Melissa Willard, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry


Whether you are a prospective student or already a University of Saint Francis student, hopefully this page will give you a bit of a feel for who I am, what I value, and how I teach. Along with our strong curricular programs, USF’s strength is our student-centered classrooms and close knit faculty and student relationships. Our goal is to actively encourage every student to live their calling and give them the tools to do so. You are the reason I teach, the reason I do what I do.

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A bit About Me- I have a Masters in Forensic Chemistry and a doctorate in Analytical Chemistry from Michigan State University. I am a mother of two incredible boys, ages 6 and 4, who keep me on my toes and laughing. I’m addicted to reading and good food. My life’s calling and joy is to use science as a tool to cultivate the spirit of a person- using the strengths, values, and desires already in them to encourage them to live up to their full potential, to develop a deeper way of thinking so they can accomplish their calling and passion in life.

How I Teach- I’m a proponent of the philosophy that a teacher is not someone who pushes knowledge into a student, but one who pulls out what is already inside them. I love the John Gardner analogy of teaching the student to grow their own plants as opposed to giving them cut flowers. Within each of us lies the potential of a plethora of skills such as the ability to:

  • see connections
  • problem solve
  • think critically
  • use logic and
  • teach ourselves something we’ve no previous experience in

My primary interest is pulling these skills out in my students to give them the tools they will need to be successful. I am more interested in the depth of your work rather than in large quantities of work. My classes will encourage you to develop these crucial skills for your own sakes, as well as for your future employers, as they are the top skills employers are looking for from our graduates. You will use the skills learned in my classrooms the rest of your life.

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Research has found learning to be the most effective when a student is not only excited about a topic but actively searching, discovering, and communicating their results. Facilitating this type of hands-on, student interactive learning is a passion of mine, and an ongoing pursuit of most effective teachers. Because of this, my classes are not lecture based, but rather are centered around effective interactive learning.

Projects We Do in Our Classes:

  • Develop laboratories around prescription-induced addictions to teach high school groups in the area how to synthesize and characterize a liquid and/or solid compound
  • Submit scientific manuscripts of the novel research performed in class for possible publication in a peer-reviewed journal. If published, this is a valuable accomplishment that can be added to your resumes, setting you apart from the majority of undergraduate students
  • Create detailed synthesis, comparisons, and cost-analyses of medicinal drugs
  • Organize, create, and run forensic science crime scene workshops to train the Fort Wayne Community and USF Students

Classes- I teach many classes, however I am primarily the Organic Chemistry Professor. While I excelled in organic chemistry as an undergraduate, I also remember the areas that tended to trip our class up. I’ve combined this knowledge with my passion for pedagogy and designed an interactive organic chemistry class specifically tailored for USF students.

  • 92% of USF organic chemistry students preferred the inquiry-based design implemented over the traditional lecture style normally used in an Organic Chemistry class
  • This type of teaching style has been shown to result in
    • significantly higher scores (18 percentiles higher on national exam)
    • decrease by half students with a D or below*

Organic chemistry is classically known as one of the most difficult classes chemistry, biology, or pre-med students take. This perception becomes problematic as it fosters various levels of fear and, in many cases, tends to build on itself until it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. No doubt about it, Organic is an intense course-it entails learning a new way to think: to analyze, to see patterns and connections, and to problem solve. But it can be an enjoyable experience, if you are willing to leave preconceptions behind. My joy and passion is to show you how to be successful in this new way of thinking and approaching problems.

From the Mouths of Students-

Organic Chemistry (taken by pre-meds, pre-PT, biology, med-tech, forensic chemistry, and chemistry majors)

