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

Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education Rankings Laud K

Wall Street Journal Rankings
An engaging and diverse faculty provides Kalamazoo College students
with an experience important in the Wall Street Journal/Times
Higher Education rankings of the top U.S. colleges and universities.

Another analysis has placed Kalamazoo College as the top-ranked private higher education institution in Michigan as the U.S. Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education 2022 College Rankings list was released this week.

The report places K among the top 22 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities ranked overall with methodology that balances issues such as:

  • Resources, examining whether a college effectively delivers teaching through its finances, its student-to-faculty ratio and faculty research papers.
  • Engagement, as determined through the results of a Times Higher Education U.S. student survey, which scrutinizes each student’s engagement with their studies, their interaction with their teachers and their satisfaction with the college experience.
  • Outcomes, measuring each institution’s value, graduation rate and academic reputation.
  • Environment, including student, faculty and academic staff diversity, international populations and student inclusion.

 The full WSJ/THE list can be found at the Wall Street Journal website.

K Bestows Lucasse, Ambrose Awards

Kalamazoo College announced September 15 that one faculty member and one staff member have earned two of the highest awards the College bestows on its employees. Anne Haeckl, K’s senior instructor in the Department of Classics, will receive the 2022 Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching, and Dan Kibby ’91, the enrollment systems manager in the Office of Admission, will receive the W. Haydn Ambrose Prize for Extraordinary Service.

Haeckl has served the College since 1998. In that time, she has taught an array of courses on Greek history, Roman history and archaeology in addition to a sophomore seminar. Alumni have noted that Haeckl’s classes have been life-guiding and her enthusiasm has inspired new generations of archaeologists, academics and educators.

The Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship (for outstanding classroom teaching) and Fellowship (for outstanding achievement in creative work, research or publication) were established in 1979. Haeckl is the 32nd recipient of the lectureship. She also received the Lucasse Fellowship in 2004. Both awards were created to honor Florence J. Lucasse, a 1910 alumna, in recognition of her long and distinguished career and in response to the major unrestricted endowment gift given to the College in her will.

Ambrose Prize Recipient Dan Kibby at his workstation
Dan Kibby is the recipient of this year’s Ambrose Prize.

Kibby has worked at K since 2016 and recently shifted from a role as a programmer and analyst for Information Services to his position in Admission. In nominating him, Kibby’s colleagues noted that his kindness and humanity are frequent sources of inspiration as he generously gives of himself to mentor students. He’s also always among the first to engage with the campus through volunteerism with Monte Carlo, Cafsgiving, Green Dot events, COVID testing clinics and vaccination clinics.

The W. Haydn Ambrose Prize was established to recognize a K staff member for outstanding service to the Kalamazoo College community. The award is named after W. Haydn Ambrose, who served K for more than 20 years in a variety of roles, including assistant to the president for church relations, dean of admission and financial aid, and vice president for development. Ambrose was thoughtful in the projects that he took on, committed to the jobs that he agreed to do, and he treated people with respect.

In addition to a financial award, Kibby has earned a crystal award to commemorate the achievement, an engraved brick in a section at the top of the stairs of the athletic fields complex and an invitation to sit on the award’s selection committee for two years.

Princeton Review: Academics Place K Among Nation’s Best Colleges

Best 387 Colleges Book Cover
The Princeton Review cites Kalamazoo College’s
academics in naming the institution among
The Best 387 Colleges.”
Photo credit: The Princeton Review.

The Princeton Review is placing Kalamazoo College among the top 14 percent of institutions for degree-seeking undergraduates by featuring K in the education services company’s annual college guide, The Best 387 Colleges

The schools featured aren’t individually ranked. However, the publication praises K’s academics while giving faculty high marks—95 points on a 99-point scale—for student accessibility. 

“We salute Kalamazoo College for its outstanding academics and we are genuinely pleased to recommend it to prospective applicants searching for their ‘best-fit’ college,” said Rob Franek, the Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief and lead author of The Best 387 Colleges

The Princeton Review chooses colleges for the book, one of its most popular publications, based on data it annually collects from administrators about their institutions’ academic offerings, and its surveys of college students who rate and report on various aspects of their campus and community experiences. 

