Graduate School News

Pfennig Is New Royster Society Director, Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education

August 30, 2012

David W. Pfennig, Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education

David W. Pfennig, a faculty member in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Biology since 1996, has been appointed the Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education.

The appointment is for a three-year term. In his new role, Pfennig directs the Royster Society of Fellows, the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School's most selective fellowship program.

Julia Wood, Lineberger Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education Emerita, served as the inaugural Royster Distinguished Professor from fall 2009 until June 2012.

Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Royster's generous gifts established The Graduate School's interdisciplinary fellowship program in 1995. Since 1996, more than 400 graduate students from throughout the world have pursued their doctoral education at Carolina as members of the Royster Society. In 2009, the University established the Royster Distinguished Professorship, made possible by a lead gift from the Roysters and matching funds from the state's faculty endowment trust.

“The Royster Society of Fellows has attracted the best and brightest graduate students to Carolina for over 15 years,” said Graduate School Dean Steve Matson. “This interdisciplinary fellowship program provides both intellectual and financial support for our leaders of the future through a rich array of offerings that augment the high quality training received by all graduate students. Our new Royster professor, Dr. David Pfennig, was selected in a University-wide competition, and he brings a breadth of vision regarding the importance of graduate education and its role in the University community and beyond.”

Pfennig is an accomplished scientist with extensive experience within graduate student training and mentoring. His research focuses on the interplay among evolution, ecology and development. He is especially interested in the evolutionary and ecological consequences of a common feature of development: its tendency to be responsive to changes in an individual's environment. Pfennig is the author or co-author of more than 75 peer-reviewed articles in leading journals including Nature and Science. He also co-authored (with Karin Pfennig, associate professor of Biology) “Evolution's Wedge: Competition and the Origins of Diversity” (University of California Press), scheduled for publication in October of 2012. He has received numerous awards, including the Pitelka Award for Excellence in Research from the International Society for Behavioral Ecology (1996).

Pfennig has given more than 100 scientific presentations at local, state, national and international conferences and also at area public school events. He has served as a principal investigator on numerous National Science Foundation-funded research grants.

For his exemplary accomplishments as a UNC-Chapel Hill faculty member, Pfennig has received the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement (2000).

He previously served as the Zachary Taylor Smith Distinguished Term Professor for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.

“Dr. Pfennig is bringing fresh new ideas to his role as faculty mentor and leader of the Royster Society of Fellows,” said Sandra Hoeflich, associate dean for interdisciplinary education and fellowships within The Graduate School. “We are confident he will build on the already strong foundation established by Julia Wood and previous faculty who have been involved in the program through the years.”

Hoeflich commended Wood for her leadership in establishing a mentoring program where Royster Fellows share information on graduate education with the University's Carolina Covenant Scholars. Hoeflich said Pfennig would continue to help build this partnership, as well as other programs, including Royster Fellows' interdisciplinary course development and team-teaching of undergraduate first-year seminars.

“We also look forward to the ways Dr. Pfennig will inform the Royster Society interdisciplinary research seminars, and focused professional and career development initiatives,” she added. “We are especially looking forward to his ideas concerning new initiatives that will benefit the entire University graduate education community.”

Pfennig was a co-director of graduate studies within the Department of Biology from 2003 through 2012; he has mentored graduate students and regularly collaborates with them on research publications.

“I very much enjoy working with graduate students,” said Pfennig, “and the opportunity to have a hand in the intellectual and professional development of the Royster Fellows is an exciting challenge for me. I look forward to contributing to a Society that makes Carolina one of the finest graduate programs in the nation.”