Kalamazoo College Welcomes New Faculty Members

Kalamazoo College is pleased to welcome the following faculty members to campus this fall:

Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner

Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner
Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner

Tris Faulkner, who is originally from Jamaica, lived in Chile for about two years, working as a translator and interpreter at a prominent law firm before earning a Ph.D. in Spanish linguistics from Georgetown University. She also has professional experience as a translator and interpreter at the Embassy of Venezuela, and in similar roles at a legal firm and a business school in North Carolina.

Faulkner has lived in Spain and visited various Spanish-speaking countries, experiences which have helped her to observe the diversity that characterizes the Spanish language. Her research investigates the semantics and pragmatics of variation in verbal mood, tense, and aspect, as related to the Romance language family, English, and Jamaican Creole.

In addition to her Ph.D., Faulkner has master’s degrees from Georgetown (M.Sc. in Spanish linguistics) and Wake Forest University (M.A. in interpreting and translation studies), and a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University (B.A. in Spanish language and literature and international studies). She will teach seminars in Spanish linguistics, as well as various other courses in the upcoming academic year.

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai
Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Sohini Pillai will teach courses this academic year on religious traditions in South Asia. She is a comparatist of South Asian religious literature and her area of specialization is the Mahabharata and Ramayana epic narrative traditions with a focus on retellings created in Hindi and Tamil.

Pillai is the co-editor of Many Mahabharatas (State University of New York Press, 2021), an introduction to diverse retellings of the Mahabharata tradition in the forms of classical dramas, premodern vernacular poems, regional performance traditions, commentaries, graphic novels, political essays, novels, and contemporary theater productions. She’s also a member of the Steering Committee for the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion.

Pillai has a Ph.D. in South and Southeast Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley; a master’s degree in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies from Columbia University; and a bachelor’s degree in South Asia studies and theatre studies from Wellesley College.

Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas

Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas
Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas

Quincy Thomas earned his Ph.D. in theatre and his performance studies certification from Bowling Green State University. His research centers on subjects including counter-storytelling, Black performativity in American culture, representations of the marginalized in popular culture, comedic and solo performance and performative writing. At K, he will teach directing, theatre history and playwriting, with further prior experience teaching theatre, performance studies and film.

His courses are informed on issues of cultural marginalization and misrepresentation in the arts, specifically of racial and ethnic minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. His work has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, including the International Review of Qualitative Research and Puppetry International, and presented at national conferences, including the Mid-America Theatre Conference, the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (MAPACA). He currently serves as president of MAPACA. His most recent directorial offering was Robert Patrick’s Play-by-Play: A Spectacle of Ourselves: A Verse Farce in Two Acts. Thomas also has a background in acting. Some of his favorite roles played include Christopher in Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, Albert in Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, and most recently the role of Actor in Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit; Red Rabbit.

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie
Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie

Darshana Udayanganie earned her Ph.D., with specializations in environmental economics and college teaching, and a master’s degree in economics from the University of New Hampshire. She also has a master’s degree in resource economics and policy from the University of Maine and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Before joining K in 2017 as a visiting assistant professor, she taught at Central Michigan University from 2014 to 2017, Merrimack College in 2013 and 2014, and the University of New Hampshire’s global student success program from 2011 to 2014.

Her current research focuses on urban economics and environmental economics. She also has published book chapters on economic growth in relation to military expenditure and international trade.

Assistant Professor of Japanese Brian White

Brian White will teach courses in Japanese language, literature and culture at K.  He specializes in contemporary (post-1945) Japanese popular culture and media studies.

He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where he wrote a dissertation on 1960s Japanese sci-fi literature and film, asking specifically, “What can a genre do?” He will delve into that history when he teaches a course in the winter term this year on Japanese science fiction and media history.

White earned a bachelor’s degree in East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Across his undergraduate and graduate careers, he has spent a total of two and a half years living in Japan, primarily in Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto. 

Assistant Professor of Chinese Yanshuo Zhang

Yanshuo Zhang’s research addresses multiethnic Chinese identities in literary and visual cultures produced in China and the U.S. Her research on multiethnic Chinese cultural productions helps diversify scholarly understanding of and teaching about modern Chinese national culture.

She was a lecturer in Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) from 2018 through 2020, where she designed classes on cross-cultural explorations of diversity, particularly in Asia and the U.S. She also has been a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Vijayan Sundararaj

Vijayan Sundararaj leads a biology course this term in ecology and conservation. He has prior education experience as a lecturer, teaching assistant and topic lecturer between Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville. His teaching interests include evolutionary ecology concepts, animal behavior, foraging behavior, predator-prey interactions, conservation biology, wildlife ecology, waterfowl ecology, mammalogy, spatial ecology, and introductory geographic information systems.

Sundararaj received a bachelor’s degree with a specialty in zoology from Gujarat University in India before earning a master’s degree in ecology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel; a geographic information systems applications specialist graduate certificate from Sir Sandford Fleming College in Canada and a doctorate in forest sciences and wildlife ecology from Lakehead University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Eunice Uhm

Eunice Uhm specializes in modern and contemporary art, with a transnational focus on the United States and East Asia. Her work examines the conditions of migration and the diasporic aesthetic subjectivities in the works of contemporary Japanese and South Korean art from the 1960s to the present. She has previously taught courses on modern and contemporary art, East Asian art, and Asian American studies at Ohio State University. She has organized panels and presented her work on Asian American art at national conferences such as CAA. She is an active member of numerous grassroots community organizations for Asian Americans and immigrant rights, and she is involved in immigrant rights campaigns such as Love has no borders: A call for justice in our immigration system. Her essay, “Constructing Asian American Political and Aesthetic Subjectivities: Contradictions in the Works of Ruth Asawa,” is forthcoming (Verge: Studies in Global Asias, University of Minnesota Press).