In those surveys, students credited faculty for presenting challenging information and working to achieve camaraderie with students. Students also said the K-Plan—the College’s personalized approach to education through a flexible, open curriculum featuring real-world experience, service learning, study abroad and an independent senior year project—allows them more time to explore exactly what they want to learn.  

In extra-curriculars, students said they can find their niche quickly in the small-school environment, allowing most to engage in work they care about.  

The Princeton Review’s school profiles are posted on its website, where they can be searched for free. The book is the 30th annual edition and is available for purchase online

Guide to Colleges Celebrates K’s Excellence

Fiske Guide to Colleges
Sourcebooks, the publisher of the “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” says “K’s academic terms may be fast-paced and the workload demanding, but students are given the flexibility to pursue their interests through individualized projects and off-campus exploration.”

Kalamazoo College’s excellence is again featured in the annual Fiske Guide to Colleges, a selective look at about 300 higher-education institutions in the United States, Canada and the U.K.

The guide’s readers discover institutional personalities based on a broad range of subjects including the student body, academics, social life, financial aid, campus setting, housing, food and extracurricular activities. The book also includes a quiz to help students understand what they’re looking for in a college, lists of strong programs and popular majors at each institution, indexes that break down schools by state and price, and ratings regarding academics and quality of life.

In the 2022 version, available now, the publisher Sourcebooks says K students “pursue a liberal arts curriculum that includes language proficiency, a first-year writing seminar, sophomore and senior seminars, as well as a senior individualized project—directed research, a creative piece, or a traditional thesis—basically anything that caps off each student’s education in some meaningful way.”

In addition to senior integrated projects promoting independent scholarship opportunities, the guide praises other tenets of the K-Plan, the College’s four-part, integrated approach to education, including:

  • Rigorous academics. The flexibility and rigor of K’s curriculum provides students with a customized academic experience.
  • Experiential education. Students connect classroom learning with real-world experience by completing career development internships or externships, participating in civic engagement and service-learning projects, and getting involved in social justice leadership work.
  • International and intercultural experience. Students choose from 56 study abroad programs in 29 countries across six continents. A biology major interviewed by the publisher remarks on how easy it is for students to take advantage of the opportunity, noting, “Kalamazoo College does study abroad so well that it seems ridiculous not to take advantage of this opportunity. They make it financially accessible and ensure that you won’t fall behind by going abroad.”

“K’s academic terms may be fast-paced and the workload demanding, but students are given the flexibility to pursue their interests through individualized projects and off-campus exploration,” the Guide to Colleges says. “The result, says a senior, is a student body defined by open-minded, global citizens.”

JAWS Shreds Stereotypes, Spotlights Diverse Chemists

Daniela Arias-Rotondo of JAWS Chemistry Seminars
Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniela Arias-Rotondo is challenging the stereotypical image that comes to mind when we picture a scientist by inviting undergraduates and postdocs to present their science in JAWS, a series of chemistry webinars spotlighting scientists from underrepresented groups.

When you hear it’s time for JAWS, don’t fear a shark attack. Instead, get ready for a chemistry seminar featuring Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniela Arias-Rotondo, who is challenging the stereotypical image that comes to mind when we picture a scientist.

JAWS, or Just Another (Chemistry) Webinar Series, gives scientists from underrepresented groups a chance to be heard, and undergrads and postdocs a chance to share their work through easy-going conversations and publicity in a production quickly gaining recognition.

The project was started by Arias-Rotondo along with post docs Craig Fraser of Northwestern University, Madison Fletcher of New York University and Monica Gill of Carleton University. Its name would’ve been Just Another Chemistry Series, but the acronym JACS is well known as the Journal of the American Chemical Society. As a result, and to show a little humor, Arias-Rotondo and her fellow organizers chose JAWS.

“One day we might get a cease-and-desist letter from Steven Spielberg or someone,” Arias-Rotondo said. “We’ll figure out what name we give it at that point. But for now, who doesn’t like sharks?”

The point of JAWS, though, is down to earth as it enables early career chemists to build foundational presentation skills.

“As scientists, we always emphasize that it’s important to be able to communicate your ideas,” Arias-Rotondo said. “And one thing that we’ve always seen is that it’s hard as a postdoc or a graduate student—and even worse as an undergrad—to get the opportunity to present your science.”

