Dr. John F. Moeller, associate professor of biology at Wofford College, was recently recognized with the 2015 Excellence in Teaching Award, presented by the South Carolina Independent College and Universities (SCICU). The award honors his effective leadership and mentorship inside and outside of the classroom.

Moeller, who has taught at Wofford since 2007, had no intention of becoming a professor until completing his post-doctoral research at Florida State University.

“I followed the typical sort of track for biology where I focused on research,” he says. “I have always loved research, and I’ve done it since I was an undergraduate, but I realized that I enjoyed teaching and wanted to pursue it. I began to look for a position where I could have the mixture of both teaching and research, but was primarily focused on education.”

Moeller’s passion for teaching comes out of his belief that education is necessary for personal development and interactions.

“In the sciences, and even in most areas of academia, teaching is the principle way that you develop the new generation that’s coming along. I don’t see how you can do science without some sort mentorship that involves all levels of learning, whether it be graduate, undergraduate, or even before that,” says Moeller. “That interaction and communication between the mentor and the student are fundamental to any academic area.”

According to Moeller, his teaching philosophy centers on this interaction and engagement with his students. He uses both lecture-based teaching with an emphasis on discussion and small group work in order to emphasize the continuation of conversation and collaboration.

“I don’t like sitting there and pontificating about science in some formulaic way. I don’t think that’s very successful, and it’s not interesting for the students or me,” says Moeller. “For all of my classes, I try to pick articles and topics that are very important historically, but also articles that are very recent and represent the unknown frontiers of science. I don’t want to focus on the biology that I learned 20 to 25 years ago, I want to emphasize the questions that are engaging scientists currently. Then I structure the class around the process, the skills and the techniques that a scientist engages so that students can try to answer these questions.”

Moeller finds teaching science at a liberal arts college appealing because of the collaboration and interaction between students and colleagues. 

“I knew about the collaboration and how the faculty and students worked together here at Wofford. I was very aware of the culture, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it,” says Moeller. “I also think teaching science at a college like Wofford is so important because, traditionally, scientists have been very poor at communicating to a broader audience. We’re not trained to do that, but liberal arts institutions are well situated to bridge those gulfs between academic areas and the public.”

Moeller has been able to extend his beliefs on teaching outside of the typical biology classroom as well. He has sponsored Interim courses such as Living with Dogs or abroad trips to Africa that feature hands-on experiences in order to engage his students. 

“Ultimately in my classes, I want to focus on the broader context of the information we learn and its importance to society. Biology has connections to medicine, environmental concerns, history, and culture, and its important in addressing these larger issues,” says Moeller. “Since coming to Wofford, I’ve been very happy and satisfied, and I love coming to work every morning. I don’t think there’s anything better you can say about an institution. Winning the award was an honor and was a very humbling experience for me.”

As the recipient of this award, Moeller was honored at a banquet on April 14, 2015, with a $3,000 professional development stipend.

by Kelsey Aylor ’17