Uhm received a master’s degree and a doctorate in the history of art from the Ohio State University. At K, she teaches courses on Asian and Asian American art, art and race, and transnationalism.

Visiting Assistant Professor Fungisai Musoni

Fungisai Musoni has joined the history department where she will teach courses in African civilizations, decolonization in West and Southern Africa, and U.S.-Africa relations since World War II.

Musoni has prior teaching experience in African literature, American politics and global issues, and social studies between the Ohio State University, Georgia State University, Gwinnett County Schools in Atlanta and the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education and Culture.

She fluently reads, writes and speaks the African languages of Shona and Manyika. Her education includes a bachelor’s degree in economic history and Shona from the University of Zimbabwe, Harare; master’s degrees in political science and history from Georgia State University and Mercer University respectively; and a doctorate in African American and African Studies from the Ohio State University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Badru-Deen Barry

Badru-Deen Barry teaches Introductory chemistry and biochemistry at K this fall.

His education includes a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone, master’s degrees in chemistry from Northeast Normal University in China and Michigan State University, and a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State.

He previously served Michigan State and Northeast Normal as a graduate research assistant, Société Générale de Surveillance in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as port supervisor and chemist, and Fourah Bay College as a laboratory and teaching assistant.

Visiting Assistant Professor Mikela Zhezha-Thaumanavar

Mikela Zhezha-Thaumanavar is teaching courses in Spanish this fall as well as a course in foreign language teaching methods. In addition, she serves as the coordinator for the Spanish Teaching Assistants at K. She received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in Spanish linguistics from Western Michigan University.

She has previously taught courses in Spanish at Western Michigan University, Davenport University, and Kalamazoo Community College. She also served WMU as a guest professor, teaching in the institution’s Summer Translation Program. She previously has worked in translation and speaks Albanian and Italian in addition to English and Spanish.

Visiting Assistant Professor Jennifer Mills

Jennifer Mills is leading courses including seminars in psychology and health psychology this term. Mills holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, master’s degrees from Georgia College and State University and Western Michigan University, and a doctorate from WMU.

She is working on an executive master’s in public health at Emory University with an emphasis in prevention science. For the past 10 years, Mills has owned and operated MindBodyWell, a private counseling practice that focuses on science-based approaches to stress, depression and anxiety. 

Mills is an active member of the Institute for Public Scholarship, a local, anti-racist organization that works on issues of place and belonging. Her research interests focus on preventing and mitigating the impact of early childhood adversity on health. 

Visiting Assistant Professor Robert Mowry

Robert Mowry is teaching two sections of Introduction to Society and Culture offered by the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. His additional teaching interests include quantitative methods, disaster, the intersection of politics and the environment, and ways of seeing and knowing.

Mowry comes to Kalamazoo College from the University of Notre Dame, where he recently earned his Ph.D. in sociology. Previously, he earned master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Sheffield, and a B.A. from Earlham College.

As a teacher-scholar of disaster and politics, Mowry employs multiple methods to study the processes and outcomes of globally diverse, high-stakes political arenas—from post-disaster contentious politics in the U.S. and Japan to the gendered dynamics of protest participation in Europe. A related stream of research looks at how cultural processes of learning, memory, and thinking spur spontaneous laughter outbursts during Supreme Court oral arguments. His work has been published in Sociological Theory.

Visiting Assistant Professor Jennifer Perry

Jennifer Perry leads courses at K including General Psychology, Sensation and Perception, and Psychopharmacology in the Department of Psychology. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Arts from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Perry’s research includes studies on the ethics of laboratory animal research and the role of impulsive behavior in drug abuse.

Honey of a Month Prompts Entomology Q-and-A

Biology Professor Ann Fraser's Entomology Class
Entomology students visited honey bee hives
Tuesday at Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Pull your honey close and get ready for some facts about the super food and honey bees courtesy of Kalamazoo College Biology Professor Ann Fraser and her entomology class.

September is National Honey Month, which prompted us to ask Fraser’s students some questions about honey. As luck would have it, the students have been preparing to take an annual field trip to the Kalamazoo Nature Center, where they see an active hive of honey bees, courtesy of the Kalamazoo Bee Club. The students learn how honey is made, handle the casts where the honey is harvested from a hive, and occasionally see the queen among the thousands of bees. 

Students holds a hive frame of honey bees
Students in Biology Professor Ann Fraser’s entomology class
got an up-close look at honey bees on Tuesday.

“They become fascinated,” Fraser said of the experience. “Some of them are a little scared of bees at first, maybe because they had a bad experience at one point. But over time, as we’re there for the hour, they get closer to the hive. Eventually, they’re actually holding the frames from the hive. It’s surprising how heavy they can be with bare hands because each frame weighs about eight pounds.”

The number of honey bees around the world is dropping because of pesticide use, habitat loss, a drop in their food supply, and Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that occurs when a combination of these factors and varroa mites, a honey bee pest, combine to kill the worker bees. That potentially could threaten the amount of honey available in the world’s food supply, and cause problems related to pollination and agriculture.

“Every year we see at least 30 percent of hives die off over the winter,” Fraser said. “It’s kind of a new normal in the beekeeping industry.”

The good news is citizens can help protect honey bees and support the creation of honey by planting a variety of native wildflowers.

