WNR Professors honored

The newest William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professors were welcomed at a special reception Sept. 8 at the NC State University Club. The event celebrating the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ most distinguished professorship was hosted by CALS Dean Richard Linton. Seven CALS faculty members joined the ranks of colleagues who have earned the named professorship, established 65 years ago by William Neal Reynolds, the longtime president and board chair of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Since that time, 92 outstanding CALS faculty members have been named WNR professors, and 22 of them were in attendance at the reception to honor the new group, as well as celebrate the program.

The new class of WNR Professors includes Dr. Dennis T. Brown, Molecular and Structural Biochemistry; Dr. W. Gregory Cope, Applied Ecology; Dr. William L. Flowers, Animal Science; Dr. William F. Hunt III, Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Dr. David L. Jordan, Crop Science; Dr. Ken H. Pollock, Applied Ecology; and Dr. G. Craig Yencho, Horticultural Science.

“The William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professorship program was created to enhance recognition of the college’s leadership in the advances of agricultural sciences and technology,” Linton said. “For 65 years, this has been a wonderful legacy, as William Neal Reynolds professors have distinguished themselves as scholars, leaders, teachers and mentors.”

Those eligible for the professorship include CALS professors in the fields of agricultural biochemistry, agricultural economics, animal industry, entomology, horticulture, plant pathology, poultry or rural sociology. (Reynolds himself suggested that the original 10 professors be distributed across various disciplines of agriculture.)

Linton noted that the WNR endowment which supports the program enables the college to retain and attract prominent scientists. It is “designed to strengthen teaching, research and extension programs in various fields of agriculture to improve the quality of life in rural North Carolina,” he said.

Brown is well known nationally and internationally for his contributions to the study of virus structure and infection cycles. His pioneering research into the molecular biology of arthropod-borne viruses played a prominent role in determining the processes leading to the assembly of these and other viruses. Together with his wife, Dr. Raquel Hernandez, he has developed a new platform for the production of vaccines for arthropod-borne virus diseases, which cause significant human suffering around the globe. These studies have led to three current international patents and the founding of a company that has been approved for human trials of vaccines for dengue and chikungunya fevers.

Cope is a professor of applied ecology whose work as a researcher, teacher and Extension specialist has led to major advances in the science, conservation and management of endangered freshwater fauna, strengthened national environmental policy and helped protect the health and safety of farmworkers across the state and nation. He directs the foremost university laboratory advancing scientific knowledge about the effects of human-mediated stressors, such as pollution, on imperiled mussels and fish. His seminal research has led to important mitigation strategies protecting not just these species but drinking water used by millions of people.

Flowers, one of the great scholars and educators in animal agriculture, has touched and transformed the lives of thousands of students, farmers and scientists throughout his career. He also has made a significant impact through applied research, with his program being recognized as the most influential in helping the North American swine industry adopt artificial insemination and other related technologies over the past 25 years. Moreover, from his research have come most of the semen-quality and boar management standards in use today.

Hunt, a widely recognized expert in urban stormwater BMPs, teaches what is considered to be the top stormwater practice maintenance class in the world, and his educational programs are among the most productive and highly sought of any at NC State, resulting in thousands of clientele contact hours annually. His work has gained national and international preeminence, as evidenced by the adoption (in 18 states and six countries) of stormwater management guidance developed by his group and wide usage of his workshops and professional trainings. Since 2000, he has assisted with the design, installation and monitoring of more than 120 stormwater BMPs.

Jordan is one of the most recognized and sought after peanut experts in the world. As professor and extension specialist, he provides leadership in North Carolina and beyond through his research on pest management and peanut production systems and through his efforts with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Guided by a passion to serve, Jordan is principal investigator on two projects funded by USAID in Africa: “Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development,” to improve academic programs at Cuttington University in sub-Saharan Africa; and, in Ghana, the Feed the Future Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab, designed to mitigate aflatoxin contamination of peanuts throughout the supply chain.

Pollock is an international expert on sampling animal populations, a world leader in quantitative ecology and among the top statistical ecologists in the field. During nearly four decades of work, he has developed novel statistical methods for solving problems in ecology, conservation and fisheries and wildlife management. He has been at the forefront of a revolution in statistical methods in animal ecology research and management of fish and wildlife resources. Pollock also has worked as an adviser for fisheries agencies around the world on new ways to survey recreational anglers and published a reference book on the subject. As a teacher, he is dedicated to the mentoring of ecology students in the scientific method and improving their quantitative skills.

Yencho, leader of the Sweetpotato and Potato Breeding and Genetics programs at NC State, is respected nationally and internationally for his work in sweetpotato and potato breeding and genetic mapping, cultivar development and creation of new products. More than 90 percent of the sweetpotatoes grown in North Carolina (and nearly 30 percent of those grown in the United States) are the variety “Covington,” developed by Yencho’s breeding program. From 2005 to 2014, Covington generated more than $1.3 billion in farm revenue for North Carolina. Yencho also has a long history of international activities that includes numerous projects in Africa and South America.

After presenting award certificates to each of the WNR professors in the 2015 cohort, Linton announced something new being added to the program.

“The college wants to do all that we can to accelerate the potential for this cohort to be interdisciplinary team leaders for our college,” Linton said. “Therefore, I am pleased to announce a new leadership initiative that we are designing to support the two most recent cohorts of William Neal Reynolds professors. These individuals will be invited to participate in a yearlong program of short workshops in partnership with the General H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center.”

Linton said that the program will enhance the group’s skills for addressing key leadership challenges for interdisciplinary work, strengthen the cohort and enhance the program’s legacy as the group “builds a pipeline for the future.”

The cohorts will be learning more over the next few weeks, he said, as this leadership initiative kicks off later this year.

When William Neal Reynolds established the endowment creating the distinguished professorships in 1950, it was one of the greatest gifts that had been made to a single CALS program. The gift, one of many made to NC State University by the Reynolds family in Winston-Salem, has benefitted not only the recipients but the many others who have gained from the research, teaching and extension efforts of those who bear the title of William Neal Reynolds Professor.

Said Linton, “We have confidence that all of our new WNR professors will continue this outstanding tradition of scholarship and service.” – Terri Leith


Representatives of earlier WNR Distinguished Professor cohorts gathered to congratulate the 2015 group and to celebrate the program.
Representatives of earlier WNR Distinguished Professor cohorts gathered to congratulate the 2015 group and to celebrate the program.