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Exceptional education comes from exceptional educators

At Villanova, the faculty are dedicated teacher-scholars who pursue their research, work side-by-side with distinguished senior scholars and build fulfilling academic careers. In the 2017-2018 academic year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences welcomed another outstanding group of new faculty.

 

Meet Meredith Bergey, PhD, Sociology and Criminology.

Meredith Bergey is a professor of Sociology and Criminology

Having grown up in a family with four Villanova alumni, Dr. Bergey is thrilled to have joined Nova Nation as a faculty member. Her favorite topics to teach are the social and cultural dimensions and determinants of health. Utilizing her interdisciplinary and applied background on the topic, Dr. Bergey engages students in the many challenges and inequalities of the health care system that might not be obvious. The type of environment in which people live, work and learn all impact the quality of health care people receive.

“My students’ enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity about this topic will undoubtedly make change possible in the health care system. It’s incredible to see the students’ harness their energy in order to promote critical thought and global citizenship,” she said.

Meet Glenn Bracey, PhD, Sociology and Criminology

Glenn Bracey is a professor of Sociology and Criminology

Dr. Bracey loves teaching race and politics. His affinity for the topic is inspired by scholar-activists such as Grace Lee Boggs, John Brown, Octavius Catto and countless others who have demonstrated courage for the pursuit of freedom.

Dr. Bracey addresses race and politics in the classroom through a variety of contexts such as social movements, religion and social theory. By the end of the semester, Dr. Bracey proudly admits that students surprise him with the various ways they independently apply sociological insights to their own lives. His goal is that students utilize the concepts they learn to pursue equality and social justice.

Meet Frances Burns '97 CLAS, '99 MPA, Public Administration

Frances Burns is a professor of Public Administration

After more than 20 years of experience in city management, most recently as the chief operating officer of the School District of Philadelphia, Burns returned to Villanova to teach in the MPA program.

One of her favorite topics to teach and research is leadership. Organizations rise and fall with leadership, so a strong, capable and ethical leader is paramount, she says. “I'm fascinated by the similarities and differences of leaders and their ability to form a strong coalition. It's something special when everyone in an organization feels a shared sense of purpose and excitement about the work and mission.”

She feels that shared sense of purpose at Villanova. As an undergraduate and graduate alumna, Burns is thrilled to be teaching at an institution she loves. She says that living by truth, unity and love is a part of who she is.

Meet Agnese Codebo, PhD, Romance Languages and Literatures

Agnese Codebo is a professor of Romance Languages and Literatures

Dr. Codebo takes a lot of pleasure reading the great texts of Latin American literature, but says she is often troubled that the texts are understood as a consolidated, fixed and largely patriarchal canon. Through Villanova’s commitment to inclusion and the pursuit of truth, she creates a syllabus that allows students to engage with alternative methods of constructing historical narratives.

“It’s been very exciting for students to have critical conversations around the ways in which literature and culture uncover history of the silenced voices. When possible, I love for my students to be able to relate their work in class to larger questions in the world around them,” she says.

Meet Kevin DePrinzio, OSA, PhD, Theology and Religious Studies

Kevin DePrinzio, OSA, PhD, is both a professor of Theology and Religious Studies, and an Augustinian priest

Father DePrinzio is both a professor of Theology and Religious Studies, an Augustinian priest. This combination, he explains, helps him better serve not only his students but also his Augustinian brothers.

In the classroom, Father Kevin works to dissect students’ relationship between spirituality and theology. He acknowledges that spirituality is popularly understood as a safer word compared to theology or religion. Yet, he attempts to tease out the nuances of spirituality in order to encourage students to search and discover a God or community of faith in some form.

“Keep on moving ahead,” a St. Augustine’s quote, is Father Kevin's mantra because he hopes to encourage and be encouraged by the exploration for God.

Meet Alexander Diaz-Lopez, PhD, Mathematics and Statistics

Alexander Diaz-Lopez is a professor of Mathematics and Statistics.

