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Honoring the 2022 CBE Distinguished Alumni

On December 9, 2022, the department hosted a luncheon to honor four of our graduates with CBE Distinguished Alumni Awards and one graduate with the CBE Distinguished Young Alumni Award.

Established in 2016, the awards are intended to celebrate and recognize the exemplary contributions recipients have made to their profession, their community, and our department, college or university. All graduates of the department, including deceased graduates, are eligible for consideration.

The 2022 Distinguished Alumni are Billy B. Bardin, Karen J.L. Burg, Russ O’Dell, and Charles D. Wells.

Each year, the department also recognizes a CBE graduate who received his or her degree within the previous 15 years. Brandon T. Fincher was the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Young Alumni Award.

Billy B. Bardin

A native of Wilson County, NC, Billy B. Bardin earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from N.C. State in 1995. He was then accepted into the chemical engineering graduate program at the University of Virginia and earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in 1997 and 2000, respectively, with research focused on heterogeneous catalysis.

Bardin started his career as a senior research engineer with Union Carbide/The Dow Chemical Company in South Charleston, West Virginia, in 2000. He has been posted to a variety of assignments with Dow in the U.S. and internationally and has held global leadership roles in research, development and manufacturing. During his career, Bardin has developed and commercialized technologies including catalytic processes for feedstocks and derivatives, processes for olefins production, capabilities for advanced high throughput research, and digital manufacturing. He has also created new approaches for promoting technical excellence and fostering workforce development.

In a more recent role, Bardin was R&D Director for Basic Chemicals and the Dow Technology Licensing and Catalyst Business from 2008-10. In 2010 he became R&D director for the Feedstocks, Chemicals, Energy and Hydrocarbons businesses and in 2014 was named global operations technology director. Currently, Bardin is the Global Digitalization Director at Dow, a position he has held since 2020.

Bardin has been highly active in The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) throughout his career, serving on the Board of Directors, and in 2021 he won election for a three-year term with AIChE as president elect (2022), president (2023) and past president (2024). He is a Fellow of the AIChE and a licensed Professional Engineer.

Bardin and his wife, Linh D. Le currently reside in Houston, TX.

Karen J.L. Burg

Karen Burg earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from NC State and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in bioengineering from Clemson University. She subsequently completed a tissue engineering postdoctoral fellowship at Carolinas Medical Center.

Burg served as interim vice provost for research and innovation at Clemson University from 2007-11 and interim vice provost and dean of the Graduate School at Clemson University from 2011-14. She subsequently served as vice president for research and professor of chemical engineering at Kansas State University from 2014-16. Technologies from her team’s research serve as the basis for a cancer diagnostics company, which has garnered multiple economic development awards for impact in facilitating personalized cancer therapies through 3D cellular systems. Currently, Burg is the Harbor Lights chair and professor of Small Animal Medicine & Surgery and the vice president for research at the University of Georgia.

Honors to Burg include a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, recognition as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology TR100 Young Innovator, an American Council on Education Fellow, a National Academy of Inventors Fellow, an International Union of Societies for Biomaterials Science and Engineering Fellow, a U.S. Department of Defense Era of Hope Scholar, and an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow. Most recently, Burg was named by President Biden as one of 15 recipients of the 2021 Presidential Award for Excellence in science, mathematics, and engineering mentoring.

Burg lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband Tim and their sons Tre and Tai-Tai.

Brandon T. Fincher

Brandon Fincher, a native of Kernersville, NC, earned a B.S. in chemical engineering in 2007 from NC State and started his career at Procter & Gamble. Fincher then moved into the pharmaceutical industry where he has spent the remainder of his career to date. At Novartis, Fincher held roles in engineering, project management, and supply chain, all focused on production and delivery of flu vaccines using new cell-based manufacturing technology. This included engineering design work for the first flu cell culture manufacturing facility in the U.S., a roughly $1 billion project located in Holly Springs, NC.

