Duke University’s newest dean says every value she has, she learned in Clayton.
Valerie Ashby, who will become dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences on July 1, grew up in Clayton.
It’s where she became a serious 4-H’er as a child, she said. It’s where she took part in student councils and played in the band at Clayton High.
“Everything I know that matters, I learned it from people in my community and in Clayton,” she said.
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A 1984 graduate of Clayton High, Ashby went on to study chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill. She got her Ph.D. in the same subject and did post-doctoral research in Germany for about a year.
In 1996, she took a job teaching chemistry at Iowa State University. She joined the faculty at UNC in 2003.
Ashby was as a professor and chair of the chemistry department at UNC before a Duke search committee picked her for the dean’s position.
In a statement, Duke University President Richard Brodhead said he was delighted to welcome Ashby to campus.
“Warm, thoughtful and a creative problem solver, she has high respect for inquiry and teaching across the span of the arts and sciences, and she will represent Duke’s academic vision to students, faculty and outside audiences in a compelling fashion,” Brodhead said.
When she was growing up, Ashby’s family lived in Clayton’s Rollingwood subdivision.
Her father, James Sheares, was a minister and a math and science teacher. Her mother, Shirley Sheares, taught English at Smithfield-Selma High, before getting her master’s degree and running the continuing education program at Johnston Community College.
As she progressed through school, Ashby said, she shared classes with many of the same students each year. That created a graduating class at Clayton High that was very close, she said. Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod was in that class, Ashby said, adding that she’s kept up with the mayor and other graduates through reunions.
Ashby said her bond with the class of 1984 was so strong that she insisted on staying at the school after her family moved to Raleigh. Her father had taken a job as pastor of a Raleigh church, and while the family moved to the parsonage, Ashby continued attending Clayton High.
In addition to playing in the band and cheerleading through her sophomore year, Ashby was a member of what is now known as the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. She eventually served as the state treasurer of the group and took part in several public speaking contests.
“Those are things that sound old fashion, but I don’t know what I would do without them,” Ashby said.
As for her new role at Duke, Ashby said she’s looking forward to helping make the undergraduate experience “more special than it already is” and working with faculty to expand their scholarship.
“I love students and higher education in a way I can’t explain,” Ashby said.
“It’s really focused on the people and helping great people do even better things.”
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