Presidential Innovation Professorships

Western Michigan University takes great pride in the teaching and scholarship of its faculty. The University seeks to recognize and support outstanding individuals who are making substantial contributions in teaching and/or research for the benefit of its students and society. Through the generosity of private donors, the University has been able to establish a quasi-endowment to support presidential innovation professorships, which will be awarded subject to the following terms and conditions. 

The presidential innovation professors will be recognized for creativity and entrepreneurial approaches to their disciplines. Faculty appointed to a professorship will be expected to utilize the three years of funding to serve as role models of excellence and innovation in their discipline and area of expertise - be it research, teaching or another form of scholarship - and continue the activities for which they were recognized and those proposed in their nomination.

Read the message from President Montgomery announcing the new professorships. 

2023 Discussion panel

View the replay here.

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Class of 2022 Presidential Innovation Professors:

Dr. Martha Councell-Vargas, Associate Professor of Music: Integrative Performance of Flute Music by Historically Under-represented Composers and the Power of Art as a Catalyst for Change

Dr. Tianshu Liu, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: Unified Image-based Measurements of Complex Flows

Dr. Alisa Perkins, Associate Professor of Comparative Religion and an affiliate scholar with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Race, Religion and Revitalization: Black Muslim Community Leadership in Detroit

Class of 2021 Presidential Innovation Professors:

Dr. Massood Atashbar, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering: A Flexible and Portable Microplasma Discharge Platform for Sterilizing Surgical Equipment and Wounds in Healthcare Applications

Dr. Wendy Beane, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences: Promoting Advances in Quantum Biology Through Interdisciplinary Exchange

Dr. Sue Ellen Christian, Professor of Communication: Media and News Literacy Museum Exhibit

Dr. D'Jaris Coles-White, Associate Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences: Multicultural Issues in Speech Disorders and Development of Social Language Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Class of 2020 Presidential Innovation Professors:

Dr. Upul Attanayake, Associate Professor of Civil and Construction Engineering, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for his proposed studies on a field diagnostic technique for detecting alkali-silica reactivity in concrete and advancements in public safety by working to access how to approach America's poorly maintained transportations infrastructure while engaging WMU students in this important work. 

Dr. Ann Chapleau, Professor of Occupational Therapy, College of Health and Human Services, for her proposed work on asylum life before thorazine: did we throw the baby out with the bathwater? This work was chosen because of its innovative concepts in the research of psychiatric illnesses and the use of historic records of one of our community partners that also hosts our students to advance modern treatments to this major public health problem.

Dr. Matt Reeves, Associate Professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences. His work development of innovative approaches for investigating environmental fate and transport of per and polyfluoralkyl substances.  Widespread PFAS contamination and associated ecosystem and human health impacts is one of the most significant emerging environmental crises in a generation, and this work will provide critical groundwork and educational opportunities to lead in solving this problem.

APPLY  Applications are due on March 6, 2023.

Term of Appointment

  1. The term of each presidential innovation professorship will be three years, beginning July 1 for current faculty and September 1 for new faculty recruits.
  2. Appointment to a presidential innovation professorship will not be renewable. However, faculty members who display extraordinary distinction during the term of initial appointment, would be eligible for consideration for an extension of the initial appointment for a maximum of up to two additional years. Upon completion of an appointment presidential innovation professor that faculty member would not be eligible to receive another professorship for a period of five years.
  3. The appointment to a presidential innovation professorship may be terminated at any time by the President, in his or her sole discretion, for just cause due to malfeasance, unprofessional conduct, or other conduct in violation of University policy.
  4. During the term of the appointment as presidential innovation professor, the holder of the position will be formally designated by the name of the professorship, along with his or her university rank and Department, e.g., "The Beulah I. Kendall Professor of Innovation in Physics."  

Qualifications and Eligibility

  1. All current full-time faculty at the rank of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Professor or above with at least three years of full-time employment at WMU at the time of appointment are eligible to be appointed to a presidential innovation professorship. 
  2. The presidential innovation professorship may be awarded to prospective hires at the rank of Assistant Professor or above who are about to begin their first semester of full-time tenured or tenure track employment at WMU.
  3. Those holding senior administrative appointments are not eligible to be awarded presidential innovation professorships. Department Chairs and Center Directors who already hold a presidential innovation professorship at the time of their appointment need not relinquish the professorship before their term expires.

Number of presidential innovation Professorships

  1. It is anticipated that three presidential innovation professorships will be awarded annually for highly qualified current tenured or tenure track faculty at the Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Professor levels.
  2. In addition, it is anticipated that one presidential innovation professorship may be awarded to a highly qualified incoming faculty hire as part of the recruitment process, if a qualified candidate is identified.  The appointment must be tenured or tenure track faculty at the Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor level.