  • Going into this class, I would have to say that I was terrified what to expect. Especially from hearing all the horror stories from all the other students that had taken this course. Dr. Willard went above and beyond teaching this class. She was all about truly learning the subject and not just memorizing. She offered office hours and if those did not work for you she would try to work around your schedule as much as possible. The dynamic of the class was great the way she taught and explained things. If you did not understand she was willing to reteach it to you, and if that did not make sense she would try to explain it in a different way. I really enjoyed taking this course with Dr. Willard. Her joy and passion for students and the course was admirable! I have to take the second semester of this course and I am very excited to keep learning from such a great professor!
  • Willard was an excellent teacher. She inspired my interest in chemistry even further than before, as well as taught me the essentials of working in an organic chemistry lab. Her teaching style made it both enjoyable as well as manageable to learn complex topics. There was a balance between homework and tests that allowed a student to do well in the class, even if they are not a good test taker. I would highly recommend Dr. Willard to anyone wanting to learn chemistry, and I will definitely take classes with Dr. Willard over other teachers in the future.
  • Willard is a fantastic professor who is always willing to help. I cannot say enough great things about her. She makes time to help all of her students and is always open to suggestions. Dr. Willard came to every lecture prepared and always makes sure each student understands what is expected of them. Each student is also made aware the material that will be on upcoming tests. Dr. Willard is a great teacher and I am excited she will be teaching the next semester of organic chemistry. She is a faculty member that improves Saint Francis and the chemistry department.
  • Best teacher ever. She really cares about her students and puts so much time into the course. She is also outstanding in office hours!
  • I really liked that Dr Willard used the worksheets in class to reinforce what she was teaching us. It was very helpful to be able to practice the skill with her right there in the room to help answer questions. The homework and extra credit was also helpful because sometimes you got feedback from the computer on homework problems to help you. The only thing I wish she had more of was office hours because they fill up pretty fast and in order to understand everything the office hours are a necessity sometimes. Another thing that was helpful for me was that Dr Willard used many resources to help us learn−−it wasn’t just one thing like a weekly homework assignment. There were a lot of chemistry problems each week or each section but it was helpful to do them all. This was the best chemistry class I’ve had so far.
  • I really liked Dr. Willard, she is understanding and relates topics so that they are better understood by everyone. This class was a difficult class for me, it just doesn’t come naturally so I had to work harder in it than I maybe would have to in other courses. I needed this class to graduate, and I am very glad I was able to have Dr. Willard as my professor. I think she is a great addition to the faculty here and really cares about her student’s and their success. I would take another class with her without any hesitation.
  • The class structure was much more effective than the traditional lecture style class. I definitely feel I learned the material much better than compared to a traditional style. This class also challenged my critical thinking more so than a traditional class as well.
  • I would say the mini lectures were effective, because it forced me to learn the material myself rather than trying to pay attention to the lecture. The mini lectures required much more critical thinking. Sometimes, it was frustrating but the tests were easier because I was responsible for the material.
  • The mini lecture followed by hands on working with material in assigned groups was very effective. I allowed student to stay engaged during the lecture and allowed students to apply what they learned in the lecture to the material. It better prepared students to study for the quizzes and the exams. The mini lectures were also interesting because they were all different; some contained videos, examples, and songs. Making the material easier to learn.
  • The mini lecture was much more effective and kept me engaged rather than someone just flipping through a powerpoint for an hour and fifteen minutes. I also enjoyed that fact the the mini lectures provided a basis for understanding the material, but that we were able to work in groups on workbook problems because that helped me to better understand the material and also helped me to try to work through questions before asking for additional help. I also felt that the extra credit quizzes were just another way to test students knowledge of the subject matter and really helped to pinpoint what areas students really needed to focus on.
  • I thought this was an amazing way to learn and personally it benefitted me, though I have heard differently from other students. I picked up the material easily and I liked the quizzes after each section because they kept me on my toes. I tend to tune out long lectures just because I have difficulty listening to someone drone on.
  • I can’t say enough positive things about Dr. Willard. She is a fantastic person, teacher, and friend. She is there to help the students, and she cares about my success. I went to her office hours quite frequently for assistance, and she is the best. She is a very effective teacher. She helped me to learn the material and use problem solving skills in order to understand new material. Dr. Willard is a valuable asset to the University of Saint Francis.
  • Overall, I really enjoyed this course and learned soo much! Dr. Willard has been the best professor I have had so far at USF. She really cares about the student’s learning but also challenged students at the same time.
  • I really loved how you always gave our tests back super fast because you knew we would be worrying about our grades.
  • LOVE Dr. Willard she is hands down the best organic teacher I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few…)!
  • This course was an excellent course! The professor has a true passion to teach to the students and individually caters to each students needs, whether that is in the classroom or in office hours. Always finds a way to make the material fun to learn, and not only focuses on the memorization of the material but the why behind it which is very important.
  • Willard is an exceptional professor who is concerned about promoting a quality learning environment. She is dedicated to her students and presents the material in a way in which all students understand. She promotes office hours in which she is present to help student who need extra assistance. The lab is beneficial to the class.
  • Willard goes above and beyond any professor at this university. She has numerous opportunities for office hours and is excellent at helping us one on one. She finds a way to make sure you understand the material even if you didn’t understand it in class. Outside of that she is the one professor who I feel truly cares about our lives outside of school. She makes sure you are doing fine and that your other classes our going well! Like I said, Dr. Willard is the best teacher I’ve ever had.

