First stop. Chapel Hill High School

Our first stop was right here at home at Chapel Hill High School. We visited the classroom of Tom Herndon, an NCSU graduate. I knew a lot about Mr. Herndon from the tours that he took of Carolina’s chemistry department with his students – and all the great things I’d heard about him from the kids in our neighborhood. He had periodic table socks, so we hit it off immediately.

Chapel Hill High School students listen during Chancellor Holden Thorp's conversation with the class.

Chapel Hill High School students listen during my conversation with the class.

Mr. Herndon inspires his students to figure out things for themselves by doing experiments. The class was in the middle of a weeks-long experiment to determine the chemical composition of an aquarium based on the number of fish living in it. A lot more like real research than turning a buret upside down with a magnesium ribbon.

The enthusiasm for inquiry was clearly contagious. One of the students, Kent (who lives in my neighborhood in Carrboro),

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Turns out music doesn’t help, which is something my dad tried to explain to me for years. (Dad didn’t do any experiments; he just didn’t like

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The Who.) Kent said he wants to study psychology, so he’s well on his way.

One of my favorite moments was when I asked the class what they were looking for in a college. Alec said he was looking for an opportunity to explore lots of different subjects on his way to deciding what he wants to do in life. That’s my favorite answer, because one of my most important goals is to make Carolina a place where people can find their passion and feel free to try different things academically. So my response was … There’s no better place for that than Carolina.

All the students wanted to study abroad. I told them that if I had the opportunity to do part of my education over, I would learn more languages and study abroad. Alec even wanted to know if he could do research abroad AND do it in a different language. We’d love to help him with that idea.

Not all of them were scientists. Jennifer had started a government club. Funny, she felt like they have enough to talk about right now.

I was so impressed with and inspired by these students. They opened up and told me a lot of useful stuff. Can’t wait to get them in a Carolina classroom and lab.

All of them took a Carolina t-shirt. Kent put his on over what he

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was wearing. And even Mr. Herndon agreed that maybe he’d wear the Carolina colors IF Carolina beats NC State in football this year.

Students in Tom Herndon's applied research class post data from water samples as part of a project to track the nitrogen cycle in aquaria with different numbers of fish.

Students in Tom Herndon's applied research class post data from water samples as part of a project to track the nitrogen cycle in aquaria with different numbers of fish.

Chancellor Thorp looks toward Chapel Hill High School teacher Tom Herndon during his classroom visit.

I had a great time talking with Chapel Hill High School teacher Tom Herndon, at right, and his students.


  1. 1

    Periodic table socks? That is TOO cool. Where can I get some?!

  2. 2
    Jeri Brown

    I thoroughly enjoyed this entry. Kent is well-spoken and, as an older person who has raised two sons, I loved the results of his research on studying while listening to music. The tour is a terrific project that I’m sure will bring UNC to the forefront in providing a well-rounded education full of opportunities for all students.

  3. 3

    For periodic table socks (and other cool periodic table gifts), try a Web search for “periodic table socks” using your favorite search engine.

    – Libby, UNC-Chapel Hill