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Good Chemistry George Barker '20 used both of his majors⁠, computer science and chemistry, to help build a website that makes a challenging subject more approachable for students.

“Whatever your academic interests, they have a place here at W&L.”
~George Barker ’20

What factors led you to choose W&L?

The main reason I chose W&L is the community. The collaborative work environment makes peers into friends, and the small class size allows amazing professors to work one on one with students and make an impact on them.

What made you decide on your major/minor?

I came to W&L with a strong interest in the sciences, specifically chemistry. Taking classes here has allowed this interest to grow. I essentially stumbled upon the intro computer science class. After taking that class with Professor Sara Sprenkle, I knew I wanted to keep going with it, and I have since taken many more computer science classes.

Tell us about what you worked on this summer and what that entailed.

This summer, I worked with Professor Sprenkle on developing the web application for ChemTutor. ChemTutor is a website where students who want to learn the basics for general chemistry can go and watch teaching videos and practice problems specific to those videos.

We collaborated closely with chemistry professors Kyle Friend and Steve Desjardins at W&L and Professor Kasandra Riley at Rollins College. Development included work on the front end, which includes parts of the website the users see, as well as the back end, which includes the underlying infrastructure of the site.

How did the idea for this project form?

There is a big learning curve for high school students transitioning to a college-level chemistry course. Although there are many freely available video resources online, there are not many practice problems available. However, practicing problems is essential to learning chemistry. The professors involved in this project wanted to do something about the lack of online practice for chemistry basics and came up with ChemTutor, a site to watch chemistry videos and practice problems tailored to those videos.

Being a biochemistry and computer science student, what courses helped prepare you for this project?

CSCI 209: Software Development and CSCI 335: Software Engineering Through Web Applications:
Although there was a lot of new territory in working on ChemTutor, my computer science classes have taught me the basic skills necessary as a developer to quickly learn and adapt to new tasks.

CHEM 110: General Chemistry: General chemistry taught me the concepts introduced to students in ChemTutor. From other chemistry classes at W&L, I’ve also learned how to study chemistry and think as a chemistry student, which has been beneficial in development decisions.

What’s been your favorite part about working on this project?

My favorite part about working on ChemTutor was that my work experience evolved from the classroom. Development started in class with Professor Sprenkle in CSCI335: software engineering through web applications. During this class, we went from learning about the basics of web applications to, in the second half of the course, developing the various components for the ChemTutor web application and using it to share updates within a 15-person team.

Over this summer, I worked with Professor Sprenkle on web development to bring the site to a state to deploy to the incoming class at W&L and Rollins, which was exciting. Being able to see that classroom experience turn into real world experience, and now, back into something meant for future chemistry students, is very rewarding.

Why is this project important and what can you tell us about its progress?

By providing online teaching content and practice problems to students, ChemTutor gives students another tool to take control of their education. The idea is that students using ChemTutor can come into General Chemistry better prepared for the fast pace of the course. As of this summer, ChemTutor has been released to the incoming classes at W&L and Rollins College.

How has this work impacted your career goals?

This work has made me more independent and experienced as a programmer. Importantly, this experience has shown me the importance of not only having interdisciplinary knowledge, but also being able and ready to use that knowledge on a project.

Has anyone on campus served as a mentor to you?

Professors Sprenkle and Friend, along with Associate Dean of the College Fred LaRiviere, have had a large impact on me as mentors. Many other professors have also been important in my education.

What would you say to a prospective W&L student who is deciding whether to apply or attend here?

Whatever your academic interests, they have a place here at W&L. You will be surrounded by people who will encourage and help you to pursue your passion.

More About George

Where are you from?

Salem, Virginia

What’s your favorite place to eat in Lexington?


What do you order?

Meat Fest Pizza

If you could recommend one film or book to everyone, what would it be?

The movie “Spider-Man: Far From Home”

Favorite W&L event?

Any of the W&L formals

Favorite class?

Art of the Medical Practitioner at St. Andrews

Favorite W&L memory?

Hanging out with friends

What are your post-grad plans?

My post-grad plans have yet to be established, however I want to use my interests in chemistry and computer science.