Meet the new professors on the block

Photos by MAI VU PHUONG

By Saiham Sharif and Quan Minh Tran
sharifsa@grinnell.edu &

tranminh2@grinnell.edu

Each year, Grinnell welcomes not only new students, but also new professors. This week, Saiham Sharif and Quan Minh Tran took the chance to ask the new professors on campus about their path to Grinnell, their experience here so far and their plans for this new academic year.

Maisha Kamunde-Devonish, Chemistry
The S&B: Tell me about where you’re from?
MK: I was born and raised in Long Beach, Calif. Go Jackrabbits! That’s my high school mascot. I think of it as a rather nondescript place, but apparently it has a lot of attractions, and people know where it is on a map, which, to me, is impressive.
What do you think of Grinnell so far? When did you get here?
MK: I got here actually, at the very end of June, the 29th. So, I’ve been here as faculty were coming in, and before any faculty got in here. So far, I’m really enjoying it. I came from a relatively fast place, but I’m much more of a small town person at heart. I like the fact that there’s no traffic. I like the fact that I can walk to work, and you know, if I leave anything at home, I can just dart back and come around. Everybody’s really nice, which I’m not used to, not being from the Midwest. But yeah, so far it’s been good. I’m a little nervous and petrified about winter, but I’ll think about that when it comes. I’m really enjoying my colleagues.
What are you most excited for this year?
MK: I’m actually really excited to see where my classes end up, how my students do, see how teaching goes and the progress we all make in the class, and I’m really excited for fall break. I’ve never had the experience of a week off just during the middle of the fall, and for the really long winter break. I’m also excited to teach the Advanced Inorganic class in the spring and design my own class, so to speak, and incorporate my own research into the things we do.
What got you into your research?
MK: I really sort of just stumbled into it. I had a lot of professors who said, “You should just do your own research,” and I found that, while doing my bachelor’s degree, I really enjoyed inorganic chemistry, general chemistry and physical chemistry, but not too much of organic. I liked inorganic chemistry because of the fact that we worked with metals and were able to see colors. I did more material stuff when I was a grad student and then I stumbled into a bio inorganic lab, as a postdoc, and I realized that there’s so much more to inorganic chemistry than just putting metals together, non-carbon and non-hydrogen things. I really fell in love with the idea of combining some aspects of organic synthesis with inorganic chemistry, and then I ended up doing inorganic synthesis chemistry. I guess I did like organic chemistry after all since I do use some of it in my research. For me, it was really just serendipitous where people had these great projects, trying to look at enzymes and all that sort of stuff, being able to take nature and distill it into a lab or trying to do laboratory synthesis. I thought this is the coolest thing. My goal in life is to be as good as nature, which I don’t know if I’ll ever get to.
What is your favorite element?
MK: My favorite element is Tungsten because it is the toughest metal.

Ryan Dawkins, Political Science
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
RD: I was born and raised in Colorado. Before coming to Grinnell, I taught at CU Boulder. This year at Grinnell, I will be teaching in the political science department. This semester, particularly, I will teach Political Psychology and Intro to Political Science.
How did you end up in Grinnell?
RD: Honestly, this is my dream job. [Grinnell is] like a dream school for me. When I first saw the job posting on the website, I dropped everything I was doing and applied instantly that morning.
What are your highlights from your first full week at Grinnell?
RD: So far, I couldn’t be happier. The students here are great, the degree of intellectual engagement from you guys has just been unparalleled. Every day in class, I can feel that students are really tearing apart the reading assignments. It just gives me goosebumps thinking about it.
Does anything in the Grinnell bubble stand out to you?
RD: I really like the high-caliber student body and the small intimate liberal arts environment here. Grinnell offers a very interesting dynamic — a small town but with many interesting goings-on all around campus.
What are you most excited for this year?
RD: Waking up every morning, teaching. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I get to wake up every morning, and talk about cool shit with kids that really care.
What are your passions and hobbies?
RD: I like working out. I’m a big fan of fantasy football, basketball. I’m also a big movie and TV person. I love film and love talking about it, especially in the Oscars season.
Did you have any expectations when you came to Grinnell?
RD: Not really. I found out pretty early in life that the more expectations about life you have, the less fulfilled you’re going to be. Therefore, I always try to approach the next chapter of my life with as few expectations as possible. This makes my transition easier.

