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Summer 2018 Wofford Today

Teachers, mentors and scholars

Meet some of Wofford's new faculty

Dr. Deidra Coleman

Dr. Deidra Coleman, assistant professor of mathematics

B.S., Shaw University; M.Stat., Ph.D., North Carolina State University

Teaching and Research
Coleman thinks about teaching as a gateway to allow students to acquire new information that’s built upon previous experiences. Her research is in outbreak detection, specifically on looking for clusters of symptoms that may indicate anthrax or another biological threat. She’s recently begun to focus more on the idea of statistics education when it comes to consumer education. She received a faculty research award in her first year at Wofford.

First Job
“I worked at the Loop Pizza grill when I was 15, and I learned that even the smallest opportunity can be a gateway to something else. I was hired as a dishwasher — not the job I wanted — but I followed the hard work ethic that I saw in my mom and a week into the job somebody didn’t show up for work. They asked me if I was willing to try working the register, and I said yes. There’s always a way to work through and work up.”

Talents or Hobbies
“I’m not a good horseback rider, but my pastor has a farm and taught me to ride. Now I want to learn to ride sidesaddle. It’s not the norm, but it’s something I want to learn to do.”

What do you appreciate most about Wofford students?
“They are polite. I was told that even in the interview process. The students even thank you for lectures. They are really kind, but they’re also willing to explore in a way that I’ve enjoyed.”

Morning or afternoon classes
“I prefer morning classes. I’m fresh in the morning, and my thought process is clear. Also I feel that students do not always have the obstacles in the morning that they meet later in the day.”

Dr. Youness Mountaki  

Dr. Youness Mountaki, assistant professor of Arabic

B.A., Hassan II University; M.A. Lock Haven University; Ph.D., University of South Florida 

Teaching and Research
Mountaki’s teaching philosophy is to empower his students and to make Arabic accessible and fun to learn. Having a Ph.D. in second language acquisition and instructional technology, Mountaki’s research informs his teaching. For example, he is currently working on a paper that investigates the effects of processing instruction on the acquisition of some of the Arabic grammatical features. To put that in layman’s terms, how to best teach modern standard Arabic in a way that gets students excited about learning. He frequently leaves his comfort zone to meet the learning needs of all students and makes sure that students are empowered in his classrooms. Mountaki, a native of Casablanca, Morocco, was awarded a Fulbright in 2006, which first brought him to the U.S. to teach Arabic.

First Job
“I was a machine operator in a plastic company in Casablanca. This job was during college, and I learned quickly that it’s not what I wanted to do with my life. The pay was not great, but it was definitely an experience. What did I learn? Probably to appreciate what you have and to be punctual. Growing up in a very big city in a less affluent country, there were not a lot of opportunities. We worked where we could, when we could.”

Talents or Hobbies
“I like to play soccer, to watch soccer and to read news about soccer. My favorite team is Raja de Casablanca. I also enjoy long walks or hikes and going to the beach or the mountains or just seeing new cities. I read for fun. I travel whenever I have a chance. Before I moved to Spartanburg, I enjoyed having a motorcycle.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I love teaching, and if I couldn’t ... I would be a tourist guide in my own country. While having fun doing it, I’d like to show people the side of Morocco that tourists don’t always get to see, especially my home city of Casablanca where my family still lives.”

Must-have smartphone apps
“WhatsApp. It connects me to family and friends at home. It is also a tool that my colleagues and I use to share materials and resources regarding Arabic instruction, second language acquisition and linguistics. I could not live without WhatsApp.”

Dr. Kimberly Hall

Dr. Kimberly Hall, assistant professor of English

B.A., George Mason University; M.A., Georgetown University; Ph.D., University of California at Riverside

Teaching and Research
Hall focuses on student agency (sharing educational control, autonomy and power), critical thinking and active and engaged learning practices in the classroom. Her research focuses on digital culture and social media. Recently she participated in a panel discussion on ephemerality that led to an article on Snapchat and a publishing opportunity. Now that journal article has turned into a book chapter.

First Job
“I worked at a movie theater in the small town in Colorado where I grew up. I got to go to the movies for free, but the best part of the job was my boss. He was influential as a mentor because of the passion, energy and generosity in which he approached his work. He hired local people and gave opportunities to others. ... I also learned how to spin cotton candy.”

