National Award Honors Former Psychology Professor Michele Alexander

Contact: Jeff Hecker, 581-2033; George Manlove, 581-3756

ORONO — A national society of social scientists has created a special award in the name of former UMaine psychology professor Michele Alexander for educators who contribute to the psychological study of social issues.

Alexander was a popular and dynamic teacher who died at age 37 in an automobile accident in December of 2003.

The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), an organization of about 3,000 social scientists, students and others who share a common interest in research on the psychological aspects of significant social issues, recently created the Michele Alexander Early Career Award for Scholarship and Service.

Alexander, a professor of social psychology, also maintained a rigorous research program in the field of social justice, prejudice, discrimination and the criminal justice system. She additionally was active in psychology department activities, on university committees and in various capacities with SPSSI and its affiliated Junior Scholars Professional Development task force, of which Alexander was head at the time of her death.

“This is quite something,” Jeffrey Hecker, psychology department chair, says of the award. “It’s a national organization. For psychologists, it’s the premier organization” to offer a psychological approach to matters of social justice.

“This award is inspired in memory of Michele Alexander, a talented scholar and dedicated teacher who brought exceptional insight, passion and commitment to social issues research,” a news release from the SPSSI says. “Michele also gave generously to students, colleagues and communities through voluntary service.”

The Alexander award will recognize early career scholars, considered junior scholars, who combine excellence in both scholarship and service. Nominees for the award should have received their Ph.D. within five years of the time of application.

The award includes a complimentary one-year SPSSI membership, an honorary plaque and the opportunity to attend an SPSSI-sponsored event with the president of the organization, which provides the recipient with opportunities for networking and mentoring — a special skill and commitment of Alexander’s, according to SPSSI.

Hecker recalls Alexander, who was a Glenburn resident, as being an inspirational teacher and energetic colleague who was immeasurably popular with students. UMaine created a scholarship program in Alexander’s honor.

Her colleagues at SPSSI also had great respect and admiration for Alexander.

In proposing the establishment of the Alexander award, colleagues wrote that “Michele was a stellar example of a junior scholar who combined scholarship with service, much of which was devoted to and in behalf of SPSSI.”

Alexander served as program chair of the SPSSI convention in Ann Arbor, and co-edited a special issue of the “Journal of Social Issues” that stemmed from the conference. After serving as chair of the Theme Conference Committee, she was elected to the SPSSI Council, and took on the role of chair of the Junior Scholars Task Force.

“In this position,” the award proposal continues, “Michele focused her characteristic energy and ideas on providing support to the professional development of young scholars within SPSSI. The JSPD task force feels establishing a scholarship and service award is a fitting way to honor and preserve her memory.”

The 2006 deadline for the Michele Alexander award is May 1. Information about the award criteria can be found on the SPSSI website at