Carol Higginbotham, professor of chemistry, has been selected as the 2014 recipient of Central Oregon Community College's Faculty Achievement Award. Presented annually since 1986, the award recognizes excellence in teaching.
Growing up in a tight-knit Midwest community, Higginbotham was encouraged to learn to sew, cook, garden and play music. No one, including herself, would have imagined she would become a chemistry professor.
"College was transformative for me, and I am strongly driven to allow my students to also be transformed through education," she said.
While an undergraduate, Higginbotham remembers a life-changing moment: an instructor said, "You are good at this (chemistry). You could do this. Do you know that?" With the encouragement from this and other mentors, she stepped out of her comfort zone, moving her family to Montana to work toward a doctorate degree in biochemistry.
Recalling several teachers who demonstrated that teaching could bring real joy, Higginbotham decided on a career in education. She sought a position in a small college because "my teaching dreams always involved the one-on-one, personal contact with students, so that I could witness their growth first hand."
When she interviewed at COCC, she was very impressed with the high expectations for both teachers and students: "Personal and professional growth were supported. This institution clearly had something exceptional, so I was thrilled to be offered the job."
When Higginbotham joined the COCC faculty in 1999, she brought her abilities as a student-focused faculty leader and innovator. "Carol models leadership in the classroom and the community," said Charles Abasa-Nyarko, vice president for instruction at COCC. "She holds a clear and rigorous vision of what the college experience is meant to be—a vision that is rich and nuanced and completely consistent with the highest values of our faculty community."
Higginbotham describes her teaching style as interactive. "I try to hold high standards for my students while encouraging exploration. Science is a process that involves questioning and addressing those questions through experiment. I hope my students learn to ask questions and adjust their thinking when necessary," she explains.
Some of her favorite moments in the classroom involve a student correcting her, or asking a question that she needs to investigate. "We can then explore the subject together, as partners investigating the way the world works."
Student evaluations consistently praise Higginbotham's teaching with comments such as, "The teacher is awesome," "Always well prepared" and "The best teacher to ever walk on this earth."
Higginbotham is a ‘foodie' who loves both food and the chemistry of food. She enjoys hunting mushrooms and says, "Give me an excuse to get out in the woods, and I'll do it." She describes herself as a slow but enthusiastic runner, skier, cyclist and general gadabout.
She earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Central College in Iowa and a doctorate degree in biochemistry from Montana State University. She has served COCC as president of the Faculty Forum, as a member of the Faculty Negotiations Team, Promotions Committee and as the Chemical Hygiene Officer.