March 2015 Archways

Faculty

50 Schools with the Best Professors

BMC comes in at #4, edging out Harvard and Princeton, in a Best College Reviews ranking.

When we posted news that Bryn Mawr professors had edged out the Ivies in a recent ranking from Best College Reviews, the College Facebook page exploded with tributes from Mawrters young and old. Here’s a small selection of your testimonials to some of your BMC profs:

Danielle Fidler ’93: Prof. Anne Dalke made me cry with the first sea of red ink I had ever encountered. She then patiently taught me that the secret to persuasive argument was to write with clear logic and substantiation, without sacrificing passion. Turns out my whole future would depend on this lesson. Whenever I am told I write well, I thank her mentally, but should’ve told her this years ago. She and Profs. Salkever, Krausz, Gangadean (HC), and Wright (HC) made me the lawyer I am today. And extra love to the memory of Dean Tidmarsh, who made us all better people.

Daniela Voith ’76: Barbara Miller Lane was and continues to be one of my guiding stars. Catherine Lafarge made 8 a.m. classes both fun and glamorous—which we had so little of back then—and there were so many more!

Susan Messina ’86: I was inspired in anthropology by Jane Goodale and Phil Kilbride (both now of blessed memory) and Rick Davis. I took as many classes with Peter Briggs as I could. I thank Grace Armstrong for actually slogging through a 30-page paper in French in which I somehow argued a feminist reading of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Caroline Drucker ’03: Thanks to all of my professors. Special thanks go to Mark Lord for listening and carving out room for each student’s own creativity, Carola Hein for giving me the gift of seeing the world in a completely new and invigorating way, to Hiroshi [Iwasaki] for never accepting anything but the best while demonstrating deep compassion (miss him dearly), Daniela Voith for her patience and trust in students’ visions, and to Karen Tidmarsh, whom I need say nothing about because everyone felt her gifts to the college and its students.

Emily Lehrer Pierce ’08:Robert H. Wozniak is the only human being who can make The History of Modern American Psychology a must-take class. He also showed me that I was smarter than I gave myself credit for.

Debut Novel Flies High

Faculty_TordayFor his debut novel, The Last Flight of Poxl West, Daniel Torday spins a twice-told tale, one with two narrators: Elijah Goldstein and Uncle Poxl, a Jewish WWII fighter pilot. A meditation on memory, fame, and storytelling, the novel peels away Poxl’s story and reveals not the fearless war hero Elijah idolized but rather a broken man, devastated by his wartime losses.

Last Flight, due out from St. Martin’s Press in March, received high praise from a veritable who’s who of contemporary writers: Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia, found it “unputdownable, wise, and unbelievably generous.” George Saunders (Tenth of December) called Torday “a prodigiously talented writer, with a huge heart.” And Gary Shteyngart (Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story, Little Failure), said, “OMFG! What a book!”

Torday, a former editor at Esquire who directs Bryn Mawr’s creative writing program, is no stranger to accolades. His novella, The Sensualist, received the 2012 Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction. His fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in Esquire magazine, Harvard Review, The Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, The New York Times, and many other publications. He serves as a book review editor at The Kenyon Review, as a member of the editorial board of Literary Imagination, and as a consulting editor at Hunger Mountain.

The Math Behind Climate Change

Faculty_DonnayClimate change and the chaotic properties of dynamic systems. Sounds pretty imposing, huh? OK. How about, instead, we talk about the game of billiards? That was the idea Victor Donnay devised to teach students the mathematical concepts that lie at the core of climate change.

“Think of a standard pool table as the Earth being in balance,” explains Donnay, a professor in Bryn Mawr’s math department. “As CO2 levels rise, changes are made to the system, in this case the shape of the table. When the system is in balance, the billiard balls move in predictable patterns. However, if certain changes are made, chaos reigns and the movement of the balls becomes much more unpredictable.”

The lesson was a big hit with students, so when TED-Ed videos came calling about creating an animated video, Donnay instantly thought of the billiards lesson.

“It just seemed like a natural for a visual medium like animation,” says Donnay, who still isn’t sure who nominated him to participate in TED-Ed. “They asked me to write a script, and I figured it would take me a few weeks given that it was the end of the semester. But I was so excited by the idea that I immediately starting working on it and had a draft ready to send to them in less than an hour.”

Storytellers from London-based Karrot Animation developed a storyboard based on the script and went back and forth with Donnay throughout the summer to create the finished video.

But Donnay’s contributions were more than technical: “They originally had a male character with the Einstein hair. I said ‘Wait a minute. I teach at a women’s college, my wife is a scientist, we want to encourage women to go into science, so I do not want to support the old stereotype that scientists are male. This should be a female character.’”

