University of Minnesota Psychology Distinguished Alumni Awards

Psychology's Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize the many and varied achievements of our alumni. For some alumni, especially our PhD alumni, the awards may recognize achievements in research and scholarship, or they may recognize leadership in their chosen professions, as well as notable humanitarian efforts. The criteria for these awards are inclusive and capture the diversity of distinguished achievements by individuals educated in our department.


2024 Psychology Distinguished Alumni

Rebecca L. Shiner

Rebecca Shiner, recipient of the 2024 Psychology Graduate Alumni Award, is Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology at Colgate University, where she has taught since 1999. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1998 and completed her clinical internship at the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry in 1999. 

Her research centers on personality development in children, adolescents, and young adults, including stability and change in personality traits and the influence of personality on resilience and other positive life outcomes and the emergence of psychological disorders. She has also written extensively on the assessment, causes, and consequences of personality disorders in youth. In addition to her work on personality development, she currently investigates two topics: intolerance of uncertainty as a transdiagnostic risk for psychopathology and narrative identity and its role in coping with trauma and stress.

At Colgate, she has served as Department Chair (2010-2013), Chair of a Core program called Scientific Perspectives (2007-2010), and founder and Faculty Director of a new Residential Commons program (2015-2021). She was included in Princeton Review’s Best 300 Professors and teaches courses on personality, therapy, developmental psychopathology, and happiness. 

She was a consultant to the workgroup on Personality Disorders for DSM-5; is a Fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Association for Psychological Science; and served as the Executive Officer of the Association for Research in Personality and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Journal of Personality

Maya Babu

Maya Babu, recipient of the 2024 Psychology Undergraduate Alumni Award, is a board-certified Neurosurgeon who completed neurosurgical residency at the Mayo Clinic and completed a neurotrauma fellowship at Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, a facility which trains the United States military in trauma resuscitation. She also completed a Neurocritical Care fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. She graduated cum laude with a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. She also earned her Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts where she was awarded The Dean’s Award. Dr. Babu earned her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, graduating summa cum laude with highest distinction

Dr. Babu is an avid researcher and serves on the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Board of Scientific Counselors. As an Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant for the National Football League she evaluates head/spine injuries during pre-season, regular season, and playoff games. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association. She has been named a Presidential Leadership Scholar, a Truman Scholar and has been recognized with several named awards for service to medicine. Dr. Babu has served as a keynote speaker at more than fifty conferences. She is presently Quality Director for Neurosurgery for Surgical Affiliates and is a full-time practicing neurosurgeon.

2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Woman with black hair standing infront of a white background

Dr. Fanny Cheung

Dr. Cheung is a graduate of the Counseling Psychology Program (1975) and an emeritus professor of psychology and a senior advisor to the Faculty of Social Science and the Hong Kong Institute of Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). She was the first woman to be appointed as pro-vice-chancellor in 2013 at CUHK and served as vice president for research from 2013 to 2020. 

The Counseling Program is nominating Dr. Cheung because of her outstanding contributions to international cross-cultural research, and her long-standing commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. In this letter, we will briefly describe her most significant contributions to research and public policy and some of her many awards.

Dr. Cheung is one of China‘s leading research psychologists and is at the forefront of advancing international cross-cultural research. She has published more than 200 articles, chapters, and books in English and Chinese, with an h-index of 52 (10,417 citations). Her work on personality assessment, psychopathology, and gender issues in Chinese societies has made significant contributions to international and cross-cultural psychology. When psychology was resumed in Mainland China in the early 1980s, Cheung assisted in the standardization and validation research of the Chinese version of the MMPI and later the MMPI-2. She identified issues that are important to test translation and adaptation in cross-cultural test adaptation. Based on the experience gained from cross-cultural assessment research, Cheung developed her own indigenous measure of Chinese personality, the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory (CPAI), the first comprehensive measure of its kind in Asia. The CPAI-2 has been translated into Dutch, English, Korean, Japanese, Romanian, and Vietnamese.

Dr. Cheung is also regarded as a pioneer in gender research and public policy. In 1995, the Hong Kong government passed an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of gender and marital status. To enforce the ban, the ordinance established an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government appointed Cheung as its chair, due to her extensive background with gender issues. Cheung also founded CUHK's Gender Research Centre in 1985, and then the school's gender studies program, the first and still the only one in Hong Kong. She encouraged and supported the development of gender studies in Mainland China through conferences and a "train the trainers" model. For the last 30 years, Dr. Cheung has been active in promoting the rights of and services for women and the disabled in Hong Kong.

Dr. Cheung has served in various leadership positions in international psychology such as president of the Division of Clinical and Community Psychology within the International Association of Applied Psychology (1990-94). She has served on the IAAP‘s board of directors as well as on the Council of the International Test Commission. She has been a member of APA since 1976 and is a fellow of Divisions 35 and 52.

