College Sets Records with New Students, FacultyBy Martha Hunter Shepard ′66
Photography by Justin Fox Burks
There is some good academic and economic news at Rhodes—more than 60 percent of the class of 2010 have jobs in a wide variety of professional fields, and more than 30 percent have enrolled in top graduate schools around the country.
What’s more, this fall brought a record 507 new students and 18 new faculty—at a time when many colleges are experiencing downward enrollment trends and severe budget and hiring cuts.
Not Rhodes. No layoffs here, no furloughs, no salary cuts (we even eked out modest raises this year), no cutbacks in academic, athletic or other extracurricular programs. If anything, we’re growing. Eleven of the 18 new faculty are tenure-track. We’ve even added new tenure-track lines in the Departments of Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics and Business.
How do we do it? Allen Boone ’71, the college’s vice president for financial and business affairs, says that thanks to the generous support of the Rhodes community, along with careful financial management on the part of the college staff and Board of Trustees, we continue to attract—and retain—top students and faculty. All these factors have allowed Rhodes, says Dean Michael Drompp, to take advantage of a “buyer’s market,” giving us our first choice of applicants for every open faculty position.
Like all Rhodes faculty, the new professors are tops in their fields. Happily, they wanted to come to an excellent small, liberal arts college in an urban environment. They value close professional relationships between students and faculty. They encourage student research and look forward to being mentors. Several are interested in establishing student exchange programs in their fields with universities abroad. They find Rhodes students “engaged,” “hard-working,” “earnest” and “good-humored.” They appreciate the diversity of the Rhodes community. Many, who are teaching across disciplines, have a high regard for established faculty and enjoy the remarkable degree of collegiality Rhodes offers. Who could ask for anything more?
Here are profiles of some representative new Rhodes faculty.
Assistant Professor Francesca Tronchin’s research interests include ancient Roman collecting practices as well as domestic architecture and decoration in the Roman world. She has served as visiting assistant professor at Ohio State University, where she taught Art of the Ancient World, Classical Archaeology, Roman Sculpture and Topography of Augustan Rome.
She holds her B.A. from Smith College and Ph.D. from Boston University.
Her current book project is about decoration, collecting and autobiography—how the Romans may have viewed their homes in a way as representative of their identity.
“The unfortunate thing about that is we have so few ancient voices that tell us the personal connection,” she explains. “I’ve been trying to put forth the message that I think the Romans did tell their own stories that we’ve lost.”
Tronchin, whose father is from northeast Italy’s Veneto area, grew up with her parents in North Carolina. She confesses to a childhood obsession with Egypt, even creating a papier maché replica of King Tut’s death mask when she was 10.
“All I wanted to be was an archaeologist,” she says.
Even with an undergraduate degree in Ancient Studies and Archaeology, and M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History, the road to Rhodes proved to be a long one.
“I had to move around a lot before finding Rhodes,” Tronchin says. “The job market is very competitive, and certainly long gone are the days in which someone graduates with a Ph.D. and can simply choose a place and be guaranteed a tenure track job. After I finished my Ph.D. I taught at Ohio State for two years, filling in for a professor who was on leave. From there I went to Los Angeles as a postdoctoral fellow at the Getty Research Institute, where I was able to meet scholars and artists from all over the world. When that fellowship expired I then went to the classics department of the University of Manitoba for a year-long postdoctoral research fellowship in Roman archaeology.
“Certainly the jobs that caught my eye were at places like Rhodes— small, liberal arts, four-year colleges. It mirrors my own college experience in many ways. I went to Smith, where there were small classes and personal relationships among faculty and students. Here, I’m able to go to the Rat for lunch and sit with faculty from all disciplines. That’s very important to me. There seems to be a built-in interdisciplinary ethos here. People are interested in what I’m doing and eager to help me figure out how to do it.”
That was evident before classes began. After she attended the Art Department retreat, the Greek and Roman Studies faculty invited her to theirs. A dialogue quickly ensued among Tronchin, Greek and Roman Studies and the Buckman Center for International Education exploring the possibilities of taking students abroad.
“In the past, I’ve taken groups of students to Italy and certainly would like to do it again,” she says. “I spent my junior year abroad in Athens and it changed my life; I want Rhodes students to have that experience as well.”
Tronchin recently became assistant director of a new summer program in Turkey through the Crisler Library in Ephesus. She sees it as an international program for archaeology students, classics and art history students and hopes to involve Rhodes undergraduates. Actually, she began placing Rhodes students abroad before the college hired her.
“This summer, on my recommendation, a Rhodes student participated in an archaeological field school in Pompeii,” says Tronchin. “She wrote me after meeting me during my interview last winter asking how she could get on an excavation there. I gave her some names of people who I knew were working there, and she ended up participating in a program with a friend of mine who runs the project. Even before the ink was dry on my contract, I was recruiting Rhodes students!”