Veritas is the pursuit of truth, and Dr. Diaz-Lopez applies this Villanova value to his work as a mathematician. Except, the truth that Dr. Diaz-Lopez pursues is achieved through logical steps that explain or model certain phenomena. Yet as regimented and precise as math may be, Dr. Diaz-Lopez incorporates Unitas and Caritas in his research and teaching.

He argues that provided the right environment and mentorship, everyone can have a successful and meaningful experience with mathematics. His goal is create an environment of unity and acceptance to allow each of his students to accomplish their best work.

“If you are interested in mathematics, feel free to come talk to me,” he says.

Mary Kate Donovan, PhD, Romance Languages and Literatures

Mary Kate Donovan is a professor of Romance Languages and Literatures

In Dr. Donovan’s classes, students don’t just learn Spanish culture, they’re immersed in it. She integrates literature, film and visual culture into her curriculum and examines these mediums in her research. In today’s visually-driven society, students are better equipped for visual analysis than they realize because they interact with audiovisual material constantly in their everyday lives, she says.

“By emphasizing visual literacy in the humanities, we can help students develop the skills they need to critically engage with the material assigned in our courses as well as the world outside the classroom.”

Dr. Donovan is continuously inspired by how her students connect class discussions with broader social or political issues. “My main goal as an educator is to encourage my students to engage critically with the world around them, and so when I see them do precisely that it is a very fulfilling experience.”

Meet Peter Koch, PhD, Philosophy

Meet Peter Koch is a professor of Philosophy

“If your brain is transplanted to another body, where would you end up? If we uploaded your mind to a database, would you survive as that mind?” With a growing number of companies promising the possibility of “brain uploads” or brain transplants, these are questions Dr. Koch considers.

Plato, Aristotle and Socrates have defined classical Philosophy, and Dr. Koch applies their philosophical foundations to bioethics. As for brain transplants, philosophers, like Dr. Koch, play a crucial role in understanding the ethical implications. Ultimately, he says, they must sort what “thing” human beings are: mind or body?

This application of philosophy is inseparable from the Augustinian mission of Unitas, Caritas, and Veritas because philosophy, done properly, should serve to unify people in the pursuit of truth and guided by a respect for one another. Whether humans are considered a mind or a body is debatable, but the method in which it is argued can only be done by implementing the Augustinian values.

Meet Christy Lang Hearlson, PhD, Theology and Religious Studies

Christy Lang Hearlson is a professor of Theology and Religious Studies

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. For Dr. Lang Hearlson, it’s her coffee mug made by a local potter, her son’s drawings, her colleagues' stories of innovation, her students’ papers and all things that bear the mark of artisanship. She’s inspired by others' work and uses that to build a classroom community of respect—facilitating unitas.

Unitas is the growing coherence of our beliefs, actions and values, as well as the sense of the relatedness of everything we study as a community. As a practical theologian, Dr. Lang Hearlson emphasizes theology's interconnectedness with other areas of study throughout her courses. She encourages students to integrate class topics into their real lives.

“I feel most successful as a teacher when students report that class is changing the way they see the world or (in a good way) ‘messing up’ their lives,” she says.

Meet A.J. Yumi Lee, PhD, English

A.J. Yumi Lee is a professor of English

Many of literature’s most important texts date back hundreds of years, but Dr. Lee focuses her course material on contemporary pieces. For example, in Race and Ethnicity in Contemporary American Literature, she taught texts that had been published in the last decade.

“It was so exciting for them and for me to unite and engage in critical conversation around these texts,” she says.

Dr. Lee’s sense of unity extends beyond the classroom. She mentions that the English Department embodies Villanova’s values of Unitas, Caritas and Vertias. In her short time here, Dr. Lee has been inspired by the sense of care, mutual support and community in her home department and looks forward to applying these values to more areas of the University and to her future courses.

