Creamer, Ebrahimi, Fehrenbach named
2007 Presidential Research Professors
by Tom Parisi
NIU faculty members Winifred Creamer in anthropology, Nader Ebrahimi in statistics and Heide Fehrenbach in history have been awarded 2007 Presidential Research Professorships, the university’s top recognition for outstanding research.
“I am truly privileged to be part of the review and selection process that identifies the best of the best scholars at NIU,” says Rathindra Bose, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.
“These three faculty members have distinguished themselves in advancing their fields and achieving international recognition as outstanding scholars.”
The Presidential Research Professorships have been awarded annually since 1982 in recognition and support of NIU’s research and artistic mission. Award winners receive special financial support of their research for four years, after which they carry the title of Distinguished Research Professor.
Here’s a closer look at this year’s award recipients.
Winifred Creamer certainly isn’t afraid to sink her hands in the dirt. What she unearths tells us much about our past and occasionally makes headlines worldwide.
A professor of anthropology, Creamer has proven herself to be an archaeologist extraordinaire – her research helping to shed light on the origins of civilization in the Americas, the evolution of civilization in Central America and the ancient Pueblo people of the American Southwest, where her work became the basis for a Bill Kurtis documentary.
Indeed, her research findings have attracted worldwide publicity and resulted in publications appearing in top academic journals, including Science, Nature, Archaeology and Current Anthropology.
“She has a keen nose for what the critical issues are,” says Tom Dillehay, chair and distinguished professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University.
“What distinguishes her from most other scholars I have known during my career is that she employs a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches to her research and teaching, and that she attempts to immerse knowledge within a broader anthropological, historical, social and ecological context,” Dillehay adds.
Creamer earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Tulane University. Over the course of her career she has received two Fulbright Research Fellowships (2004 and 1985) and numerous grants, including from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. She is fluent in Spanish and speaks conversational French, Italian and Swedish. She also holds a permanent appointment as visiting professor at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru.
“Her scholarly credentials are extraordinary, and she has consistently demonstrated leadership in the field of archaeology,” says Judy Ledgerwood, chair of the NIU Department of Anthropology.
At NIU, Creamer serves as executive director of the Anthropology Museum and teaches courses on the rise of civilization, exploring archaeology, archaeological method and theory and the archaeology of South America.
Creamer and her husband, archaeologist Jonathan Haas of Chicago’s Field Museum, are among the three directors of the Proyecto Arqueologico Norte Chico, a long-term project examining the emergence of complex societies on the Peruvian coast. The first five years of the project were devoted to establishing the chronology of a large cluster of major ceremonial centers in the region. The research confirmed the centers were built and occupied in the 3rd millennium B.C. and provoked a worldwide response, with stories appearing in more than 150 publications.
“The challenge of archaeology is to answer questions about people with information that does not come directly from them, but comes from their surroundings and the rich assemblage of material culture they leave behind,” Creamer says. “Our research tells us about people’s regular but less self-aware actions, from what they throw away to the way they bury their dead. While we cannot dig up people’s beliefs, we can identify the objects and actions that belief inspired.”
In the classroom, Creamer’s research often becomes part of her lectures. Numerous students have participated in her fieldwork.
“My research informs my teaching in the examples I present to students,” Creamer says. “I constantly search for the article or example that will show the most recent research and demonstrate how research is continually changing what we know.”
It’s not the awards and recognition by peers that most satisfy Nader Ebrahimi, but rather the interest of students in his work.
“Most exciting are the occasions when graduate students seek me out to ask questions related to my ongoing research and express interest in working on research projects with me,” Ebrahimi says.
Perhaps he sees a little of himself in those students. Years ago, as a junior mathematics major at Shiraz University in Iran, Ebrahimi took his first course in statistics. Captivated by its ability to provide insights into a complicated world, he decided to pursue a career in the field, where he has proven to be both prolific and innovative.
“Statistics can help predict quality of life,” he says. “It can also help improve it.”
Ebrahimi is a leading researcher in the areas of reliability theory and survival analysis, information theoretic statistics and modeling, and statistical applications in engineering and medical sciences.
