Pratibha Varma-Nelson, Ph.D.Professor
Founding Executive Director of SEIRI
Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Founding Executive Director of SEIRI
- Postdoctoral Fellow, 1977-1979, "Characterization of Anhydro-Chymotrypsin", Department of
Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University, Maywood, IL
- Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, 1978, University of Illinois at Chicago, Thesis, "Protein Ancestors:
Heteropolypeptides from Hydrogen Cyanide and Water". Advisor: Clifford Matthews
- M.S., Chemistry, 1974, University of Illinois at Chicago
- B.Sc., First Class, Chemistry, 1970, Poona University, India
Dr. Varma-Nelson has done extensive work in bringing Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL), a new
approach to how chemistry is taught, to the teaching of chemistry. Dr. Varma-Nelson has done
more than just help develop a new approach, she has worked to apply it to the teaching of
numerous chemistry courses as well as developing materials to train teachers and peer leaders'
implementation. Dr. Varma-Nelson has been publishing and presenting workshops to college
instructors locally, nationally, and internationally. As PLTL has grown in acceptance, Dr. Varma-
Nelson has developed research projects to assess its effectiveness for both students and peer
leaders. Her current work has moved PLTL into the arena of online courses.
PLTL is an approach to teaching, designed to promote active learning while engaging students in
critical thinking. Unlike other teaching approaches, this method involves both the learner and
the peer leaders (students who have recently completed the same course). Peer leaders grow
through a re-examination of the chemistry concepts in conjunction with their faculty advisor.
Questions that engage students in the understanding of chemical concepts are developed
during weekly team meetings and then used with students in small groups to help them think
critically about the concepts they have learned in class. This approach is not limited to a specific
chemistry course. PLTL has now been adopted in a variety of STEM courses, in more than 150
colleges and universities in USA alone.
Dr. Varma-Nelson is also one of the leaders of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in
Education (CASPiE) which empowered first and second year chemistry undergraduates by
involving them with course-based research. The work on PLTL and CASPiE was funded by the
National Science Foundation (NSF).
Her latest research in the use of PLTL in cyberspace looks at the differences between face-to-
face and synchronous online PLTL sessions. Her research has revealed more similarities to the
benefits of PLTL in these two environments than differences. This work was funded by NSF and Next Generation Learning Challenges (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation).
Dr. Varma-Nelson has also been involved in the development of several influential national
reports for AAAS (Describing and Measuring Undergraduate STEM Teaching Practices, 2013)
(Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action, 2011) and (Peer-Led
Team Learning: A Student-Faculty Partnership for Transforming the Learning Environment,
2005) among others.
Publications & Professional Activities
Wilson, S.B. and Varma-Nelson, P. (2016), Small Groups, Significant Impact: A Review of
Peer-Led Team Learning Research with Implications for STEM Education Researchers and
Faculty, Journal of Chemical Education, 93, 1686-1702.
Feder, E., Khan, I., Mazur G., Vernon, T., Janke, T., Newbrough, J., Shuck, L., Zhu, L., and
Varma-Nelson, P. (2016). Accessing Collaborative Online Learning with Mobile Technology in
Cyber Peer-Led Team Learning. EDUCAUSE Review, Online, 51 (2).
Smith, J., Wilson, S.B., Banks, J., Zhu, L., and Varma-Nelson, P. (2014). Replicating Peer-led
Team Learning in Cyberspace: Research, Opportunities, and Challenges. Journal of Research in
Science Teaching, 51(6), 714-740.
McDaniel, J., Metcalf, S., Sours, J., Janke, T., Newbrough, J. R., Shuck, L., & Varma-Nelson, P.
V. (2013). Supporting student collaboration in cyberspace: A cPLTL study of web conferencing
platforms. EDUCAUSE Review Online
Mauser,K., Sours,J., Banks, J., Newbrough, R., Janke, T., Shuck, L., Zhu, L., Ammerman, G.,
and Varma-Nelson, P., "Cyber Peer-led Team learning (cPLTL): Development and
Implementation", Educause Quarterly, Vol. 34, No.4, 2011. Online Journal.
Varma-Nelson, P., Hundley, S.P., & Tarr, T., "The role of centers for teaching and learning in
improvement of undergraduate engineering education." Proceedings of the American Society for
Engineering Education, Annual Conference, 2011. Washington, DC: American Society for
Gosser, D.K., Kampmeier, J.A., Varma-Nelson, P. Peer-Led Team Learning: 2008 James Flack
Norris Award Address. Journal of Chemical Education, 87, Vol. 4, April 2010, 374-380.
