Fort Lewis College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Kenny Miller, the 2014-15 Alice Admire Outstanding Teaching Award winner, had options as to where he wanted to teach, but he chose a small undergraduate school like Fort Lewis College because he felt he could have the most impact on his students here.
“The really transformational opportunities, the opportunities to set a trajectory for a person’s career and their life, happen here,” Dr. Miller says, “happen at the undergraduate level. So I wanted to be a part of that.”
To ensure that he’s offering his students the kinds of transformational opportunities that will lead to success, he’s always evaluating his own teaching style. For example, he recently started recording his lectures and putting them online for his students to watch before class. That way he can devote his class time to more active discussion rather than lecturing. Using a teaching style that he is constantly examining, evolving, and examining again fits right into what science is all about.
“Teaching is a fun job to have as a scientist, because in science you’re always trying to come up with the next experiment to figure something out. Teaching, in a way, is one huge experiment where you’re always trying something new, testing hypothesizes to see: Is this going to make an impact? Is this going to help students learn better?”
His experiments in teaching certainly seem to be paying off for his students. Even after being at Fort Lewis College for only five years, he is seeing the transformations he is striving for in the lives of his students. He recalls one class he taught where his students researched and created new molecules with potential uses in medicine. That class lit a fire for those students that continued to burn even after they graduated.
“A lot of the students said that was the best class they took at Fort Lewis and that really motivated them to go to graduate school,” he says, “and several of those students are now in top ten chemistry graduate programs at the University of Wisconsin, University of California-Santa Barbara, and Cornell. It’s exciting to me to get students in the lab and get them interested in doing these kinds of things and then see them be successful.”