9 Professors 4 Answers


Magazine Cover
Published in Macalester Today


Macalester is enjoying a bumper crop of new tenure-track faculty members this year. Eight assistant professors began work this fall, with one more to join the faculty in January. In the interest of getting to know these nine better than their vitae might allow, we asked them some probing questions. As you will read, they’re a typically fascinating Macalester bunch.

Morgan Adamson
Media and Cultural Studies

Professor Morgan AdamsonHow did you first get interested in your academic field?

As a junior at UC–Santa Cruz, I took an introductory film studies course and was hooked. I became obsessed with studying film traditions outside the Hollywood norm, such as documentary and avant-garde cinema. These cinemas opened up new worlds for me, and I started to look at film as an art form.

Why were you drawn to a teaching intensive position?

For me, teaching and research are never entirely separate practices. While teaching I gain insights into my research that I would never have seen without the dialogue created in the classroom. The reverse is true as well. It was important for me to be at an institution that values undergraduate education, and I was drawn to Macalester because of the opportunity to work closely with talented undergraduates.

What’s your favorite app and why?

My favorite app right now is called “Freedom.” It actually turns off your Internet connection for a limited period. Although social connectivity is a wonderful thing, sometimes I find it’s important to turn off all the noise in order to focus.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

One of my favorite academic books is Ian Baucom’s Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Duke, 2005), a wonderful piece of cultural criticism that weaves together history, politics, and philosophy into a beautiful work of nonfiction. Moreover, it’s an excellent example of the kinds of insights a humanities scholar can bring to some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Peter Bognanni ’01

How did you first get interested in your academic field?Professor Peter Bognanni

It happened at Macalester College. I had been writing for myself since I was a kid, but I never had the courage to share my work until I took Intro to Creative Writing with Wang Ping. The professors I studied with at Macalester taught me that writing didn’t have to be something I just did for fun; it could be a meaningful act of communication with the world. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that my mother was a librarian. I think she checked out half the fiction section for me before I left for college. I remember staring at the stacks of books in our house and thinking “I want to make those.”

Do you have a first day of school ritual?

I like to wear a tie on the first day (complete with tie bar). If I’m a little rusty in the classroom, there’s a chance the students will be distracted by my aura of sartorial authority. Also, when I first started teaching as a graduate TA, I was often mistaken for a student. The tie was a key part of my “teaching costume.” At this point, it’s half talisman, half security blanket.

Describe the most interesting object in your office.

Hanging majestically from my thermostat is the medal I won at Literary Death Match. LDM is a live writing competition, and my victory there is the closest I will ever get to becoming an Olympian. My hope is that it’s intimidating to all who pass through my door.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

The book I have re-read more than any other is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I love it for its breadth of imagination, its dark humor, and its enduring social consciousness. It proves that the only real rules for fiction are the ones you make yourself.

Julie Chadaga
Russian Studies

Professor Julie ChadagaHow did you first get interested in your academic field?

I grew up in a Russian-speaking immigrant family that fled the Soviet Union as refugees when I was eight. We settled in Connecticut and for years I tried to assimilate. At Wesleyan University I took classes in Russian literature and worked as a Russian teaching assistant. After graduation I worked as a translator in Moscow during an unstable but fascinating time of transition there. I felt an urgent need to study this land so I could create a little island of understanding for myself.

Why were you drawn to a teaching intensive position?

At Wesleyan I had amazing teachers who inspired me; a lot of my teaching methodologies I learned from them. People often put teaching and scholarship in opposition to one another, but when I was a grad student at Harvard my scholarly work really took off once I started teaching. I got a new sense of purpose and felt more energized.

Do you have a first day of school ritual?

I hand out index cards and ask students to write down what they hope to learn in the course as well as a favorite quotation or book title. This helps me learn something personal and meaningful about them right away; plus, I’m a big fan of in-class writing as a way to generate ideas and this gives students writing practice.

Describe the most interesting object in your office.

An IBM Selectric typewriter, which sits on its own little table along the north-facing wall. It was in my office when I arrived, and I cherish it as a kind of museum piece, a haunting material trace of an obsolete technology. Maybe it’s also my own little gesture of defiance addressed to the culture of novelty and disposability in which we live.

Steve Guglielmo

How did you first get interested in your academic field?Professor Steve Guglielmo

Since high school I’ve been interested in thinking about what makes a behavior right or wrong and how we can know the truth of the matter. Philosophers have been thinking about these questions for millennia, but the intractability of the philosophical questions seems too great—I’m pessimistic about being able to solve the question of what really is (im)moral. I’ve also long been interested in thinking about everyday decision-making, or how we all weigh information and make judgments about our own and others’ behavior. Pursuing the field of social and moral psychology was a natural way to blend my interests.

What’s your favorite app and why?

Yelp. It’s a great way to get a rough snapshot of people’s opinions about all sorts of businesses. It makes it much easier to explore a new city or neighborhood. The only downside is that once you become reliant on it, as I have, you begin to doubt your own intuition.

Tell us one unexpected thing about yourself.

I’ve run two marathons. After each one I told myself that I wouldn’t run another. If I’m foolish enough, I might try another one next year.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess because it poses deep and continually relevant questions about morality, punishment, and the balance between individual- and societal-level control of behavior. You wind up unsatisfied at the end of the book, which is perhaps unsurprising given that these questions have no easy answers.

Zeynep Gursel
International Studies

Professor Zeynep GurselHow did you first get interested in your academic field?

I got my bachelor’s degree in literature but after graduation I ended up teaching at an international high school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My class had students of 20 different nationalities and I soon came to realize that their complex cultural identities were as much a part of their readings as was the Shakespearean text in front of them. This realization led me to cultural anthropology.