Eberlein, T., Kampmeier, J., Minderhout, V., Moog, R., Platt, T., Varma-Nelson, P. and White,
H., (2008), "Pedagogies of Engagement : A Comparison of PBL, POGIL and PLTL" in
preparation for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36, 4, 262-273
Gafney, L and Varma-Nelson P. (2007), "Evaluating Peer-Led Team Learning: A Study of
Long-Term Effects on Former Workshop Leaders." Journal of Chemical Education, 84, 535-
Varma-Nelson, P. (2006) "Peer-Led Team Learning" in Metropolitan Universities Journal:
"STEM Innovation and Dissemination: Improving Teaching and Learning in Science,
Technology, Engineering and Mathematics," 17, 19-29.
Weaver, G., D. Wink, P. Varma-Nelson, F. Lytle, R. Morris, W. Fornes, C. Russell, and W. J.
Boone. 2006. "Developing a New Model to Provide First and Second-Year Undergraduates with
Chemistry Research Experience: Early Findings of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in
Education (CASPiE)." The Chemical Educator, 11, 1-5.
Weaver, G. C., Varma-Nelson, P., Wink, D., Morris, R., Lytle, F. "Experiencing Research in a
First or Second Year Science Course - Preliminary Results and Reflections on the Goals and
Progress of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE)." (2005). The
Chemical Educator, 11, 125-129.
Varma-Nelson, P. The peer-led team learning workshop model, Project Kaleidoscope Volume
IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts. Retrieved May 21, 2007, from Approaches to
Assessing 21st Century Pedagogies Web site:
Gosser, D., V. Roth, L. Gafney, J. Kampmeier, V. Strozak, P. Varma-Nelson, S. Radel, and M.
Weiner. 1996. Workshop Chemistry: Overcoming Barriers to Student Success. The Chemical
Educator 1(1), http://link.springer-ny.com/link/service/journals/00897/index.htm Invited
Varma-Nelson, P., J. E. Nelson and T. Kloempkin. 1992. A particle concentration immunoassay
for AZT. In Proceedings of the PCFIA Users Symposium. IDDEX, Portland, MA. Invited
Nelson, J.E., P. Varma-Nelson and T. Kloempkin. 1992. A graphic grade scaling method.
Journal of Chemical Education. 6, 462-3.
Varma-Nelson, P., J.E. Nelson and S.M. Belknap. 1991. A particle concentration fluorescence
immunoassay for gentamicin. Therapeutic Drug Monitoring 13 (3): 260-2.
Schultz, R.M., P. Varma-Nelson, R. Ortiz, K. A. Koslowski, A. T. Orawski, P. Ragast, A.
Frankfater. 1989. "Active and inactive forms of the transition-state analog protease inhibitor
leupeptin: Explanation of the observed slow binding of leupeptin to cathepsin B and papain."
Journal of Biological Chemistry 264 (3): 1497-1507.
Schultz, R.M., P. Varma-Nelson, J. Peters and W. Treadway. 1979. "Effect of essential catalytic
residue modifications on conformation and binding affinity in a-chymotrypsin." Journal of
Biological Chemistry 254: 12411.
Matthews, C., J. Nelson, P. Varma and R. Minard. 1978. "Deuterolysis of amino acid precursors
in chemical evolution studies." H. Noda (Ed). Origin of Life 123-8. Center for Academic
Matthews, C., J. Nelson, P. Varma-Nelson, R. Minard. 1977. "Deuterolysis of amino acid
precursors: Evidence for hydrogen cyanide polymers as protein ancestors." Science 198: 622-
Minard, R., W. Yang, P. Varma-Nelson, J. Nelson and C. Matthews. 1975. "Heteropolypeptides
from poly-a-cyanoglycine and hydrogen cyanide: A model for the origin of proteins." Science
BOOKS, MANUALS, AND NATIONAL REPORTS
Auchincloss, L. C., Laursen, S. L., Branchaw, J. L., Eagan, K., Graham, M., Hanauer, D. I.,
Lawrie, G., McLinn, C. M., Pelaez, N., Rowland, S., Towns, M., Trautmann, N. M., Varma-
Nelson, P., Weston, T. J., & Dolan, E. L. (2014). Assessment of Course-based Undergraduate
Research Experiences--A meeting report. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(1): 29-40
Varma-Nelson, P., contributing author, 2013, AAAS report of a national meeting, Describing &
Measuring Undergraduate STEM Teaching Practices, meeting held in Washington DC, 17-19,
Holme, T., Cooper, M., and Varma-Nelson, P. (Eds.), (2013), Trajectories of chemistry
education innovation and reform, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.
