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Faculty exemplars represent ASU’s best

September 14, 2007

Six young faculty members who are setting the bar high with the quality of their teaching and research have been named exemplars by ASU President Michael Crow.

These individuals are “rising stars” whose talent and hard work exemplify the finest teacher-scholars the university has to offer. They include a violinist, two biologists, an engineer and two social scientists.

Four are assistant professors who have earned tenure with promotion to associate professor status. They are: Jonathan Swartz in the School of Music, Herberger College of the Arts; Tracy Spinrad and Adriana Umana-Taylor, both in the School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Leah Gerber, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Paul Westerhoff is an associate professor promoted to full professor, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Manfred Laubichler is such an outstanding scholar, teacher and mentor that he has been promoted from assistant to full professor with tenure in the School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“These six individuals are outstanding teacher-scholars who, through their work with students and their advancement of knowledge, ensure that ASU is the finest a university can be,” says Elizabeth D. Capaldi, ASU’s executive vice president and provost.

Swartz is a talented performer who joined ASU in 2001 to teach violin, and since then he has built one of the most enviable string programs in the country. He created an innovative project-based chamber music curriculum, established a visiting quartet residency program, and developed relationships with the Phoenix Art Museum and the Mayo Clinic, which led to student performances at both places.

His students work with leading artists in the field, and they also work with composers on the creation and performance of new music. Swartz also created a master of music degree with orchestral emphasis, preparing students for an orchestral career and attracting more advanced string players to ASU.

“Professor Swartz excels in all areas of responsibility,” says Kwang-Wu Kim, dean of the Herberger College of the Arts. “He is a dedicated and masterful teacher whose vision for the role of the artist in society reaches far beyond the stage. He also is a gifted string artist whose research on bow technique has received national and international recognition.”

Spinrad is known as an excellent teacher who is in demand as a student adviser and mentor. She brings students into her research process, training graduate students in data collection and including them in her publications. She also works with about 25 undergraduate students each semester, showing them how to conduct standardized interviews and to observe and code children’s behaviors in laboratory settings.

She is a prolific researcher on young children’s social and emotional development who has published 23 refereed articles and six chapters since joining the ASU faculty in 2000. She is co-principal investigator on several large-scale grants, with one scheduled to continue until 2010.

“Tracy is one of the rare scholars who is as devoted to advancing the field as she is to maintaining her own scholarly contributions,” says Richard Fabes, founding director of the School of Social and Family Dynamics. “She engages in research that represents much bigger science than most young scientists. Young scholars sometimes are reluctant to become involved in big collaborative science, but Tracy steadfastly pursues a commitment to asking big questions that are complex and difficult to answer.”

Umana-Taylor was recruited to ASU in 2004 as part of the Borderlands Initiative. Her teaching emphasizes “active learning,” with students participating in lively class discussions, as well as reflective writing activities and supervised research. She often mentors students through co-publishing and co-presenting.

Her research centers on Latino adolescents’ ethnic identity formation and the role that family members play in this developmental process, as well as the ways their ethnic identity influences their lives. She is a prolific publisher, with 19 of her 29 publications having occurred since coming to ASU.

“Adriana is a leading pioneer in the study of Latino families and youth,” Fabes says. “Not only is her work cutting-edge, but it has generated deeper interest in the study of ethnic identity amongst ethnic communities in the United States, not just among Latino populations.”

Gerber is a researcher in conservation biology who brings real-world case studies to her teaching, and her excitement about the subject is contagious. Since coming to ASU in 2002, she has developed four new courses in conservation biology. She is a dedicated adviser and mentor who takes her students into the field and has co-authored numerous papers with them.

She is working to help develop policy on endangered species recovery, marine reserve design, and the effect of disease in conservation. Gerber initiated a long-term research program with sea lions in the Gulf of California, which has developed into an international program involving ASU undergraduates and graduate students, conservation organizations and Mexican natural resource agencies.

“Leah Gerber is a rising star in ecology, and we are very fortunate to have been able to recruit and retain her at ASU,” says Robert Page, founding director of the School of Life Sciences. “She is a model teacher and mentor, and her level of research productivity and scholarship is exemplary.”

Westerhoff, who came to ASU in 1995, is known as an excellent classroom teacher and strong mentor who regularly co-authors with his students, takes them into the field and ensures they have the opportunity to present to professional audiences in a variety of venues.

He is one of the leading researchers in the area of drinking water quality and treatment, with more than 60 funded projects over the past decade. He is a recognized research leader in the ASU community who works in a very timely and important area of study. He has had 51 peer-reviewed publications and has given more than 150 conference presentations and 40 invited presentations.

“Paul Westerhoff is very deserving of this distinction,” says Paul Johnson, executive dean of the School of Engineering. “He is a valued collaborator and leader in many campuswide, transdisciplinary initiatives, and he is well-respected by the students. Paul operates at the level where he is simultaneously pursuing fundamental research, developing practicable solutions to real-world problems and integrating students across all of these activities. It is a pleasure to work with him, because he is passionate about his role as an educator and researcher, and he gives freely of his time to help contribute to broader ASU initiatives.”

Laubichler, a theoretical biologist who has taught in the Biology and Society program since coming to ASU in 2001, has the rare distinction of being known as a superstar intellectual in the upward trajectory of his academic career and a dynamic teacher, too. He won the coveted Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences last year.

Laubichler explores some of the deepest questions facing science, from embryology to evolutionary biology, and he takes his students along for the ride. He holds doctorates in biology and philosophy from Yale and Princeton, respectively, and he takes an interdisciplinary perspective in his teaching, helping students explore the interface of science, society and values.

“His excellence in teaching, mentorship and access to his students is exceptional,” wrote one member of the promotion and tenure committee.

“Manfred Laubichler is recognized worldwide as a leader in his field,” says Robert Page. “I have attended international meetings with him and been amazed at the respect paid to him by senior members of his discipline … which is why I was not surprised that he was promoted from assistant to full professor.”

These exemplary faculty have received an extra salary increase in addition to the promotion adjustment. Their curriculum vitae and personal statements can be found on the Web at