By Brooke Coupal
Long after classes have ended for the day, there is often a light shining in the window of Chemistry Assoc. Teaching Prof. Khalilah Reddie’s office.
“Dr. Reddie spends more time on the UMass Lowell campus than any other professor,” says David Long, who graduated in 2021 with a degree in biological sciences.
Reddie is known for putting in the extra hours to ensure that her organic chemistry students are set up for success, both in and out of the classroom. In recognition of that dedication, Reddie was recently awarded the Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
“I am elated with the recognition. It reflects the culmination of my work that the university has supported not only in the classroom but across the breadth of student experiences on campus over the past 10 years,” says Reddie, who joined UML’s faculty in 2012. “The Manning Prize represents for me the committee's belief in my steadfast and continued dedication to excellence at UMass Lowell.”
The annual prize was established by Robert ’84, ’11 (H) and Donna ’85, ’91, ’11 (H) Manning to honor outstanding faculty members from each of the five UMass campuses.
“Khalilah has a passion for teaching. She has a passion for our students. And she has a passion for doing everything that she can so that our students are successful,” says Kennedy College of Sciences Dean Noureddine Melikechi. “She is a treasure here at UMass Lowell.”
Fred Martin, the KCS associate dean for teaching, learning and undergraduate studies, nominated Reddie for the Manning Prize.
“Her commitment to our students is legendary,” Martin says. “She goes above and beyond to make sure that each student is doing well.”
Students Flourish with Tutoring
To help students succeed in organic chemistry, a notoriously difficult course, Reddie developed a peer tutoring program so undergraduates can get help from others who took the class and succeeded.
“We used to go to the dining hall over on East Campus on Wednesday nights when it closed, and we would have study sessions there all night,” she says.
Reddie welcomes the tutors into the classroom so students can get extra help before class starts. Martin says by normalizing tutoring, Reddie has created an environment where students feel comfortable seeking support.
“There’s this real stigma associated with receiving tutoring, and she’s erased that by integrating tutoring support into the way that she teaches,” Martin says. “It’s an expectation that she creates in her students and that transformed the success rates in that class.”
Reddie values the feedback that she gets from her students and uses that to improve the course. Long, who served as an organic chemistry tutor during his time at UML, appreciated this.
“She takes a lot of steps to better her teaching, and she takes feedback from her tutors and her students to figure out how to make the course better and more accessible,” he says.
Students see how hard Reddie works, and in turn, they work hard to pass organic chemistry.
“Students know I’m working late; they know I’m here sometimes on the weekends; they know I used to have study sessions the day after Thanksgiving. And so, they see all that effort, and they feel obligated to match that in their own capacity,” Reddie says.
Feeling the MAGIC
Reddie’s goal is that all students succeed not only in her class, but also in their career endeavors.
An article published in the Boston Globe in 2019 was a stark realization for Reddie that some of the brightest students graduating from Boston public high schools, many of whom were minorities, were failing to achieve their dreams of joining the medical field. Valedictorians interviewed for the article recalled falling behind in college courses like chemistry, which ultimately discouraged them from pursuing medical degrees.
“As a minority professor on campus, I thought about what I could do to motivate students who felt insecure about their aspirations of joining the health profession,” says Reddie, who is from Jamaica.
She created the Medical Profession Admission Gap Initiative and Collaboration (MAGIC) program to help prepare students from underrepresented groups for medical school.
“The program has helped elevate minority students’ success so that their science GPA is not the reason someone will say to them that they’re not qualified to proceed into medical school,” she says.
Along with academic support, the program gives students the confidence to pursue advanced degrees and jobs in the health field.
“MAGIC taught me that anything is possible,” says Ruth Opare-Darko, a rising junior biology major from Worcester, Massachusetts, whose goal is to become a pediatrician. “If it were not for Dr. Reddie and MAGIC, I would not be where I am today.”
Nathan Johnson, a rising junior biomedical engineering major from Pepperell, Massachusetts, was inspired by Reddie while taking her class during the spring semester.
“She’s the first Jamaican professor I’ve ever come across, and it’s cool to see someone whose background is similar and is doing great things,” says Johnson, whose father was born and raised in Jamaica.
“She’s like the Bill Russell of chemistry,” he added, comparing Reddie to the former Boston Celtics great and basketball Hall of Famer.
A Calling to Teach
While Reddie has received several awards for teaching, she did not always plan on becoming a professor.
Reddie earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Georgia and went on to the University of Michigan for postdoctoral work.
“As a postdoc, I was very much into research,” she says.
While there, she worked in a professor’s lab. When the professor had to go away for a conference, Reddie stepped in to teach an organic chemistry class.
“When I was done substituting for my professor, the whole auditorium stood up and clapped,” she recalls.
At that moment, Reddie realized she enjoyed teaching and went into a postdoctoral teaching program at the University of Michigan. She also completed a teaching fellowship, as well as postdoctoral research, at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“Being a professor really feels like a calling,” Reddie says. “Since I’ve been on this path, about 10 years now, I’ve never contemplated doing anything else.”