Four Young Faculty Members Win Hettleman Prizes

Each year, four of Carolina’s top up-and-coming faculty are chosen as recipients of the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty. This year’s professors, representing diverse fields, are:

  • Dr. Ned Sharpless ’88, associate professor of medicine and genetics, who also earned his medical degree from UNC in 1993;
  • Brian Strahl, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics;
  • Andrew Perrin, associate professor of sociology; and
  • Jeff Whetstone, associate professor of art.

The four will be recognized during a Sept. 4 Faculty Council meeting.

The Hettleman Prize carries a $5,000 stipend, and the recipients are junior tenure-track faculty or recently tenured faculty. The award was established by Phillip Hettleman ’21, who grew up in Goldsboro in a family with little money. He earned a scholarship to UNC, went to New York and in 1938 founded Hettleman & Co., a Wall Street investment firm. He established the award in 1986 and died later that year.

A faculty member since 2001, Andrew Perrin focuses on political sociology, culture and social theory. “His research is truly groundbreaking, drawing on an extraordinarily diverse set of disciplines to understand the constraints and opportunities for American democracy,” said Howard Aldrich, chair of the sociology department, in his nomination letter.

Perrin’s latest book, Citizen Speak: The Democratic Imagination in American Life, establishes a link between everyday conversation and political thought. Reviewers called it “a first-rate example of the sociological imagination at work” and “theoretically sophisticated, deftly argued and beautifully written.”

Perrin’s use of diverse methods to answer sociological questions is impressive, Aldrich said. He collaborates extensively with graduate students to explore the cultural and social roots of American citizenship. In 2004, he received the department’s Rachel Rosenfeld Mentoring Award.

Fluent in German, Perrin translated and published an essay on public opinion by German sociologist Theodor W. Adorno. He is completing a two-volume translation of Adorno’s work on public opinion, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He also is examining how people use letters to the editor as a way of “doing citizenship.”

A noted researcher, clinician and teacher, Ned Sharpless is drawn to finding solutions to intriguing but difficult scientific problems, particularly those applicable to human cancer. His innovative research has included knocking out the p16INK4a gene in mice to demonstrate its role in preventing cancer and determining that expression of p16INK4a accumulates with age and is a biomarker of human aging.

Currently, his research focuses on two “tumor suppressor” pathways that are inactivated in most, if not all, human cancers — and the role of these pathways in aging.

The scientist’s accomplishments, charisma and collegiality mark him as a leader in clinical translational science, said Dr. Shelton Earp ’72, director of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, in his nomination letter. “Ned possesses a great intellect, an ability to get to the heart of the matter, a propensity for hard work and ambition to succeed that strikes the right — not the wrong — note,” Earp said.

Sharpless has been at UNC since 2002. He recently was inducted on the first try into the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the nation’s oldest translational research society. He also was featured in the Carolina Alumni Review in September/October 2008 in “A Home for the Orphan,” about two alumni from the class of 1987, Marnie and Jeff Kaufman, and the fight against Marnie Kaufman’s deadly cancer.

As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia, Brian Strahl earned a reputation based on his contributions to the “histone code” hypothesis, a new idea providing insight into the function of chromatin. This work has potential for understanding and treating human disease, because the histone code is thought to regulate the accessibility of genetic information that controls cell growth and disease.

Strahl came to Carolina in 2002. His ability to combine biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics, as well as to incorporate yeast and mammalian cell lines as models, “has enabled him to quickly become a leader in the chromatin/transcription field,” said Leslie Parise, chair of biochemistry and biophysics.

His accomplishments, creativity and collaborative approach to research have earned Strahl national recognition. In 2004, he received an award from the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences, and recently he received a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This year, he received a EUREKA (for Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) Award from the National Institutes for Health for “exceptionally innovative research projects that could have an extraordinarily significant impact on many areas of science.”

A noted artist-photographer who has been on the Carolina faculty since 2001, Jeff Whetstone draws on his background in zoology and photography to photograph and write about the human relationship to the land — something his art has reflected for nearly two decades.

“Clearly Jeff Whetstone is a rising star,” said Mary Sheriff, chair of the art department, in her nominating letter. Whetstone has broad experience as a documentarian, although his recent work includes a “more poetic and profound interrogation of his subjects, often blurring the distinction between natural and cultural formations as well as that between objective rendering and subjective expression,” she said.

Much of Whetstone’s art explores the nature and culture of the Southeast. For example, he uses images of humans and animals to examine what constitutes wilderness. As a result, viewers are engaged both intellectually and emotionally, Sheriff said. Whetstone’s newest project, Post-Pleistocene, depicts modern cave art of the Southeast’s Cumberland Plateau region.

Named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2007, the “biologist at heart” traveled through North America photographing what he called the “nascent wilderness all around us.”

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