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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.

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Published October 4, 2012.