College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

McKnight Professorships recognize influential early career work

Sarah Greising and Sylia Wilson

This award is one of the most prestigious University honors for young faculty members

The goal of the McKnight Land-Grant Professorship is to advance the careers of new assistant professors at a crucial point in their professional lives. The goal of this award is to advance the careers of new assistant professors at a crucial point in their professional lives. Out of the 11 bestowed across the entire U campus system in 2020, two of them went to CEHD faculty: Dr. Sarah Greising in the School of Kinesiology and Dr. Sylia Wilson of the Institute of Child Development (ICD).

Sarah Greising 

“Acknowledgement of promise early in one’s career is always a ‘shot-in-the-arm,’ so to speak,” Greising says. She joined the School of Kinesiology in January 2018 and is the director of its Skeletal Muscle Plasticity and Regeneration Laboratory. She says there has been much work as her lab group of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows got things up and running.

“One aspect that I stressed in my application was how my research has been strengthened by collaborative teams, both here at the U and at other institutions,” she says. “I think our collaborative work allows us to do more together than any one research group can do alone. We are better together.”

Greising’s work focuses on skeletal muscle physiology in efforts to optimize skeletal muscle function after injury. “We specifically focus on traumatic orthopedic injuries, which can leave patients with significant lifelong dysfunction,” she says. “To understand these injuries, we evaluate how the muscle environment is limited to adaption during treatment. We are committed to using physiology to promote an environment supportive of treatments to improve long-term function for these patients.”

Some injuries, such as volumetric muscle loss (VML), are particularly challenging and current treatment guidelines for skeletal muscle remain elusive. “My overarching goal, which drives my research agenda, is to develop and evaluate treatment options for those who have traumatic injuries such as VML,” she says.

Sylia Wilson

Wilson, who joined ICD in 2019, says receiving the McKnight Professorship is a great honor. “I’m happy to join the many other early career researchers at the University of Minnesota who have made important contributions across colleges and disciplines and research areas,” she says. “I’m looking forward to a long career that furthers the mission of the University for research, education, and outreach.”

Wilson leads the Family Cognitive Affective Neurodevelopment Lab. Her program of research seeks to better understand the developmental processes that lead to mental illness and its transmission through families. “I focus in particular on substance abuse and depression because these are among the most common forms of mental illness, affecting millions of people and families each year,” she says.

The McKnight Professorship will allow her to invest in and continue the longstanding, highly influential twin family research at the U. “I am now enrolling twin infants to the Minnesota Twin Registry,” she says. “By investigating the development of twins over time, from infancy into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, this research holds considerable promise for helping to disentangle genetic from environmental influences on adaptive and maladaptive neurobehavioral development.”

The ultimate goal of her research is to inform public policy and develop the most strategic efforts to prevent mental illness, especially among those in most need of help. “The University of Minnesota occupies land that once belonged to Native American people,” she says. “Land-grant universities, and, by extension, I, have an obligation to work toward improving the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in our society.”

The McKnight Land-Grant Professorship is held by recipients for a two-year period and includes a research grant to be used for their research work. Greising and Wilson join ICD’s Jed Elison as recent CEHD recipients of this honor.

Story by Kevin Moe | Photos courtesy of Mark Basel and the Institute of Child Development | Winter 2021