The annual Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement have been awarded to four associate professors who exemplify groundbreaking and innovative research along with future career promise.
The late Phillip Hettleman, a member of the UNC class of 1921, and his wife, Ruth, established the prestigious award in 1986 in order to recognize the achievements of outstanding junior faculty. The recipients will be recognized at the September 13 Faculty Council Meeting, and later this semester, each one will deliver a presentation on their research.
This year’s Hettleman Prize awardees are: Uffe Bergeton, associate professor in the Asian studies department within the College of Arts & Sciences; Kavita Singh Ongechi, associate professor in the maternal and child health department within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health; and from the School of Medicine, Li Qian, associate professor in the pathology and laboratory medicine department, and Greg Wang, associate professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department.
Bergeton merges traditional scholarly methods with digital resources and big data-mining techniques to conduct research on early China and other traditions. Spanning multiple fields, Bergeton’s research has garnered him a strong international reputation, emphasized by the popularity of his first book, “The Emergence of Civilizational Consciousness in Early China: History Word by Word” published in 2018. He adopts interdisciplinary theories to track lexical changes in word meanings, which illuminates the ancient culture he examines by establishing a fresh hermeneutical dialogue between Old Chinese sources and key concepts of Anglophone modernity.
Nadia Yaqub, professor and chair of the Asian studies department, describes Bergeton’s approach as fundamentally challenging assumptions about Chinese history and its cultural foundations.
“Uffe Bergeton has the breadth and depth of knowledge to shape a truly original research agenda that is redefining the field of early China studies,” said Yaqub.
Bergeton earned his doctorate from the University of Michigan in Asian languages and culture. Additionally, he holds a doctorate and master’s in linguistics and a master’s in East Asian languages and cultures from the University of Southern California.
Since joining UNC in 2012, he has been awarded fellowships and funding from UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities and the Carolina Asia Center, as well as a UNC Faculty Development Award.
Kavita Singh Ongechi
A globally recognized leader in the field of maternal and child health, Singh Ongechi seeks to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations of women and children. Much of her work is focused on reaching these populations with interventions and evaluating national efforts to improve maternal and child health. Singh Ongechi has several publications on the influence of gender equality and women’s autonomy on health outcomes. She has also explored the role of poverty reduction on child health outcomes and the efforts required to reach stigmatized groups needing HIV interventions. Her evaluations take a mixed methods approach and are designed to inform programs and policies in an ongoing manner.
“Her research reflects highly engaged and targeted scholarship that is helping to save the lives of mothers and children globally,” said Carolyn Halpern, professor and chair of the maternal and child health department.
Singh Ognechi received her doctorate in population dynamics from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health. She also holds a master’s in medicine and health sciences from George Washington University and a bachelor’s in biology from Cornell University.
Singh Ongechi has previously been named a Carolina Population Center Faculty Fellow, a Carolina Women’s Center Faculty Scholar, a Carolina Population Center Summer in Residence Scholar, and a Delta Omega Public Health Honor Society member. She is also the recipient of a Humphrey Fellows Teaching Excellence Award.
With high potential for translational and clinical impacts, Qian is conducting groundbreaking research with implications for basic mechanisms of cellular differentiation. Her innovative work on regenerating or repairing an injured heart includes using stem cell approaches to restore cardiac function following heart attacks. By seeking to understand the molecular basis of cardiac muscle cell function, Qian and her team strive to improve efficiency and clinical applicability of cellular reprogramming in heart disease. In addition to her associate professor with tenure appointment, she also serves as the associate director at the UNC McAllister Heart Institute (MHI).
Her work has created a paradigm shift that changes how we think about cell differentiation and suggests new therapeutic approaches, according to Victoria L. Bautch and George A. Stouffer, codirectors of the MHI.
Qian holds a doctorate in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Fudan University.
A few of her recent awards include the 2019 Triangle Business Journal’s Rising Star Health Hero Award, the American Heart Association Katz Prize for Basic Research, Boyalife Prize in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine from AAAS, and the McAllister Young Investigator Award from the Medical Foundation of North Carolina. In addition, she was awarded UNC’s Outstanding Mentor Award in 2017, becoming the youngest recipient to ever receive it.
Wang has developed a highly successful research program focused on the epigenetic changes that occur in cancer, along with development of potential new therapeutics to treat this terrible disease. Using cutting-edge technologies including biochemistry-based discovery tools, CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genomic editing, and next-generation sequencing-based genomics profiling, he leads a research team to dissect and understand the mechanisms and pathways by which a particular gene alteration leads to development of cancer including aggressive acute myeloid leukemia and prostate cancer. His scholarly work covers a broad range from fundamentals of epigenetic and genetic regulation to translational works in drug discovery and therapeutics. Wang is also a UNC Lineberger Cancer Center member, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar, and a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar.
“There is no doubt that his productivity will continue to grow in the future, and that he will become one of the top researchers in cancer and epigenetic research not only at UNC-Chapel Hill but also in the country, “ said Leslie V. Parise, professor and chair of the biochemistry and biophysics department.
Wang holds a doctorate in biomedical sciences from the University of California at San Diego and carried a subsequent postdoctoral training at The Rockefeller University. He also holds a master’s in cancer biology and a bachelor’s in biochemistry from Fudan University.
Wang’s research is supported by an impressive series of awards from various cancer research foundations including the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, the American Society of Hematology, Concern Foundation for Cancer Research, Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research, Gilead Sciences Research Scholars Program, When Everyone Survives (WES) Leukemia Research Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Defense. In the past year, he was awarded three R01 grants from NIH.