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Cindy Lustig

The John Lustig and Irmgard Stahl Lustig Graduate Travel & Speaker Fund

Supporting students is a top priority for Cindy Lustig (Professor of Psychology; Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience). In addition to teaching, serving as Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies, and leading the STAR Scholars Program, she has created opportunities for students through financial contributions, including by establishing the John Lustig & Irmgard Stahl Lustig Graduate Travel & Speaker Fund in 2016.

Lustig’s drive to help students comes naturally, in part because support at key moments was critical to her own development from an early age. Raised in rural Ohio, she began acting out in the second grade because she was bored and frustrated in her under-resourced public school. With financial help from their parish, her parents moved her to a more rigorous private Catholic institution in a nearby town. This was a decidedly mixed experience for Lustig: The affluent “townie” kids who had been classmates since kindergarten had no interest in being friends with this outsider, which was quite painful. On the other hand, she loved the new opportunities for learning, and the kind school librarian noticed her standing alone at recess and invited her to help at the library. The next year, this turned into an offer to tutor second graders who needed extra help with reading. These experiences made a deep impression and instilled in her a strong desire to “pay it forward”.

A brief high school research experience led her to fall in love with science, and she completed her BA and MA degrees in Experimental Psychology at Case Western Reserve University, where she also helped found a peer counseling program. She also decided to lean into the differences that had led to her isolation in grade school, and going barefoot around campus became something of a signature. Even so, the barefoot girl experienced a culture shock when she moved on to doctoral studies at Duke. Lustig recalls that her PhD advisor, Lynn Hasher, “was a wonderful scientific mentor, but we could not have been more different on a personal level. She was a city girl who had gone to Smith College and Berkeley, and from her perspective I might as well have come from the moon.” 

Fortunately, she did a first-year project with Warren Meck, who had come from a similar rural background and began his academic career at a community college before rising to be a major figure in the field of timing and time perception. His wife Tina Williams was department chair, and she and Lustig would often talk in the coffee room on Sunday afternoons. “They both taught me so much about the ‘hidden curriculum’ and gave me so many opportunities – everything from wine-tasting instructions while dog sitting in their amazing house to the factors weighed in faculty searches and tenure decisions. I was always so impressed by their generosity to their mentees, and in Tina’s case, to the department,” says Lustig.

They also introduced her to one of the perks of academia: Learning new and interesting ideas while traveling to new and interesting places. They took her to her first academic conference, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting in San Francisco. “At that time the biggest city I had been in was Cleveland. They were shocked to hear that and decided I needed an education. So after my poster presentation we explored the city. I was blown away – everything from Chinatown at midnight to Muir Woods and the Haight during the day – so many different geographies, people, and cultures all in this one place.”

Since arriving at Michigan in 2004, Lustig has consistently prioritized supporting students, including designing her courses to help students learn strategies to succeed in college—and the science behind those strategies. She now delights in leading the senior/honors thesis program and guiding students towards independent research. She consistently donates to student funds for Giving Blueday and was inspired to create a new travel fund in 2016 when a graduate student needed funding that would enable her to pursue a research opportunity in Berlin. Lustig’s mother Irmgard, a German immigrant, had recently passed away after a long and valiant battle against cancer, and she had been thinking about ways to commemorate both her mother’s strength and her father’s unwavering support during that battle. “All of these things were coming together to tell me this was the right thing to do – and why not keep it going for other students? Perhaps some of them will have their worlds opened up like I did on that San Francisco trip.”

Graduate student Cody Cao visits the beach during a research trip to San Diego

The John Lustig and Irmgard Stahl Lustig Graduate Travel & Speaker Fund provides up to $1,500 annually to support international travel for PhD students in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience area. If student travel isn’t possible (as during COVID) it can also be used for guest speakers focused on graduate student professional development. Travel awardees are asked to provide brief write-ups of their activities overseas—and to take a few pictures of themselves during their travels if possible. Lustig shares these stories and photos with her father to celebrate Irmgard’s continuing impact on the world, even after her passing.

In addition to donating to the fund she established, Lustig often contributes to other Department of Psychology initiatives, including the STAR Scholars Program and the Psychology Graduate Student Support fund. Of her decision to give, Lustig reflects: “Science is all about building on established knowledge and procedures and integrating them with new perspectives and discovery. I’ve been so lucky to have mentors to support me in both along the way, and they’ve made me a better scientist and a better human. If donating to STAR or the Travel Fund can help others in the same way, it’s a very worthwhile investment.”

If you would like to contribute to the John Lustig & Irmgard Stahl Lustig Graduate Travel & Speaker Fund, the STAR Scholars Fund, or another Department of Psychology fund, please visit our giving page or reach out to our department chair at