Meet the Professors
They arrived with cartons of books, boxed-up computers and cherished memorabilia. They're into rock music, sports, engineering, Elvis and the environment. And they're still trying to get their arms around such Smith-specific traditions as Mountain Day, Friday afternoon tea and the riot of opening convocation.
Entering students? Close, but not quite. Entering faculty.
This fall, Smith welcomed 22 new tenured or tenure-track faculty members, one of the largest "classes" of new faculty in recent history. Considerable demographic change is afoot at the college, as the retirements of current faculty members make room for younger professors moving into academic life. Nine percent of the Smith faculty is new this year, a rate of turnover that is expected to persist for several years.
To give readers a sense of how this cohort is shaping the intellectual and community life of the college, we've profiled six newcomers (one of whom actually arrived earlier) representing the college's three academic divisions (the humanities, the social sciences and history, and the natural sciences).
Most, like Fiona Griffiths, Andrew Guswa, Shizuka Hsieh and Steve Waksman, have recently completed their graduate studies and are embarking on their first tenure-track teaching posts. Others, like Nancy Mithlo and Albert Mosley, are more seasoned scholars, having been recruited to the college through a target-of-opportunity program that gives the college the flexibility to recruit outstanding faculty members, outside of regular openings, at various ranks and appointments.
With a semester (or a few more) at Smith under their belts, the new faculty members have come to appreciate the college's resources-its renowned libraries, research funding and laboratory and teaching facilities-but have been equally invigorated by Smith's less quantifiable offerings.
"In a lot of universities, the sense of a community of scholars is missing," Griffiths observes. "Here, students are serious about their studies but also about having fun. And about bonding and forming community."
Mithlo agrees. "I'm working just
as hard as the students are working to
Looking Beyond Orthodox History
It wasn't inevitable that Fiona Griffiths, assistant professor of history, would end up teaching at a women's college. But there were signs along the way.
A product of single-sex education from
kindergarten through high school, Griffiths discovered in college
her fascination with medieval studies-and, in particular, medieval
communities of women. She enjoyed her undergraduate years at
the University of Toronto but
"Every time I thought of asking
a question in class," she recalled, "I'd say to myself,
'Don't be an idiot. You can look that up in the library.'"
"They're not worried about doing something unorthodox," she observes. "They're risk-takers, and they bring that spirit into the classroom."
The risk taking goes both ways, says Shannon Godlove '02, a medieval studies major who is assisting Griffiths in developing a new course.
"The Middle Ages tend to be viewed through the eyes of the proverbial 'dead white guys,'" Godlove notes. Referring to Griffiths' courses on religious women and outcasts in medieval society, Godlove says she finds the attempt to investigate this time period from the perspective of the "other" to be "a welcome change."
Griffiths traces the beginnings of her academic career to a year abroad at the University of Glasgow, where she felt that the British tutorial system "helped to dignify students' ideas." She received her doctorate from Cambridge University, where her dissertation-now a book project-focused on Herrad of Hohenbourg, a leading figure in the education of women in 12th-century Europe.
Griffiths is pleased to be teaching at a college where so many students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad and learn foreign languages-experiences that add a rich dimension to classroom encounters. She recalled a student giving a report on the Aachen Cathedral, one of the key monuments of Charlemagne. "She had just been there the previous week," Griffiths marveled. "Her knowledge was vivid and real."
The Tall Order of Building Big
Andrew Guswa, assistant professor of engineering, is clutching two remote controls and pacing about the classroom during the first hour of "Building Big: The Art and Science of Structural Engineering," a new elective designed for non-engineering majors. He flicks the slide projector through dozens of images of concrete bridges, some with graceful arches constructed 100 years ago, and others more recent, their arches replaced by a series of prestressed concrete beams. He refers to all bridges as art forms.
Guswa wants his 12 students to see the mathematical power and the beauty in these soaring structures and come to understand how prestressed and reinforced concrete can keep the bridge spans and arches from "creeping downward," or tumbling down. One of the newer members of Smith's engineering faculty, Guswa earned his doctorate at Stanford University in the program of environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology. He was also a postdoctoral teaching fellow at Princeton University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His research explores the numerical modeling of the movement of water through the environment.
The new engineering program at Smith provides a rare opportunity "to take engineering and pair it with the liberal arts, in an institution that puts a very high value on teaching," he says. "Elsewhere, research comes first, and being a good teacher is secondary."
Throughout the fall semester, Guswa
introduced his students to the scientific methodology of the
design of some of the world's biggest structures, as well as
their history and aesthetics. Teaching a class about "building
big," though not the focus of his research, was Guswa's
idea. As a civil and environmental engineer, he considers the
field of structural engineering to be familiar territory. It
is rooted, he says, in a basic scientific perspective-and math
Recalling the September 11 terrorist
destruction of the World Trade Center and the ensuing extensive
damage and loss of life, Guswa says, "Those buildings were
well designed. But no structural engineer could have designed
those towers to resist every possible circumstance, including
the one that no one could
A Kaleidoscopic View of Cultures
Nancy Mithlo is a visual anthropologist. A tour of her small but vibrantly decorated office makes instantly clear what this means.
