Dr. John W. Stiller, East Carolina University's 2013 nominee for the Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award, is associate professor in the Department of Biology, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, and an internationally known molecular evolutionary biologist who studies algae (phycology). In 12 years at ECU, he has published 31 scholarly articles and other publications. He received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the most prestigious NSF grant for early-career scientists and is currently funded for a genome sequencing project on Porphyra, an alga used in sushi. He served on the editorial board of the Journal of Phycology and has been elected President of the Phycological Society of America.
Dr. Stiller is an outstanding scholar, gifted teacher, tireless mentor, and determined instructional leader whose commitment to active learning and critical thinking in an engaged classroom environment has changed his department and the University. Valuing undergraduate students, he decided to focus on making introductory courses challenging and exciting. He embraced problem-based learning (PBL), even in his large classes, volunteering to teach an additional section to reduce class size. He mentors undergraduate and graduate student research and engages his students in publishing. Increased student engagement and achievement in his classes have prompted departmental course revisions.
Dr. Stiller seeks to facilitate each student's intellectual journey, regardless of where it begins. He writes, "As in any field of intellectual pursuit, the science of biology embodies active inquiry. I believe that it is important to present it as such, and to provide students with opportunities to take part in the scientific process directly. No one makes an important contribution to biology . . . by memorizing the works of others. Educated individuals can think creatively; . . . not only gain an understanding of the information, rules and generalizations of a given field, but also analyze and interpret . . . in new and creative ways. This principle underlines everything I do as a teacher and research mentor. . . ."
His chair calls Dr. Stiller, an "extremely talented scientist and communicator who is absolutely, unequivocally, committed to his students." His investment in teaching is "intimately intertwined with his outstanding scholarly work. . . . His students are doubly fortunate – to study with an instructor who is so profoundly committed to their learning and success, and who is also an influential leading scientist."
Former students recount his impact. Said one, "He managed to present technically challenging information while still keeping everyone awake for an 8AM class. . . . [He] first demonstrated to me the elegance and power of scientific inquiry. . . . Eleven years later that lesson continues to motivate my personal and professional aspirations." Another wrote, "If the lasting positive impact of an individual mentor is measured by his or her effectiveness as a teacher and ability to maximize students' potential, then Dr. Stiller is one of the more valuable resources . . . at East Carolina. . . . his style of teaching grabbed my attention and kept me wanting more."
Dr. Stiller earned a BS in zoology (summa cum laude) and a PhD in botany from the University of Washington where he was also a post-doctoral research associate and research scientist in the Department of Genetics.