McKnight Presidential Fellows

The McKnight Presidential Fellows Program is a three-year award given to the most promising individuals who have been granted both tenure and promotion to associate professor in an academic year. It recognizes recipients who are recommended by their college dean and chosen at the discretion of the executive vice president and provost based on excellence in research and scholarship, leadership, potential to build top-tier programs, and ability to advance University of Minnesota priorities.

2021-22 to 2023-24


Emilyn Alejandro
Integrative Biology and Physiology
Medical School, Twin Cities

Fetal origins of obesity and type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common chronic disease affecting about 420 million people worldwide. To stop the vicious cycle of the disease, Emilyn Alejandro’s team combine integrative approaches and using both animal models and human studies to uncover the role of nutrient-sensor protein mTOR and OGT in the placenta and pancreas, to ultimately predict individuals who are at risk for obesity and diabetes and to find ways to increase insulin secretion to improve clinical interventions for patients with diabetes. The team is shedding new light on the fetal origins of pancreatic-β-cell dysfunction, obesity, and diabetes.


Samira Azarin
Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
College of Science & Engineering, Twin Cities

Engineering healthy and diseased tissue environments to develop novel therapies

Samira Azarin studies the role of the cell microenvironment in the development and function of healthy and diseased tissues to enable fundamental insights into biological mechanisms, develop model systems for drug discovery, and design biomaterials that direct the behavior of cells and tissues in the body. A major focus of her research program is to combine cell and tissue engineering with novel biomaterial platforms to address current therapeutic roadblocks in the treatment of cancer, including metastatic spread and drug resistance, with the aim of improving clinical outcomes for patients with any types of cancer.


Jeffrey Calder
College of Science & Engineering, Twin Cities

Continuum limits in machine learning and data science

Jeff Calder is a mathematician whose research involves using continuum mathematical analysis, including partial differential equations and the calculus of variations, to study discrete problems at the foundations of machine learning and data science. The goals of his research are to further our understanding of existing algorithms, and to develop new, more efficient algorithms founded on strong theoretical principles with provable performance guarantees. He has made foundational contributions to many problems, including the sorting of multivariate data with data peeling algorithms, and graph-based semi-supervised learning with limited data.


Trinity Hamilton
Plant and Microbial Biology 
College of Biological Sciences, Twin Cities

Using modern microbial ecosystems to unlock Earth’s past, present, and future

Trinity Hamilton is an environmental and molecular microbiologist. Her research examines microbial photosynthesis and global biogeochemical cycles throughout Earth’s history. Her research combines genomic, functional, and evolutionary studies of complex microbial ecosystems to answer outstanding questions in microbial ecology and evolution in the face of changing environmental conditions, and has been applied to places ranging from Yellowstone hot springs to Minnesota lakes to Greenland glaciers. Hamilton’s research has informed outstanding questions regarding the physiology of Earth’s oldest phototrophs and the contribution of these organisms to biogeochemical cycling in Earth’s past, present, and future.


Douglas E. Kearney
College of Liberal Arts, Twin Cities

Ways of reckoning: Critical Black poetics

Douglas Kearney is an award-winning poet and critic working on / with / through Black aesthetics and performance. His research engages literature, music, and entertainment with foci in interdisciplinary artistic praxes, the grotesque, and the crossroads where antiblack violence meets spectacle. His books include Mess and Mess and, Buck Studies, and Sho. A librettist, Kearney’s most recent operas are Crescent City, Sweet Land, and Comet / Poppea (commissioned by the American Modern Opera Company).  His courses range from a lab for developing new poetic forms to seminars on genre agnostic writing.


Bonnie Keeler
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Twin Cities

What is clean water worth? In pursuit of more equitable, efficient, and effective water policy

Bonnie Keeler works at the intersection of sustainability science and environmental economics, with particular expertise in water policy. Keeler’s research investigates the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, the social costs of water pollution, and the dynamics of social-ecological systems. Keeler is the co-director of the CREATE Initiative, a community-engaged research project that aims to leverage the resources of the research university in service to the needs and priorities of environmental justice organizations in urban watersheds. Keeler also directs the Beyond the Academy network - a coalition of university leaders seeking to reform academic models to promote actionable, engaged scholarship on sustainability. 


