Meet the Faculty
The backgrounds of American University’s 33 new tenure-line faculty appointments are as diverse as their interests.
They’ve come to Washington from all over the world to research and teach subjects ranging from ethnomusicology to astrophysics, yet their commonalities surpass their differences. Each already is accomplished in their field, and all possess a passion for creating and sharing knowledge.
“American University is at a very advantageous point right now of being financially healthy and growing in its academic programs,” said Phyllis Peres, senior vice provost and dean of academic affairs. “[We’ve been able] to bring in faculty who no matter what level they’re at, are leaders. They’ve won dissertation prizes, if they’re at the full [professor] level they’re bringing grants with them. They have dynamic research programs, are program builders, and are very strong teachers.”
Hiring new faculty is a time- and labor-intensive process. Searches start in mid- to late-summer with several months of comprehensive interviews at conferences and on campus.
“Even before a search is announced folks are out there at conferences making connections with people, spreading the word about American University,” said Peres, who interviews every candidate for a tenure-line position. “We want to make sure we have the right person, and if we don’t find the right person in year one, we’ll continue the search into year two.”
That wasn’t a big problem this year. Peres is extraordinarily pleased with the crop of new faculty set to start their careers this fall.
“It’s a very diverse group in terms of gender, race, ethnicity,” she said. “We have an aggressive equal opportunity hiring program. The diverse faculty bring many different experiences to the university that I think are important, particularly as we come to grips with the fact that our student population is changing as well. Over the next few years we’ll see very different students. For example, the number of multicultural graduates have risen, and the more we can show that we are an inclusive community and that diversity has real meaning in terms of our educational goals, I think the more we’ll be able to succeed as a research university.”
The new tenure-line appointments include:
- College of Arts and Sciences: Astrophysicist Gregg Harry works to detect gravitational waves that may reach back to the Big Bang. At AU Harry will run experimental labs for advanced physics students. “It’s apparent that at American, growing the sciences and building a strong science program is a priority, and that’s impressive,” he said.
- Kogod School of Business: Itir Karaesmen-Aydin is one of the math whizzes behind the complex algorithms that determine airline and hotel prices on Web sites like Expedia and Travelocity. “I’m interested in price forecasting, matching supply with demand to help companies maximize profitability,” she explains. “I’ve always been a quantitative person. That took me to engineering but, ultimately, I wanted something more related to people,” said the Turkish native. “AU has the right balance.”
- School of Communication: As a leading voice in the field of Internet governance scholarship, Laura DeNardis, an engineer and social scientist by training, asserts that Internet technical protocols are political. To DeNardis, the Internet is neither an untamed Wild West, nor is it, as some perceive, managed by the complete strictures of government or corporate control. Her current research runs specifically to technologies of dissent — examining the future of free expression online through new technological forms of political expression and suppression by political activists, hackers like “Anonymous” and repressive governments.
- School of International Service: In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 9 percent of adults live with HIV. Thespina Yamanis is working to prevent the spread of disease with a two-pronged approach of reducing HIV risk-behaviors among men and diminishing violence against women, who endure greater risk due to sexual assault and domestic relationships where women are scared to insist upon condom use.
- School of Public Affairs: Social scientist Joe Young has written extensively on terrorism, insurgency, civil war, and interstate war. Though his research is mostly cross-national, Young, who worked as a school teacher in Brazil for two years, is particularly interested in Latin America. Along with Stephen Tankel, Young was hired to shape SPA’s new terrorism concentration. “Washington is the premier location for understanding the causes and consequences of terrorism,” he says. “AU has a lot of untapped potential, and I’m excited that they’re investing the time and energy in this new program.”
- Washington College of Law: Song Richardson’s research centers on the intersection of psychology and criminal procedure. “I’m interested in an area called implicit social cognition that studies our conscious mental processes,” she said. “Most people of all races have nonconscious biases against people of color. They can conflict with your conscious and genuinely held thoughts and feelings, but we all have them because of the society in which we grow up. I’m interested in how these can affect the way police officers police the street.”
“We’re looking for people who really fit the strategic goal of being a scholar and a teacher,” Peres said. “It’s a question of balance, but it’s also a question of understanding how your scholarship and teaching inform each other. Whether it’s in laboratories, whether it’s community-based learning, whether it’s in the classroom, this is what we do and this is who we are.”