From 2012 to 2014, Fincher attended Harvard Business School before returning to the pharma industry in a more commercially oriented capacity. After serving as finance lead for Novartis vaccine operations, Fincher moved to INC Research, where he was CFO of a $400 million division focused on executing clinical trials for central nervous system therapies.

More recently, Fincher led marketing for Avista Pharma, a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) supporting the development of several hundred early clinical stage therapies. After Avista was acquired in 2019 by Cambrex, a global CDMO, Fincher took roles of increasing responsibility in finance and strategy, leading to his current role as Chief Strategy Officer, where he has responsibility for strategic planning and marketing. In this role, he has overseen over $200 million of capital investment and supported the business in its growth from near $500 million of revenue to over $750 million in the last 4 years.

Fincher and his wife, Anna, live in Cary, NC, and have two daughters, Lizzie and Kate. Fincher’s parents, Herb and Sandra Fincher, both also earned B.S. degrees in chemical engineering from NC State.


Russ O’Dell

Russ O’Dell earned both B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering at NC State in 1975 and 1978, respectively. Dr. Ronald Rousseau was his Ph.D. thesis advisor, and the idea for his research came from Dr. Warren McCabe. While in graduate school O’Dell taught a session of ChE 205 (material and energy balances). He also helped edit the first edition of the ChE 205 textbook, Elementary Principles of Chemical Processes, and co-authored its answer manual.

O’Dell began his career at Fiber Industries in Charlotte as an R&D Engineer, eventually becoming a key technical resource for polyester polymer and textile filament processing. Through a series of corporate buyouts, he ended up working for Celanese, Hoechst Celanese, Hoechst North America and KoSa. O’Dell was named the Global Manager of Technology for the polyester business in 1990 and led a team of experts to increase production rates and improve quality for all polyester polymer and fiber processes around the world.

In 2002 O’Dell was hired by the NC State Engineering Foundation as director of development for chemical engineering. He retired in 2014 but was hired back by the department in a part-time role as director of alumni relations. In his 20 years with the Engineering Foundation and the department, the number of chemical engineering scholarships increased from 12 to 94 and the total of endowments including planned giving increased from $4 million to $35 million.

O’Dell has served on three boards at NC State: the College of Textiles Advisory Committee (1992-1995), the NC State Foundation Board of Directors (1993-1996), and the Alumni Advisory Board for chemical engineering (1993-present).

O’Dell and his wife, Susie, live in North Raleigh and enjoy spending time with their three daughters and their husbands, and especially with their granddaughters Emily and Abby.

Charles D. Wells

Charles Wells earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from NC State in 1987. Afterwards, he was accepted by the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine and earned an M.D. degree in 1992. Wells next went to Emory University, completing an internal medicine residency and infectious diseases clinical fellowship.

Wells started his career in global health and infectious diseases training as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during 1995-97. He investigated the emergence of lethal forms of drug-resistant tuberculosis, as well as the impact of HIV and global migration on tuberculosis. He went on to lead the International Research and Programs Branch of the Division of Tuberculosis Elimination for another seven years through 2007, which included managing a global team with staff and projects combating the TB and HIV epidemics in nearly 20 high burden countries across four continents.

Beyond his years of government service, he built a career in pharmaceutical and biotechnology product development for global health and infectious diseases, starting in medical director positions with multiple institutions, including PathoGenesis Corporation and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. He then took on executive positions in clinical development, including Associate VP and Head of Development in Infectious Diseases Therapeutics at Sanofi and Executive VP and Head of Development for Infectious Diseases and Global Health at Evotec.

Currently, Wells is Head of Therapeutics Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In this role, he oversees end-to-end development of a diverse portfolio of small molecules and biologics for treatment and prevention of diseases primarily affecting low- and middle-income countries. He leads and manages multiple cross-functional teams and clinical development staff, as well as large complex partnerships with industry, academia, non-profit, and government organizations.

Learn more about previous recipients of the CBE Distinguished Alumni and Distinguished Young Alumni Award Awards.

Congratulations to this fine group of alumni! You are a true inspiration to the next generation of Wolfpack chemical engineers.