Sewanee welcomes nine new faculty members

By Amelia Leaphart
Executive Staff

Despite uncertainty looming over the Domain, education continues to be revitalized. This fall brings nine new faculty members, with three as alumni and six on the tenure track. These additions study a myriad of disciplines, from economics to art history. 

Assistant art history professor on the tenure-track, Leslie Todd, focuses on art in Latin America, and said her interest in art stem from an early age, with her artist mother who often took her on museum trips. She also noticed an inclination for Spanish language through secondary school.

Spanish language and art continued to converge in high school and college, and she decided to major in art history. 

“When I started college, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. There wasn’t a fashion major at my school, so I thought art history would be a good background to go to a fashion school when I graduated,” Todd said.

After her freshman year of college, she went to a summer program at Parsons School of Design in New York that pushed her away from fashionThis realization allowed her to explore different paths with art history. After disliking two museum and gallery internships, her path narrowed to focus on an academic direction. 

As a colonial Latin America specialist, Todd wants to eventually team with the Spanish department to create an event for Hispanic heritage month. Currently, Todd is working on a book building off her dissertation. Her book focuses on 18th century sculpture in Quito, Ecuador. 

“Specifically, I’m looking at small scale items people had in their homes, so devotional objects. These [objects] in scholarship are typically taught as just devotional objects, but in my research I found they are used in many more ways,” Todd said.

Ben Mangrum, assistant English professor on the tenure-track, focuses on literature and the environment. He arrived in Sewanee in early July. Like Todd, he noticed a correlation between two fields he was interested in. His interest in intertwining literature and the environment stem from the connection between agriculture and racial justice. During his studies, he was struck by literature’s power to illuminate socio-environmental issues and create empathy. 

“I stumbled into my undergraduate career,” Mangrum said, “I had no academic ambitions as a high school student. I just went to a college close to my hometown and it was during my undergraduate years that I fell in love with the humanities. My courses at the undergraduate level invited me to be a critical thinker in a way that I hadn’t really been invited to be before.”

“I’m mostly interested in how these writers help us understand not only our relationship to the natural world, but also issues of environmental justice,” Mangrum said.

“I feel that learning is as much a part of being a professor as teaching,” Mangrum continued. 

Max Dahlquist, assistant geology professor, arrived in Sewanee at the end of July and is on the tenure-track. 

“I always loved being outside as a kid,” Dahlquist said, “my dad’s a high school physics teacher. I always really enjoyed science and was introduced to it at a young age. I took an intro to geology class my freshman year of college and really enjoyed it, and it felt like a good marriage of everything I liked. I enjoy studying the world and being outside, but I’ve also always liked school and the academic side of things.”

Dahlquist also double-majored in English, as also he enjoys writing and studying literature. 

“When I started college, it was that weird late-teens phase where I wasn’t super motivated, and I was struggling to figure out what to do with my life,” Dahlquist said.

After graduating from the University of Southern Indiana, he moved to Los Angeles for graduate school on a geo-chemistry track, but “as my project evolved, I got more interested in tectonics and geo-morphology, which is surface processes, so how the surface of the earth evolves in response to various forces,” Dahlquist said.

Dahlquist is still adjusting to being a new professor, as while he has worked as a teaching assistant, this semester is his first time designing his own classes. 

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to keep open feedback and dialogue with my students. Knowing that I’m new to this and that I have a lot to learn and making sure I’m having conversations about how the class is going and what would be helpful to them in covering the material,” Dahlquist said. 

Not being able to take field-trips off the domain forces Dahlquist to remain flexible in his lesson plans. He teaches structural geology, which focuses on rock deformations. The Domain lacks deformed rocks, so “I’ve had to figure out ways to get around that for data collection for a semester project, and I want my students to get a real sense of the features we’re studying that we can’t go see in person,” he said. 

As Bran Potter’s replacement, a well-known faculty member, Dahlquist remarked, “I don’t want to say that I have to be what he was to the community, but I’d love to make a similar impact.”

Molly Brookfield, assistant professor of history and women’s and gender studies on the tenure-track, arrived in early August and began teaching a couple weeks after her arrival. 

