Faculty Profile: Kelling Donald

March 24, 2019
How one professor uses technology in teaching and research.

Dr. Kelling Donald, Associate Professor of Chemistry, is a busy man. In addition to teaching chemistry in the Integrated Quantitative Science (IQS) class, Kelling has his research lab, serves on the University Faculty Senate, and he was recently appointed as a councilor for the Chemistry Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

Dr. Kelling DonaldKelling, who came to Richmond in 2007 and won the Distinguished Educator Award in 2013, uses technology in his teaching and research. For the IQS class, which is using the theme of climate change across the disciplines, he teaches in the recently renovated Gottwald A-201 classroom. This classroom has wall-to-wall whiteboards and six projectors. Each of the projectors is set up as a Solstice pod, which allows Kelling and his students the ability to wirelessly project in the classroom. This is great for group work, in which IQS students engage in regularly. His chemistry students use Word, Excel, and Mathematica to do their work. Kelling doesn’t use PowerPoint to teach; he writes on the whiteboard as he lectures, and occasionally shares visualizations of molecules from his own laptop, which he brings to class. For his upper level chemistry courses, like Physical Chemistry, students also use Gaussian to model molecules. For all of his courses, Kelling says, “I don’t generally use Blackboard for grading, or to keep track of grades, but I use it for students to get materials from me, and also for students to upload lab assignments.” He finds it easier to manage uploaded assignments than it is to receive assignments via email.

Students also have access to instruments like the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, or NMR, instrument. “It’s one of the advantages here on the technology side, and on the instrument side, that (undergraduate) students get exposed to using all of these technologies in class. In class they get access to instrumentation that students at other places just sort of look at from above.”

The Kelling Research Lab TeamIn his research, Kelling usually has four to five active projects, with six to eight student researchers assisting. He and his students use Gaussian and other tools on high-performance computers and on computational clusters. This allows them to look at more complicated molecular structures, with calculations that take days or weeks to complete. He collaborated in the recent high-performance computer shared cluster proof of concept project, where faculty from Chemistry, Physics, Economics, and Computer Science shared and scheduled time on a computational cluster. While the cluster used for the proof-of-concept test was slow, Kelling felt it was a successful use of a shared resource. His students were able to get their work done on the cluster in queue with the work of other researchers. The School of Arts & Sciences and the Provost are looking further into the possibility of getting a shared cluster at Richmond.

In his lab, students use computers as terminals to the clusters he uses. The clusters run Gaussian, while the local computers run a program called Gauss View, which creates the visualization of molecules processed by Gaussian on the clusters. Kelling appreciates the VPN, which allows him to check in on his systems when he is away at conferences. In some cases, calculations have been completed while he was away, with remote access allowing him to update his presentation with the new results.

Looking ahead, Kelling would like to be able to project 3D models of molecules in class, so that he can manipulate them for students to see. But he still wants as much whiteboard space as possible for writing.

Kelling is also investigating tools that facilitate collaboration with his lab group. While he’s not sure how much students use Box on their own, his research students share a Box folder. But a tool like Slack may make it easy for Kelling to communicate with his students when they are working on their research, or when they are working out their schedules at conferences they are attending together.

Senior Supreeth Prasad, one of the students on Kelling’s research team, praises him. “Dr. Donald has been an amazing mentor. He helps me whenever I have problems or issues. The advice he has given me has really helped me progress as a student and as a person. I feel that ever interaction I have with him, I leave learning something new. He wants his students to do well, even if it means they struggle in the moment temporarily, because the pay-off is magnificent. He has placed me in charge of a few projects and learning how to handle that responsibility is something I could have only learnt from him.”