Advanced Organic Chemistry (taken by Chemistry majors):

  • Willard goes above and beyond as a professor and mentor for students. She is always prepared and engaged in class and individual meeting. The non−tradition style of this class was appropriate for the higher level of thinking that is expected of seniors. I saw a huge amount of growth in my knowledge and understanding of chemistry as well as my professionalism from the scientific presentations and discussions in this class. It was challenging at first to shift thinking from memorization to critical thinking, but earlier than halfway through the semester it became easier and by the end of the course muscle memory of this type of thinking made the final project a challenge that I could approach with confidence.
  • This class, although incredibly difficult, was one of the best classroom experiences I’ve had. The instructor was dedicated, helpful, and creative in her teaching style. I learned a tremendous amount from this class on both the subject matter and various useful life skills.
  • This class was unlike any other class I have taken. This class had very few lectures and many student presentations. We worked on syntheses by ourselves or in a group, with Dr. Willard being available for office hours when needed. This class had a graduate level feel to it, where much of the work was done outside of class hours. It forced me to learn how to work on my own and develop my presentation skills. Overall, although this class was extremely difficult, I am very glad I took it as it improved my presentations, working individually, as a group, and with professors, and my organic chemistry knowledge.
  • About half way through the semester I remember thinking that I feel confident in my understanding and skills in chemistry that I truly earned my chemistry degree, not because I took the necessary classes, but because I will be competitive in the chemistry field. Before this class I felt confident in my critical thinking and was comfortable giving presentations, but this class challenged me to really understand organic chemistry in a applicable way at a deeper level and having to critically think through the detailed mechanisms and then require me to articulate my understanding and reasoning in a scientific presentation followed by a discussion, which tremendously improved these skills.

Analytical Chemistry (taken by Chemistry majors and some minors)

  • This is the second course that I have taken with Dr. Willard; The first was inorganic lecture. Dr. Willard excels in the laboratory setting. She is able to engage with students and create enthusiasm about concepts in a way that best suits her teaching style, which matches my learning style. The course content often proved challenging; It would be beneficial to have introduction and conclusion discussions for 5−10 minutes for each lab. This would require all students to have thoroughly gone through the procedure, calculations, and objectives as well as require critically thinking during the lab to be prepared for these discussions. Dr. Willard held students to a high standard that encouraged personal growth this semester. I was challenged by the amount of coursework, dedication during and outside of lab, and the critical thinking about concepts. Dr. Willard’s expectations genuinely improved my depth of understanding concepts. There were many MANY times when the lab was frustrating, especially early on in the semester, but Dr. Willard’s calm character and patience kept students positive (or at least not breaking glassware). I look forward to having Dr. Willard as my professor for Advanced Organic Chemistry in the spring.
  • Straumanis, A.; Simons E. Assessment of student learning in POGIL organic chemistry. Abstracts of papers of American Chemical Society, 26 Mar 2006, Vol. 231. Meeting abstract: 1272-CHED.

Curriculum Vitae

Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Analytical Chemistry – Michigan State University, 2013
  • Master of Criminal Justice, Forensic Chemistry- Michigan State University, 2011


  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Forensic Chemistry

Awards and Recognitions

  • Educational Merit Fellowship, 2010
  • Chemistry College of Natural Science Fellowship, 2007


  • Melissa A. Bodnar Willard; R. Waddell Smith; V.L. McGuffin. Statistical Approach to Establish the Equivalence of Unabbreviated Mass Spectra. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 2014, 28, 83.
  • Melissa A. Bodnar Willard; V.L. McGuffin; R. Waddell Smith. Forensic Analysis of Salvia divinorumusing Multivariate Statistical Procedures. Part I: Discrimination from Related Salvia Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 2012402, 843.
  • Melissa A. Bodnar Willard; V.L. McGuffin; R. Waddell Smith. Forensic Analysis of Salvia divinorumusing Multivariate Statistical Procedures. Part II: Association of Adulterated Samples to  divinorumAnalytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 2012402, 843.
  • Melissa A. Bodnar and B. Mark Britt, “Transition State Characterization of the Low- to Physiological-Temperature Nondenaturational Conformational Change in Bovine Adenosine Deaminase by Slow Scan Rate Differential Scanning Calorimetry,” Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2006, 39, 167-170.


  • “Development and Application of a Statistical Approach to Establish Equivalence of Unabbreviated Mass Spectra,” Doctoral Defense, Michigan State University, Lansing, MI, 2013.
  • “Forensic Analysis of Salvia Divinorum and Related Salvia Species Using Chemometric Procedures,” Masters Defense, Michigan State University, Lansing, MI, 2011.
  • Statistical Comparison of Mass Spectral Data in the Identification of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants,” Workshop Leader with Victoria L. McGuffin and Ruth Waddell Smith. Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists 42nd Annual Fall Meeting, Dayton, OH, September 2013.
  • Statistical Comparison of Mass spectral Data in the Identification of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants,” Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting, Washington DC, February 2013.
  • Forensic Analysis of divinorum and Related Salvia Species Using Chemometric Procedures,” Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, February 2010.
  • Transition State Thermodynamics of the Low- to Physiological- Temperature Nondenaturational Conformational Chang of Bovine Adenosine Deaminase by Slow Scan Rate Differential Scanning Calorimetry,” 2006 Student Creative Arts and Research Symposium, Denton, TX, April 2006.
  • Transition State Thermodynamics of the Low- to Physiological- Temperature Nondenaturational Conformational Chang of Bovine Adenosine Deaminase by Slow Scan Rate Differential Scanning Calorimetry,” American Chemical Society Meeting-in- Miniature, Denton, TX,    April 2006.


