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UM BioMolecular Sciences Chair Wins SEC Faculty Award

By Erin Garrett

University of Mississippi

Kristie Willett (left), professor of pharmacology and environmental toxicology at the University of Mississippi, conducts research into the effects of environmental pollutants and cannabinoids in her campus lab. The Southeastern Conference has recognized the chair of the Department of BioMolecular Sciences as the university’s winner of a 2023 SEC Faculty Achievement Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

As the 2023 SEC Faculty Achievement Award winner for the University of Mississippi, Kristie Willett is most excited about what the honor represents.

“Maybe I’m inspiring other women,” said Willett, chair of the university’s Department of BioMolecular Sciences. “In the past, there haven’t been as many female winners from UM, so I hope that other women who see me will be encouraged to apply in the future. 

“This year’s list of winners from other SEC institutions is very diverse and inspiring; I’m humbled to be a part of this cohort.”

The Southeastern Conference uses the Faculty Achievement Awards to honor one faculty member from each of its 14 institutions for their success in teaching, research and service.

Donna West-Strum, dean of the School of Pharmacy, said she is thrilled that Willett has been recognized as “one of the best in the SEC.”

“She is the model faculty member for outstanding research, teaching, community engagement and service, and her research has real, significant impact from oyster restoration to understanding cannabinoid developmental toxicology to improving drinking water safety,” West-Strum said. 

“We are grateful that she is part of our school’s community of scholars and consistently inspires and mentors the next generation of scientists.”

Willett, who received her doctoral degree in toxicology at Texas A&M University, is a professor of pharmacology and environmental toxicology at the Ole Miss pharmacy school. Since joining the faculty 23 years ago, she has conducted groundbreaking research in the areas of environmental pollutants and cannabinoids. 

Specifically, her lab uses zebrafish to study the developmental, reproductive and multigenerational effects of exposure to pollutants and cannabinoids. 

Willett has investigated the environmental consequences of disasters, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. She also works with a multidisciplinary team of researchers who are dedicated to solving problems surrounding lead-contaminated drinking water.

The university acknowledged this work last spring by presenting Willett with the 2022 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award, the institution’s top research award.

Willett uses her research expertise to inspire the next generation of scientists. She has mentored more than 20 graduate students and some 60 high school and undergraduate students in her laboratory. She also teaches courses in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. 

Over the years, her teaching efforts have been honored by the university and national organizations alike.

To receive an SEC achievement award, a faculty member must have achieved the rank of full professor; have a record of extraordinary teaching, particularly at the undergraduate level; and have a record of research that is recognized nationally or internationally. University winners receive a $5,000 honorarium, and one of the recipients is chosen as the SEC Professor of the Year.

“I try to balance it all – teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, having a continuous NIH-supported research program and administration,” Willett said.


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