Professors commonly receive invitations to give talks and attend conferences. They might also be the people in line for a Nobel Prize. Students, however, gain experience working with faculty yet their work gets little exposure. That’s something Arias-Rotondo wants to change.

“Even with the pandemic, we’ve still been doing talks, and giving people who don’t have a name for themselves yet an opportunity,” Arias-Rotondo said. “We’re particularly looking at those who, even under normal circumstances, maybe wouldn’t be as likely to present. A scientist doesn’t have to be the old white guy with crazy hair. Being able to invite these other people who don’t necessarily fit a mold to come in and talk about their science is so important in terms of really showing a broad spectrum of people that you can be a scientist, too.”

The show has built buzz for itself through a loyal following on its Twitter feed. It’s also drawn presenters from every continent except Antarctica and viewers from all over the world, including JACS Editor-in-Chief Erick Carreira, an organic chemist and professor at ETH Zürich.

“We saw the name among our attendees and we began texting back and forth while watching,” Arias-Rotondo said. “We were wondering if that was really him or somebody impersonating him because it was huge for us. It was a sign of how far we’d made it.”

Recent JAWS guests have included post docs from University of California, Vanderbilt University and National University of Singapore who have presented on topics ranging from radiation to molecular aggregation. The time for JAWS varies to accommodate presenters from a variety of time zones, but generally it’s scheduled at 11 a.m. or 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesdays. Presentations are posted online for about a week. Ultimately, Arias-Rotondo hopes to measure the success of the program not only by the number of viewers or its website traffic, but by successful variations of representation and its impact on students including those at K.

“I hope that my students see that they can attend the seminars, they can present at the seminars, and that there is a welcoming community that wants them to be chemists,” she said. “I also want them to see me as someone who is not just teaching or doing research with them but also working to make science more available and more accessible for people.”

K Professor Wants More Diversity in Victorian Studies

Ryan Fong Victorian Studies
Associate Professor of English Ryan Fong is one of four scholars from around the country who founded Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom, a digital humanities project that reimagines how to teach Victorian studies with a positive, race-conscious lens.

A Kalamazoo College English faculty member has helped develop a project that ensures his field will be inclusive and engaging with scholars from underrepresented groups.

Associate Professor of English Ryan Fong is one of four scholars from around the country who founded Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom, a digital humanities project that reimagines how to teach Victorian studies with a positive, race-conscious lens. The title was inspired by a recent essay by Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff and Amy R. Wong in the Los Angeles Review of Books, titled “Undisciplining Victorian Studies,” which itself borrowed from York University Professor of English literature and Black studies Christina Sharpe’s call for scholars to “become undisciplined” as a way to undo racist theories and the limited, predominantly white scopes that scholars have inherited.

“The three other founders and I wanted to create a set of resources for how to bring this work into the classroom to infuse our teaching,” Fong said. “The website developed as a result of those conversations, and we collaborated with one another to build the site and involved other scholars from around the world to create our first batch of teaching materials.”

In addition to Fong, the founding developers are Pearl Chaozon Bauer, an associate professor of English at Notre Dame de Namur University; Sophia Hsu, an assistant professor of English at Lehman College, CUNY; and Adrian S. Wisnicki, an associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The K community can take pride in the team’s project because many of the lesson plans featured on the website draw on those that Fong first developed in his classroom through his own pedagogy. Take, for example, the lessons regarding the work of Mary Seacole, a British-Jamaican nurse, healer and businesswoman who set up the “British Hotel” during the Crimean War. Seacole hoped to assist with nursing the war’s wounded but was turned away when she applied to be in the nursing contingent. Instead, she traveled independently and set up her own “hotel” for tending to the wounded, making her popular with service personnel, who raised money for her as she faced extreme poverty after the war.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing in the project is creating resources to help instructors teach materials like Mary Seacole’s,” Fong said. “She wrote an important travelogue and memoir about her experiences, and the teaching materials on the site will help teachers contextualize this work and teach it alongside people that we already know and love like Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte. We’re hoping that we’re giving scholars tools to incorporate new materials into their classes or perhaps even conceive and remake whole new classes.”

