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MSU College of Natural Science awarded four inaugural 1855 Professorships

The Michigan State University College of Natural Science (NatSci) will soon welcome four new faculty members as part of MSU’s inaugural 1855 Professorship Initiative, launched by the Office of the Provost.

Funding from the initiative will support the search process and hiring of open-rank, tenure-system faculty in several key areas across the university. Faculty members hired through the 1855 Professorship Initiative will advance MSU’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as articulated in its DEI Report and Plan  and overall strategic plan. As part of the initiative, 1855 Professors will have access to strong, supportive mentoring networks.

“These professorships will stimulate the reimagining of our founding land-grant mission and signal to scholars, internal and external constituents, and donors the importance of this initiative and how strongly it aligns with MSU’s core values and strategic priorities as we look to the future,” said Dave Weatherspoon, associate provost of enrollment and academic strategic planning.

NatSci’s positions are among 13 selected for funding across the university as part of the initiative’s first cohort.

“It is exciting to see and have the opportunity to participate in this innovative initiative, which advances the university’s efforts to make diversity, equity and inclusion part of MSU’s excellence,” said Phil Duxbury, NatSci dean. “The framework laid out in the MSU DEI Report and Plan and articulated in the MSU Strategic Plan puts us on a trajectory to a become a national leader in this area of inquiry and allows us to strengthen our ability to grow collaborative networks and foster inclusive, equitable innovation in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research.

“The 1855 Professorship investments in NatSci will be in the areas of data science, quantum computing and plant sciences, which are rapidly developing areas where diverse excellence is required to address a wide range of challenges evident in existing and emerging technologies and communities,” Duxbury added.

NatSci will be leading searches to fill positions in the fields of algorithmic bias, data science in STEM, plant science and quantum computing/information science, which are briefly outlined below:

**Algorithmic bias. Algorithmic bias is an important emerging topic in statistics, computational science, and data science. The research priority for this opportunity is on statistical and computational algorithms. Areas of interest range from the design of algorithms with less bias to applications toward risk assessment in banking and insurance. This new position will act as a magnet to attract top scholars to further faculty searches on statistical and computational methods research. The successful candidate will contribute to improving the communication between affiliated units and colleges to promote research topics that reduce algorithmic bias and improve DEI.

Affiliations: College of Natural Science (statistics and probability (STT); computational mathematics, science and engineering (CMSE)), and College of Engineering (computer science and engineering (CSE) and CMSE).

“The NatSci Department of Statistics and Probability (STT) is thankful for the 1855 Professorship position in algorithmic bias,” said Luda Sakhanenko, interim STT chair. “This is a wonderful and impactful opportunity to build a strong research program targeting minimization of algorithmic bias in risk assessment in sciences, banking and insurance. Such a program will help remove biased and unregulated algorithms; thus, it will enhance equity and diversity, and disband barriers to inclusion.”

**Data science in STEM. As big data becomes ubiquitous, the demand for data scientists is increasing dramatically. Data science touches all aspects of daily life and is critical across STEM fields. To that end, the Department of Computational Science, Mathematics and Engineering (CMSE) has led the development of B.S. and Ph.D. degrees and a minor in data science. However, these efforts don’t address the issue of systemic underrepresentation across the field. This hire will move CMSE toward increased diversity in its faculty. Further, it is well-documented that having representative role models has an immense impact on increasing diversity.

Affiliations: College of Natural Science and College of Engineering (Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering).

“The Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering is delighted to be a part of the 1855 Professorship Initiative and, as a cross-disciplinary department, to lead the search in the area of data science in STEM fields,” said Ed Brown, interim CMSE department chair. “A hire in this area affirms our commitment to train a diverse and inclusive cohort of future leaders in a fast-growing and vital component of science and technology.”

**Plant science. MSU is home to one of the top plant biology departments in the country and one of the top U.S. agricultural colleges. That said, there is a strong need to improve faculty diversity and to secure expertise in developmental biology. MSU’s percentages of plant science faculty members in historically underrepresented populations (Black, LatinX, and Indigenous People) is an area of concern. Having greater diversity will have a transformational impact on our plant science and agricultural communities, in addition to providing aspirational role models and mentors. This hire in developmental biology will also help connect research in several areas, including plant genetics, genomics and molecular biology, which are very strong at MSU.

