Seven tenure-track professors were appointed to Bowdoin’s faculty this year to teach and conduct research in a number of fields—computer science; English; gender, sexuality and women’s studies; government; history; Russian; and theater and dance. The professors shared a bit about their background, their research and teaching interests, and what they like to do when they find themselves with free time.
Sean Barker, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Research areas: My research interests are broadly in the areas of smart buildings, sustainability, distributed systems, and cloud computing. Some of my recent projects have included designing sustainable smart homes, resource management in data centers, and cloud-based databases. I am particularly interested in the analysis and management of electricity usage in buildings.
Teaching interests: I teach a variety of courses in the Computer Science Department, focusing both on introductory courses as well as upper-level systems-oriented electives. My courses emphasize hands-on experience designing and building software systems. I have added two new courses to the department in the last two years—Introduction to Systems and Distributed Systems.
Life before Bowdoin: Prior to arriving at Bowdoin, I completed my M.S and PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Prior to that, I was an undergraduate at Williams College. I spent the last two years as a visitor at Bowdoin before beginning my current tenure-track appointment.
Life beyond Bowdoin: My wife Elizabeth and I are avid travelers and have visited 20 countries across 6 continents in the last few years. At home, we lavish attention on our two cats and are expecting our first child in December.
Samia Rahimtoola, Assistant Professor of English
Research areas: My research areas are 20th/21st-century American literature, with a special focus on poetry, the nonfiction essay, and literature of the environment. I also focus on globalization studies, ecocriticism, and critical theory.
Teaching interests: I teach the American 20th-century quite broadly, and I also love to range outside of the century to teach environmental cultures going all the way back to early America. I enjoy teaching courses that open up to contemporary social, political, and environmental challenges, while also attending to the formal intricacies of language on the page. So, in my first-year seminar Modernity at Sea, we ask how the sea functions as a distinct geopolitical and environmental domain that drives the artists, writers, and filmmakers who explore it to develop new formal and representational techniques.
Life before Bowdoin: Before Bowdoin, I finished my PhD at University of California, Berkeley, where I wrote a dissertation on how poetry can help us imagine modes of environmental variability beyond the all-too-predictable options of stasis, on the one hand, and environmental apocalypse, on the other.
Life beyond Bowdoin: I am also a poet, and I am currently working on a long poem about technology and the transnational American desert, from the U.S.-Mexico border to Afghanistan. When I’m away from language, I am usually hiking, swimming, with friends, or simply staring off into space, an activity I can’t recommend highly enough.
Joseph Jay Sosa, Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Research areas: My research connects political anthropology, global queer studies and affective critique in understanding contemporary movements for sexual justice. As a graduate student, I conducted two years of ethnographic research in collaboration with LGBT activists in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, where I examined how sexual politics is transforming the partisan spectrum (or, who’s on the left and who’s on the right). Building off this research, I am interested in how homophobia and transphobia operate in different global contexts—and in particular how norms around respectable behavior and national economic development have made Brazilian homophobia both conform to and diverge from U.S. models.
Teaching interests: Broadly I teach on sexual politics, where our class uses concepts developed in feminist and queer theory to address current events and issues. My courses address the role of the state in our daily lives, the relationship between the public and the private, and how emotion and activism often draw upon each other. I am looking forward to teaching courses on gender and sexuality in Brazil as well as HIV/AIDS in the global South in the coming years.
Life before Bowdoin: I grew up in and around Chicago, with occasional trips to Puerto Rico to visit extended family. I attended undergrad at the University of Michigan studying art history and anthropology, where I also studied abroad in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, and spent a post-baccalaureate year in in La Paz, Bolivia. After college, I moved to Philadelphia and worked at the University of Pennsylvania providing support for a number of studies on HIV prevention strategies in vulnerable communities. Finally, I returned home to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago, which also involved two years of ethnographic fieldwork in São Paulo, Brazil.
Life beyond Bowdoin: I am an avid fan of public transit—trains, trolleys and sometimes buses—and riding trains is one of my favorite ways to experience a new place. (This recently included a trip to the historic narrow-gauge train in Portland!). I also enjoy experiencing modern and contemporary art.
Maron Sorenson, Assistant Professor of Government
Research areas: I work in the field of American politics and research the United States Supreme Court, specifically issues relating to judicial politics and Supreme Court decision-making. My current work examines the Court’s role in the separation of powers, and I am just starting a co-authored project addressing the Supreme Court’s nomination and confirmation process.
Teaching interests: I enjoy teaching classes related to my field of study — classes on judicial politics, case law, and the like. In the next few years I’d also like to develop a criminal procedure class that uses contemporary “true crime” investigative media such as Serial, Making a Murderer, and Undisclosed.
Life before Bowdoin: Before arriving at Bowdoin I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Prior to that, I taught English Literature at secondary schools in London, England and Atlanta, Georgia. I have also interned at the U.S. Senate and worked as an Editorial Assistant for Law & Society Review.