A man in a suit standing infront of a painting

Mr. Alan Slacter

The recipient of the 2023 Undergraduate Alumni Award is Alan Slacter. Mr. Slacter received his BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1967 with a minor in art history. His psychology education served him well during his career in the field of criminal justice.

Slacter was fortunate to have had important influencers at the University of Minnesota. He credits his interest in statistical analysis and the encouragement of Dr. Rene Dawis as important factors in obtaining a research assistant position with Dr. David Lykken in the Department of Experimental Psychology. That position also gave him the opportunity to assist Dr. Paul Meehl. It was a great honor to be working in the department during that era.

Mr. Slacter’s career at the Hennepin County Bureau of Community Corrections included working with teens at the Hennepin County Juvenile Center and positions in the Adult Probation Investigation Division. He worked closely with individuals whose personal histories were difficult; including members of marginalized groups and those with mental and chemical health issues. His responsibilities included conducting pre-sentence interviews and writing reports for the Court.

Slacter’s assiduous service and positive attitude were recognized throughout his public service career. He was a representative of Hennepin County in the State of Minnesota Family Violence Task Force and had a role in creating standardized interview guidelines. The Hennepin County Commissioners recognized his contributions in a public ceremony upon his retirement in 2002.

An advocate of lifelong learning, Slacter returned to the University of Minnesota to pursue his interest in art and obtained his BFA in 2012. After unearthing historical information while researching an art project he was awarded a Legacy Research Fellowship at the Minnesota Historical Society.

2022 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Dr. Margaret Bull Kovera

Dr. Margaret Bull Kovera

The recipient of the 2022 Graduate Alumni Award is Dr. Margaret Bull Kovera. Dr. Kovera received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1994. She has served on the faculties of Reed College, Florida International University (FIU), and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, where she is currently a Presidential Scholar and Professor in the psychology department. 

Dr. Kovera’s research examines every aspect of the jury process from pre-trial publicity to jury selection to a variety of biasing mechanisms in jury judgment and deliberation. She has also published extensively on eyewitness identification and the use of scientific evidence in trials. Her work has contributed to understanding psychological aspects of biased jury processes that undermine social and criminal justice. 

She has published four books, in addition to many scientific articles, and her book, The Psychology of Juries, received the American Psychology-Law Society Book Award. She has also won multiple awards for her teaching, from FIU, John Jay, and the American Psychology-Law Society. She was the first woman ever to hold the position of Editor-in-Chief of Law and Human Behavior, the premier outlet for scholarship in psychology and law. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Kovera regularly serves as a jury consultant and as an expert witness on the reliability of eyewitness identification.

Dr. Robert Balster

Dr. Robert Balster

The recipient of the 2022 Undergraduate Alumni Award is Dr. Robert Balster. Dr. Balster received his BA in psychology at the University of Minnesota in 1966 and went on to receive his PhD in psychology from the University of Houston in 1970. After post-doctoral training in psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Chicago and a short time on the faculty at Duke University, he moved to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where he has been ever since. 

Currently, he is the Butler Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at VCU. He is a leading figure in scientific research on the prevention and treatment of addiction. From 1997 to 2013, he was the founding director of the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies. 

Among many other professional awards, Dr. Balster received the 2009 Nathan B. Eddy lifetime achievement award for addiction research from the leading research society in this field, the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. 

In addition to his academic work, he has served as a scientific advisor for the World Health Organization and also for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), helping to lead the agency into evidence-based practices in preventing child mortality and promoting maternal health.

2021 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Dr. Reza Zamani

Dr. Reza Zamani

The recipient of the 2021 Graduate Alumni Award is Dr. Reza Zamani.  Dr. Zamani received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1974. Since then, he has played a pivotal role in the development of the field of psychology in Iran and was instrumental there in bringing cognitive science to the fore. 

After receiving his degree, Dr. Zamani returned home to become a member of the faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Tehran, where he eventually became the Director of the Institute of Psychology.  He has produced many scholarly works and has also translated several textbooks into Farsi, covering all levels of psychology. He continued to advance psychology in Iran following the Islamic Revolution (1978-1979), and he organized the re-formation of the Iranian Psychological Association (IPA) in 1995. 

He has served as the president of the IPA from 2006 to 2011 and again since 2018. He also served as the director of the Institute for Cognitive Science Studies from 2007 to 2010. In 1991, he founded the journal Psychological Research, a bilingual English-Farsi journal.

Dr. Michelle Ellefson

Dr. Michelle Ellefson

The recipient of the 2021 Undergraduate Alumni Award is  Dr. Michelle Ellefson.  Dr. Ellefson graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in psychology in 1996.  After graduating, Ellefson was employed in the University of Minnesota Office of Admissions working with prospective students.  This position allowed her to remain engaged with scientific research, volunteering in labs where she learned neuroscience and medical research skills that fueled her passion to continue with a career in research.  

Ellefson completed her MA and PhD in the Brain and Cognitive Science program at Southern Illinois University. Currently, she is a reader (equivalent to full professor in the US) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, where she leads a multi-disciplinary research team that integrates developmental cognitive neuroscience with research on educational practice. Her work bridges the gap between basic research on learning and the everyday practice of education, working with diverse populations and with an international scope. 

