Chemistry Chair Leaving for Duke Deanship

By any measure, Valerie Ashby ’88 (’94 PhD) has been considered a star of Carolina’s faculty with top-level administration potential. Now, Ashby will pursue just that — at Duke.

Ashby, chair of UNC’s chemistry department and for the past six years the faculty marshal, has been named dean of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke. She starts work in the new position July 1.

Duke’s announcement said Ashby “will oversee the university’s core academic units, which offer courses and degrees across the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.” UNC currently is conducting a search for dean of its College of Arts & Sciences as Karen Gil prepares to leave the position. It is not known whether Ashby was a candidate for that job.

“Valerie was a fantastic colleague,” said Joe Templeton, a Distinguished Professor of chemistry and a former chair of the department, now serving as assistant chair. “Her leadership has been exceptional, even among those of us who had been crazy about her for years.

“The chemistry department is going to go through the five stages of grief.”

Ashby grew up in Clayton. After postdoctoral work overseas and a faculty position at Iowa State University, she returned to UNC in 2003 as a chemistry professor. In 2007, she was named the Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor for excellence in undergraduate teaching and research. She was named department chair in 2012. Her research has focused on synthesis of biomaterials used for such functions as drug delivery and gene therapy.

Ashby also is director of the UNC National Science Foundation program, aimed at promoting underrepresented minorities into doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering and math, in which she participated as a student.

In 2008, she received the Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award from the GAA-sponsored Black Alumni Reunion’s Light on the Hill Society and was that year’s December Commencement speaker. She received the GAA’s Faculty Service Award in 2014. Since 2009 she has served as the UNC faculty marshal, most recently leading the Commencement procession on May 10. She also served a term as faculty representative to the GAA Board of Directors.

Known as an outstanding teacher and very popular with students, Ashby received the Carlyle Sitterson Freshman Teaching Award in 2008, the Student Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2009 and the Johnston Teaching Award in 2013. She previously received several teaching awards at Iowa State.

“I am honored to be selected to be the dean of the Trinity School of Arts & Sciences,” Ashby said in Duke’s news release. “Duke is one of the finest institutions in the world, known for academic excellence, interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge in service to society. I look forward to the opportunities to work collaboratively with the outstanding students, faculty and staff that comprise the Duke community.”

Chancellor Carol L. Folt also commented on Ashby’s departure, saying: “Although I am very sorry to see Dr. Valerie Ashby depart, she will leave a tremendous legacy of excellence at Carolina when she joins the faculty at Duke University. A two-time Carolina alumna, faculty marshal and chair of our chemistry department, Valerie is one of our most beloved and accomplished faculty members. She cares deeply about her students and has received numerous awards for her outstanding teaching and research. Her studies on polymers and improving drug delivery have resulted in numerous patents. She has also led many initiatives to recruit and promote underrepresented minorities in STEM programs and helped to launch a local chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. Valerie’s contributions to our campus are immeasurable, and we look forward to working with her to strengthen our many existing faculty partnerships with Duke.”

Ashby succeeds Laurie Patton at Duke, who will be the new president of Middlebury College in Vermont.

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