2021: A year of outstanding accomplishment

2021: A year of outstanding accomplishment

The past year was an incredible one for Arts & Sciences. As we embark on a new year, here's a look back at a few of our highlights.

Amid the challenges of an ongoing pandemic, students and faculty engaged in thoughtful teaching, learning, and discovery; staff members brought excellence and dedication to their many operational areas; and the entire A&S community engaged in an intensive effort to articulate a vision for our school's next decade. 

Site of the new Arts & Sciences building

Many of the year's efforts culminated in December with the launch of the 2021 Arts & Sciences strategic plan, A Transformative Decade: Convergence, Creativity, Community. Coinciding with this, Washington University revealed plans to construct a new state-of-the-art building for the school, aimed at enhancing academic distinction by housing premier departments and programs, supporting its commitment to diversity and inclusion, strengthening student-facing academic services and resources, and showcasing its vibrant intellectual community through signature event and gathering spaces.

Throughout the year, the Digital Transformation Initiative, a large-scale hiring effort launched last spring, infused new talent into A&S. The initiative aims to expand and transform existing fields of study, open new avenues of discovery, and enrich research and teaching capabilities within departments, across the school, and throughout the university. In addition to seven hires who arrived in 2021, 12 additional scholars plan to join A&S in 2022 as part of the initiative.

Dean Feng Sheng Hu also bolstered the school’s administrative efforts by appointing distinguished faculty members to new or expanded leadership roles. A particular priority for Dean Hu has been to increase the faculty presence in the Dean’s Office and build broader representation of the various areas of the school, better supporting the academic and operational efforts of students, faculty, and staff across Arts & Sciences. 

This fall, we welcomed the largest and most diverse class of new students in our school's history, and Vice Dean Erin McGlothlin and her team met the challenge with enthusiasm. The College of Arts & Sciences coordinated with departments, programs, and campus partners to provide additional resources and set these students up for success throughout the coming years. 

In the spring, Chancellor Martin and faculty members Deanna Barch, John Baugh, Pascal Boyer, and Holden Thorp were elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, which honors exceptional scholars, leaders, artists, and innovators. With this recognition, these faculty members join the ranks of Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, and many other notable scholars.

Throughout the past year, faculty earned dozens of additional awards and honors, and their research, scholarship, and creative practice efforts unlocked new discoveries and understanding in many disciplines. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are a few highlights from across Arts & Sciences:


“The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging” won the 2021 Eisner Award, one of the comic book industry’s most prestigious honors

Miguel Valerio, assistant professor of Spanish, won a 2021–22 Career Enhancement Fellowship from the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, which seeks to increase the presence of underrepresented junior faculty members in the humanities through a sabbatical and research stipends as well as mentorship from tenured former fellows.

Noted media studies scholar and video game designer Ian Bogost joined the faculty of Arts & Sciences as director and professor of the Film and Media Studies program with a joint appointment in the McKelvey School of Engineering.

Faculty in the humanities won numerous prestigious book awards in 2021, including Douglas Flowe (the Littleton-Griswold Prize for Uncontrollable Blackness), Rebecca Wanzo (Eisner Award, Hatfield Book Prize for The Content of Our Caricature), Anya Plutynski (Lakatos Award for Explaining Cancer), and Ignacio Infante (translation of Sky-Quake named one of Entropy’s best poetry books of the year).

Natural sciences 


Faculty across Arts & Sciences, including Sophia Hayes, are part of a growing movement at Washington University to offer students at all levels essential training in science communication. Read more about their efforts to empower students to communicate science with empathy and intention.


An ENDURE student presenting at the 2021 symposium

Under the leadership of Diana Silva José-Edwards and Erik Herzog, WashU's ENDURE program partnered with groups across the university and local institutions to attract top talent, provide training and mentorship opportunities, and improve the diversity of the neuroscience field. Read more about the program and their annual symposium that brings together a growing community of undergraduate neuroscientists.


Notable science research awards included an $11.8 million grant from NASA to Ray Arvidson and collaborators for archiving and distributing planetary geosciences data; a collaboration between Washington University chemists, including Gary Patti, Agilent Technologies, and the biopharmaceutical company Merck to expand metabolomics research; a five-year NASA grant for physicist Johanna Nagy to develop next-generation balloon-borne telescopes to map the polarization of the microwave sky; and a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to support biologist Arpita Bose and colleagues in collaborative research on bacterial behavior.

Social sciences 

Geoff Ward, professor of African and African American studies and associate director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity (CRE2), collaborated with scholars across campus on research that commemorates racial violence and advances racial justice. His Racial Violence Archive uses digital storytelling to create a commemorative space for reckoning with histories and legacies of racist violence in the U.S.

Geoff Ward is project director of WashU & Slavery

Ward also led Washington University's efforts to join the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium. The WashU initiative, based in CRE2, will support new research, classes, and programs that leverage university collections and archives to examine how our institutional history is entangled with slavery and its legacy.

Adia Harvey Wingfield, vice dean of faculty development and diversity and the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of Arts & Sciences, received the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s Race, Gender, and Class section’s Distinguished Career Award. The honor recognizes outstanding contributions to sociological practice with work that has served as a model for the work of others; that has elevated the professional status or public image of the field; or that has been widely recognized for its significant impacts, particularly in advancing human welfare.

Helina Woldekiros, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, and her collaborators recently launched a new living, publicly accessible database that highlights underrepresented scholars of African archaeology. Read more about the Bibliographic Database of African Scholarship on African Archaeology and how it aims to make under-cited work more accessible to scholars, students, and the public.