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Tyler Motley’s Passion for Chemistry Fuels a Desire to Go the Extra Mile for His Students

Tyler Motley’s Passion for Chemistry Fuels a Desire to Go the Extra Mile for His Students

April 22, 2024 | By Dave DeFusco

Tyler Motley has always been drawn to challenges, whether it’s running marathons or troubleshooting a chemistry lab. As a graduate student, he ran two marathons in different corners of the world, racing through the streets of Vancouver and Florence, where he weaved past iconic landmarks like the Bridge of Gold, a fixture of Florence’s ancient streets since the 13th century, and the Duomo, an ornate Gothic-style cathedral that inspired the Renaissance.

After obtaining a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018, he became the supervisor of undergraduate labs, where he’s managed the preparation of teaching laboratories for multiple courses each week, including 20 laboratory spaces serving some 2,500 students a semester. In addition, he trains, manages and mentors 24 undergraduate Federal Work Study students to safely operate laboratory equipment, which he purchases, maintains and repairs on some occasions when it inevitably malfunctions.

“The fun part for me is the live troubleshooting, when stuff inevitably doesn’t go well,” said Motley. “That’s the part that’s both incredibly stressful but also incredibly fun, because it allows for creative thinking.”

In the fall of 2023, when the full-time director of the undergraduate laboratory went on maternity leave, Motley filled in as interim director, taking on responsibility for the budget, managing teaching assistants and training new and interim supervisors. For his efforts, he is the recipient of the Chemistry Fred Young Extra Mile Award.

“I’m honored to receive the Fred Young Extra Mile Award,” said Motley. “Fred was an amazing person who left behind a huge pair of shoes to fill. I hope in some small way I can continue to honor his legacy.”

The annual departmental award recognizes individuals for nurturing a positive environment, demonstrating crisis leadership, embracing collaborative problem-solving, introducing new ideas and encouraging team-thinking. It is given in memory of Fred Young who exemplified these characteristics during his tenure in the Department of Chemistry.

A teaching assistant who nominated Motley said: “Tyler made TAing such a positive experience. He was always there to help out with any issues and was always willing to take time out of his busy day to help you.” Someone else said: “Tyler stepped up to lead. The Morehead staff was down another position from midway through the semester and he kept the entire lab program running with limited resources.”

Motley credits his high school chemistry teacher for sparking his passion in the subject. Chemistry, to him, is like a puzzle waiting to be solved—a sentiment that carried him through his graduate work and continues in his current capacity. He not only finds fulfillment in mentoring students, he summons the fond memory of his high school experience while teaching Analytical Chemistry Lab (241 L) and Organic Chemistry Lab (262 L).

“I try to make student experiences positive while also teaching them how to be successful,” he said. “It’s what ultimately keeps me here. I can have more of an impact on the world around me by trying to be a positive influence on all these individuals. It also allows me to continue to be involved in science, even if it’s through my students.”

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