This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Centrepiece, the College alumni magazine.
Preston Miles ’70
Walkup Professor of Chemistry
Years at Centre: 1981-2019
Education: B.S., Chemistry, Centre College; Ph.D., Analytical Chemistry, University of Kentucky
Family: wife, Kathy Lashbrook Miles ’71; children: John Miles, Ben Miles; brother: Alan Miles ’72
I always remember being interested in science, but when I came to college, my intended major was history. During my first year, I shifted to chemistry mostly because of my perception of career opportunities. I worked in industrial research and development for six years with Ross Laboratories (a division of Abbott Labs) in Columbus, Ohio, before we made a family decision to move back to Kentucky and raise our children in a smaller community.
At Centre, leading the development of the natural science course sequence (NSC 110 and NSC 120) was my favorite academic contribution. Teaching the natural science classes has also been the most challenging. The course is designed to capture the most key concepts of physical science and present them in historical and social context. Most of the students are not science majors and come with a little science anxiety. We try to get past that to explore some of the fundamental principles of the natural world and how those principles shape our society.
Whatever the class, students have a wide range of learning styles. Every class includes folks who are readers and talkers and doers and dreamers. There isn’t one single magic teaching procedure. I think I’ve learned to use a range of approaches so I can catch everyone in their strong suit at some point or another. I’ve enjoyed working with Centre students to help them find their capacities.
One of my most memorable events was outside of the classroom. The students from the natural science course were at our farm for a naked-eye sky-watching laboratory. They were in the north pasture, lying on their backs and searching for constellations, when a sudden flurry of meteors started. The students began shouting and laughing and really enjoyed an event one can only see on a clear night well away from artificial lights.
I hope I have been able to show students that learning is fun. It is inherently interesting to learn how something works (maybe a chemical process, an organizational process, or a historical relationship). And then from what they learn, that they all have the capacity to contribute in a significant way (to new science, to more effective organizations, or to functioning of society).
The last decade, I’ve been fortunate to be involved with the College’s efforts to minimize our institutional climate impact. It’s important for folks to realize that anthropogenic climate change is one of the great challenges of this century. Certainly changes in individual behavior are called for, but a successful response must include institutional efforts—in our workplaces, our organizations, and our communities.
In retirement I’m hoping to stay involved in the community and maybe watch a meteor shower with our granddaughters.
by Preston Miles ’70