But Harris-Carter promises her door is open for extra help should students need it. By the end of the second week of classes, she knows everyone’s name, and throughout, often learns their personal stories.
“I’m approachable,” she said. “I’m a stickler for deadlines and following the instructions, but I understand life happens. I tell my students when they have something that happens to let me know. I have students who are single mothers or those who work two or three jobs and have to take care of their children. I commend my students for being here, and when things happen, we can work together to make sure they are successful.”
The daughter of a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel/college professor and high school teacher, Harris-Carter grew up moving around given her father’s Air Force career.
“We lived in Turkey, Colorado; we lived in Virginia twice,” she said, recalling when her father was stationed at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk. “High school was in Illinois.”
Harris-Carter was on the pre-med track at Western Illinois University when she discovered how much she enjoyed microbiology, studying under Samuel Singer, an esteemed professor who today has a scholarship named for him. Singer was a bacteriologist who stressed experiential learning. Harris-Carter worked as his lab assistant and tutored her peers. The tutoring made her realize that she had a future in teaching.
Harris-Carter earned her bachelor’s in microbiology, graduating with honors from Western Illinois in 1994 and went on to earn her master’s in biological science with an emphasis in microbiology from Hampton University in 1999. She taught full time at a career and technical college in Virginia Beach and part time at TCC and Hampton until 2005, when she was hired full time by TCC.
Like her mentor Singer, Harris-Carter believes in a hands-on approach. “After we discuss it in the lecture, we relate it in the lab,” she said. “The big thing is you learn from your mistakes.”
You’ll see her students swabbing areas throughout Building B on the Portsmouth Campus that later they will examine under a microscope in the upstairs lab. Students identify unknown bacteria in BIO 150, learn how to culture and stain how spice vapors can inhibit bacterial growth and parasitic infections, and discuss the dangers of antibiotic resistance to certain bacteria.
Harris-Carter believes the smaller classrooms at TCC make the cooperative learning approach ideal. “I love teaching at a community college because it’s so personalized,” she said. “We have people from all different backgrounds – people coming right out of college to people changing careers to people looking to improve upon their skills. You have the full spectrum and you’re able to learn from each other. They don’t just learn from me. I learn from them.
“I tell them upfront, ‘I know you all have heard this is a tough class.’ It is challenging. But if you’re in my class, I’ve bought into you. Now can you buy into yourself? You’ve got to believe you can do this.”
Harris-Carter, lead faculty for microbiology at the Portsmouth Campus, is also a student herself, enrolled in the pre-doctoral program in biology at Montana State University. A Suffolk resident, she enjoys exercising and the family time she spends with her husband and toddler.