Foundation Professors 2020 Foundation Professors 2020
by ALLISON WILLIAMS '08, CADDIE DUFURRENA '00
and CHRISTINE SEIBER '15 M.A. photos by THERESA DANNA
What is a Foundation Professor?
Three Foundation Professors are selected annually to recognize tenured professors who have a record of excellence as teachers and scholars, have risen to national prominence and have demonstrated records of service to the University, as well as promise of continued achievement. Awardees are provided a $5,000 annual stipend for three years, and the awardee holds the honorific title in perpetuity. Foundation Professors also receive a medal of distinction to complement their academic regalia. The stipend and the medal of distinction are funded by the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation, whose sole purpose is providing a mechanism for charitable donations to benefit the University and the community it serves. The Foundation is currently engaged in the campaign Building What Comes Next: The Campaign for the New Nevada to raise $500 million for the University to provide financial support to our students and faculty.
Greta de Jong
With three books and numerous national awards for her writing on the struggle for racial justice in the United States, Greta de Jong is proud to add Foundation Professor to her list of accomplishments.
“It’s a huge honor,” said de Jong, history professor. “When I first came to the University of Nevada, Reno, my mentor was Foundation Professor Scott Casper who was well-known for his books, teaching and service to the University and community. I wanted to be just like Scott. I feel so grateful and honored to be named a Foundation Professor.”
De Jong joined the University as an assistant professor in 2002. She teaches courses on African American history, social movements and post-1945 U.S. history as well as Core Humanities: American Experiences and Constitutional Change.
Outside the classroom, de Jong’s current research focuses on the tension surrounding desegregation of U.S. public schools in the mid-20th century. She is working on her fourth book and plans to use the Foundation stipend to fund research trips to the National Archives and the Library of Congress.
“I have been fortunate to receive funding from the University, and the history department has an endowment from John and Marie Noble that can be used for research.” De Jong noted funding is key to faculty research, providing University students the best education, and advancing the department and field as a whole.
“I hope people see how higher education is an investment that benefits our community,” de Jong said. “We make broad contributions — creating knowledge and opportunity through research, innovation, teaching and service. My books and courses help people understand racism, how it operates, where it came from and what they can do about it.”
In 2017, de Jong received the Willie Lee Rose Prize from the Southern Association for Women Historians and the Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award from the Southern Historical Association in recognition of her book “You Can’t Eat Freedom: Southerners and Social Justice after the Civil Rights Movement.”
Professor Matt Forister didn’t always want to be an ecologist or an entomologist. In fact, he started out as an English major. But after working in several laboratories and field projects, including time spent in a small mammal lab, his interest in biology came into focus.
“I’ve always liked insects, and my father was an entomologist,” said Forister. “When I started as a graduate student without much direction in terms of study system, I met a couple of colleagues who reminded me just how fascinating insects can be. They are the most diverse multicellular organisms on the planet and the amount we have yet to learn is endless.”
Forister’s research in the College of Science, a significant portion of which is concentrated on butterfly populations, has garnered him the prestigious title of Foundation Professor. Forister’s exceptional research and enthusiastic teaching is an important factor in the University achieving and maintaining the designation of a Carnegie R1 Research Institution. Forister was also named the Trevor J. McMinn Research Endowed Professor of Biology in 2015. This endowed position honoring University mathematics Professor Trevor McMinn was established through a gift from McMinn’s estate.
The research Forister conducts with his graduate students into plant-insect ecology, population biology and the conservation of insect diversity seeks to understand basic issues in evolutionary ecology and the practical question of why so many insects seem to be less common than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Learning more about this trend can help scientists and the public better preserve the natural landscapes and resources of the western United States.
With the funding Forister receives as a Foundation Professor, he also hopes to explore novel directions in the factors affecting insect populations, including interactions between pesticides and climate change. There is also an important issue of how insects use mountain habitats to survive periods of climate upheaval.
“Being named a Foundation Professor is extremely validating. It’s recognition the work my colleagues, students and I are doing is vital to the scientific community’s understanding of insect ecology and diversity,” said Forister. “The University has always been extremely supportive.”
Wei Yang ’94 M.S., ’97 Ph.D.
Dr. Wei Yang, professor and School of Community Health Sciences associate dean, was drawn to the University of Nevada, Reno because it allowed him to blend his interests in health information and research with his desire to educate the next generation of health care providers.
Before joining the University as a professor in 2007, Dr. Yang served as the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ chief biostatistician. Prior to that, he was a physician specializing in occupational medicine in China.
Formerly the lead of the Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Environmental Health in the SCHS, Dr. Yang rose to the school’s associate dean in July. He also teaches graduate-level courses in health informatics and public health data programming.
Dr. Yang said being named a Foundation Professor is even more meaningful because he is the first person from the SCHS — which became an independent academic unit in July 2017 — to earn the distinction.
“I feel very proud. Our college is new, but we’re growing very fast,” Dr. Yang said. “This is a rising field. More people need preventive medicine. We see the rising needs for our students and our researchers. I feel very lucky and proud to be in the right field at the right time.”
The SCHS is home to the Nevada Center for Surveys, Evaluation and Statistics, where Dr. Yang serves as executive director. Some of the researchers’ notable projects include the Youth Behavior Risk Survey, Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Systems and Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. The center is grant-funded and employs graduate and undergraduate student workers. Dr. Yang plans to use his Foundation Professor stipend to help a graduate student pursue research activities or publications.
Dr. Yang has shared his expertise with the community in the effort to contain COVID-19. He is working with the Washoe County Health District to design antibody testing to track the prevalence of the COVID-19 infection rate. He is also a guest chief editor for The Journal of Biomedical Research’s special issue about the pandemic, which is set to publish this fall.