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In memoriam: Clinical Assistant Professor Barbara H. Munk

ASU's School of Molecular Sciences creates science fund, scholarship in Munk's honor


Barbara Munk in a lab working with equipment.

Barbara Munk performing a demonstration at ASU's School of Molecular Sciences Fall Welcome 2023. Courtesy photo

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March 20, 2024

The School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University announces that colleague Barbara H. Munk, clinical assistant professor, died unexpectedly on March 9.

Munk earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Arizona State University in 1979, and enjoyed a distinguished career spanning 25 years in industry advancing pharmaceuticals, followed by over a decade in academia nurturing the next generation of scientists.

Munk was a clinical assistant professor at ASU since 2018, playing a central role in various aspects of the School of Molecular Sciences' operations, teaching and curriculum development.

She was involved in academic support for students, collaborated with business sections for revenue forecasting, worked with HR for the school's staffing, and collaborated with internal and external IT professionals to create customized applications for user-friendly interfaces and easy access by school faculty and staff members.

Tijana Rajh, director of the School of Molecular Sciences, said, “Barb was a person you can always rely on. She was instrumental in managing (the school's) six undergraduate degrees, preparing annual assessments, and was committed to enhancing student retention and overall learning experience. She was a devoted teacher, highly respected by her students.

"Barb's most significant contribution to (the school) was her overarching administrative role as the associate director for operations. Her expertise in managing operations and ensuring the smooth functioning of the department was unparalleled. She was equally appreciated for her ability to manage daily operations and implement strategic planning efficiently.”

Prior to coming to ASU, Munk served as a senior lecturer in the chemistry department at Wayne State University, where she was responsible for teaching classes in various areas of chemistry to undergraduate chemistry majors and students in the preparatory programs for health care professions.

Prior to joining the faculty at Wayne State University, she worked as a research chemist and as a manager with a diverse set of industrial companies, including Warner-Lambert/Pfizer, Allergan Pharmaceuticals, the Clorox Company, Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, the Stepan Company and Port Systems LLC.

At ASU, she continued to make an impact — not only professionally and administratively, but as a friend and mentor to her students and colleagues. 

Giovanna Ghirlanda, associate director of faculty development in the School of Molecular Sciences said, “Dr. Munk was an exceptional educator who had a distinguished career in both industry and academia, and was deeply devoted to fostering student success. She firmly believed in the importance of research experiences for undergraduate students. ... Barb brought her experience in project management and business organization to (the school), making an enormous difference in keeping everything organized and humming through.

"She was always the sensible, level-headed person in the room. On a personal level, she was warm and funny — she was a mentor to me and many others. Barb is truly irreplaceable.”

Ashli Morgan, an assistant teaching professor in school, said, “I am honored to have had Barb as not only a colleague but also as a close friend and mentor. As a colleague and part of the (school's) community, her work ethic and service were unmatched. She listened to and cared about our problems and worked hard to help us solve them. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t go to Barb about. ... I keenly feel the weight of her loss and I will miss her very much.”

Beyond gaining immense respect from her colleagues and students, Munk was also responsible for shaping "the terrain" of the school, according to Kjir Hendrickson, a teaching professor in the school.

“From curricular design, textbook authorship, and the administrative and business management side ... all the way through to her principal passion, student advocacy and teaching, Barb did it all, and did it with grace, style and her trademark dry wit," Hendrickson said. "As much as she juggled, she was always ready to lend an ear or a shoulder to her colleagues, whom she engaged with her delightful sense of humor or with words of comfort or encouragement as each situation required. There was no cheerleader in (the school) more enthusiastic or genuine than Barb."

Marcia Levitus, professor and associated director of graduate programs for the school, said, “Barb worked tirelessly towards making (the school) a better place, and those of us that had the privilege of working closely with her know that her absence leaves a void that will be profoundly felt. Her commitment to making a positive impact was evident in every interaction, every project she undertook, and in the countless lives she touched. I will greatly miss her wisdom and kindness.”

The School of Molecular Sciences Science Fund, established to commemorate the legacy of science and student education left by Barbara Munk, recognizes her dedication, leadership and contributions to ASU, the field of molecular sciences and her students' learning.

This award will recognize School of Molecular Science students involved in research and development activities, and provide distinction as they find industrial partners to develop emerging technologies.

Contributions in Munk’s memory can be made to the ASU Foundation.

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