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King University News :: Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis Awarded Dr. Edward W. Burke, Jr. Professorship

BRISTOL, Tenn., April 15, 2014 – During King University’s annual Dogwood Weekend, Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis was named the first recipient of the Dr. Edward W. Burke, Jr. Professorship in the Natural Sciences.

The Dr. Edward W. Burke, Jr. Professorship in the Natural Sciences was developed in memoriam of Dr. Burke’s years of dedicated service to the sciences and to King. One of King’s most beloved professors, Dr. Burke spent more than 40 years mentoring students at King and developed programming for the University that will have positive impacts far into the future.

“His legacy included building strong science at King and a reputation to go along with it,” said Dr. Ray Bloomer, emeritus professor of Physics and Astronomy for King University. “[Dr. Burke] recruited the best talent to teach and gave them the tools and direction to do so. His tenacity in building science programs is legend.”

“This was truly a special occasion at King University,” said John King, vice president for Development and Enrollment Management. “Saturday marked the completion of the initial funding of the Dr. Edward W. Burke, Jr. Professorship in the Natural Sciences along with the announcement of the first professor who will hold that title. We were pleased to name Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis as the first recipient of the Dr. Edward W. Burke, Jr. Professorship in the Natural Sciences.”

Fitsanakis graduated from Milligan College in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and minor in Mathematics. She earned her Master’s in Science and Technology in 1997 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She then earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University in 2003. Her post-doctoral fellowship was served at Wake Forest University Medical School.

Fitsanakis joined King in 2006 and has served the Biology Department its chair as well as acting as faculty advisor to the Pre-Med Club and the King Club for Neuroscience. In 2007, she was awarded a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Fellowship worth $300,000, which has strengthened her research program on the toxicity of certain common chemicals to assess their possible damage to animal nervous systems.

She has published two dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also has engaged dozens of King undergraduate students in her research, so they could learn the excitement and sometimes meticulous nature of doing research. Several of her students have worked for the Biology Department upon graduation prior to entering graduate and professional schools. 

“Fitsanakis’ academic credentials, extensive research accomplishments including publishing with her students, and support for her students before and after their graduation is an extraordinary record and one worthy of holding the professorship established in tribute to the legacy of Dr. Ed Burke,” said Dr. Bloomer.


King University is a Presbyterian, doctoral-level comprehensive university. Founded in 1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, education, and humanities. Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, and nursing. A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and travel destinations are also available. King University is a NCAA Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports. For more information about King University, visit King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability. King University is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia. For more information, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.