Faculty Faces - Dr. Courtney Hatch

Courtney HatchCourtney Hatch If you pass a science lab and hear music, it’s not an interdisciplinary experiment. It’s Dr. Courtney Hatch’s research lab.

An assistant professor of chemistry, Hatch takes her one-on-one work with students seriously but makes it fun.

“In the lab, if the music’s on, I’ve been known to shake my tail,” she admitted.

Perhaps it’s a holdover from her experience as a Hendrix student, when she participated in Shirttails Serenade as a freshman and helped her fellow Galloway residents choreograph their routine the following year.

“I like the community tradition and culture of Hendrix,” said Hatch, adding that the community was one of the reasons she chose Hendrix as a student and, later, as a professor. “I try to bring that into what I do as a faculty member.”

A northwest Arkansas native, Hatch exposed some of her research students to the natural beauty of Arkansas on a Buffalo River float trip last spring.

“I wanted them to feel like they belong and had a home,” she said. “And it was a lot of fun.”

As a student, she was very involved in the Chemistry Department. She did independent research with her future colleague Dr. Tom Goodwin and attended two national chemistry conferences with faculty members and a group of eight students.

As a faculty member, she accompanied 24 chemistry students to a national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, Calif.

“That shows the growth in the department since I was a student,” she said.

After graduating from Hendrix in 2000, Hatch “took a year off” to work in a food lab, analyzing just about anything you could want to know about what’s in food.”

She then enrolled in graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. With her advisor, Dr. Maggie Tolbert, she focused on atmospheric chemistry, studying the chemistry of mineral dust aerosol in the atmosphere and its impacts on atmospheric chemistry and climate.

An avid outdoors enthusiast, Hatch balanced her studies by taking advantage of Boulder’s boundless recreational opportunities.

“I spent a lot of time skiing, about 30 days a year,” she said. “Those were some of the best times of my life.”

Six years later, she said goodbye to the slopes, defended her dissertation in 2006, and accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Iowa. Her research on atmospheric mineral dust continued in Iowa City. She also promoted collaboration and networking between medical researchers and the chemistry department to initiate a multidisciplinary approach to studying the effects of aerosols on human health.

“These days in chemistry, you can’t do anything alone,” she said. “Being able to communicate across boundaries is so critical.”

In Iowa, Hatch not only started her career. She started a family. Her son Kalen will soon turn 3.

Being away from the lab allowed the expectant mother time to write a few well-received review articles.

“It was great to step back from the details of data and put the whole story together and see the big picture.”

Hatch joined the chemistry faculty at Hendrix in 2008. She teaches Chemistry of the Environment, Environmental Analysis, and Advanced Analytical Chemistry. She also supervises the Advanced Theories in Experimental Chemistry lab.

“It was like coming home,” she said. “My professors always treated me as family. They still do. That’s my favorite part.”

Knowing the tradition and campus culture made the transition from student to faculty member easy, she said.

“The hardest part was calling new colleagues by their first names,” she said.

Those new peers were just as committed to helping her grow as a faculty member as they were when she was a student.

“I’ve had so much support here. Anywhere else, I’d be left on my own to sink or swim,” she said. “Here they are excited to help you develop.”

Some things have changed since Hatch was a Hendrix student. For one, Hendrix had revitalized its teaching and research infrastructure for the sciences while she was away.

“The facilities are amazing,” she said. “It’s impressive how much Hendrix has grown. It seems very progressive and, at the same time, preserving the culture of the campus.”

Many faculty legends from her time as a student are now retired.

“It’s different but so promising that other people can shine,” she said. “And it’s nice to know lots of other faculty about the same age as me.” “It’s different. There used to be legends around every corner and now there are new faces, new talents, and new perspectives,” she said. “It’s invigorating.”

Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning did not exist formally when Hatch was a student, though she sees that as merely an evolution of what Hendrix has always done best.

“Odyssey is just promoting what it is we do well with students, which is working one-on-one,” she said.

“When I was a student we were doing these things,” she said. “But now there’s money for student and faculty research and for students to do the things they are passionate about … It’s a wonderful thing.”

“I love doing research with students. The learning they get out of research is so important,” she said.

Research exposes students to obstacles they won’t see in the classroom. It’s about making mistakes and correcting them and moving on and learning from those mistakes, she said.

Hatch guides separate but related student research projects. Students gather for weekly meetings with their peers, sharing what they’ve learned.

“The communication my students do in the summer about their individual research projects allows them to see the big picture beyond the scope of their own project. They see that it’s interconnected, cross-linked, and collaborative, which is so important especially in today’s scientific community.

It’s hard work too.

“It takes time to be productive and learn. It’s not instant gratification,” she said. “It’s about the journey on your way and what you’re learning from that.”