In addition to lesson plans and syllabi that involve writers such as Seacole, the Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom website provides Zoom-based broadcasts with recorded conversations, featuring professors to further promote a diverse base of historical writers.

“We’re recording conversations with colleagues about what we do in our classrooms,” Fong said. “It gives us a chance to share how we teach and how we can expand the materials and approaches that we have typically used. Hosting these has given me a lot of opportunities to share what I’ve developed at K. Bringing the expertise that I’ve been able to gain into these conversations with teacher scholars around the country and around the world has been really exciting.”

In the short term, Fong said the site’s success will be evaluated through the number of people visiting the website. Yet ultimately, the hope is to get experts and scholars throughout higher education excited to collaborate with the project while empowering everyone who does the work of teaching literature in colleges and universities—from graduate students to adjunct faculty and tenured professors.

“Around the world, we’re all really working toward these goals of social justice, anti-racism, and diversity, inclusion and equity,” Fong said. “If we’re working in alignment with those principles and we’re doing it thoughtfully as scholars, then I feel like that we have the potential to make an impact not just in higher ed, but all over.”

Conductors Fight Social Injustice with ‘Awake, Arise!’

Awake, Arise production fights injustice
A team of composers including Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor of Music Chris Ludwa are targeting social injustice and racial inequities with “Awake, Arise!”

Based on a tune originally written during the plague, “Awake, Arise!” revitalizes a 500-year-old melody with the words of Black authors, activists and artists who breathe new life into the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The result is a dramatic musical composition calling on audiences to acknowledge injustice and work together to change the world.

Bach’s cantata “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” is a work that would be performed during Advent in preparation for the arrival of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. It premiered in 1731 in Leipzig, and is based on a hymn written by Philipp Nicolai in the wake of the plague in the 16th century. The original text encourages the preparation for Jesus’ arrival, encouraging us to “Wake up, as the voice calls to us.”

Like many ancient texts, the words of the original cantata refer to prophesies and promises of what is to come: a better life, salvation or freedom. As the world suffers massive death and despair from a pandemic in 2020 and 2021, stark inequities and injustice between people of different races which have always been present are so evident that they cannot nor should not be ignored, and must now be addressed by everyone.

“Just as Bach was known to reset his own music and that of others, it is time to breathe new life into this seminal work, giving it a voice that resounds the call to equity of 2000 years ago and of 60 years ago,” said Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor Chris Ludwa, one of the composers behind “Awake, Arise!”  “In reflecting on the countless Christmas hymns and songs that sing of a new day to come, our brothers and sisters of color have waited long enough.”

Ludwa collaborated with Everett McCorvey, a fellow voice professor from the University of Kentucky; and Rhea Olivaccé, a soprano soloist with an international career and a professor of voice at Western Michigan University; to use the words of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., Amanda Gorman, Valyn Turner and others in providing a response to these hymns and songs in a dialogue about the Black experience, in contrast to what it is perceived to be.

The result is a new arrangement of Bach’s immortal cantata, performed in English, implementing the language of hope from great authors and activists of color. This new work is presented with spoken word artists interspersed between movements, underscoring the urgency of texts we may have failed to read with clear eyes. The world premiere in March 2021 featured a 17-piece orchestra comprised of musicians of color from the United States and the United Kingdom, a diverse body of 20 singers and three internationally acclaimed soloists against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial and a multimedia display of visual artists of color.

The premiere of the filmed performance united Olivaccé, tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass soloist Kyle Ketelsen, along with Concert Master Ilmar Gavilan, spoken-word artists, and a chorus and orchestra of diverse musicians that is now available on YouTube.

The goal is to make this new version of the cantata available to choirs of all kinds that they might become better allies against injustice, a particularly important aspiration given how dominant white culture is in the performing arts world.

“How often have people of color sung these spirituals praying for a fair shot, only to be answered with a gun shot,” Ludwa said. “How often have those of us who are white sung the lyrics of these familiar tunes, only to follow it by ignoring the message to ‘Wake up, and arise?’”

Watch the April 11 performance on YouTube, and contact Ludwa for more information about the musical composition at cludwa@kzoo.edu or 231-225-8877.

