New chairs and professors start the 2019-2020 academic year

By Cassy Sottile and Erica Quinones

News Editors

There are many faculty members taking new responsibilities as chairs, co-chairs, and directors of majors, minors, and divisions. Some of these programs are well-established, others are brand new, and more still are undergoing changes beneath new heads.

One established department that is seeing structural changes is English. After the departure of Dr. Kathryn Moncrief in the spring, the department chair position has been split. The department is now headed by a chair and an associate chair. The faculty member stepping into the chair position is Dr. Sean Meehan, professor of English, director of writing, and director of journalism, editing, and publishing. Joining him as associate chair is Associate Professor of English Dr. Courtney Rydel.

The decision to split the chair position was made due to the department’s heavy administrative load, according to Dr. Rydel. As department chair, Dr. Meehan will handle most departmental leadership duties like hiring faculty, budgeting, running meetings, and curating the Sophie Kerr Lecture series. Dr. Rydel will focus on advising, scheduling, and designing curriculum. She will be the primary point of contact for students and they should approach her for major or minor declarations and transfer course approvals.

Dr. Rydel said they are looking toward developing the JEP minor and reorganizing the creative writing and English minors.

In addition to his other roles, Dr. Meehan is also now director of the creative writing minor.

Another member of the English Department stepping into a new role is Associate Professor of English Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor, who is now director of the gender studies program.

Dr. O’Connor is the faculty vice-chair on the Honor Board, but this is her first academic leadership role. As director, she is looking toward raising awareness of the minor and centralizing classes that discuss gender to help “amplify those voices.”

Gender studies is an interdisciplinary program with classes across all divisions: humanities, natural science, and social science. With the discontinuation of the “GEN” prefix before eligible classes, Dr. O’Connor’s primary goal for this year is to create an organized and easy way to identify classes within the minor.

“There are a lot of classes that have either women or gender as their focus, but we do not always do a great job at connecting them to each other,” Dr. O’Connor said.

Across campus in Gibson Center for the Arts, Laura Eckelman, associate professor of theatre, is heading both the Department of Theatre & Dance as interim chair and the new arts management and entrepreneurship minor as director.

The arts management and entrepreneurship minor aims to build awareness about and prepare students for all the professional opportunities available in the arts.

Eckelman said, they hope to “prepare student artists for both freelance careers as artists and organizational careers as manages, fundraisers, [and] consultants.”

The preparation of students will be aided by the internship program on which Eckelman is currently working. The program includes a partnership with Kent County Arts Council.

Beside her teaching and administrative roles at WC, she is also a theatrical lighting designer.

Eckelman said that she discovered an interest in theatre and design during high school due to her love of working with her hands. This has continued to today as she enjoys working on projects that challenge her abilities.

“I’ve done some unusual small projects — performance art, installation projects, outdoor pieces — that have very special places in my heart. I like a challenge,” Eckelman said. “Something unfamiliar or novel or very restrictive.”

In the Natural Science and Mathematics Division, chair and director positions also changed.

To accompany the new Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, which opens in October, the Environmental Science and Studies Department is welcoming its new Chair, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Studies Dr. Robin Van Meter.

Dr. Van Meter gained an interest in environmental studies at a young age due to a love for frogs. She said she was hooked on the subject since seventh grade when her Ecology Club took a trip to Smith Island. There, they canoed and she got “completely covered in wetland mud,” which she loved. Appropriately so, she hopes to teach wetlands ecology in the spring, using the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall’s drop-in teaching lab as a space to explore riparian wetlands.

While she personally loves environmental studies, she also said, “environmental stewardship extends to everyone on campus and in the surrounding community” because, as said in her favorite Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Associate Professor and Chair of Biology, and Co-Chair of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major Dr. Mindy Reynolds is the new Chair of the Natural Science & Mathematics Division.

As Chair of the Department of Biology she has worked on developing departmental budgets, overseeing credit transfers, and scheduling courses since 2015. She has now broadened her responsibilities to a divisional level as she works with faculty to discuss curriculum and maintenance of their buildings and facilities.

In the biochemistry and molecular biology major, she share the chair position with Co-Chair Dr. James Lipchock, associate professor of chemistry and department co-chair.