She has led projects in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, United States, China, Egypt, Malaysia, Mexico, Cyprus, and Singapore. She has also been funded to hold a series of events on The Educated Brain,  which bring together teachers, policymakers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and educational researchers.

2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Dr. Leaetta Hough

Dr. Leaetta Hough Headshot

The recipient of the 2020 Graduate Alumni Award is Dr. Leaetta Hough. Leaetta Hough received her Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1981. Dr. Hough is president and founder of the Dunnette Group Ltd and a past president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.  Dr. Hough is a world-renowned leader in the basic and applied scientific study of personality in the workplace, having conducted agenda-setting research on the measurement of personality and the prediction of job performance. Dr. Hough’s work truly sets the standard for integrating research and practice in true Minnesota “scientist-practitioner” fashion.

Senator Jacky Rosen

Image of Senator Jacky Rosen

The recipient of the 2020 Undergraduate Alumni Award is Senator Jacky Rosen. Jacky Rosen graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B. A. in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.  After graduating, Jacky Rosen moved to Nevada and continued her education in information science.  After pursuing a career in computing and information technology, Jacky Rosen entered public service, and in 2016 was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where she represented Nevada’s 3rd congressional district.  In 2018, Jacky Rosen was elected to the United States Senate, representing the state of Nevada. In the US Senate, Jacky Rosen has worked on (among others) issues related to health care, the environment, education, and civil rights.

2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Dr. Ronald Petersen

Portrait of Dr. Ronald Peterson

Ronald C. Petersen, MD, PhD. focuses on investigations of cognition in normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia. Petersen and his colleagues evaluate cognitive changes in normal aging as well as in a variety of disorders involving impairment in cognition, such as Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, and Lewy body dementia.

Dr. Petersen directs the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, both of which involve the study and characterization of aging individuals over time with an emphasis on neuroimaging and biomarkers.

Dr. Scott Plous

Portrait of Dr. Scott Plous

Professor Plous' research focuses on prejudice and discrimination, decision-making, and ethical issues relating to animals and the environment. He is also interested in web-based research and the development of online
psychology resources.

Plous holds a PhD in psychology from Stanford University. He joined the Wesleyan University faculty in 1990 and has interests in judgment and decision-making; international security; prejudice and discrimination; the human use of animals and the environment; interactive web-based research; and action teaching.

Among social psychologists, Plous is perhaps best known as the founder and executive director of Social Psychology Network, a suite of nonprofit websites supported by the National Science Foundation, several other organizations, and more than 1,000 members. Collectively, these sites have received more than 362 million page views.

2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Dr. Mary Koss

Portrait of Dr. Mary Koss

Dr. Koss, PhD, is Regents’ Professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.

She published the first national study sexual assault among college students in 1987. She was the principal investigator of the RESTORE Program; the first restorative justice program for sex crimes among adults that was quantitatively evaluated. She also directed Safety Connections, a restorative justice-based family strengthening program for children under 5 exposed to violence. She has developed resources for campus use including ARC3 Campus Climate Survey and the STARRSA model for rehabilitation of those responsible for sexual misconduct. Her ongoing work evaluates a sexual assault primary prevention program focusing on staff of alcohol serving establishments. She recently published a test of the “serial rape” hypothesis among college men.

Her credentials document close to 300 publications. The most recent appeared in American Psychologist and focused on victim voice and in re-envisioning responses to sexual and physical violence, better responses to underserved populations, and greater alignment of funding from the Violence Against Women Act funding with expressed victim needs.

During her career, she has consulted with many national and international health and advocacy organizations. Since 2016, she advised the US Departments of Justice, Education, and the White House Taskforce on Campus Sexual Assault.

She was the 8th recipient of the Visionary Award from End Violence Against Women International. She has received awards from the American Psychological Association: the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy (2000) and the Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology (2017).

Dr. Heather Peters

Portrait of Dr. Heather Peters

Dr. Peters, PhD, LP, CMPC, is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Morris and a licensed psychologist in the state of Minnesota.

Dr. Peters received her doctorate of philosophy (2006) in clinical psychology with a specialty in sport psychology from the University of Arizona. She completed her predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California-Davis Counseling and Psychological Services where she received extensive training in multicultural counseling and diversity issues.

The overall goal of Dr. Peters’ program of research is to assist in the development of culturally sensitive interventions and programs that improve the health and well-being of people from marginalized cultural groups within our society.

Dr. Peters has published numerous chapters and articles on various topics related to culture. Her applied interests include facilitating multicultural discussion groups and providing sport psychology services to coaches and athletes. Dr. Peters is a certified mental performance consultant and a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology Registry. She has conducted numerous diversity training seminars around the United States.

Dr. Peters has recently received the following awards: Cesar E. Chavez Award; UMM Alumni Association Teaching Award; Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.