A solid record of community service, innovative classroom teaching, strong mentoring of undergraduate research projects, deep respect for the Appalachia region and its people, and pioneering economic development efforts are among the many reasons Ryan Huish, assistant professor of biology at UVA Wise, received the Outstanding Faculty Award this week by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
 
The State Council of Higher Education and Dominion Energy announced the recipients of the 2020 Outstanding Faculty Awards on Dec. 6. The recipients receive a $7,500 gift from Dominion Energy at a special ceremony in Richmond on March 9, 2020.

Since 1987, these awards have recognized faculty at Virginia’s institutions of higher learning who exemplify the highest standards of teaching, scholarship and service. 

Nominees are selected by the institutions, reviewed by a panel of peers and chosen by a committee of leaders from the public and private sectors. In all, 85 nominations were submitted this year. This group was narrowed to a field of 27 finalists and then to the 12 recipients.


Huish, a leader in the field of ethnobotany, the study of human-plant interaction, is involved in important research focused on the Appalachian region. By interviewing local residents about their and their ancestors’ traditional use of plants, Huish works in collaborative research and community engagement with those who sustainably harvest and trade in Appalachian forest medicinal plants. He works closely with Virginia Tech in the research and has led workshops in the region, including one focusing on how his fully sustainable family farm is managed. He also researches maple syrup harvesting and has made strides in industrial hemp research.
 
He has mentored more than 40 undergraduate researchers over the past 12 years. His comprehensive field research, mostly with students, also contributes to sustainable economic development in the coalfield region.
 
As for community service, Huish’s respect for the community has resulted in him becoming a full partner with the region.
 
Huish says his earliest memories involve plants, and he recalls having had as a boy a special sense of awareness and awe for what many would consider mundane plants.
 
“This energy has stayed with me into adulthood,” he said. “My passion is to help others catch the vision and comprehend, at even some small level, the vast beauty, potential, and complexity of these humble yet magnificent organisms.”
 
His teaching philosophy is paraphrased by Plutarch’s statement that a mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
 
“Having experienced both of these types of education, filling and kindling, as a student, and now having taught and mentored undergraduates for over 12 years, I appreciate the difference between these teaching paradigms,” he said. “Once the mind is kindled and enlightened, the real education begins, fueling the deeper learning and application process.”
 
Huish says his personal mission as an educator is to plant the seeds in students to help them acquire core competencies in biology to empower them with the wisdom, knowledge, and skills to contribute to their profession, family, and the broader community. He believes that mission aligns well with the overall mission of UVA Wise.
 
“I think the strength and necessity of interdisciplinary collaboration and societal connections in problem solving emphasizes the importance and value of a well-rounded liberal arts education,” he said.
 
Huish joins several of his UVA Wise colleagues who have garnered the Outstanding Faculty Awards in recent years.