Seven honored with Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Awards


Seven faculty members who have contributed to the development of a culturally and ethnically diverse University of Michigan community received 2020 Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Awards from the Office of the Provost.

Established in 1996, the annual award is given in honor of Harold Johnson, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Rosario Ceballo
  • Sarah Koch
  • Michael M. McKee
  • Anne J. McNeil
  • Lisa Meeks
  • Erika Newman
  • Oluwaferanmi O. Okanlami

The following profiles were compiled from information submitted in award nomination letters:

Rosario Ceballo  

Ceballo, associate dean of social sciences and professor of psychology and women’s studies in LSA, promoted innovative ways of recruiting, mentoring and supporting faculty to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Rosario Ceballo
Rosario Ceballo

She was chair of LSA’s Department of Women’s Studies from 2015 to 2018. Understanding that mentoring opportunities were often less accessible to faculty with under-represented and marginalized backgrounds, Ceballo was one of the first chairs to implement LAUNCH committees in the humanities to ensure that high-quality mentoring was available to all assistant professors.

Under Ceballo’s leadership, the women’s studies department became an early and active participant in LSA’s Collegiate Fellows Program. It also played a prominent role in recruiting young scholars to U-M who have a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.  

As associate dean, Ceballo is spearheading an initiative to provide more extensive support to first-generation college students.

She also has served on ADVANCE’s LIFT program (Leadership and Integration in Faculty Transitions), the President’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues, the Provost’s Office Detroit Center Taskforce, the Center of the Education of Women, Institute for the Research of Women and Gender, and the Diversity Committee in the Department of Psychology. 

Ceballo’s research examines the development of lower-class, ethnic minority children exposed to community violence and explores how African-American women cope with infertility.

In a nominating letter, LSA Dean Anne Curzan said Ceballo “has demonstrated visionary leadership in and a deep, sustained commitment to DEI extending into all aspects of her career, from scholarship and teaching to administrative service and leadership.”

Sarah Koch

Koch, an associate professor of mathematics in LSA, has led a vast expansion of the math department’s outreach efforts and is known for her positive energy and passion.

Sarah Koch
Sarah Koch

In winter 2018, Koch learned that Ypsilanti Community Middle School, located eight miles from Central Campus, was unable to properly staff its math classes. Many students were multiple grade levels behind.

Over a half year, Koch met regularly with members of the Ypsilanti community to figure out what could be done to help. Then in October 2018, she arrived at YCMS with volunteers and ran simultaneous math programs in three classrooms. The program, dubbed Ypsi Math Mondays, focused on the core skills their teachers said would help the students the most.

Koch started the Ypsilanti Math Corps summer program at U-M in 2019, personally texting and calling more than 300 households to encourage Ypsilanti middle school parents to enroll their children. Diagnostic tests showed students almost tripled their scores.

Koch’s other contributions include co-organizing the Graduate Research Opportunities for Women math conference in October 2018; mentoring and supervising underrepresented minorities through the Marjorie Lee Browne master’s program; and participating as an activity leader in the Wolverine Pathways program, the Wayne County Math Teachers’ Circle and the Michigan Math Circle.

“By working collaboratively and involving different groups, she is improving the culture in the math department and inspiring and training generations of students to work for social justice,” reads a nominating letter from math department faculty members Stephen DeBacker, Anthony Bloch, Kristen Moore, Karen Smith and Alex Wright.   

Anne J. McNeil

McNeil, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of chemistry and in the Honors Program, LSA; and professor of macromolecular science and engineering, College of Engineering, is a fierce advocate for diversifying the field of chemistry by supporting, promoting and elevating the careers of people from underrepresented backgrounds.

Anne McNeil
Anne McNeil

In 2018, McNeil founded an online database known as to highlight academic chemists from underrepresented backgrounds and increase their likelihood of being selected for awards, seminars and symposia. More than 400 current and future academics from around the world have added their information to the database.

At U-M, McNeil has served as a faculty mentor to “O-STEM” and faculty adviser to “STEM in Color,” has spearheaded creating gender inclusive restrooms on all floors of the chemistry building, and has advocated for department training on LGBTQ issues and encouraged faculty members to be more inclusive in their teaching. 

