Award-winning biology professor to speak at ECU fall commencement

Dr. Carol Goodwillie

An expert in plant evolution who makes research an integral part of her interactive classroom instruction will deliver the commencement address at East Carolina University on Dec. 18.

Carol Goodwillie, who has taught at ECU for 15 years, received the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence earlier this year.The commencement ceremony is scheduled to begin with a band concert at 9:30 a.m. in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The commencement processional will begin at 10 a.m.

During the event 2,093 students are expected to receive their degrees, including 1,520 bachelor degree candidates, 42 doctoral degree candidates and more than 530 graduate degree candidates.

Goodwillie said her research guides her teaching, and research activities help engage and train students in biological concepts, methods and the scientific process. Goodwillie uses a two-acre plot on the ECU West Research Campus as an extended part of her classroom where students study and learn.

“They gain a lot of familiarity with the local flora, they gain experience in field research techniques, then they learn how to form hypotheses and analyze data,” she said.

Goodwillie embraces active learning and has incorporated inquiry-based methods into all of her classes from genetics to evolutionary theory to field botany. The result is lively, interactive classes without the monologue characteristic of many large class lectures.

“I find that my students learn most effectively when I encourage them to be scientific explorers, to observe, analyze and test hypotheses both inside and outside the classroom,” she said. “I involve students in research all the time. They go, ‘Ah, that’s what you were talking about.’”

Goodwillie has a bachelor of music in flute performance from Oberlin College in Ohio, a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a doctorate in botany from the University of Washington.

In addition to her teaching, Goodwillie has amassed a significant body of research. Since joining the ECU faculty in 2001 following post-doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia, she has published 28 papers in peer-reviewed journals, involving undergraduate researchers in six of them; made 25 scholarly presentations; received, with colleagues, almost $700,000 in education and research grants; and served as associate editor of the American Journal of Botany and on numerous grant review panels and journal review boards.

Many colleges, schools and departments will hold unit recognition ceremonies on Dec. 18 and 19. A schedule of those events is available at

Individuals with disabilities requesting accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact the Department for Disability Support Services at (252) 328-6799 (V) or (252) 328-0899 (TTY).