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4 top ASU scholars named Regents Professors

November 20, 2020

Faculty honored for expertise in science, education, literature and culture

They are the best and brightest and have brought honor and distinguishment to their disciplines. They’re considered the top researchers that Arizona State University has to offer, and they’re getting their moment in the sun.

Four ASU faculty are being honored with the title of Regents Professor: the most prestigious and highest faculty award possible.

In order to receive this elite designation, they must be recognized by peers nationally and internationally. On Nov. 20, their names were submitted by ASU President Michael Crow and quickly approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.

“Our Regents Professors are exceptional scholars and the elite of the academic world,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost at ASU. “No more than 3% of all tenured or tenure faculty at ASU carry this distinction. They revolutionize knowledge through their work and impact the depth and breadth of the educational opportunities we offer. The entire ASU community celebrates their great achievement.”

ASU requires all nominations for Regents Professor to come from groups of tenured faculty members. An advisory committee evaluates all nominations following an established review process. Crow then considers the recommendations and forwards them to the Arizona Board of Regents for final approval.

The new Regents Professors for 2021 are:

  • Ferran Garcia-Pichel — the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of the Environment in the School of Life Sciences and the founding director of the Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics at the Biodesign Institute.
  • Stephen Graham — the Warner Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and member of the Reading Hall of Fame; an expert on how writing can effectively be used to support reading and learning.
  • Devoney Looser — Foundation Professor in the Department of English, John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar; an internationally recognized literary critic and historian and the author or editor of nine books on women’s writings, the history of the novel, feminist studies and aging studies.
  • Ayanna Thompson — director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and a professor in the Department of English; recognized globally for her scholarly and public-facing scholarly work, particularly, in terms of performance and race in Shakespeare’s plays.

“These world-class scholars demonstrate innovative approaches in the study of the humanities, science and education,” Crow said. “Their work has significantly expanded our knowledge base and improved how future learners will come to understand our world.”

Here’s more on the new Regents Professors:

Ferran Garcia-Pichel

Man in tie and suit

Garcia-Pichel's discoveries on the roles that microbes play in the environment are considered pioneering and transdisciplinary in his field. His research has enabled convergence of different disciplines combining approaches from biogeochemistry, geomicrobiology and global-change biology, thus opening up new frontiers of research. His research provided much of the most important knowledge of microbial ecology including the ecological and genetic diversity of the cyanobacteria, perhaps the most essential bacteria on the planet. His discoveries are shaping our understanding of the deep history of Earth from deserts to oceans. Ecological research is only beginning to come to grips with some of Garcia-Pichel's newest discoveries.

The breadth of his research is expressed as well by the diversity of funding sources, which range from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to NASA and the Department of Defense. Ferran has published more than 170 articles with citations totaling over 14,000. He sustained all of this research even during his service as dean of natural sciences, a testament to his commitment to ASU.   

Stephen Graham

Man in blue shirt

For more than 30 years, Graham has studied how writing develops, how to teach it effectively and how writing can be used to support reading and learning. In recent years he has been involved in the development and testing of digital tools for supporting writing and reading through a series of grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences and the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. His research involves developing writers and students with special needs in both elementary and secondary schools, with much of it occurring in classrooms in urban schools.

Graham has served as an adviser to a variety of organizations, including UNESCO, National Institute of Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Zuckerberg Initiative, National Writing Project, Institute of Educational Sciences and the What Works Clearinghouse. He is also a former member of the National Research Conference committee on adolescent and adult literacy. Graham’s associations and awards are plentiful and a testimony to his research contributions. He is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. In addition to the Reading Hall of Fame, he has received the following awards: Sylvia Scribner Award (American Educational Research Association), Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Research Award (International Council for Exceptional Children), the Career Award (International Council for Exceptional Children), and the Samuel A. Kirk Award (International Council for Exceptional Children). Last year, he was awarded the highly prestigious Thorndike Award from the American Psychological Association.

Devoney Looser

Woman in gray hair and glasses

Looser combines rigorous research with public outreach at every turn and is known internationally for her work and expertise. She has had great impact on the contemporary literary and cultural studies landscape. Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Times Literary Supplement, Entertainment Weekly, Salon and the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Her three high-impact books ("British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670–1820," "Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850" and "The Making of Jane Austen") have blazed new trails for public scholarship. In addition to her three books, she has edited four collections of essays, published 30 refereed articles and 23 refereed book chapters, composed 44 pieces of public writing, and earned 17 grants and fellowships from prestigious organizations. Looser’s most recent single‐authored book, "The Making of Jane Austen," is especially noteworthy. It has made a critical splash nationally and internationally with audiences both in academia and the general public. A National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award afforded Looser to research the sisters Jane and Anna Maria Porter, which is the subject of her fourth book. Bloomsbury Publishing will release the title in 2021.

Looser is also widely known throughout the academic community and the community-at-large through her roller derby alter ego, Stone Cold Jane Austen. The rough-and-tumble sport is a perfect marriage for her academic and athletic pursuits. 