John Garrison, English
Coming to Grinnell, what did you expect?
JG: I knew it was going to be a small town and I was looking forward to living in a small town. I realized you could get basically anything you want in Grinnell. There’s no Indian food, there’s no Thai food, but Grinnell has more than I expected.
Where are you from?
JG: I grew up in Lafayette, CA, which is right near Berkeley.
What is your favorite course to teach?
JG: I love teaching my Shakespeare course. Right now, I’m teaching two sections of the 100-level course on Shakespeare. It’s mostly first-year students and it’s really fun to open up the puzzle of Shakespeare. There are so many levels of meaning to Shakespeare that it’s great to have someone who can take you in and out all of the different levels.
What are some of your favorite hobbies and passions?
JG: I like ballroom dancing a bit. I used to compete in ballroom and swing dance. We have an aging golden retriever, who is about sixteen years old, and I’ll take him for walks. I spent the summer swimming in the town pool, and now I’m swimming in the rec center.
What are some of your favorite books?
JG: I love “Hamlet” by Shakespeare, which I find just every time I came back to it, I see something absolutely new. I love this book “Youth” by James Coutiere, a South African writer, who writes incredibly beautiful prose. It’s a story of him moving from South Africa to London, and trying to decide if he wants to become a computer programmer or poet. I’ve always loved Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse.” It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful novel. I’ve always loved James Baldwin’s “Above my Head.” It’s a book that I come back to and reread for the gorgeousness of its sentences.
How did you get into your research?
JG: When I was an undergraduate, it was sort of the very early period of Queer Theory. It was when folks like Judith Butler were beginning to write and a lot of people were turning to the work of people like Michel Foucault, and really were thinking about how it could help them do new work in their disciplines. I came of age during a really exciting time when these new tools were emerging and also for me, when I was a teenager, in my early 20s, I was really very about sexuality and how it changed across history and cultures. When I came back to do my graduate work, it was a topic I returned to as I wanted to find out what the latest thing was, and how can literature to think about how gender and sexuality have been formed, based on their cultural contexts.
What is your favorite quote from literature?
JG: Hamlet says to his friend, Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” What’s appealing to me about that quote is that there’s always more to learn and there are always ways in which encountering new disciplines can help us dream of new ideas about how the world works.

Yujing Chen, Religious Studies
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
YC: This semester, as an assistant professor for religious studies at Grinnell, I will teach East Asian traditions and Buddhist traditions. For the next semester, I will teach Religion in Modern China, East Asia religion and Zen Buddhism.
How did you end up in Grinnell?
YC: Before coming to Grinnell, I was a Ph.D. candidate at University of Florida. However, my major is in the humanities division so I have always preferred the liberal arts college environment, which places more emphasis on humanities majors than big universities do. I also enjoy teaching in small classes, which is one thing Grinnell never lacks.
What are your highlights from your first full week at Grinnell?
YC: So far, I’m very excited to be at Grinnell. No matter where I am on campus, I can always see my colleagues, my friends and my students.
Does anything in the Grinnell bubble stand out to you?
YC: I think Grinnell offers really strong networks and builds very close relationships among faculties. I’m very impressed with the numerous faculty meetings here. I didn’t have that many meetings back in University of Florida.
What are you most excited for this year?
YC: I’m planning to publish my article that I have been working on. Also, I will conduct a new research topic related to the connections between Taoism and Buddhism. Most of all, I hope to take a break to go visit my friends and parents.
What are your passions & hobbies?
YC: I like yoga very much, it helps me relax. I also do meditation.
Is there anything you’d like the Grinnell community to know about?
YC: People at Grinnell will be able to recognize me very easily no matter where I am. Even though most people may not understand I’m a Buddhist nun, it’s very obvious for them to tell I’m different from others.
Did you have any expectations when you came to Grinnell?
YC: I actually didn’t have any expectations. When I first visited the College in May, I learned that students here are very active in class and discussion. Therefore, I’m not that surprised when classes started. I actually feel very happy about that.


'Meet the new professors on the block' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.