“Honey bees aren’t native to North America,” Fraser said. “They were brought over in the 1600s from Europe, not for pollination, but to make honey and beeswax products. They’ve been here ever since. By planting wildflowers, we’re providing food resources for bees and other pollinators, so that we can help beekeepers keep them healthy.”

Fraser’s students were busy bees in helping us find more answers to our questions about honey and honey bees. Here’s what they had to say.

Students took an annual field trip to the Kalamazoo Nature Center
on Tuesday to see a honey bee hive.

How long have humans been harvesting honey from honey bee hives?

The earliest records of humans consuming bee honey and wax are about 10,000 years old as shown in prehistoric drawings in caves. Drawings found in Spain, about 7,000 years old, depict the practice of beekeeping. According to Queen Bee Farms, there is also a 15,000-year-old painting of a woman climbing a rope ladder to collect honey on the side of a cliff. – Joergen and Jack

Why is honey important for the bees themselves and their colonies?

Honey is a great fuel source for bees. Large amounts of it are made and stored to be consumed during the cold months. Bees use stored honey and pollen to feed their larvae. It’s an energy-rich food source that gives the bees the energy they need to vibrate and take flight. – Molly and Camilia

Students observe honey bees
Students got an up-close look at honey bees Tuesday
at the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Why is honey vital to the world’s food supply?

If not for honey, honey bees would starve in the winter months. This would be a major issue for world food security, as 71 of the 100 crop varieties that account for 90% of the world’s food are pollinated by bees, according to the Center for Food Safety. From the human perspective, the sweet taste of honey has made it a sought-after treat and sweetener for millennia. It can also be used to make a fermented drink, mead, which is making a comeback in the brewing industry these days. – Noah and Evan

What types of bees are there in a honey bee hive?

Worker bees can account for up to 60,000 individuals in a colony. They’re reproductively-underdeveloped female honey bees, performing all the work for the colony. Young workers stay inside to perform nest cleaning and nurse duties. They move on to become receivers and storers of incoming nectar and pollen. Near the end of their six-week life they leave the hive as foragers to collect nectar and pollen. The queen is a fully-fertile female that specializes in egg production. Typically, there is only one queen per colony and it produces pheromones that regulate the colony’s behavior. Drones are male bees that account for up to 500 individuals in a colony during the spring and summer. The drones fly from the hive and mate midair with the queens from other colonies. – Lia and Penny

Types of honey surround a taste test
Entomology students took a taste test in learning about honey.
The mountain flower and sunflower varieties were their favorites.

Do other types of bees (i.e. non-honey bees) make honey?

Honey is a general term that refers to the nectar processed by insects. Humans generally consume only honey from honey bees because they form very large colonies that store it in abundance. – Zach and Rina

What variables affect the color and flavor of different varieties of honey?

Honey varies in taste depending on the flowers the honey bees visit to collect nectar. Clover honey is light yellow and has a mild and sweet taste. Eucalyptus honey, common in Australia, has a slight menthol aftertaste. Buckwheat honey tastes like molasses and is very dark in color. Dandelion honey has a sweet floral taste and is bright golden yellow. Manuka honey, from New Zealand, is a gold color and is used as a topical ointment for MRSA, stings, infections and burns. Sourwood honey has a buttery or caramel taste. Goldenrod is dark with a sweet, licorice-like aftertaste. Wildflower honey comes from many different flowers and can taste different each time. In general, the darker the honey, the bolder the flavor. – Maci and Gabby

What threats assail honey bees and the world’s supply of honey?

Common threats to honey bees include diseases such as American and European foulbrood, chalkbrood and nosema; some varieties of beetles and mites; wax moths, which can damage a hive’s structure; global warming and droughts; forest fires; and Colony Collapse Disorder, which could be caused by pests, pesticides, habitat changes, stressors, prolonged transportation, malnutrition or a combination of these factors. – Claudia and Kyle

What is significant about the honey bees we find in Michigan?

There are about 450 different types of bees in Michigan, most of them native to this the region.  The honey bee is just one type of bee and it was actually imported from Western Europe. Bees are important pollinators of plants worldwide. Honey bees are especially important in agricultural settings because they can be kept in managed hives and have such large colonies. Michigan hosts about 90,000 hives, ranking the state eighth in the U.S. for its number of hives. Honey bees are especially important for fruit crops such as cherries, apples and blueberries, and vegetable or seed production for crops such as peppers, carrots and onions. In 2015, 50% of Michigan’s $2 billion crop industry was attributed to honey bees. – Lydia and Rachel

What can we in Michigan do to ensure we’re supporting the sustainability of bees and honey?

Make your yard or garden a bee-friendly environment. Plant bee-friendly flowering plants such as bee balm, milkweed, asters and sunflowers; and herbs such as mint, oregano, garlic, chives, parsley and lavender. It’s also important to limit pesticides in your garden or yard, especially during blooming periods. – Mikayla and Bella

What is ‘raw’ honey? Do we need to be concerned about the purity or cleanliness of honey we buy?

Raw honey is unprocessed and unpasteurized honey. It might include pollen, wax and a resinous substance called propolis that bees use to seal or repair the hive. While it may contain more vitamins and nutrients than unpasteurized honey, it also might trigger or aggravate allergies in people sensitive to pollen. Some claim raw honey is more nutritious, but consuming it may increase the risk of illness that can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure. – Mariah and Zaydee

K Alumna, Epidemiologist Addresses Delta Variant, COVID-19 Vaccines

Natasha Bagdasarian Discusses the COVID-19 delta variant and vaccines
Natasha Bagdasarian ’99

Natasha Bagdasarian ’99 read a book while she was studying abroad as a Kalamazoo College student in Perth, Australia, that changed the trajectory of her career. The Hot Zone, a book about investigating Ebola outbreaks, captivated her and guided her all the way through medical school with a goal of one day working in outbreaks.

