Regents appoint five to be 2024 Arthur F. Thurnau Professors


Five University of Michigan faculty members have been named Arthur F. Thurnau Professors in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to undergraduate education.

Deirdre Leong de la Cruz, Anouck R. Girard, Nicholas C. Henriksen, LaKisha M. Simmons and Sara B. Soderstrom will hold the Thurnau title for the duration of their careers at U-M and will receive $20,000 to support activities that further enhance their teaching.

The Board of Regents approved the Thurnau professors Feb. 15. The appointments are effective July 1.

To become a Thurnau professor, faculty members must demonstrate a strong commitment to teaching and learning, excellence and innovation in teaching, and dedication to working effectively with a diverse student body.

They also must have made an impact on students’ intellectual or artistic development and on their lives, and contributed to undergraduate education in ways that extend beyond the classroom, studio or lab.

The Arthur F. Thurnau Professorships were established in 1988. They are named after Thurnau, a U-M student from 1902-04. The Thurnau Charitable Trust, which was established through Thurnau’s will, provides support for the award.

Provost Laurie McCauley presented recommendations for the professorships and descriptions of each professor’s work and achievements to the Board of Regents. These summaries are taken from the provost’s recommendations.

Deirdre Leong de la Cruz

Associate professor of Asian languages and cultures, and of history, LSA

Photo of Deirdre Leong de la Cruz
Deirdre de la Cruz

De la Cruz creates courses that interweave complex multimedia content related to the histories of Asia, religion and popular culture.

She has developed new and engaging courses in both history and in Asian languages and cultures that are anchored in her deep expertise in the history of the Philippines, religion and U.S. colonialism.

She has made fundamental contributions to the rethinking and development of undergraduate curricula. She pushed Asian languages and cultures beyond the department’s traditional focus on language and literature, opening a truly interdisciplinary and exciting teaching space.

De la Cruz emphasizes the benefits of collaborative work and the importance of scholarly reflection on the past. She is seen as a mentor who “serves as a compass for personal, academic, and professional journeys” for her students.

Anouck R. Girard

Professor of robotics, and of aerospace engineering, College of Engineering

Photo of Anouck Girard
Anouck Girard

Girard’s innovative teaching and deep engagement with outreach have created profound changes in the aerospace engineering curriculum and the new robotics major.

She redesigned the introductory aerospace engineering course in 2021, shifting the focus from aircraft to spacecraft, and incorporating best practices for hybrid teaching.

Girard has mentored 45 undergraduate students in independent research projects, and she promotes and relies on their capabilities. With undergraduate students, Girard has put together high-profile and effective K-12 initiatives to attract more diverse students to engineering.

Undergraduates develop new activities and conduct most workshops, leading one student to write, “working for her has increased my self-confidence, developed my leadership skills, shaped my professional actions, and continues to feed my drive for knowledge.”

More than 2,500 K-12 participants have explored engineering since 2017 through creative and innovative activities like “Quadcopter Quidditch.”

Nicholas C. Henriksen

Associate professor of Spanish, and of linguistics, LSA

Photo of Nicholas Henriksen
Nicholas Henriksen

Henriksen’s pedagogy skillfully integrates research, teaching, curricular development and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. He cultivates students’ enthusiasm for Spanish-language study and nurtures their capacity for linguistics research.

In his advanced courses, students explore the social significance of language variation and forms of linguistic injustice that intertwine with race, indigeneity, gender, disability, class and nationality.

Henriksen co-founded the Speech Production Lab in 2015, with more than 150 students engaging in research through independent studies, honors theses, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, work-study programs or paid internships.

Reflecting on Henriksen’s advocacy for teaching nonbinary language forms, one student noted, “Not only does this change reflect real-world shifts in romance languages, but it welcomes students who previously felt excluded by a strict gender binary.”

LaKisha M. Simmons

Associate professor of women’s and gender studies, and of history, LSA

Photo of LaKisha Simmons
LaKisha Simmons

Named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians, Simmons is transforming scholarship and students in powerful ways by centering voices that were historically hard to hear.

Her courses invite students to connect their family histories to larger social and political changes, to craft narratives about underrecognized Black historical figures and experiences, and to contribute to public platforms where history is discussed.

Simmons’ influence on undergraduate education extends beyond her own classroom. She also teaches two courses on history pedagogy for graduate student instructors.

She makes time to mentor numerous undergraduates and conduct outreach initiatives in the community, and she is working with the state Department of Education to develop a webinar series with new resources and perspectives on teaching comprehensive history for elementary and secondary school educators.

Sara B. Soderstrom

Associate professor of organizational studies, LSA; associate professor of environment and sustainability, School for Environment and Sustainability; associate professor of management and organizations, Stephen M. Ross School of Business

Photo of Sara Soderstrom
Sara Soderstrom

A celebrated teacher and expert on corporations and environmental sustainability, Soderstrom challenges her students to find answers that will allow both businesses and the biosphere to thrive.

She developed several courses and mentored more than 160 students — as research assistants, on independent studies, for honors theses and for applied internship research — while simultaneously earning six different teaching awards.

One student described her teaching as “able to take a notoriously nebulous topic — sustainability — and create structure that was both concrete and provided space for creativity.”

She inaugurated the Erb Undergraduate Fellows Program in 2020, opening to undergraduates an initiative of the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability that has served master’s degree students for 25 years.


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