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Meeting the challenge

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College of Arts and Sciences celebrates success in moving forward

Dean John Pelesko at lectern

​College of Arts and Sciences Dean John A. Pelesko speaks at the 2021 State of the College event about the challenges and successes of the past year.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean John A. Pelesko welcomed faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends to the annual State of the College event on Thursday, Oct. 21, with a message that recognized the pandemic-related challenges of the past two years and praised the College and University community for rising above and beyond those challenges and continuing to inspire students with a love of learning.

He described a concert he attended in September at southern Delaware’s Freeman Arts Pavilion and the joyful performance by the singers, all masked, of the UD Chorale.

“I thought about how precious it is to be able to witness our students perform at the highest possible level,” Pelesko said. “I thought about how that is true whether that is in the classroom, at an arts pavilion, in the laboratory, on the athletic field or, yes, even over Zoom. I thought about how lucky each of us are to be able to do what we do—to contribute, each in our own way, to this amazing idea, this transformational experience, that we call a liberal arts education.”

The restrictions imposed by the pandemic and the changes to teaching, learning and working have taken their toll, he said, but as everyone perseveres and adapts, the spark that students feel as they are exposed to new ideas continues or re-emerges.

“I saw that that spark was still alive,” even in students who may have struggled last year with online learning and social isolation but are now excited by their current classes, he said. “I knew that it had been reignited and kept alive by the people in this room, the people all across this College and University, and I was grateful. … I thought about the sparks in thousands of [young people] we’re responsible for nourishing and growing.”

Pelesko began his talk by asking the audience to raise their hands if they had experienced any of the difficulties posed by the pandemic, including worries about children and other loved ones, limitations of technology, concerns about illness and general weariness from coping with what he called “this strange and challenging pandemic world.”

With virtually every hand raised, he urged audience members to look around and recognize the emotions they have in common. Although everyone has faced different challenges and has had difference reactions, the overall experience of the pandemic has been shared by everyone.

“You are not alone in how you’re feeling,” Pelesko said. “That’s something that can, should and does unite us. It should give us all cause for hope.”

He urged everyone to recognize the shared experience they’re having, to talk about it with others, to give themselves space to be introspective, to think about what is most important to their own mental health and to take the time to focus on that.

Self-care will help everyone move forward, Pelesko said, a process that’s important.

“I have no doubt that the work we do as a College is important,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will keep the spark alive and that we will each make our contributions to helping our community continue to move forward. I have no doubt that we will help solve the problems of tomorrow. … And I have no doubt that we will continue to navigate challenging, and hopefully less challenging, times together.”

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Leadership appointments

In announcing several new leadership appointments and reappointments that took place recently in the College, Pelesko began by welcoming back Dan Smith, associate professor of public policy and administration, who now serves as associate dean for the social sciences.

Smith filled the associate dean position in an acting capacity in 2019-20 while David Wilson was on sabbatical. His previous administrative experience includes serving as acting director of the Biden School in 2018-19 and as president of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate.

Pelesko also welcomed recently appointed department leaders: Huantian Cao, professor of fashion and apparel studies, has been appointed chair of the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies; Mark Clodfelter is serving as interim director of the School of Music; Peter Benson joined UD as the new chair of the Department of Anthropology; and Mark Gockenbach joined the Department of Mathematical Sciences as chair.

Three faculty members recently accepted reappointments to second terms, Pelesko said. He acknowledged David Satran, assistant professor of English, who was reappointed director of the Associate in Arts Program; David Redlawsk, the James R. Soles Professor of Political Science, reappointed chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations; and Patricia Sloane-White, professor of women and gender studies and anthropology, reappointed chair of the Department of Women and Gender Studies.

Pelesko thanked all these chairs and directors, as well as the College’s associate deans—Murray Johnston in the natural sciences, Lauren Petersen in the humanities, Suzanne Burton in the arts and Dan Smith in the social sciences— “for their dedication and leadership.”

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New faculty welcomed

Gathering at a reception

​A reception to welcome and celebrate new faculty was held following the event.

Each year, the State of the College event focuses on welcoming new faculty members. With the changes caused last year by the pandemic, Pelesko noted, “we’ve had to adjust our traditions” so this year’s event celebrated faculty starting in Fall 2020, Spring and Fall 2021 and Spring 2022.

“I am thrilled to welcome 46 new faculty to the College today,” Pelesko told the audience. They include:

In the Associate in Arts Program, Stasie Harrington joined UD from Western Kentucky University, where she taught Spanish and language pedagogy and was the director of international student programs.

In the arts, new faculty are Gene Koshinski, professor of music; Tim Broscious, assistant professor of music; Chris Underwood, assistant professor of music; and the members of the Calidore String Quartet, joining the faculty as associate professors of music, Jeremy Berry, Estelle Choi, Ryan Meehan and Jeffrey Myers.

Pelesko welcomed “these outstanding faculty who will teach and perform and share their talents with our rich music community here on campus and whose work will continue to move and inspire each of us.”

In the humanities, recent arrivals are Kathryn Golden, assistant professor of Africana studies; Kisha Porcher, assistant professor of English; Kenneth Cohen, associate professor of history and director of museum studies; Sonia Robles, assistant professor of history; and Holly Myers, Lillyrose Veneziano Broccia, Steven Alcorn, Eulises Avellaneda and Arnaldo Robles-Reyes, all assistant professors of languages, literatures and cultures.

“This new group of outstanding faculty will help our students learn to think critically, grapple with ethical decisions and experience a range of cultures and cultural contexts, all while helping us better understand our past while preserving our cultural heritage for our future,” Pelesko said.

In the natural sciences, new faculty are Jeremy Bird, Chi Keung Lam, Amber Krauchunas, Justin Parreno, Lisha Shao and Kathleen Curran, all assistant professors of biological sciences; Emil Hernandez-Pagan and Lauren Genova, both assistant professors of chemistry and biochemistry; Jennifer Legault and Peter Nelson, both assistant professors of linguistics and cognitive science; Diego Penta, Christopher Cox, Linjin Li, Min Ranabhat, Gangotryi Sorcar and Rajinda Wickrama, all assistant professors of mathematical sciences; Hao Shi, Adebanjo Oriade and Mark Ku, all assistant professors of physics and astronomy; Philip Gable, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences; and Sophia Choukas-Bradley and William Kenkel, assistant professors of psychological and brain sciences.

“I am thrilled to welcome this group of outstanding faculty who will help our students learn to reason scientifically, quantitatively and computationally, while exploring the natural world, the mathematical world, and helping us understand the nature of language,” Pelesko said.

In the social sciences, new faculty are Kedron Thomas, associate professor of anthropology; Morgan Ellithorpe, assistant professor of communication; David Ebner, assistant professor of political science and international relations; Jennifer Bouek, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice; Angela Hattery and Earl Smith, professors of women and gender studies; and Emerald Christopher-Byrd, assistant professor of women and gender studies.

“These faculty bring scholarship and community engagement together in new and important ways, with work extending from the study of media to political behavior,” Pelesko said.

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College staff recognized

The State of the College event concluded with a standing ovation to the College’s professional staff members, who Pelesko said have worked tirelessly to help make online teaching and learning possible, to juggle in-person and virtual events and manage the required restrictions, and to find ways to work remotely and, recently, to return safely to campus.

“They’ve done this with grace, and good humor, and with a dedication to preserving that spark that is awesome to behold,” he said.

Article by Ann Manser; photos by Maria Errico

Published Oct. 27, 2021

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Meeting the challenge