Winning awards is nothing new for Karen Buchmueller. Since 2018, the associate professor of chemistry has been integral to three separate grant proposals to secure over $750,000 from the National Science Foundation for programs and equipment that support student researchers. This spring, she added another award to the lineup: Undergraduate Teacher of the Year from the South Carolina Academy of Sciences (SCAS).
“I am honored and humbled by this award,” Buchmueller said. “I teach with so many inspiring professors who are role models for me. I also appreciate the amazing institutional support that exists at Furman, including the Faculty Development Center and Diane Boyd,” executive director of the center.
Buchmueller joined the Furman faculty in 2007 after postdoctoral fellowships served at Georgia State and Furman, and two years as assistant professor at Wake Forest University.
In her 13 years at Furman and her time at Wake Forest, she has mentored 36 undergraduate research students, 20 percent of them from minority populations. One of those students was Daniela Mesa Sanchez ’17, a first-generation college graduate who worked in Buchmueller’s lab from 2014-2017. She is now a doctoral candidate at Purdue University.
“Karen has a talent for gauging the needs of her students and responding accordingly,” Mesa Sanchez said of Buchmueller’s impact in a letter of support to SCAS. “This type of adaptive advising is something I’ve had a hard time finding in other mentors, and so I recognize it as a rare and admirable quality.”
Under Buchmueller’s guidance, Mesa Sanchez applied and was accepted to seven graduate chemistry programs and she received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for continuing her studies. But Buchmueller’s mentorship didn’t end there. “Even after leaving Furman, Karen has continued to support me via texts, calls and emails as I’ve worked through frustrations and difficulties as a teaching assistant. Her caring and input have been invaluable from the beginning of my graduate experience and as I think about my future career,” Mesa Sanchez wrote.
In comments from recent student evaluations, one student said, “’Dr. B’ is by far my favorite professor. Her genuine compassion and patience created a welcoming environment where I was able to challenge myself, take risks and share my opinions.” Another said Buchmueller “makes her students excited about the material” and has a way of making the class “feel like a family.”
Buchmueller’s colleagues also weighed in with words of praise in the SCAS nomination materials. After a visit to Buchmueller’s advanced biochemistry class, chemistry Professor Laura Wright said, “Throughout the class period, there was constant back and forth between Karen and all her students. No one got lost in the background, everyone was completely engaged for the entire time. In fact, at the end of class, the students kept asking questions and commenting on the material – they didn’t want the class to end.
“My visit reinforced my belief that Karen is one of the most gifted instructors in our department,” Wright said. “She covered the material in depth and enticed her students into thinking deeply about the topic. She created an inviting environment where all her students felt comfortable participating, and she was able to pull everyone, myself included, into the magic that was the topic of the day.”