Articles

    Catherine Wojtowicz

    December, 2004:

    I was quite a bit nervous as I walked into the classroom of the Cudahy Science Building at the Loyola University Lakeshore campus. It was the first day of the Summer Semester, and I was bracing myself for an epic, three months long battle with the archenemy of my undergraduate career: Organic Chemistry. What was even worse is that I didn't know who the teacher was going to be: the class schedule simply stated TBA. As I took a seat in the back of the crowded classroom, I noticed an attractive young woman, whom I assumed to be a fellow student, seated at the teacher's desk. She had flowing long hair, bright green eyes, and posture that exuded confidence. "That girl better find a seat before the prof gets here," I thought to myself. At that point, she glanced at the clock, stood up, and said in a strong, pleasant voice: "Hello, and welcome to the Organic Chemistry!"

    That's how I met Dr. Catherine Woytowicz.

    Right from the start I knew it wasn't going to be an ordinary class. Once the syllabi were handed out and the semantics of the course were covered, Dr. Woytowicz asked: "So, how many of you like oil and vinegar dressing on your salad?" I exchanged a couple of confused glances with the students around me and sheepishly raised my hand. Was this a joke? Some sort of a culinary icebreaker? Yet it all made sense when Dr. Woytowicz went on to explain how vinegar is pretty much diluted acetic acid, which in turn is an organic molecule with a formula C2H4O2. Suddenly, Organic Chemistry was no longer a lab-dwelling, GPA-injuring archenemy -- it now was the stuff of life around me, friendly stuff like vinegar to spice up my salad. As the course progressed, chemical names, structures, and reactions little by little ceased to seem contrived or foreign, but rather became simple and even natural attempts to describe the going ons in this crazy world of ours. And I ended up tremendously enjoying the class that I once feared.

    Organic Chemistry by far wasn't the only thing I learned from Dr. Woytowicz. The class before our first exam Dr. Woytowicz announced that we were having a review session. She then produced a stack of practice questions and ... a large bag of candy! "We are going to review the same way the dolphins are trained," she explained. "Every time you get a question right, you get to take a piece of candy out of the bag. Eventually your brain will learn to associate the correct answer with a sweet reward, whether or not the physical reward actually follows." Now that's not something you see in every 200 level college course. Then again, maybe you should. By golly, it works.

    That was in summer 1999. And since then, Catherine Woytowicz's career has developed in a way that is just as outstanding and remarkable as her method of teaching. She has served as the American Chemical Society's Science Policy Fellow (1999-2001) and joined the U.S. Department of State as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Diplomacy Fellow (2002-2004). There she coordinates the Eastern Europe portfolio (geographic focus); covers biotechnology, education, biological and chemical terrorism, nanotechnology (topical portfolio); and acts as liaison to the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development's Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy and its sub-bodies. She works closely with 14 countries (posts) and 2 Hubs (Copenhagen and Budapest) to cover regional issues. Dr. Woytowicz also interacts with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on strategies for U.S. science and technology that intersect her portfolio. Outside of the Department of State, she teaches on the chemistry faculty of George Washington University where she initiated a program to mentor science students in career development including nontraditional science jobs such as public policy work. She is committed to public outreach about civic science and has spoken at several schools - including Washington D.C.'s celebrated School Without Walls - on the value of science as a career choice in nontraditional fields. She coaches public speaking including television preparation for Toastmasters and helped produce a television show with Broadcasters, a Chicago-based advanced chapter of Toastmasters. In her spare time, Dr. Woytowicz writes and maintains a consulting practice in technical writing. She also tours as a stand-up comedienne. And on top of all that, she has been appointed the Hometown Diplomat for the Chicagoland - which is very appropriate since Dr. Woytowicz was born and raised in Park Ridge, IL and obtained her undergraduate degree in Chemistry from the Honors Program at Loyola University of Chicago. (Her Ph.D., also in Chemistry, came from the University of California, Riverside.)

    It just so happens that Dr. Catherine Woytowicz is scheduled to be the main speaker at the Chicago Section ACS January (2005) Dinner Meeting. Therefore, be sure to attend the January meeting and meet this remarkable lady who has accomplished so much and made a difference in the lives of so many students, including my own.

    — Written by Inessa Gorelik