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David Austen-Smith and Cynthia Coburn awarded Ver Steeg Fellowship

Award recognizes tenured faculty who have made major research contributions

Ver Steeg
David Austen-Smith and Cynthia Coburn conduct research as tenured Northwestern faculty

Northwestern University professors David Austen-Smith and Cynthia Coburn have received the 14th annual Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellowship Award.

The Ver Steeg Fellowship supports scholarship and research by tenured Northwestern faculty whose work enhances the national and international reputation of the University, and awards $40,000 to each recipient. 

“Professors Austen-Smith and Coburn have achieved international acclaim for their scholarship, and I am delighted to recognize them with the Ver Steeg Award,” Provost Kathleen Hagerty said. 

Austen-Smith is a professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at the Kellogg School of Management and the Peter G. Peterson Chair of Corporate Ethics. He has been a central figure in the intellectual movement to develop mathematical models and theories to understand political institutions. 

Austen-Smith’s work has been cited across disciplines and remains highly influential. His most-cited work uses game theory to analyze strategic behavior in elections, lobbying and campaign contributions.

“I became an academic because I enjoyed trying to figure stuff out,” Austen-Smith said. “I was very taken with the use of models as a way to have constructive arguments."

The author of more than 50 articles, Austen-Smith’s scholarship has been published in top economics and political science journals. He is the author of two books, “Positive Political Theory I: Collective Preference” (University of Michigan Press, 1999) and “Positive Political Theory II: Strategy and Structure (University of Michigan Press, 2005).

Austen-Smith also is the former chair of the managerial economics and decision sciences department at Kellogg, director of the Ford Center for Global Citizenship and was the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Political Science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences before transferring to Kellogg.

Austen-Smith received his Ph.D. in economics from Cambridge University in 1978. His accolades include fellowships in the Game Theory Society in 2017, the Economic Society in 2012 and in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. 

“I can think of so many professors who fit the bill for this award,” Austen-Smith said. “To receive the award was very flattering, and I’m so grateful — it’s nice to get some positive affirmation. 

Coburn is renowned for her contributions to the field of organizational research in education. By applying rigorous qualitative and mixed-method studies to classrooms, Coburn studies the relationship between educational policy in urban schools and research use by education policymakers.

She is a professor of human development and social policy, as well as learning science in the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), and a faculty associate at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. She is the second faculty member from SESP to receive the award.

“Part of the reason this is such a great honor is there's so much important scholarship going on at Northwestern,” Coburn said. “To think my work was considered worthy of such an honor in light of so many other disciplines is very rewarding.”

Coburn said her field has been impacted heavily by the pandemic, with existing inequality being exacerbated by constraints of e-learning. She said she hopes the award gives her an opportunity to think more about next steps to her past research that center on inequality more explicitly.

Coburn is the co-editor of the acclaimed book, “Research and practice in education: Building alliances, bridging the divide” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), and an author of nearly 50 articles. She is the principal investigator for many major grants, with funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Institute for Educational Sciences. 

Included in her many awards are her honorary degree from the UCLouvain, Belgium and her recent election to the National Academy of Education. A graduate of Oberlin College, Coburn holds an M.A. in sociology and a Ph.D. in education from Stanford University.

The Ver Steeg Fellowship was established and endowed by the late Clarence L. Ver Steeg and his wife, Dorothy. Clarence Ver Steeg was a faculty member for many years in the department of history and served as dean of The Graduate School from 1975 to 1986. The complete list of award recipients can be found on the Office of the Provost website.

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