Teaching Philosophy - 2005


From the age of thirteen, I knew I wanted to be a physics professor. In junior high school, I found that I enjoyed reading about math and got hooked on the strangeness of relativity. Einstein became my idol. I did an eighth grade project in which I asked, “If planets traveled in ellipses and the sun was at one focus, then what is at the other one?” I proceeded to plot planetary orbits and found that their other foci did not match. So began my explorations into science. In tenth grade, I did a project on relativity.  My science teacher even invited the department chair to see my talk. My five-minute presentation turned into over an hour.   I repeated this similar excursion in twelfth grade with a talk on quantum mechanics. In Physics class, when asked to put problems on the board with everyone else, I enjoyed getting up and explaining the problems to the other students. In college, I collaborated with my calculus teacher to teach others how to program in Fortran - back in 1969! Already, I was not only forming the foundations for my profession as a teacher, I was also involved in instructional technology at a time before personal computers were ever envisioned.

Now, thanks to the strong work ethic that my father had instilled in me at a young age when I worked for him remodeling houses, and after several sidetracks into seemingly unrelated lifestyles, I find myself a veteran teacher, described by my students as caring, hardworking, demanding, engaging, fair, knowledgeable, and organized, with a (weird) sense of humor.  My strong desire to explain concepts and to use innovative techniques to inspire others has saturated my career throughout graduate school to the present.  At the core is my deep belief that anyone who desires can grasp the fundamental ideas in mathematics and physics. In fact, I had even extended this idea to the days when I was a chef, teaching others how to cook.

I am a theoretical physicist by training. My home at UNCW is the Mathematics and Statistics Department. I have taught for the Department of Physics and Oceanography every year since I first came to UNCW, when it was just the Physics Department. I have also taught for Computer Science, the Honors Program, the School of Education, and the Marine Science Program.  I am by nature a person with interdisciplinary interests; I have earned advanced degrees in both mathematics and physics, and have taught students from different departments and at different levels throughout my career.  


Students enter my classes with varying abilities, levels of preparation, needs and goals.  Learning the concepts involved in math and physics is not easy for many students; and some express fear of these subjects.  I strive to engage and encourage students by providing an environment in which they feel comfortable communicating with me both inside and outside the classroom. I make myself available both virtually through email and online course material, and physically in my office for discussion of homework, course material and advising. I want students to feel comfortable enough to talk to me as early as possible in the semester. I try to encourage this by emailing students before classes begin, learning every student’s name within the first few weeks of class, and providing a balance of humor and seriousness in my classroom.  I also provide feedback, and grade exams and homework in a timely manner, for which students have commended me. I do my best to return materials during the class after it was due. I also hold review sessions before exams, often lasting several hours.  To further the students’ coursework, I offer samples of past exams, and assign project work to explore topics at a level not covered in class. I have explored many types of pedagogy, as I have observed from my countless encounters with other instructors across campus through my experiences with the Center for Teaching Excellence.   

I feel that I get the most from students when my expectations are high, but realistic. Students are expected to come to class prepared, listen, participate, ask questions, and interact with others; then go back and reread and rethink the material. Attendance and participation in the classroom are only a small part of getting students to begin to internalize the subject matter and develop critical thinking skills.  Many years ago, I adopted the philosophy that learning takes place outside the classroom.  I routinely provide homework assignments that engage and challenge their understanding of the material presented in class.  Students are required to do the homework problems, get down and dirty with the details, and work on the subject material every day.  In this way, students are presented with a variety of opportunities that encourage and challenge them to explore, learn and question the subject matter that I place before them.  They are further encouraged to come to my office with questions, and to make use of on campus learning centers.

I provide information through various forms of media: course web pages, multimedia materials, coursework, and organized lectures. Different media permit students to develop different tools and skills.  Technology plays an integral part in the students’ learning environment. Resources that I routinely utilize include course web sites, links to material to enhance the class, email to facilitate communication, and links to specially designed worksheets and class handouts that students can access outside the classroom. In addition, this semester, I have provided original material for two classes I am teaching without textbooks with links to resource material on the web and by typing my notes in a textbook format. Once I began this process, I knew this would be a successful endeavor to continue. One third of the way through the semester, I have about 80-90 pages of my notes typed. Not only will these chapters provide the basis for a text in the future, the notes will be shared with another colleague to provide additional reading for students in other classes. My current students have been providing feedback on the notes throughout the semester.