Meet Benjamin Mitchell, PhD, Computing Sciences

Benjamin Mitchell is a professor of Computing Sciences

Dr. Mitchell studies Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and a big focus in both his research and teaching is how to maintain Villanova’s values in such a numerically focused field. He mentions that Big Data and Deep Learning are often utilized to maximize profits. Dr. Mitchell believes that this perspective is too narrowly technical.  His goal is to teach students not just what they can do using these technical methods, but how to evaluate what they should do through Villanova’s values: Unitas, Veritas and Caritas.

“As with any powerful new tool, it’s important that we use AI not just in the way that’s easiest or makes the most money, but that reflects our values,” he says.

Meet Kaitlyn Muller, PhD, Mathematics and Statistics

Kaitlyn Muller is a professor of Mathematics and Statistics

Dr. Muller’s interests include differential equations, radar imaging and signal processing. These skills benefit her as a mathematician and also allow her to serve others. As a researcher in the area of applied mathematics, she develops radar-imaging algorithms for the US Air Force. This work in many ways embodies Villanova’s Unitas, Caritas and Veritas. Her research supports our country and service members and has an impact beyond Villanova’s campus.

All of these skills, Dr. Muller points out, would not be possible without the mathematicians before her and specifically, the women of mathematics.

“The lesser-known women of math have paved the way for me and inspire me to have courage to continue pursuing my research.”

Meet Joseph Neilsen, PhD, Physics

Joseph Neilsen is a professor of Physics

The universe has always mesmerized Dr. Neilsen.

“I know it’s a bit cliché for an astrophysicist to talk about looking at the night sky, but the sense of awe that I feel on a clear, dark night, is the reason that I wanted to know how the universe works,” he says.

Dr. Neilsen admits that answering the universe’s most complex questions is a strenuous effort but a necessary one. It is the challenge of studying space that keeps him engaged and excited in his profession. Dr. Neilsen spends time analyzing the behavior of certain kinds of black holes in our galaxy, and at times this research can feel like such a tiny piece of the vast universe. Yet, he persists—because with every advancement and discovery, we get closer to understanding the unknown.

Meet Kristin Obermyer, Computing Sciences

Kristin Obermyer is a professor of Computing Sciences

Interested in software design? That’s Obermyer’s expertise. She has worked in the software industry for more than 20 years, and she loves to pass her practical experience on to her students. She weaves stories from the field into the course material—illustrating how classroom concepts are relevant to students' careers. But while she loves to teach, she also loves to learn. Obermyer says her students inspire her with their questions and class projects.

“I enjoy guiding their semester projects, and I like to discuss each team’s ideas with them. It’s amazing how creative and challenging the projects they choose turn out to be,” she says.

Meet Delia Popa, PhD, Philosophy.

Delia Popa is a professor of Philosophy

When a philosophical inquiry becomes your very own affair, the search for unity, love and truth is inevitable, according to Dr. Popa. Luckily, she says, Villanova’s mission of Unitas, Caritas and Veritas reminds us that we are not alone in this search.

Through her teaching and research, Dr. Popa explores the different ways through which each of us can find this solidarity, beyond individual interests and social gaps. One way she does this is by applying her favorite area of study—phenomenology.

“Phenomenology can be understood as a method that applies to diverse experiences, in order to reflect on their specific meaning and on their possible connections, similarities or associations,” she says. Through this application, Dr. Popa argues that despite seemingly divergent lives, our experiences likely unite us.

Meet Gregory Przybyla, PhD, Romance Languages and Literatures.

Gregory Przybyla is a professor of Romance Languages and Literatures.

As a Latin American literary scholar, Dr. Przybyla’s interests—no matter what he may be reading at the time—always come back to Argentine literature and poetry. Specifically, Dr. Przybyla is drawn to works that are commonly referred to as the “new Argentine narrative,” which address questions of urban space, urban poverty and cultural manifest.

“Given these writers penchant for experimentation, invention, and ‘revolution,’ I have always found that students enjoy reading this poetry and unpacking its relevance within its socio-historical context.”