Noted and Quoted

Most Destructive Myths About Ebola Virus: When covering the myths circling about ebola, the Milwaukee Courier naturally turned to Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies Kalala Ngalamulume, who specializes in the history of health and disease in West Africa. Discussing the rumor that a team of Médecins sans Frontières has been accused of bringing the virus into Guinée Forestière, the article cited Ngalamulume’s contextualized understanding of the situation on the ground: “The death rate of this current Ebola strain (around 55 percent and expected to rise), combined with misinformation about the disease, gives villagers good reason to be skeptical.”

A Conversation Spoken in Paint: In her review of From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis at the Jewish Museum, New York Times art critic Karen Rosenberg had high praise for History of Art Professor Lisa Saltzman and her exploration of the sources of Krasner’s art. “With their neat rows of pictographs, the Little Image paintings relate clearly to Krasner’s religious education as a child of Jewish immigrants from Russia,” Rosenberg explains. “She painted them from right to left, as Hebrew is written. But her glyphs can be read in a broader context, as evidence of a general interest in codes and ancient scripts. A fascinating catalog essay, by Lisa Saltzman, mentions World War II cryptography and the effort to decipher clay tablets at Knossos as possible influences.”

25 Feminists with Really Great Hair: English Professor Bethany Schneider let her hair down in “25 Feminists with Really Great Hair,” her contribution to The Cut, New York magazine’s fashion site. Making the cut? Susan Sontag, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, Angela Davis, and Nefertiti, among others. Schneider writes: “Women’s hairstyles are usually about signaling one’s position on the Venn diagram of sexy/old/professional…. With all that going on, it’s hard to also make sure that your haircut is feminist. Well, never fear. Your coiffure is feminist if you are. Perhaps, like Yoko Ono, you have yards of the stuff. Or maybe you’ve taken it back to baby-fuzz like Sinéad O’Connor. Or you have just a soupçon, perfectly dolloped atop an angular visage, like Alison Bechdel.”

The Bryn Mawr Dream Team

By Matt Gray

Faculty_Cheng

The Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago awarded experimental time to a trio of BMC sophomores this summer. As an extension of their research in Professor Xuemei May Cheng’s physics lab, Leqi Liu ’17, Alena Klindziuk ’17, and Yilun Tang ’17 worked with the lab’s Advanced Photon Source beamline. For Cheng, the experience offered students “a rare and precious opportunity to work on cutting-edge nanoscience research.” And the students concur. Writing on the Summer at BMC blog, Klindziuk expressed her excitement to be working with such accomplished scientists and such advanced equipment: “I have really liked my research experience, and I would like to continue it in the future.”Maggie Xiao ’15 came to Bryn Mawr with plans to be a medical doctor and to minor in French. But then, as a first-year, she took the Modern Physics Laboratory class taught by Assistant Professor of Physics Xuemei May Cheng.

“I was taking intensive French and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but I was drawn to physics after that class,” says Xiao.

Since that first class, there has been no looking back: For three years running, Xiao conducted research at the Argonne National Laboratory (thanks to a National Science Foundation grant that Cheng landed) and interned at a Rutgers University lab (courtesy of summer funding from Bryn Mawr’s Leadership in the Liberal Arts Center).

“Maggie’s nanofabrication skills can compare with any senior graduate student,” says Cheng. “She’s made the same type of samples already that I was doing as a postdoc.”

But Xiao isn’t the only Bryn Mawr student benefiting from Cheng’s tutelage. This summer, Class of 2017 members Leqi Liu, Alena Klindziuk, Yilun Tang, and graduate student Xiao Wang went to Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source to study the magnetic properties of platinum-magnetic insulator bilayer thin films.

A multidisciplinary science and engineering research center, Argonne is a massive facility that generates the brightest hard X-ray beam in the Western Hemisphere and attracts “dream team” researchers addressing some of the major challenges of our day: clean energy, the environment, technology, and national security.

Cheng held a postdoctoral fellowship there before joining the Bryn Mawr faculty and her Argonne connections have made it possible for Bryn Mawr undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research at the lab.

“The research of our group focuses on spintronics,” explains Cheng, who is a leading researcher in the field. An emerging nanotechnology, spintronics promises to transform computer technology by combining higher speeds with lower energy consumption.

“One of the major possible uses of this research is improved data storage,” says Cheng. “In spintronics, you don’t only use electrons like in traditional semiconductor devices. Instead you take advantage of the spin of the electrons.”

Thanks to about $850,000 in NSF grant funding Cheng has received in recent years, her own “dream team” of Bryn Mawr students can do research right on campus in a state-of-the-art nanomaterials laboratory that’s so advanced it’s used by collaborators from nearby institutions like the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova.

