For more than 25 years Professor Darryl Hawker has been motivating and inspiring Griffith students to learn about Environmental Chemistry.

In recognition of his unflagging enthusiasm and outstanding contribution to student learning, Professor Hawker has received a citation from the Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching. Professor Hawker insists the citation is a reflection of the work done by the broader Griffith community.

“We have some wonderful teachers here, so this is also a tribute to my school and group. I’m not sure I do anything more than my colleagues,” Professor Hawker said.

Making learning relevant

He says studies both nationally and internationally show students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields can struggle with chemistry and mathematics. Students are often apprehensive and question the importance of these subjects as well as their practicality and relevance to the curriculum.

So, where he can, Professor Hawker relates his teaching materials to everyday experiences.

“Chemistry doesn’t have to be dry, irrelevant, purely theoretical and all about abstract symbols and equations.”

“If the students feel that they already know something about the topic the material is no longer so abstract for them. A demonstrated application to our environment develops a reason for learning that fosters an attitude of needing or wanting to learn.”

And Professor Hawker isn’t afraid to enlist help in the classroom. Wolfgang, his pet dachshund, is put to work once a year to assist with a lecture about pesticides. Chemicals used to treat fleas are also used with termites, for example.

“It’s an attempt to get the students to know a little about me and to humanise me.”

Always approachable

And it is that approachability which is at the core of his success.

“My door is always open to students,” Professor Hawker also said.

“I remember what it was like as an undergraduate and I think I was intimidated by my teachers so I’m trying not to do that to my students.”

Professor Hawker grew up on the western Darling Downs and says people from the country are very polite. This is a second central tenet of his approach to teaching.

“You say hello to everyone and, as much as possible, you learn everybody’s name. It’s just natural.”

Another legacy of a childhood spent in places like Goondiwindi, Warwick and Julia Creek is that he has always been interested in the environment and chemistry. He got the chance to combine those interests when he came to work at Griffith as a young research fellow with a PhD in physical organic chemistry. He also had the opportunity to do some teaching and loved it so much he became a teaching fellow.

“I’d never heard of environmental chemistry before I came to Griffith and I was interested to know how chemistry could be applied to the environment. I was very lucky because at that stage, environmental chemistry was embryonic.

“It overlaps so many other disciplines; I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with people from diverse fields including mathematics and ecology.”

Students are his hope for the future

Professor Hawker says environmental chemistry is still a maturing field, but a very rewarding one.

“You have the chance to make a difference and the results can be very tangible; better air and water quality. You can play a role in improving human and environmental health.

But does he ever despair for our environment?

“No! Students are my hope for the future.”

“I’m eternally buoyed by the fact awareness of the environment is increasing. When I started out there was no Minister for the Environment at the Federal or State level.”

“If we can have an even more environmentally educated population I think we’ll learn to look after the world better, and in more clever ways.”