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MacArthur "Genius" Awards given out to 3 U of M researchers

The MacArthur Fellowship was given to 22 people this year, including three who teach at the University of Michigan. The 2011 Fellows run the gamut - from science to journalism to the arts.

Here's a list of the U of M winners:

  • Tiya Miles, director of the Department of Afroamerican & African Studies
  • Melanie Sanford, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry
  • Yukiko Yamashita, research assistant professor, U-M Life Sciences Institute; and assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, Medical School.

Tiya Miles dropped by our studio, where she was doing an interview with Michel Martin, host of NPR's Tell Me More. I also got to chat with her about the MacArthur award. Two words she used to describe the experience so far? Grateful and overwhelmed.

Miles studies the relationships between African Americans and Native Americans during the period of slavery:

"I started the research really to kind of find support for what I’d heard from my grandmother and other black people in my community, and ended up finding instead that it really had been the case that a minority of native people had owned black slaves and there had been quite a contentious relationship because of it."

Each Fellow receives $500,000 over five years, no strings attached. Miles plans to use the first installment of money to help fund a new project she started at U of M called EcoGirls.

"It’s a project that tries to connect college students young women on campus right now with urban girls in Detroit, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Dearborn...to teach them about environmental awareness and stewardship as connected with various cultural backgrounds."

U of M stem cell biologist Yukiko Yamashita says she was "very, very surprised" to hear she was a MacArthur Fellow. "It's a great honor, but at the same time I feel more intimidated. I don’t know if I can live up to it!"

The MacArthur Foundation describes Yamashita's work as "unraveling the complex molecular choreography of stem cell division and investigating how factors such as aging affect the capacity of stem cells to replace specialized cells that are injured, infected, or wear out."

Yamashita plans to put the $500,000 toward her research:

“I have ideas that I want to try out which will be a little harder to get regular funding, so I can use that money for trying those kind of ideas.”

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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