Valerie Sheares Ashby, a professor and chair of the chemistry department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), will be the next dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University beginning July 1, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth announced Thursday.
Ashby will oversee the university's core academic units, which offer courses and degrees across the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. She succeeds Laurie Patton, who will be the new president of Middlebury.
“Valerie Ashby is a distinguished professor of chemistry who has shown extraordinary aptitude for academic leadership,” Brodhead said. “Warm, thoughtful and a creative problem solver, she has high respect for inquiry and teaching across the span of the Arts & Sciences, and she will represent Duke’s academic vision to students, faculty and outside audiences in a compelling fashion. I am delighted to welcome her to Duke.”
Ashby joined the UNC-CH faculty in 2003 after serving as a faculty member at Iowa State University since 1995. She was named Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor of Chemistry in 2007, when she also began serving as the director of the UNC National Science Foundation Alliance for Graduate Education Professoriate and Research Education Support programs. In 2012, she became chair of the chemistry department. A native of North Carolina who grew up in Clayton, Ashby earned her bachelor of arts degree (1988) and Ph.D. (1994) in chemistry from UNC-CH.
"I could not be more excited to welcome Valerie Ashby to Duke. She is a gifted teacher, a distinguished researcher and a talented academic leader who understands the essential role of a liberal arts college within a research university,” Kornbluth said. “Her commitment to a broad and diverse education for our students, and to identifying and nurturing an excellent faculty, is evident to all who have followed her career. I look forward to her engagement across Duke."
Ashby’s research is in the area of synthetic polymer chemistry with a focus on designing and synthesizing materials for biomedical applications such as X-ray contrast agents and drug delivery materials. She has numerous publications and holds eight patents. In 2010, Ashby was named a National Science Foundation American Competitiveness and Innovation Fellow and an honorary member of the Tau Sigma Honor Society. She has received multiple other honors from her peers, including the distinguished Order of the Golden Fleece (2012) and the UNC General Alumni Association Faculty Service Award (2013).
Ashby was nominated by a Duke search committee that included faculty members, students, trustees and administrators and was chaired by Angela O’Rand, professor of sociology and former dean of social sciences. “The search committee was enthusiastic and unanimous in its support for Valerie Ashby,” O’Rand said. “We saw many extraordinary candidates, but Professor Ashby stood out as without peer and with the complement of scholarship, experience and vision that will serve Duke well at this time."
Known as an outstanding teacher, Ashby received the Carlyle Sitterson Freshman Teaching Award (2008), the UNC-CH Student Undergraduate Teaching Award (2009) and the Johnston Teaching Award (2013). She previously received several teaching awards at Iowa State.
Ashby also has a passion for increasing diversity in higher education and creating and expanding pathways for underrepresented minority students to access educational opportunities that allow them to reach their full potential. She is a national consultant and adviser to National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health diversity programs, and has mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate students in varying disciplines. Since 2014, she has served as faculty director for the Initiative for Minority Excellence at the UNC Chapel Hill Graduate School.
“I am honored to be selected to be the dean of the Trinity School of Arts & Sciences,” Ashby said. “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.”