Five UI professors win Guggenheim awards

By Christine Kim

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded five University faculty members with its 2006 Guggenheim fellowship award for the U.S. and Canadian competition.

Only New York University surpassed the University in the number of fellowships awarded. Seven of their faculty members won the fellowship award. The Ann Arbor campus at the University of Michigan was also awarded five.

The 82nd annual John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded fellowships to 187 artists, scholars and scientists from a pool of almost 3,000 applicants. A total of $75 million was awarded.

“Decisions are based on recommendations from hundreds of expert advisors and are approved by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees . Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment,” according to the Foundation press release.

The recipients of the award from the University are Robert Yelle, postdoctoral fellow in the Illinois Program for Research in Humanities and visiting professor in the Program for the Study of Religion; Diane Koenker, professor of History; Harriet Murav, professor of comparative and world literature and professor and head of Slavic languages and literatures; Brigit Pegeen Kelly, professor of English; and Schuyler S. Korban, professor of molecular genetics and biotechnology.

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“I applied for it, but I didn’t think I had much of a chance to get it,” Yelle said. “It was the first time I applied for this award and there are many more senior people who are more deserving, so I feel very fortunate. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.”

Yelle, also an historian of religions and an ex-lawyer, published a book based on his dissertation on Hindu rituals. He will be using this fellowship award to finish his second book, also on religions, which will be called “The Disenchantment of Language.” He will be working on the influence of modern ideas and practices of languages around the globe.

Similarly, Koenker would like to expand her research project on the history of vacations and tourism in the Soviet Union to publish another book.

“Out of this research that I am going to be doing quite intensively next year, my goal is a book and some articles based on this research project,” she said. “The idea began when I was working on the book I wrote last year. I discovered that (the Soviet Union workers) were actively being encouraged to go on tourist vacations.”

Koenker discovered the many vacation opportunities that were offered to Soviet Union workers, one advantage over capitalism. Whereas her previous work regarded what workers do while working, her future work will be based on what they do off work.

The Guggenheim award provides a different aspect than a financial award. The fellowships allow time up to one year to focus solely on the proposed project. It also selects applications in 78 different fields including painters and photographers to biological scientists and writers.

“I’m also a department head, and it’s a time off in the honor,” Murav said. “That’s the excitement of the project. It’s not a big financial competition; it’s the honor that’s the most important thing.”