U-M honors six faculty members with Thurnau professorships


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 Thurnau professors, approved Thursday by the Board of Regents and effective July 1, are Evelyn A. Alsultany, Valeria M. Bertacco, Deborah E. Goldberg, Mark B. Moldwin, J. Logan Skelton and Donald R. Zak.

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 are 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 regents by Interim Provost Paul Courant. The appointments are titles the six will retain throughout their U-M careers.

Evelyn Alsultany

The classroom of Alsultany, director of Arab and Muslim American Studies in the Department of American Culture, and associate professor of American culture, LSA, is described as a space where differences are productively explored by grappling with nuanced scholarship and critical conversations.

She is a university leader in discussions about the role of race and religion on and off campus.

As one of her students writes, “She has a way of making every student feel seen.”

Alsultany launched an American culture internship program that gives students the opportunity to gain practical experiences for their careers while also serving their communities.

Alsultany created the Islamophobia Working Group — a group of faculty, staff and students working to improve campus climate for students targeted by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments. It provides support, resources and guidance for building inclusive classrooms and policies.

Valeria Bertacco

Bertacco, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering, has made it her mission to improve the undergraduate educational experience of her students.

In large computer science courses, Bertacco embraces a personal touch and creates an interactive classroom environment.

Outside of the classroom, Bertacco advises and mentors the Girls in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science undergraduate group.  

Bertacco’s Computing Cares project works to improve retention of female undergraduates in computer science. She incorporates material on unconscious biases in the workforce into her courses, and she has worked at the departmental level to encourage inclusive hiring practices for undergraduate instructional aides.

One colleague writes that Bertacco has “impacted not only all the students in her class, but also most of the students taking any of the intro-level computer science courses at the University of Michigan.”

Deborah Goldberg

Goldberg, associate chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, LSA, has welcoming and open classes where all students are encouraged to seek lab or internship opportunities, students said.

Goldberg has helped lead the M-Bio and M-STEM initiatives, which are designed to recruit and retain a diverse student body in the sciences.

One colleague describes her role in these programs as a “visionary effort that will continue to pay educational dividends for years to come.”

Another example of the institutional impact of her leadership is Authentic Research Connection, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute-funded program that gives undergraduates in introductory courses experience in undertaking real, publishable research.

Mark Moldwin

Moldwin, associate chair of the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, and professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, CoE, has received multiple awards for his excellent and innovative teaching.

All tout his outstanding work as a mentor and supervisor to undergraduate students, and he often uses active learning strategies to create small-class environments in his large lectures.

Moldwin has demonstrated a deep commitment to expanding opportunities for underrepresented populations in science, including collaborating with the School of Education to prepare U-M pre-service science teachers to work in underserved urban schools. He developed a summer international research experience with the South African National Space Agency that encourages U-M students to become culturally competent engineers.

As one colleague writes, “Professor Moldwin’s commitment to undergraduate education is exemplary and his impact on undergraduate students is long and lasting.”

Logan Skelton

Skelton, professor of music (piano), School of Music, Theatre & Dance, has a remarkable record of teaching awards and an impressive roster of awards won by his students — evidence of what one student lauds as “an ability to mold his approach to the needs of each individual student, for his or her particular needs at any moment.”

Through innovative and inclusive teaching methods, Skelton has welcomed a diverse range of students into his piano performance studio, “partnering with them in the educational enterprise from the positive perspective of ability, and not of disability,” as one colleague describes.

Students praise his support and mentorship, such as his efforts to include undergraduates in professional and performance opportunities.

Skelton’s service to his school includes overhauling the piano literature courses.

Donald Zak

Zak, Burton V. Barnes Collegiate Professor, professor of natural resources, and associate dean for academic affairs, School of Natural Resources and Environment; and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, LSA, designs complex field learning experiences that challenge students.

Zak combines students of diverse backgrounds and abilities, and structures small group work to empower them in supportive classroom environments. Undergraduates speak favorably about his mentorship extending beyond final grades to include time in his research labs and conference trips. 

One colleague said about Zak, “His efforts and decisions are always justified and prioritized in terms of what is best for our students.”

Integrating his own award-winning teaching practice into his work on curricular design and coaching junior faculty on their teaching and mentorship, Zak models how service can extend the efforts of one extraordinary teacher to a department and school. 



  1. Anan Ameri
    on February 17, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Congratulation to Evelyn Alsultani. I am the founding director of the Arab American National Museum and have known Evelyn since she started working at UM-Dearborn. Dr. Alsultani is one of the most impressive and dedicated faculty I have met throughout my long career. Her commitment to excellence, high ethical standards coupled with compassion and humility make her truly a unique person. Great choice.

  2. Harm Buning
    on February 25, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Congrats to the recipients. My Dad was a Thurnau Prof. before he retired. Aero Engineering…..

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.