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IU honors Nobel Prize Winner and IU Professor Elinor Ostrom with marker, statue



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A marked rock with a plaque sits on fresh mulch Oct. 7 in front of Woodburn Hall. The rock was dedicated to IU alumna Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

IU professor Elinor “Lin” Ostrom was a woman of many firsts: the first woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, the first person honored at IU-Bloomington with an Bicentennial Historical Marker for her achievements and the first woman to have her own statue at IU.

The dedication, which took place at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Woodburn Hall, marked the 10th anniversary of Ostrom being selected to receive the Nobel Prize. Ostrom was not there to see the honor: She passed away on June 12, 2012, in Bloomington.

Ostrom was one of the leading forces behind the development of the academic studies of the commons, IU President Michael McRobbie said. He said her work examined the power of civil society, the development of social laws and the voluntary collective actions of citizens to solve problems. 

“Lin came to IU, and the university was incredibly fortunate to have had the benefit of her outstanding work as a teacher, researcher, adviser, and an administrator for nearly half a century.” McRobbie said.

Ostrom was defined by her curiosity, and she cared about answering questions like most people care about breathing, Provost Lauren Robel said. She said Ostrom’s discipline shaped her questions, and she never let boundaries define her.

“There was never anything conventional about Lin and her thinking,” Robel said. “That’s how you get to a Nobel Prize.”

Ostrom influenced many junior faculty members, including Lauren MacLean, the Arthur F. Bentley Chair and professor in the Department of Political Science, who is affiliated with the Ostrom Workshop. MacLean said Ostrom invited her to a short-term faculty workshop in Berlin in the summer of 2005. 

“To see her in action in the small group was incredibly inspiring experience intellectually, professionally and personally,” MacLean said. She said Ostrom’s legacy has extended well beyond IU and the world. Her networks enriched IU and made Bloomington a “cosmopolitan” place.

Michael D. McGinnis, a colleague of Ostrom and the former director of the workshop, said she helped researchers look through different kinds of perspectives and created a lively international community to make an accomplished team.

“Mostly graduate students and junior faculty were transfixed by Lin,” Mcginnis said. “Inspired by the genuine interest this Nobel Prize winner in exhibiting in their own work. Lin had that effect on a lot of us.”

Julie England, who worked for Ostrom for 25 years in research databases, said Ostrom was an energetic person and inspires many people. She said Ostrom was a very productive person who would send emails at 3 a.m. to get the job done. 

“I just had such a positive impression of her,” England said. “When you first meet her, she has this way of saying ‘Hello.’”

Joanne Passet, who is the committee of IU Historical Marker Program, said she was honored to look into Ostrom’s application for nomination. Passet said Ostrom made contributions not only to campus but around the world. 

“I don’t think many people would be in her category in terms of her brilliance,” Passet said. “You look at her and you see a joyful, down-to-Earth person.”

In addition to marking her steps at Woodburn Hall, McRobbie said Ostrom will have a statue honoring her made by Michael McAuley who is an IU alumnus. He created the Hoagy Carmichael statue located in front of IU Cinema. McAuley said he decided to have Ostrom sitting on the bench with her face to the side, smiling.

“I wanted to be the one to give it to her, for her and for Indiana University,” McAuley said.

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