For four decades, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation has served a mission to identify, attract, and nurture individuals of extraordinary intellectual range and depth who aim to enhance the University community.

In 2012, the Foundation further extended this mission by launching the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professorship Program. A series of $5 million professorships were established, designed to help President Jim Ryan and his academic team attract the world’s most outstanding professors to U.Va. To date, the Foundation has secured $75 million for this effort and created partnerships with the College of Arts & Sciences, the Darden School of Business, the Law School, and the School of Medicine.

Meet the professors

Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professorships support nationally and internationally recognized scholars and leaders in their fields, known for their superior abilities as both classroom teachers and innovative researchers. The professors participate actively in the Jefferson Scholars community, serving on selection committees, attending Foundation events, and helping recruit Scholars and Fellows.

Jianhua “JC” Cang

Paul T. Jones Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professor

Department of Biology, Department of Psychology

Professor Cang joined the faculty in fall 2017. He helps lead U.Va.’s brain-science research with joint appointments in the Departments of Biology and Psychology. His research focuses on two brain structures in the visual system—the cortex and the superior colliculus—as he works to identify treatments for visual impairments.

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Christa Dierksheide

Brockman Foundation Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professor

Corcoran Department of History

Professor Dierksheide joined the faculty in spring 2019. Her research focuses on the political thought of Thomas Jefferson, race and slavery, and the legacy of the founding generation.

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Kevin Pelphrey

Harrison-Wood Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professor

School of Medicine and Curry School of Education and Human Development

Professor Pelphrey joined the faculty in fall 2018. His research uses brain science to develop biologically based tools for detection and stratification and individually tailored treatments for individuals with autism.

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Vivian Riefberg

David C. Walentas Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professor

Darden School of Business

Professor Riefberg will join the faculty at Darden in fall 2020. She is a global thought leader in health care and women’s leadership and has spent over three decades at McKinsey & Co., where she was most recently a senior partner in the Washington, D.C. office.

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“Our hope is that these professorships will allow the university to attract a community of leading scholars and teachers—people who are not only superior classroom teachers but also outstanding researchers. The impact they will have on our students and on the university as a whole is going to be significant.” Jimmy Wright, President, Jefferson Scholars Foundation

The University and the Foundation expect the holders of the Professorships to be:

  • Nationally and internationally recognized scholars and leaders
  • Superior classroom teachers who are eager to engage with students
  • Dynamic lecturers
  • Leading-edge researchers in their fields
  • Willing to participate actively in the Foundation community by serving on selection committees, attending Foundation events, and helping the Foundation recruit Scholars and Fellows
  • Individuals whose presence on the faculty will help attract other outstanding colleagues to U.Va.
  • Individuals who embrace interdisciplinary collaboration and recognize its value to the creation of new knowledge
  • Active in, and involved citizens of, the University community



The Jefferson Scholars Foundation, like its namesake, knows that virtue and talent come from all walks of life. Indeed it is this knowledge that drives the Foundation to search the world over for its recipients.

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David and Jane Walentas

A transformational gift for UVA — $100 million to benefit first-generation students

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The Jefferson Fellowship is the premier graduate fellowship offered at the University of Virginia. Based solely on merit, the Fellowship seeks to attract Ph.D. and M.B.A. candidates.

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