Esther Krook-Magnuson
Medical School, Twin Cities

Illuminating neuronal networks in health and disease

Esther Krook-Magnuson is a neuroscientist seeking to improve our understanding of how cells interact within a network, how networks interact with each other, and the physiological roles of neuronal populations. Neuronal networks, diversity, and specificity of function are important to both physiological processes and neurological disorders. The Krook-Magnuson lab utilizes models of temporal lobe epilepsy and essential tremor, and a range of techniques including electrophysiology, optogenetics, imaging, and behavioral experiments to address fundamental questions in the field of neuroscience.


Olihe Okoro
Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Pharmacy, Duluth

Addressing structural inequities to eliminate health disparities

Olihe Okoro is a community-engaged scholar whose research efforts aim to investigate and address structural inequities that drive health disparities. Dr. Okoro’s work is unique in that it seeks to understand the intersections of social determinants of health with race/ethnicity and sociocultural context, and the implications for health care and health outcomes. Her work continues to inform interventions to improve health outcomes in Black communities. Dr. Okoro is currently working with the African heritage community to address COVID-19 disparities and using findings from a community needs assessment to address long-standing inequities associated with disparities in health care and health outcomes.



2020-21 to 2022-23

Rachel Hardeman

Rachel Hardeman

Division of Health Policy and Management
School of Public Health, Twin Cities

Reproducing race: the impact of structural inequity on reproductive health

Rachel Hardeman is a Reproductive Health Equity Researcher whose work has significantly shifted the field's ability to name and operationalize structural racism as a fundamental cause of health inequities. Furthermore, her research and scholarly activities have made health inequities due to racism more visible and offered empirical evidence as to the ways that public health might intervene on the growing racial inequities in health and health care in our country through health care systems change, medical education and policy. Currently Professor Hardeman is investigating ways to quantitatively measure structural racism and its impact on health outcomes like maternal morbidity and mortality where Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in the United States.

Maggie Hennefeld

Maggie Hennefeld

Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
College of Liberal Arts, Twin Cities

Death from laughter, female hysteria, and early cinema

Maggie Hennefeld is a feminist comedy theorist and international silent film curator. Her award- winning book, Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes (Columbia UP, 2018) reveals the forgotten history of female performers in early slapstick film comedies. She is an editor of the journal Cultural Critique and co-editor of two volumes, Unwatchable (Rutgers UP, 2019) and Abjection Incorporated (Duke UP, 2020). She is currently writing a book about the history of women who allegedly died from laughing too hard.

Timothy Kowalewski

Timothy Kowalewski

Mechanical Engineering
College of Science and Engineering, Twin Cities

Fortifying the Art of Surgery with Engineering Science

Dr. Kowalewski’s research aims to create new solutions to long-standing problems in surgery.  He discovered methods that quantify and improve the skill of a surgeon accurately, inexpensively, and in a manner that can scale to millions of procedures annually.   Due to his startup company in this area (acquired by Johnson and Johnson) these methods see daily use throughout several hospital systems.  He is now creating safer surgical robots that magnify the capabilities of surgeons.

Ryan Langlois

Ryan Langlois

Microbiology and Immunology
Medical School, Twin Cities

Immune responses to viral infections

The immune system is the major line of defense against infection. Ryan Langlois uses innovative approaches to study immune responses to viral infections and vaccines. Viruses continue to emerge from animal reservoirs driving novel pandemics in humans. He has also designed new model systems that track viruses from reservoir through transmission into new hosts. By perturbing components of the immune system, the Langlois lab uncovers how viruses make the species jumps and evolve leading to new pandemics.

Kate Lockwood Harris

Kate Lockwood Harris

Communication Studies
College of Liberal Arts, Twin Cities

Transforming organizational responses to violence

How are violence and communication related? This question guides Dr. Harris’s internationally recognized research on assault, sexual consent, and systemic racism. She analyzes how everyday interactions, such as two people discussing a traumatic experience, sustain or transform institutional inequities. She also assesses how organizations’ decisions and policies impact abusive interpersonal encounters. In 2019, Oxford University Press published her first book, Beyond the Rapist: Title IX and Sexual Violence on US Campuses.

Lana Yarosh

Lana Yarosh

Computer Science and Engineering
College of Science and Engineering, Twin Cities

Designing computing systems to enhance social relationships

Lana Yarosh is a Computer Scientist with a focus on Human-Computer Interaction and Social Computing. Her research lab has made significant contributions to the empirical understanding and design of computing systems that enhance social relationships to create stronger families, support individual health and wellbeing, and provide a stage for personal growth. Lana’s scholarship is characterized by interdisciplinary, community-engaged, and participatory methods to create novel technologies that meet our needs as a society.