Associate Professor Mark Behr, a highly regarded South African novelist, teaches creative writing and literature. His first novel, The Smell of Apples (1995), won several awards in the U.K., South Africa and the U.S. His second novel, Embrace (2001), and his latest novel, Kings of the Water (2009), received excellent reviews in journals such as The Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. His work has been translated into 10 languages.
Behr received his B.A. in English and his B.A. Honors in Politics from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He received his M.A. in International Peace Studies as well as M.A. in English Literature and M.F.A in Literature and Fiction Writing from the University of Notre Dame. He comes to Rhodes from the College of Santa Fe, NM, where for the past eight years he served as associate professor of World Literature and Fiction Writing. He serves annually as Visiting Writer at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
“Rhodes and I found each other,” says Behr. “I was a professor in Santa Fe for eight years and was about to start looking around for a new job when I heard Rhodes was looking for a fiction writer, and the English Department happened to know who I was, as some professors here had been teaching my work for years.
“My Rhodes colleagues have impressive credentials from top- notch schools, their own scholarly output is extensive and impressive, and many seem to have a nice sense of self-irony and playfulness.”
“I’ve been interested in living in the Southern U.S. from even before I began spending time in this country in the early 1990s: I have friends here, and I have long admired much Southern literature. Writers like Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Alice Walker cemented an early fascination with the South, perhaps in part due to echoes from my own life in sub-Saharan Africa. It will be interesting to see how and if my own writing is impacted by living and working here; I cannot believe that it will not. My writing is always reflective of and colored by the geographies in which I live.”
Behr, who “wanted to be an English teacher and a writer since I was fairly young—perhaps due to my idealization of my own high school English teacher,” pushes his students to do their best.
“So far I am delighted by the students’ commitment to doing the work. During my first Creative Writing classes at 8 a.m. on a Monday and Wednesday morning I cautioned and cajoled that the class would be a tough, painful and horrific experience for anyone who didn’t do lots of writing and lots of reading. They all came back, plus two more, with all the reading done. That’s great for any teacher and for all students who are serious about becoming decent writers.”
As “a supporter of study abroad programs,” he wants to push them farther.
“A colleague and I in the English Department are discussing setting up literature studies exchanges between Rhodes and some eastern and southern African universities,” he says. “It is most likely that we would teach and study world literature, postcolonial literature as well as creative writing. Foci arising from African literature would include regional literatures (South African lit, East African lit, francophone African lit) as well as questions of translation, writing in indigenous language vs. colonial languages, as well as questions relevant to place of publication, i.e., African publishers’ relationship to publishers and agents in Europe and the U.S. And, of course, African students would also have to tell us what in particular they may wish to learn from us.”
Behr himself learned a great deal in college, much of which has informed his writing ever since.
“Directly after high school I went into the South African Defence Force for two years of compulsory national service. After my years in the military I went to Stellenbosch University, near Cape Town, which was traditionally the bastion of Afrikaner Nationalism and therefore of South Africa’s white Afrikaner elite. A family member of mine who retired as a general in the South African Security Police offered to pay my studies if I worked as an agent of the state, an offer I was very proud of and accepted without any moral doubts. As a low-level agent I came into contact with a small group of progressive students who, together with my professors, soon turned my world view upside down and inside out. My till-then profoundly conservative set of beliefs was forever disturbed by my engagement with new ideas of anti-racism, feminism, Marxist- Leninism, anti-militarism and various strategies for social, political and cultural transformation. Many of the people I was meant to report on to the state became my closest friends and remain so today.
“It was this destabilization of my conservative world view that led me to graduate work in International Peace Studies and to my years of work as a research fellow and teacher at the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo.
“As part of my M.A. in Peace Studies I was looking at representations of war and violence in literature, at the question of how identity is represented in literature and popular culture: questions of race, sexuality, gender, class, physical appearance, language, nationality, ethnicity and loyalty. My own world view had been healthily challenged by the work of fiction writers like Nadine Gordimer and Toni Morrison, by theorists like Antonio Gramsci, bell hooks and Eve Sedgwick, all people who in one way or another believe that the way the world works—both the large and the minute brush strokes of our beliefs and behaviors—can and should be challenged. A large body of contemporary world literature is consciously and unconsciously political: I am inquisitive and hope that many of the students who pass through my classes too will become inquisitive about how literature and writing form, inform and transform our daily lives.”
Assistant Professor Tracy Lemos, a Rhode Island native who came to Rhodes in 2009, specializes in the areas of Hebrew Bible and early Judaism. She previously taught at Yale Divinity School, Boston University and Miami University of Ohio.
