Public Invited to Popular UM Chemistry Professor’s Explosive Last Lecture

April 28, 2015

Professor Garon Smith wears a hat while performing chemistry magic

MISSOULA – Before University of Montana chemistry Professor Garon Smith hangs up his cloak, his wizardly alter-ego G. Wiz will go out with a bang. Members of the UM Honors Student Association convinced Smith to present one of his renowned chemistry shows for the benefit of the campus community. Smith will retire this spring.

The public is invited to bring their lawn chairs to watch G. Wiz’s exciting chemistry spectacle during his final lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 7, on the UM Oval. The event is free.

“Professor Garon Smith, aka G. Wiz, is among the most engaging and entertaining instructors that the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the University of Montana have ever seen,” said Christopher Palmer, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry professor and chair.

In 24 years at UM, he has instructed some 20,000 students in introductory chemistry, and has entertained and educated more than 100,000 young students. Ever since he took over UM’s chemistry course for applied science majors in 1994, the class enrollment has expanded exponentially, from about 400 to 700 students each fall semester, and from 180 to nearly 300 students each spring. Smith vowed to teach as many classes as needed to accommodate every student who wanted to take his classes. Consequently, he estimates 20 to 25 percent of all UM students have taken his class.

“What a lot of tests to grade,” Smith said, “but what a privilege.”      

While on a six-month sabbatical in New Zealand, he performed his wizardry for 10,200 students as a visiting professor at the University of Otago and the University of Waikato in 2014.

Smith has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and outreach, including the 2014 Best UM Professor in the Missoulian’s readership poll; 2008 Montana Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Most Inspirational UM Teacher in 2004; and a 2004 Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology Award at the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning.

“At the same time, he has applied his knowledge and understanding of chemistry, the environment and human nature to address multiple critical environmental issues and problems in the Missoula Valley and beyond,” Palmer said. “I am certain his final lecture will not disappoint.”

Palmer and UM College of Humanities and Sciences Dean Chris Comer will nominate Smith for Professor Emeritus status this spring. If the nomination is granted, Smith will stay active at UM and continue his shows. He also hopes to transform his UM chemistry course into digital materials that can be used by other educators.

Additionally, he is producing an educational software package and manual to help teach principles of aqueous chemistry, as well as writing the book, “G. Wiz’s Book of Spells,” to help teachers of all levels include live demonstrations in their classroom teaching. The book will have recipes, performance suggestions, safety precautions and explanations on how to deliver science concepts to students from kindergarten to graduate school.

“Please join us to witness and celebrate G. Wiz’s gift for sharing his enthusiasm for science with audiences young and old,” said Tessa Richards, UM Honors Student Association president.

For more information call Richards at 406-241-5348 or email tessa.richards@umontana.edu.

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Photo caption: Garon Smith, aka G. Wiz.

Contact: Tessa Richards, UM Honors Student Association president, 406-241-5348, tessa.richards@umontana.edu.