Penny Pexman, an internationally recognized leader in the field of cognitive psychology, has been announced as Western’s new vice-president (research), effective Sept. 1, 2023.
The board of governors approved a five-year term for Pexman at its meeting on April 27. Bryan Neff has been serving in the acting role since Oct. 1, 2022.
A Western graduate, Pexman, BA‘92, MA’93, PhD’98, is currently associate vice-president (research), at the University of Calgary where she is also the director of the postdoctoral program and a professor in the department of psychology, in the Faculty of Arts.
“We are delighted to welcome Penny to our senior leadership team,” Western President Alan Shepard said. “She brings a breadth of senior academic leadership experience gained at one of Canada’s top research-intensive universities.
“As an award-winning mentor and researcher, Penny values a multidisciplinary approach to innovation and as co-founder of Women in Cognitive Science Canada, she is a champion of inclusivity and diversity across all disciplines.”
At Western, Pexman will provide strategic leadership for all aspects of research and innovation, overseeing 110 full-time staff and an annual operating budget of approximately $21 million.
“Western has a longstanding tradition of producing outstanding research,” Pexman said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to help raise the game and for the privilege of helping others advance their work.”
Pexman’s research expertise is in cognitive development, psycholinguistics and cognitive neuroscience. Her interest in how we derive meaning from language was ignited at Western, where the London Central high school graduate earned all three of her academic degrees.
“I was always interested in language, reading and writing,” she said. “Once I realized we could study how we understand and learn language as a scientific pursuit, I knew that was ‘it’ for me. I loved the discipline and received great training in Western’s psychology department.”
Immediately after earning her PhD in 1998, Pexman signed on at the University of Calgary as a professor in the department of psychology, where she established her language processing lab.
By 2003, she was director of the psychology graduate program, rising to become associate head of the department before becoming associate dean (research and graduate education) in the Faculty of Arts in 2016. She has held her current position as associate vice-president (Research) since 2018.
Pexman is an elected Fellow of both the Canadian Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science and has attracted funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council throughout her career.
Her external roles include past president of the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science, and chair of the governing board for the Psychonomic Society. From 2013 to 2018, she was editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology.
“Western is a special place for me and I’m very pleased to be coming back,” said Pexman, who was also part of Western women’s varsity rowing team from 1988 to 1992. She rowed alongside Marnie McBean, BA’96, LLD’03, who went on to earn three Olympic gold medals, and under coach Al Morrow, BA’72, who was also the Canadian national rowing team coach at that time. “I was incredibly lucky to be part of that team. We enjoyed a lot of success.”
Pexman is eager to work toward achieving goals set out in both the university’s strategic plan, Towards Western at 150 and the Western Research strategic plan, Mobilize for Impact!
“My initial focus will be on relationship building,” she said. “I’m looking forward to listening and learning about all the different areas of research and working to help catalyze new interdisciplinary activity.”