College of LAS « Illinois

New faculty bringing “tremendous" energy to LAS

Fall begins with 24 new professors in a variety of college departments

(from upper left, clockwise): Ted Sanders, Claudia Brosseder, Naveen Narisetty, and Benjamin Hankin are among 24 new faculty in the College of LAS this fall.
(from upper left, clockwise): Ted Sanders, Claudia Brosseder, Naveen Narisetty, and Benjamin Hankin are among 24 new faculty in the College of LAS this fall.
If you already know of Ted Sanders, you probably like good stories. The rising author is the creator of The Keepers, a widely acclaimed children’s book series from HarperCollins that the New York Times Book Review likened to the work of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan.

But have you heard his comeback story? Here it is in a nutshell: In 1992, he flunked out of the University of Illinois (architecture wasn’t his thing). Some 24 years of soul-searching later, however, in 2016, he moved into an office at Illinois as a promising new assistant professor of English. 

“I’m in the same classrooms that I used to be as a student,” he said. “Now I’m the professor.”

Sanders is one of 24 new professors in the College of LAS this fall. They come from all over the world—from New York, Colorado, and Chicago, to China, Germany, and rural India. They work in a variety of disciplines, from animal and plant biology to psychology and Asian American studies. Some are just out of graduate school; others are renowned in their fields.

“We are thrilled to welcome our new faculty this fall,” said Barbara Wilson, interim chancellor and Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS. “Whether this is their first faculty position or they’re joining us as experienced colleagues, they will bring tremendous energy to classes and research in the college.”

Here are profiles of just a few of them. A full list of the new faculty follows.

The writer

After Sanders left the architecture program at Illinois in 1992, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. He stayed in Champaign-Urbana, however, working various jobs and experiencing life, as he put it.

Eventually he enrolled at nearby Parkland College and took a creative writing class. The instructor told him one day that he should pursue writing, so Sanders transferred back to the university. Things went better the second time, and in 2004 he earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois in English. He immediately enrolled in the university’s Master of Fine Arts program and earned his graduate degree in 2007, in creative writing.

Sanders obtained a non-tenure track position at Illinois teaching rhetoric and business and technical writing, all the while writing on his own. In 2012, he published his first collection of short stories, and in 2015 he published The Box and the Dragonfly, the first in The Keepers series.

Then, in 2016, as he pondered his next move after nearly 10 years teaching at Illinois, with sterling resume in hand, the Department of English at Illinois made him another job offer: assistant professor. He said he plans to keep writing even as he devotes effort to helping students learn the craft.

“I really love teaching. Even if I was making enough money from the books to live on, I would still teach,” Sanders said. “I think one thing helps the other.”

From India to Illinois

Naveen Narisetty has come a long way to join the Department of Statistics as an assistant professor. Born in a small village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, he was the first in his family to go to college when he attended the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

He came to America for graduate school, and earlier this year, he earned his doctoral degree in statistics from the University of Michigan. Narisetty won several prestigious awards during his time as a graduate student in Ann Arbor, including a Rackham Pre-doctoral Fellowship and an Excellence in Teaching Award. He was also influenced by his advisors, Xuming He and Vijay Nair, both professors of statistics at Michigan. Xuming had previously served as a professor at Illinois for 18 years.

While in Ann Arbor, Narisetty led the non-profit organization AID India to try to improve societal and economic problems that he witnessed while he was growing up.

Narisetty’s areas of academic interest include Bayesian methodology and computation, data depth, high dimensional data analysis, large-scale computer models, and quantile-based inference. He’s also interested in interdisciplinary research in atmospheric science, genetics, and public health.

“I chose to be part of U of I in spite of many other offers because of the exceptionally strong academic and research environment across disciplines, including statistics as well as all the sciences and engineering, which is essential to be a complete statistician,” Narisetty said.  “As a faculty here, I look forward to working on statistical problems as much as collaborating with researchers from other fields and interactions with students.”

A leading clinical psychologist

Benjamin Hankin joined the Department of Psychology this fall having already earned wide respect as a leading psychologist. He is the Fred and Ruby Kanfer Endowed Professor of Clinical Psychology.

Hankin, who worked previously at the University of Denver, earned his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin in 2001. He has since published over 140 papers and co-edited two books, with his research continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and private foundations.

