The Perfect Chemistry
Dr. April Hill makes science welcoming to all in MSU Denver’s Chemistry Department
A Love for Chemistry
Dr. April Hill is a chemistry teacher who loves her work and her students at MSU Denver. Before coming to Colorado, she grew up in Iowa with science always on her mind.
“My dad was always sort of science-minded. He never finished college. He went to Vietnam,” Hill said. “But he still worked in a science-related job. He was our water-treatment plant operator in my small hometown.”
“I used to go on tours of the water plant and I’d see all the different processes that go on in treating water. It was just really cool,” Hill said. “And then I took a chemistry class in high school and I had a teacher who had quit being a lawyer to be a chemistry teacher. So he was really passionate about it and I was just inspired.”
In 2007, Hill earned her Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Iowa State University, which she uses to teach an Analytical Chemistry class at MSU Denver.
“Analytical Chemistry is probably the, maybe not the most, but one of the most math-heavy chemistry divisions. So, I’ve always really loved math. I like analytical because I always tell my students, there’s a right answer,” Hill said. “There’s no, maybe it’s this. Maybe it’s that. There is a right answer. I’ve always liked when the answer is clear and if you do the right steps, you will arrive at the right answer.”
Hill also holds a Graduate Certificate of Forensic Science from Iowa State, which she earned in May 2006.
“I graduated from Central College in Iowa and I wanted to go to graduate school and, at the time, I was pretty convinced that I wanted to be a forensic scientist,” Hill said. “And that’s actually pretty common for women in the sciences to want to do a field that has applications in sort of,the humanities. Something that benefits society.
“I was always really drawn to forensics science. I was also a little bit obsessed with ‘The X Files’ growing up,” Hill continues. “Side-note, I have dogs named Mulder and Scully. So I’m not joking when I say I’m a little bit obsessed.”
Hill believed she would work in a crime lab, but she got a big surprised.
“But when I first started, they sorta placed you in, not necessarily rotation, but I started a little bit early. You could do a summer, early start,” Hill said. “They just placed me with Mark Porter, and he was doing water-quality research for NASA. It just fit so well with what my dad had done and what I’d grown up seeing. And it was research with NASA and it was just so cool that I just decided to stick with that for my Ph.D.”
Hill also teaches Criminalistics 1, a class focused specifically on forensics
“I love teaching it because it teaches students to apply what they’ve learned in chemistry courses up to that point, like organic chemistry and analytical chemistry,” Hill said. “It teaches them to apply it to very real questions. It’s tough because not all students come with the same preparation.
“Some students I feel like took organic chemistry last semester and they have no problem with functional groups and understanding why this looks like that and this looks like that,” Hill adds.“But some students took organic quite a while ago and so they’re a little bit rusty in it. I feel like I have more of a challenge in that class, getting everyone onto that same page, but I love teaching it because it holds their interest.”
Hill explains the fun of Criminalistics 1.
“When you’re getting them to think about analytical chemistry terms, but it’s in the context of identifying if this white powder is heroin or if it’s cocaine or if it’s meth,” Hill said. “I feel like they’re really engaged in answering those questions. And it’s fun. We have a drug safe. We have a schedule to and below license from the DEA, so I’m able to actually give them samples of drugs and have them do presumptive testing.”
Before teaching at MSU Denver in 2010, Hill used to teach at Pennsylvania State University. She noticed something different about the roadrunners.
“A lot of excuses I got for not doing homework were like, there was a football game. We had to do, they do like a tent, I forget what they called it, but students would literally move into a tent for the weekend of a football game and just stay there the whole weekend.” Hill recalled. “So when I came here, students don’t get their homework done, my kid was sick or I got called into work. Those are excuses that I feel like are reasonable, and a lot of times, I don’t get the feeling that they’re trying to get out of anything.”
Hill makes science accessible for all including the visually impaired on campus by being part of MSU Denver’s technology accessibility initiative. She’s a strong advocate for women in the sciences by being one of the core planning committee members for MSU Denver’s Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) conference.
“I think my driving goal with teaching in chemistry is to try to make sure that it’s welcoming to everyone,” Hill said, “and we wind up in the future with a field that is more reflective of society as a whole in terms of how many women, how many people of color, how many people with disabilities, are going into the field.”
Hill would also want to be remembered as a professor who generally cared for her students.
“I do care that the students understand. I want them to learn. But I also expect them to put in the work to do that. I can’t just give you an A,” Hill said. “You have to earn it. But, to be honest, my absolute favorite experience, which might sound weird, are the students who fail my class. And came back the next time and got an A.
“I’ve had that happen several times and I love that because I feel like that shows that they’re willing to put the time in to bring that grade up,” Hill added. “And I’ve never been easy on those students. I don’t go easy on them the second time around. I expect the same level of learning. So that’s my favorite, because that just shows dedication on the part of the student and it’s a success story. Right?”
For more information about Dr. April Hill, visit her MSU Denver webpage: https://webapp.msudenver.edu/directory/profile.php?uName=ahill45