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Chemistry Rockstar puts a twist on teaching with Twitch

by Linda Lenhoff,

Professor of Chemistry Karen McFarlane Holman ‘90 is known as the Chemistry Rockstar for a reason—or more like 10 reasons. Not only has Holman been teaching at Willamette for 22 years, she started a radio station, hosted a podcast called 10 Bestest and an online teaching channel, and works to support women in STEM at home. On top of that, she’s also actually a rock star. She's played in nine rock bands since 1995 with 16 album and single releases. Despite being the busiest person you’ll meet—and one of the most enthusiastic—Holman is devoted to teaching.

Professor Karen McFarlane Holman '90

“I’ve always wanted to make things really clear to students,” she began. “It has never been my job to throw curveballs and make things confusing. Especially in general chemistry, I want students to realize that they can do it.” Instead, Holman has identified students’ biggest problem with Chemistry class: “I think the number one thing is that so many students come in and they're feeling intimidated. I want them to feel welcome; I want them to feel confident,” she added.

Recently, Holman created a twist on teaching science, with the encouragement of a company called Study Soup: They informed her she’s an influencer and they’d help her livestream on Twitch. Holman had created a YouTube channel in 2020 combining two other passions, ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) and calligraphy, to teach chemistry “in a calm manner,” she said. The channel, ASMR Chemistry, has received only positive feedback over three years, and she brought it to Twitch last summer. “Some people have talked about it helping them with their anxiety, their learning. I absolutely loved hearing that,” she said.

With teaching science online Holman wanted anyone to feel like they can learn. “Maybe they don’t feel strong in science, or they have anxiety or ADHD.” Parents commend Holman for these classes. “I wasn’t looking to be able to reach ADHD people, or people with anxiety, but it seems these techniques are working,” she said.

“Ultimately, I would love to help people who don’t feel empowered to feel empowered,” said Holman. Holman is also a passionate supporter of encouraging more women in science, technology, engineering, and math. She directs Willamette’s Webber Science Outreach program, which gives scholarships to scientists who identify as female, transgender or non-binary. “It gives them a chance to go into schools, so children can see scientists who are not the stereotypical Einstein-looking male.” In addition, Holman spent two summers in Saudi Arabia, teaching at an all-girls science camp.

Although she started referring to herself as the “Chemistry Rockstar” on her Twitch channel only after people started calling her that, no one deserves the title more.

Find Holman’s Twitch channel here.

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