Discoverer of 'Lucy' to speak in Tempe to mark 40th anniversary

January 16, 2015

In 1974, as a newly minted PhD, Donald Johanson set off for the remote badlands of Ethiopia to search for fossil remains of ancient humans. He was rewarded with the discovery of a 3.2 million-year-old human fossil, now known around the world as "Lucy."

The recovery and identification of a partial skeleton as a new species, Australopithecus afarensis, prompted a major revision of the human family tree. This small human ancestor retained an intriguing mix of primitive ape-like features, such as a small brain, as well as human-like characters closely resembling the ability to walk upright, much like modern humans. Donald Johanson Download Full Image

Initially, Johanson’s conclusions generated substantial controversy. But over the years since this discovery, and with the recovery of nearly 400 specimens of Lucy’s species, her pivotal place on the human family tree has been secured.

Forty years later, now a world-renowned paleoanthropologist and founding director of Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins, Johanson continues to advocate for public understanding of the science of human origins and the importance of searching for the clues to how we “became human.”

“Modern humans are the result of the same evolutionary forces that crafted all life on Earth,” Johanson says. “We have evolved into the most powerful creature the world has ever seen, and looking into our deep ancestral past not only offers insights into what it means to be human, but most importantly, reminds us of our responsibilities for the future of this fragile planet we call home.”

Johanson will speak at the Tempe Center for the Arts at 7 p.m., Feb. 12, about the 40th anniversary of his historic discovery and the compelling research that continues today by scientists at the Institute of Human Origins. He will explore how the impact of Lucy's discovery created a better understanding of how we became human and what Lucy tells us about our place in nature.

There are two levels of event tickets – free or $30 VIP (TCA ticket fees are applicable for both levels). The VIP tickets include a pre-event reception with Johanson and IHO scientists and special orchestra-level seating. The pre-event reception begins at 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Tempe Center box office at 700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., by phone at 480-350-2822 or online at

The Institute of Human Origins, a research center of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is one of the pre-eminent research organizations in the world devoted to the science of human origins. IHO pursues an integrative strategy for research and discovery central to its over 30-year-old founding mission, bridging social, earth and life science approaches to the most important questions concerning the course, causes and timing of events in the human career over deep time. IHO fosters public awareness of human origins and its relevance to contemporary society through innovative outreach programs that create timely, accurate information for both education and lay communities. To learn more visit

Julie Russ

Assistant director, Institute of Human Origins


ASU English professor receives prestigious award for service to profession

January 16, 2015

Recognizing him as “an innovative scholar, teacher, public intellectual and institutional administrator whose work has the rare power to reach far beyond his own university,” the Association of Departments of English, an affiliate of the Modern Language Association of America, has given ASU professor Neal A. Lester its most prestigious award.

Lester was presented with the 2015 Francis Andrew March Award by the Association of Departments of English (ADE) in Vancouver, Canada, on Jan. 10. Lester is the Foundation Professor of English and founding director of ASU’s award-winning Project Humanities. Neal A. Lester Download Full Image

The award is named for Francis March (1825-1911), professor of English at Lafayette College and the first professor of English in America. Established in 1984, the award honors those who have committed exceptional service to the profession of English.

“The executive committee of the Association of Departments of English selected Neal Lester for the Francis March Award because of his outstanding service to the profession,” said Kent Cartwright, ADE executive committee member.

“I first became acquainted with Neal when he led a memorable session on building alumni relations at an ADE summer seminar," Cartwright said. "It was immediately clear to me that Neal was way ahead of the rest of us in appreciating the importance of external audiences and devising strategies for reaching them. He generously shared all his experiences and ideas. Such engagement, generosity and sense of public mission has been the hallmark of Neal’s leadership.”

The award is given occasionally, as appropriate nominees come to the committee’s attention. Prior recipients include Wayne C. Booth, University of Chicago, 1991; Patricia Meyer Spacks, University of Virginia, 1996; J. Hillis Miller, University of California, Irvine, 2001; Andrea Lunsford, Stanford University, 2002; and Gerald Graff, University of Illinois, 2011.

Lester said the award holds a special significance for him.

“This pursuit of ‘meaningfulness, integrity and truth’ is at the heart of the work I have tried to do these many years – in my teaching, in my research and in my service,” Lester said. “Whether it was sitting on advisory boards; evaluating proposals and manuscripts; conducting program reviews; evaluating annual performance reviews as a department chair; evaluating tenure and promotion cases as a dean or as an external reviewer; co-facilitating ADE new chairs workshops; presenting or paneling at ADE summer institutes; or counseling, calming or reassuring anxious graduate students about the job market at these annual conventions, for me, this service work is meaningful and reminds me of the passion that brought me to and sustains me in this profession.”

His passion has also impacted and sustained his peers, according to Karin Westman, an English professor from Kansas State University and ADE member.

“As a co-leader with Neal for the ADE's New Chairs Workshop for the past three years, I have watched Neal in action, helping faculty tap into skills they didn't realize they had for their new administrative roles,” Westman said. “I have also benefited indirectly from his insights, strategies and acumen about the best ways to help others succeed. He is richly deserving of the March Award."

Lester and Project Humanities have received major accolades since the project was founded in 2010, demonstrating the rapidly growing success and impact of this university initiative.

In 2014, Lester received the Roy Wilkins Community Service Award from the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the inaugural Key of Excellence Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award from Arizona Humanities and a written commendation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Humanity 101 effort.

Reporter , ASU News