Why were you drawn to a teaching intensive position?

I was told that Macalester hires teacher scholars. Because I am a social scientist and don’t need a lab, I don’t feel like I’m choosing between teaching and research. I became very excited about the opportunity to teach Macalester students because I’m impressed by how self-motivated they are and by the tremendous array of experiences they can have on campus and around the world.

Tell us one unexpected thing about yourself.

When I was a child one of my favorite games was playing school with my younger sister. She has forgiven me, she says, for always casting her as the student and myself as the teacher, for making her wear a uniform for our “classes,” and even for having her sit in rows of chairs otherwise filled with stuffed animals. Somehow we both wound up becoming educators. Today we regularly talk about our students and how we can make our courses better.

Describe the most interesting object in your office.

On my office wall are two photographs taken last June by photographer Gülsin Ketenci during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, Turkey. Gülsin is part of the Nar Photography Collective, an independent photo agency in Istanbul that specializes in social documentary photography. These two photographs remind me to think about how international news is constructed and for what purposes it gets mobilized. Who shapes how different audiences see “the world as it is” and why does it matter? This is one of the core questions behind my scholarship.

Rivi Handler-Spitz

How did you first get interested in your academic field?Professor Rivi Handler-Spitz

As a freshman at Columbia I enrolled in Chinese 101 out of curiosity. I loved the class—I’m still in touch with the professor— but after a year I still couldn’t express myself clearly. So I signed up for second-year Chinese. One thing led to another, and soon I found myself living in Shanghai, then Taipei, drawn onward by a growing fascination with Chinese language and culture.

What’s your favorite app?

The Chinese dictionary Pleco

Tell us one unexpected thing about yourself.

I haven’t had a professional haircut since age 16: I cut my own hair.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

My favorite book is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. I first read this book in middle school and have reread it several times since. Miss Jean Brodie is a charismatic teacher at a girls’ school in Scotland. The students hang on her words, inspired, transfixed. But she is a Fascist. And as the girls fall under her spell, troubling ethical and political questions emerge, as does a conflict with the school’s principal. I love this book because it considers different views on teaching and makes the reader both identify with and criticize each point of view. In my own teaching, I try to inspire students as did Miss Brodie, but whereas she provided pat answers, I aim to incite my students to ask questions. By introducing them to Chinese literature and culture, I hope to stimulate students to rethink their ingrained habits of mind and to raise questions and seek meaningful answers.

Professor Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell

How did you first get interested in your academic field?

Though my profession is Japanese literature, I only became a reader in college. I initially wanted to major in philosophy and computer science, but ultimately found that literary study was a way to pursue the abstract questioning and analytical rigor of these disciplines within the context of social problems and human predicaments. I chose Japanese literature because the language is fascinating.

Tell us one unexpected thing about yourself.

I was born in Tokyo, Japan, almost 7,000 miles from where I grew up in Westchester, New York.

Describe the most interesting object in your office.

I have a print of Japanese carp on my wall. Carp—or koi—is a traditional Japanese motif, but this print was produced by a Muslim artist in Hawaii, so has a subtly foreign flavor to it.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

Right now I’m reading Tricia Rose’s Black Noise (Wesleyan, 1994), one of the first academic studies of hip-hop culture. I love the edginess and originality of her scholarship.

Marcos Ortega

How did you first get interested in your academic field?Professor Marcos Ortega

Teaching has always interested me because my mother taught elementary school for 30 years and she influenced my life profoundly. I envisioned myself becoming a teacher like her until I attended Grinnell College and began to ponder pursuing a career in academia. I felt that entering academia would not only allow me to influence students as she did, but also to show them how an education can change the trajectory of one’s life.

Why were you drawn to a teaching intensive position?

Ever since Grinnell, I had considered pursuing a teaching intensive position following graduate school. I changed paths slightly during my graduate and postdoctoral careers because I loved the challenges of research, but soon returned to my roots by teaching at Harvey Mudd College. There I felt re-inspired, working with motivated students in the classroom and the lab. That experience sealed the deal for my return to a liberal arts college.

What’s your favorite app and why?

The only apps on my phone are from when my son hijacks it, thus all my apps are for toddlers. I do enjoy playing Star Wars Angry Birds though. Love me some Star Wars.

What is one of your favorite books and why?

One of my favorite books is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. My mom read that book to me when I was little and it reinforced that she would always be there for me, regardless of the situation or her sacrifice. I would not be at Mac if not for my mom.

David Shuman
Mathematics and Statistics

Professor David ShumanHow did you first get interested in your academic field?

I’ve loved math since I was in kindergarten, but my specific interests continue to evolve around a number of different application areas (e.g., electrical engineering, operations research, economics) that all use some form of mathematical modeling.

Why were you drawn to a teaching intensive position?

Primarily for the increased interaction with students and the value placed on education. I went to a boarding high school where I had small, interactive classes with teachers who were also my athletic coaches, debate team and community service advisors, and house counselors. The impact they had on me was indelible.

What’s your favorite app and why?

A podcast organizer called Downcast. I’m a huge consumer of podcasts of all types. My subscriptions include multiple podcasts each on sports, news, politics, science, technology, cooking, and photography. They’ve been a nice way for me to stay more connected with American culture while living abroad for the past three years.

Describe the most interesting object in your office.

In my home office I have a series of personalized autographed pictures from Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ray Bourque, three Boston sports legends.

CATEGORY: Academics, Alumni
TYPE: Articles

PUBLISHED: 10/17/2013

Related Stories