Life beyond Bowdoin: When I’m not working I enjoy reading, cooking, eating, drinking coffee (I also enjoy coffee when I’m working) traveling, and staying active. As a general rule, I enjoy doing things and learning to do things.
Strother Roberts, Assistant Professor of History
Research areas: I am an historian of early America with an especial interest in environmental history. I am currently finishing up a book that explores how international markets influenced the decisions that the seventeenth and eighteenth-century inhabitants of New England made when extracting resources from their environment and how these decisions reshaped that environment. I hope soon to turn to my next project: a history of dogs in early America.
Teaching interests: I teach a number of courses that intersect directly with my own research. These include the history of animals in America, a course on the role of globalization in shaping the economy and society of North America and the early United States, Native American history, and the history of the American Revolution.
Life before Bowdoin: I took my PhD from Northwestern University and taught at Brown University as a Postdoctoral fellow for two years before coming to Bowdoin.
Life beyond Bowdoin: I hail originally from Kansas and, despite having spent a good deal of time in the region, I am still coming to terms with the natural beauty of New England. (Does no one else think that there are just way too many trees here?) I enjoy walking, hiking, and generally just being outside with my family.
Alyssa Dinega Gillespie, Associate Professor of Russian and Chair of Russian Department
Research areas: I am a scholar of Russian poetry, primarily of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much of my research has centered on questions about the poet’s psyche: how does she or he define her/himself as a poet? What is the poet’s mission and destiny? What sacrifices and recompenses does the path of the poet entail? I approach these questions primarily by looking at the sorts of myth-like origin narratives poets create about themselves and their poetic path. The two poets I’ve focused on most in my scholarship so far have been Marina Tsvetaeva and Alexander Pushkin; I’m currently writing a book about Pushkin’s poetic ethics and the myth of the poet as criminal in his work.
Teaching interests: I enjoy teaching many different types of courses, including Russian language ranging from the beginning level to advanced, and seminars on a wide range of topics. I am currently teaching a seminar called “One Thousand Years of Russian Culture” where we explore recurrent themes in masterpieces of Russian culture (literature, painting, architecture, film, music, propaganda art, and so much more!) over the past ten centuries. Next spring, I will teach a course on post-Soviet Russian film and culture in the tumultuous aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, 1990-2015. I have also taught a really fun seminar on the theme of “Single and Double Selves” (think Cain and Abel, Dorian Gray, Jekyll and Hyde, Dostoevsky’s “The Double”) that I would love to revisit some day!
Life before Bowdoin: I grew up in New Mexico, went to college in Boston and grad school in Wisconsin, lived in Russia for three years, and, most recently, was a professor of Russian at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana for seventeen years before coming to Bowdoin. I loved my students at Notre Dame and got great satisfaction from working closely with them to craft a Russian program that satisfied their intellectual interests and provided a wealth of extracurricular opportunities (one that I’m most proud of was the creation of a student-led Russian vocal music ensemble). I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to rebuild a flourishing culture of Russian studies at Bowdoin and can’t wait to get started!
Life beyond Bowdoin: One of my major “extracurricular” activities is translating Russian poetry into English, and I try to find at least some time for this in my busy schedule! I relax by watching international films or voraciously reading novels and poetry in English (I was an English major as an undergraduate). Other hobbies of mine are jewelry making, needlework (knitting, crocheting, embroidery, needlepoint), gardening (I’m much better at flowers than vegetables), and baking. I also love hiking and going camping with my five sons, and we are looking forward to discovering some beautiful new natural areas here in Maine!
Aretha Aoki, Assistant Professor of Dance
Research areas: I’m a choreographer and dancer who collaborates with artists across disciplines to explore the intersection between dance and other media. At the same time, my work is grounded in a deep physicality—in movement, experimentation and research—and in the intuitive logic of the performer. My current research is an exploration of the body as a medium for the residue of family history: how the body carries knowledge of the past and requires a practice of listening in order to bring this knowledge to the surface.
Teaching interests: I teach contemporary dance practices. This semester I’m teaching Making Dances, which is an introduction to dance composition. Next semester I’ll be teaching Modern 3 and Cultural Choreographies. At the core of all these courses is the body as a vehicle for expression and awareness.
Life before Bowdoin: Prior to Bowdoin I was living the typical artist life of piecing together projects and jobs! During the week I worked part-time as Editorial Associate for the dance magazine Contact Quarterly, and on the weekends I commuted to New York City to rehearse and perform the multimedia piece Hex Again by robbinschilds, and co-curate a week-long dance festival called “Hand Written Note(s)” for Movement Research. I was also in rehearsal with Emily Johnson collaborating on a new work called …and then a cunning voice and a night spent gazing at stars. And all the while I was working on a new dance piece with writer, digital, and sound artist Ryan MacDonald.
Life beyond Bowdoin: I have a newborn named Frankie and she is every moment of my life beyond Bowdoin! I’m fascinated by her daily changes and developments, and thrilled she gets to grow up here in gorgeous Maine.