Professor John Vandermeer was among a select group of faculty awarded the 2013 Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the U-M Office of the Provost. The recipients were selected for their dedication to developing cultural and ethnic diversity at U-M.

“Your contributions to the multicultural mission of the university have been extensive and of extraordinary caliber,” wrote Lester P. Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, in the award letter. “It is my pleasure to bestow upon you this high honor.”

Established in 1996, the award is given in honor of Harold Johnson, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work. The award provides $5,000 to recipients to further research and scholarship opportunities. Vandermeer is the Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor with affiliations in the Center for the Study of Complex Systems, Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and American Studies.

Deborah Goldberg, Elzada U. Clover Collegiate Professor and chair of EEB, who was a recipient of the award in 2012, wrote of Vandermeer, “I cannot think of anyone more deserving… I have had the good fortune to be a colleague of John’s for almost 30 years, with experiences ranging from being an assistant professor in awe of an already highly distinguished senior colleague, to being chair of his department and plotting with him how to increase the diversity of our graduate students. In all those years, he has been THE member of our department (first Biology, now EEB) who has been the most sensitive to problems of racial and gender inequality, most aware of the social science data that exposes the causes of those problems, and most active in seeking solutions. John is absolutely committed to social justice and is willing to make the effort that’s needed to effect change, both at an individual level and an institutional level.

“As an individual mentor, John has worked hard to recruit and support students from nontraditional and disadvantaged backgrounds, including underrepresented minorities from the U.S., economically and educationally disadvantaged students from Central America, and women of all backgrounds.  He has spent huge amounts of time helping students to develop the skills necessary to succeed in graduate school.” 

Vandermeer has been instrumental in initiating several programs that have made or are making important improvements in EEB’s recruitment and retention of nontraditional students. Several years ago, he and Professor Ivette Perfecto of SNRE received an NCID-ADVANCE grant to develop a recruiting program for undergraduates from institutions with high populations of underrepresented minorities. They have established close connections with Howard University, Tuskegee University, Morehouse College, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and that program continues to recruit graduate students to EEB. 

Vandermeer is the principal investigator of an NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that recruits and funds underrepresented minority students for a research experience during the summer between their first and sophomore years. 

“As one of the founding members of STRIDE (Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence), John was critical in developing the workshops used to train faculty search committees to be aware and counter the unconscious  biases relative to gender and racial minorities that underlie evaluation and the subtle phenomena that make a climate unfavorable,” wrote Goldberg. “After completing his rotation on STRIDE, John became a founding member of PRIDE, a similar group that works on biases in the graduate admissions and mentoring process. 

“He has improved the lives of many students in EEB and at the university and made substantial progress in increasing diversity at organizational scales from his own lab to the department to the university.”