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Three U-M faculty elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Three U-M faculty elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

252 artists, scholars, scientists and leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sectors joined the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year.

University of Michigan professors Ruth Behar, Ruth Scodel and Karen Smith are the newest members named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The trio are among 252 artists, scholars, scientists and leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sectors. The class includes Michigan alumnus and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta and media entrepreneur and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.

“We are honoring the excellence of these individuals, celebrating what they have achieved so far, and imagining what they will continue to accomplish,” said David Oxtoby, president of the American Academy. “The past year has been replete with evidence of how things can get worse. This is an opportunity to illuminate the importance of art, ideas, knowledge and leadership that can make a better world.”

Behar, the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology, is a poet, writer for young people, teacher and public speaker. She is known for the compassion she brings to her quest to understand the depth of the human experience. She has lived in Spain and Mexico, and returns often to Cuba to build bridges around culture, literature and Jewish life. 

Behar won the Pura Belpré Author Medal for her debut middle-grade novel, “Lucky Broken Girl.” Her new middle-grade novel, “Letters from Cuba,” a Sydney Taylor Notable Book, is based on her grandmother’s escape from Poland to start a new life in Cuba on the eve of WWII. Her debut picture book, “Tía Fortuna’s New Home,” is forthcoming in 2022. 

“As a child immigrant to the United States, receiving this honor is especially meaningful to me,” said Behar, the first Latina to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. “I am grateful to have been invited to form part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.”

Scodel is the D.R. Shackleton-Bailey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Latin, Emerita. Her research is mostly on Greek literature, especially Homer and Greek tragedy, and she has done work in Hellenistic poetry and written a Bryn Mawr “Commentary on Lysias 1.” 

She is working on a Cambridge “green-and-yellow” on Hesiod’s “Works and Days,” and on a general book on how Greek literature from Homer through the classical period represents “theory of mind” and attribution of motives—thinking about the mental lives of other people.

“I used to walk past the headquarters of AAAS on Irving Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” Scodel said. “Since I was a grad student, I’ve hoped to become a member of AAAS someday.”  

Smith is the M.S. Keeler Professor of Mathematics. Her research lies at the interface of commutative algebra and algebraic geometry. Algebraic geometry is the study of geometric shapes which are defined by polynomial equations; commutative algebra is the study of the rings of polynomial functions on such geometric objects. 

One focus of Smith’s research is the use of prime characteristic methods to prove results about complex projective varieties. For example, the singularities of varieties can be measured in various ways using reduction to characteristic p and then iteration of the Frobenius map. Smith was one of the leaders in unravelling the connections with rational singularities and other singularities in birational geometry. 

“I am extremely honored and flattered to be chosen,” she said. 

Founded in 1780, AAAS is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.