Hankin is interested in understanding depression, especially in children and adolescents. His work has advanced knowledge in three fundamental areas: 1) accurate and appropriate description, structure and classification of depression and co-occurring disorders, 2) etiological vulnerabilities and mechanisms underlying the development of depression and the specificity of these risks for prediction of depression versus co-occurring disorders, and 3) the emergence of sex differences in depression and explanations for why more girls are depressed than boys.

Hankin has received numerous awards, including American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychopathology, the President’s New Researcher Award from the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, and Distinguished Undergraduate Research Mentor Award at the University of South Carolina.

He is excited about making Urbana-Champaign a new home for his family. He added that the Department of Psychology at Illinois is internationally renowned.

“There are excellent scholars in different areas that can provide a rich opportunity for collaboration and growth,” he said. “Also, there are many other outstanding units and departments across the campus that provide unique, wonderful collaborations that can lead to exciting new research grants and advances.”

Crossing the world for Latin American studies

How does a native of Germany become a leading scholar in Latin American history? As told by Claudia Brosseder, a new assistant professor in the Department of History, it’s a long story, with a happy new chapter having started late last fall.

After earning her doctoral degree at the University of Munich in 2002, Brosseder began a post-doctoral research degree that required a second field of expertise. Her curiosity about the unfolding of Europe’s intellectual heritage led her across the ocean to study Andean culture in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Mexico, as well as Spain and Italy.

She learned to love the American academic system, and she served as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in 2006. Her work progressed when she became a visiting assistant professor of Latin American history at Stetson University, in Deland, Florida, in 2007.

Brosseder was later hired at Heidelberg University in Germany, but at the end of 2015 she came back to the States for the position at Illinois, which she considers one of the most innovative institutions for Andean studies. Her research has given her expertise in distinct areas of scholarship: the intellectual history of early modern Europe and the history of the colonial Andes, and how local and global forces construct cultural identities.

She has received several fellowships, including the Feodor-Lynen fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation and the “Habilitation prize” by the Bavarian state.

“I chose to come to the U of I for its renowned Department of History, its library for Andean studies, and for its great past within the fields of Andean and Latin American studies,” Brosseder said. “Moreover, the colleagues of the History Department are just wonderful.”

Other new faculty this fall

Matthew Borman, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics. (PhD, ’13, University of Chicago).  

Piotr Cienciala, assistant professor, Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science and the School of Earth, Society, and Environment. (PhD, ’15, University of British Columbia). 

David Glisch-Sanchez, assistant professor, Department of Latina/Latino Studies (PhD, ’15, University of Texas at Austin).

Maryam Kashani, assistant professor, Department of Gender & Women’s Studies (PhD, ’14, University of Texas at Austin). 

Sean Laurent, assistant professor, Department of Psychology (PhD, ’10, University of Oregon). 

Natalie Lira, assistant professor, Department of Latina/Latino Studies (PhD, ’15, University of Michigan). 

Eunmi Mun, assistant professor, Department of Sociology (PhD, ’11, Harvard University).  

Sepideh Friberg, assistant professor, Department of Psychology (PhD, ’10, Max-Planck International Research School, Germany and NeuroSpin, France). 

Noel Saenz, assistant professor, Department of Philosophy (PhD, ’14, University of Colorado at Boulder). 

Taraneh Sayadi, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics (PhD, ’12, Stanford University). 

Heidemarie Laurent, assistant professor, Department of Psychology (PhD, ’08, University of Massachusetts). 

Philip Anderson, assistant professor, Department of Animal Biology and the School of Integrative Biology (PhD, ’07, University of Chicago). 

Li-Qing Chen, assistant professor, Department of Plant Biology and the School of Integrative Biology (PhD, ’06, China Agricultural University). 

Chadly Stern, assistant professor, Department of Psychology (PhD, ’16, New York University).

Tom Van Heuvelen, assistant professor, Department of Sociology (PhD, ’16, Indiana University). 

Ghassan Moussawi, assistant professor, Department of Sociology (PhD, ’16, Rutgers University). 

Christopher Dodd, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics (PhD, ’11, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Lila Sharif, assistant professor, Department of Asian American Studies (PhD, ’14, University of California at San Diego).  

Pooyan Amir Ahmadi, assistant professor, Department of Economics (PhD, ’10, Humboldt University).

Tom Kwapil, professor, Department of Psychology (PhD, ’94, University of Wisconsin).

Dave Evensen

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