Faculty News

President’s Award for Public Engagement 2021 Ceremony

Four faculty members were celebrated at a virtual ceremony on March 22 for their commitment and contributions to significantly impact society through national and state leadership service and their efforts to address the challenges our communities face every day.

  • Emily Toth Martin, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, received the 2020 President’s Award for National and State Leadership, which honors individuals who provide sustained, dedicated and influential leadership and service in major national or state capacities
  • Margaret Dewar, PhD, professor emitera, urban & regional planning in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, received the 2020 President’s Award for Public Impact, which award honors individuals whose research and expertise tangibly address a major public-sector challenge.

The 2019 public engagement award winners were also honored at this event since the ceremony scheduled for March 2020 was postponed due to COVID-19 safety guidelines.

  • Marc Zimmerman, PhD, director of the Prevention Research Center and the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center in the School of Public Health, received the 2019 President’s Award for Public Impact.
  • J. Alex Halderman, PhD, director of the Center for Computer Security and Society in the College of Engineering, received the 2019 President’s Award for National and State Leadership.

From monitoring and working to slow the spread of COVID-19 to preventing youth violence, and from informing voters about election security to advocating for affordable housing, the public engagement work conducted by Martin, Dewar, Zimmerman and Halderman is vast.

Martin, Dewar Receive 2020 Public Engagement Awards

Rebecca Cunningham, Vice President for Research, opened the ceremony.

“For more than 200 years the University of Michigan community has exemplified public engagement. It is even written into our mission that we aim to serve the people of Michigan and the world through education, research, and scholarship,” Cunningham said. “And even during a global pandemic, it is quite evident that our faculty, staff, and students remain fully committed to serving the public good.”

President Mark Schlissel, who launched the Public Engagement and Impact presidential initiative in 2017, explained the importance of this work and the value that U-M faculty provide to our communities.

“As President one of my priorities since joining the University of Michigan, has been to encourage and support our faculty who use their academic expertise to contribute to the solution of society’s most daunting problems, to reach across disciplines and bring to bear the full intellectual might of our academic breadth and depth. I believe our future success will be defined in part by our ability to contribute to the solutions to these problems,” he said.

Schlissel also discussed the wide array of expertise U-M faculty members provide to the community, which included more than 1,800 pieces of social media content, 150 Michigan Minds podcast interviews, and 225 published articles on PublicEngagement.UMich.edu in the past year. Additionally, 300 faculty members were promoted as national and global experts with news media.

“I was proud to create our public engagement award several years ago to further celebrate and stimulate our work and because we had to cancel the event last year, we have the pleasure of hearing from not one, but two years’ worth of honorees in today’s discussion,” Schlissel said.

Each award winner spoke about what they envisioned when they began their careers, why public engagement is important for their work, and the impact of their scholarship overall.

Dewar, whose work focuses on American cities that have experienced abandonment and loss of employment, with the goal of helping strengthen deteriorated neighborhoods and enhancing access to safe and affordable housing, said she always envisioned an integration of community engagement into her work.

“I wanted to make a difference, outside the academy, as well as inside. I loved teaching and research to advance scholarship and urban planning, but I also want to change practice and policy for the better. And for me that meant integrating social justice, concern for social justice, much more into planning than it was, and it meant addressing industrial decline, regional inequality, poverty, and racism. So, I set out to find ways that my research, and my teaching could try to accomplish those goals, simultaneously,” Dewar explained.

Martin was awarded for her surveillance and engagement work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the University of Michigan community, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the many panels and forums in which she participated to share critical information and guidance on slowing the spread of the virus.

She shared that she was supposed to be on sabbatical this year to focus her time on public policy and public engagement, and was starting to take steps in her career toward the engagement space when the pandemic began.

“One of the things that I learned that immediately became important was learning and understanding how to make noise around a specific ask — knowing the point that you need to get across when you’re engaging. Knowing what the most important thing for the audience to hear from this important piece, the most important takeaway from the conversation,” she said.

Zimmerman, Halderman Honored for Public Engagement Efforts

Halderman, a noted election security expert, received the award in 2019 for his vast work to educate members of Congress about the need for election cybersecurity improvements.

“I think one of the most important things that I intentionally tried to get better at is communicating technical ideas to smart people who are not experts and to do that well requires communicating without losing why the idea is interesting to people who are experts. Too often when things are translated for non-specialists, you lose that and what’s left is just basically shock value or entertainment. But getting at the meat of the problem for people, that’s what makes you successful at communicating the importance,” Halderman said.

Zimmerman’s work focuses on how positive factors in adolescents’ lives help them overcome risks, and measurement and analysis of psychological and community empowerment.

He said that one of the most important lessons he’s taken away from his work is to identify how what he and his colleagues are doing is going to make a difference in people’s lives, and then working with partners to conduct and translate that research in meaningful ways. Zimmerman also talked about blending teaching, research, and service and engagement work.

“Don’t forget that there is still the importance of contributing to knowledge and then thinking about the process of getting engaged, and how that can itself be a lesson learned that could be a source to add to knowledge in the scientific community” he said. “Create your teaching so that it overlaps with some of the research that you are talking about, that helps you think about it and brings the students into the work that you’re doing.”

Watch the full ceremony