Whether tweaking her assignments to be more accommodating to student wellbeing and mental health needs, or threatening to tell inattentive students who dies next in Game of Thrones, Professor Jennifer Goodnough is passionate about motivating, mentoring, and improving outcomes for students. Evidence of her strong commitment to students and education is prominent both in her professional and personal lives.
Goodnough grew up about 90 minutes east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a tiny town called Patton. She and her three younger brothers were all first generation college students; Goodnough attended St. Francis University in nearby Loretto, PA, where she majored in chemistry and math with a minor in physics. She was named “Ms. Frankie,” an award which honors senior students at St. Francis who exemplify scholarship, leadership, achievement, and service to the university and the community. Encouraged by her undergraduate advisor, Goodnough continued her education with a PhD in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and eventually went on to become a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of Minnesota Morris.
Goodnough’s specialty teaching area is analytical chemistry (the stuff Abby on NCIS makes look really cool), but she also relishes teaching chemistry courses for non-majors. She says: “I try to infuse liberal arts into all my courses but I think I'm most successful in ‘Chemistry for the Curious Citizen’ and ‘Science Savvy in our Modern World,’ where I can reach students who might think they aren't good at chemistry or that chemistry doesn't matter in their lives.” Goodnough also employs about two undergraduate students at a time in her research lab, which focuses on using NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) and ab initio calculations to develop a better understanding of the fundamentals of hydrogen-bonding. This gives students the opportunity to develop basic research skills, while working on original research projects and presenting their findings alongside Goodnough at meetings of the American Chemical Society. “Undergraduate research was transformative in my own life,” says Goodnough, “and I hope to provide such inspiration to other students.” Advising is another important part of Goodnough’s job, where again, she finds fulfillment through working with students. “I was honored and humbled to receive the all-University John Tate Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, but if I'm honest I'm more moved when students introduce me to their parents at graduation as someone who helped them during their time as a student,” she reveals.
It should come as no surprise that Goodnough’s work in University Senate Governance involves advocating for students or otherwise working to make sure students at the University receive the best education possible. She began her governance career on Morris’s Scholastic Committee, which “develops, reviews, and recommends policies affecting the quality of education” on the Morris campus; served from 2009-2015 on the University Senate Student Academic Integrity Committee (SAIC), including a year as chair; and is now in her fifth year on the Senate Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP), which she has also chaired for the past three years. Goodnough invests significant time and effort in her service to University governance, especially since she travels to the Twin Cities campus each month to chair meetings, but Goodnough feels it is time well spent: “When campus governance is working at its best, you have faculty, staff, students, and administrators working together to make the University of Minnesota a place of excellence,” she says. “From my first days on the Scholastic Committee at UMM, I saw value to the time spent in governance. The inclusion of staff and students makes a big, positive difference in the working of governance—they are often the ones who see the real impacts of a policy or initiative or statement.” She also draws inspiration from her faculty mentors and colleagues who selflessly advocate for positive change through governance.
When I asked her to name an important initiative she has worked on through senate governance, Goodnough cited the comprehensive review of the Administrative Policy: Grading and Transcripts, which occupied a large portion of SCEP’s time over the 2018-19 academic year. “I don't know that we dramatically changed all that much,” she muses, “but I think there is vastly improved clarity, which benefits both students and faculty.” Goodnough also takes pride in some of the things the committee hasn’t done—SCEP often receives requests and proposals that the committee opts not to put into policy. In those situations, says Goodnough, it is important to stay focused on the problem that needs to be solved and whether policy is the best way to solve it, as well as avoiding creating policy that is difficult or impossible to enforce.
In addition to contributing to the good of the University, being involved in governance has made Goodnough a better teacher, she believes. For example, she says, she knew the “letter of the law” of the policy around make-up work (which is a frequent visitor to SCEP) and excused students appropriately and compassionately. But doing research on and having discussions in meetings about the policy have helped her to better understand the “spirit of the law,” as well as the policy's limitations. Being part of governance has also deepened her understanding of important issues such as disability, diversity, sexual misconduct, and mental health, she adds.
Even outside of the classroom, Goodnough devotes significant time to advocating for students and education. She was recently elected to the Morris Area School District School Board, and spent the past year serving as a co-chair of the Minnesota Department of Education committee on new science standards for the state. On a more recreational level, she enjoys spending time in her kitchen “lab” tweaking recipes and baking. “I love having friends over (without IRB approval) to eat my results,” she jokes. She also finds joy in watching sports (she admits to favoring the Badgers over the Gophers and the Steelers over the Vikings, but in the grand scheme of things, I think we can forgive her); reading; and raising and caring for her son (alongside her husband, Troy, who is the director of the Sustainability Office at Morris), including helping coach his little league team.
While we don’t have a “Ms. Minnie” or “Ms. Morrie” award to give her, it is clear that Goodnough continues to exemplify those qualities for which she was recognized in her undergraduate years. She is also a genuinely caring person and a wonderful colleague, and we are very grateful for her service to the University of Minnesota.