For the last four summers, she has financially supported eight students from local community colleges, many of whom come from underrepresented backgrounds, in their chemistry research.

“I strongly believe that Prof. McNeil is richly deserving of recognition with the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Award based on her demonstrated commitment to diversity in science by her public advocacy, her dedication to improve diversity in our department and on-campus, and in particular, her efforts to serve as a formal and informal mentor to so many students and student groups who share her commitment to diversifying science,” wrote Robert Kennedy, chemistry department chair, in a nomination letter.

Erika Newman

Newman, associate professor of pediatric surgery and associate chair for faculty development in the Department of Surgery, Medical School, is a national leader in pediatric surgery who is passionate about eliminating organizational and cultural barriers to faculty achievement and advancement.

Erika Newman
Erika Newman

Newman’s national activities include leadership in the Association of Women Surgeons and the Society of Black Academic Surgeons. In her SBAS leadership role, Newman published an article in the journal Annals of Surgeryconcerning a call to action around the paucity of Black women surgical scientists.

Newman leads many efforts to increase diversity and improve the inclusive climate within pediatric surgery, the surgery department and U-M as a whole. She was a founding member of the Michigan Promise: Advancing Surgeon Excellence.

In the department, Newman enhanced the process for hiring faculty to include assessment of each hire by a committee of surgeons who emphasize recruitment of underrepresented minorities and results of behavioral-based interviews to ensure diverse groups of qualified applicants. 

Newman is an active contributor to the Michigan Women’s Surgical Collaborative and is on the advisory board of the Network to Advance Women Faculty at the Medical School. She has organized three Women in Surgery Leadership Development Conferences that drew surgeons and female leaders from around the country to explore issues related to gender and diversity.

“She has demonstrated significant commitment to and made significant advances around creating an ethnically and culturally diverse campus community and society as a whole,” reads a nominating letter written by surgery faculty members Peter F. Ehrlich, Ronald B. Hirschl and Justin B. Dimick.

Michael J. McKee, Lisa Meeks and Oluwaferanmi O. Okanlami

For the first time, a Harold R. Johnson Diversity Award is going to a faculty team.

Michael McKee
Michael McKee

McKee, Meeks and Okanlami were nominated jointly for their work leading the MDisability Program in the Department of Family Medicine at the Medical School. The program focuses on improving the health and lives of people with disabilities.

McKee, associate professor of family medicine, is a deaf physician who sees patients at Michigan Medicine’s Dexter Family Medicine Center. Many of his patients have severe hearing loss and come from all around the state to see him.

In addition, McKee teaches medical students and residents regarding care for people with disabilities. He has worked with the state of Michigan’s Medicaid program to study and improve the psychiatric care of deaf patients around the state. He also is well-funded by the NIH and other entities to study how to improve care for people with disabilities.

Lisa Meeks
Lisa Meeks

Meeks, assistant professor of family medicine, is a world-renowned expert in how to help people with disabilities succeed in medicine. She consults across the country, and has helped Michigan Medicine become a national leader in accepting and supporting qualified students and residents with disabilities.

She was asked by the Association of American Medical Colleges to put together a reference for educating learners with disabilities that is now considered the “bible” in this arena. She also is the main organizer the first International Congress on Disabilities planned for this fall and teaches and mentors many students.

Oluwaferanmi O. Okanlami

Okanlami, assistant professor of family medicine, and physical medicine and rehabilitation, is a national expert in adaptive sports. He is a paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury and inspires other people with spinal cord injuries. He sees patients at Michigan Medicine’s Briarwood Family Medicine Center.

A former intercollegiate athlete, Okanlami is developing a robust adaptive sports infrastructure at U-M that supports people with disabilities. He has given keynote addresses for various national organizations, consults for companies and universities across the country, and teaches medical and undergraduate students as well as residents. He recently joined the Medical School’s admission committee.

The contributions of McKee, Meeks and Okanlami to MDisability has included the highly successful Docs With Disabilities Twitter campaign; the beginning of an adaptive sports enterprise at U-M; health fairs for deaf people; and the establishment of a summer fellowship program for undergraduate students.

Philip Zazove, professor and chair of family medicine, said in a nominating letter that the combined work and efforts of all three faculty leaders is what has made the program so successful.


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