important than
"You don't have to be a genius," I tell them, "but you have to
have a real sense of wanting to know. I tell my students, 'If you
think that what you're studying is important, then you have a good
chance of making a discovery. You will do it because you care more.
You will go the extra step.' "
In impressing this upon his students, Takeuchi also tries to get
them to understand something about the big breakthroughs that have
occurred throughout all the disciplines.
"Discoverers think differently," he says.
And that, he says, is an argument for more diversity.
As a mentor to hundreds of students, many of them from
underrepresented groups, Takeuchi says that it is critical for
professors to help students of all abilities find their place
"You have to prove to your students that they may have the right
persistence or the right perspective to succeed, even if they are
in the middle or the bottom of the class," he says. "Raw
intelligence is not the number one issue. If I can prove to them
that they are special, maybe I will convince them."
To share this teaching philosophy, Takeuchi regularly travels to
other SUNY campuses, including Albany, Oneonta and Geneseo. He has
given numerous invited lectures or speeches on teaching, learning
and mentoring to audiences ranging from student tutors to teaching
assistants and professors.
"Dr. Kenneth Takeuchi is an inspiration to faculty members
statewide," says Amy Crouse-Powers from the SUNY College at Oneonta
Center for Academic Development and Enrichment. "It is a truly wise
professor who not only reaches a level of expertise in his or her
field, but also in the methods of teaching college students. His
focus on forming learning relationships with students and his
belief in the careful and continual assessment of student learning
resonate with me, and his message has been extremely well received
by my colleagues."
Takeuchi also teaches a variety of instructors at UB, including
undergraduate and graduate student tutors, especially those who
teach students from underrepresented groups, through the UB Center
for Academic Development Services (CADS), the Educational
Opportunity Program, the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry
Program and the Ronald E. McNair program.
"A number of talented minority and majority chemistry majors say
they have chosen that field because of Professor Takeuchi's efforts
to set them at ease or help them find resources and support, all of
which was above and beyond his professional obligation," says Henry
Durand, PhD, CADS director and senior associate vice provost at
And Betty Shadrick, PhD, manager of the University at Albany's
Alliance for Graduate Education and director of graduate student
diversity, adds, "Professor Takeuchi is an uncommonly decent
individual who possesses the unique ability to help students see
and realize opportunities that they never dreamed possible to
achieve. He gives sound advice, willingly gives his time to help
students refine their research agendas and deeply cares about
creating a cadre of future scientists from culturally diverse
backgrounds. I count myself privileged to know him."
A member of the UB faculty since 1983, Takeuchi has received
numerous teaching awards, including the SUNY Chancellor's Award for
Excellence in Teaching, the Most Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award
from the Graduate Student Association and the Friend of EOP
(Educational Opportunity Program) Award.
A four-time winner of the Milton Plesur Teaching Award from the
undergraduate Student Association, he also is the recipient of the
Responsible Care Catalyst Award from the Chemical Manufacturers
Association, a national award honoring individuals who, through
their excellent teaching ability both in and out of the classroom,
inspire students to choose careers in chemistry and science-related
fields. In addition, he was national runner-up for the only
national student-nominated faculty award, the Inspire Integrity
Award, administered by the National Society of Collegiate
Takeuchi has served as a mentor to a number of student programs,
including the Minority High School Student Research Apprenticeship
Program, the New York State Summer Institute for Science and
Mathematics, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate
Biological Sciences Education Program and the University Honors
He is a recipient of the McNair Outstanding Faculty Mentor
Award, the CSTEP Essential Piece Award and the American Chemical
Society's Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for Advancing Diversity
in the Chemical Sciences. Takeuchi holds a bachelor's degree in
chemistry from the University of Cincinnati and a doctorate in
chemistry from The Ohio State University.
He is a resident of East Amherst.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.