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News & Events for the Smith College Community
News of Note September 21, 2020

Smith College Welcomes New Faculty Members

Open Grecourt gate in early fall

Seven new tenure-track professors have joined the Smith faculty this year.

Gregory de Wet, assistant professor of geosciences, received his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is joining Smith from the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he was a postdoctoral researcher. De Wet is interested in understanding high latitude climatic and environmental change through analysis of lake sediment cores (mud that has accumulated at the bottom of lakes). His recent research focuses on using bacterial membrane lipids to reconstruct ancient temperatures from previous warm periods in Arctic Canada, as well as investigating the relationship between climate and the Norse settlement of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. De Wet's work on past climate aims to provide context for current anthropogenic climate change, with a focus on the highly vulnerable Arctic region.

Susanna Ferguson, assistant professor of Middle East studies, comes to Smith after completing the first year of a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. Ferguson is a historian of gender and political thought in the modern Middle East. Her current research uses conceptual history methods to track the relationship between educational infrastructures, pedagogical thought and representative politics in Egypt and Greater Syria between the last decades of the Ottoman Empire and World War II. The project highlights the contributions of women intellectuals to debates about how to raise a child in order to shed light on the emergence of modern forms of womanhood, childhood and parenthood; on new modalities of feminist thought in Arabic; and on the educational politics of the Arab world's “liberal age.” Broadly speaking, Ferguson’s research and teaching interests include the history of women, gender and sex in the Middle East; Arabic social and political thought; and histories of nature, science and the body. Ferguson received her doctorate in history from Columbia University in 2019, and holds a certificate from Columbia's Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality.

Lesley-Ann Giddings ’05, assistant professor of chemistry, earned her Ph.D. in biological chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. Giddings is a biochemist interested in finding new bioactive agents in microbes inhabiting extreme environments and understanding the enzymes nature uses to craft these molecules. Her lab currently bioprospects acid rock drainage at the Ely Copper Mine in Vershire, Vermont, for new bioactive molecules and also characterizes enzymes involved in making metal-chelating molecules or siderophores. Giddings is excited to return to Smith to expose undergraduates to interdisciplinary research and continue her mission to empower and educate women and other underrepresented individuals through science.

Scott LaCombe, assistant professor of government and statistical and data sciences (joint appointment), received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Iowa in spring 2020. LaCombe focuses on the politics of U.S. states, with a special interest in answering big questions about how to structure democratic institutions and how these decisions affect public policy in the states. His primary research agenda focuses on institutional design and its effect on state politics, including policy responsiveness, attitudes toward government, and representation in U.S. states. He also researches state policy diffusion and innovation, with a particular emphasis on using big data to understand connections between states. At Smith, LaCombe will teach introduction to probability and statistics, introduction to American politics, and state politics.

Paul Joseph López Oro, assistant professor of Africana studies, has research and teaching interests in the Black diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean/U.S. Afro-Latinxs; Black queer feminist studies; and Black ethnographies on performances and self-making. He is working on his first book manuscript, “Garifuna New York: The Queer Politics of Hemispheric Black Indigeneity,” and journal articles on Black indigeneity (Garifuna) movements, activism and politics in the Americas. López Oro received his doctorate in African and African diaspora studies from the University of Texas at Austin, his master’s degree in African American studies from Northwestern University, his master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of New Mexico and his bachelor’s degree in history from St. John’s University. He comes to Smith following a two-year term as a pre-doctoral fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia.

Brianna McMillan, assistant professor of psychology, is interested in how children’s everyday environments shape their learning and language development. Using experimental studies and observational methods, her research explores how children learn during interactions with their caregivers and how environmental factors, such as background noise, affect children’s learning. Deeply interested in understanding how we can leverage our understanding of how children learn in order to promote educational equality for all children, she uses an interdisciplinary approach to bridge cognitive, developmental, social and educational psychology in order to understand the mechanisms that contribute to children’s learning. McMillan received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Arizona, earned a doctorate in cognitive psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed an interdisciplinary postdoctoral research fellowship at Temple University in the psychology and the early childhood education departments. Her research has previously been supported by research grants from the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Development, Institute of Educational Sciences, Bezos Family Foundation, and the Morse Society. At Smith, she will teach courses on child and cognitive development, as well as introductory psychology.

Geremias Polanco, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar and earned his Ph.D. in mathematics, as well as an M.S. in actuarial science, at the University of Illinois. His primary research interest is analytic number theory, but this has led him also into the kindred area of algebraic combinatorics. The topics he is most involved with so far are related to Sturmian and Beatty sequences, uniform distribution, continued fractions and combinatorial sequences. He has lately started to broaden his research interests to include problems at the intersection of algebraic and analytic number theory. For the last few summers he has collaborated with colleagues from the University of Georgia and University of Puerto Rico in creating a number theory research group in the newly started doctoral program in the Dominican Republic. Polanco has held positions as visiting assistant professor of mathematics at Amherst College and assistant professor in mathematics at Hampshire College. He is eager to explore student-centered and cross-discipline teaching collaborations.