Current Events, Student Interest Prompt Growth in Community and Global Health

Community and Global Health Adjunct Britta Seifert
Britta Seifert ’12 is teaching the maternal, child and adolescent health course within the community and global health concentration as an adjunct faculty member this term. She has invited K alumni working in the field to speak to students interested in the concentration’s many career pathways.

Combine students who are enthusiastic about social justice, growing global and domestic disparities in health exacerbated by a pandemic, and alumni who care about making a difference, and the result is a notable uptick in interest this year in Kalamazoo College’s community and global health concentration.

Interest has grown from about 24 students in an average year to about 50 accepted to or requesting admittance, says Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement Director Alison Geist, M.P.H., who also directs the community and global health program. The concentration, which emphasizes health equity, prepares students to identify, investigate and articulate global and community health issues to think critically, and collaborate with others to address some of today’s most pressing challenges.

“In the last nine years or so we’ve gone through this tumultuous time in our country where there’s much broader awareness about issues such as racial disparities, police violence and climate change and they’re being recognized as threats,” said Britta Seifert ’12, who is teaching the maternal, child and adolescent health course within the concentration as an adjunct faculty member this term. “Social justice issues have been really visible and part of our national discussion. It’s a way that students can say, ‘I see these inequities in society, and I want to devote my career to addressing injustice.’ Public health is a tangible and important way that people can do that.”

Seifert was an anthropology and sociology major at K with a women’s studies concentration before community and global health was available as a full concentration to students. However, in her sophomore year, she took a public health class taught by Geist. That class studied infant mortality rates and health disparities in Kalamazoo through a service-learning project. Seifert then conducted a senior individualized project on infant-mortality rates in Calhoun County, Michigan.

“That class was an entry point for a lot of K people to public health,” Seifert said, while complimenting Geist’s influence on both alumni and current students. “It’s exciting for me to see that there’s now this whole concentration at K, and students get to explore it more deeply. It’s such a multi-disciplinary field that it’s a really great fit for a liberal arts college. There are a lot of different angles you can take toward a career in public health.”

After graduating from K, Seifert joined the Peace Corps, where she taught health education to high school students in Kyrgyzstan. In 2019, Seifert obtained a master’s degree in public health from Boston University and began working for Mathematica, an organization that analyzes data to develop pathways to progress for public- and private-sector influencers.

Seifert’s experience is benefiting students in her course, which addresses the social determinants of health, health equity and racial justice, while exploring topics in maternal, child and adolescent health. Seifert said the general field of maternal, child and adolescent health focuses on diverse health and social issues that affect parents, expectant parents, people of reproductive age and children. Such issues range from traditional topics such as breastfeeding and contraception to complex social issues such as violence, housing and immigration, and how they’re affected by racism and inequality.

As the instructor, Seifert has called on several K alumni to serve as guest speakers in her class this term including Hannah Reischl ’12, a senior business process consultant in strategy design and implementation for Kaiser Permanente; Mark Ebell ’83, a professor at the University of Georgia; Allyson Howe ’12, a youth programs senior specialist at the University of Colorado; Amy Houtrow ’96, a professor and endowed chair for pediatric rehabilitation medicine in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Ramya Dronamraju ’16, a public health expert at Vital Voices Global Partnership.

“One of my goals with the class is to show students the different careers in public health and I’m trying to bring in people who do very different types of work in the field, both in terms of the issues that they work on, and the type of work they do so,” Seifert said. “I have some clinicians, researchers, community organizers, program implementers, people who work in the government and people who work for nonprofits.”

Most of the students in Seifert’s class are juniors and seniors. She said a few of them would like to become physicians. One is a pre-law student. Others have been accepted to public health master’s programs to start next year or say they would like to apply to such programs in the future. Some have yet to figure out what path they would like to pursue after college. Regardless, there is room for all of them to find careers they love in the field, making the concentration’s growth even more satisfying.

“We need data science people in public health,” Seifert said. “We need clinicians, social workers, lawyers, researchers, epidemiologists and biologists. It’s such a diverse field in terms of career paths, and all the different types of people who work together on public health. It’s a growing field with a lot of opportunity, and I think it’s a great career path.”