IF YOU'RE READING THE HORIZONS MAGAZINE, THERE'S A GOOD CHANCE YOU KNOW CHEMISTRY PROFESSOR DAN PRATT, PHD, ’81 — OR SOME OF HIS COUSINS. PROFESSOR PRATT IS CONNECTED.
He is part of the legacy fabric of Graceland University. One of his initial conversations with people is usually on the line of “how are we connected?” and, undoubtedly, he will find the link.
Pratt has been teaching chemistry at Graceland for nearly 20 years and is famous for his grueling organic chemistry courses. Hundreds of students have had to pass the course to continue in their pursuit of a science career. In his defense, he is aware of the class stigma, and to prepare his students, he holds study-group meetings in his home. “Cookies and milk help,” he explained.
An atmosphere of trust and respect is cultivated with his students, and Pratt tries to provide them with experiential opportunities. His wide net of connections, through a large family of Graceland graduates, Community of Christ affiliation, six different universities and his growing number of student devotees, provide him with a vast map of contacts to tap into when students leave Lamoni.
Quick to share the spotlight, Pratt will point to the success of many of his students and boast about what they’re up to after graduating, peppering names with impressive achievements.
Pratt was awarded a summer fellowship at the University of Iowa through their program Fostering Undergraduate Talent Uniting Research and Education (FUTURE). What made it especially rewarding for him was that he was able to include his student Ryan Sheehy ‘10.
Sheehy went on to earn a PhD in 2015 and is now a professor at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.
Pratt encourages his students to question and to be curious about their world. “I do not believe there is a ‘stupid’ question,” he relayed. “Students should be able to ask questions without feeling intimidated.” He requires them to dissect problems into smaller pieces, solve the small problems first and then go on to the more complex ones. “These are skills that are not only important to become a good scientist, but they are necessary to successfully survive in today’s workplace.” He also asks them to communicate their scientific findings in written form as well as verbal presentations, preparing them for future graduate work.
Pratt graduated from Graceland in 1981 and received a PhD from the University of Washington. His fields of expertise include organic synthesis, analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis, and he has conducted two postdoctoral studies — one at Iowa State University and the other at the University of Kansas. Additionally, he spent a short stint in industry working for a small pharmaceutical company in New Jersey.
In March, Pratt was named first chairholder of the Daniel E. and Alice D. Waite Endowed Chair in Science. In his acceptance, Pratt told of his connection to the Waites and that his intent was to promote the science programs at Graceland and to help students — both science majors and nonmajors — see the relevance of science in daily life.
“A friend once told me that the students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. I want my students to understand how science affects their everyday lives.”
- Dan Pratt, PhD
Professor of Chemistry