Regents recognize six faculty members as Thurnau professors


Six faculty members have been honored for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education as this year’s recipients of Arthur F. Thurnau professorships.

This year’s recipients, effective July 1, are Melissa M. Gross, Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, Anne J. McNeil, Jamie D. Phillips, Megan L. Sweeney and Michael D. Thouless.

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 and/or artistic development, and contributions to undergraduate education beyond the classroom, studio or lab.

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 Board of Regents by Provost Martha Pollack. The appointments, approved Feb. 20 by the regents, are titles the six will retain throughout their U-M careers.

Melissa Gross

Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola

Anne McNeil

Jamie Phillips

Megan Sweeney

Michael Thouless

Gross, associate professor of movement science, School of Kinesiology, and associate professor of Art and Design, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, strives to create interdisciplinary learning opportunities and facilitates highly innovative uses of technology. A colleague said Gross’ teaching “should be the model for the modern research university.” Students in her courses visually capture and analyze the biomechanical aspects of movement using technology and media resources, developing their creative and analytical skills in the process.

Herrero-Olaizola, associate chair and professor of Spanish, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, LSA, is admired for his ability to meld inspiring teaching, welcoming advising, and transformational leadership. Known for his approachability and mastery of study abroad intricacies, students and colleagues seek his assistance in identifying the most appropriate international student experiences. A student wrote, “He is always encouraging students to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace cultural immersion in new environments.”

McNeil, associate professor of chemistry, LSA, and associate professor of macromolecular science and engineering, College of Engineering, has earned local and national teaching awards. She is known for perfectly paced lectures, methodical notes and explanations, real-world examples, and the integration of research to capture students’ interest. Early in her career, she challenged students to enhance the scientific content on Wikipedia. This powerful learning initiative built collaboration skills and provided free, high quality scientific knowledge to the public.

Phillips, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, CoE, has transformed typical engineering courses by exposing students to real-world challenges. To teach juniors the abstract concepts related to semiconductor devices, Phillips asks them to role-play electron movement. One student wrote, “Rather than simply asking us to raise our hands and answer questions, Professor Phillips has us up and out of our seats, literally engaging with the material being taught.” He also uses learning analytics to identify successful traits of electrical engineering students.

Sweeney is an associate professor of English language and literature, associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies, and associate professor of women’s studies, LSA. Colleagues say she “has been absolutely essential to the development of rigorous, innovative pedagogy in DAAS, English and beyond.” Her courses address difficult issues of race, gender, identity, and justice. In the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, she led an overhaul of the curriculum and launched a community engaged-learning initiative. In English, she directs the Undergraduate Writing Program.

Thouless, professor of mechanical engineering and professor of materials science and engineering, CoE, is cited for innovative teaching, a strong commitment to advising and mentoring, and administrative leadership to create an educational legacy, which has transformed the undergraduate experience in mechanical engineering. Recognized with numerous teaching awards, Thouless is known as a creative classroom teacher and curricular innovator who creates valuable learning experiences for students. He has also established dual degree programs, peer and Web-based advising systems, and works to support underrepresented students.


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