It is important to present appropriate outlines, as well as present a well-organized explanation and summary of the material to enable students to take good notes. I have found that students respond better to visual stimuli, can focus more on what I am doing and need the prompts when reviewing the material outside of class. In my physics classes, I use an old-fashioned blackboard as well as the computer projection system to aid this process.  In other classes, I have used a videovisulaizer from which I project my notes. This allows me to preserve my notes for review or reference for my next class.  These visual aids assist me in delivering the material in an organized fashion, and minimizing the diversions arising from questions, while maintaining a general schedule.


Overall, my teaching role extends beyond the boundaries of the walls of the classroom and beyond the teaching of students. I believe that part of my work as a teacher is to engage in the “scholarship of teaching” by sharing with other faculty both at UNCW and at other universities. I have demonstrated this belief by my active involvement in many areas outside the classroom setting.  Here I touch on only a subset of what I have done during the past fifteen years.


For over a dozen years, I have worked with other faculty creating instrutional technology and disseminating it across campus to faculty, and graduate and undergraduate studetns. Much of this research has been supported by both internal and external grants, dating back to the early 1990’s. A group of faculty at UNCW, beginning with Dick Ward, Jimmy Reeves, Gabriel Lugo and I, first explored the use of multimedia technology in mathematics and science classrooms in 1991 with the MCP  project, an interdisciplinary project designed to explore the use of multimedia in the teaching of mathematics, chemistry and physics. We worked with other faculty to bring the awareness of instructional technology from a handful of people in the early 90’s to the state that we find ourselves today. We brought the faculty with us as we explored uses of Multimedia  ToolBook, then PowerPoint, and later the possibilities of the Internet in the mid 90’s.  Since those days, faculty have become used to Internet access, PowerPoint presentations, online course development and wireless connectivity across campus. UNCW now has multimedia classrooms throughout the campus and most everything the faculty does is web based. Our original group continues to explore questions about archiving electronic resources, and the effects of mobile technologies on the traditional classroom.

I have been called a leader in technology in our department. In 1990, I was the last person in the department who was hired with no promise of a computer. I came from a school in which I had a computer in my office and an additional computer in a small lab, which I used to research computations and develop course materials. I obtained a Cahill award in 1991 for the sole purpose of renting a desktop machine for my office. Within a couple of years, we had the first “hypermedia classroom” on campus, located in Bear Hall. By the mid to late 90’s, our department had access to large computer labs for 35 students. This prompted me to propose a long range computing plan in our calculus classes. Working with a handful of others, we managed to lead the department in the use of technology in the classroom. While Chair of the Technology Committee, I help to craft a technology policy geared at bringing computer applications to both department majors and others students.   

Grants for Teaching Initiatives

At UNCW, I have been involved with many teaching innovations involving technology. Our group, consisting of the original MCP group and others, has obtained funding from on campus and off campus sources. We have obtained close to $160,000 from on campus support and external funding totaling over $1.8 million.  In addition, I have had two undergraduate students and one graduate student obtain internal funding for research work.

Departmental Activities

My participation in the teaching activities of the department has taken many forms over the years. I had been active in curriculum matters, by serving on the Lower Division Mathematics Committee, taking part in discussions on curriculum, working with the Mathematics club as an adviser for many years, giving seminars for students and faculty, and helping to develop technology initiatives. I also worked on a large part of the recent SACS Self Study for the department on technology, while chairing a subcommittee for the University and helping with the CTE report. More recently, I served several years on the Peer Observation Committee, in which selected faculty observe and report on classroom teaching of non-tenured faculty.  I also spent several years as the Chair of the Technology Committee, as reported previously.

Interdepartmental Activities

Since coming to UNCW, I have had many opportunities to work with faculty, help with workshops and participate in many faculty development gatherings, both as a mentor and a learner; often simultaneously. I have been involved with the Center for Teaching Excellence from the beginning as either a volunteer or a Faculty Associate. I have worked with other faculty in learning how to develop online courses.  My involvement has encompassed many other areas, such as the Technology College, Honors Program, Online Courses, the Science and Mathematics Education Center (SMEC), and Summer Ventures.

Through my assistance and teaching experiences in other departmental programs on campus, I was one of the first developers for online courses, and taught faculty how to develop online courses. I assisted with the creation of the Marine Science masters degree by serving on committees, and later working with graduate students.

Serving in other leadership roles in my department as well as involvement in the overall teaching function have contributed to my professional development. For several years, I have been one of the peer observers in the department, attending classes of non-tenured faculty and making observations. Much of what I have learned through discussions with other faculty at CTE sessions came in useful in the advise that I share with my colleagues.