Affiliations: College of Natural Science (plant biology, biochemistry and molecular biology) and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (plant, soil and microbial sciences; horticulture)

"MSU has one of the largest plant science communities in the country, with more than 150 plant laboratories conducting both basic and applied research in this area,” said Jiming Jiang, MSU Foundation Professor and interim chair of the NatSci Department of Plant Biology. “We are excited to receive this 1855 Professorship to support a plant science position and look forward to welcoming a new colleague and leader to help advance DEI in the MSU and NatSci plant science community." 

**Quantum computing/information sciences. Quantum computing/information sciences is one of the top research priorities on the national and international levels, prioritized by the federal government, with many agencies offering substantial funding in this area. This hire will provide complementary experimental, algorithmic, or theoretical research strength within MSU’s Center for Quantum Computing, Science, and Engineering, or MSU-Q, and be engaged in MSU’s ongoing quantum research and education initiatives, including the NSF Phase II Convergence Accelerator program, which pairs STEM educators with quantum computing experts to create a national curriculum that addresses disparities in education. Further, an active collaboration with an IBM/Historically Black Colleges and Universities coalition provides engagement with a pipeline of faculty members from historically underrepresented populations that have become engaged in quantum computing research.

Affiliations: College of Natural Science (chemistry, CMSE, mathematics, physics) and College of Engineering (CMSE, computer science, electrical engineering) 

“The 1855 Professorship Initiative provides a great mechanism for recruiting outstanding faculty members and diversifying our faculty in the MSU Center for Quantum Computing, Science, and Engineering (MSU-Q), a long-standing area of strength at MSU,” said Angela K. Wilson, MSU John A. Hannah Professor of Computational Chemistry in the NatSci Department of Chemistry and MSU-Q director. “The recruited faculty member will be among leaders in the field and will have the opportunity for cross-college appointments, which work very successfully at MSU.” 

In addition, NatSci is working closely with the College of Veterinary Medicine in the hiring of an 1855 Professorship faculty member for the One Health Initiative:

**One Health. Infectious diseases of animals and humans have disparate effects on communities, as exemplified by the broadly recognized impact of the COVID pandemic in urban settings and among specific racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic communities. The nature and consequences of these One Health disparities require scholarship from a range of disciplines and perspectives. This position is envisioned as the first of a larger MSU cohort that will establish a transdisciplinary research program in this evolving field of applied research and policy. The successful candidate will investigate diverse factors that drive disparities in human health related to zoonotic diseases, providing a tremendous opportunity to advance a scholarly mission regarding diseases that have the potential for interspecies spread, especially in situations where animal-human contact is intimate.

Affiliations: College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Natural Science, College of Human Medicine, College of Osteopathic Medicine, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources/AgBioResearch and College of Social Science.

“The emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases continually demonstrate the unequal   impact of disease burden across human populations, said Kim Dodd, director of the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and Victor DiRita, chair of the NatSci Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, who are leading the search for the 1855 Professor in One Health Medicine. “We saw this most recently throughout the COVID pandemic, in which individuals in urban settings and among specific racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic communities experienced significant and lasting impacts to health.  With this position, we anticipate developing the first in a cohort of transdisciplinary leaders to develop meaningful recommendations and design actionable strategies to mitigate such disparities and enhance public health equity.”


NatSci will immediately begin the search process for tenure-system faculty members in the identified areas. More information about and requests for nominations on these opportunities will be forthcoming shortly. 


Banner image: The College of Natural Science (NatSci) at Michigan State University is home to 27 departments and programs in the biological, physical, and mathematical sciences. The college averages $57M in research expenditures annually, while providing world-class educational opportunities to more than 5,500 undergraduate majors and 1,200 graduate and postdoc students. There are 800+ faculty and academic staff associated with NatSci, and more than 63,000 living alumni worldwide. Credit: Harley J. Seeley