News & Events
April 16, 2010
J. William "Bill" Miller, one of UNC Asheville's most respected professors, was named today as a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Teaching from the University of North Carolina's Board of Governors. Miller, professor and chair of environmental studies, was nominated by a committee of UNC Asheville faculty. He will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $7,500 cash prize.
Miller, who holds a doctorate from the University of Georgia, joined the UNC Asheville faculty in 1989. He teaches classes in environmental geology, structural and field geology, mineralogy and petrology, physical geology, and forensic science.
"All of Bill's courses are rigorous, organized, comprehensive and fair," said UNC Asheville Environmental Studies Professor Irene Rossell. "He goes out of his way to make his courses fun, by including activities such as exploring mines, white water rafting, panning for minerals in streams and geological mapping on mountain bikes."
Miller regularly takes students to working mines and mineral deposits across the state and elsewhere, including Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas. Earlier this year, Miller took some 30 students to visit the massive rock slide that closed I-40 near the Tennessee state border.
"In case nobody's paying attention, this is awesome," exclaimed junior J.D. Jorgensen of Black Mountain, during the field trip. "This is exactly what I want to be doing with my career – studying geology and using it to help people."
Such outings help inspire students and impact their careers long after they leave UNC Asheville.
"Bill expanded my curiosity and zest for geology and earth science while refining my skills as a critical thinker and observer," said alumnus David Bell. "Now working for a large private engineering and environmental consulting company in Atlanta, the abilities I learned through Bill are an important reason I've succeeded within this evolving field and have become an asset to my firm."
Miller doesn't just focus on students in the classroom and on field trips: he involves them in research. Students have helped Miller examine ceramic shards found on the shipwreck Queen Anne's Revenge; a 19-year project to map the Asheville topographic quadrangle; and studying the evolution of the mineral system at the North American Emerald Mine.
"My goal is to interest students in learning, to get them excited," said Miller. "Not enough time exists in the world to teach them all the content and skills I think they should have, so I try my best to help them develop a love of learning. I do this by challenging and engaging students, that is by sharing, prodding, begging, cajoling, discussing and listening in my courses as well as with my undergraduate research projects."
This approach is highly effective with students. He was given UNC Asheville's Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award in 2007 and the 2002 Award for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences. Miller's teaching evaluations submitted by students are above average for his department and for the university. And they are quick to praise him when given the opportunity.
"Dr. Miller is a valuable asset to UNC Asheville and has been the single greatest scientific resource to me during my time here," said Robert Allison, of Candler, who is completing a teaching license in high school earth science.
Miller's expertise has led to large grants awarded to the university. Last year he was part of the successful effort to acquire an emission Mossbauer spectrometer, which was made possible by a $628,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. This facility created by this grant will be the only one of its kind in the United States, and one of a few in the world. The technique will provide a powerful tool for students and faculty to probe bonding and crystal structures of minerals and other materials.
Miller has been principle or co-principle investigator on grants totaling more than $1.29 million. "In all cases, undergraduate research has played a central role," said Miller.
Prior to joining UNC Asheville's faculty Miller taught at Ohio Wesleyan University and Tidewater Community College. He was also a mine geologist at the New Jersey Zinc Company’s Austinville mine in Virginia. Miller is a licensed professional geologist in North Carolina and serves as Chairman of the North Carolina Mining Commission, member of the North Carolina Sedimentation Control Commission, and member of North Carolina State University's Minerals Research Laboratory Advisory Board.