“Whether we’re working with researchers from Penn here on our campus or with scientists from China at Argonne, this work is always collaborative,” says Cheng. “The main difference at a place like Bryn Mawr is that it’s undergraduate students who are collaborating. My students leave with much more research experience than the average undergraduate at a research university. In fact, I heard back from a former student who spent the last two years at CalTech through the 3-2 program that she misses the opportunity to work in my lab at Bryn Mawr.”

Most of the students who join Cheng’s research group go on to enroll in engineering programs, many at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Recent graduates have gone to Princeton, Columbia, UC-Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Rookie Cops and North Philly Youth

A program that brings together urban cops and youth aims at preventing another Ferguson.

By Matt Gray

13_Albert_2_RGBLike so many Americans, GSSWSR Professor Ray Albert has been closely following the events surrounding the shootings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police and the protests caused by the lack of indictments in both cases. But Albert, whose current research deals with group position and racial conflict in urban settings and with the legal regulation of race, brings a lifetime of scholarly expertise to the discussion.

For Albert, the racial elements raised in both deaths bring into focus a fundamental concern: “Even against the backdrop of the racial components of these encounters, we’re left with fatal encounters between unarmed individuals and police.

“Whatever your ideology,” he continues, “we should all be able to agree that that shouldn’t happen—that something is amiss.”

And although it’s essential to examine the role of race and history in relation to these incidents, we are also compelled to figure out how to minimize similarly fatal incidents from occurring again, argues Albert.

“Do we need to deal with the societal racial issues, given the interplay of race and law in the American context?” he asks. “Absolutely. And we also need to be looking at exactly what’s happening during these encounters and what can be done to keep families from experiencing these tragic outcomes.”

As an example of what can be done, Albert points to the work of Men in Motion in the Community (MIMIC), under the leadership of Executive Director Edwin Desamour.

The North Philadelphia organization builds bridges of community support and social bonds for high-risk youth and young adults through mentoring, community engagement, and educational enrichment. As part of that work, MIMIC has partnered with the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Youth/Law Enforcement Corporation of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia police to help with police training.

The objective is to engage the youth MIMIC works with and police recruits in a frank discussion of those moments when police and youth interact on the streets of Philadelphia.

“The training allows the youth and recruits to critically examine their assumptions about each other and the circumstances that compel their encounters,” says Albert.

Discussions include simulations of street interactions between youth and the police and prompt both groups to envision the other’s perspective. The honest exchange also leaves room for youth to vent their anger about their (real or anticipated) experience at the hands of the police and similarly allows the recruits to convey their sentiments about their views of such situations.

“The partnership between MIMIC, the DMC, and the Philadelphia Police Department is replicable, though one hastens to add the obvious,” says Albert. “There is no guarantee that Michael Brown would be walking the streets today if such an initiative had existed in Ferguson.”

He continues: “The young man’s death, however, and the associated painful aftermath for his family and community warrant the conviction that hope might triumph over experience.”

Raymond Albert holds a J.D. from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on sociolegal problems, including the connections between social work and the law and the legal regulation of race. He is the author of Law and Social Work Practice: A Legal Systems Approach and Social Welfare: Narratives of Hard Times. He chairs the board of the Center for Responsible Funding and co-founded the Good Shepherd Mediation Program.

Kudos

  • Biology Professor and Chair Tamara Davis was awarded the 2014 Outstanding Mentor Award by the biology division of the Council on Undergraduate Research.
  • Math Professor Victor Donnay has received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund a support program for Philadelphia Regional Noyce Partnership teachers in their first and second years of teaching.
  • The Center for Austrian Studies Dissertation Prize for 2014 went to Assistant Professor of History Anita Kurimay for her theoretically informed study of queer life and its regulation in Budapest in the late 19th- through the early 20th-century.
  • Italian and Italian Studies Chair Roberta Ricci accepted a grant from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for her department’s excellence in promoting and advancing Italian language and culture on American soil in its multiple historical and contemporary manifestations. The funding will help the department expand opportunities for students, especially internships for majors and minors.
  • The National Security Agency’s Mathematical Sciences Program gave the nod to Assistant Professor Djordje Milicevic with its Young Investigator Grant for promising investigators within 10 years after receiving their Ph.D. Milicevic’s proposal, Arithmetic Manifolds, L-Functions, and Analysis, centers around two themes: that of extremal behavior of high-energy eigenfunctions on arithmetic manifolds and the depth aspect in analytic number theory.
  • The Boston College School of Social Work awarded its Distinguished Alumni Award to GSSWSR Professor Jim Martin. A retired Army colonel, Martin focuses his scholarship, teaching, and public service on military and veteran behavioral health issues.

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