President Mark Schlissel is honoring two University of Michigan professors for their commitment to public engagement and for employing their research to significantly impact society.

Marc Zimmerman, director of the Prevention Research Center and the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center in the School of Public Health, will receive the President’s Award for Public Impact. The award honors individuals whose research and expertise tangibly addresses a major public-sector challenge.

J. Alex Halderman, director of the Center for Computer Security and Society in the College of Engineering, will receive the President’s Award for National and State Leadership, which honors individuals who provide sustained, dedicated, and influential leadership and service in major national or state capacities.

“Throughout their careers, Professors Halderman and Zimmerman have confronted some of our society’s most pressing challenges,” Schlissel said. “Their work has not only made a difference in tackling the problems themselves, but in finding new and relevant ways to engage the public in finding and understanding possible solutions.”

Zimmerman is the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor of Public Health and professor of health behavior and health education. He also is editor of Youth and Society, a member of the editorial board for Health Education Research, and editor emeritus of Health Education and Behavior. His research focuses on how positive factors in adolescents’ lives help them overcome risks, and measurement and analysis of psychological and community empowerment.

Zimmerman received several nominations from faculty members at U-M and Michigan State University.

“His empirical work around individual assets and community resources that help youth overcome adverse childhood experiences, as well as his model of empowerment, are both widely cited and applied by researchers and practitioners in a variety of sectors globally,” the nomination statement said. “Dr. Zimmerman’s own application of resiliency and empowerment as strategies for change has mobilized a variety of stakeholders in the government and nongovernmental sector.”

Much of his 31 years of work at U-M has been in Flint, where he started Youth Empowerment Solutions, leads multiple youth violence prevention efforts and helped form the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center to give a voice to community representatives in the water crisis.

“I am so flattered and excited about this honor,” Zimmerman said. “We try to make a difference in kids’ lives. We created community involvement projects that engage them in the change. It’s amazing to watch them grow, engage, and care about the projects that they work on.”

“I have to thank the community partners,” he added. “Their help, collaboration, and engagement have really made all the difference in the world. They taught me a lot about people, academic-community partnerships, equity, inclusion, diversity, and to think more critically about my own work.”

Halderman, professor of computer science and engineering, focuses his research on computer security and privacy, emphasizing problems that broadly impact society and public policy. He is a noted election security expert and has worked to educate members of Congress about the need for election cybersecurity improvements.

In 2019, Halderman was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow for his work in strengthening election cybersecurity and evidence-based elections. He also co-chairs Michigan’s Election Security Commission.

“Professor Halderman has been working to understand and secure elections against cyberattacks for more than 10 years,” the nomination statement said. “After the 2016 presidential election, Professor Halderman published an online essay making the case that voter tampering through cyberattacks couldn’t be ruled out without examining physical evidence, and particularly paper ballots. The piece was read by over a million people.”

In 2017, Halderman testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee as a part of the broader Russian hacking investigation. His remarks focused on vulnerabilities in the U.S. voting system and a policy agenda for election cybersecurity improvements.

“I have been working for more than 15 years to try to help the U.S. and other countries better secure their election technology. Over this time, the threats facing elections have gone from seeming like science fiction to becoming the all-too-urgent reality of attacks on election systems that we have seen since 2016,” Halderman said.

“America’s universities have an incredible amount of expertise on some of the most important social challenges facing the nation and the world, but it’s important that experts be more than right,” he said. “We need to be champions for our ideas to make sure that we can rise above the noise and confusion that often dominates public debates.”

Halderman is grateful to receive this recognition.

“It’s an incredible thrill. I am deeply honored,” he said. “I’m grateful to the University of Michigan, the College of Engineering, and my department for the continuous support and this memorable recognition.” 

Zimmerman and Halderman will be honored at an award ceremony March 16 at the Ross School of Business. Those who want to attend should RSVP.

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