WILMINGTON – Who loves organic chemistry?
Dr. Sridhar Varadarajan’s students at UNC Wilmington do.
“The students flock to his courses and love his lectures,” writes one colleague. “This is the more remarkable as organic chemistry is usually among the courses most dreaded by the students at the outset.”
It’s one reason Varadarajan, an Associate Professor of Chemistry, was recognized with the 2016 UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“Dr. Varadarajan has a gift for making complex teaching material understandable,” wrote one former student.
Varadarajan boils his approach down to one word: “Inspire! This single word has been my guiding principle for all that I do with students.”
“It is the goal that gets me excited at the beginning of each semester. It is the yardstick by which I evaluate my performance at the end of each semester: How many students did I inspire this semester? How many students did I convince to reach higher, and achieve more than they thought was possible?”
He inspires many. Every master’s graduate from his lab is either pursuing a PhD or working in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Most undergraduates who worked in the lab now work in the chemical industry or went on to medical, dental or pharmacy school. Two are teachers.
Surprisingly, teaching was not Varadarajan’s choice of career until his wife and post-doctoral advisors suggested he try it. After teaching one class at UNCW in 2003, “I knew that I had made the best decision of my career,” he said.
“My excitement and enthusiasm for my interactions with students has only grown over these years. I believe that I am making more of a difference now than I ever could have if I had followed my initial ambition to work in the pharmaceutical industry.”1
Not that he’s far from it. Varadarajan’s research focuses on creating compounds that bind to the DNA of specific cells to keep cancer cells from replicating, or to prevent diabetes by protecting insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.2
“The overall focus of the lab is the creation of molecules that will target and bind to the DNA of specific cancer cells,” wrote graduate student Kristen McReynolds. “It is believed that these molecules will form irreparable bonds with the cancer cell’s DNA. This will ultimately lead to the destruction of the cancer cells without having toxic effects on the healthy cells of the body.”3
The teaching award seems fitting to Varadarajan’s colleagues.
“I am thrilled, but not surprised, by this award for Dr. Varadarajan,” said Aswani Volety, dean of the UNCW College of Arts and Sciences.
“His passion for combining teaching and scholarship provides students with a tremendous experiential learning opportunity, a hallmark of the UNCW educational experience.”4