As an interdisciplinary program, they found it important to maintain open communication between the Department of Biology and Department of Chemistry through their leadership structure.

While she is very present in STEM programs at WC, Dr. Reynolds’ passion expands to other levels of education.

“Along with my teaching and research agenda I am passionate about outreach activities,” Dr. Reynolds said. “Specifically those that expose K-12 [students] to STEM.”

The Social Sciences Division also has received new directors.

One minor receiving a new head is international studies. Its new director is Dr. Christine Wade, who is also director of the Latin American studies and the peace and conflict studies minors and a professor of political science and international studies.

Dr. Wade has been at WC since 2003 and previously served as chair of political science.

“I think international studies does an excellent job of preparing our majors to be global citizens who are prepared to meet the enormous challenges of the twenty-first century,” Dr. Wade said. “Our majors are interdisciplinary thinkers who approach challenges from different perspectives.”

While she is a Latin Americanist, she is currently working on a project in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“That’s the great thing about international studies: you see connecting threads everywhere you go.”

Another internationally-focused member of the faculty has stepped into a director position with Assistant Professor of Business Management and International Studies Dr. Maria Vich becoming the director of global business studies.

Dr. Vich is a world traveler originally from Spain, with educational roots in France and the United Kingdom. Appropriate to her position, the global business studies minor focuses on the challenges posed to an international business like new markets, political forces, laws, and ethics.

She emphasizes the importance of experience outside the classroom because, as she said, “you cannot teach everything in class.”

One way they help students get experience is through a two-week study abroad program. During their 2019 summer trip, participating students went to Portugal, Spain, and France to see how businesses operate.

“You learn as a person when you see the culture and know that what we do here is not what is done everywhere. It helps you have a broader vision,” Dr. Vich said.

The WC faculty are joined by new professors, including Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Jordan Tirrell.

Dr. Tirrell taught at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Mount Holyoke College before joining the WC faculty.

His first teaching experience at BMCC was a “wild experience,” according to Dr. Tirrell. He was hired there immediately upon arriving with his resume, taking over a class that had already begun but lacked an instructor.

“I had never taught before so I tried lots of things,” Dr. Tirrell said. “I learned a lot about what not to do.”

Learning and progressing is what Dr. Tirrell is passionate about, he said. He enjoys sharing students’ mathematical adventures as they discover the joys of mathematics. He said that he is able to help students progress in class even when he personally feels stuck in mathematical research, which can feel “isolating and stagnant for extended periods.”

Dr. Tirrell not only brings himself to the WC community but his toddler. Together, he said, they have become regulars at the dining hall and the boat house.

Dr. Lee Kirven is a new visiting assistant professor of Spanish who is “very excited” about joining the WC faculty. He taught Spanish courses during his graduate studies at the University of Kentucky, and upon earning his PhD, he taught full-time at Georgetown College.

Dr. Kirven’s interest in Spanish language and culture stems from experiences he had as a teenager.

“Right after finishing high school, I lived in Mexico for a year as a Rotary International exchange student. Together with a small group of other students from various countries, we lived with local families in the small central Mexican city of Tehuacan. I became fluent in Spanish and made many good friends there, and I have visited several times since then. I have also traveled multiple times to Spain, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. During my times in Peru and the Dominican Republic, I served as a volunteer in schools and after school programs,” Kirven said. “My experience abroad have greatly enriched my life. I wanted to share my enthusiasm for travel and learning about other cultures with students and encourage them to seek similar opportunities.”

Other changes to academic faculty include: new chairs Dr. Jennifer Benson, chair of humanities division; Dr. James Lipchock, co-chair of chemistry and co-chair of biochemistry and molecular biology; Dr. Aaron Krochmal, associate chair of biology; Dr. Susan Vowels, co-director of data analytics; and Dr. Mindy Reynolds, chair of the natural sciences and mathematics division.

WC also hired Dr. David Wharton, visiting assistant professor of economics; Caroline LeBon, visiting assistant professor of business management; Lindsay Sheldon, director of archives and technical services; and Amanda Darby, director of public services.

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