  • Development and Application of a Statistical Approach to Establish Equivalence of Unabbreviated Mass Spectra (2007-2013)
    In many regulatory applications, identification is based on mass spectral comparisons of a compound to a reference standard or library; however, no confidence level associated with the match is determined. Described herein is a means for determining statistical equivalence to the mass spectral identification of an unknown compound. A statistical model was developed to predict standard deviations, which were used in an unequal variance t-test to compare spectra at every m/z ratio over the entire scan range. If determined to be statistically indistinguishable at every m/z ratio, the random-match probability (RMP) was calculated, assessing the probability that the characteristic fragmentation pattern of the mass spectra would occur by random chance alone.Due to the challenge of differentiating similar mass spectra, the method was initially developed using alkane and alkylbenzene standards of varying concentrations. Using the developed method, replicate spectra were successfully associated at the 99.9% confidence level, with RMP values ranging from 10 -29 to 10-50. Despite the similarity in fragmentation patterns, spectra were distinguished from others in the homologous series. Moreover, the alkane spectra were appropriately associated to, and discriminated from, normal and branched alkanes in a standard reference library at the 99.9% confidence level.The statistical method was further investigated using salvinorin A, the hallucinogenic compound in the plant Salvia divinorum. Spectra of salvinorin A were statistically associated to those of salvinorin A standards, with RMP values ranging from 10-126 to 10-134, and were distinguished from spectra of salvinorins B, C, and D at the 99.9% confidence level. Statistical association of salvinorin A spectra from eight different geographical locations was possible at 90.0 to 99.9% confidence levels, with RMP values ranging from 10-37 to 10-126 , while discrimination was possible at the 99.9% confidence level for salvinorins B and C and 99.0 to 99.9% for salvinorin D. In addition, 441 different Salvia species and varieties were screened for salvinorin A using the developed method. Mass spectra of compounds with similar retention times were statistically discriminated from salvinorin A at the 99.9% confidence level.Lastly, mass spectra of amphetamine, methamphetamine, 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), phentermine, and psilocin case samples (n = 36) were collected by an accredited forensic laboratory using their routine procedures. Using the developed method, these spectra were statistically associated to corresponding reference standards at the 99.9% confidence level, with RMP values ranging from 10-37 to 10-41. The spectra of the case samples were discriminated from other reference standards at the 99.0% or 99.9% confidence level. Moreover, the case samples were appropriately associated to, and discriminated from, spectra in a standard reference library at the 99.0% or 99.9% confidence level.Therefore, a method was developed for assigning statistical significance to the comparison of mass spectra that is simple and rapid. This method may be useful for industrial quality control as well as for many regulatory applications, such as identification of environmental pollutants, food and drug contaminants, and controlled substances.
  • Forensic Analysis of Salvia Divinorum and Related Salvia Species Using Chemometric Procedures (2007-2011)
    Salvia divinorum is a hallucinogenic herb that is internationally regulated. In this study, salvinorin A was extracted from S. divinorum using a 5-minute extraction with dichloromethane. This rapid and simple procedure provided an extraction efficiency of 97.6% and an interday precision of 9.6%.Five Salvia species were extracted and analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). By visual inspection of chromatograms, S. divinorum was differentiated from the other species based on the presence of salvinorin A. Objective differentiation was also demonstrated using the multivariate statistical procedure of principal component analysis (PCA). Replicates of each species were closely positioned on the PCA scores plot, with clear distinction of S. divinorum from the other Salvia species.Four plant materials were then spiked with an extract of S. divinorum to simulate an adulterated sample that might be submitted to a forensic laboratory. The unadulterated and adulterated materials were extracted and analyzed by GC-MS. Again, by visual inspection of the chromatograms, the adulterated materials were associated to S. divinorum based on the presence of salvinorin A. Objective association was also demonstrated using PCA, where the adulterated plant materials were closely positioned to S. divinorum on the scores plot, but distinct from the native plant materials.The knowledge gained from this work will be directly useful to forensic analysts in countries and states where S. divinorum or salvinorin A are currently regulated. In addition, the multivariate statistical procedures used for objective association and discrimination in this proof-of-concept study may be more broadly applicable to other controlled substances and to other analytical techniques.


  • Midwest Forensic Resource Center Grant
  • NIJ/FSF Forensic Science Student Research Grant

Curriculum Vitae

View Melissa Willard’s curriculum vitae.