One of the things I want students to feel — through working with me — is that we're working to learn this material together.

Kenny Mineart

There are a lot of good reasons for students to build good working relationships with their professors — and vice versa — but one of the most important, says Professor Kenny Mineart, is that it helps students feel empowered to contribute at the beginning of their careers.

"We share the responsibility of them becoming effective chemical engineers. So one of the things I want students to feel — through working with me — is that we're working to learn this material together," says Mineart. "When they go on to their eventual jobs and work with more senior colleagues, I want them to know that they don't have to just work underneath these people as subordinates. They can, and should, work alongside them."

After earning his Ph.D. in chemical engineering, Mineart took a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., working strictly as a research scientist for a year and a half. For him, it was a test to see if he could leave behind the world of academia. Looking to restore the balance between academics and research led Mineart back to the classroom.

"My mindset was to completely pull out of teaching and see what I thought of doing strictly research," Mineart said. "I enjoyed it, but day to day and week to week, I missed teaching and the interactions with students. I enjoyed helping them have lightbulb moments."

Mineart first discovered his love of teaching as a graduate student at North Carolina State University, where he worked as a teaching assistant before becoming a co-instructor of a course under the guidance of a faculty mentor. At the same time, he was heavily involved in examining how the structure of solid polymers can be changed based on different processing techniques, with an emphasis on structures that are amenable for water purification and energy harvesting. Mineart's interest has since evolved from solid polymers to those in gels and solutions with applications focused on drug delivery.

"I got involved in teaching early on as a way to have some contrast to doing research all the time," Mineart said. "I did it more and more and became more and more interested. There's nothing equivalent to seeing students absorb information across a semester or a year or four years. To see that transformation is very fulfilling and for me is as enjoyable as developing new understanding through exploratory research."

Posted Oct. 6, 2017