In December 2019, Bagdasarian was working as an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at National University Hospital in Singapore when COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, China. The pandemic quickly reached Singapore, partly because of the number of direct flights that arrived daily from Wuhan.

If there was good news at that time, it was that Singapore had learned much of what it needed to do for an epidemic like COVID-19 during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the early 2000s. Armed with that knowledge, Bagdasarian and her team successfully prevented all health care workers and non-COVID-19 patients at the hospital from contracting the virus despite managing more than 1,500 beds.

Bagdasarian later returned to Michigan with her husband, Vahan Bagdasarian ’99, and their child last summer. She now works for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a senior public health physician and consults for the World Health Organization. She also wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post published August 14 that discussed her family’s own experiences with COVID-19. We caught up with Bagdasarian to discuss COVID-19’s delta variant, K’s plan for a full return to in-person instruction this fall, and why it’s necessary to mask up when students on campus must be vaccinated.

What is the COVID-19 delta variant?

“We know that anytime a virus spreads through a community, the more it’s transmitted, the more opportunities that virus has to mutate. The delta variant is one of those mutations. It’s been classified as a variant of concern, meaning it has some properties that make it more threatening to us. Specifically, we’ve found that the delta variant is more transmissible than the original strain that we saw back in the beginning of the pandemic. It’s also more transmissible than the alpha strain, which we had been so worried about a few months ago when it caused a huge wave of infections here in Michigan and around the country.”

What are the delta variant and COVID-19 trends that should concern us most in Michigan?

“We’re seeing an uptick in cases not just in Michigan, but really around the country. The other trend we look at is our percent positivity rate. Percent positivity measures how many tests are coming back positive out of all tests conducted in a certain area. Whenever we’re heading toward a surge of cases, we start seeing that number bump up. Of the people who are being tested, more of them are testing positive for COVID.”

Why is it important to continue masking indoors if so many students, faculty and staff have been vaccinated?

“We have a variety of ways to prevent transmission of COVID, and vaccines, I would say, are the single best tool that we have available. We know vaccines are highly efficacious, even in the face of new variants, especially when it comes to severe infections, hospitalizations and deaths. We know that the vaccines are going to save lives and have already saved lives. But what we’re seeing with delta is there can be breakthrough infections, meaning an infection after someone is fully vaccinated. A person with a breakthrough case can still potentially transmit that infection on, so relying on just one of our mitigation strategies is not a good idea.

“When we’re heading toward a potential surge of cases, it really makes sense to use as many strategies as we can. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve talked about a layering of precautions. We call it the Swiss cheese model of risk mitigation. Each single mitigation measure, each single strategy has holes. No strategy is going to be 100 percent effective at stopping transmission of the virus. But if you stack up enough slices of Swiss cheese, even though there are holes, you can plug those gaps, and it’s less likely to allow a transmission to occur. If we do things like vaccinate everyone who can be vaccinated, wear masks when we’re indoors, make sure our ventilation is good, and avoid very large gatherings, that’s our best bet at preventing outbreaks.”

Should students, faculty and staff on vaccinated college campuses feel safe attending in-person classes and events this fall?

“Generally, the classroom has been a relatively safe place for people to gather. That’s for a number of reasons. In a classroom setting, people are generally following the rules. They’re generally spaced apart. They’re generally wearing their masks. We know that schools and colleges around the country have made sure their air-handling systems are up to snuff. The places that tend to be riskier are those where people are gathering for social purposes where they are removing their masks, bringing lots of people close together, and especially when those people are unvaccinated. There’s no ‘this is low risk, this is high risk.’ It’s all a spectrum. But the more strategies we can stack on top of vaccines, the safer an environment becomes.”

If the vaccine is the best tool we have available, how do we convince everyone that it’s safe?

“We know that these vaccines are incredibly safe and effective because they’ve been studied extensively. We have an adverse-symptom reporting system where adverse events are monitored very closely, and this is incredible technology. In fact, when I talk about the pandemic and whether anything good has come from it, these vaccines are the silver lining. We now are able to make vaccines using mRNA technology, which makes vaccines very quickly and effectively.”

How can we encourage those concerned about their individual liberties to get vaccinated?

“I think that’s a difficult question. Many people have strong feelings about this. My area of expertise is not really in individual liberties, but I can tell you that if I were still a student at Kalamazoo College right now, it would make me feel safer if I knew that vaccines were being required of everyone. That would make me personally feel safer, and I can tell you these vaccines are incredibly safe and effective.”

Is there any other message you’d like to share with our students, faculty and staff?

“I hope everyone has a productive and safe return to college campuses. This requires a collective approach to keeping people safe. It requires communities coming together with vaccinations and wearing masks. Doing these things individually are less effective than doing them as a community.”

Toads Shape Student’s Conservation Research

Molly Ratliff with boreal toads at night
Molly Ratliff ’22 shows one of the boreal toads she’s researching this summer in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Molly Ratliff ’22 hopes to work in an environmental-studies field after she graduates from Kalamazoo College, making her senior integrated project (SIP) this summer an ideal experience. She is researching boreal toads at their known breeding grounds in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, as a way to engage with conservation.

