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2015 Distinguished Professors

The Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost is pleased to announce that eight faculty members have been recommended by the Distinguished Professors Selection Committee to receive distinguished professorships effective July 1, 2015, pending approval by the University’s Board of Trustees. The Selection Committee, co-chaired by Burton Craige Distinguished Professors Judith Wegner (Law) and Pam Conover (Political Science), worked diligently alongside committee members to review forty-five nominations and over eighty letters of reference to recommend the following faculty members to Provost Jim Dean:

Kenan Professors

Nancy Allbritton, Professor and Chair of Biomedical Engineering (since 2009) & Professor of Chemistry (since 2007), is a world-renowned pioneer and leader in the areas of bioanalytical chemistry and biomedical engineering. She is known especially for her work in the growing area of single-cell analysis and in cellular signal transduction underlying the heterogeneity of human cancer. There is overwhelming evidence of her international stature as a scholar: over 125 peer-reviewed articles, many in top journals; a frequent keynote speaker at international meetings from China to Switzerland to Australia; and recognition as a leader in science having been elected as a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Indeed, Allbritton holds 11 patents (with 8 patent applications pending). Her discoveries have been the basis of new technologies for biomedical investigations that have lead to extraordinarily productive interdisciplinary collaborations across UNC, as well as several highly successful companies, “Cell Biosciences” and “Cell Microsystems.” Finally, as an administrator, Allbritton has worked tirelessly to build the UNC-NC State Joint Department in Biomedical Engineering, while maintaining an extraordinarily productive research agenda. All of these accomplishments have cemented her fine international reputation as both a scholar and inventor.

Joseph Kieber, Professor of Biology (since 2004), is an international leader in the study of cell signaling in plants—how cells communicate with one another to regulate growth and development. This is a critical question in biology, and is relevant to a host of issues from how fertilized eggs develop, to health issues like cancer and aging, to issues of plant productivity. Indeed, Kieber’s work has special relevance for the question of how to produce food in a sustainable and efficient fashion to meet the critical needs created by both the world’s increasing population and climate change. Kieber has 90+ peer-reviewed publications with over 10,000 citations; for over 20 years, Kieber has been continuously funded with grants from NIH, NSF, USDA, and DOE; he has held prominent positions in international organizations serving plant biologists; and he has been a plenary speaker at both national and international meetings.

Gary Pielak, Professor of Chemistry (since 2000), is known for his absolutely cutting edge work on how proteins function in the complex environment of living cells. The concrete evidence of Pielaks’s stature is impressive: he is one of only two UNC faculty members to receive the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the most prestigious award given by the NIH; he has published over 120 peer-reviewed articles in the top journals in his field, resulting in over 5,000 citations; indeed, Pielak has had three manuscripts accepted at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in one year; and his international standing is evident from the nearly 50 talks he has presented over the last four years, including invited and plenary lectures in China, Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Cary C. Boshamer Professors

Jianwen Cai, Professor of Biostatistics (since 2004), is widely recognized as one of the top living experts on the analysis of multivariate, time-to-event data. Such analyses are fundamental to health research in a variety of domains. For example, her case-cohort expertise was used to elucidate how the relationship between mortality and body mass index (BMI) changes with age, and this discovery fundamentally altered how physicians advise patients about weight as they age. She has published over 160 peer-reviewed articles, many in the top journals in her field resulting in nearly 10,000 citations; she is an honorary fellow of both the American Statistical Association and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics; she is currently president of the International Biometric Society- Eastern North Atlantic Region (ENAR), a major indicator of respect in her professional community; and during her over 20 years at UNC, she has been very successful at obtaining grants. Currently, Cai is PI for the Hispanic Community Health Study, the largest study ever conducted of Hispanic populations.

