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Summer 2011 Table of Contents

BU Professors Honored

Several BU professors, in engineering, creative writing, choral activities, and journalism, were singled out recently with awards and prizes in their fields

| From Commonwealth

James J. Collins Photo by Vernon Doucette

James J. Collins Elected to National Academy of Engineering

James J. Collins is a Rhodes scholar, a MacArthur “genius” award recipient, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Now, the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering has been given a new honor. Collins was elected this past February to the National Academy of Engineering. He was chosen for his contributions to synthetic biology and engineered gene networks.

“Election to the National Academy of Engineering is a high honor,” says President Robert A. Brown, who has been a member of the academy since 1991. “It is a recognition of the quality of creativity and intellectual leadership that Jim has demonstrated in his still young research career.” 

Collins, who is also codirector of the Center for BioDynamics, says he is “thrilled and honored” by his election. “I have benefited tremendously from the marvelous community we have in the College of Engineering,” he says, “as well as from all of our talented students and postdocs.”

His research focuses on developing nonlinear dynamical techniques and devices to improve and mimic biological function. His work in complexity science has spurred new devices to treat stroke-induced brain failure, enhanced doctors’ understanding of how human posture is warped by aging and Parkinson’s disease, and helped invent synthetic gene networks, whose many uses include fighting bacterial infections.

Winner in 2000 of the University’s highest teaching honor, the Metcalf Cup and Prize, he is famous among engineering students for his ability to make extremely complex concepts understandable, and often funny.


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In the video above, David Ferry reads from his poem “The Birds.”

David Ferry Given Prize for Lifetime Achievement

David Ferry has been given one of the highest honors bestowed on American poets. Ferry, the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus at Wellesley College and a College of Arts & Sciences lecturer in creative writing, received the 2011 Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement. He has taught at BU for more than a decade. The $100,000 prize is awarded each year to a living U.S. poet “whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition.” It is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine.

Ferry, now 87, began writing poetry as a graduate student at Harvard. His first collection, On the Way to the Island, was published in 1960. He has written or edited more than a dozen books and is as noted for his work as a translator (he is currently translating Virgil’s Aeneid) as he is for his poetry.


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Ann Howard Jones discusses the art of conducting. Video by Devin Hahn

Ann Howard Jones Wins Shaw Award

Ann Howard Jones, a College of Fine Arts professor and director of choral activities, was chosen for the 2011 American Choral Directors Association biennial Robert Shaw Award.

The Robert Shaw Award is named for Jones’ late mentor, renowned for his namesake chorale and his work with the Cleveland and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras.

Jones was Shaw’s assistant in Atlanta for 15 years before coming to BU.

Robert K. Dodson, director of the CFA School of Music and an adjunct professor, says the award “is a measure of her standing as one of the most influential and accomplished choral conductors in the country and recognizes the extraordinary service she has rendered to the profession and her students.”


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Watch a video of Isabel Wilkerson talking about her book and her family. Video by Alan Wong

Isabel Wilkerson Lauded for “Magisterial Work”

Isabel Wilkerson’s much-praised book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration received one of publishing’s most respected honors, the National Book Critics Circle Award. Epic in scope and herculean in production—Wilkerson spent 15 years researching and writing—the book details the migration of African Americans from the South to the rest of the country from 1915 to 1970.

Wilkerson, a College of Communication professor of journalism and director of narrative journalism, was in an auditorium at the New School in New York City last March with other finalists for the awards announcements. “I learned when my name was called,” she says. “It’s a tremendous honor and an august moment.”

The award is another national honor for the former New York Times reporter, who won the Pulitzer Prize for feature reporting in 1994, the first time a black journalist received an individual reporting award.

The 37-year-old National Book Critics Circle, made up of more than 600 book reviewers, calls The Warmth of Other Suns “a magisterial work.” Wilkerson’s book made the New York Times best-seller list, with Times reviewer Janet Maslin referring to it as a “landmark” work.

The book also won an Outstanding Literary Work award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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