Regents approve five 2020 Arthur F. Thurnau Professors


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

The 2020 honorees, approved Feb. 20 by the Board of Regents, are Miranda D. Brown, Angela Violi, Gyorgyi Csankovszki, John Montgomery and Susan Scott Parrish.

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 must have also 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.

Recipients receive $20,000 to support activities that further enhance their teaching. They retain the title for the duration of their careers at U-M. 

Susan M. Collins, acting provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, put forward recommendations to the regents that included descriptions of each honoree’s work and achievements.

Brown is a professor of Asian languages and cultures in LSA. She was the driving force behind the expansion of the undergraduate curriculum in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and is known for fostering an environment conducive to the success of students from all levels and fields of study.

“Her classrooms bring together domestic and international students, and business and engineering as well as LSA students,” the description of her work said. “Her creative and collaborative teaching strategies bridge these disciplinary and cultural divides, encouraging participants to share their knowledge and skills in ways that contribute to the learning of all.”

Violi is a professor of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, and a professor of biophysics in LSA. Described as a stellar interdisciplinary researcher, she has created new courses on energy processes and introduced powerful computation methods that position students to be leaders in the international engineering community.

Students have praised Violi’s Sunday afternoon supplemental learning sessions for cultivating “a cohesive group of people learning together and supporting each other.”

“Professor Violi comprehensively supports her students in finding ways to think innovatively, take chances and find passion in their work,” the description of her work said.

Csankovszki is an associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology in LSA. According to students and faculty colleagues, she is known for recognizing students’ needs and working to address them, such as when she replaced costly textbook quizzes with questions written by local instructors and housed in Canvas.

“Professor Csankovszki has a long track record of dedication to continuously improving biology teaching, both as an individual instructor and through departmental service roles,” the description of her work said. “Her students report that her courses teach them to think critically, revolutionizing their understanding of biology and increasing their desire to continue in the field.”

Montgomery is the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, and professor of chemistry in LSA. He consistently earns outstanding reviews from undergraduate students who enroll by the hundreds in the gateway organic chemistry sequence of CHEM 210 and 215.

“Through his service on numerous committees aimed at making the department and U-M more inclusive, he recognized the challenges that these fast-paced courses can pose to students, particularly those from under-resourced high schools,” the description of his work said.

“In response, Professor Montgomery created CHEM 209, a companion course running concurrently with CHEM 210. Exit surveys indicated that the small sections and personalized mentoring students receive in CHEM 209 dramatically increased their confidence and persistence.”

Parrish is a professor of English language and literature in LSA. She has a strong record of imaginative teaching, inspired mentorship and innovative curricular development, according to the description of her work.  

“She excels in creating an atmosphere in which difficult topics are confronted and discussed frankly among students from varying racial, geographic and economic backgrounds,” the description said.

Parrish is also known for being a deft facilitator of faculty discussions that reshaped the curriculum, not only in English but also in three other programs: LSA Honors, the Program in the Environment and the New England Literature Program.

The professorships are named after Arthur F. Thurnau, a U-M student from 1902 to 1904. They are supported by the Thurnau Charitable Trust, which was established through Thurnau’s will.


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