Statistical techniques that he developed ultimately help companies determine the reliability of new products, from automobiles to electronics, and help doctors predict remission and relapse of certain diseases.
Collaborating with NIU graduate-level students, he now is developing statistical methodology relating the probability of survival of a cancer patient to his or her DNA profile. Additionally, one of his advanced students is working on ways to link the occurrence of a disease, such as high blood pressure, to certain features in a chromosome.
“Nader has an absolutely outstanding research record and is deeply engaged in nearly every form of activity in the academic statistical profession,” says Joseph Ibrahim, a distinguished professor of biostatistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “He is one of the world’s foremost experts in reliability theory.”
Ebrahimi earned his Ph.D. at Iowa State University and joined the NIU faculty in 1982. He is a founding member of NIU’s Division of Statistics and has taught nearly all of its courses.
Ebrahimi also has published 121 research articles – on average about five per year – with many appearing in top journals. His groundbreaking work is used in numerous fields, including with NIU collaborators, and is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Air Force and the National Science Foundation.
“Dr. Ebrahimi is an extremely productive and well rounded statistician,” says NIU colleague Bernard Harris, a professor of mathematics. “He has an outstanding record in very many areas of statistics and is in considerable demand as a collaborator.”
Ebrahimi is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. His stature as a leader in several branches of his field was recognized with his election to a Fellow of the American Statistical Association. The number of fellows is restricted to one-third of 1 percent of the organization’s membership, and the honor is regarded as an accolade given only to the top practitioners who have achieved international recognition.
According to Ebrahimi, active research ultimately results in enhanced teaching.
“I believe strongly that discipline-based research has an important impact on teaching practice and student learning,” he says. “Students in institutions with a strong research culture are better served and do have enhanced levels of employability.”
It was the mysterious foreign language she heard as a child that first kindled Heide Fehrenbach’s interest in what has become her life’s work.
Fehrenbach wished she could decipher the conversations of her grandparents, who came to the United States from Germany in the 1920s. Her curiosity led to the study of the German language and later an intense interest in German and European history.
Today, Fehrenbach is internationally recognized for her research into the social and cultural effects of World War II on Germany and other nations.
She has written two highly regarded books and co-edited a third that are being taught in advanced courses at leading universities worldwide. She is a frequent invited speaker at top U.S. academic institutions and abroad. Earlier this month, she won a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, recognizing past achievements and “exceptional promise for future accomplishment.”
“She is a scholar of tremendous accomplishment and vision, a true innovator,” says Robert Moeller, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. “Fehrenbach is among a handful of scholars who is shaping the research agenda for the study of Europe in the decades following the Second World War.”
Fehrenbach holds a Ph.D. in modern European history from Rutgers University. She joined the NIU faculty in 2001 and teaches courses on the history of World War II, Nazi Germany, modern Germany and modern European cultural history.
Colleagues describe her research as path-breaking.
Her first book, “Cinema in Democratizing Germany” (1995), demonstrated how cinema played a significant role in the reformulation of postwar German national and gender ideologies. The book won the 1996 Biennial Book Prize of the Conference Group for Central European History.
Fehrenbach’s most recent book, “Race after Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America” (2005), focused on transnational responses to children born to German women and African-American soldiers during post-World War II military occupation. The book examined perceptions and policies regarding race and German-ness after 1945 and illuminated a thorny issue for Americans: the military that came armed to democratize Germany was itself racially segregated.
“A consummate intellectual with provocative ideas and penetrating analysis, Professor Fehrenbach is an outstanding scholar with that ‘star’ quality that prestigious universities covet,” NIU colleague Christine Worobec says.
Fehrenbach has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and others. She is now working on a book exploring the effects of war, military occupation and the rise of international adoption on the notions of family, immigration and citizenship.
“While working on the ‘Race’ book, I came across a treasure trove of archival material on child-rescue initiatives during World War II and on the emergence of international adoption as a new practice for trying to find homes and loving families for thousands of orphaned, unidentified or in some cases stateless children who managed to survive the war,” she says.
Fehrenbach’s research often finds its way into classroom lessons and even prompted the development of a course on the history of human rights. “I want to show students how attention to social and cultural practices and perceptions can alter our understanding of political developments and ideologies,” she says.