As Wellesley approaches its 150th anniversary, the College is redoubling its efforts to increase the visibility of faculty research, support collaboration across disciplines, and imbue every classroom with inclusive excellence. Meet five recently hired faculty members who are committed to engaging in that work as they bring new energy to campus.
Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies
You could say that Michelle Lee ended up as a scholar of French literature and language because she was getting zero out of 20 on her French quizzes in middle school in San Diego, Calif. “I didn’t understand what a romance language was,” she says. “I was completely lost.” She was also amazingly fortunate. “My parents sent me, lucky me, to Paris,” enrolling her in a study-abroad program that accepted middle schoolers.
“I remember the first time I peered into a pastry shop and just how beautiful those pastries were. I fell in love with Paris, I got the language,” she says. “It’s interesting because my research topic is on travel—19th-century travel. I specifically look at Orientalism and travel writing, taking the idea from Edward Said [a founder of postcolonial studies]. When he talks about the West, he talks about Britain and France and how they defined the Orient [as] basically the Middle East to the Far East.”
Lee did her undergraduate work at UC Santa Cruz. “They were part of a global movement to not say English is where literature happens. You’re not an English major, you’re a literature major,” she says. Lee chose French as her language and found her calling, going on to earn her Ph.D. at UCLA. At Wellesley, Lee teaches French language as well as literature seminars, encouraging students to think critically and historically about literature and culture to situate themselves in a global world.
Assistant Professor of Cinema & Media Studies
College wasn’t on Nicholaus Gutierrez’s radar when he was growing up. “I am a first-generation college student,” he says. “I grew up about 35 minutes away from Berkeley, but I had no idea that there was a world-class university that close to me.”
He took a roundabout route into academia, transferring from community college to William & Mary, then to NYU for his master’s, then back to the Bay Area and Berkeley. “For my Ph.D., I was in an interdisciplinary program, the rhetoric program, a sister program with film and media,” he says. “I realized that I was less interested in the aesthetics of things and more in how they work—how industries work and how computers have become a cultural force.”
Gutierrez says, “Something weird happens when we work with computers on a regular basis. They become almost invisible to us.” In his classes, he seeks to reframe that, to “take a step back and say, ‘What is this machine, and how does it work on me, and how do I work on it, and how is it part of wider systems of economics and culture?’”
Wellesley’s socioeconomic diversity appealed to Gutierrez. “At Berkeley, you had students who were sons and daughters of European royalty, and you had students who grew up in the Central Valley and went to an underperforming high school but did well. I really loved helping those students. When I saw the job call for Wellesley, I was excited, because Wellesley has a similar kind of social mission baked into the institution.”
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Anny-Claude Joseph sought out Wellesley because she was eager to work at a liberal arts college. “I wanted that small-school feel, where I could have some impact,” she says. “It was important to me that it was a collaborative environment. And when I interviewed, I got that sense from the math department faculty.”
Joseph earned her Ph.D. in biostatistics at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research focuses on the relationship between place—where we live, learn, and work—and health and social outcomes. She has studied environmental impacts on cancer risk, looking specifically at residential histories. She’s also studied historic redlining and its impacts on asthma. “But I’ve been pivoting away from that and thinking mostly about two things. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of social media overuse and its impacts on health. And we are hearing a lot about the impact of long COVID. As I’m particularly interested in respiratory illnesses, I want to pursue something in that field.”
Joseph joined the Wellesley faculty in fall 2022 and taught two statistics courses in her first semester, one a foundations class designed for students interested in STEM who don’t necessarily have a strong math background, the other an introduction to statistics and probability. “My approach in both classes is relatively similar,” she says. “I do, and then you do. It’s important that students don’t see learning as a sporting event or simply me performing. You can’t learn just being passive.”
Associate Professor of Chemistry
When Mathew Tantama was on the faculty at Purdue University, he taught introductory general chemistry and found joy in working with undergraduates, so Wellesley’s hands-on approach to science teaching is a good fit. “It’s the thing I want to contribute to society. And I can work with more undergraduates here. I feel I’m making some sort of impact,” he says.
Tantama, who grew up in Florida and earned his Ph.D. at MIT, started out as a premed student but realized he preferred the classroom and the lab—as a student and later as a teacher. “I particularly like the first semester and the new, incoming students. There’s just something about being the one to teach their first college science class,” he says.
He says the College’s inclusive excellence training has honed his teaching methods. “I like to be very explicit and structured,” he says. “Part of that is from the professional development I’ve done for more inclusive design—trying to not have anything hidden.”
Tantama joined the faculty just in time to move into a brand-new lab in the Science Complex. “Research is a big part of every day,” he says. “I really enjoy working with the students in lab. I work at the intersection of life sciences and chemical sciences. I’m interested in understanding how the cells of the brain talk to one another and respond to one another under different conditions, like when you have a healthy brain, versus when you have a brain that’s undergone a traumatic brain injury or an aging-related neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s. My work is at the very fundamental level.”
Knafel Assistant Professor of Humanities and Assistant Professor of Art
“I would describe myself as a Mexican-American photographer and educator,” says Kathya Landeros. Though her classes span black and white 35 mm film, other analog techniques, and digital photography, Landeros herself most often works in color film with a large-format camera, focusing her work on representations of Latinx communities. “The part about me being Latina is important to me, because it informs a lot of my work—and not just my personal work, but also what I value in teaching,” she says.
Landeros grew up between Northern California and her grandmothers’ homes in Mexico—where she would later return as a Fulbright Fellow. At Vassar, she majored in English literature and Hispanic studies. “I knew that I loved storytelling, but I didn’t really understand that I could actually study photography or be a photographer,” she says. “Once I realized I had a community that I really wanted to tell stories about, I think that all sort of fell into place.” Landeros went on to earn an M.F.A. at MassArt in Boston.
At Wellesley, Landeros is struck by the emotional intelligence and passion of her students. She began teaching at the College in the depths of the pandemic in fall 2020, when some classes were taught fully remotely and only about half the student body was on campus. “As difficult as that was, it actually felt like there was this sense of community and camaraderie,” Landeros says. “I feel like if I could survive that, I think it’s only going to be better from this point forward.”
Catherine O’Neill Grace is senior associate editor of this magazine. Grace Ramsdell ’22 is a communications specialist for the Alumnae Association and class notes editor for the magazine.
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