University Announces Inaugural Renée Crown Honors Professorships

The College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) has announced that Heidi Hehnly, associate professor of biology, is the inaugural Renée Crown Professor in the Sciences and Mathematics and Karin Nisenbaum, assistant professor of philosophy, is the inaugural Renée Crown Professor in the Humanities. The professorships are made possible thanks to a generous gift from the family of esteemed alumnae and Trustee Emerita Renée Schine Crown ’50, H ’84.

In 2002, a contribution from the Crown family enabled an ambitious revision to the honors program at Syracuse University. Over the past two decades, the Renée Crown University Honors Program has helped countless high-achieving students become leaders who are socially aware, globally informed and finding solutions to real-life problems. The Crown family has now renewed its commitment to the program with a gift to establish the Crown Honors Professorships in A&S.

person standing in a lab

Heidi Hehnly

Hehnly and Nisenbaum were chosen for the new positions by a selection committee led by previous Arts and Sciences Dean Karin Ruhlandt and Danielle Taana Smith, Honors program director and professor of African American Studies in A&S. Hehnly and Nisenbaum will each serve a term of three years, teaching Honors courses and helping guide Honors students in their thesis research projects.

The professorships will provide an intellectual space in which Honors students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds can bring their experiences together to conduct research on interdisciplinary themes,” says Smith. “The students will engage with these themes by attending lectures by scholars in their fields, embarking on experiential learning field trips, preparing academic and creative works, and disseminating their research, all under the guidance of Professors Hehnly and Nisenbaum.”

Vice Chancellor and Provost Gretchen Ritter says that the new professorships will expand the interdisciplinary breadth and depth of the Honors program.

“These new professorships enrich the experience for Honors students through innovative learning approaches,” says Ritter. “We thank Renée, her husband Lester, and the entire Crown family for establishing the Crown Honors Professorships, which will ensure that the best and brightest faculty will have the time and resources to teach and mentor Honors students while pursuing their cutting-edge research and scholarship.”

person standing outdoors in front of a door

Karin Nisenbaum

Hehnly and Nisenbaum’s proven track records in designing and implementing dynamic undergraduate academic experiences, including research and professional development, make them the perfect candidates for the new positions, says A&S Interim Dean Lois Agnew.

“As Crown Professors, they will elevate the Honors Program’s unique strengths and continue to ensure that its curriculum exemplifies best practices and is fully aligned with the University’s academic priorities,” says Agnew. “We are thrilled that Honors students can take part in new and innovative learning opportunities led by exemplary faculty such as Professors Hehnly and Nisenbaum, who are leaders in their fields.”

An Integrated Approach to Learning

Heidi Hehnly, a biology professor at Syracuse University since 2018, specializes in the mechanics of cellular division and how and when cells in the body choose to divide. Before coming to Syracuse, Hehnly was an assistant professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

With nearly $3.5 million in federally funded research grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, among others, Hehnly and members of her team are addressing urgent health needs relating to developmental disorders, genetic mutations and cancer-causing genes.

In addition to laboratory research, Hehnly has helped foster unique interdisciplinary learning opportunities for students at Syracuse. She and Boryana Rossa, film and media art professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, co-taught the University’s first Bio-Art Class (Bio400/600 and TRM500) in Spring 2022, where STEM students joined art majors to create science-based art works based on their personal research interests.

Hehnly explains that integrated courses such as Bio-Art that combine techniques and knowledge from the sciences with visual and textual expression from the arts are central to helping students understand and appreciate the natural world. By transforming biological samples into traditional illustrations, paintings, or murals, students can use art to bring…

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