by Tom Parisi
Anthropologist Dan Gebo, Historian Christine Worobec and Chemist Narayan Hosmane have been named as the inaugural recipients of the NIU Board of Trustees Professorships.
NIU President John Peters announced the appointments during last week’s State of the University Address. Each BOT Professorship is accompanied by a $10,000 stipend, renewable annually during the 5-year term.
Peters said the three faculty members exemplify the integrated model of teaching, research and service that NIU's new strategic plan seeks to strengthen.
“They are scholars who add to the body of knowledge in their respective disciplines, teachers who view their students as fellow travelers on the journey to new understanding and innovators who make the world their classroom,” Peters said.
The NIU Board of Trustees established the professorships to recognize faculty who have achieved a consistent record of excellence in teaching, academic leadership and service and outreach. In the selection process, special emphasis is placed on the recognition of faculty members who have earned national or international acclaim for their scholarship or artistry and continue to engage students in their research and professional activities.
Indeed, students and alums alike praise these professors.
One alum said of Gebo: “I cannot overstate the profound impact he has had on my life.” A student similarly described Worobec: “She is an engaging, intelligent teacher who has the ability to bring students’ participation and analysis to a high level in discussions and written work.” Yet another student praised Hosmane: “He is one of the most vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic professors that I have been blessed with having in my college career.”
Here’s a closer look at the inaugural BOT Professors.
An anthropologist and paleontologist, Dan Gebo is recognized as a world expert on the anatomy and evolution of monkeys, apes, humans and lower primates.
He joined the NIU faculty in 1987 and now holds a joint appointment in anthropology and biological sciences. Gebo also serves as a research associate at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. NIU previously recognized his expertise in both the classroom and field with the Presidential Teaching Professorship (2008) and the Presidential Research Professorship (1998).
Throughout his career, Gebo’s work has captured mainstream-press headlines, including in 2000 when he led a research team that discovered the fossils of 45-million-year-old, thumb-length primates. The find made the front page of the New York Times, Washington Post and newspapers worldwide. He is currently working in northern China on a quest to illuminate primate origins dating back 60 million years.
Gebo also has conducted fieldwork in Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Mali, Madagascar, the Philippines, Uganda and the United States. He has won more than a dozen grant awards, made more than 25 presentations in national and international venues and authored or co-authored more than 60 publications in top-tier professional journals, including Nature and Science.
At NIU, Gebo helped create an important avenue of research for students when, a decade ago, he proposed a concept that became USOAR – for Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry and Research. The program has provided more than 100 undergraduates from all disciplines with funding for research in this country and abroad, including in China, Peru, Ireland and Cuba.
“By inspiring this program, Dr. Gebo has touched the very heart of the Board of Trustees Professorship,” said Christopher McCord, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Gebo has taught a wide variety of courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, touching the lives of nearly 6,000 students. He has supervised or been a committee member on 45 master's-level theses and four dissertations.
“Science is about ideas,” Gebo said. “As a physical anthropologist, I try to challenge students to learn more, appreciate important facts, consider strength of evidence and most importantly to think critically about the ideas scientists create from this background of evidence.”
Among the world’s leading historians of tsarist Russia, Christine Worobec has won international praise for her work exploring the extraordinary history of Russia’s common folk in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her scholarship has been described by colleagues as nothing short of trailblazing.
She joined the NIU Department of History in 1999. Rather than studying people of wealth and power, Worobec focused her scholarship on members of Russian society who might otherwise be voiceless in the pages of history. She has conducted pioneering work on women, folklore, peasants, family, religion and social life in tsarist Russia and Ukraine.
Those explorations have taken Worobec to such places as Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Moscow. And her work has delved into specific topics ranging from courtship and inheritance practices to sainthood, pilgrimages, demon possession and miraculous cures.
Worobec has penned three books, two bibliographic compilations, 20 book chapters and articles and more than 50 book reviews. She has presented nearly 50 conference papers and invited talks in national and international forums and has participated in more than 30 panel sessions.
She is the only scholar in her field who is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Heldt Prize from the Association for Women in Slavic Studies. The award is presented for the book of the year in Slavic, East European and Eurasian women's and gender studies. In addition to being designated as a Distinguished Research Professor at NIU, she also received the Southern Historical Association Amos Simpson Award and the Ohio Academy of History Publication Award.
“My love of students and my scholarly sense of responsibilities to them have taken two directions,” Worobec said. “I infuse my courses with the most up-to-date scholarly research, including the results of my own work and experiences in Russia. I also work to instill students with a sense of professionalism through constant advising.”
Her support of students extends beyond the classroom to her recent two-year position as acting director of graduate studies in the Department of History.
“Christine’s extraordinary dedication as acting director of graduate studies made her a huge favorite of our students,” History Chair Beatrix Hoffman said. “She is truly a role model for anyone determined to combine great scholarly distinction with a strong commitment to supporting and mentoring students.”
Narayan Hosmane is among the world leaders in boron chemistry research, and his scholarship has potential applications in a wide range of areas, from the development of new cancer treatment drugs to ways to make better plastics.
Hosmane joined the NIU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1998 and was awarded the Presidential Research Professorship three years later. He has an extensive record of accomplishment, including publication of more than 245 peer-reviewed manuscripts, the presentation of 100 papers and 130 seminars worldwide, and more than $5 million in research awards from funding agencies that include the American Chemical Society, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
In 2001, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Bonn, Germany presented Hosmane with the coveted Humboldt Research Award for senior scientists (with a stipend of about $70,000). The award is presented to scientists worldwide as a tribute to their lifelong accomplishments. The Humboldt Foundation then last year extended a rare second invite to bring him back to Germany for further collaborations.
Hosmane has received other international awards including the BUSA Award for Distinguished Achievements in Boron Science; the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Distinguished Chair of Chemistry at the University of Hyderabad, India; and the Gauss Professorship of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences, Germany.
Students are involved in Hosmane’s scholarship as well. He has directed the research of 41 post-doctoral fellows, eight Ph.D. students, 11 master’s students, 52 undergraduates and 12 high school students.
“The training of undergraduates, and preparing them for the real world, I think that is my real accomplishment,” Hosmane said. “I believe the science of chemistry can only be taught in a research lab where fundamental questions on the frontiers of chemistry are probed. In my view, both researching and teaching are integral parts of the learning process.”
Chemistry and Biochemistry Chair Jon Carnahan said Hosmane is a leader among faculty as well.
“He leads by example,” Carnahan said. “Narayan is certainly one of the most highly respected researchers at the university. He also has served as a wonderful mentor for graduate students and our junior faculty. He has helped enhance NIU’s reputation as a global university and has become a leader on campus, speaking authoritatively with regard to NIU’s strategic needs.”