Morning or afternoon classes
“I prefer to teach afternoon classes because I’m more productive as a writer in the morning and use that time to do my research and writing. I think it’s important to talk with students about my own successes and failures as a writer — my practice — that I understand their research and writing. Also teaching and my students give me energy in the afternoons.”

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
“I would take them where we could be outdoors — hiking, cycling, somewhere that they don’t speak the language, out of everyone’s comfort zone. I’d like to see them develop the kind of inner resources you get when you’re pushed both physically and mentally. Maybe Patagonia.”

Must-have smartphone apps
“I use Snapchat to watch Ella, my dog, at daycare. I look at The New York Times app multiple times a day, and I have a few fitness apps that I like.”

Dr. Jeremy Morris

Dr. Jeremy Morris, assistant professor of biology

B.S., University of Tennessee Chattanooga; Ph.D. University of Utah

Teaching and Research
Morris believes it’s important to demonstrate relevance in the classroom, so he connects education to people and who they are as a species. He believes in engaged learning and embraces modern pedagogy. His students do a lot of group work, and he finds strategies to help students engage with the material in different ways. His research examines the evolution of sex-based physical differences in mammals and what that means in terms of carrying out necessary functions and behaviors. He also researches constraints on evolution. “We can’t be good at everything,” he says, comparing pit bulls to greyhounds. “I try to understand that conflict and how it influences, for example, reproduction.” Last year he received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support his research. 

First Job
“My first real job was at Taco Bell. I worked there with five or six friends, and I learned how nice it is to work with people you care about and value. I also learned that sour cream and guacamole guns are formidable weapons. Before that, when I was 13, I had to do community service at a small state park in Kentucky. I did such a good job that the manager hired me for the rest of the summer. I used the weed eater on trails and picked up trash.”

Talents or Hobbies
“My partner and I just bought a house, so I’m undertaking a lot of major home improvement projects. I have no training at all with any of that, but I’m learning, and I’ve torn out walls, run a gas line and cut a hole through a brick wall for an exterior door.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I think I would work with NGOs that do community work. If I could do service work for my entire life I would.” During his doctoral program, Morris ran an outreach program that took scientists to jails and prisons to teach science and conservation. They built a pond at the jail, and inmates raised a rare species of fish while learning skills they could transfer to life after their release.

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
“Probably to Nepal or India — this area is so culturally rich and diverse. I took six years off between my undergrad and graduate school; three of those I spent backpacking through Asia. As far as my experience goes, there’s no more diverse place in terms of culture. It’s a total sensory overload. The people are absolutely wonderful. Nepal is great in a similar way, and it has the added attraction of the Himalayas.”

Dr. Aaron Garrett and Dr. Beau Christ

Dr. Aaron Garrett, assistant professor of computer science (above right)

B.S., M.S., Jacksonville State University; Ph.D., Auburn University 

Teaching and Research
Garrett tends to favor practicality over the abstract, so he often gives students opportunities to practice concepts. His research in the field of artificial intelligence focuses on evolutionary computation, which employs the concepts of Darwinian natural selection to find near-optimal solutions to problems. “Life is optimization, every creature attempting to maximize its niche in the environment,” says Garrett. “I apply that same idea to find solutions to engineering problems.” Garrett has done research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and most recently has been working on energy modeling, optimizing building envelopes to improve energy efficiency.

Talents or Hobbies
“I play table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. I have a group of friends that I have played with for years. We play online every Wednesday. I mostly run the game. I’ve been running this particular campaign for almost two years.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“If I could no longer teach, I would go to work in the software industry. My two favorite things in the world are making software and making software engineers. If you force me to give up doing the one, I guess I would just do the other.”

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
“I think that the most important benefits of traveling are the personal growth and sharper perspective that we find, especially about the place where we live. We don’t have to travel far to find a broader view, as long as we’re engaged with and open to it. I wouldn’t want any travel experience to be purely an exercise in vanity, for myself or for students. It should be an experience that opens our eyes and clarifies our roles in shaping the world around us. There are plenty of those experiences, even nearby, if we’re willing to see them.”

Must-have smartphone apps
“I use Audible the most.”

Dr. Beau Christ, assistant professor of computer science (above left)

B.S., Doane University; Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Teaching and Research
Christ incorporates engaged learning into his classes and likes to plan hands-on projects for his students. His research interests are in computer vision, essentially teaching computers to understand what they are looking at. It’s a subfield of artificial intelligence. “I want to make computers more intelligent through cameras,” says Christ. 

