Exploding pumpkins with hydrogen gas and setting gummy bears ablaze sound like unconventional tasks in any job, but for Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and frequent guest of the Science Club Dr. Paul Dent, these are exciting ways to teach the students of St. Thomas Aquinas College about basic chemistry.
Dr. Dent’s primary area of expertise is in biomedical technology, which combines engineering and technology to diagnose and treat various diseases. His work at STAC landed him the 2020 Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grants Program award of $10,000 for new laboratory equipment.
“When I teach Quantitative Analysis and Instrumental Methods, I am able to give relevant real-world examples from my graduate studies and employment in the field,” he says. “I mostly teach Biochemistry and Forensic Science majors who will probably work with this type of technology in their respective fields.”
Dr. Dent teaches other courses such as Elements in Chemistry, General Chemistry, and Environmental Chemistry, the latter covering topics such as current patterns in the environment, namely atmospheric pollution, green energy sources, and reduction of waste. He enjoys watching students begin to understand how the world around them works, or what he calls those “ah-ha!” moments.
“I would describe our students as the types who will say ‘thank you’ when receiving assignments,” he says. “It is overall an incredibly friendly and generous body of students, and they are a joy to interact with both in and out of the classroom.”
Dr. Dent speaks highly of STAC alumni who have gone on to pursue higher degrees and careers in a wide range of fields. One former student is a forensic scientist with the New York City Police Department, another is in graduate school preparing for a career in veterinary science, and another is working toward a doctorate in biochemistry at Stony Brook University.
Devin Beckmann, BS ’20, an ophthalmic technician who is currently applying to medical schools, says that Dr. Dent was always generous with his time, whether it was teaching extra review sessions on Saturdays or mentoring students like Devin on independent research projects.
“It has always been clear that Dr. Dent is truly passionate about teaching, genuinely caring that his students learned the material, not for the sake of a grade, but to foster investigative curiosity and scientific principles that can only come from a love for science,” Devin says.
The science department’s commitment to bettering the education and experience for students is something Dr. Dent values most about STAC, along with departmental meetings where he and his colleagues collaborate and brainstorm ideas. The faculty retreat has inspired him to make connections with professors from other disciplines resulting in enlightening conversations about research and the profession.
“STAC has so many invested and dedicated faculty who are continuously striving to improve their craft,” he says. “We do undergraduate teaching especially well, and that makes me excited about our future.”
Dr. Dent grew up in Marietta, Ohio, and earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Marietta College. He then pursued a Master of Philosophy and Ph.D. in chemistry at Syracuse University and has been teaching at STAC since 2016. His work is published in academic journals such as Applied Spectroscopy and Bio-Optics: Design and Application, and he has presented at conferences including the OSA Biophotonics Congress: Biomedical Optics and ACS National Conference – American Chemical Society.
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Dent, his wife Laura, and their dog Stu enjoy traveling, camping, and hiking. One of his most memorable outdoor experiences was climbing Mount Democrat in Colorado, which reaches 14,000 feet. He also plays ultimate frisbee, disc golf, and acoustic guitar. His next travel destination? Dr. Dent hopes to visit Norway to see the Northern Lights.