Susan Gelman named 2021 Henry Russel Lecturer


Susan A. Gelman, a psychology and linguistics professor who is a world leader in the field of psychological science, has been selected as U-M’s 2021 Henry Russel Lecturer.

The lectureship was announced at the July 16 regents meeting. Gelman will deliver her lecture in the winter term of 2021.  

The Henry Russel Lectureship is the university’s highest honor for senior members of its active faculty. It is awarded annually to a faculty member with exceptional achievements in research, scholarship or creative endeavors, as well as an outstanding record of distinguished teaching, mentoring and service to U-M and the wider community.

Also at the meeting, four faculty members were selected to receive Henry Russel Awards, the university’s highest honor for faculty members at the early to mid-career stages of their careers.

The recipients are:

  • José Casas, assistant professor of theatre, School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
  • Erin A. Cech, assistant professor of sociology, LSA, and faculty associate in the Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research.
  • Matthew A. Davis, associate professor of nursing, School of Nursing; and associate professor of learning health sciences, Medical School.
  • Johanna L. Mathieu, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering.

Gelman is the Heinz Werner Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Linguistics and a professor of psychology and linguistics.

Susan Gelman
Susan Gelman

For the past 30 years, she has been at the forefront of research and theory on cognitive development. Her diverse investigations have transformed the understanding of the process of language acquisition and conceptual development, according to information presented to the regents.

Gelman’s research focuses on how children expect certain categories to have an underlying and pervasive reality that cannot be observed directly and how they use essentialist reasoning to give objects their identity and associational relationship with other objects.

By showing how children learn and use generic language to construct new concepts and recognize abstract categories, and how language serves as a mechanism for transmitting essentialist beliefs, Gelman has made major contributions to understanding human rationality.

Gelman joined U-M in 1984. She has won mentoring awards from the Rackham Graduate School and the American Psychological Association. Her service to the university has included appointments as associate dean and interim dean of LSA.

Gelman has held leadership roles in several academic societies, including the Cognitive Development Society and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. She is a fellow of the American Society of Arts and Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She was named a William James Fellow by the Association for Psychological Science.

Gelman has published more than 250 journal articles. Her ground-breaking book, “The Essential Child: Origins of Essentialism in Everyday Thought,” is a landmark volume of how essentializing reasoning emerges in childhood.  

Casas, one of the leading voices in Latino theater in the United States, joined U-M in 2016. He is an advocate for children’s theater and the impact of storytelling on young actors and audiences. He is also a pioneer in the creative use of ethnographic and documentary playwriting techniques.

José Casas
José Casas

He has written and directed more than 25 plays. His recent commissioned work includes “Desvelado” for the Peppercorn Theatre in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, “Pedro y El Lobo” for the Childplay Theatre Company in Tempe, Arizona, and the Phoenix Symphony, and “jj’s arcade” for ZACH Theatre in Austin, Texas. His play, “Flint — It’s Not Just About the Water,” explores the implications of the water crisis through narratives inspired by the lives and stories of the people who endure the continued impact of the crisis.

Casas’ work has received many awards, including the American Alliance for Theatre and Education Distinguished Play Award for the most outstanding play for young people for “somebody’s children” and “la ofrenda.” He won a Distinguished Book Award from AATE for “Palabras del Cielo: An Exploration of Latina/o Theatre for Young Audiences,” and received a 2019 North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Award.

Cech’s research spans the fields of social inequalities, cultural sociology, work and occupations, and the sociology of science and technology. She is making important contributions in understanding the persistence of gender-based and other inequalities, particularly in careers in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

Erin A. Cech
Erin A. Cech

Her work has revealed the power of cultural mechanisms that underlie formal institutional rules and practices, and how seemingly benign values systematically disadvantage women, racial and ethnic minority groups, and LGBTQ individuals when it comes to STEM career advancement.

Her work includes more than 27 articles published in leading peer-reviewed journals. An article on the impact of first-time parenthood on the careers of men and women in STEM fields was selected in 2019 as one of the 10 most influential studies to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cech joined U-M in 2016. His many awards include the 2019 Sterling Olmsted Award from the Liberal Education/Engineering and Society Division of the American Society of Engineering Education.

Davis is a national leader in the use of data science to extract insights from disparate sources of large health-care data to inform health policy. He has also developed innovative methods to use social media data to measure public opinion and support for health services that have been adopted by public health scientists.

Matthew A. Davis
Matthew A. Davis

Recently, he examined national data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reveal dietary sources of arsenic exposure among children. The work helped lead to new FDA guidelines to control arsenic contamination in food.

He has been first author or senior author on 37 studies appearing in major refereed journals such as Health Affairs, JAMA Internal Medicine, Social Science & Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health. Among his many additional publications, he has published 14 with his students.

Davis came to U-M in 2014. His courses on statistics, epidemiology and data analysis form the quantitative curriculum of several School of Nursing programs. He received the School of Nursing’s 2019 Mae Edna Doyle Teacher of the Year Award.

Mathieu joined U-M in 2014 and is a national leader on research to reduce the environmental impact, cost and inefficiency of electric power systems.

Johanna L. Mathieu
Johanna L. Mathieu

Mathieu develops theories, algorithms and tools to implement new strategies that actively engage distributed flexible resources such as energy storage devices, electric loads such as household appliances, and small-scale renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind. Her research is helping to improve the efficiency and reliability of the power grid while integrating renewable energy and reducing economic costs.

She has published more than 32 papers in leading journals and is an editor of IEEE Transactions on Power Systems, the premier journal in her field. Mathieu has received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award for early-career faculty. Additionally, she was selected as one of 82 young engineers nationwide to participate in the National Academy of Engineering’s 2019 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium.


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