Co-author of the 2011 AAAS report, "Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education:
A Call to Action."
Gafney, L., and Varma-Nelson, P. (2008), Peer-led Team Learning: Evaluation, Dissemination,
and Institutionalization of a College-level Educational Initiative (Innovations in Science
Education and Technology), Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer-Verlag.
Kampmeier, J., Varma-Nelson P., Wamser ,C. and Wedegaertner, D. 2006. Second Edition,
Peer-Led Team Learning: Organic Chemistry. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Varma-Nelson, P. and M.S. Cracolice. 2001. Peer-Led Team Learning: General, Organic, and
Biochemistry. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Kampmeier, J.A., P. Varma-Nelson and D.K. Wedegaertner. 2001. Peer-Led Team Learning:
Organic Chemistry. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Gosser, D.K., M.S. Cracolice, J.A. Kampmeier, V. Roth, V. Strozak, and P. Varma-Nelson.
2001. Peer-Led Team Learning: A Guidebook. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Varma-Nelson, P. and R. Van Lanen. 1993, 2001. Laboratory Manual: Small Scale Organic
Chemistry and Biochemistry Experiments. Saint Xavier University, Chicago, IL.
INVITED CHAPTERS IN BOOKS
Varma-Nelson, P. & Turner, R. (2018). Faculty engagement with scholarly teaching and the culture and organization of a teaching and learning center. In Felisatti, E., & Serbati, A. (Eds.). (2018). Preparare alla professionalita docente e innovare la didattica universitaria (pp.116-125).
Rao, A. S., Tarr, T. A., & Varma-Nelson, P. (2017). Promoting metacognitive practices in
faculty and students. In Metacognition in Chemistry Education: Connecting Research and
Practice (pp. 81-99). American Chemical Society.
Leontyev, A., Chase, A., Pulos, S., & Varma-Nelson, P. (2017). Assessment of the effectiveness
of instructional interventions using a comprehensive meta-analysis package. In Gupta, T.(Ed.),
Computer-Aided Data Analysis in Chemical Education Research (CADACER): Advances and
Avenues. (pp117-132). American Chemical Society.
Varma-Nelson, (2017). Empowering Effect of Leadership Roles in Undergraduate Education, in
Diversity in the Scientific Community Volume 2: Perspectives and Exemplary Programs,
(pp155-161). American Chemical Society.
Varma-Nelson, P., & Banks, J. V., (2013), PLTL: Tracking the trajectory from face-to-face to
on-line environments. In T. Holme, M. Cooper, and P. Varma-Nelson (Eds.), Trajectories of
chemistry education innovation and reform (pp. 95-110). American Chemical Society.
Weaver, G.C., Wink, D.J., Varma-Nelson, P., and Lytle, F.E. (2009). Integrating Research into
the Curriculum: Using Laboratory Modules to Engage Faculty and Students. In Boyd, M.K., and
Wesemann, J.L.(Eds), Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research: Fostering
Excellence and Enhancing the Impact (pp109-125. Council on Undergraduate Research,
Washington D.C. Invited
Kampmeier, J. A., Varma-Nelson, P. (2009). Peer-Led Team Learning; Organic Chemistry. In
Pienta, N.; Cooper, M.M.; Greenbowe, T. (Eds.), Chemists' Guide to Effective Teaching, Vol.2.,
(pp122-145). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Varma-Nelson, P. and Gosser, D. (2005), Dissemination of Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) and
Formation of a National Network Embracing a Common Pedagogy. In M. Ouellet (Ed.),
Teaching Inclusively: Diversity and Faculty Development (pp. 503-518). Stillwater, OK: New
Varma-Nelson, P., Cracolice, M., and Gosser, D., (2005). Peer-Led Team Learning: A Student-
Faculty Partnership for Transforming the Learning Environment. In Invention and Impact:
Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
(STEM) Education, Proceedings of an April 2004 Conference Co-sponsored by the National
Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) and the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Directorate for Education and Human
Resources Programs (EHR)-Retrieved May 21, 2007
Varma-Nelson, P. and Coppola, B., (2005). Team Learning. In Cooper, M.M., Greenbowe, T., Pienta, N. (Eds). The Chemists' Guide to Effective Teaching, Vol.1 (pp155-169). Prentice Hall Publishing. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Sarquis, J.L., L.J. Dixon, D.K. Gosser, J.A. Kampmeier, V. Roth, V.S. Strozak and P. Varma-
Nelson. (2001). The Workshop Project: Peer-Led Team Learning in Chemistry. In J.E. Miller,
J.E. Groccia, and M.S. Miller (EDs). In Student-Assisted Teaching: A Guide to Faculty Student Teamwork (pp150 -155). Anker Publishing Company, Bolton, MA.