“Amphibians, such as boreal toads, are really great indicators of overall ecosystem health,” Ratliff said. “Their skin is highly permeable, making them vulnerable to environmental changes and toxins. Since amphibians are typically the first species to be impacted by changes in the environment such as climate change, they can show general trends of how other species may react.”

Campsite at Rocky Mountain National Park
Molly Ratliff ’22 has views like this one to enjoy this summer as she’s conducting research on boreal toads at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

To be specific, in her research Ratliff is investigating how a skin disease that affects amphibians around the world—Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd—might be affecting the sizes of the toads at various locations and how this might relate to survivability. She performs surveys at dusk around lake shores, captures toads to mark them with pit tags, takes body measurements, and swabs them to test for the disease. The toads are then released and can be identified as they’re recaptured by their unique pit tags.

“If amphibian populations are not doing well in an ecosystem, it can be an indicator that there are stressors, toxins, imbalances, etc. within the entire system,” she said. “Amphibians also typically exist as both predators and prey, making them a crucial part of the food chain within an ecosystem.”

Ratliff’s work is an excellent example of the independent scholarship critical to the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College’s integrated approach to academics in the liberal arts and sciences. As a culmination of learning at K, all students explore a subject of their own choosing, resulting in an in-depth, graduate-level research thesis, performance or creative work. Learn more about how these projects fit into the K-Plan at kzoo.edu/k-plan.

Two Faculty Members Earn Tenure

Santiago Salinas, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Biology, has earned tenure at Kalamazoo College.

Kalamazoo College faculty members Santiago Salinas and Dwight Williams, from the biology and chemistry departments respectively, have been awarded tenure, recognizing their excellence in teaching, scholarship and service to the College.

The honor signifies the College’s confidence in the contributions the professors will make throughout their careers. Their titles have been approved by the Board of Trustees and include promotion to associate professor.

Salinas, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Biology, teaches classes such as vertebrate biology and human physiology. His research interests include his work in the K Fish Lab, where he and his student collaborators study the ways fish populations cope with changes in the environment. He was born in Argentina before attending the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific, earning his bachelor’s degree from College of the Atlantic, and receiving a Ph.D. from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Salinas then was a post-doc at the University of California-Santa Cruz and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and was a visiting assistant professor at the University of the Pacific.

Dwight Williams Earns Tenure
Dwight Williams, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has earned tenure at Kalamazoo College.

Williams, the Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor of Chemistry, teaches classes such as organic chemistry at K. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Coastal Carolina University in 2001 and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 while researching immunosensor design.

Williams spent a year as a lecturer at Longwood University before becoming an assistant professor at Lynchburg College. At Lynchburg, he found a passion for the synthesis and structural characterization of natural products as potential neuroprotectants.

Williams learned more about those subjects after accepting a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral research fellowship at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College of Virginia Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. During that fellowship, he worked in medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, where his work was published in six peer-reviewed journals.

In 2019, Williams was awarded a Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching grant from The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and Course Hero.

K Ranks Highly Among Top Liberal Arts Colleges

Upjohn Library Commons in Winter for Top Liberal Arts Institutions
Kalamazoo College is the only institution in Michigan ranked among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges by AcademicInfluence.com.

AcademicInfluence.com is endorsing Kalamazoo College as one of the top four-year schools in the country where students can excel in the liberal arts, according to rankings released this week.

The website is the information center for a data-analytics company that measures the influence and thought leadership of a college’s or university’s faculty and alumni, providing prospective students a place where they can draw insightful comparisons between schools.

K, at No. 45, is the only institution in Michigan to reach the list of top liberal arts colleges. The website mentions K’s thought leadership on subjects such as political science, economics, sociology, biology, literature, mathematics and philosophy as just a few of the reasons why.

“Job demands are changing,” AcademicInfluence.com Academic Director Jed Macosko said. “More is expected of today’s college graduates. This makes the liberal arts appealing and practical. Students who can demonstrate a breadth of skills and the flexibility to take on anything asked of them are finding greater success postgraduation. … If you’re a student looking for a well-rounded education, these schools should be at the top of your list.”

The K-Plan is K’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts and sciences. Its open curriculum utilizes rigorous academics, international and intercultural experiences, a hands-on education and independent scholarship to help students think critically, solve problems creatively, and collaborate across cultures and languages.

“A liberal arts model provides the most thorough college education because it teaches students how to attain not just one, but a variety of skillsets that employers desire, while engaging with the world,” Director of Admission Suzanne Lepley said. “To be named among the top 50 liberal arts institutions in the country is an honor for Kalamazoo College as it shows how well we prepare students for a global, modern workplace.”

Learn more about the list of top liberal arts colleges from AcademicInfluence.com.

Environmental Internships Fill in for Study Abroad

Environmental Internships
Natalie Barber ’22 was among the 20 juniors who missed out on study abroad this fall because of the pandemic. Instead, she worked in one of the environmental internships made available at the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. In that position, she researched fresh water mussels like these.

Without study abroad available this year, Kalamazoo College faculty and staff got creative and developed a series of internships for 20 juniors who otherwise would’ve spent a term overseas, giving them experience through campus partners such as the Center for International Programs, Center for Career and Professional Development and the Center for Civic Engagement.

An additional group of students, whose interests could be connected with environmental opportunities, worked with the Center for Environmental Stewardship and Director Sara Stockwood.

“I think it’s been a valuable experience for everyone, even if they didn’t go on study abroad,” Stockwood said of the students who worked for organizations such as the Kalamazoo Watershed Council, the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association and Sarett Nature Center.

