For her dedication to higher education and student success, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences Mary Jane Carmichael has received the 2022 H. Hiter Harris III Rising Star Award from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).
After teaching high school science for six years at the beginning of her career, Carmichael decided to pursue an advanced degree with a goal of becoming a faculty member at a small, liberal arts institution. She completed her M.S. in biology from Appalachian State University and then returned to her alma mater, Wake Forest University, where she earned her Ph.D. in biology.
Nora Kizer Bell Provost Laura McLary noted that Carmichael, who joined the Hollins faculty in 2017, sees higher education “as a true and clear calling. Students are attracted to her radiant confidence and natural care for their growth and development, as well as her humble kindness and generous spirit. As developing scientists in a field still largely dominated by men, her students draw strength from the example she sets: a scientist with deep disciplinary knowledge and an inquisitive mind, an emerging leading researcher, and a practiced, inclusive teacher.”
McLary praised Carmichael’s “incredible range, offering courses from ecology to microbiology to general education science breadth courses. She is the very best kind of teacher who is also a consummate learner, continuously seeking to expand her teaching skills and tools and even the content of her courses, so that she can best meet the needs of her students.”
Carmichael’s research has taken her from the mountains to the sea, from belly crawling in caves in eastern Tennessee to mucking through wetlands in coastal North Carolina. At Hollins, she has supported student research on a variety of topics, from the human microbiome to cave ecology to the physiological ecology of high-elevation spruce fir forests in the Appalachian Mountains.
“Two of her publications were coauthored with Hollins undergraduate students, and in the last five years, she has mentored and trained over a dozen student researchers,” McLary stated. “She has also received a prestigious National Science Foundation/Robert Noyce Capacity Building Grant. By developing a stronger pipeline of STEM educators from Hollins and into high-need, rural school districts, she is leading the way to change the face and nature of STEM education at Hollins and in the region of behalf of young women pursuing careers in STEM.”
This year, Carmichael was presented Hollins’ Herta Freitag Legacy Award, which recognizes a full-time teaching faculty member who has received external recognition for professional excellence in research and scholarship. “It is remarkable that Dr. Carmichael, as an early-career assistant professor, is the recipient of the Freitag Award,” McLary said. “It is even more remarkable that her contributions to teaching and service are equal to her outstanding record of research and discovery in her field.”
Carmichael was honored at the VFIC Annual Fall Luncheon and Harris Family Awards Presentation, held November 3 in Richmond.