Dean's Newsletter

A quarterly newsletter from Interim Dean Beverly Wendland

Arts and Sciences Faculty: the Best of the Best

The beginning of the school year is always a time of anticipation. Students are getting to know their new roommates and looking forward to the beginning of their classes. Parents who have worked overtime to load the SUV with their children’s worldly possessions, can finally relax and put their feet up. Faculty come back from a summer of work on their books, experiments, or field research and look forward to meeting new colleagues who have just joined our community. It’s a time for us to celebrate the great privilege of a university education and the remarkable professors who return to Homewood every September.

Before it all becomes routine, I want to take a little time to reflect on their recent achievements. Their contributions to the research that is so important at Hopkins ranges from the foundational and legendary to the path-breaking and mind-boggling. And since they are all members of our faculty, it is my privilege to “brag on them” by compiling this remarkable list of awards my colleagues have garnered in the last few months alone.

In the humanities, for instance, Eric Sundquist, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, won the 2012 Jay B. Hubbell Award for his exceptional lifetime achievements within the study of American literature. A graduate of our English department's PhD program and a faculty member since 2010, Eric is a widely-cited authority on African-American literatures, Jewish-American literature, and the literature of the Holocaust. The Jay B. Hubbell Award has been given every year since 1964 by the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association.

Also on the humanities front, Matthew Porterfield, a filmmaker teaching in our Film and Media Studies Program, had his most recent film, “I Used to be Darker,” accepted to the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film is about a Northern Irish runaway, who finds herself in trouble in Ocean City, Maryland. She seeks refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, but they have problems of their own. This is Matt's third feature film, and when it debuts in cinemas later this year, several Krieger School film majors will be listed in the credits. He is one of two inaugural Faxon Fund Practicing Artists, the other being a newcomer to our faculty, Roberto Buso-Garcia, native of Puerto Rico, graduate of Harvard's film program, and most recently the director of HBO's Spanish Language Film Division.

Alice McDermott of the Writing Seminars was inducted into the 2013 New York State Writers Hall of Fame. Known for her novels that take place in her native Long Island, Alice attended the induction ceremony this summer and was introduced by Dan Barry, reporter and columnist for The New York Times. The Empire State Center for the Book established the Hall of Fame to recognize New York-born or based poets, novelists, journalists, and historians who have made “an indelible mark on our culture.”

The Krieger School is home to a vital Near Eastern Studies department. Earlier this year, P. Kyle McCarter, the William Foxwell Professor in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies, was recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BA in English. Kyle is a leading expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the origin of the alphabet, and the Tel Zayit inscription.

Naveeda Khan, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, was honored for her most recent book, Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan. It won the annual book prize of The American Institute of Pakistani Studies, a bi-national research and education that promotes academic study of Pakistan in the U.S.

From the Department of History, Academy Professor Richard Kagan was elected a corresponding member of the Spanish Royal Academy of History. He specializes in the area of early Modern Europe, with an emphasis on Habsburg Spain and its overseas empire. Established in 1738, the Spanish Royal Academy of History studies the culture, civilization, and various areas of life of the Spanish people.

Angus Burgin, assistant professor in the Department of History, was selected by the Organization of American Historians to receive the 2013 Merle Curti Award, which is given annually for the best books published in American intellectual history and American social history. He also garnered the Joseph J. Spengler Prize for the best book on the history of economics, from the History of Economics Society. Angus' book, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression, was hailed by the judging committee for bringing to life “an intricate sequence of ideas that has shaped both modern American conservatism and transatlantic conceptions of advanced capitalism.”

In the social sciences arena, Jane Guyer, the George Armstrong Kelly Professor of Anthropology, was given the prestigious Distinguished Africanist Award by the African Studies Association. The award is given to scholars who have a lifetime record of outstanding scholarship in their respective field of African studies and service to the Africanist community. Jane was lauded for her ethnographic studies of economic life in West and Central Africa that illustrate the creativity and resilience of African men and women despite political and economic turmoil. Her research is also known for its interdisciplinary influence.

Lester Spence, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, was named winner of the 2013 National Conference of Black Political Scientists' DuBois Best Book Award for Star in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, Lester's book explores African-Americans' hopes and fears about hip-hop music's political power.

Our natural scientists as well are often internationally recognized for their discoveries and accomplishments. In the past year, more than a few professors from our Department of Physics and Astronomy have received notable awards. For example, astrophysicist Brice Ménard won the 2012 Sloan Research Fellowship to support his research on extragalactic astrophysics and cosmology. He is developing new techniques for mining large astronomical data sets. Brice's fellowship marks back-to-back Sloan awards for the department: Nadia Zakamska was awarded the fellowship in 2011 for her research with Earth and space-based telescopes and large data sets.

