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Maria T. Oliver-Hoyo, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Chemistry at NC State, is so fascinated by the teaching of chemistry that she has become a leading light in the study of chemistry education — and she’s so good at it that she was recently named a winner of the 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award from the UNC system Board of Governors.

It’s all the more ironic, then, that Oliver-Hoyo is not one of those seemingly charmed people who wind up doing something they’ve always wanted to do.

“Chemistry professor was not my first choice of career,” she says. “I love comparative literature, I love mathematics; I love everything. At first I couldn’t decide between the humanities and the sciences.”

When Oliver-Hoyo graduated high school and enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico, she learned that students there could take an exam to determine whether they’d be allowed to bypass the first year of general education courses and go straight into the college of sciences. Only the students who scored among the top 100 were selected for the accelerated program, so Oliver-Hoyo decided to take the exam and let the result guide her choice.

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