Blossom Damania, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology (since 2011), has had a meteoric rise to the top of her profession, where she is widely acknowledged as one of the most important researchers in virology in the world today. Damania studies Kaposi’s sarcomaassociated herpesviruses (KSHV) and other related herpesviruses. Indeed, she is the most highly regarded scientist active in this area. Damania’s achievements include nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles, many in the top journals including Science, PNAS, Genes and Development, and Cancer Research; service as a Senior Editor for PloS Pathogen and Frontiers in Microbial Immunity; notable success in obtaining grants; and demand as a frequent keynote speaker both within the United States and at international meetings. Moreover, in the last fifteen years, her work has been honored by over a dozen prestigious awards, including the American Association for Cancer ResearchGertrude Elion Research Scholar (2004), the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar (2005-2010), the American Heart Association Established Investigator Award (2006-2011), the Burroughs Wellcome Investigator in Infectious Disease Award (2006-2011), the Jefferson Pilot Award (2005), Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, and last but not least, UNC’s Hettleman Prize (2008).

Beth Mayer-Davis, Professor of Nutrition (since 2008) & Medicine (since 2009), is an internationally known expert on diabetes. Mayer-Davis’ early research concentrated on the risk factors for type 2 diabetes in adults. For example, with her research group, she demonstrated in 1998 that moderate intensity physical activity could improve insulin resistance, a key factor in reducing the risk of diabetes. But she is even better known for her work on childhood diabetes, especially among minority populations. Mayer-Davis has published 240 peer-reviewed articles many in top journals like JAMA and the Annals of Epidemiology, producing more than 10,000 citations; and Mayer-Davis’ work has been continually funded for over 20 years with a significant series of grants. She has also held a variety of important positions including: an appointment by President Obama to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health; President of the American Diabetes Association and eight years on its Board of Directions; a contributor for many years to the ADA Standards of Medical Care and Nutrition Recommendations, which are used in both the United States and many other countries; and chair of the Department of Nutrition.

Dennis Mumby, Professor of Communication Studies (since 2002), has over 30 years established himself as leading global authority in communication, especially organizational communication. Specifically, Mumby is widely acknowledged as one of the founders of critical organizational studies, where his highly influential 1987 essay “The Political Function of the Narrative” introduced the concept of narrative, and his book Communication and Power in Organizations (1988) helped define the agenda for the entire field. Mumby is also well known as one of the first scholars to introduce feminist analyses into the study of organizational communication through a series of essays in the 1990’s and later a co-authored book, Reworking Gender (2004). Mumby’s has authored, co-authored, and edited seven books, thirty book chapters, and 24 peer-reviewed articles that have produced nearly 6,000 citations; he was selected as editor of the Handbook of Organizational Communication, a highly prestigious and competitive post; and he has been asked to serve as a keynote speaker at conferences in Brazil and Wales, and was a visiting scholar in Denmark—all attest to his international reputation. His peers have acknowledged his leadership and stature as a scholar, giving him the two highest honors the discipline of Communication Studies bestows: Distinguished Scholar of the National Communication Association and Fellow of the International Communication Association. He has also received two prestigious awards recognizing his foundational and lasting contributions to the discipline. Mumby was able to remain a prominent scholar while serving as Department Chair from 2005-2013.

Louise McReynolds, Professor of History (since 2006), is internationally recognized as one of the most prominent and interesting historians of late Imperial Russia. Through exhaustive and highly original research, McReynolds has done much to discount the idea that late Imperial Russia was not sufficiently industrialized for a middle class to develop its own political vision. Instead, by exploring the history of popular culture, McReynolds reveals the vibrant nature of the Russian middle class during this era. McReynolds’ books about this era are impressive: her first a careful analysis of Russia’s newspapers; her second, an award-winning examination of leisure activities of Russians; and her most recent book, described by reviewers as “a brilliant examination of the rule of law in Russia” and the cultural significance of murder that bears on Russia’s path to modernity. She has also published 16 book chapters, and 14 peer-reviewed articles in some of the best journals in the field of Slavic Studies, one of which won the Heldt Prize for the Best Essay on Russian Women, as did her translation of Nagrodskaia’s novel, Wrath of Dionysus. Impressively, McReynolds has received most of the competitive and prestigious fellowships for which historians compete, including: the John S. Guggeheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright-Hays Program, the National Humanities Center, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the International Research and Exchange Board. Finally, indicative of her international reputation, this year alone she will have given invited talks at both Cambridge in England and in Germany.