Apply Yourselves to Service, Ashby Advises

Chemistry Professor Valerie Ashby ’88 told December graduates that they should prepare themselves to put their smarts and savvy to the service of society.

“As you walk out of this experience, certainly a more informed person than the one who sang In my Mind, I’m Going to Carolina at convocation, ask yourselves, ‘Where am I now uniquely suited for service?’ ” Ashby asked the graduates. “If that answer is still evolving for you, keep asking questions.

“What injustice makes you stand on your soap box? What great need is there for which you have a creative idea? What great divide can your skills help to bridge? With which people do you identify or have great compassion?

“That will be the topic. There will be the place, and those will be the people.”

About 2,300 students applied to graduate in December. Totals just before the Dec. 14 ceremony were 1,147 bachelor’s, 765 master’s, 252 doctoral and 140 professional degrees. The latter are from the schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

Ashby’s entire address can be read online.

Ashby, who also received her doctorate from UNC in 1994, joined the Carolina faculty in 2004 as an associate professor in the chemistry department after teaching from 1996 to 2003 at Iowa State University, where she was named Teacher of the Year in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She was awarded UNC’s Gordon and Bowman Gray Distinguished Term Professorship for 2007-12. Most recently, in November she was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Black Alumni Reunion.

Ashby’s chemistry research focuses on the design and synthesis of polymeric biomaterials. Her work has led to 10 patents and collaborations with DuPont, 3M and Chevron Phillips. At UNC, she teaches organic chemistry to sophomores and juniors as well as introductory chemistry to freshmen.

She also directs the Summer Pre-Graduate Research Experience, which helped launch her career in research and teaching in 1988 soon after her own graduation from Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. The program exposes minority undergraduates across the country to research and encourages them to pursue doctorates in the sciences, technology, engineering, math, economics or other social and behavioral sciences.

Ashby has been a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow and visiting scientist at Eastman Chemical Co. and IBM. In 2002, the American Chemical Society named her one of the top 12 young female chemists in the country.

In 2008, she won UNC’s Sitterson Award for freshman teaching. Her other awards include several 3M Young Faculty Awards, a DuPont Young Faculty Award and an NSF Early Career Development Award.

Related coverage is available online:

  • Valerie Ashby’s Flock: Careful to retrace the footsteps of her own mentors, a popular teacher and researcher makes chemistry a leap of faith for the head and for the heart.
    From the May/June 2008 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.

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