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UNC faculty members elected into the American Academy, celebrate research

Amy Gladfelter, an adjunct professor of biology at UNC, is seen at Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower on Saturday, April 22, 2023. Amy Gladfelter and Robert Hummer, a distinguished professor of sociology at UNC, were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on April 19.

UNC faculty members Amy Gladfelter and Robert Hummer were both elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier this month.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an honorary society that celebrates professionals in different disciplines who seek to address global issues.

Academy members discover and move knowledge forward while applying it to the problems of society, according to their website. Gladfelter and Hummer will be part of the newest Academy class with nearly 270 members.  

The Academy has elected more than 14,600 members since its founding in 1780. The American Academy is one of the nation’s most prestigious honor societies and a center for policy research. Members of the Academy contribute to publications, and study science and technology, policy and education.

Robert Hummer 

Hummer is a distinguished professor of sociology at UNC. He received graduate degrees from Florida State University, where he studied the intersection of design and health, as well as the impacts of social disparities by race, gender and socioeconomic status.

Hummer leads the “Add Health” study, which follows participants across their lifetimes by conducting surveys and collecting biomarker information to best understand individual health. 

“It's an incredible study that I'm now fortunate to be leading," Hummer said. "That’s one of the key reasons why I came to UNC."

Another UNC distinguished professor in sociology, Kathleen Mullan Harris, knew of Hummer as an excellent scholar in his field and was looking for someone to take over her project. Hummer was first to come to mind, she said.

“I knew he would just be so perfect for this position,” Harris said. “And he was, he absolutely has stepped up.”

The qualities Harris looked for in Hummer were leadership skills, scholarship and respect for everyone around him, Harris said.

 “It’s really important for the person to have this kind of stature in the field," she said.  

Hummer said being elected into the American Academy is an amazing honor for him, and something he never could have imagined being elected to in the past. He said he is extremely grateful for his colleagues at the University and staff members who support his work, as well as undergraduate students and postdoctoral students.

“This kind of recognition doesn't happen without my family and mentors going back a long time and continued support through my kids, my partner and the amazing people here at UNC,” he said.

Amy Gladfelter 

Gladfelter, another newly-elected member of the American Academy, said she has been interested in biology and the natural world since she was young. She went to Duke University for her doctorate and received a postdoctoral degree before becoming an adjunct biology professor at UNC.

“People think labs are just isolated places with people working alone, but they're actually people in team environments, in a lot of cases,” Gladfelter said.

Her lab, now at Duke University, focuses on cell biology and the ways cells are organized — with focus on fungal cells and cells in the placenta. 

She said the biology field interests her because she enjoys the creative process of science and loves to teach.

“I love thinking about life and how it works at a molecular scale," Gladfelter said. "I just really find it fundamentally fascinating."

Gladfelter said she was filled with excitement when she found out she was elected to the American Academy. She thinks the Academy is a great way to bridge the gap between faculty at prestigious universities.

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“I think it's a way to connect these universities to a larger community of scholars in ways that allows for ideas and problems to be discussed, that kind of transcend institutions that are relevant to higher education, and not just higher education, but also ideas in our culture,” Gladfelter said.

These emotions bring up a quote Gladfelter thinks about in her everyday life, that relates to where her career has gotten to today.

“I have a little sign in my office,” Gladfelter said. “It says on it: ‘It always seems impossible until it's done.’”