Ayanna Thompson

Woman in black blazer

Thompson’s pioneering contribution to literary studies is a body of work that has challenged Shakespeare scholars in the U.S. and abroad to think about and teach about the Bard's plays with an eye on performance and race. Among her single-authored books on this subject are: "Shakespeare in the Theatre: Peter Sellars," which studies the avant-garde Shakespeare director; "Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centered Approach"; "Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America," which contemplates how universal themes associated with Shakespearean texts are challenged by constructions of racial identity; and "Performing Race and Torture on the Early Modern Stage," which studies representations of torture and is known as the first study of Restoration drama from the site of performance theory.  

Thompson’s publications are well placed in noted presses and journals. Importantly, her publications have influence, as evidenced by the fact that she is frequently invited for international and national speaking engagements. She recently presented a keynote address at a Shakespeare symposium hosted by the Globe Theatre in London. While her scholarship has certainly had an impact on the discipline of Shakespeare studies, it has also had a tremendous results on the institutions with which she has been associated, leaving demonstrable changes in her wake including the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Shakespeare Association of America, where she is its first African American president, as well as locally as director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU. She has converted this institution in the two years into her tenure to one that is now internationally recognized.

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The healing power of art

November 20, 2020

ASU Medical Humanities Club hosts panel discussion on art therapy

Rafael Campo had a hard time being taken seriously during his time at Harvard Medical School in the 1980s. In addition to pursuing a career as a physician, he was also a poet. But at the time, most medical schools’ curriculum focused exclusively on science and biology, with no concern for what the humanities could bring to the field.

But Campo believed there was healing power in human emotion and connection.

Today, he is the director of literature and writing programs for Harvard Medical School’s Arts and Humanities Initiative, and medical schools across the country have begun to embrace the role of humanities in medicine.

“I tell my students all the time, look at what Dr. Rafael Campo has accomplished at Harvard Medical School and beyond,” said Arizona State University Principal Lecturer of English Rosemarie Dombrowski during a virtual panel discussion about art therapy hosted this month by the undergraduate student Medical Humanities Club.

“He has done so much, practically single-handedly, over the past 20 years to advance this idea that poetry can be used effectively in health care as an augmentative treatment for patients,” she added. “He did that with a lot of resistance from other medical professors, and my hope is that this generation is not going to see that resistance.”

Dombrowski is the founder of Revisionary Arts, a nonprofit that provides therapeutic poetry workshops to organizations and communities in need. Several of her current and former students came together to form the Medical Humanities Club on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus after second-year pre-med student and club president Tiffany Harmanian attended the Mayo Clinic Humanities in Medicine Symposium in November 2019.

Before that, Harmanian had taken an honors class on poetry and medicine that opened her eyes not just to poetry, but several other forms of art therapy. She began doing her own research on the subject, then, at the symposium, she said, “It was reiterated to me that this kind of training needs to start before medical school. Which is exactly why I started (the club)!”

November’s art therapy panel discussion also included Olga Davis, associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College at the downtown campus; Elizabeth Linos, director of rehabilitation services at Phoenix Children’s Hospital; and Jelena Mitrovic, a kinesiology undergrad who has worked with students at the School of Ballet Arizona’s adaptive dance program (Mitrovic subbed in for Kay Price, principal instructor for the adaptive dance program, who could not attend).

Over the course of an hour, panelists shared with attendees the ins and outs of their particular areas of expertise in art therapy, as well as personal stories from the field.

Davis, who has collaborated with researchers at Mayo Clinic on narrative medicine and humanities research, shared about a time she worked with members of the Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer to put on a performance of their experiences with the disease. Davis wrote a script based on what each member wrote (with their permission); then a cast of professional actors brought it to life.

“It was powerful,” Davis said. “So powerful. There were people weeping, of course. And many individuals had never experienced this kind of, what I call a narrative intervention. Intervention because it intervened in a community that, oftentimes, their voices are not heard. I’m referring to the Black community and their experiences around breast cancer.”

The effects of the performance extended beyond the patients; several physicians were in the audience at the performance, many of whom shared with Davis afterward that it had caused them to reflect on the importance of simply taking the time to listen more empathically to their patients.

While the mental and emotional benefits of art therapy are widely touted, Linos shared how she has used music therapy with patients who have such diseases as Alzheimer’s to extract information that might otherwise be lost to the recesses of their memory, or with patients who are relearning to walk, helping them keep a steady pace by stepping to the beat of the music.

“I think one of the benefits of using art as a therapy modality is that it can be adapted for every situation,” Linos said. “So it can look very different but be just as meaningful.”

For students of the School of Ballet Arizona’s adaptive dance program, art therapy is both physically and mentally beneficial, Mitrovic said. Children with Down syndrome, who often have issues with muscle laxity, enjoy a fun, safe form of physical engagement, while children with autism are exposed to a stress-free social environment.

One point all panelists agreed on is that art therapy is an area of study more students should be exposed to, and that the tide is beginning to turn that way.

“Certainly narrative medicine is something that has been around a little while now … but it's still somewhat new, because not everyone has embraced it,” Davis said. “I do believe that our students who are looking to the future are seeing what art therapy can do and, as up-and-coming physicians, will embrace the humanities in ways that earlier physicians have not done. We're moving in a great direction.”

Any undergraduate student who is involved in pre-health or would like to get involved in the medical humanities field can email, direct message @asumedicalhumanities on Instagram or contact the club on SunDevilSync.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay