Skip to main contentSkip to main navigationSkip to footer content
Arts and Sciences | Lion VoicesApril 30, 2024

Jordan Mader and the Chemists of the Future

Written By: Ian Silvester

To avoid confusion, University of Arkansas – Fort Smith associate professor of chemistry Jordan Mader introduces herself to someone new by saying, “It’s Mader, like Darth Vader, but no relation.” Don’t let her silly quip about the Star Wars villain fool you; Mader is serious about teaching and helping usher in the world’s next generation of chemists.

Cemented to the ‘Dark Side’

“I tell my students that I sort of tripped and fell into organic chemistry,” Mader joked.

Originally, Mader dreamed of becoming a geneticist and aspired to major in biology, but it all ended during her junior year of high school. However, it wasn’t a change born out of negativity; instead, Mader’s AP Chemistry teacher made the change of heart possible.

“She was phenomenal,” Mader recalled fondly. “I loved AP Chemistry so much, and my teacher was really able to explain things on a daily basis of how chemistry impacts our lives.”

It was the only AP exam Mader said she left confidently, knowing she passed with a five.

Growing up in upstate New York, in the small town of Glens Falls, and with a blossoming passion for chemistry, enrolling at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) was a natural fit. It enabled her to remain close to home and put her on a seven-year track to graduate with a Ph.D. In 2003, Mader became one of the first two female students to begin the RPI accelerated science program, moving directly from undergraduate to doctoral work.

Mader was ecstatic to be part of the program and found her calling to be a professor, thanks to a less-than-desirable experience early on.

“My general chemistry professor motivated me to teach because I wanted to be recruiting chemistry majors, not losing them,” Mader said.

She remained at RPI for the next five years before moving to South Carolina, where she completed her remaining two years with RPI at the University of South Carolina. The move was an opportunity to experience a new part of the country and to continue working as a research assistant.

Mader’s time at the University of South Carolina opened the door for her to teach. The university had a strong recruiting pipeline connection to Georgia Southern University. After completing her seven-year program with RPI, Mader was hired by Georgia Southern as a visiting instructor, and the rest is history.

“I wanted to recruit people to the chemistry major and not have them get frustrated and want to switch to something else,” she explained as she recalled her desire to reverse her adverse experience. “I wanted to encourage the next generation of chemists.”

Finding Her (Teaching) Legs

Mader spent two years at Georgia Southern before an opportunity closer to home became available. She accepted a job as an Assistant Professor at Shepherd University, nestled along the banks of the Potomac River separating West Virginia and Maryland.

For seven years, Mader taught students at Shepherd University and climbed the professor ranks, eventually earning a promotion to become an associate professor, and later, a tenure. However, what she learned about herself as a professor had the most significant impact on Mader.

Over the course of those seven years, Mader learned how to “Explain and engage the material with everyday life and applications so that students (could) understand why they’re learning and what they’re learning, rather than (thinking) ‘this is a course I have to take in order to complete my degree.’”

Mader admitted that she always planned to be at Shepherd University for at least 10 years because she believes it provides the right amount of time to do what you want to do, find out what else you can do, and contribute to the profession by helping students grow. However, a call of the heart sped up her timeline.

She was in a relationship that was ready to take the next step, but a distance of 1,000 miles made it challenging to take. So, doing what any love birds would do, Mader and her partner vowed that whoever had the next opportunity to move closer to the other would take it.

“It just worked out that I was the one that found a job out here,” Mader said with a smile.

Lion Pride

Mader began working at UAFS in the fall of 2019, teaching Organic Chemistry I and II, a Chemical Principles class, and a special topics course, Intro to Polymers.

As she closes in on the end of her fifth year at UAFS, Mader has become one of the most involved members of the university community. She has worked with the registered student organizations, the Minority Association of Pre-Med Students, and PRIDE. She is also a member of the faculty senate, where she has helped oversee campus policies and procedures, university curriculum, and college bylaws.

“I’ve been able to help develop and come up with some of the policies that are helping to make this a better place for faculty and staff, in addition to our students,” she said of her professional development work.

But that’s not all. Made has worked on many sub-committees and has even helped connect students with other areas across the campus, most recently helping with The Long Night of Preparation. She explained how these service opportunities have provided a “chance to get to know people on campus more … and I really enjoy not just having to be in my office, I get to get out on campus.”

Despite all Mader does outside the classroom, what she has brought to her students has made the most significant impact.

While at UAFS, Mader threw out the rule, or rather, the textbook, quite literally. Students in Mader’s class no longer have a required textbook. Instead, she has found a few options she recommends and has even worked with the Boreham Library to reserve these materials for students to check out during the year. This year, Mader has embraced adaptive AI by utilizing ALEKS. This online assessment program helps students achieve mastery of a subject by testing each student’s knowledge base and designing material to help them improve and continue to show their abilities.

Mader also focuses her coursework on project-based learning. Students in her classes can work individually or in groups of up to four and are encouraged to use art to explain chemistry concepts.

“I’ve had students do poems, I’ve had them compose and perform songs, and I’ve had them do paintings,” she said as she pointed to various examples around her office in the Math Science building. “I want them to be as creative as they are because I think it’s really important to allow our STEM students to go into STEAM. I encourage them to incorporate their art because a lot of them have impressive art talent that they don’t get to express in their normal STEM fields because we’re focused mostly on the science and less on the art. But there’s so much chemistry in art, and there’s so much art in chemistry and biology.”

Mader may joke that she was converted to the “dark side” by being a chemistry professor, but she has proven to be the opposite of ‘Darth Mader.’ Students are guaranteed always to find her office door open if they need to talk, have a snack, or have some tea.

“I never see my students as a face in the crowd,” Mader said proudly. “I get to know my students really well. I make a more meaningful impact on them. I know when they’re struggling. I notice when they’re not in class, and I reach out and follow up.”


Jordan's Story:

  • Tags:
  • Faculty Voices
  • Chemistry
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Organic Chemistry

Media Relations

The UAFS Office of Communications fields all media inquiries for the university. Email for more information.

Send an Email

Stay Up-to-Date

Sign up to receive news and updates.


Rachel Rodemann Putman

  • Director of Strategic Communications
  • 479-788-7132
Submit A News Tip