Her chemistry with horses

Assistant professor of chemistry Sara Harvey has chemistry with students and horses alike.

Harvey has been teaching Chemistry 60, 101, and 102 at Pierce for about nine years. But every morning she horseback rides before class in Westlake Village.

This semester she has added a new responsibility—department cair.

“It’s a new position. I’m learning new things everyday,” Harvey said. “It’s 50 percent appointment, so half of my full-time job is teaching, and half of my full-time job is doing department chair responsibilities.”

When Harvey isn’t teaching students, she enjoys horseback riding. She’s been horseback riding for 23 years, beginning when she was 14 years old.

“A neighbor was riding and invited me to go,” Harvey said.  “I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being outside with the horses. I wasn’t very good, but it was fun.”

Harvey rides most days before teaching class at Pierce. On Mondays and Wednesdays she arrives at the barn at around 7:30 a.m. to groom her horse. She rides from 8-to-9, is out by 10 and at school by 11, just in time for her class.

She acknowledges that teaching chemistry and horseback riding are different animals, but they share similar approaches.

“With both you are always trying to improve. As a chemistry instructor I’m always trying to think of other ways I can improve on the difficult concepts that I’m teaching,” Harvey said. “Being a chemistry teacher requires a lot patience as does riding horses because if the horse does not understand what you’re saying you can’t just get angry, you have to stay calm and think about another way to explain it. Same is true with teaching.”

According to Harvey, she mostly participates in horse shows at Foxfield Riding School where she rides. There are flat classes and jumping classes. Flat is based on the horse’s movement and rider’s equitation. Jumping is based on how smoothly they make it over the jumps.

“It’s time consuming, kind of stressful, but it’s nice to see all your hard work pay off when you do well,” Harvey said.

In college, Harvey wanted to pursue a career in chemistry but had no idea what she wanted to do.

“I think chemistry is important in your everyday life. There are basic chemistry concepts that people experience everyday, concepts such as why it’s hotter upstairs than downstairs when you turn the heater on,” Harvey said.

Sara Harvey was an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Barbara and went to grad school at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she got her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry in 2008. While at UCLA, Harvey spent most of her time as a teaching assistant and doing research.

She had leased her first horse when she was in high school, but she had to give up her lease when she went to college. She rode once a week until she started grad school and leased Josh “Dollar Boy” while at UCLA. She had him for eight years.

Harvey was a teaching assistant while at UCLA. She instructed students in eight different chemistry courses for general and organic chemistry courses.

According to Harvey, while in graduate school for chemistry she was paid to research, publish papers, and be a teaching assistant.

She realized she enjoyed teaching more while she was in the labs having discussions with students.

“I was happiest when I was working with students,” Harvey said. “I enjoy sharing new concepts with students, figuring out a couple ways to explain something and seeing that light bulb turn on, interacting with students, and doing my best to inspire and motivate them.”

Before she was a full-time instructor at Pierce, Harvey taught as a part-time instructor for Cal. State Channel Islands, Pierce College, College of the Canyons and taught over the summer at Glendale College.

“As a part-time instructor you teach at several types of schools to create a full time job,” Harvey said. “Then I got a full-time job here at Pierce in 2010.”

Lily Trang, a kinesiology major, is taking Harvey’s Chemistry 102 class this semester.

“I think she is a great professor because she really knows her material and it’s really easy to grab the content. It’s not as hard because she makes it very simple,” Trang said. “I would definitely recommend her to other students who are taking Chemistry 102.”

Kathy Nguyen, Adjunct Instructor of Chemistry, has worked with Harvey before.

“I was teaching with Dr. Sara Harvey almost twice a week last year. She was a great mentor to me. The way she taught me and mentored me let me know how much she cared about the students in general. It was very refreshing,” Nguyen said. “She’s a great teacher.”

She currently leases a horse named “Bamboo” but is looking to buy an off-the-track-thorough-bred (OTTB). OTTB’s are retired racehorses that have been rehabilitated and trained for hunter jumper activities.

“I get more enjoyment for myself riding horses,” Harvey said. “But I enjoy teaching chemistry because I like being able to share my passion of science with my students.”