Carmen Huffman, associate professor of chemistry at Western Carolina University, was named one of the premiere teachers in the University of North Carolina system in recognition of her superior ability to teach some of the more difficult chemistry courses on campus while also challenging her students to have the courage to seek answers for themselves.
She was among 17 recipients of the 2016 UNC Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching. Established by the Board of Governors in April 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching across the university system, the awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus.
Huffman says part of what keeps her motivated as a teacher is that her work is ever-changing, always with something new to try to help her students learn. But an even greater motivation for her are the interactions she has with them. “Each student has unique strengths and weaknesses, and I love working with them on their own personal journeys of learning chemistry and developing as a lifelong learner,” she said. “Each day, I learn more chemistry, I learn more about education, and I learn more about the human spirit. What more could I ask for?”
Huffman began teaching at WCU in August 2005, shortly after receiving her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Maryland. “Like many professors, the inspiration for my career stems from interactions with good teachers,” she said. “In high school, I had two spectacular chemistry teachers who made me absolutely eager to learn more. So, in college, I studied chemistry and continued to be inspired by teachers who showed me I was just starting to scratch the surface of understanding what chemistry is all about. I was left wanting to know more.”
In her classroom, Huffman seeks to prepare students for their careers by emphasizing “transferable skills” that cross disciplinary boundaries, such as good communications skills and the ability to work with groups of people. Her physical chemistry lab is a writing-intensive course in which students write a proposal, carry out an experiment, prepare a report, and present their findings to the class orally.