National Institute on Aging

Five Black Scholars Honored With Endowed Professorships at Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University in Nashville held a ceremony honoring the 41 faculty members who have recently been appointed to endowed chairs. Several of these appointments went to Black scholars, including three who teach chemistry.

Rena Robinson, a professor of chemistry, is the inaugural Dorothy J. Wingfield Phillips Chair. The chair is named for Dorothy Phillips, the first black woman to complete a bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt. Dr. Robinson’s research focuses on using technology to understand the molecular basis of health disparities in Alzheimer’s disease and sepsis. A graduate of the University of Louisville, Dr. Robinson earned a Ph.D. at Indiana University.

Steven Townsend, a professor of chemistry, holds the Stevenson Chair. His lab focuses on small molecule research involving the synthesis of natural products which may prove clinically useful in the treatment of human diseases ranging from cancer to neurodegenerative disorders. He earned his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University.

Sean Seymore holds the Centennial Professorship in Law and is a professor of law and a professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt. He taught at Notre Dame Law School in 2021-22 as the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law. Professor Seymore had previously served on Vanderbilt Law faculty from 2010 to 2021. Before joining Vanderbilt, Seymore taught at Washington & Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia. Professor Seymore earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Tennessee. He holds a master’s degree in chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in chemistry as well as a juris doctorate from the University of Notre Dame.

Lisa Lynette Thompson now holds the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of Black Homiletics and Liturgics. She was an assistant professor of Homiletics at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She is the author of Ingenuity: Preaching as the Outsider (Abingdon, 2018). Dr. Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She holds a master of divinity degree from the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a master’s degree in religion and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.

Emily Townes holds the  E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair. She was most recently the dean of the Divinity School at the university. Before coming to Vanderbilt in 2013, Dr. Townes was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School. She is the author of Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Dr. Townes holds a bachelor’s degree, a master degree in divinity, and a doctorate of divinity from the University of Chicago. She holds a second doctorate from the joint Northwestern University/Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary program.

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