2019-20 to 2021-22


Tony Low

Electrical & Computer Engineering 
College of Science & Engineering

Light-matter interactions in two-dimensional atomic crystals

Tony Low has made significant contributions to the fundamental understanding of plasmonic and optoelectronic properties in the exciting class of atomically thin two-dimensional materials. His internationally recognized theoretical research provides original blueprints on the use of these materials to manipulate light, particularly in the mid-infrared spectrum. These materials offer the promise of key breakthrough applications in the mid-infrared spectrum, such as nanophotonics, biosensing, beam forming, and thermal detectors.


Annie-Laurie McRee

Medical School

Improving health by promoting adolescent vaccination and preventive services

Widespread vaccination against human papillomavirus has the potential to prevent several types of cancer, yet many young people are not receiving it. Annie-Laurie McRee’s research centers on addressing this gap. She seeks to advance behavioral, public health, and health services approaches to increasing adolescent vaccination and improving adolescents’ receipt of preventive services, particularly around sexual and reproductive health. Her scholarship is characterized by close collaboration with interdisciplinary colleagues and has helped shape current best practices in the field.


Soumya Sen

Information & Decision Sciences
Carlson School of Management

Designing systems and pricing solutions for a sustainable Internet ecosystem

Advances in information technologies, such as mobile, cloud, and AI, hold promise for transforming our society. But their successful implementation depends on our ability to holistically address technical, economic, and social issues. Sen’s interdisciplinary research accounts for these factors in designing IT systems and incentive schemes that help businesses and users make optimal decisions. His pioneering work on “smart data pricing” explores ways to reduce Internet congestion and realize affordable data plans for wider access.


David M. Vock

School of Public Health

Right treatment for the right patient at the right time

David Vock develops methods for causal inference — a set of statistical tools used to determine the effect of an intervention from observational data – and dynamic treatment regimes, which are used to evaluate and advance personalized treatment strategies. His work has contributed to understanding the survival benefit of lung transplantation and he developed novel statistical methods for evaluating approaches to distributing cadaveric organs to those awaiting transplantation. He is currently developing methodology for tobacco regulatory science to gauge the impact of potential product regulation.


Terrion L. Williamson

African American & African Studies
College of Liberal Arts

Social life, serialized death, and engaged black feminist praxis

Terrion Williamson is an interdisciplinary black feminist scholar. A native of Peoria, Illinois, her first book, Scandalize My Name: Black Feminist Practice and the Making of Black Social Life (2017) uses her hometown as a primary site of interrogation. Currently, she serves as the founding director of the Black Midwest Initiative and is working on both an edited volume about blackness in the Midwest and a book titled We Cannot Live Without Our Lives, a study of black women and serial murder in the U.S.


Jason J. Wolff

Educational Psychology
College of Education & Human Development

Pre-symptomatic detection and intervention for autism spectrum disorder

Early intervention can dramatically improve outcomes for children with autism. However, a significant challenge has been the identification and treatment of such children as early as possible. Wolff’s research addresses this issue through the prospective, longitudinal study of early behavioral and brain development. Currently, he is investigating precursors of maladaptive sensory and repetitive behaviors associated with autism, developing novel approaches to infant intervention, and refining ground-breaking methods to detect autism in infancy. 


Rui Zhang

Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems
College of Pharmacy

Discovering pharmacovigilance using artificial intelligence on biomedical big data

Dr. Zhang investigates how artificial intelligence can help discover novel pharmacovigilance knowledge from biomedical big data. He has created an innovative translational informatics framework, which enables the generation of hypotheses about clinical issues by mining the biomedical literature and by validating the findings in electronic health record data from large healthcare systems. This signal-generating system accelerates the rate of recognizing new patterns (e.g., drug-supplement interactions, pharmacogenomics-drug relationships) and consequences for health care.

2018-19 to 2020-21


Daheia J. Barr-Anderson

College of Education & Human Development

Daheia Barr-Anderson's research focuses on physical activity, sedentary behaviors, and obesity prevention in children and adolescents, especially African-American females. Her research examines multi-level factors that influence physical activity among youth and is testing the efficacy of community- and family-based interventions designed to increase physical activity and improve nutrition among sedentary individuals. Professor Barr-Anderson is also exploring how factors within the home activity and food environments interact with individual and interpersonal factors to contribute to overweight and obesity in children, adolescents, and their families.

