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ISU Distinguished Professor Gary Wells, speaking. Also shown are (from left) Mark Stavish, Wendy Stavish and ISU President Gregory Geoffroy.
Eyewitness testimony expert Gary Wells named the first
AMES, Iowa – Distinguished Professor Gary Wells has done research on the efficiency and accuracy of police lineups for many years and has become one of the country's leading experts on eyewitness testimony.
Because of his groundbreaking work, the Iowa State University psychologist has a new title: the Wendy and Mark Stavish Chair in Social Sciences.
ISU alumni Wendy and Mark Stavish of Leesburg, Va., provided funds to create the new endowed faculty position in Iowa State's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The social sciences at Iowa State include the academic disciplines of anthropology, economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Wendy is a 1977 Iowa State graduate in sociology with an emphasis in social work. Mark Stavish earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1976 and a master's in industrial relations from Iowa State. In 2007 he earned a doctorate in education from the George Washington University.
"Wendy and I feel blessed and privileged to be in a position to help Iowa State attract and retain a world-class faculty in the social sciences," Mark Stavish said. "We have always believed our experiences at Iowa State provided a critical foundation for many of the blessings we have received in our adult lives."
Endowed faculty positions, such as the Stavish Chair, are key to enhancing Iowa State's academic excellence. Faculty members use the flexible funds provided by the endowments to support classroom and research efforts including graduate assistantships and postdoctoral stipends.
"We are extremely grateful for Mark and Wendy's commitment to create this named faculty position in the social sciences," said Michael Whiteford, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences." Gary Wells is a wonderfully appropriate recipient of the first Stavish Chair. Professor Wells is a talented and respected teacher, research scholar, and mentor."
"I feel humbled by this honor," said Wells, who has been on the Iowa State psychology faculty since 1989. "It was totally unexpected."
Wells' research on the reliability of eyewitness identification has led to improvements in the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. His findings have been incorporated into standard textbooks in psychology and law. In addition, his research-based proposals on lineup procedures are being increasingly accepted in law enforcement practices across the United States.
His' research took on greater importance in the 1990s as DNA evidence became crucial to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted individuals.
As the first holder of the Stavish Chair, Wells said he has obligations to fulfill.
"This includes the obligation to not just continue my work but to accelerate the process of discovery and dissemination of research findings that benefit society," he said. "I also feel the obligation to ensure the integrity and distinction of the Wendy and Mark Stavish Chair for subsequent holders of this position. I welcome these obligations."
Wells added that the additional funds provided by the Stavish Chair will directly benefit his research efforts and his students by expanding the research beyond eyewitness errors to include the study of "true but failed" alibis.
"The DNA exoneration cases are primarily cases of mistaken identification," he explained. "Often overlooked, however, is that these innocent people had alibis and yet the alibis failed to prevent their convictions – hence the term 'true-but-failed' alibis. My students and I have published a couple of articles on this issue, but our resources have not permitted us to pursue in-depth programmatic work on this problem.
"With the help of these funds, we will open this new line of research. This will provide additional opportunities for both graduate students and undergraduates to be involved in this nascent research."
Mark and Wendy Stavish are West Des Moines natives. After graduating from Iowa State, Mark pursued a career in human resources. He began his professional career at Mobil Oil, spent more than eight years at Pepsi-Cola and retired as America Online's (AOL) executive vice president of human resources. Along the way, they relocated 11 times to seven different states and raised three children. They are both active in the Northern Virginia community and serve on a number of nonprofit boards and philanthropic endeavors.
The gift is part of Campaign Iowa State: With Pride and Purpose, the university's $800 million fundraising effort.