She received her B.A. with honors from Brown University and Ph.D. with distinction from Yale University.
Lemos’ first book, Marriage Gifts and Social Change in Ancient Palestine: 1200 BCE-200 CE, was recently published by Cambridge University Press. She has also published articles on the topic of impurity and on the connection between shame and violence. Her next book will deal with masculinity in the Hebrew Bible and early Jewish texts.
“I’ve always been interested in religion,” says Lemos. “Also, I’m a very skeptical person. My parents, who are Azorian immigrants, are devout Catholics, and religion was so much a part of the fabric of the community. I was skeptical of Catholic doctrine at an early age. When I was about 12 or so, I started asking questions and began reading about Judaism, Christianity and the Bible.
“I wanted to be a professor when I was 15 years old; it’s the only profession I ever focused on. I took biblical Hebrew when I was a freshman in college, majored in Judaic studies, took a lot of Bible courses, and went from undergraduate studies straight to the Ph.D. I really loved the material and was quite focused.”
She’s found a happy home at Rhodes.
“Rhodes has a really good Religious Studies department,” she says. “For a college of its size, there are so many Religious Studies faculty because of the way the curriculum is. I can’t think of another college, apart from those in the Ivy League, where I would be part of a department that has four or five other biblicists. It’s nice to have conversation partners like Steve McKenzie and Gail Streete with whom I can talk about my work, and who have a very deep understanding of it.”
At Boston University, Lemos taught in the writing program.
“I didn’t expect to be teaching in that area, but at BU you teach writing through teaching a subject. So I was teaching things I already knew—biblical material, literature of the ancient Near East, etc. It gave me some experience teaching writing, which was very useful. It also taught me a lot about teaching.”
At Rhodes, Lemos says she likes her students, not just because they’re smart, more diverse than she had expected, and “get” her sense of humor: Like Mark Behr’s students, they take encouragement well.
“I teach in the interdisciplinary Search course. Last year, because I had many of the same students for both semesters, I knew their strengths and weaknesses and could push them second semester to keep honing their skills. I assigned a research paper second semester—I knew they could do it. I knew they could write well, and I got some really great papers.
“My approach in Search is historical: You need evidence, corroboration of sources and different types of sources. Using that kind of critical approach makes it easier for students to learn. It challenges them, but that’s why we’re in this business.”
Anthropology and Sociology
Assistant Professor Evelyn Perry’s teaching and research interests include community and urban sociology, culture, social theory, inequality and racial and ethnic relations.
She received her B.A. from Colorado College, and M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University.
Coming to Rhodes was an easy decision for the Milwaukee native.
“I went a liberal arts school— Colorado College—so throughout graduate school I pictured an urban liberal arts school as an ideal destination. Urban, because I’m an urban sociologist, and I embrace the liberal arts model because it emphasizes intellectual, creative and civic development. I also had a ringing endorsement of Rhodes from Ann McCranie, a colleague at Indiana University who’s a Rhodes alum (class of ’96). She had nothing but glowing things to say about the college.”
Perry realized she wanted to teach a couple of years out of college while working at a social service agency in Portland, OR, for people living with HIV and AIDS.
“Part of my job was to train new crops of volunteers who were going to work quite closely with people with HIV and AIDS to provide emotional and practical support. Facilitating training, though intense, was an absolute joy, and it made me think, ‘Hey—maybe I’d really enjoy teaching.’ From the very first class I taught in graduate school, I absolutely loved it.
“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I see teaching as an opportunity to continually learn with and from students. And as a profession, it offers endless room to grow and improve. I’ll always be learning how to be a good teacher.”
Her students, she says, “really want to get something out of this experience and seem to take advantage of it in many different ways—in terms of academics, social activities and volunteering through service organizations, and I find that really impressive.”
For her dissertation Perry studied a “race- and class-mixed neighborhood in Milwaukee, which is a very segregated city,” she says. “The neighborhood has been mixed for 30 years and I was really interested in how people live with difference, and how this place has managed to stay diverse.”
Perry says she definitely plans to be involved with Urban Studies and involve her students in research.
“Cities are my passion, and digging into urban neighborhood life is an amazing way to learn. There are a lot of people in Memphis who could teach students far more than I ever could, so I’m looking forward to inviting students to participate in my research and to do their own research.”
“It’s important to get past the gates of Rhodes. That’s another thing that attracted me to the college. There are a lot of people here who are committed to getting students out into the community, not just through service—not just doing for, but learning from the city and learning with its residents. It also sets the tone for the rest of their lives. They are in Memphis and have a responsibility to learn about where they are and grow their compassion. These are smart students and they are going to do good things in the world. I want them to pay attention to where they live, no matter where they end up.”