Selection Process for current WMU faculty

  1. Any eligible faculty member may apply for a presidential innovation professorship. The presidential innovation professors will be recognized for creativity and entrepreneurial approaches to their disciplines. Applications will be sought from all members of the University community, due on the deadline stated above. Application available on WMU infoready.
  2. As part of the application process, candidates must outline their innovative practices and identify a strategy for use of the funds associated with the professorship (according to the stipulations identified below).
  3. A selection committee will be established with appointees by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Vice President for Research and Innovation, and the seven academic deans in consultation with the Faculty Senate. Prior recipients of a presidential innovation professorship are eligible to serve on the committee once their appointment is complete.  The committee will make recommendations to the President, who will make the final decision. If no qualified candidates are identified, the presidential innovation professorship will not be awarded.

 Candidates for these presidential innovation professorships must demonstrate innovation in:

        • Teaching (e.g., interdisciplinary curriculum, pedagogical innovations including use of emerging technologies, community/organizational partnerships, externally funded programs), or
        • Research (e.g., funded or commercialized work, interdisciplinary approaches to solving complex problems), or
        • Both teaching and research (e.g., integration of funded undergraduate and graduate research in teaching strategies).

Selection Process for new WMU faculty recruits

  1. Any potential faculty hire that meets the qualifications and eligibility may be nominated by the Dean for a presidential innovation professorship.
  2. The selection of an external presidential innovation recipient will, by necessity, be made on a rolling basis as offers are made.
  3. At the start of the spring semester, nominations will be accepted from dean of the college where the appointment will be made for potential presidential innovation professorships. This requires that a search committee has interviewed all candidates, identified the top candidate, received the full start up request from the candidate, and is prepared to make a formal written offer. The nomination must include a description of all committed start up funds and salary, with their source, available for the offer.  The selection will be made by the university cabinet in consultation with the President. Candidates who are not immediately selected will remain as a candidate until the end of the process.  The professorship may be awarded before all colleges complete their recruitment process for the year. If no qualified candidates are identified, the presidential innovation professorship will not be awarded.

Funding and Benefits

  1. Each presidential innovation professorship will receive $15,000 annually, derived from the earnings from the quasi-endowment that supports the presidential innovation professorship program. These funds may not be used to supplement a faculty member’s salary.
  2. At least 75% of the annual funding must be utilized, at the recipient's election, for travel, staff support, acquisition of teaching and research materials, payment of graduate or undergraduate students, and other similar work-related expenses. If unused, the remaining 25% can roll over to the next year.  For years 2 and 3, 75% of the balance of the funding from the prior years must be utilized.  Successive year-over-year rollovers are not allowed; thus, at no point can the balance at the start of a year exceed 125% of the annual benefit.
  3. Each year the recipient will submit a budget to his or her college dean detailing the proposed allocation of funds, which will be subject to the dean's approval. The allocation may be revised from year to year, or during any year, with the dean's consent.
  4. The benefits of the position of presidential innovation professor will apply only during the three-year term of the award. Any unused funds at the end of the three years will be returned to the endowment.  Under extraordinary circumstances, a presidential innovation professor may request a 6-month no cost extension of no more than 25% of the funds awarded in year three by written request to the President.


  1. Faculty appointed to a presidential innovation professorship will be expected to utilize the three years of funding to serve as role models of excellence and innovation in their discipline and area of expertise, be it research, teaching or another form of scholarship and continue the activities for which they were recognized and those proposed in their application.
  2. Recipients of a presidential innovation professorship will be expected to remain in residence at Western Michigan University during the entire three-year term of the award, and will not take a sabbatical leave during that time.
  3. Presidential innovation professors may be asked by the university to speak at university events for the purpose of sharing their work for the benefit and enhancement of the innovation environment at WMU.
  4. During the term of their appointment as a presidential innovation professor, the recipient shall be able to use that title on business cards, email signatures and other correspondence.  After the term is complete the title of past recipient is appropriate for use on the curriculum vita.
  5. Within three months of the end of the three years, the recipient will provide a summary of their major accomplishments during the period of the professorship.

Amendment of Procedure

Additional terms and conditions governing this procedure may be applied from time to time to clarify issues that arise in the implementation of the program. The President may amend this policy, in whole or in part, at any time in his or her sole discretion.

Originating from the Named Professorship Quasi-Endowment (54-9003040). Updated May 6, 2019. 


Kay Mortellaro 
Send an email 
Research Development Administrator