Students Make Biodiesel, Explore History of Energy Through Connective Courses

A Lebanon Valley College student makes biodiesel as part of a chemistry course

Lebanon Valley College unveiled its first series of Connective courses this year as part of the new general education curriculum, Constellation LVC. With Connective courses, students choose a topic of interest and then in the course of one year take three 3-credit courses and a one-credit integration course which summarizes the other three. The variety of topics range from baseball and energy sources, to the making of beer.

Dr. Michelle Rasmussen, assistant professor of chemistry, teaches the connective course, “The Evolution and Science of Global Energy Use,” which included students making their own biodiesel in the lab.

“The theme is energy, so my part is the natural science part,” Dr. Rasmussen said. “Typically we look at the history of energy use in the world. We started with the early energy sources, such as fire, and get into other possible options that could get us off our dependence on fossil fuels.”

“I thought that energy would be an interesting theme, so I suggested that as a topic and there were a couple other professors who had the same interest, so we got together and planned our courses,” Rasmussen said. 

For the second part of the Connective series, Dr. John Hinshaw, professor of history, is teaching the history of energy sources, and how changes in energy consumption can lead to societal changes.

The third three-credit course is set for spring 2018. Dr. Joerg Meindl, associate professor of German, will teach the art behind different energy sources, and how it is reflected in art and literature. Having professors from across the curriculum teach the series helps establish the connective goal between disciplines.  

For Rebekah Pauley ’20, a German and environmental science double major, taking these courses were beneficial for helping her determine a major. 

“I decided to take this Connective course because I was interested in learning about renewable energy and energy in general,” Pauley said. “I wasn’t officially an environmental science major at the time and I took the class in hopes it would help me decide.”

During Dr. Rasmussen’s class, students made biodiesel, which is a renewable energy source. 

“It was really cool to make biodiesel from scratch because I had absolutely no idea how it was made before. It definitely helped put things into perspective since we learned about every step that goes into the process,” Pauley said. 

Dr. Rasmussen was extremely pleased with the results. “Everything worked, everyone successfully made biodiesel, and we then were able to burn it. Now we are talking about the results, and comparing their results to a more conventional biodiesel.”

Although these Connective courses are new to LVC, they are structured similarly to regular college courses. 

“We have class three times a week and our days are split between in-class activities and lectures and activities in the lab. We have weekly quizzes, smaller labs, and one major lab to create the biodiesel,” Pauley said. 

Students discover the interconnectedness of each course firsthand and experience different teaching techniques, which gives the courses a different feel. 

“Although the classes are ‘connected’ they are very different in terms of teaching style and the assignments, which makes the connections more interesting,” Pauley said.  


-- Veronica Pettyjohn, Marketing & Communications Intern