First Job
“My parents owned a Sears in Beatrice, Neb., so most summers I worked for them. I did sales, basic repair work, delivery, customer support. … I feel like everyone should have this experience. I learned how to sell an idea, communicate and deal with difficult situations.”

Talents or Hobbies
“I’m a huge Beatles fan and love to analyze their music; I taught the Beatles Interim in January. I’m also a musician and play guitar, piano and violin as well as a variety of other instruments. I have a small recording studio at home. … I’m also a member of the Wofford faculty band. If I couldn’t teach, I’d be a full-time musician.”

Favorite meal in the Burwell dining hall
“For me it’s the dessert table. I’m really big on bread pudding and crème brulee.”

Must-have smartphone apps
“Robinhood for free stock trading; Pocket Yoga because I enjoy yoga; Waterminder, which reminds me to stay hydrated; Streaks to help me be productive; Duolingo because I can learn any foreign language for free.”

Dr. Tim Bersak

Dr. Tim Bersak, assistant professor of economics

B.A., B.S., Boston University; M.S., Ph.D., Clemson University

Teaching and Research
Bersak’s teaching philosophy involves “constantly challenging students” so that they will “constantly rise to meet those challenges.” His research is at the intersection of health and economics, particularly considering the public policy implications of how early life and prenatal health care influence future health outcomes. 

Talents or Hobbies
“I play ice hockey. I’m from Colorado, but I didn’t play ice hockey until I came to South Carolina.”

What do you appreciate most about Wofford students?
“I appreciate their eagerness to learn, and their effort. Especially in the introductory courses, where they may not have much background knowledge of economics, they’re engaged. They also have an appreciation of the learning process.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t teach. Maybe work in a private-sector job; I might be more compensated, but definitely less happy.”

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
“Probably Iceland because I really want to go to Iceland, but not as an Interim in January.”

Dr. Helen Dixon

Dr. Helen Dixon, assistant professor of religion

B.A., McGill University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Michigan

Teaching and Research
Dixon considers herself a teacher of critical thinking through the study of the ancient world. “I help build what Carl Sagan calls a baloney (or B.S.) detection kit. I want students to explore a place and a time that is totally different from their own, but they’re not just memorizing details from a book, they’re also learning how we create knowledge, and are creating it all the time in academia.” She’s a Phoenicianist, who studies ancient Syria, Lebanon and Northern Israel/Palestine, specifically their sacred spaces — where they bury their dead, how they think about their gods and what they believe about the afterlife. Currently she’s working on the idea of “symbolic mummification.” Before coming to Wofford, Dixon was part of a five-person team in Helsinki, Finland, that was awarded an eight-year, 8 million euro grant to start a new think tank on ancient Near Eastern empires. She’ll be back in Helsinki this summer and also will be presenting and conducting research in Georgia, Italy and England. For Wofford students that means a growing network with top scholars in the field and opportunities for archaeological experience.

First Job
“In high school I made gift baskets, putting candy and cookies and coffee mugs in baskets and wrapping them in cellophane to be delivered to businesses. I learned a satisfaction at getting good at something. I could look at it and say, ‘I’ve made a beautiful basket.’ I loved the presentation aspect of it. I guess that’s what I’m still doing when making a website or 3D model of a temple. I’m putting a little bow on it.” 

Talents or Hobbies
“My favorite hobby is to go to cemeteries and take pictures of graves that have been requested for genealogical research through Findagrave.com. I love walking around and hiking outside in a beautiful, quiet place doing historical research.”

Morning or afternoon classes
“Afternoon … I know I’m a good teacher if I can keep students interested at 3 p.m.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I would work in a museum. I love being around ancient objects and introducing them to people.”

Jessica Scott-Felder  

Jessica Scott-Felder, assistant professor of art and art history

B.A., Spelman College; M.F.A., Georgia State University 

Teaching and Research
In teaching and art, Scott-Felder draws inspiration from the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” “We don’t make mistakes,” she says. “We make new discoveries when we’re learning.” She considers her art her research, and often pulls from the past. She secured a research grant this summer that will allow her to do a residency and ship the work back for future shows. 

