Distinguished University Professors to discuss their scholarly work


Three faculty members who have been recognized with one of the University of Michigan’s highest honors will discuss their professional and scholarly experiences during an upcoming event that will be livestreamed.

Distinguished University Professors John Ayanian, Earl Lewis and Janet Smith will speak from 4-5:30 p.m. Nov. 3 in the he Michigan League Ballroom. Their presentations will be livestreamed on YouTube.

Each lecture will be followed by a brief question-and-answer session. The event is open to the public, and attendees should register in advance at umich.formstack.com/forms/2021dup.

The Board of Regents established the Distinguished University Professorships in 1947 to recognize senior faculty who have exceptional scholarly or creative achievements, national and international reputations for academic excellence and superior records of teaching, mentoring and service.

Here’s a look at the honorees and their presentations:

John Ayanian — “The Quest for Health Equity”

John Ayanian
John Ayanian

Ayanian is the Alice Hamilton Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and Healthcare Policy and professor of internal medicine, Medical School; professor of health management and policy, School of Public Health; and professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

He has served since 2012 as the inaugural director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, which includes 675 faculty members from 15 schools and colleges at U-M.

Ayanian’s research focuses on access to care, quality of care and health equity. Since 2014, he has led a multidisciplinary team conducting the federally authorized evaluation of the Healthy Michigan Plan, which expanded Medicaid to 1 million adults in Michigan.

Ayanian is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, American Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of American Physicians and Alpha Omega Alpha, as well as a master of the American College of Physicians. He received the John Eisenberg National Award for Career Achievement in Research from the Society of General Internal Medicine and the Distinguished Investigator Award from AcademyHealth.

The United States faces a crisis of health disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has unmasked deep racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities. During his lecture, Ayanian will discuss how the field of health equity has developed over the course of his academic career, including his research and policy work focused on improving access to care, quality of care and health outcomes by race, ethnicity and insurance coverage.

He will also discuss the impact of the Affordable Care Act and continuing challenges to achieving health equity and racial justice.

Earl Lewis — “How Questions of Power, Race and Identity Shaped a Career”

Earl Lewis
Earl Lewis

Lewis is the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy; and professor of history and of Afroamerican and African studies, LSA; and professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Lewis, a social historian, award-winning author and educational leader, is the founding director of the Center for Social Solutions at U-M and president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He served as provost of Emory University from 2004-12, and as vice provost and dean of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies from 1998-2004.

A frequent lecturer and the author or editor of nine books, scores of essays, articles and commentaries, Lewis is a member of a number of national committees and boards of directors or trustees. He recently served as president of the Organization of American Historians.

An alumnus of Concordia College-Moorhead and the University of Minnesota, he is the recipient of 12 honorary degrees, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Lewis said when he considers what has motivated him to tackle certain questions over the arc of his career, he finds himself returning to key moments in his transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Growing up in the segregated South and becoming part of the generation of young people that desegregated Southern schools in the 1960s and 1970s, his early years deeply shaped the questions he has asked about the past and the ways in which his scholarship and institution-building have cohered over decades and across multiple institutions. 

His lecture will revisit those framing moments while focusing on questions of power, race and identity. Such a focus will allow for an examination of the ways African Americans made history and became the subject of history.

Janet Smith — “A Path to Discovering Biology in Protein Structure”

Janet Smith
Janet Smith

Smith is the Martha L. Ludwig Distinguished University Professor of Biological Chemistry, Medical School; Margaret J. Hunter Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences and associate director of the Life Sciences Institute; and professor of biophysics, LSA.

Smith uses X-ray crystallography to study physiologically important proteins and how they function. She has helped determine the structure of many biosynthetic enzymes and several viral proteins, including those associated with the dengue, Zika and West Nile viruses.

First at Purdue University and since 2005 as director of the U-M Center for Structural Biology in the Life Sciences Institute, Smith has coupled a passion for developing new methodologies in structural biology with discovering insights into the biology of macromolecules.

She played an important role in U-M’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic by advancing development of a test to detect anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

She has been the associate director of the LSI since 2017 and lectures internationally on structural biology and synchrotron radiation. In addition, Smith is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She received The Protein Society Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award in 2021.

Smith’s path through research has taken many unpredictable turns. In her lecture, she will discuss how it has unfolded not only in her research journey, but in her personal and career journey, as well, from a bookish childhood to a field of high-tech scientific research.

Her love of reading pulled her toward scholarship, the logic of molecules drew her to chemistry, the creativity of nature inspired her focus on biochemistry, the beauty of proteins lured her into protein crystallography, and the need for new technology in crystallography drove her to service for the scientific community.

By exploring the twists and turns that opened with each new discovery, she’s had the opportunity to witness how new technologies in her field helped scientists “see” protein structures quickly, and she has experienced the joy of connecting protein structures to biological functions.


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