Smith named inaugural Dickson Foundation - Harris Teeter Distinguished Professor in nutrition

September 29, 2021

Dr. Susan M. Smith

Dr. Susan M. Smith

Susan M. Smith, PhD, has been named the inaugural holder of The Dickson Foundation – Harris Teeter Distinguished Professorship in nutrition.

Smith, who joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty in 2016, is a professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and serves as deputy director for science at UNC’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI).

The newly endowed professorship is named in honor of the Dickson family and their business, Harris Teeter Supermarkets. Alan Dickson, a founding member of the NRI’s advisory board, made the gift in 2010 to establish an endowment to attract or retain a distinguished teacher and scholar. Mr. Dickson passed away in 2012, and his gift was completed with a matching grant from the State of North Carolina’s Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund.

Dr. Steven Zeisel

Dr. Steven Zeisel

“We are grateful for the support of the Dickson family and Harris Teeter,” said former NRI Director Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the Gillings School. “The significance of an endowment that supports a professorship can’t be understated. Universities vie for the very best scholars to enrich their institutions’ offerings to students. Having a distinguished professorship to bestow helps us to ensure that an eminent scientist will remain at the NRI for years to come and strengthen the institution. Thanks to the Dickson family’s generosity, we are able to award this endowed professorship to Dr. Susan Smith.”

Smith researches the molecular mechanisms by which dietary nutrients affect prenatal development. Her work focuses on alcohol and how it alters nutrient use to damage the fetus, causing fetal alcohol syndrome. Her work has shown that alcohol changes how the mother/birthing parent and fetus use essential nutrients, and she has identified genetic factors that decrease alcohol’s fetal toxicity. Smith’ work is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she was a MERIT recipient and served on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s advisory council. She is past chair of the NIH Neurotoxicology and Alcohol study section and past president of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Study Group.

Smith received her doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a postdoctoral fellow in developmental biology at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Stephen Hursting

Dr. Stephen Hursting

“Endowed professorships are critical to the Nutrition Research Institute’s future — they enable us to continue to recruit outstanding new faculty and confer added distinction and support upon exceptional current faculty,” said Stephen D. Hursting, PhD, NRI director and professor of nutrition at the Gillings School. “I am delighted that we are able to recognize Dr. Smith and her contributions to the field of nutrition research through the Dickson Foundation – Harris Teeter Distinguished Professorship.”

The mission of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) is to advance the field of precision nutrition by investigating how genetics, gut microbiota and environment affect an individual’s requirements for and responses to nutrients. Every person is metabolically unique. The NRI is dedicated to finding out how these differences affect an individual’s health so that current one-size-fits-all dietary guidelines can be replaced with customized nutritional recommendations and actions to improve a person’s health and quality of life.


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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