Chemistry Professor Works with High School Students to Discover the Secrets of Omega-3

Professor of Chemistry Angela Stoeckman has been working alongside students at Visitation School to test if taking omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for health.

By Carolynne Camp '21

March 10, 2021 | 11:17 a.m.

Professor of Chemistry Angela Stoeckman

Professor of Chemistry Angela Stoeckman, with the gas chromatography and mass spectometry instrument that Visitation School students will use for experimental analysis

Life has changed in many ways in the midst of a pandemic, with many normal activities, meetings, and classes transitioning to an online platform. Angela Stoeckman, associate professor of chemistry at Bethel University, has used this to her advantage while connecting with high school students at the all-girls Visitation School to research something her passions and studies surround—fatty acid metabolism. Stoeckman and the students work together studying the benefits of omega-3 supplements.

Stoeckman was inspired by a significant Bethel alumnus, Ralph Holman, who coined the term “omega-3 fatty acids” and made a lasting impact at Bethel University and in the chemistry department. Other faculty encouraged Stoeckman to create an engaging environment for young women interested in the sciences through their own programs and partnerships.

Stoeckman began working with the honors chemistry students at Visitation School in January 2021, encouraging excitement and confidence in the classroom and lab. Together, they are working to determine if taking daily omega-3 fatty acids will enhance and provide health benefits—a question that would inspire many individuals.

In their first meeting, students learned about Stoeckman’s career path and time as a professor at Bethel University. Stoeckman also took them on a virtual tour of Bethel’s updated labs, classrooms, and equipment.

Since January, Stoeckman and the students have been hard at work in the lab and through virtual connection, as they work to determine whether daily omega-3 fatty acids supplements provide enough of the molecule to enhance health. Students so far have learned about gas chromatography and mass spectrometry which are scientific methods to analyze substances in a test sample. They have also begun researching Stoeckman’s data using these techniques. As of now, students and Stoeckman are still working on their research and will hopefully have a conclusion before the end of the school semester.

While the pandemic may have presented unique challenges in the project, Stoeckman and Visitation students have found creative ways to stay connected. The use of online platforms allows for student and professor discussion, and Stoeckman has recorded all of her procedures on video to share with the class. The ability to stop and replay the video recording for the students, enables the teacher to explain certain steps in more detail and talk about what is happening in the experiment at that time.

Stoeckman has built a strong connection with the high school class. She hopes this experiment and interaction creates a lasting impact on the young women and hopes to encourage them in new ways while working in the lab and field of science. 

“My main goal with this is a partnership,” Stoeckman says, “It is to encourage young women to pursue science majors and to be confident in working in the lab.”

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