School Celebrates Faculty Excellence
In an inaugural ceremony during Alumni Weekend 2023, the School installed three new Distinguished Professors
Story by Kelly Collins | photos by Samantha Lewis | Published November 14, 2023
Creating a new tradition, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy celebrated the esteemed faculty who keep our School on the vanguard of education, pharmacy practice, and research at the Inaugural Distinguished Professors Celebration.
“The distinction of distinguished professor means the world to the faculty who have earned this pinnacle achievement,” says Dean Angela Kashuba. “These leaders are advancing new paradigms to address complex challenges and serve as role models for our learners and other faculty.”
At this special celebration, the School officially installed three new distinguished professors.
Dr. Ronny Bell was installed as the Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor in recognition of his contributions to health disparities research and engagement with American Indian communities in the state and leadership of the Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy. With over 250 publications and countless grants and awards, Ronny serves as a senior advisor to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and is a member of the Thorp Community Engaged Scholars Program.
Dr. Stephanie Wheeler, the Michael S. O’Malley Distinguished Professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, spoke to Ronny’s impact on racially minoritized and rural populations who shoulder a disproportionate burden of disease. “He embodies the Carolina tradition of collaboration, cooperation and collegiality through his service-oriented leadership, supportive mentorship, and tireless work to advance community-engaged science,” Stephanie observes.
Ronny’s work to address cancer health disparities among American Indians has significant impact not only here in North Carolina, which has the largest American Indian population in the eastern United States, but also across the county. “I would like to pay homage to my Lumbee heritage, our ancestors, elders and tribal leaders who have made it possible for me and many Lumbee people like me to pursue our dreams and represent our tribal community,” says Ronny. “In the words of Lumbee artist Willie French Lowery, ‘I am proud to be a Lumbee Indian.’”
Dr. Craig Lee was installed as the John A. and Deborah S. McNeill Jr. Distinguished Professor in recognition of his contributions to drug metabolism and cardiovascular precision medicine research and leadership of the Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics. Craig originally came to the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy as a student, earning his PharmD in 2000 and his PhD in 2006 before completing a fellowship in clinical research and drug development at GlaxoSmithKline and UNC.
Appointed as faculty in 2006, Craig has built a robust translational research program and is an active member of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute and the Program for Precision Medicine in Health Care. Dr. Bob Blouin, the Bryson Distinguished Professor, former Dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and former Provost of UNC-Chapel Hill, says of Craig: “He is one of the most selfless faculty members in our school and truly represents a strong commitment to research, education, and service.”
Craig spoke of his “pay it forward” mindset that was instilled in him at a young age by his parents who dedicated their professional lives to public elementary education. “I learned firsthand how one can inspire and positively impact others by selflessly dedicating their professional life to the education and mentoring of others,” he shares. Craig also credited the support and guidance he received through the years from professional mentors and peers. “Simply stated, inspiration and impact fuel inspiration and impact. That is probably what I love most about the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and why I feel so privileged to be a part of this environment.”
Dr. Tim Willson was installed as the Harold Kohn Distinguished Professor in Open Science Discovery in recognition of his contributions in the chemical biology of the dark proteome and leadership of the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) at UNC. Tim is the founding director and chief scientist of the SGC-UNC, a not-for-profit, public-private partnership that performs basic science of relevance to drug discovery. He has more than 25 years of experience in pharmaceutical research with a track record in discovery of first-in-class clinical candidates.
Dr. Bob Blouin spoke about recruiting Tim from GlaxoSmithKline to join the faculty. “Tim is widely recognized for his scientific leadership in chemical biology and was named one of the world’s most influential biomedical researchers,” Bob explains. “One of the best examples of his impact is his work in helping launch READDI, a global public-private partnership working to create antiviral drugs to prepare for future pandemics.”
Tim’s passion for learning and the pursuit of knowledge began in his childhood, when his father allowed him to perform chemistry experiments in his garage. He recognized those who forged the path to transition from industry to academia. “It is a great honor to be the first holder of the Chair that will cement the bond between the Structural Genomics Consortium and Eshelman School of Pharmacy,” says Tim. “I am acutely aware of the responsibility that this honor carries, and I am wholeheartedly committed to making a positive difference to the field of Drug Discovery through the unrestricted release of data, chemical tools, and reagents from my laboratory.”
With the installation of Ronny, Craig, and Tim, the School now has 17 distinguished professors. Provost Chris Clemens addressed the profound significance these faculty leaders have on the School and University. “I am inspired by you, and I am honored to work with you. Thank you for your commitment to providing the best possible education, research, and service to our community as you work together to solve the world’s most pressing health care challenges.”
Dean Kashuba closed the event with a special announcement: the establishment of the Maureen Daly Blouin Distinguished Scholar in Open Science Drug Discovery. This endowment was made possible by the Structural Genomics Consortium as well as many alumni and friend donors who gave in honor of Bob and Maureen Blouin. The first of its kind at our School, the Blouin Distinguished Scholar is dedicated to bolstering the research endeavors of an early-career faculty member at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy whose academic pursuits focus on open science drug discovery.
The installation event was hosted by the UNC Pharmacy Foundation. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We have the most generous alumni and supporters of any pharmacy school in the nation,” says Louis Newsome, a 1977 alum and current Foundation Board Chair. “Our School is truly blessed.”