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Four Earn Professorships for Excellence in Teaching

Four faculty members at Carolina have been awarded Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professorships, considered among the University’s most prestigious awards for excellence in outstanding undergraduate teaching.

The new Bowman and Gordon Gray professors are Valerie Ashby, an associate professor of chemistry; economics Professor Patrick Conway; Bland Simpson, an associate professor and director of the English department’s creative writing program; and Rachel Willis, an associate professor of American Studies.

The professorships provide a salary supplement, a fund for research support and a sabbatical. They were established in 1980 in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences by the late Gordon Gray ’30 and the estate of Bowman Gray Jr. ’29. They were enhanced in 1999 by Bernard Gray ’72, son of Gordon Gray.

Willis and Simpson were named to professorships that began on July 1 and will last until June 30, 2011. Ashby and Conway were named to professorships that will be effective from July 1, 2007, until June 30, 2012.

Willis researches issues affecting access to work in the American economy. She has developed innovative courses for the American studies curriculum, including “The Role of the University in American Life.” In an optional field lab, her students travel to unusual parts of the community and area university campuses, including Carolina’s, to explore physical aspects of how access to education is affected by history, resources and the physical development of the campuses.

Willis also teaches a first-year seminar on “Navigating America,” a senior seminar on “Documenting Communities” and courses on “Service Learning in America” and “Access to Work.” Her awards include the William C. Friday/Class of 1986 Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997, the Student Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1994 and 2001, and multiple Senior Class Superlative Faculty Awards. She also was honored with the first Bryan Award for Public Service for her role in creating the Carolina Center for Public Service and contributing to the APPLES service-learning program in 2000.

Simpson has directed UNC’s creative writing program since 2002 and taught in the program since 1982. Last year, he was awarded the state’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Award, in the fine arts category.

Simpson’s books include Heart of the Country: A Novel of Southern Music, The Great Dismal: A Carolinian’s Swamp Memoir, Into the Sound Country: A Carolinian’s Coastal Plain and Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering.

Since 1986, Simpson has been a member of the Tony Award-winning string band The Red Clay Ramblers. He has collaborated on musicals, including King Mackerel and The Blues are Running, Diamond Studs and the three-time Broadway hit Fool Moon.

In 1999, he received the Conservation Communicator of the Year Award from the N.C. Wildlife Federation and the N.C. Folklore Society’s Brown-Hudson Award for writing and music about the state. He won a UNC Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2004.

Ashby’s chemistry research focuses on the design and synthesis of polymeric biomaterials. She has been a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow and a visiting scientist at Eastman Chemical Co. and IBM. She was honored in 2002 by the American Chemical Society as one of the top 12 young female chemists in the country. At UNC, she teaches organic chemistry to sophomores and juniors; this fall, she will teach introductory chemistry to freshmen.

Ashby, who came to Carolina in 2004, was named Iowa State University Teacher of the Year in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2001. She was nominated for that honor four times from 1997 to 2000. She also was named one of four Iowa State Master Teachers in 2001. Her other awards include a 3M Young Faculty Award, a DuPont Young Faculty Award and an NSF Early Career Development Award.

Conway has taught introductory, international and development economics, as well as macroeconomics, to undergraduate and graduate students. He also has taught a senior honors seminar. He has developed a number of new courses for undergraduates, including the first-year seminar “The Economics of North Carolina.”

He researches the international aspects of trade and finance with developing countries. He has been an economic adviser and research associate for the U.S. Department of State and the World Bank and a visiting scholar for the International Monetary Fund. Conway was awarded a Pew Fellowship in International Affairs by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1991 in recognition of his innovative teaching. At UNC, he received the William C. Friday/Class of 1986 Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2001. Conway won the economics department’s Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1993, 1995 and 1998. He was honored with the department’s Jae Yeong Song and Chunuk Park Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction in 2003 and 2005.


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