Michigan Lakes and Streams Association
The Michigan Lakes and Streams Association was one of three local organizations that helped four Kalamazoo College students earn environmental internships this fall.

“The students I’ve talked to said they’ve wanted to get an internship before, they just weren’t sure how to make it fit in their academic plan,” she said. “But when this class came up it fit well and it matched their class schedule. It was a challenge for them to figure out how to work virtually, and some of them felt a little lost at first, yet they gained the skills they needed to figure it out. I think that will help them in their classes and future jobs, especially if they have virtual components.”

Amanda Dow, a biology major, worked with Melissa DeSimone, the executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association (MLSA), which is a statewide nonprofit that unites individuals; lake, stream and watershed associations; organizations; and corporations that share an interest the preserving inland lakes and streams for generations to come. Her work experience included writing newsletter articles highlighting the organization’s virtual convention this year, contributing to its printed articles, and reformatting and updating several brochures.

“I have a background in writing so this was a good chance for me to practice in different mediums,” Dow said. “I wrote a review of the convention sessions along with a biography of myself for the newsletter. They also come out with a newspaper and the biggest chunk of my internship went to updating and reformatting their brochures. It helped a lot that when I first got there I could choose what I wanted to do.”

Environmental Internships at Asylum Lake
Asylum Lake served as a socially-distanced meeting point for Amanda Dow ’22 and Melissa DeSimone, the executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, as Dow served in a virtual internship.

Andrew Wright, a German and biology major, said he felt a little directionless with where he wanted to apply his majors professionally after graduation, until he interned with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. The organization aims to protect, preserve and promote the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries for current area residents and future generations.

“Through developing a new interactive digital dashboard with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council members, my work will help users see the different types of chemical contaminants in the Kalamazoo area and how they affect the types of fish here,” Wright said. “Following the motto of the Watershed, we want to make that information as accessible as possible so people can learn how their communities’ ecosystems have been impacted. The Kalamazoo River has unfortunately suffered its fair share of PCB runoff from paper mills and oil spills, and we want to create ways for people to be knowledgeable and be mindful of how we affect our surrounding environments.”

Natalie Barber, a biology major and psychology minor, joined Wright in working for the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. She researched fresh water mussels, which filter small organic particles such as bacteria and algae out of lakes and streams, naturally purifying them. Part of that environmental research involved interviewing Daelyn Woolnough, a Central Michigan University biology faculty member and freshwater mussels expert, leading to website content and social media posts for the watershed council.

Asylum Lake
Asylum Lake in Kalamazoo served as a socially-distanced meeting point for Amanda Dow ’22 and her internship supervisor this fall.

With K’s academic schedule, it was important to Barber that she could undertake the internship as a part of her term and she hopes more students at the College will have the same opportunity.

“It’s important we know the effects of global warming and climate change and how they threaten mussels,” Barber said. “We especially have those threats in Kalamazoo because we had the paper mills that put all the PCBs in the water, plus we had the 2010 oil spill. Just knowing about those bigger issues, and also the lesser-known issues like invasive species, which is a big deal to freshwater mussels. Things the general public might not realize are such a big deal like moving boats from lake to lake without cleaning them, that’s important information we should share so we can protect the organisms within our areas. I felt like I was doing something positive toward my career goals. I think these internships should be offered every term because I thought mine was that useful.”

To conclude the class and their environmental internships, each student provided a final visual presentation with screenshots and pictures from their projects. Stockwood said students each had about three minutes to present what they did, what they learned and why it matters.

“They took it very seriously and it was fun because the students didn’t fully know what everybody else was doing,” she said. “They found a lot of similarities in their experiences over time with being lost in the beginning, independently working and having some ownership by the second half of their projects. I hope something like this will continue. It’s important to recognize that it’s not study abroad, but I think the experience was valuable, and I think the students feel it was valuable, too.”

From Singapore to Michigan, Alumna Fights COVID-19

Alumna Natasha Bagdasarian Fights COVID-19
Natasha Bagdasarian ’99 was working as an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at National University Hospital in Singapore when the COVID-19 pandemic took shape. She now serves the World Health Organization as a consultant and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a senior public health physician.

When a listserv between epidemiologists first mentioned a unique syndrome identified in Wuhan, China, Natasha Bagdasarian ’99 sensed trouble. It was December 31, 2019, and an atypical pneumonia outbreak had been linked to a novel coronavirus. At that time, there was still uncertainty on the transmissibility and severity of the new pathogen, and epidemiologists were put on alert.

Bagdasarian was working as an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at National University Hospital in Singapore, where her job involved outbreak response, surveilling infections and contact tracing for contagious illnesses. To Bagdasarian, Singapore seemed to be a potential hot spot for this coronavirus, which eventually spiraled into the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Singapore was right in the path of this because we had a lot of direct flights between Singapore and Wuhan, and this was happening right before Chinese New Year when a lot of Singaporeans travel,” Bagdasarian said.

The first case in Singapore was confirmed on January 23. The earliest cases were individuals who had traveled from China, until local transmission began to develop in February and March. The Kalamazoo College alumna’s role became vital in Singapore’s response to COVID-19, especially when it came to contact tracing, a key strategy in fighting the pandemic.

“For every COVID patient, we would have to find out where they’ve been in the last 14 days and give a very detailed summary to the Ministry of Health,” Bagdasarian said. “Then, the Ministry of Health would go to those people and places and look for contacts. Every patient that came into our hospital, we’d sort of track their path and make sure there were no breaches in their care and that nobody in the hospital had been exposed.”

