Robinson Named the New Associate Dean for Graduate Education | Newsroom – UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine

Effective August 1, Dr. Donita Robinson will succeed Dr. Jean Cook as the School of Medicine Associate Dean for Graduate Education.


Since September 2013, Jean Cook, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, has served as the Associate Dean for Graduate Education, a position charged with the leadership and oversight of School of Medicine’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) and a number of additional programs that support student professional development and diversity and inclusion efforts. Starting on August 1, Donita Robinson, PhD, Professor in Psychiatry and Education & Outreach Director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, will follow Cook’s footsteps in this role.

“We are so grateful to Jean for advancing graduate education in the School of Medicine. In her role as Associate Dean, she oversaw multiple facets of graduate education in the SOM including our highly successful BBSP umbrella program that has recruited so many talented graduate students to UNC,” says Blossom Damania, School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research.

Cook has worked tirelessly to increase the quality of graduate education in the School of Medicine. She has helped create an outstanding environment and has advanced the national reputation of the BBSP program. Cook has also been a champion for diversity in graduate education, and currently serves as PI of a training grant aimed at supporting trainees from historically underrepresented backgrounds, the “UNC Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD)”. She has also facilitated a successful “Bridges to Doctorate Program” between UNC and North Carolina A&T State University, and led a taskforce for integrating social justice into the PhD curriculum. In addition to bolstering diversity amongst School of Medicine trainees, Cook recognized the need for wellbeing resources for our students, and introduced wellness counselors for graduate students – a unique approach that was highlighted by Science Careers.

Cook also focused on enhancing the mentorship qualities of faculty and staff and instated Faculty Mentoring Workshops for the School of Medicine. Finally, Cook has also greatly supported and grown the Office of Graduate education. Aside from the Office being home to five competitive grants awards during her tenure (BEST, PREP, IMSD, SURE, and SCISIPBIO), many team members of the office have produced independent publications relevant to PhD training. She will continue to assist OGE in a supporting role and as PI of the IMSD grant.

Jean Cook remarks, “I am so very proud to have worked with many dedicated and creative faculty, program directors, students, and SoM leaders to develop the OGE. There is a real sense of shared investment in our missions to foster future scientific leaders and promote an inclusive research community. Dr. Robinson has been truly integral to OGE’s success for more than 10 years, and we all look forward to seeing what she brings next to this role.”

Succeeding Cook is Robinson, who also has a stellar track record of enhancing graduate education in the School of Medicine. Robinson joined UNC in 2000 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry, and was next promoted through the faculty ranks in the Department of Psychiatry. Not only does Robinson have extensive experience training students ranging from undergraduate students and PREP scholars to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, she has served on many dissertation committees and serves as a T32 mentor.

Robinson has been heavily involved in UNC PREP for almost 10 years where she leads a lecture series on critical analysis, and became co-PI with Cook in 2016. Robinson has also been a leader in the BBSP program since 2010, as she has served as a faculty co-mentor, a first year group leader, and recently as the Faculty Director of BBSP. Like Cook, Robinson has made it a priority to cultivate the scholarship in scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. She is currently co-PI of UNC PREP, a member of the STEM Pride of the Triangle, and works to expand outreach of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies to Spanish-speaking families.

Robinson is also a well-established scholar in her field, and studies neural activity changes in corticostriatal circuits in response to addictive substances. She has published more than 50 book chapters and peer-reviewed articles, is a standing member of the NIH NAL study section, and has was awarded the UNC Neuroscience Curriculum student selected Mentor of the Year Award in 2015.

“Robinson’s outstanding track record and continuous commitment to School of Medicine trainees make her extremely well-suited for her transitioning from the role of Assistant Dean to Associate Dean of OGE,” said Damania.