Wilensky Named Lorraine Morton Professor

Wilensky Named Lorraine Morton Professor

Uri WilenskyUri Wilensky

Northwestern University’s Uri Wilensky, a pioneer in learning technology and computational modeling, has been named the Lorraine Morton Professor of Learning Sciences and Computer Science.

A named professorship represents the highest honor a university can bestow upon its faculty. These positions represent the pinnacle of academic achievement and excellence, said School of Education and Social Policy Dean David Figlio.

Wilensky, professor of learning sciences and computer science at Northwestern University, is the founder and director of the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling and a co-founder of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO). He co-designed and co-directs the Computer Science/Learning Science PhD program, a joint program between the McCormick School of Engineering and SESP.

Wilensky also has affiliations with several Northwestern departments, including Cognitive Science; the program in Technology and Social Behavior; the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics; the philosophy department and the Segal Design Center.

Wilensky’s professorship is named for alumna Lorraine Morton (BS42), the first African-American to serve as mayor of Evanston and a long-time Chicago-area icon of public service who advocated for justice and equal treatment.

Morton, who died last fall at age 99, was Evanston's first black teacher in an integrated school, and later became Evanston's first black school principal. Following her 46-year career in education, she was elected mayor of Evanston four times.Lorraine Morton

She was also an esteemed friend, a good neighbor, and collaborative partner of Northwestern in a relationship that spanned almost eight decades. She donated many of her papers to the University, and the Lorraine Morton Collection at Northwestern reflects the lifetime Morton spent creating partnerships, building bridges and solving problems with respect and without rancor.

Wilensky has been a leader in the fields of complex systems and learning technologies. A primary contribution has been an explication of the nature and utility of emergence, how complex phenomena result from the interaction of many smaller components.  Wilensky’s lab works both on educational projects and basic science. He has worked to incorporate computational thinking and complex systems thinking into the educational landscape, particularly in the context of STEM education.

One significant product of this research is his NetLogo software, the most widely-used agent-based modeling software in the world. This technology is used by hundreds of thousands of users across a wide variety of domains. Scientists and educators use Wilensky’s work, from fields including the natural sciences, the social sciences, engineering and in domains such as medicine, social policy, and business.

In the natural sciences, NetLogo has been used to model such phenomena as the dynamics of ecosystems, properties of materials, states of matter and climate change. In the social sciences, NetLogo has been used to model and investigate issues such as housing segregation in cities,  human migration in history, the emergence of economic inequality, the effectiveness of school-choice programs, the spread of rumors, and the emergence of ethnocentrism among many others.

Wilensky has published more than 300 scientific articles and more than 600 agent-based models. He has received more than $45 million dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, and private foundations. He was recently awarded the 2018 Rosaria Conte Outstanding Contribution to Social Simulation Award from the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA) and the Excellence in Design prize from the International Society for Design and Development in Education (ISDDE).

“It is fitting that Uri is honored with the Lorraine Morton Professorship because, like Lorraine Morton, he is a pioneer in his field and a major innovator in education,” Figlio said. “I am delighted that we can celebrate both Uri and Lorraine Morton with this chair."

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 1/11/19