If there was good news at this point, it was that Singapore had learned much of what it needed to do for an epidemic like COVID-19 during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the early 2000s. The synergy Bagdasarian and her team developed with that knowledge, despite overseeing nearly 1,500 beds, led to zero cases of health care workers and non-COVID-19 patients contracting COVID-19.

“Everybody remembered the protocols,” Bagdasarian said. “When we needed additional capacity, we constructed a big outdoor tent as our emergency department overflow. Everything we did was sort of templated from SARS. It was a beautiful response to be a part of.”

Soon, her duties expanded, and she started examining cases outside hospitals in Singapore’s densely populated areas.

“Those settings in Singapore include migrant worker dormitories, and some of them house thousands of workers,” Bagdasarian said. “It was like taking the skills that we had learned in the hospital and extrapolating them to completely different settings to figure out strategies to stop transmission when you sometimes have up to 20 people living in one room.”

Obviously, social distancing was impossible and distinctive approaches were necessary.

“There are other strategies you have to use such as cohorting, where you try to put together people who all have been exposed or have all been infected. That was really interesting work and it got me thinking about health care disparities, and how vulnerable populations have been impacted by COVID.”

Bagdasarian returned to Michigan with her husband and young child this summer, when her husband’s job with General Motors was transferred back to the U.S. However, the lessons she learned in Singapore are serving the world still today. She now serves the World Health Organization as a consultant and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a senior public health physician.

“What keeps me up at night is thinking of the unknown,” she said. “COVID is bad. In the infectious disease community, we always knew there was a potential for something like this to happen. But COVID will not be the last zoonotic infection with pandemic potential to cross over to humans, and the next one could be worse.”

A Match Made at K

Natasha met her husband, Vahan, also ’99, when they were first-year students at K. The couple met during orientation and were lab partners in their first biology course, a class on evolution.

“She seemed so genuinely happy to be at K and eager to get the year started,” Vahan said. “I was more hesitant, but her positive energy was evident on day one and we quickly became good friends.”

That lab and class experience helped steer Vahan away from the hard sciences and toward an economics major and sociology minor. Conversely, they solidified Natasha’s interest in biology. Natasha added a second major in psychology and an extended, nine-month study abroad experience in Australia to her K-Plan.

That extended experience was fateful because it put Natasha behind schedule in applying to medical school. That was all the reason she needed to first pursue a master’s degree in public health at the University of Michigan.

“While on foreign study, I read a book called, The Hot Zone,” Natasha said. “It talks about investigating Ebola outbreaks and I was absolutely captivated. That sort of propelled me through medical school with this goal in sight that I was going to be an infectious disease doctor and work in outbreaks.”

She attended medical school at Wayne State University before serving an internal medicine residency and an infectious diseases fellowship at the University of Michigan.

After Natasha’s education was complete, Vahan had an opportunity to work for General Motors in Singapore. Natasha supported Vahan and followed him by taking a leap of faith with no guarantee she would be able to work. Medical training often is specific to an individual country, and many countries don’t accept American medical training.

However, “Singapore at that time, they were still allowing some American medical trainees, and I ended up working at the most wonderful hospital,” Natasha said. “I don’t know how I got so lucky. It was five years of training for a COVID-like scenario under a boss who had years of experience working for an arm of the World Health Organization that does outreach to low- and middle-income countries when they experience outbreaks.”

To complicate the scenario, Vahan—after three years in Singapore—was offered a chance to become the CFO for General Motors in the Africa and Middle East Region, meaning a move to Dubai. Fortunately, the hospital allowed Natasha to telecommute and continue her role with occasional visits back.

“It was a seven-and-a-half-hour flight from Singapore to Dubai and I worked remotely across time zones, but we made it work,” Natasha said. “I had a team on the ground that was absolutely wonderful. We would have Zoom calls a couple times a day, and then I would fly to Singapore every month. I did that for about two years when COVID hit. Then, I went to Singapore to work on the COVID response.”

That opportunity to work remotely until COVID-19 hit benefited Singapore, and continues to benefit the World Health Organization and the State of Michigan in her current roles. In the meantime, Vahan emphatically praises Natasha and the work she’s done to fight the pandemic.

“There aren’t words really to describe how proud I am of Natasha,” Vahan said. “She has spent countless sleepless nights working on this pandemic, but this is the norm. I’ve watched Natasha dive into various other outbreaks and give the same dedication and attention. Her love for her work and desire to help people is inspirational. Now that we are home in Michigan, I think it is very fitting that she can transfer that passion to her home state and work to keep us as safe as possible.”

K Students Need Your Help Analyzing Deer Populations

Jake Osen Researching Deer Populations
Jake Osen ’21 examines foliage for signs of what might be attracting deer populations to a neighborhood in the Kalamazoo area.

If you’re a citizen scientist who would like to help two Kalamazoo College students with their Senior Individualized Projects (SIP), there’s an app for that.

Jake Osen and Zach Brazil, both ’21, are tabulating deer in Kalamazoo-area neighborhoods and need volunteers to submit pictures through the free mobile app iNaturalist of the deer they find. The pictures will help the students identify where deer populations are reaching problematic levels in local neighborhoods.

When pictures are uploaded, the app helps identify the variety of deer the user has found and pinpoints their location. Osen, Brazil and other scientists then will confirm what the app finds and use the location data to ascertain what’s attracting deer to the area.

Zach Brazil Researching Deer Populations
Zach Brazil ’21 examines foliage for signs of what might be attracting deer populations to a neighborhood in the Kalamazoo area.