I have provided many independent study opportunities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These consisted of independent study courses, helping students with senior seminar projects, thesis work, advising, working with students groups, competitions, and numerous other activities. I have also given many lectures on campus, geared at the level of undergraduates on special topics not covered in normal coursework.

I have formally advised two honors students, and served on a dozen honors committees in physics, biology and chemistry. My two honors students went on to present their work, one thesis became a tutorial at the NASA site on cosmology and the other was presented at a national meeting in an undergraduate poster session.  

I have advised 21 students in math and physics departmental senior seminars.  Since 1992, eight graduate students have successfully completed their theses under my advisement - a relatively high number for our department. I am currently working with another graduate student. Many of my students have found successful careers from working locally at the power plant to going on to graduate programs earning master’s degrees or Ph.D.’s. In fact, one former student (Dr. Robin Blankenship) graduated in 2003 in mathematics from Louisiana State University and another (Scott Watson) is graduating this spring from Brown University with a doctorate in physics in the field of cosmology and string theory.

I am also an active contributor to the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography. Even before I stepped on campus, I was approached to teach physics classes, though I could not do so until I had moved to Wilmington. Ever since, I taught classes in that department every year since. Starting in the Spring of 1996 I began teaching physics classes at both the introductory and senior levels during each semester. Most of the time, this was done as an overload. I also taught physics in the summer, taking on extra labs to provide students with the opportunity to complete their degrees in a timely fashion. I also contributed to the department through writing labs for several years, participating in the hiring process, reviewing textbooks, etc.

My contributions to the teaching missions of the Mathematics Department and the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography at UNCW have included working directly with faculty and serving as the Chair of Academic Standards since 1999.  I also spent several years at the beginning of my career as an adviser for the General College.

As one looks through the samples of my portfolio, one will observe the extent of my involvement in a variety of areas. Most notably, I have been very active with the Center for Teaching excellence, both as a participant and a mentor. I have conducted many technology workshops over the years and participated in a variety of CTE lunchtime discussions. As Faculty Associate, I was involved as an advisor in many aspects of the programs offered by CTE, in evaluating proposals for stipends for innovative teaching, working with the development of online courses, and in investigating the Community of Scholars.

Off Campus Activities

I have advised off campus groups, such as the North Carolina Partnership for Improving Mathematics and Science, working with K-12 science students, high school students, and science competitions, such as the Science Olympiad. In fact, this has stemmed from my continuing involvement with a variety of programs sponsored by the Science and Mathematics Education Center.

Since 1993, I have attended the annual International Conference on Technology in Teaching Collegiate Mathematics, and have presented many talks. This involvement has lead to work at the national level with various groups interested in preserving digital resources for mathematics instruction, which has been supported by the Mathematical Association of America.


I have consistently been ranked excellent by my peers in the teaching part of my annual evaluations since I came to UNCW in 1990. In my 2003 post tenure review, I received an exemplary rating, which is not typical across the campus.  In departmental evaluations, I have been rated high (at least excellent) for most years at UNCW.

I enjoy teaching and I enjoy explaining things to my students.  I am especially excited when my students appreciate both my efforts and the subject matter. I have been known to go out of my way to work with students and find the students appreciate my efforts.

While I teach subjects that some students find difficult due to the content and different way of thinking, I still have gained much respect and recognition from students. I have been recognized consistently by graduating seniors, earned admirable student evaluations, earned the 1998-1999 Faculty Member of the Year Award from the Greek societies, and have been requested to fill out many recommendations to post graduate programs from students inside and outside my field of expertise.  Over the last eight years, I have received letters of recognition by at least two dozen graduating seniors.

Comments I have heard either directly or indirectly from students reveal that I am regarded as a hard but fair teacher. They have commented that if you take my classes, you will learn something. I believe these comments are indicative that I am doing my job well. I tell my students the only way they can learn the material is to participate in the process at many levels.  I have worked many semesters with either a paid, or non-paid, overload. Often, this has been driven by my concerns for the students and my desire to give them the opportunity to have me as their teacher.

I strongly believe that students can learn whatever they want if they put their minds to it.  My perception of my job at UNCW is that I was hired first and foremost to teach, and it is this aspect of my job that brings me the greatest satisfaction, particularly when I learn that I have made a positive influence in a student’s education.  A plaque I recently received sits on my desk to remind me of this possibility:

The Mediocre Teacher Tells.

The Good Teacher Explains.

The Superior Teacher Demonstrates.

The Great Teacher Inspires.

                                    - William Arthur Ward 

Thanks For The Inspiration, Dr. Herman!

Physics Class of 2004

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