Assistant Professor Jeff Hamrick joined the Rhodes faculty in 2009. He is a financial mathematician and statistician with a wide range of teaching interests. He views mathematics as both a science and art, often asking students to work with him as experimentalists with software packages such as Mathematica, SAS and PASW Statistics. A Project NExT fellow, he discusses teaching issues with faculty at other institutions who are at similar stages of their careers. His research interests include both a theoretical and applied interest in the statistics of stochastic processes. His primary areas of application are financial mathematics, econometric theory, market microstructure and understanding how financial crises spread from one market to another market.
Hamrick has B.S., B.A. and B.B.A degrees from Stetson University. His M.A. and Ph.D. are from Boston University. He also holds Certified Financial Advisor and Financial Risk Manager designations.
Hamrick says he’s “a refugee from the financial services sector,” where he worked as a portfolio manager, consultant and software engineer. He’s also done consulting for mathematics software companies, banks, hospitals, even Bloomberg.
On coming to Rhodes, the Tampa, FL, native says he was interested in being at a liberal arts institution of good caliber where “the weather is nicer than in Boston. I knew when I was on the job market that I wouldn’t necessarily find something satisfying all these conditions, but then the interviewing process went really well at Rhodes, and I think we found a match on both sides.”
Hamrick says he developed his love for mathematics as an undergraduate.
“When I started at Stetson University, my initial plan was to become an accountant and lawyer. Though I liked finance courses and statistics courses, I didn’t respond well to courses in accounting and taxation. When I had finished taking every statistics course at the business school, I said, ‘What’s next?’ The faculty there told me that if I really wanted to understand the theory underpinning applied statistics, I needed to understand mathematics better. So I took my first college-level mathematics course—an introduction to logic and proof—fell in love, and never looked back. Of course, I retained my interest in both finance and statistics, and here we are today.”
Hamrick loves teaching. Regarding the Rhodes curriculum, he says there’s a real opportunity to combine mathematics education with the liberal arts education, but, “there is sort of a fear factor with quantitative learning, so it’s challenging to convince them to do it while holding academic standards high.”
That doesn’t stop him. This fall, he and the Economics Department introduced an interdisciplinary upper division math course, Introduction to Mathematical Finance. With 11 students enrolled, it’s an elective for both math majors and students in the Mathematics/ Economics bridge major.
“We also have some Business majors in the class who have taken the prerequisite, Calculus III,” says Hamrick, who looks forward to increased connections between the Mathematics and Business departments.
“I also work closely with a number of students in other ways. For example, this summer one of my students, Adam Joplin ’11, a mathematics/ economics bridge major, won a Jane Hyde Scott Award from Rhodes to work on a project with me.” It’s one of five awards given to rising seniors for special academic activities in the summer prior to the senior year.
“He researched a type of investment strategy called covered call writing, studying the dynamics of why this strategy seems to outperform the S&P 500. He’s running the appropriate statistical tests and quantitative analysis. His proposal was to do this research project with me as well as learn statistical programming language called SAS. In late summer, he took—and passed—the industry examination covering that programming language. I was really happy for him.”
Hamrick says he’s “very committed to doing more of these things. While I don’t think the core of the liberal arts education is preprofessional training—I don’t think we should sell to students the idea, ‘come to Rhodes, and we’ll teach you a programming language so that someone will hire you’—I do think that liberally educated students are versatile and flexible and can learn quickly and can do so many things.”
His research interests include “two big things right now—I study models of contagion between financial markets. One of the principles of portfolio theory is that you should spread out your investments, not put all your eggs in one basket. The idea is that when one asset zigs, another zags. When assets are moving slightly independent from one another, you can benefit from this diversification. You can have the same expected return from your portfolio that you’d have from lower risk. When we experience a financial crisis like in the last two years, that phenomenon breaks down. No longer do assets zig and zag—They all tend to zig together or zag together, negating some of the benefits of portfolio diversification. So what I try to model in my mathematical research is that phenomenon—to try to build models in which that phenomenon is clear and then to map those models to actual data, so I can see whether or not they explain effectively real world data.
“The other thing I’m working on now is looking at derivative instruments, which are plain vanilla ones, not those that have been criticized during this financial crisis—like collateralized debt obligations. I’m looking at call options and put options on stock. They’ve been traded for several hundred years, and highly traded in the U.S. since about 1950, and very liquidly traded since the 1980s. I develop models that look at these option prices at the same time and try to understand from those prices what the market thinks the world will be like in the future. More precisely, I look at what these option prices tell us about what the market’s expectations of asset returns will be, going forward. It turns out that’s a very interesting problem, both theoretically and computationally.”