Kampmeier, J.A. and P. Varma-Nelson (2001). Institutionalizing the Workshops. In Gosser,
D.K., M.S. Cracolice, J.A. Kampmeier, V. Roth, V. Strozak, and P. Varma-Nelson(Eds). Peer-
Led Team Learning: A Guidebook (pp 61-74). Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
NATIONAL COMMITTEES/ADVISORY BOARDS
Advisory Board, UT El Paso, Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity:
Southwest Consortium of Health-Oriented Education Leaders and Research Scholars, funded by
NIH BUILD Program, 2017-2021
Advisory Board, University of Virgin Islands, HBCU-UP ACE Proposal (includes training
faculty on Implementation of PLTL in all their STEM departments), 2016- 2021
Advisory Board, Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC), 2015-2018
Advisory Board, UC Irvine, EAGER Project titled: Online Collaborative Problem Solving in
Remedial College Mathematics, 2015-2018
American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Education, Board of Publications (BoP)
CIC Centers for Teaching and Learning Directors group, 2008-2016
Advisory Board, DePaul University, STEM Talent Expansion Project (STEP), 2008-2012
DePaul University, Chicago, Scientific Data analysis and Visualization major; Program Review;
Chicago, IL; March 15, 16, and 16, 2010
Advisory Board, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society, 2007-2010
Editorial Board member, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2006-present
Member, 2006-2008, New Member Committee, Division of Chemical Education, American
Founding Chair, New Member Committee, Division of Chemical Education, American Chemical
Member, Long Range Planning Committee, Division of CHED, American Chemical Society,
Advisory Board Member, 2003-2006, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)
National Dissemination Project2003-2006
U.S. Program Advisory Board Member, 2001Gordon Research Conference on Science,
Education and Visualization held at Mount Holyoke College, CT, 200-2001
Member, Committee on Chemical Education Research, Division of Chemical Education (CHED), American Chemical Society, 2000-2003
Member, International Activities Committee, Division of CHED, American Chemical Society,
National Visiting Committee appointed by NSF, Molecular Science Project, UCLA, Chemistry
Honors, Awards and Grants
2018 George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, American Chemical Society. To
recognize outstanding contributions to chemical education.
2017 Fellow, American Chemical Society
February19, 2017 Interviewed on Science Studio, National Public Radio, USA
2016 Reimagine Education, Bronze Award, Canada and USA region for cPLTL project
2014 Distinguished Scientist, Skidmore College
2014 Outstanding IUPUI Woman Leader
2013 Woodward Lecturer, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
2013 Service Award, School of Science, IUPUI
2012, Sloan-C Award for Effective Practices in Online and Blended Education for cPLTL
2011 Stanley C. Israel regional award from the American Chemical Society for work in
advancing diversity in the chemical sciences she recently received.
Featured in the article "Promoting Diversity Through Conversation" Chemical and Engineering
News, Volume 88, Issue 24, June 14, 2010, PP 49-52.
2008 James Flack Norris Award for outstanding achievement in the teaching of chemistry.
Corecipients of the 2008 award were Jack Kampmeier, University of Rochester, and David K.
Gosser, City College of New York.
Teacher /Scholar Award recipient, SXU, School of Arts and Sciences, 2002
Sigma Xi Honor Society
Recognized by SXU for "Excellence in Scholarship," May, 1999 and April, 2001, May 2002
- Member, Advisory Board, Chemical & Engineering News, 2007-2010
- Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2006-present