Biology professor receives Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences’ top honor

Dr. Baohong Zhang, professor of biology, is the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences 20th Distinguished Professor.

Dr. Baohong Zhang, professor of biology, is the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences 20th Distinguished Professor.
(Photo by Doug Boyd)

Dr. Baohong Zhang, East Carolina University professor of biology, was named Distinguished Professor at the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences 55th annual convocation on Aug. 17. Zhang is the 20th member of the faculty to be honored with the title.

“This is a wonderful surprise to me,” said Zhang. “There are so many great colleagues and professors in THCAS, and I feel lucky, grateful and humbled to be the recipient of this prestigious award. This award will encourage me to achieve more in the future – towards excellence in research, student success and contribution to ECU’s mission and internationalization.”

The THCAS Distinguished Professorship is the highest honor within the college and is conferred upon a professor whose career exemplifies a commitment to and a love for knowledge and academic life, as demonstrated by outstanding teaching and advising, research and creative productivity, and professional service.

“Baohong Zhang is a remarkable scholar and academician who has established a record that by itself would constitute an exemplary career. He has risen to these heights of achievement from modest rural beginnings, in a second language and as an immigrant – a truly inspiring Pirate story,” said Dr. Jeffrey McKinnon, former chair of the Department of Biology.

Zhang (right) gives a tour of the ECU biology greenhouse and discusses his research with a representative from a funding agent.

Zhang (right) gives a tour of the ECU biology greenhouse and discusses his research with a representative from a funding agent. (Contributed photo)

While at ECU, Zhang has displayed the qualities and characteristics required of a Distinguished Professor.

In his role as professor, Zhang has taught courses in plant biology, biotechnology and molecular biology. He has secured grants to support undergraduate and graduate students in study abroad courses in China. In addition to his courses taught, Zhang has served as a mentor to 14 post doctoral scholars and 17 doctoral and master’s degree students, as a member on 44 graduate student committees, and as a mentor to more than 32 undergraduate researchers and 241 undergraduate advisees.

Zhang’s research interests include microRNA, gene regulation, molecular genetics and toxicology, genome editing and biotechnology. He has been recognized locally and nationally for his research and creative activity in the areas of computational and molecular biology, particularly in the role of miRNA – a small non-coding RNA molecule that regulates the activity of genes by silencing RNA after it is transcribed from DNA – during cotton fiber development and in plant responses to environmental stress. In addition, he has conducted studies on the role of miRNA in cancer, and he has conducted research in the area of head trauma.

Dr. Baohong Zhang and Dr. Xiaoping Pan (right) are pictured here with ECU students at Anyang Institute of Technology during their 2018 study abroad research trip to China.

Zhang and Dr. Xiaoping Pan (right) are pictured here with ECU students at Anyang Institute of Technology during their 2018 study abroad research trip to China. (Contributed photo)

Over the course of his career, Zhang has authored more than 200 journal articles, nine books and 14 book chapters in his areas of research. He has presented at more than 50 conferences, and he has secured more than $2.4 million in research funding as the principal investigator or co-PI on 35 projects.

Since joining ECU in 2007, Zhang has chaired three biology departmental committees – greenhouse, seminar series and personnel committee – and served as a committee member on several faculty searches. In his other professional activities, he has served as an editor, associate editor, editorial board member or guest editor for nearly two dozen journals, and he has served as an ad-hoc reviewer for more than 90 journals and 35 funding agencies.

He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Sigma Xi, scientific research society; Association of Southeastern Biologists; the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry; American Chemical Society; and the American Society of Plant Biologists.

Zhang at work in his research lab.

Zhang at work in his research lab. (Contributed photo)

In addition to the THCAS Distinguished Professorship, Zhang has received many awards, including, in 2013, ECU’s Five Year Research Achievement Award, and in 2017, the inaugural ECU Achievement in International Research and Creative Activity Award. In 2018, he received the Cotton Researcher of the Year award given by the International Cotton Advisory Committee. The annual award is presented to only one person worldwide who has raised the international importance of research in the cotton industry.

“I can think of no one better qualified for the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professorship,” wrote one of Zhang’s colleagues in a letter of nomination.

Another colleague concluded, “I have known virtually all previous THCAS Distinguished Professors. We should be proud to consider professor Baohong Zhang as one of their peers.”

 

-by Lacey L. Gray, University Communications