When Provost Joseph Klesner invited Andrew Engell, assistant professor of psychology, to lunch earlier this summer, Engell was enthusiastic, if also mildly suspicious.
“It’s always nice to see Provost Klesner,” Engell said with a smile, “but I was wondering, ‘Why are we at lunch?’ ”
The answer, Engell quickly learned, was that he would be the next holder of the Harvey F. Lodish Faculty Development Chair in the Natural Sciences — a three-year chair established in 2000 through a gift from Harvey Lodish ’62 H ’82 P ’89 and Pamela Lodish P ’89 — to recognize excellence in teaching, research and scholarship in the sciences at Kenyon.
The Lodish Professorship is awarded to a junior faculty member in the natural sciences division and is designed to attract and retain a promising colleague by offering not only prestige but also substantial support for research at a critical period early in the faculty member's career.
Upon hearing the news, “I was stunned, honestly,” said Engell, who joined the Kenyon faculty in 2013. Engell teaches courses in both psychology and neuroscience, and his research focuses on how people identify and interpret non-verbal social information that is conveyed by facial expression, eye-gaze direction, facial identity, body posture and biological motion.
"He's a very popular and effective lecturer," Klesner said of Engell. "Just as important, he's been able to create a team of undergraduate researchers who work in his lab, and they have been quite successful in putting together work that they can share with the scholarly community."
Further, he added, Engell’s research on the human brain (which primarily uses electroencephalography to record electrical activity generated in the brain), “provides to psychology and neuroscience students a real opportunity [for hands-on learning] that they otherwise wouldn't have."
By email, Lodish, a professor of biology and biomedical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a past member of the Kenyon College Board of Trustees, said that the professorship he endowed 16 years ago “has succeeded beyond my highest expectations.”
Lodish has met with each of the previous recipients and said he was “especially pleased to learn of the professional plans for their students after Kenyon; many enrolled in top Ph.D. programs.”
This summer, Engell is working closely with four students on two different studies, both related to better understanding how we perceive and process human faces.
The Lodish chair, he said, will help him attend more meetings, conferences and workshops in the field. It also will allow him to run costly functional magnetic resonance imaging pilot studies that can serve as the foundation of future grant applications. Finally, it will allow him to grow a handful of research collaborations he has initiated, which are currently in their infancy, including partnerships with The Ohio State University College of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Yale University.
"I'm often humbled by the amazing work of my colleagues in the natural sciences and College-wide,” Engell said. “So to get an award like this, to foster my research, is particularly gratifying. … I've had colleagues pop in to congratulate me and that, to me, is a reminder of what a great place Kenyon is — that people go out of their way to celebrate accomplishments like this and to share the joy."