Chia-Ling Chien, the Jacob L. Hain Professor, won the 2012 Asian Union of Magnetics Societies Award. Given only once every two years, the award honors Chia-Ling's significant contributions to magnetics research.

Another big award in the physics and astronomy field, the annual Gruber Cosmology Prize, was given last year to Charles Bennett, the Alumni Centennial Professor, and his Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) space mission science team. They were recognized by the Gruber Foundation for their transformative study of an ancient light dating back to the infant universe.

Chuck has been on quite a roll lately. In addition to the Gruber prize, he was also honored with 2013 Jansky Prize for his leadership in the establishment of precision cosmology through studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. It was established in 1966 to recognize outstanding contributions in the advancement of radio astronomy. Chuck is the first Johns Hopkins faculty member to receive the honor.

Holland Ford, research professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, received NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal for his outstanding contributions to the Hubble Space Telescope. The medal is the space agency's highest form of recognition, awarded to someone who has made a profound impact on the success of a NASA mission.

Marc Kamionkowski, professor and theorist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy received a $1.3 million award from the John Templeton Foundation. The project is called “Fossils from Beyond the Big Bang.” The award will fund a program of theoretical research to consider new hypotheses for what set the Universe in motion, think about novel ways to test them, and to thus make contact between speculations about questions regarding the Universe and the realm of measurements. Marc is the project leader and two of his colleagues from the department, Joseph Silk, Homewood Professor, and Alex Szalay, Alumni Centennial Professor, are co-leaders.

Naomi Levin, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has won the prestigious Young Scientist Award from the Geological Society of America. The award is given to a researcher for outstanding achievement in contributions to geological knowledge through original research that marks a major advance in the earth sciences. Naomi's research centers on how landscapes and terrestrial organisms respond to past climate change. She uses a combination of sedimentary geology and isotope geochemistry to study interactions between mammals, vegetation, and climate in past ecosystems with a focus on early hominids in East Africa.

Professor Darrell Strobel, also of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, was awarded the American Astronomical Society's 2012 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize for outstanding contribution to planetary science. Darrell is known as one of the top experts on many aspects of planetary atmospheres and magnetospheres. In addition to his scientific achievements, he was recognized by the society for attracting many promising young planetary scientists to the field and “guiding them with dedication.”

Other recent natural science achievements include Tyrel McQueen, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, winning the 2012 David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship for Science and Engineering. The fellowship is one of 16 awarded each year nationwide, and bestows $875,000 (over a five-year period) to unusually creative young faculty members. Tyrel, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will use the award to continue his work toward discovering, designing, and controlling materials with exotic electronic states of matter, with applications ranging from fundamental science to solving energy problems.

In the Department of Biology, Haiqing Zhao, associate professor, was given the 2013 Young Investigator Award from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences—the professional society for olfaction and taste research. The award recognizes emerging leaders in the field of olfaction. Haiqing's lab explores the first step of olfaction—olfactory signal transduction, the process by which olfactory sensory neurons transform information.

Kelly Gebo, director of our undergraduate public health studies—one of the Krieger School's most popular majors—was recognized by the Association of Schools of Public Health for her innovative work. She received their 2012 Riegelman Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Public Health Education. The award supports faculty members such as Kelly, who have demonstrated exemplary efforts to start a new program, have collaborated with community partners and other disciplines, and have garnered respect and enthusiasm from students. And in case you didn't know, Kelly is a Blue Jay through and through: she received her bachelor's degree, master's of public health, and her medical degree—all from Johns Hopkins.

Believe it or not, I'm just scratching the surface here; I think I could fill a book with the achievements of our faculty. After all, this list recounts only the last few months' worth of awards. As I have joked with several award-winning departments, I am starting to wear a groove in the pathways that lead from the Dean's office to the sites of celebration, where we lift a glass of champagne to toast these accomplishments.

In spite of all the fuss, my colleagues never lose sight of their primary role: preparing our students to be thinkers and leaders. Our world-renowned professors give their very best to our students, and the students give it right back.

The steadfast excellence of the Krieger School rests on our ability to continue to attract and retain stellar professors who are leaders in their field. That is how our students will continue to be inspired to explore, to question, to learn, to grow, and ultimately to claim their Hopkins birthright of contributing to new knowledge as researchers themselves.

The “deanery” wishes everyone in the extended Hopkins family the very best for the new year.


Katherine S. Newman
James B. Knapp Dean