Faculty Spotlight: Jeff Draves

Graceland chemistry professor Dr. Jeff Draves

Graceland is doubly fortunate to "get her" and "him" too. The Draves doctors have a powerful impact on Graceland’s future. 

Last summer, Dr. Jeff Draves was chosen to participate as a mentor for the Summer Leadership Institute offered for more than a decade by AAC&U PKAL (Association of American Colleges & Universities Project Kaleidoscope.) Since its founding in 1989, PKAL has been one of the leading advocates in the United States for transforming undergraduate STEM teaching and learning. It has, to date, empowered an extensive network of over 7,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) faculty and administrators committed to the principles, practices and partnerships that advance cutting-edge, integrative STEM higher education for all students.

The intent of the leadership institute is to equip STEM faculty with the skills to effectively overcome the politics of change. The week-long training includes mentors and mentees and an exhaustive application process for both. Draves has participated in both roles, most recently as a mentor. This highly competitive leadership training helps university STEM leaders overcome the hurdles of change and “help to make the changes palatable,” explained Draves.

For instance, how do leaders and faculty change the curriculum in their department to make it more modern and ensure that students get a quality education in STEM disciplines? Changes in curriculum are difficult for universities to accomplish. So, how do you get faculty on board and offer the resources to help it work? “The STEM fields move so fast that we need to be nimble – more able to change,” Jeff explained. How do you motivate faculty toward change?


How did you get started in your field?

“I got interested in chemistry from a little chemistry set that I got when I was a kid. That’s where it really started: Mr. Wizard’s experiments in chemistry,” (the vintage 1973 set can be purchased online). “I debated over industry versus teaching, and when I got out of graduate school at the University of Illinois with a PhD in Chemistry, I went into the industry for a while – environmental consulting for Radian Corporation in Austin, Texas. As time went on, I recognized that I liked the teaching aspect of the job more than anything else, so that’s when Pat and I both moved into academia.”


What’s the best part of your career?

“Working with the students is easily the best part of the career. I teach some hard stuff, and I like it when they finally figure it out. Just this morning I had a student come to me and say, ‘I really like physical chemistry!’ Those moments are what keep it fun. Plus, how many jobs are there where you teach and learn more yourself? Teaching and learning, and really, I get paid to play with cool toys – bigger chemistry sets!”


What are your hobbies or stress reducers?

“I cook, and I play chess. Haven’t much time to do either of those lately. I really like to grill, and I’ll keep an eye out for getting the chess club going again at Graceland.”


Initial thoughts on Lamoni living?

“I’ve heard some grumblings that Graceland might not measure up to other schools, and that Lamoni is too small. There is some specific Graceland culture, but in terms of teaching classes, Graceland is not so different. There’s good stuff here. We’ve lived an hour from a big city and realized that we didn’t really take advantage of what the city offered any more than we do now – maybe a few times a year. Things are what you make it. We were welcomed with open arms and are really enjoying life at Graceland.”