Four faculty members honored as Arthur F. Thurnau Professors


Four faculty members have been recognized for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education as this year’s Arthur F. Thurnau Professors.

The 2018 honorees, approved Thursday by the Board of Regents and effective July 1, are Eric F. Bell, Jason P. De León, Jason P. McCormick and Ellen H. Rowe.

Criteria for Thurnau professorships include a strong commitment to students and to teaching and learning, excellence in teaching, innovations in teaching and learning, a strong commitment to working effectively with a diverse student body, a demonstrable impact on students’ intellectual or artistic development and on their lives, and contributions to undergraduate education beyond the classroom, studio or lab.

Eric Bell

Jason De León

Jason McCormick

Ellen Rowe

The professorships are named after alumnus Arthur F. Thurnau and supported by the Thurnau Charitable Trust. Recipients receive $20,000 to support teaching activities, including travel, books, equipment and graduate student support.

Descriptions of the recipients’ work are taken from recommendations provided to the regents by Provost Martin Philbert. The appointments are titles the four will retain throughout their U-M careers.

Bell, professor of astronomy and in the Honors Program, LSA, is described as a “remarkable undergraduate instructor” in his classrooms and “a leader in educational innovation” at the department and college level.

In large courses such as “Aliens” and “From the Big Bang to the Milky Way,” Bell has embedded active, team-based collaborative work, which has led to greater learning gains for students, including those typically underrepresented in science, technology, math and science.

He also spearheaded departmentwide use of concept inventories in introductory courses that provide a standardized view of what students learn, and this data informs faculty as they revise curricula.

Bell has played an active role in several U-M initiatives dedicated to identifying and encouraging the broader use of pedagogies that help students from a wide range of backgrounds to succeed. His inclusive practices extend to his lab, where he has mentored 30 undergraduate students.

His department chair calls him “a true pioneer in making this natural science accessible to the many students who love our field.”

De León, associate professor of anthropology, LSA, is a described as “a master of the small seminar, the mid-level writing course and the massive introductory course.”

In his “Introduction to Anthropology” course, roughly 400 students learn how to think about race and ethnicity in new ways. Faculty colleagues laud his unusually broad integration of archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, biological anthropology, and linguistics, and consider him an ambassador for the discipline.

De León finds ways to make his students’ personal passions part of his larger research goals, creating a vibrant community of students energized by each other’s work and inspired to collaborate.

Working on his Undocumented Migrant Project, students receive resources and support to develop their skills as writers and researchers, as well as opportunities to attend professional meetings, co-author papers and install art exhibits.

As one student writes, “It was always about more than just teaching for him. It was about helping students develop critical thinking tools in order to become fundamentally engaged citizens.”

McCormick, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering, co-pioneered a new approach to show civil and environmental engineering students how structural systems are designed and how they can fail.

In his approach, students use virtual reality to visualize and interact with components from multiple angles in a 3-D lab, so they can “feel” how massive loads are carried down from structure to foundation.

McCormick has been selected by students three times to receive the American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter Faculty Award, and they have requested more use of such learning approaches in the curriculum.

He is a faculty adviser for teams that compete in national competitions for earthquake engineering and steel bridge projects. His mentorship extends to teamwork and the cultivation of diverse new generations of young leaders. Under his guidance, the Steel Bridge team went from having no female members to women regularly “holding leadership roles in technical areas like design, fabrication, and project management,” wrote one student.

His attention to developing an inclusive pipeline of talent extends from supervising undergraduate research students to outreach to local elementary and middle school populations.

Rowe, professor of music, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, has fostered distinguished recording, performing, and teaching careers for numerous students.

The first female chair of a major university jazz department in the world and one of the only female conductors of a top-ranked jazz ensemble, her commitment to making the performance, study, and teaching of jazz more inclusive and diverse has bolstered female students’ confidence and persistence in a largely male-dominated field.

The dean lauds her “concrete and repeated steps to build a sense of teamwork, mutual support, and collegiality within the department.”

Under Rowe’s guidance, U-M has recruited more female jazz students than any other comparable program in the nation due in large part to her tireless outreach efforts.

Rowe has also been an innovator at the curricular level. She developed six new courses and created a new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree — one of the first of a handful nationally — that enables students to major in jazz and gain teacher certification.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.