Dr. J. William Miller has worked at UNCA since 1989 where he has had an outstanding career teaching in the Environmental Studies Department. Dr. Miller is an excellent teacher, having won the UNCA Distinguished Teacher Award in 2007 and the Distinguished Teacher in Natural Sciences in 2002. His expertise in geology has been the one of the major forces in the development of the Earth Science concentration within his department. Until recently he was the only geologist in the department and thus, his teaching responsibilities covered nearly 2.5 times that of the typical geology professor at larger universities. One of Dr. Miller's colleagues writes, "Bill has the ability to explain even the most complicated scientific topics in ways that make the topics exciting and relevant to undergraduates."
Dr. Miller is continually adding to the UNCA curriculum. This year he developed a new course in Forensic Science, a freshman colloquium course that provides an important transition for incoming students. This is a writing intensive course that is taught collaboratively with a member of the Biology department. Dr. Miller gives students hands-on exposure in the analysis of glass fracture, mineral and sediment analysis, and chemical/analytical analysis. The course also integrates Dr. Miller's research with his teaching. As part of a $450K research grant from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Miller established a Center for Imaging and Non destructive Analysis at UNCA. Dr. Miller uses the imaging center and its scanning electron microscope as part of his teaching in the Forensic Science class and other courses in his field of geology. This year he was co-PI on a $628K grant from National Science Foundation that will study novel materials using an emission Mossbauer spectrometer, the only one of its kind in the United States. This equipment, like that in the imaging center, will be the focus of many undergraduate research projects that involve disciplines of geology, chemistry and engineering.
In Dr. Miller's statement of his teaching philosophy he writes that his goal is "to get them excited... that not enough time exists to teach them all of the content and skills I think they should have, so I try my best to help them develop a love of learning." His enthusiasm for his courses is evident in the comments of students. One student writes that Dr. Miller, "has such a passion for the geosciences and loves seeing his students learn." Another alumnus to UNCA comments "Dr. Miller facilitates his students to think creatively to solve problems that require innovative solutions."
Dr. Miller is a caring mentor as indicated by comments of graduating seniors; "He (Dr. Miller) honestly cared about me both as a person and a student." Another writes, "He is a fabulous teacher. He goes above and beyond to help his students learn. I have never had a better professor."
Research plays an integral part of Dr. Miller's teaching and mentoring. During his tenure at UNCA he has collaborated on research projects with more than 20 undergraduates; seven students are co-authors on refereed articles. His research students have broad research interests and their projects are interdisciplinary; including analyses of ceramic shards from the shipwreck of Queen Anne's Revenge, the study of petrogenesis from the North American Emerald Mine, and measuring the accumulation of metals in aquatic insect larvae.