Charles McKenna

Charles McKenna is Professor of Chemistry in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and holds a joint appointment as Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy at USC. Additionally, he is Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Drug Discovery (iPIDD), which he founded.

After receiving a BA degree in French Literature (Departmental Honors) from Oakland University and a PhD in Chemistry from the University of California, San Diego, he was a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University and a National Academy of Sciences Exchange Scholar in Moscow. He has more than 100 publications and patents, and 200 invited or contributed scholarly presentations, in the fields of bio-organic and medicinal chemistry (anti-AIDS and other anti-viral drugs), as well as in the biochemistry of nitrogen fixation. He has directed the research of more than 45 Masters, PhD and postdoctoral students, sponsored by the NIH, NSF, and other agencies. He has served on numerous International Scientific Boards and NIH Scientific Review Groups, as well as the ACS-Frasch Foundation Awards Committee. In 2005 he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for "important studies in bioorganic chemistry, particularly creation of innovative chemical probes of nitrogenase, highly useful and biologically important fluorinated phosphate analogs, and novel anti-viral prodrugs."

McKenna has taught more than 10 different undergraduate and graduate courses in the Chemistry Department, as well as two advanced graduate courses in the School of Pharmacy, exploiting distance learning technology to bridge the geographical separation between the UPC and HSC campuses of USC. He has worked on many committees charged to improve instructional quality and curricula at USC, most recently the Provost’s Distance Learning Committee. He has served on the Chemistry Graduate Student Committee, the University Graduate Studies Advisory Council and School of Pharmacy BeST Committee, participated in USCience, and contributed to REU and minority undergraduate research support programs.

He received a Provost's commendation for "extraordinary performance" in the GE Program, as well as the GE Teaching Award of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the 2005 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award and the Distinguished Chemistry Alumni Award from Oakland University.

Of all his achievements in teaching at USC, perhaps the most significant has been his creation of an extraordinarily innovative and successful GE course in chemistry designed for non-science majors, Chem. 203Lg "Chemistry in Life: AIDS Drug Discovery and Development". The course, which rapidly grew from under 20 to over 240 students, presents scientific principles underlying molecular approaches to diagnosis and treatment of diseases using specific models (e.g. AIDS) within a societal context, and attracts an extraordinary diversity of students.

He states, "My interest in becoming a CET Fellow stems from a triad of factors:

  1. my personal dedication to teaching, as essentially intertwined with my primary focus, which is conducting research
  2. my unusual academic background (for a chemist: French major, minor in Russian)
  3. my strong interest in enhancing the teaching experience for students by utilizing emerging technologies based on the World Wide Web and exploiting advances in computer-based pedagogy

I recognize that many students are 'chemophobic' and profess inability to see any connection between the allegedly dry, abstract scientific disciplines and 'real life'. My goal has been to persuade them that science generally, and chemistry in particular, is electrifyingly interesting and highly relevant to their lives. I also want to contribute in mentoring junior faculty. I am looking forward to joining my distinguished CET colleagues in promoting teaching excellence at USC."

Prof. McKenna in the News