"This is a photograph of a former
colleague, and a poem about him by a student," she explains
to a visitor. "Over there, that big poster is my husband,
Bob Haozous. He's an artist in Santa Fe. This ribbon and certificate-they
were given to me when I served as a judge of the
Mithlo's journey to her appointment at Smith as assistant professor of anthropology has been textured by numerous stops, both brief and extended, along the way. She earned her bachelor's degree from Appalachian State University, where she researched traditional quilt making in North Carolina. While pursuing her master's and doctoral degrees at Stanford, she lived and worked in many locations, including the Pueblo Zuni in New Mexico as part of a suicide prevention program; in Washington, D.C., as an intern at the National Museum of American History, pursuing repatriation of native artifacts; and at Smith College, as a fellow in the Mendenhall program, which supports minority scholars completing doctoral dissertations. Before joining the faculty this fall, she spent a number of years teaching anthropology and museum studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), a tribal college in Santa Fe.
"Making connections and bridging institutions" is one of Mithlo's central aims as she teaches courses in cultural anthropology, the anthropology of museums and ethnographic film. In each case she urges students to consider complex issues, such as the relationship between native and non-native communities, the use of primitivism in Western culture, the documentation of "vanishing races" and the
collection of material culture from
Asking the Big Questions
Perhaps a philosophy professor's greatest fear is that college students will stop caring about such important issues as the philosophy of technology or Native American reparations. But Professor Albert Mosley won't let that happen on his watch, in his classroom.
He asks big questions. He expects his students to decipher the difficult answers.
"It's what I get paid for: to examine the basic questions in life, to be playful and provocative, to get students to say what's on their minds, to make them think more about the lives they are engaged in," Mosley says.
Mosley has been at Smith since fall 2000 after teaching for several decades at Ohio University and the University of the District of Columbia. Most of his scholarship, in nearly 30 years of teaching, has focused on the question of how philosophy informs the areas of science and technology. He earned both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin; the first in mathematics, the latter in philosophy.
His academic interests are broad, ranging from the sciences and music to African philosophy-and, personally, he has a passion for jazz improvisation and the trumpet, an instrument he has played since he was 12. He has taught courses in philosophy of technology, economics, Marxism, affirmative action, music, sex, racism and social ethics as well as African and African-American philosophy. Lately, a focus on racial differences in sports and the role of music in black culture has led to presentations at prestigious conferences and a series of forthcoming scholarly articles.
This spring, Mosley will teach a course in animal rights, taking up questions about the morality of speciesism. Of his classroom style, he says, there are no lectures but plenty of inquiry. "If my students don't have questions for me, then I have questions for them," Mosley promises.
While oratory skills and the ability
to "think on your feet" are essential in his classroom,
Smith women are up to the task, he notes. "You'd be surprised
at the perspectives Smith students can bring
The Buzz of Chemistry
The energy level in Shizuka Hsieh's
general chemistry lab is striking. A buzz of intense conversation
arises from a cluster of students, heads together, comparing
calculations from their lab notebooks. Near the blackboard, a
group surrounds the spectrophotometer, bantering and laughing
with lab assistant Scott Joray while collecting their data.
Watching from her lab stool, first-year Sarbani Hazra marvels at her new professor. "She really works hard for us-24 hours a day. Whenever we call or e-mail her for help, she responds right away. She's so enthusiastic that you have to care."
A physical chemist-"We focus more
on the how of a reaction than the what"-Hsieh received her
undergraduate degree from Carleton College and her doctor of
philosophy from Oxford. The combination of experiences-small,
U.S. liberal arts college and large, British university-has given
her an appreciation for what makes Smith special.
Because of her firm belief that undergraduates should do actual research, Hsieh has engaged a Smith engineering student to help her set up her equipment-intensive lab and program the lab's computers. Hsieh uses a powerful laser to probe the dynamics of gas-phase reactions, an endeavor with potential applications for understanding the chemistry of atmospheric processes.
Although she is not an environmental chemist, Hsieh enjoys teaching one of the required chemistry courses in the environmental science and policy sequence because it brings her in contact with students who may not have a science background but whose excitement stems from a genuine interest in and concern for the environment. "They're motivated by their desire to apply what they learn to understanding important policy-level issues, as well as to ordinary experiences in their everyday lives."-LF
It's Not Just About Rock
Fast forward to the fall term 2001 in the small recital hall in Sage Hall. More than 100 students claim spots in the concert seats or on the floor for today's lecture in Smith's new music class-"Roll Over Beethoven: A History of Rock." Flanked by grand pianos at the front of the hall, Assistant Professor Steve Waksman is lecturing on the construction of gender identity in rock music.
Waksman, an American studies scholar who specializes in American popular music and cultural studies, joined Smith's faculty in 2001 with an appointment in the music department and teaches in the American studies program as well. Although he emphasizes that he is not a musicologist by training, Waksman notes his interest in popular music "was motivated in part by musicologists who departed from the conventions of the field to study neglected styles such as rock."
A cultural historian with a passion for music, Waksman was happy this fall to guide his students through a critical overview of issues in the history of American rock. Class assignments included readings from historians and critics of American rock, but he humbly excluded from the reading list his own book on the history and influence of the guitar on American popular music-Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Harvard University Press, 2000).
Waksman seems to enjoy the chal-lenge
of working on the more innovative end of the music academy with
gender and race as two of his guiding preoccupations. Likewise,
students seem to embrace the material. As registration for spring
2002 classes opened, Smith wom-en rushed to enroll in his course,
"Metal and Punk: Rock History Out Loud." The enrollment,
with a cap of 15, closed out on the first day of registration,
and some 30 students remain on the waiting list
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