It's an educational model that has existed for centuries,
largely because it works so effectively. Oberlin has long used
this model in all disciplines, but especially so in the sciences.
requires debate and discussion, both with other students and
with a master. In the sciences in particular, this kind of education
requires hands-on worklearning science by doing sciencealways
under the watchful eye of a caring mentor.
One of Oberlin's most notable student-mentor collaborations
occurred more than 100 years ago and resulted in a discovery
that changed modern life. The production of aluminum by electrochemistrythe
method discovered by alumnus Charles Martin Hall in 1886allowed
the economical production of aluminum on an industrial scale
for the first time.
Hall's interest in chemistry dated from his childhood.
He aspired to be an inventor, and when he enrolled at Oberlin
College at the age of 16, he was already intrigued by the lure
of isolating aluminum.
At the College, Hall met Frank Fanning Jewett, Oberlin's
chemistry professor. Jewett, who also had a great interest in
aluminum chemistry, was a well-educated chemist who had studied
at Yale University and the University of Göttingen in Germany,
done research at Harvard University, and taught in Japan before
joining the Oberlin faculty.
Shortly after they met, Jewett cleared some space in his own
laboratory so he and the young student could work together.
When Hall's experiments finally succeeded, a year after
his graduation, it was Jewett to whom he brought his aluminum
nuggets for confirmation that they were, indeed, aluminum. Hall
went on to found the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).
The relationship that formed between Jewett and Hall enabled
close collaboration between and faculty mentor and a student.
It is a tradition on which Oberlin has built its reputation
for excellence in science education. Hall excelled under this
educational model, as do students today.