A partner in learning, a friend for life

October 10, 2023

Theresa Luersen poses outside.

As a teacher and mentor, Theresa Luersen has always been her students’ most ardent cheerleader. But on a sunny day this fall, the roles were reversed as she walked out of the M&T Bank Arena to a chorus of voices hailing her by name, “Luersen!”

As students excitedly gathered around her in their scrubs and newly bestowed white coats, she shared in their happy tears and posed for selfies as the QU nursing community celebrated its first White Coat Ceremony, together. It was a proud moment for Luersen who had taught all but a few of the 243 nursing students in attendance as first-years in her chemistry class.  

“All students need encouragement. They all need support. They need someone to cheer them on. That’s me. I am their cheerleader,” said Luersen. “I love to see the smile on their faces and the light in their eyes when they can do the problems on their own, when they realize they do, in fact, understand chemistry. But even more so, I love to see the confidence in their own abilities begin to build. I believe in their potential and in my classroom, they will believe it as well.”

For her more than 19 years of exemplary dedication to her students, Luersen will be honored with an Excellence in Teaching Award, Quinnipiac University’s most prestigious faculty honor.

Luersen joined Quinnipiac in 2004 and currently serves as a senior instructor of chemistry and physical sciences. Prior to Quinnipiac, she spent several years as an analyst at Pfizer in Groton, Connecticut. She primarily teaches chemistry for nursing students including labs and earth science courses during the summer term. In addition, she is an academic adviser and work-study supervisor. 

Her love of chemistry and her desire to teach were influenced by her own experiences in school with educators like high school chemistry teacher, James Cherry, and her organic chemistry professor in college, Anne Poirot. She can trace her love of chemistry to the moment she watched Cherry hammer a nail with a banana frozen by liquid nitrogen.

“He mixed these dynamic demonstrations with interesting lessons. It often seemed more like an informal conversation with friends than a science lecture,” said Luersen. “But under his easy-going style was a consummate professional who had very high standards for his students. He sparked my interest in chemistry and was the main reason I pursued a chemistry degree in college.”

When she develops her lesson plans, Luersen engages her nursing students with medically related case studies that form connections between the content and their lives and future careers.

“Chemistry is a notoriously difficult subject and many students come into the course anxious. When a student tells me they didn’t do well in high school chemistry, but they succeed in my course, that’s a proud moment,” said Luersen. “But it’s a proud moment I share with them since we are partners in their learning.”

It is that depth of understanding and thoughtfulness in planning that motivated several of her students to nominate Luersen for the Center for Excellence honor. Tamsin Brenner, BSN ’22, credits her former professor’s mentorship for helping to fulfill her dream to become a pediatric registered nurse at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

“Professor Luersen deserves this award because she truly cares about her students,” she wrote in her nomination. “She knows that not everyone is going to have a handle on this material as soon as we first learn it. She doesn't mind taking another class or two to review the material until everyone in the class understands it.”

Whether it’s sitting quietly with someone who is having a rough day, offering a listening ear in anxious moments, or scheduling extra time for lessons outside of class, Luersen believes in getting to know her students as individuals.

That level of understanding is why she treasures the notes they send her and counts many of her former students as friends and professional colleagues. It’s also why the Excellence in Teaching Award holds a special place in her growing list of accolades.

“No matter who they are or where they come from, I want my students to know that their chemistry professor cares about them and wants them to succeed in school and life,” said Luersen. “To say I’m honored with this award feels like an understatement. We are all excellent educators. But it makes me feel good that my students and colleagues value my dedication to teaching. It shows that my efforts have impacted them. It truly is an incredible honor to be recognized this way.”

Stay in the Loop

Sign Up Now