Experiential Learning

Triple Threat: Dancer, DJ, Chemistry Instructor

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Feb 11 2020

It’s almost showtime for Carl DeAmicis.

The Chemistry Lecturer has the music cued, the camera about to roll, and some dance moves at the ready. But this isn’t his demo reel for the next season of America’s Got Talent. It’s another online lecture filled with a lot of organic chemistry and showmanship.

When DeAmicis hits record on the desktop computer inside Irwin Library’s Lightboard Studio, he gets down on all fours—out of camera shot. He crawls under the lightboard, where a complicated chemistry problem is scrawled in bright green pen. Then DeAmicis dramatically rises into view as Ed Sheeran’s Beautiful People echoes around him.

DeAmicis doesn’t think his dance moves are particularly good or special, but the music-filled introductions get his students to log on and watch the online lessons.

“I think the idea of an Organic Chemistry instructor in his 60s who is willing to get up there and dance is what makes it special,” he says. 

For the class that also includes lab sessions and in-person lectures, the videos are more like focused tutoring sessions. DeAmicis saves his main lectures for in-class, but both formats are high-energy. 

DeAmicis realized early on that his students’ musical tastes are different from his, so he takes recommendations from his kids—who are in their 20s—and finds other songs on pop playlists. But the dancing comes naturally, and the moves are as organic as the chemistry he teaches. 

Beyond the dancing, DeAmicis’ class is notoriously difficult. About 80 percent of the students are majors in the College of Pharmacy and Health Science, and Organic Chemistry is often the last hurdle before they move on to graduate work.

“My goal is to kind of make it light-hearted so that it’s a little bit fun—not just torture,” DeAmicis says. “Unfortunately, it’s still really difficult. It’s a little more fun, but no one says it's any easier.”

Story Fridays

Among DeAmicis’ class traditions, Story Fridays have become a hit. The lecturer pulls from his 30-year career at Eli Lilly and Company and Dow AgroSciences, as well as his time as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University. His stories lend insights into the kinds of careers or advanced studies that await his class of undergrads, often relating to what the class is learning that week.

“I find the students like to hear about real-world applications of the stuff we’re doing,” DeAmicis says. “My first Story Friday was about a 15-year project on a molecule discovery and development called Spinetoram. The entire class applauded after my story, and I was floored. Ever since then, I start every Friday class with a story, unless we have an exam.”

Carl DeAmicis
Carl DeAmicis gets animated during a recent Organic Chemistry class.

A recent class began with DeAmicis’ take on studying under and researching for Eugene Earle van Tamelen, a pioneering bioorganic chemist and an imposing figure by the time DeAmicis enrolled in his lab in 1983. He spoke about being thrown into teaching van Tamelen’s chemistry course in front of 250 students. He did well enough to earn two crisp $50 bills from the intimidating professor’s wallet. 

“My opinion of van Tamelen prior to that day was down here,” quips DeAmicis, stooping down to the classroom floor before rising to his tiptoes. “After that day, it was up here. He turned out to be one of the nicest people I ever met. He even let me use his office to write my dissertation.”

Turning to his students, DeAmicis drives home the moral of his Friday story.

“During your career, you will hear horror stories about certain people,” he says. “And then when you meet them, you’ll develop a relationship, and it just might be the best ever. It happens, and I want you to remember this story.”

The chance to make a difference for even just one student a semester is why DeAmicis continues to teach after retirement.

“For me, it’s the pinnacle of fulfillment,” DeAmicis says. “That’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Twitter sensation

Dustin Soe, a junior studying Biochemistry, says the Organic Chemistry class would be more difficult if it wasn’t for DeAmicis’ passion and creativity toward the challenging material.

“He’s quite different from everyone else, but that works for me. I like it,” he says. “It can be hard to come to class on Friday, but he loves pop music and dancing around. He makes it more entertaining.”

Pharmacy sophomore Reilly Livingston is one of many students who appreciate the instructor's energy in a difficult class. She has tweeted dozens of videos of DeAmcis’ dance moves, along with one clip of DeAmicis dressed as a wizard for Halloween. (He used “magic” to pull down a projection screen for that day’s lecture.)

“The dancing is something really fun,” Livingston says. “He puts in a lot of effort because I think he realizes it is a difficult class. I wasn’t looking forward to the class going in, but now it has become one of my favorites.”

 

Carl DeAmicis’ greatest hits

The Organic Chemistry instructor has entertained his students all year, but some of his top moments include:

  • Getting hit by a giant rubber ball to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball,
  • Donning a blue wig and strumming along on a guitar to Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, 
  • And dressing up in the style of Jimmy Buffett for a lecture.

 

Photography by Brent Smith and Tim Brouk; video by Joel Stein

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

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Triple Threat: Dancer, DJ, Chemistry Instructor

Carl DeAmicis’ Organic Chemistry course is notoriously tough, but he finds ways to keep students interested