Six faculty members honored as Arthur F. 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, approved Thursday by the Board of Regents and effective July 1, are Aline J. Cotel, Fiona Lee, Joanna M. Millunchick, Kathleen H. Sienko, Arthur M. Verhoogt and Patricia J. Wittkopp.

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 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 are titles the six will retain throughout their U-M careers.

Aline Cotel

Cotel, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering, and associate professor of environment, LSA and School of Natural Resources and Environment, is described as having a combined passion for teaching and dedication to student learning that is evident in her innovative pedagogy and commitment to international education and mentorship of women in engineering.

As a key member of the presidentially funded STEM-Africa Initiative, she engages both U-M students and African students in collectively improving engineering capacity in those countries, and she nurtures and sustains a West African network of female engineers.

A colleague praises her efforts because they “not only benefit our partner institutions in Africa, but also our U-M undergraduate and graduate students, who through her initiatives have accessed opportunities for experiential learning and developing international expertise.”

Fiona Lee

Lee, professor of psychology, LSA, and associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, is described as “an exemplary educator” who takes a “careful and deliberate approach to teaching excellence” with a deep commitment to teaching about diversity.

Her 300-person Introduction to Organizational Psychology class offers a unique “step-up” approach that allows students to engage with complex social issues. The result is an in-depth discussion of race, ethnicity, class and gender that is quite rare in a class of this size.

As one colleague notes, “Professor Lee has created a culture where students from minority groups feel they can speak up, that their experiences are valuable, and they can take on leadership roles directing research in her lab.”

Joanna Millunchick

Millunchick, professor of materials science and engineering, CoE, has shown a longstanding commitment to educating U-M’s diverse student body.

As a classroom teacher, she pushes students to think critically and to make connections across courses. Well known for her innovations in teaching, Millunchick has engaged in pioneering work to implement and rigorously assess the impact of various technology tools on student learning in the classroom. She also has been a key collaborator with the Women in Science and Engineering program, participating in outreach efforts with K-12 students interested in engineering.

As one colleague notes, “Joanna is an exemplary teacher: She is innovative, she thinks about teaching and learning far beyond her own discipline, and she inspires others.”

Kathleen Sienko

Sienko, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and associate professor of biomedical engineering, CoE, has garnered multiple teaching awards for her innovative teaching and inspired leadership in undergraduate education.

She initiated an ambitious Global Health Design program, which a colleague describes as “an intensive, life-changing experience for students.” The program involves participation in international, collaborative projects, as students work in multidisciplinary teams to develop low-cost medical devices at field sites in Ghana and China. In the process, students gain first-hand experience in real-world settings, learning to engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

As one colleague writes, “Professor Sienko is a truly extraordinary educator who has captured the hearts and impacted the lives of our students with her magnificent teaching skills, her exceptional caring, and her wonderful mentorship.”

Arthur Verhoogt

Verhoogt, professor of papyrology and Greek, LSA, is a winner of multiple teaching awards who combines pedagogical creativity, academic rigor and intellectual fun in courses ranging from large introductory lectures to small seminars.

He shares his passion for papyrology through public outreach and by engaging students in original research. In his large courses on Sport and Daily Life in the Roman World and on Greek Mythology, he consistently receives high student ratings thanks to his animated lectures and active learning techniques. In his smaller seminars, he conveys complicated ideas in interesting ways, recreating classical Athens in one first-year seminar and giving students hands-on experience with papyri in another.

One student said, “Through an ancient lens, he expertly applied course material to modern concepts, demonstrating the universal nature of classics with energetic wit and unparalleled enthusiasm.”

Patricia Wittkopp

Wittkopp, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, professor in the Honors Program, and professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, LSA, has garnered numerous awards because of her commitment to engaged pedagogy and student success.

A colleague describes Wittkopp’s course on Genetics, Development and Evolution as a “compelling and transformative intellectual experience” that has a profound impact on the career trajectory of students. She revamped the 300-student Introduction to Genetics from a traditional lecture to one employing multiple active learning pedagogies, including the use of technology to promote peer learning and pre-class preparation.

The impact of her commitment to undergraduate education led one colleague to describe Wittkopp as a “deeply committed, dedicated teacher who regularly takes on the most difficult assignments. She is a leader, setting a new standard for excellence among her peers.”


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