First Job
“I was an enumerator for the Census Bureau. It was revealing as far as how people saw or identified themselves. Race would be fluid, for example. For me as a high school student to see that really opened my eyes to identity and what that means.” 

Talents or Hobbies
“I am an avid video gamer and used to beta test video games for PlayStation. I’m a big fan of action and RPG games, and I just got into virtual reality.” 

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I would probably be an artistic filmmaker. You get to take a moving image and create an experience with light, sound and time. I think art, film and digital media in general allow for a plethora of visuals to tell a story. Or I might like to be a physicist … or a cosmonaut.” 

Must-have smartphone apps
“I love my meditation app. Google arts and culture definitely, and Google Sky Map, I use that all the time to navigate and find the stars.”

Dr. Peter Brewitt

Dr. Peter Brewitt, assistant professor of environmental studies

B.A., Dartmouth University; M.A., Ph.D., University of California Santa Cruz

Teaching and Research
Brewitt was an environmental educator for five years before entering a Ph.D. program. He sees teaching as telling a story with his students as an integral part of that constantly changing narrative. His research involves the politics of ecological restoration; specifically he’s been working on a project that deals with the politics of dam removal in the Northwest. His book is under review for publishing. Brewitt considers working with Wofford’s senior capstone students particularly rewarding. “Through the process, they go from excited to daunted to frustrated, but then they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished at the end.”

Talents or Hobbies
“I love climbing mountains and backpacking. That’s what my wife and I really like to do when we aren’t working. When we were in our 20s, we climbed an 18,000-foot volcano in Mexico then got caught in a snowstorm on the way down and had to sleep on an untracked part of the mountain. I’m not glad we got lost, but it was certainly a big adventure, and it drew me and my life partner together.”

What do you appreciate most about Wofford students?
“I love Wofford students. It’s a tie between how hard they work and what interesting people they are. The size of the classes we have here and the type of classes I teach offer opportunities to get to know students holistically. They take themselves and their work seriously. They want to do well and learn, and they handle themselves professionally.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I’d try to write non-fiction books, like Bill Bryson.”

Must-have smartphone apps
“I just got a smartphone a month ago, so my must-have would be the smartphone itself, and I made sure to get one that had the flashlight. I was with the flip phone for a long time. … I have mixed feelings about how tied people are to their phones and how it’s hard to disconnect, but it’s an almost magical tool. Maybe the biggest improvement to life with a smartphone is having a map always with you.”

Dr. Zachary Davis

Dr. Zachary Davis, assistant professor of chemistry

B.S., Erskine College; Ph.D., Purdue University 

Teaching and Research
Davis compares learning chemistry to working puzzles. He’s already solved the puzzle of getting students to come to his office by keeping an impressive stock of candy readily available, not a surprise considering his research interest in flavor chemistry. He loves working with students on research, and in his first year at Wofford received a grant through the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, matched by the Wofford Office of the Provost, to purchase new equipment for teaching. 

Talents and Hobbies
“Lots of chemists make good cooks, so not surprisingly, I like to bake.”

What do you appreciate most about Wofford students?
“Wofford students appreciate the challenge. They’re not complacent in getting the basic info. They want to be pushed.”

Morning or afternoon classes
“Morning classes just because it gets me on campus early. The earlier I’m here, the longer I’m available for my students.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I’d open a bakery. I almost went to culinary school.”

Dr. Britt Newman

Dr. Britt Newman, assistant professor of modern languages, literatures and cultures (Spanish)

B.A., University of South Carolina; M.A., Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Teaching and Research
Before graduate school, Newman taught English in Russia for two years. There he met his wife, and they had their first child. He believes in experiential learning, for the learning process to be “a full-bodied experience followed by reflection.” He grew up playing sports, so he often falls back on sports metaphors. Even as a college professor, he sees himself as a coach, coaching his students through experiences that help them discover themselves and the world. His research interests include teaching and assessing intercultural competence, how best to help students prepare for an increasingly global society. He has a chapter accepted for publication on relating intercultural competencies and the language programs at Wofford.

First Job
“My uncle’s dry cleaner in Sumter, S.C. It was a family business so I learned to take pride in my work and professionalism. It was physical work, tough work, but the atmosphere that my grandfather and uncle built was one of doing things well and right, whether or not anyone was watching. They treated their customers’ clothes as if they were their own. I also learned to value personal connections and the respect you build for different people from different backgrounds.”

