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Paul Kelter: ‘All students matter’

March 25, 2013
Paul Kelter

Paul Kelter

Paul Kelter has penned two major chemistry and chemistry-education books, authored more than 60 journal articles and delivered more than 200 conference presentations.

His expertise has attracted in excess of $17 million in grants, and he has received 20 major university, state and national teaching awards.

But it’s not accomplishments, grants or awards that define Kelter’s career as an educator. Rather it is a simple philosophy that has guided him at every turn: “All students matter; and all students can learn.”

“When the contributions of all students and teachers are valued, and we dare to believe that all students can learn, it yields a spirit of cooperation in which students and teachers worldwide prosper,” says Kelter, who teaches in NIU’s Department of Literacy Education.

Kelter holds a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Nebraska. Before coming to NIU in 2007, he served as director of general chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and as a chemistry professor at both the University of Nebraska and at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Though a chemist by training, he is above all a specialist in how young people of all ages, from pre-kindergarten through college, learn math and science. As such, Kelter is a teacher of teachers, including both college students who are studying to be educators and seasoned veterans of the classroom. For example, he currently is co-leading two initiatives funded by $600,000 in state grants. The aim is to enhance middle-school teacher math and science education in Elgin School District U-46, the second largest public school district in Illinois.

Kelter’s influence stretches beyond the region, however, and across continents. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in 2003 founded the International Center for First-Year Chemistry Education, serving as its first chairman.

Professor Carlos Mauricio Castro-Acuña of the National Autonomous University of Mexico calls Kelter an “unquestioned leader in international science education.”

“His belief that all teachers contribute important ideas to teaching and that we all can learn from  each other, no matter where we live or what the economic or political condition of our country, resulted in many faculty collaborating on educational  research,” Castro-Acuña says.

At NIU, Kelter also receives high marks.

“His passion for science is infectious,” says Jennifer Berne, chair of Literacy Education.

“Perhaps his greatest characteristic is the generosity with which he shares his talents,” she adds. “Dr. Kelter has actively sought out junior faculty to mentor in grant writing, research and teaching, all areas where he has significant skill and experience. His guidance in all of these areas has made his colleagues, and by extension his department, stronger.”

In 2011, Jessica Renee Molitor took one of Kelter’s undergraduate courses. After graduation, she continued to work with him, developing a science curriculum for early elementary students and recently co-authoring a paper with him in a leading science-education journal.

“His desire and ability to involve his students in their own education develops ownership of the material and provides opportunities for students to set personal goals and to affirm personal learning and progress,” says Molitor, who is now a third-grade teacher in Schaumburg. “He constantly encourages students to do ‘good,’ not only for ourselves, but for the society at-large, reminding us of the impact teachers have on future generations.”