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4 at ASU honored with Regents' Professor title

Honorees are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers, with outstanding achievements in their fields

November 15, 2018

Regents’ Professors are the elite of the academic world. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

No more than 3 percent of all faculty at Arizona State University carry the distinction.

This year, four ASU faculty members are being recognized as Regents’ Professors.

One has revolutionized education through cognitive science. Another is one of the country’s foremost scholars in Native American history, pioneering the creation of a knowledge base of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives. A third is lauded as being the most significant geographer of a generation. The fourth is the world’s top expert on drylands, work vital to global sustainability.

“These four new professors recognized by their peers as being at the very zenith of their fields represent the outstanding faculty we have here at Arizona State University,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “Their transformative scholarship has contributed to our understanding of the world, and this latest honor is extremely well deserved.”

Let’s meet them.

Michelene Chi

portrait of woman

Michelene Chi

Chi is the Dorothy Bray Endowed Professor of Science and Teaching in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She has designed and implemented best-practice forms of school instruction to enhance students’ learning at the K–16 level. She has published pioneering research on such topics as conceptual change, the nature of expertise, learning from being tutored, and learning strategies.

An internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has been awarded at the highest levels, her contributions for which she has been awarded are not only transformative, but founding. She is regarded as one of the founding figures of modern learning science and has published 120 papers that garnered 48,000 citations.

A nominator said, “She has repeatedly identified phenomena that present the critical test of competing theories. This is extremely rare and the mark of the very finest scholars. A single time makes a career, and she has done it at least three times. Modern cognitive science would not be in the advanced state it is without her work of the past 40 years.” 

Another said she has “five papers that are seminal. I wish there was a Google index for percent of papers in a field that cite a given work — I suspect it would be stunning.”   

Chi was thrilled at the news.

"I am most honored to be named a Regents' Professor,” she said. “Recognition from one’s own university is most heartening and appreciated."

Chi's current work focuses on three strands. One is devoted to how to assess different ways of engaging students cognitively, using students’ overt actions as a measure of cognitive engagement. A second strand of her research is devoted to enhancing students’ understanding of complex processes that are typically taught in science classes. The third studies new ways to deliver digitally enhanced instruction, incorporating ways that can optimize student learning. Her research has been used in ASU’s design of its blended adaptive-active learning courses for general education.

Donald Fixico

ASU Professor

Donald Fixico

Fixico is the Distinguished Foundation Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He is among the foremost scholars in North American Indian history. Fixico’s scholarly achievements are remarked as monumental, including pioneering contributions to Native American ethno-history and oral history. Internationally recognized as an expert on indigenous studies, he has led national historical organizations. Further testimony to his preeminence, the Oxford University Press has selected Fixico for its major Indian history survey. His scholarly leadership achievements include the presidency of the Western Historical Association, one of the most prestigious appointments in historical studies.

Fixico created a knowledge base of the narratives that did not exist before his research. He has shown the importance of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives in general as a necessary ingredient for the writing of not only Indian histories but American histories. His extensive research on the termination and relocation policies is regarded as the first place to begin any serious account of this critical period for American Indian peoples.

One reviewer wrote that “he is one of the three most prominent historians of Native America working in the academy today. ... Professor Fixico may in fact be the most accomplished of the three. … (He) has left an indelible mark not just on his own field but on American history as a whole.”

Fixico was pleasantly startled by the news.

"This was quite a surprise!” he said. “In fact, it was shocking news that made me feel honored that the Regents' Professor Committee, ASU administration and Regents recognized my work in the field of American Indian history and the West. I am grateful to the individuals who nominated me for this honor, and I still feel numb from the wonderful news of being named Regents' Professor."

One of his career goals has been to help people to gain a better understanding of American Indians from Native perspectives and U.S.-Indian treaties. 

“ASU has been very supportive of not only my work, but supportive of American Indian professors and Native students,” he said. “This year is a banner year. I served as the president of the Western History Association — the most important organization for my field — published my 15th book, and the WHA honored me with an annual book award: the Donald L. Fixico Award for the best book on presenting an indigenous perspective in the U.S. and Canada.”

Stewart Fotheringham

ASU Professor

Stewart Fotheringham

Fotheringham, a Foundation Professor of Computational Spatial Science in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, works at the triple junction of geographical information science, statistical analysis and spatial modeling. He has authored or co-authored 12 books, 36 book chapters and more than 100 research articles. In recognition of his contributions to science, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and the UK Academy of Social Sciences. He also was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship (the U.K. equivalent of a Guggenheim).

His crowning achievement is the development of a tool called geographically weighted regression. This tool is at the essence of geographical thinking and has been widely embraced by geographers and incorporated into commercial Geographical Information Systems software packages.

Of his many achievements, one reviewer said, “The significance of his work cannot be overstated. For example, these approaches have been implemented in a series of software platforms which are used by hundreds of thousands of scholars and practioners.”

Another said, “Stewart Fotheringham is, without doubt, one of the most renowned quantitative geographers of his generation — perhaps the most renowned.”

Fotheringham was delighted to be named as a Regents' Professor.

“It is an especially great honor given the number of brilliant people here at ASU,” he said.

Osvaldo Sala

ASU Professor

Osvaldo Sala

Sala is the Julie A. Wrigley Professor and Foundation Professor in the School of Life Sciences, as well as founding director of the Global Drylands Center at ASU. He has explored several topics throughout his career from the response of arid ecosystems to climate and land‐use change to global biodiversity scenarios for the next 50 years. His work has been truly interdisciplinary, collaborating with geologists, social scientists, mathematicians and humanists and using a variety of tools from experimentation to simulation modeling. He is best known for his experimental manipulations of drylands. Sala's research has had a substantial local as well as global impact. He has carried out many experiments around the world from Patagonia to the Kalahari, from the Loess Plateau in China to the Chihuahuan Desert.

His publications are among the most cited in the fields of ecology, sustainability and biology. He has more than 200 publications and 40,000 citations.

One reviewer wrote, “Dr. Sala’s service to the scientific community is extraordinary. He is considered a world expert in biodiversity in global terrestrial ecosystems. ... He is a scientist who has been at the frontiers of knowledge in ecology his whole career.”

A second reviewer explains his pioneering contributions: “Osvaldo’s contributions to our understanding of the controls on primary production in grasslands are without equal. …. Osvaldo also developed an experimental approach for studying the consequences of drought in grasslands. The science community has broadly adopted this experimental infrastructure. Indeed, his ‘Sala Shelters’ are integral to climate change studies in a wide variety of ecosystems worldwide.”

Sala said he cherishes the honor.

“I feel honored and humbled to be among ASU’s Regents' Professors who encompass excellence in so many fields of study,” he said. “My day-to-day work focuses on drylands that range from deserts to grasslands and savannas. I use field experimentation together with mathematical models in my quest to provide the necessary knowledge to achieve drylands sustainability, which is essential to achieve global sustainability.”

Being named Regents’ Professor is a triple distinction, Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle said.

“Being named Regents’ Professor is not only a recognition of excellence by the Arizona Board of Regents and the university, it is a recognition by their peers in the field,” Searle said. “Their pioneering research and scholarly achievements go beyond elevating only their own work, but also that of their respective fields. We celebrate their great achievement.”

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