“Being an undergrad, feminist writings, often in other classes such as American history, really fascinated me and spoke to me. I wanted to understand more about where their theories came from. That’s where the history angle comes in. I wanted to understand how great women writers of the past could create their incredible ideas that I was encountering in the classroom,” Brookfield said. 

Brookfield ended up spending time working in museums and other jobs before returning to school to get her Ph.D. to work as a professor. 

For undergrad, Brookfield went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota as History major with a minor in American studies. After working at museums and archives in London, she returned to academia. This past year, she finished her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. No stranger to teaching, Brookfield taught as a graduate student instructor, which consisted of leading many discussion sections. 

Her dissertation focuses on street harassment against women by men in the United States since the 1850s. Like Todd, she’s expanding on her dissertation for a book she’s working on.

Brookfield looks forward to teaching women’s and gender studies next semester, as right now she’s teaching women-focused history classes. 

“I’d love to get more involved with issues with women, gender, and sexuality on campus. Whether that’s attending events at the Wick, or serving on a Title IX committee, or putting on events, I’d love to do more of that. Especially when we can put on events in a normal way again,” Brookfield said. 

Lhakpa Sherpa, assistant economics professor, completed his education through secondary school in Nepal and arrived in the US for undergraduate studies at Elmira College. He then completed a masters in economics at Washington University in St. Louis, and completed his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Pittsburgh. 

“I’ve always been interested in social sciences, but I was also interested in finding a field that was more quantitative in nature,” Sherpa said, “Initially, when I was studying economics, I was interested in questions related to why some countries were richer than others, and what kind of policies poor countries could implement to get on a path of economic development. Coming from a developing country, these questions were interesting to me, so it was natural for me to specialize in economics.”

Sherpa currently teaches Introduction to Macroeconomics, and hopes to teach courses on money, banking, and international finance. 

Three new faculty members are alumni of the school: Matt Cathey (C’98), Katharine Wilkinson (C’05), and Bret Windhauser (C’14). 

Matt Cathey teaches mathematics during his sabbatical year from Wofford College, and he works remotely from South Carolina. 

He describes returning as a professor as “strange. When I was in undergrad, I always dreamed about coming back to Sewanee to teach, and it never looked like it was gonna happen. But now, I got this opportunity for this year, and it’s been fantastic.”

While at Sewanee, Cathey was a double major in math and music. 

“It’s funny, for math, I was always just good at it in middle and high school. My plan when I arrived was to be a physics major, and maybe double with math. With all due respect to the professors, I found that working in a lab was just not for me. I ended up dropping out of the physics major my first year,” Cathey said.

After Sewanee, Cathey earned his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee. He began teaching at Wofford College while finishing his dissertation in 2006. 

“I’m interested in how students acquire mathematical knowledge as something that came easy to me, and not so much in college. I’m interested in how that transition happens and what ways I as a professor can help students make that leap. I try to incorporate what I’ve learned about that in the way that I teach,” Cathey said.

Bret Windhauser (C’14) is teaching Arabic for a semester, and arrived over the summer. He majored in French and international and global studies at Sewanee.

For international studies, Windhauser focused on the Middle East, “but since there wasn’t an Arabic major or minor, I did a lot of my language work with French,” he said. 

When Windhauser was at Sewanee, there were a few Arabic classes. 

“I took all the classes I could, and I worked as the Arabic tutor for two years. I had enough of an introduction at Sewanee that I was able to make the switch. But then studying the Middle East, it’s also helpful to know French or another research language,” Windhauser said. 

As his first year teaching a full class by himself, although he has been a teaching assistant, he’s learning how to “lesson plan in a way that builds consistently. I want to make sure we’re constantly building on concepts, and since it’s language, there’s lots of opportunities for participation and practice. Seeing how the things that worked for me as a student, and how I can apply those methods as a teacher. Also time-management, making sure I don’t get through my lesson in 20 minutes and sit and look at my kids for 30 minutes,” Windhauser said. 

With a three person class, Windhauser is able to conduct this semester in-person. 

Katharine Wilkinson (C’05) joins Sewanee for the semester teaching “The Call of Climate” in the religious studies department. Kartik Misra, professor in economics on the tenure-track, also joined the Sewanee faculty this semester.