They expect a loss of habitat caused by encroaching neighborhoods to be a primary cause, although others are likely to be contributing factors.

“Some neighborhoods have creeks and parks,” Osen said. “Some neighborhoods have residents who feed deer. Once we have a rough estimate of the deer population, we can compare the different areas and see what’s bringing deer into the neighborhoods.”

Participants can be casual photographers and there’s no need for professional-quality images. When asked for tips on photographing deer, Osen and Brazil said it’s easiest to find them earlier in the morning or later at night. It can be difficult to maintain complete silence, but deer are a little less skittish in neighborhoods where they typically are near people anyway.

To download the iNaturalist app, go into the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) on a smartphone and search for iNaturalist. After downloading it, create a free account using an email address, social media account or Google account.

The app will ask to use your location. After confirming permission, use the “Explore” tab to find observations submitted by others. Click the “More” tab and search “Projects” for “Deer populations in the residential areas of Kalamazoo” to volunteer for Osen and Brazil.

After joining, simply upload the pictures of deer you find in Kalamazoo.

“We’d appreciate help from anyone that’s able to download the app,” Brazil said. “We’re hoping to have our observations done by August. We hope to have most of the deer identified in the pictures by mid-August and a first draft of the SIP done by the first or second week of the trimester. But we’d encourage people to keep posting images. The more numbers the better.”

Mom Inspires Son’s Medical Ambitions

Emergency Medical Technician Brandon Wright
Brandon Wright ’21 is working as an emergency medical technician for Life EMS in Kalamazoo. At age 14, Wright saw his mom endure breast cancer, inspiring him to one day attend medical school and seek a career in medicine.

Imagine, as a 14-year-old child, seeing your mother endure breast cancer. How might that affect you? For Brandon Wright ’21, it prompted him to attend his mom’s chemo and radiation treatments.

“She went through chemo and radiation for a year,” said Wright, a biology major and physics minor from Dexter, Michigan. “I went to her treatments to understand them better. I still remember them like they were yesterday. It was an early moment when I realized that something bigger than me was going on.”

Thankfully, Wright’s mom today is a survivor. And by the time she was cancer-free, her son was inspired to seek a career in medicine. A physical therapist by trade, Mom helped arrange some job shadowing with doctors for Wright during his high school years, and he plans to attend medical school after graduating from Kalamazoo College. In the meantime, Wright is embracing a role as an emergency medical technician (EMT).

Wright trained as an EMT after his first year at K, realizing he would need to spend hands-on time with patients to optimize his chances of getting into medical school. After more than 256 hours of accelerated coursework that summer—and several certification tests and clinical trials afterward—he was offered a part-time job working for Life EMS in Kalamazoo.

“I thought I would do something I knew I would like rather than something I thought I had to do,” Wright said. “The exciting thing is we can get a not-so-serious call, and then, in the next second, all of a sudden we’re called to treat a cardiac arrest. The unpredictable nature of the job keeps me on my toes because at any second, it could be something new.”

Cardiac arrest is among the most serious calls Wright responds to and he remembers the first time he responded to one in March 2019.

“I was still in training and the call was for an 8-year-old boy,” Wright said. “My trainer had me participate in CPR because I was brand new, and that shook me for a while. I’ve probably responded to 10 or more cardiac arrests since then and, thanks to my trainers and partners, I feel I’ve developed the skills and mental capacity to handle them. It’s relatively straight forward for me now.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Wright on the job. Ambulance dispatchers began using a code over the radio to let EMTs know when they were responding to a scenario where coronavirus could be present. That typically means Wright and his colleagues wear face shields, gowns and N-95 masks in addition to normal protective standards during the call, and take special steps to wipe down the ambulance and change clothes afterward.

Wright and his colleagues have found coronavirus to especially be a problem in the homeless population in Kalamazoo. With that knowledge, and with additional experiences in responding to emergencies such as gunshot wounds and overdoses, Wright recognizes his privilege as a student, which has fueled his desire to be involved in the community and help others one day as a doctor.

“The biggest thing I’ve realized is how many emergencies there can be anywhere,” he said. “At any time, we might have 10 trucks out just to cover all the emergencies. That’s really opened my eyes to how many people need help. It has confirmed my desire to go into medicine.”

To further his community involvement, Wright in the 2020-21 academic year will serve as a President’s Student Ambassador. The student leaders serve as an extension of President Jorge G. Gonzalez’s hospitality at events and gatherings, welcoming alumni and guests of the College with a spirit of inclusion.

“Many students get caught up in going to school, but there are a lot of ways we can integrate more into the community,” Wright said. “I wanted to be an ambassador because I wanted to bring my experiences to the table to start that conversation about involvement. I also want to hear from alumni about their own K experiences and take those lessons back to other students.”

With the Day of Gracious Living expected soon, along with its traditions including community service, Wright reflected on what he’s been most grateful for in his time at K.

“I think I’m most grateful for the fact that K gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Quito, Ecuador,” he said. “Even further than my community experiences in Kalamazoo, I was able to compare and contrast them on a global level with what I experienced in the lower-income country of Ecuador. Learning about some of their disparities in public health allowed me to recognize some ways that the U.S. system is also failing many. It is no doubt an experience that I will remember and value as I pursue a career in health care.”

The K-Plan teaches students to adapt to the unexpected situations of our ever-changing world. When the Day of Gracious Giving is announced, please make a gift to support K’s robust academic and experiential learning opportunities that help prepare the leaders and problem solvers of tomorrow.