Favorite meal in the Burwell dining hall
“Probably fried chicken, fried okra and collard greens. I like how they do traditional Southern cooking.”

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
“I would take them to Russia. People in the U.S. tend to have a clear mental image of Russia, but few people have much personal contact with the country. It would be a great opportunity to deconstruct stereotypes.”

Dr. Carolyn Martsberger with students

Dr. Carolyn Martsberger, assistant professor of physics

B.A., College of Holy Cross; M.A., Ph.D., Duke University

Martsberger says her biggest academic wins are always related to her students. Here she’s surrounded by students whom she’s done research with over the past year. From left, Turner Bryant ’20, a physics and mathematics major from Chattanooga, Tenn.; Nick Butler ’20, a physics major and mathematics minor from North Augusta, S.C; Martsberger; Sheldon Newman ’18, a physics major and mathematics minor from Columbia, S.C.; Caroline Wilson ’20, a mathematics and humanities major from Knoxville, Tenn.; Caroline Lamprecht ’18, a mathematics and economics major from Moncks Corner, S.C.; and Lillian Fant ’17, a physics and chemistry major with a mathematics minor who has been working at Milliken and Co. since graduation but is planning to go to law school in the fall.

Teaching and Research
Because of the technical nature of her field, Martsberger works hard to help her students personally identify with the concepts. She uses storytelling in class to map concepts to popular media, familiar objects or common life experiences. She hopes that the connections the students make with something familiar helps them identify more deeply with the physics. She also enjoys doing research with students, and her particular area of interest involves working with clinicians in hospitals to determine ways to deconstruct physiological signals to determine an array of health measures of their patients. 

Talents or Hobbies
“I love to dance, and I used to be a very committed Irish step dancer. I considered dropping out of high school to dance full time.”

What do you appreciate most about Wofford students?
“There’s so much that I appreciate about the students here at Wofford. They’re generous with each other, and that spirit of thoughtfulness helps create a very nice learning environment. They’re also hardworking and committed. They try their best. They’re sincere. They’re also very smart and dedicated to their education.”

Morning or afternoon classes
“Morning. Teaching is one of the best parts of the day for me. When I was a kid there was a Pops cereal commercial that featured a girl climbing a ladder up a high dive. When she reached the top, she leapt off the diving board and gracefully dove into a beautiful body of water. That’s what starting the day teaching at Wofford feels like. It’s the best!”

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’d say Mexico. I think that getting to know the culture and meet the people, to hear the stories of their lives and to exchange our stories would be a very authentic and meaningful experience to have with students.”

Dr. Rhiannon Leebrick

Dr. Rhiannon Leebrick, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology

B.A., Hollins University; M.A., Virginia Tech; Ph.D., University of Tennessee

Teaching and Research
A stack of Monopoly games sits in Dr. Leebrick’s office. She uses them to play an alternative version of the board game with her students to help them develop a better sense of stratification and inequality in the United States. Leebrick likes using activities such as this in class to help students apply the concepts they are learning to everyday life. Her teaching philosophy is guided by creating an environment in which everyone in the class feels heard and comfortable speaking. Leebrick’s dissertation examined environmental gentrification in South Central Appalachia, and she is currently involved in a mixed-methods study that looks at the economic impacts of recreation tourism in the New River Gorge of West Virginia. She recently received funding to continue the research over the summer. 

First Job
“I worked at a feed supply store on Saturday mornings in the summer. I learned a lot of things about the community I grew up in. Later I worked at a plant nursery driving a tractor; there I developed an interest in environmental justice and a better sense of the struggles that migrant agricultural workers face. That had a really big impact on me.”

Talents or Hobbies
“I love roller coasters. I love trivia and board games; I once played Risk for eight hours straight. I enjoy baking. I also love to hike and have a 10-year-old daughter, a dog named Wheeler and a cat named Clementine.”

If you could no longer teach, what would you do?
“I’d probably work for the Seal Conservation Society, as a park ranger or travel writer.”

If you could take Wofford students to study abroad anywhere in the world, where would it be?
“I’m working on an Interim proposal now to take students to northern Italy. I got this idea when I was teaching this past summer in Austria. We plan to stay at a 13th-century castle in South Tyrol. We’re calling it Slow Foods, Small Towns and Still Life: Sustainable Living in Italy.”

By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89