Brent Iverson aims to inspire, connect students as a professor, UGS Dean finalist


Jonathan Garza

Brent Iverson, chemistry professor and former chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, currently serves as the Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. 

Christine Ayala

Shooting underwater photography, running marathons and binding molecules to DNA are just a few of Brent Iverson’s interests.

Iverson is chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry and a chemistry professor. He is also one of five finalists for the deanship of the School of Undergraduate Studies, and the only one from UT.

Iverson, who has been chairman for two years, said he continues to teach chemistry because of his passion for the science and the excitement of seeing students connect scientific fundamentals to the world around them.

“We’re in the process of updating our undergraduate curriculum and I think we’re creating the kind of learning environment that going to be just want the students need especially at the undergraduate level,” Iverson said. “The demands on students after they leave are changing and the though process of what students want are changing.”

Iverson said although he is involved in administration, teaching and research, all three areas have a common goal of inspiring and connecting students to world-class researchers.

“They don’t work for me, I work for them,” Iverson said. “We have top-tier researchers in this department. Really, they are the best of the best, and those are the people students are getting to connect with.”

In December, President Barack Obama awarded chemistry professor Allen Bard the National Medal of Science. In January, chemistry professor Grant Wilson won the Japan Prize, which is a prestigious international chemistry award.

Amy Rhoden Smith, a graduate research assistant, worked with Iverson to develop a molecule that binds to DNA.

“He is so able to encapsulate a good idea and communicate something very complex in a way people can understand, even if you’re not a scientist,” Rhoden Smith said.

Iverson said although the bond does not have a current practical use, it could potentially be a step toward developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

“That is just really cool,” Iverson said. “It not as though tomorrow we’re going do something with it, but it’s a big step forward.”

Biology senior Patrick Hunt, who has Iverson as a faculty mentor and as a professor in a seminar class, said Iverson is an inspiring role model who is constantly encouraging students.

“He’s very good at giving positive advice,” Hunt said. “He’s full of experience. He just knows a lot about a lot. We try to talk about academics but its hard not to mention hobbies, and he has a lot.”

Chemistry professor Eric Anslyn has known Iverson since they were both in graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, and they have even published an organic chemistry textbook together. Anslyn said Iverson is leading the department to better students’ chemistry education.

“He has empathy and understanding for the students and dedication to the educational process, making sure students achieve their very best,” Anslyn said. “He sees how decisions have short run and long reaching implications and is able to bring together coalitions of people who will make wise decision about the direction of the department.”

As one of five candidates for the undergraduate studies deanship, he will give a presentation to students and faculty April 5. Currently, Lawrence Abraham is serving as interim dean.

“Higher education changes and it’s going to continue to change,” Iverson said. “I fundamentally believe that UGS is going to be the beacon of change on this campus. It’s going to enhance what goes on around it. So I hope the right person gets it, even if that is not me.”

The candidates include Bernard Mair, the provost of undergraduate affairs and mathematics professor at the University of Florida, who visited campus Thursday; Selmer Bringsjord, chairman of the department of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who will visit Tuesday; Paul Diehl, a political science and law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who will visit Thursday and Friday; and Steven Brint, the vice provost for undergraduate education and a sociology professor at the University of California at Riverside, who will visit April 1 and 2.