Propelling Tufts Forward

Incentives like the Professorship Partnership Challenge bring attention to increasing faculty positions

Sasha Fleary, holder of the Evans Family Professorship, made possible by Barbara Evans, J64, and her husband, Bradford, in gratitude to the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development.

Tufts achieved a Brighter World milestone in June with the successful completion of the Professorship Partnership Challenge. Generous support from Tufts’ alumni, parents, and friends generated 18 new endowed professorships, bringing the total number of new professorships created during the campaign so far to 42, both term and endowed.

Endowed professorships, one of the highest honors in academia, are powerful engines for sustaining and strengthening the university’s impact on teaching, scholarship, and global research. They let Tufts attract, recognize, and retain world-class faculty, which in turn attracts the best and brightest students. They are, in short, catalytic investments that shape Tufts today and long into the future.

Trustee emeritus James A. Stern, E72, H14, A07P, and his wife, Jane, are among the university’s most generous champions of endowed professorships, having created their first in 1998 in honor of James’s parents. During Brighter World, the couple endowed the Stern Family Professorship, held by Abani Patra, the inaugural director of the Data Intensive Studies Center, and who holds a dual appointment in mathematics and computer science.

“I can’t think of a better way to propel Tufts research and scholarship than by giving exceptional people the support they need to do their best work,” James Stern said. “Endowed professorships, from my perspective, are one of the most powerful philanthropic tools for higher education, and they are always accompanied by the pleasure of seeing an immediate benefit on Tufts and on students.”

Another measure of their impact is how endowed professorships merge the aspirations of those who give with those who receive. Case in point: the two-year Professorship Partnership Challenge. The challenge brought endowed professorships new visibility by incentivizing donors—they contributed 60 percent of the endowed professorship, and Tufts the remaining 40 percent.

JoAnn Wellner, J63, found that shared mission compelling. And with an endowed professorship, she saw an opportunity to honor her late husband and make an enduring impact on the field of medicine.

Kenneth Wellner lived into his early 90s—a long and courageous journey, given that he was stricken with a neurodegenerative disease in his early 30s—and Wellner was “thrilled by the opportunity” to remember his life while making an enduring impact. The Kenneth and JoAnn G. Wellner Professorship motivates and acknowledges the work of younger faculty at a formative time in their careers. (The funds can be used at the discretion of the dean to fund one professorship or two junior professorships.) 

The inaugural recipient of the Wellner Professorship is Jamie Maguire, a tenured associate professor of neuroscience at the School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the underlying neurobiology of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, including epilepsy, postpartum depression, anxiety disorders, and alcohol/substance use disorders. Her work has already led to the first potential treatment for postpartum depression.

“When I learned that it was going to Jamie, I was delighted,” Wellner said. “I admire not only her dedication but also her humility, and she is a leader in a field that I care about. So many women’s issues are overlooked, and she is someone who cares deeply about afflictions that seem to target women. It was an all-round good fit.”

Maguire said she is “incredibly grateful” for the distinction that brings, among other benefits, an even higher level of respect amongst her peers. “At this stage in my career, this honor has a major impact on the way that I am perceived in the field,” she said. “My appointment has become widely known, and I have received congratulations from senior established investigators; I’m viewed as more established. That will likely translate into invitations to give presentations, favorable grant reviews, and other outcomes that will facilitate my research.”

For Barbara Evans, J64, establishing an endowed professorship was an ideal extension of her gratitude to what is now the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts. She always wanted to be a teacher, and Tufts launched her on a rewarding career. Over the years, she taught kindergarten through grade three, and, while living in London, specialized in reading.


JoAnn Wellner, J63, (right) with Jamie Maguire, associate professor of neuroscience at the School of Medicine, the inaugural recipient of the Kenneth and JoAnn G. Wellner Professorship.

When she reconnected with Tufts, she was excited to discover how Eliot-Pearson had evolved since her days in teacher training. She and her husband, Bradford, were especially impressed with the pioneering work of Maryanne Wolf, a dynamic, world-renowned expert on reading and dyslexia, and now retired from Tufts. As she grew more engaged with Tufts through the Board of Advisors for the School of Arts and Sciences, Evans saw the Professorship Partnership Challenge as a well-timed opportunity to thank a school that impacted her life.

The Evans Family Professorship was awarded to Sasha Fleary, director of the Child Health Equity Research Lab at Tufts. Her research focuses on empowering underserved children and families in their health decision-making as they navigate health spaces. She specifically focuses on improving health literacy skills to affect underserved families’ advocacy for personal and community health.

“To have others understand this work as important is very rewarding, and hopefully the endowed professorship will bring more visibility to the need for more work in this field,” said Fleary. “One of the struggles I’ve had is that people don’t understand the difference between literacy and health literacy, and to have the Evans Family professorship invested in health literacy is fantastic.”

Having the endowed professorship, she added, “provided resources for me to expand my preliminary investigations on the impact of health literacy and multiple health behaviors.” The National Institutes of Health does not have a specific portfolio of projects around health literacy. Therefore, it is critical that grants submitted with health literacy as the main topic include preliminary data.

“With the benefit of the endowed professorship, I have been able to invest in research that, in turn, allowed me to submit a stronger application for NIH funding,” Fleary said—and it worked. She recently received a major NIH grant. “I thank the Evans family for investing in Tufts, investing in me, and for continuing to invest in children’s multiple literacies.”

As for Evans, she sees her endowed professorship as an investment in the optimism and drive of young faculty. “I want Tufts to be as good as it can be,” she said. “It’s a university that’s grown stronger since I was a student, and I believe that with great faculty, both young and established, that excellence will continue for generations to come.”