PEMBROKE — The largest donation in the history of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke has come from one of the campus’ own.
Ben Bahr, UNCP’s William C. Friday chair and distinguished professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and his wife, Alyson, an accomplished artist, have donated $2.1 million to establish two endowed professorships at the university — one in dementia science, the other in art.
“Ben and Alyson Bahr are brilliant individuals who have made significant contributions to their fields of expertise. Their endowed professorships will have a lasting impact on UNC Pembroke students by supporting top faculty in dementia science and art. The Bahr’s landmark gift — the largest in UNCP history — significantly elevates the university’s culture of philanthropy,” Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings said.
The two endowed professorships will be instrumental in the university’s ability to recruit and retain high-quality faculty and shape the educational journey of students.
“The Professorship in Art and associated support for independent projects will ensure that all types of students will have the chance to explore their own creativity,” Alyson said. “Fear needs to be absent from art. There is a budding artist out there who was told to follow a different career from the one in his or her heart. There is the student who is drawn to art but not necessarily for a career, and the student that is still discovering the spark that lights the creative soul in them.”
Bahr has received many prestigious honors during his career, including a Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Neurochemistry and the 2013 Governor James E. Holshouser Award for Excellence in Public Service given by the UNC Board of Governors. As an educator, he has received the Outstanding Mentor Award from the Council for Undergraduate Research. He also received the 2017 UNC Pembroke Graduate Faculty Mentor Award. In May, Bahr was presented the O. Max Gardner Award, the highest honor for a UNC system faculty member. Bahr is the first UNCP faculty member to receive the O. Max Gardner Award.
Alyson has a wide array of talents in art and design, and she often sees art in things most people would walk by and not notice. Stemming from her work in costume design for a performing arts company, abstract paintings influenced by workshops in Taos, New Mexico, and pine-needle basket-making with local Pembroke artists, Alyson’s collection of paintings, sculptures, and distinctive clothing designs illustrates the vastness of art and creativity that can be imagined. Her works have recently been displayed in Raleigh, Wilmington, and at shows in Columbus County, including a current solo exhibit at the county’s Art Center.
Ben Bahr, an internationally-recognized Alzheimer’s disease researcher, has a knack for turning complex topics into easily understood ideas for students and the public. He has devoted his career to what he calls “the most beautifully designed, wonderfully complex machine known, and that is our brain.”
“My job, and the job of the future professor of dementia, is to show students what they can be creative about, especially these important medical issues that need their unique creativity,” Bahr said. “Many of them will provide the world with a diversification in approaches using an ever-growing range of skills, tools, and styles in terms of science and leadership.”
Mark Locklear is a public relations specialist at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.