Gordon Burtch

Information & Decision Sciences
Carlson School of Management

Gordon Burtch does pioneering work on the topic of online crowdfunding. His research explores and quantifies the influence and economic impact of social mechanisms on individual participation in, and contributions toward, online venues. His work has explored the antecedents and economic consequences of peer influence and individual anonymity amongst contributors, as well as the impact of supplying users with website anonymity features. His work on user-generated content (UGC) has explored the impacts of platform policy and design interventions that interact with social mechanisms, like social norms and social presence, to influence the volume and characteristics of UGC, such as online reviews.


David J. Flannigan

Chemical Engineering & Materials Science
College of Science & Engineering

David Flannigan is the leading inventor and pioneer of time-resolved, ultrafast electron microscopy (UEM), a technique that is revolutionizing our understanding of the atomic scale structure of materials. One of his important breakthroughs is the direct imaging of lattice phonons (vibrations) in semiconductors. Phonons are responsible for acoustic and thermal energy transport in materials. Flannigan’s UEM allows them to be visualized for the first time, opening up the possibility of directly probing how nanoscopic defects such as dislocations, inclusions, and grain boundaries – which are ubiquitous in real materials – impact the flow of energy.


Michael Gallope

Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature
College of Liberal Arts

Michael Gallope has established a distinguished record of academic achievement for his work in the areas of music, philosophy, and the cultural history of the avant-garde. Professor Gallope’s recent book, Deep Refrains: Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable (2017), has been described as an “impressive tour de force” and as reframing “music's contribution to critical discourse and humanistic inquiry.” By examining modern European philosophers’ writings on music in a way that spans traditional boundaries, Professor Gallope’s work elucidates the surprising centrality of music and sound to twentieth-century critiques of modern life.


William C. K. Pomerantz

College of Science & Engineering

Will Pomerantz’s research addresses a longstanding question in chemical biology, which is whether protein-protein interactions (PPIs), which play an essential part in biological processes and human disease, can be affected by drugs.  His research program seeks to understand the details of PPIs, with a focus on improving our knowledge of macromolecular recognition events. Professor Pomerantz uses a multi-pronged approach to inhibit PPIs and develop new synthetic molecules to both image and disrupt harmful PPIs, with applications to the treatment of cancer.

2017-18 to 2019-20


Rafael Fernandes

John R. Fieberg

Tania Mitchell

Francis X. Shen

Chun Wang

Physics & Astronomy/CSE

Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology/CFANS

Organizational Leadership, Policy & Development/CEHD

Law/Law School


2009-10 to 2011-12


Jacques Finlay

Timothy Griffin

Nathan Kuncel

Frances Vavrus

Hui Zou

Ecology, Evolution & Behavior/CBS

Biochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biophysics/CBS


Organizational Leadership, Policy & Development/CEHD


2008-09 to 2010-11


Michael Gaudio

Joseph Gaugler

Lee Penn

Kathleen Vohs

Yuhong Xiang

Art History/CLA



Marketing & Logistics Management/CSOM


2007-08 to 2009-10


Wilma Koutstaal

Chris Leighton

J. Michael Oakes

Marco Peloso

Andrew Scheil


Chemical Engineering & Materials Science/IT

Epidemiology & Community Health/Public Health

Physics & Astronomy/IT


2006-07 to 2008-09


Ezra Miller

Ben Munson

Beth Stadler

Kathleen Thomas

David Treuer

George Weiblen


Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences/CLA

Electrical & Computer Engineering/IT

Institute of Child Development/CEHD


Plant Biology/CBS

2005-06 to 2007-08


Michael Goldman

Krishnan Mahesh

Fernando Porte-Agel

Claudia Schmidt-Dannert

Theodore Schoen


Aerospace Engineering/IT

Civil Engineering/IT

Biology, Molecular Biology, & Biophysics/CBS


2004-05 to 2006-07


Paulo Kufiji

Erika Lee

Tian-jun Li

Melanie Wall

Neuroscience/Medical School



Biostatistics/Public Health

2003-04 to 2005-06


Paul Crowell

Robert Krueger

Kariuki Njenga

Yong-Zhong Quian

Kirt Wilson

Physics & Astronomy/IT


Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences/VetMed

Physics & Astronomy/IT

Communication Studies/CLA

2001-02 to 2003-04


Cathy Carlson

Wei Chen

Mats Heimdahl

Richa Nagar

Chris Uggen

Veterinary Population Medicine/VetMed

Cancer Center/AHC

Computer Science /IT

Women's Studies /CLA