Scott Pegan, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, provides students with real-life examples of the many drug discovery techniques that he uses in his lab to develop new antiviral drugs and antibiotics.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and my master’s degree and Ph.D. in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego. I am currently an associate professor in the department of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences in the College of Pharmacy. I also am a member of the college’s Graduate Education and Curriculum Committee, the university’s Graduate Council, and Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Science’s Executive Committee.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I am a recent addition to the UGA family. In April 2014, I moved my laboratory and research from the University of Denver. UGA was attractive to me for multiple reasons. Foremost among them was UGA’s fantastic research and teaching environment. For the former, this included not only a great number of facilities to accelerate and enhance my research, but also the high number of quality students to work with. In respect to teaching, UGA offers greater flexibility in creating and teaching courses that are more in line with my research passions. Additionally, many of my interdisciplinary projects include collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta. Athens also has many attributes that remind me of my hometown of Livermore, California, such as intermixing of agriculture, science and technology—as well as size and friendliness.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I am very excited to be co-teaching Pharmacy 4300, “Medicinal Chemistry,” this spring with my colleague Y. George Zheng. This course allows me to leverage my extensive experience in the drug discovery realm. In other words, this class allows me to assist students in learning the fundamentals about a topic, plus enhance their knowledge by going beyond the book and sharing lessons learned from ongoing projects in my laboratory.
What interests you about your field?
Growing up, I had a natural interest in the life sciences and a desire to help others. My research is focused on the regulation of the human innate immune system to develop novel antiviral approaches as well as discovery of new antibiotics for use against drug resistant bacteria, which fulfills those interests. I specifically enjoy my ability to contribute to the drug discovery field for neglected or orphan diseases. These are diseases, which much like Ebola, there was previous little commercial interest to drive private, for-profit development of treatments, but pose a real risk to the public. In my laboratory, I focus particularly on the often-fatal Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever virus, for which no treatment currently exists, as well as finding new ways to cure infection by pathogenic bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
As a new arrival, I am in the process of building my way toward many highlights here at UGA. For now, I would say introducing a new set of graduate and undergraduate students to my laboratory and seeing them succeed at research.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
My research has and continuously provides real-life examples of the many drug discovery techniques that are and will be available. This allows me to effectively impart to the next generation of scientists the practical use of them. As a result, it provides me with an excellent platform to convey these techniques and the methodology behind them in the classroom. On the flip side, teaching helps focus and refine my approach to the research going on in my laboratory.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Naturally, my foremost desire is for my students to gain a solid foundation on the topics included in any course that I am instructing. Preferably, I wish this understanding to take place in an integrated learning environment where the class participates in discussions concerning real-life examples. This way, students will not only gain a solid foundation in the topic at hand, but also understand the broader importance of their real life applicability.
Describe your ideal student.
Having worked with numerous students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I have found my ideal student to have multiple attributes. First and foremost, huge enthusiasm for the subject matter is a must. Students in my classrooms, or who are participating in my research, who are well organized always excel. In addition, for those students who perform research with me, those with goal-oriented tendencies in their scientific work as well as in their lives tend to do well. In other words, my ideal student is one who values the opportunities science affords them and is efficient in making the most out of their experiences.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
Well, beyond teaching young minds and research, this would have to be exploring the Trial Gardens outside the College of Pharmacy. I did quite a bit of landscaping with my father when I was growing up, either at our family’s home or one of my parents’ rental properties. Also, I made the most out of the wild spaces of California by camping in various environments. As a result, I really enjoy nature, its sense of renewal and the beauty it provides. Thus, being able to walk through the gardens during the non-winter months on the way to my office is always exciting. My 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, also loves it, making for great father-daughter memories when she visits me at work.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I enjoy doing things that get me outdoors with the family. By myself, this has a tendency to be enjoying golfing. With my wife and daughter, it is taking in mountain slopes and vistas while skiing, going hiking or taking walks. Occasionally, I also play a little tennis and help my daughter learn to swim.
Community/civic involvement includes….
Outside my role as a faculty member at UGA, I am a captain in the United States Army Reserve. Over the past 19 years, I have been privileged to participate in defending the U.S. in multiple roles and settings in parallel to my civilian scientific career. I enlisted as a combat engineer before transitioning as an officer to the Adjutant General Corps, and then the Medical Service Corps where I find myself serving today. Currently, I lend my scientific, combat and command experience as a science and technology adviser to the U.S. Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command. In this role, I assist the Army effort in identifying technology gaps for our armed forces, plus assist and guide research projects to remediate those gaps. My service also has allowed me to serve in unique locations, such as the Marshall Islands 1996, 1997; South Korea, 2001; Germany, 2007; as well as a combat tour in Baghdad, Iraq, 2004.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
For the movie, I am rather unoriginal; it’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The sense of adventure Dr. Jones embodies by leveraging an understanding of archeology/history to make fantastic breakthroughs in humans’ understanding of their surroundings is something I try to emulate in my scientific approach. In my case, it’s basic science biomedical research I leverage to pave the way for my impactful translational research. For the book, it would be either Erich Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” or Doris Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” The former reflects my appreciation as a U.S. officer for the role military conflict plays in our society and the cost it brings. The latter provides insight on how to assemble effective teams of diverse personalities to achieve a common goal, something I need to do on a daily basis in pursuit of my scientific work.
Proudest moment at UGA?
As a relatively new arrival, I would say sitting in my office on my first day while looking out the window at the campus with my UGA hat on and knowing that I am a part of an institution where I can make the best science happen to the betterment of society and contribute to training the next generation of scientists.
Originally published Jan. 11, 2015