November 5, 2007
By Amye walters
It’s no surprise that a man as driven as Matthew Weinschenk was honored with a Crystal Apple Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Lecture Award in 2004. To him, the best aspect of the award is that his students bestowed it upon him. Just as these students hold Weinschenk in high regard, he feels the same toward them.
“The quality of the students here at Emory compares to those anywhere, at any school,” Weinschenk says. Quite a compliment from someone with Weinschenk’s educational background.
The only job Weinschenk applied for after receiving his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Yale University was at Emory. He accepted the chemistry department’s lecturing position in 1999 and has been with Emory ever since.
The concern Weinschenk has for his students is obvious. Many are on the medical track and their grade in his course is of great importance. When low test scores come in, Weinschenk often turns to his wife, a psychiatrist and Emory graduate, for advice. She gives him tips on how best to approach students who are upset and disheartened by their grades.
Weinschenk always knew he would follow in his family’s footsteps, both in his career and athletics. His childhood friends will tell you that he learned to run because he didn’t have a bicycle. Weinschenk admits he ran long distances early on by keeping up alongside his friends who rode on bikes, but he says the true credit lies with his late father.
Weinschenk began running at age 5 by his dad’s side. “I wanted to copy my dad,” he says. A three-mile loop around a neighborhood lake was Weinschenk’s first accomplishment. His first half-marathon came when he was only 8 years old. Years later, he completed the renowned Chicago marathon.
Coming from a family of teachers, his path to Emory came naturally. During his freshman year at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, he thought of becoming a doctor. Weinschenk worked in a hospital for a short time but didn’t find the environment to be the right fit. He was enrolled in anatomy and biology classes but in his sophomore year found organic chemistry to be his “love.” And it was at that point that he knew he wanted to teach.
Teaching took Weinschenk across the Atlantic for his first visit abroad. He served as faculty adviser and instructor for the first two years of Emory’s Italy Study Abroad Program, Chemistry in Siena.
“Science is not typical for an abroad program,” says Weinschenk. His course took a scientific approach to art restoration and winemaking. Students learned application techniques used in restoring art and how scientists make wine. Field trips to wine country allowed students to visit and talk with the many biologists at vineyards. “Europe has a rich chemical history, and we also had visits with Italian chemists, faculty and graduate students,” he says.
If teaching is Weinschenk’s love, music is his passion. A framed poster of Bob Dylan hangs in his office. He was introduced to rock ’n’ roll through his friends’ older brothers. When he was 15, Weinschenk went to his first concert, a Dylan performance in Binghamton, N.Y. “It was a terrible show, but I was sparked by the lyrics and eventually bought all his albums on tape,” Weinschenk says. He has long since upgraded those cassettes to compact discs but still considers Dylan his favorite musician. Weinschenk lists classics as his top artists — Dylan, The Beatles, solo George Harrison and the Rolling Stones — but he keeps up with emerging acts, too. He recently attended The Arcade Fire and The National and checks out live shows at The E.A.R.L. whenever he can.
Besides music, Weinschenk likes to unwind by watching a good movie. He jokes that the two kept him “sane through grad school.” Nowadays he doesn’t find as much time for trips to the theater. In the past he would see two or three films each week on the big screen, but finds himself watching more DVDs at home. And he has an excellent reason for this change of pace.
Weinschenk spent most of 2007 building a new home in East Atlanta. He and his wife moved in just a couple months ago and are looking forward to hosting their first Thanksgiving dinner. Weinschenk is especially eager for the event since Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. His mother will be traveling here from Pennsylvania and his in-laws from Florida. It has been two years since the Weinschenks’ wedding, the last opportunity their parents and siblings had the opportunity to gather as one group.
Weinschenk appreciates the flexibility in scheduling exams at Emory. He plans accordingly to give his students and himself free time on Wednesday to prepare for the long holiday weekend.
When Weinschenk sums up where life has taken him so far, he finds it easy to say “I am well-placed at Emory.” Given the smile on his face, the Crystal Apple from his students, and a Center for Teaching and Curriculum Excellence in Teaching Award, it seems this couldn’t be more true.