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Passion, Potential, and Progress

Photo by Josh Siebert

Many of Steven Goates’ students describe him as a goofball — a goofball they love to take classes from.

“You can always do things that are interesting in the classroom,” Goates said. “It’s important to change things up, and every now and again you just have to stop and laugh to get your brain awake again.”

Because of his outstanding teaching methods and connection to the students, Goates was awarded the BYU Karl G. Maeser Excellence in Teaching Award at the Annual University Conference this August.

“I’m both pleased and embarrassed,” Goates said. “It’s great for me, but there are so many excellent teachers here at BYU.”

Goates loves teaching, but chemistry wasn’t always his focus, much less being a chemistry professor.

“I didn’t plan on being a chemistry major, but I really liked my first class . . . and I was hooked from then on. When I took my first lab class, my love of the subject was cemented,” Goates said. “The satisfaction from teaching was something I discovered later while being a teacher.”

Goates attributes much of his success with students to the teaching methods he learned from other professors.

“I’m always experimenting with new things and stealing ideas from other people,” Goates said. “It’s important for teachers to share information about what works and what doesn’t work.”

Along with varied teaching methods, Goates believes that constant improvement helps make a teacher great.

“One lesson I’ve learned is . . . never be satisfied. That’s maybe the most important thing,” Goates said. “You can take joy in your teaching but you can never be satisfied in how you’re doing.”

Drawing from his own experience as a student who had excellent teachers, Goates understands the importance of motivational professors.

“One must want to help students reach their potential and not settle for good enough. That means holding to high standards,” Goates said. “A good part of teaching is what I call cheerleading: convincing people that they can do hard things.”

Goates also understands the importance of student participation in the learning process.

“A student has to want to learn. [I] try to light the fire and get them excited,” Goates said. “A lot of people say chemistry is hard and my response to that is, ‘Yeah, isn’t that great?’ I don’t want to do something that’s easy. I want to be challenged.”

Goates is able to inspire his students because he shows them they’re important.

“You need to care about the students [but not] care about what they think of you,” Goates said. “You can’t worry about being popular. You can’t worry if they’re going to grouse about you, but you have to care about them.”

When Goates is able to help students learn and get excited about chemistry, he knows he’s doing a good job.

“I really enjoy seeing the light come on, seeing people progress and grapple with new concepts. I love to see the curiosity,” Goates said. “I get a lot of satisfaction from working with students.”

Even with his research students, Goates always looks for the progress that each of his students is making.

“You take somebody who doesn’t know what a Phillips screwdriver is and has never used an Allen wrench and then, by the time they leave, they’re putting together complex experiments,” Goates said. “It’s a great feeling.”