That ‘Eureka!’ moment when students finally understand the literature and apply it to the other contexts, is what inspires Dr. Przybyla the most. “Whether in intermediate languages courses, or in more advanced literature and culture courses, I love when students not only get it, but also when they synthesize information and apply it to situations and current events beyond the classroom,” he says.

Meet Laura Sández, PhD, Romance Languages and Literature.

Laura Sández is a professor of Romance Languages and Literature.

Dr. Sández is inspired by the writings of cultural, feminist and queer theorist Gloria Anzaldúa. Because of her race, sexuality, gender and profession as a writer, Anzaldúa experienced extreme marginalization. Dr. Sández utilizes Anzaldúa’s work to facilitate class conversation about Latin American Critical Theory, which analyzes the way Latin Americans like Anzaldúa are stereotyped, marginalized and tokenized within culture.

To better understand the Latin American Critical Theory, Dr. Sández implements practical empathy in her teaching style—encouraging people to broaden their perspective about things they do not fully understand. She believes practical empathy unites and motivates people to pursue a new and inclusive learning approach.

Meet Rachel Skrlac Lo, PhD, Education and Counseling

Rachel Skrlac Lo is a professor of Education and Counseling

Dr. Skrlac Lo’s favorite medium to teach is children’s picture books. While at first, it might not seem relevant for graduate and undergraduate students, she argues that these books provide visions of the world that we, as a collective, deem important to share with young people.

“When my students and I analyze this medium, we gain a deeper understanding of our society, our ideals and what we value, which provides the bigger picture of education and counseling for people of all ages and backgrounds,” she says.

Dr. Srklac Lo understands that we live in precarious times. However, this precarity is not equally distributed, she says. Some face significantly more obstacles due to bias and systemic inequities.

“I do my best to live each day dedicated to learning about these obstacles, to finding ways to dismantle them, to articulating a theory of society that decenters this privilege and helping my students be passionate for the same pursuit. Villanova’s motto, Veritas, Caritas, Unitas, is a reminder that we not alone in doing this important work.”

Meet Alyssa Stark, PhD, Biology

Alyssa Stark is a professor of Biology

As a functional morphologist—someone who studies the form and function of biological organisms–Dr. Stark’s main source for academic inspiration is the natural world. She studies organisms’ diverse features to better understand how they fit into a broader system.

Currently, Dr. Stark studies geckos to explore the morphology of adhesion. Geckos’ tiny toe hairs repeatedly stick and unstick. She explains that through Biomimicry, the practice of looking at nature to help solve human problems, scientists have developed hundreds of synthetic mimics. Dr. Stark is passionate about this application of bio-inspired design to resolve real-world problems because it bridges science to other fields such as art, business and engineering.

Meet Amber Stuver, PhD, Physics

Amber Stuver is a professor of Physics

Dr. Stuver’s area of expertise is gravitational waves, and she was among the international scientists on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory project that won the Nobel Prize in Physics this year. The project measured, for the first time, gravitational waves caused by a collision of black holes.

Dr. Stuver’s academic inspiration is rooted in questioning what we don’t understand, but she is also inspired by Villanova’s Veritas, Caritas and Unitas. As a scientist, she uses Veritas to find truth in the universe; as a teacher, she uses Caritas to share her knowledge with students; and as a member of the Villanova community, she uses Unitas to foster relationships between students and faculty to expand her own knowledge.

Meet Terence Yee, PhD, Education and Counseling

Terence Yee is a professor of Education and Counseling

Asian immigrants are less likely to seek out mental health professionals because of stigmas and a lack of culturally responsive approaches. Through his research, Dr. Yee aspires to eradicate the Asian population’s hesitation to seek assistance by educating counseling professionals on culturally appropriate treatment.

One way, Dr. Yee argues, for health professionals to better their technique is by applying Villanova’s Unitas, Veritas and Caritas. Improving the relationship between counselor and client utilizes Unitas. Seeking a more truthful way of working with Asian clients implements Veritas. Finally, providing a better quality of life for the Asian community embodies Caritas.