ECU biology professor Carol Goodwillie, standing, was honored by the UNC Board of Governors for excellence in teaching. Pictured above, she explains a concept to her students. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU biology professor recognized for superior instruction

April 7, 2015

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

An expert in plant evolution who makes research an integral part of her classroom instruction is East Carolina University’s recipient of the University of North Carolina system’s highest teaching award.

Carol Goodwillie, an associate professor of biology, has received the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award.

She said the recognition shows the importance she places on instruction.

“At this stage of my career, it’s become my top priority,” she said.

Goodwillie said her research guides her teaching, and research activities help engage and train students in biological concepts, methods and the scientific process. She uses a two-acre plot on the ECU West Research Campus (the former Voice of America site on VOA Site C Road) as an extended part of her classroom where students study and learn.

“They gain a lot of familiarity with the local flora, they gain experience in field research techniques, then they learn how to form hypotheses and analyze data,” she said.

Goodwillie embraces active learning and has incorporated inquiry-based methods into all of her classes from genetics to evolutionary theory to field botany. The result is lively, interactive classes without the monologue characteristic of many large class lectures.

“I find that my students learn most effectively when I encourage them to be scientific explorers, to observe, analyze and test hypotheses both inside and outside the classroom,” she said. “I involve students in research all the time. They go, ‘Ah, that’s what you were talking about.’”
Goodwillie's courses fill up quickly because of her reputation for presenting difficult material in a lively, engaging manner.

The popularity of her courses, even the most difficult, attests to the success of her methods. She continues to develop her courses – similar to how she conducts research, she said – recently adding a service-learning project where students identify and remove invasive plants from local parks.

Recognition of her outstanding teaching includes being named to the ECU CollegeSTAR “Top Ten” List of Effective Teachers (2014), being recognized as an ECU Scholar-Teacher (2013) and receiving the UNC Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award (2008).

"Carol is noteworthy because she brings to her teaching the same rigor she brings to her research,” said Jeff McKinnon, chair of the biology department at ECU. “At the same time, she lets students know she’s committed to their success.”

McKinnon said that despite difficult classes that are often heavy in math, Goodwillie’s students frequently sign up for more. "So her classes are always packed," he said. "She’s remarkable for her ability to deliver challenging material in an accessible way."

Goodwillie said she would recommend new faculty members experiment and explore new ways of teaching as they start their careers.

“Let yourself be creative, and bring some fun into the classroom,” she said.

One of her earliest students is now completing post-doctoral work and applying for university teaching jobs. “It’s very rewarding,” she said of seeing students become teachers. As for herself, she plans to stay in the classroom – whether indoors or out – and keep taking on new courses.

Goodwillie has a bachelor of music in flute performance from Oberlin College in Ohio, a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a doctorate in botany from the University of Washington.

In addition to her teaching, Goodwillie has amassed a significant body of research. Since joining the ECU faculty in 2001 following post-doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia, she has published 27 papers in peer-reviewed journals, involving undergraduate researchers in six of them; made 25 scholarly presentations; received, with colleagues, almost $700,000 in education and research grants; and served as associate editor of the American Journal of Botany and on numerous grant review panels and journal review boards.

The Board of Governors of the 17-campus UNC system selected recipients from each institution. They represent an array of academic disciplines, were nominated by special committees on their home campuses and were selected by the Board of Governors’ Committee on Personnel and Tenure.

Each award winner will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $12,500 cash prize. All awards will be presented by a Board of Governors member during each campus’ spring graduation ceremonies.