Snapshots of new faculty

Meet nine new Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences faculty as they talk about choosing their respective fields and what they are working on at Boston College this year.


 

Angela Ards

Angela Ards

Assistant Professor, English

Ph.D.
Princeton University

Where did you grow up?
Dallas, Texas

Favorite book?
Right now, it’s Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, which inspires my new book project chronicling the lives of black southerners who remained in the South instead of joining the Great Migration.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I first became a journalist, then a professor of English, for the same reason: to pursue my love of writing and the written word.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
My very first feature article, “Sisters Act: Reflections on the Tyson ‘Homecoming’ Flap,” about community organizing against gender violence, published in The Village Voice.

What will you work on this year?
In addition to working on my book about black southerners, I am helping to develop BC’s new journalism minor.


 

Michael Hartney

Michael T. Hartney

Assistant Professor, Political Science

Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame 

Where did you grow up?
Florida

Favorite book?
Alma Mater: A College Homecoming by P.F. Kluge

What made you decide to go into your field?
Education outcomes in the U.S. rank poorly compared to other advanced democracies and persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps undermine the egalitarian role that public schools are expected to play in our social and political culture. I want to conduct research on the politics of education and to challenge students to critically examine the relationship between democracy and education. This is how I can contribute to helping public schools cultivate civic and political engagement among youth. These in turn shape the overall quality of American democracy.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
A recent paper published in Public Administration Review that finds evidence that U.S. K–12 school districts that adopted pay-for-performance programs secured teachers with comparatively higher academic profiles.

What will you work on this year?
I'm currently completing a book manuscript that examines the causes and consequences of teacher union political activism in the postwar U.S. The project demonstrates that the power of public sector union interest groups can be traced to governmental policies that either enhance or discourage the mobilization of organized labor.


 

Carling Hay

Carling Christina Hay

Assistant Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Ph.D.
University of Toronto

Where did you grow up?
Toronto, Canada

Favorite book?
There are so many, it's hard to pick! I have been a bookworm since I learned to read, but at the top of my current list is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I loved physics and math in high school, which led me to study physics at McGill University. During my undergraduate studies, I took a few classes in atmospheric science. This is when I realized that I could combine my love of physics and interest in weather. My graduate work in atmospheric physics and geophysics was a natural way to combine these two passions.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
I am most proud of my article “Probabilistic Reanalysis of 20th Century Sea-Level Rise,” coauthored with Eric Morrow, Robert E. Kopp, and Jerry X. Mitrovica. It appeared in the January 22, 2015, issue of Nature.

What will you work on this year?
My past work has been on using statistical techniques to estimate global mean sea level. What matters for coastal communities is local and regional sea level. I want to better understand and predict local sea-level changes and how they will affect indigenous communities over the next century.


 

Jonathan-David Mackinley Howard

Jonathan-David Mackinley Howard

Assistant Professor, English

Ph.D.
Duke University

Where did you grow up?
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Favorite book?
The Known World by Edward P. Jones

What made you decide to go into your field?
The classroom can be a place for radical questioning. And in an unjustly ordered world, questions are perhaps our first and best line of defense, for they open us up to alternative possibilities. And while the questions we ask help to destabilize and denaturalize an unjust world, literature and story immerse us in new and imagined worlds. Thus, it was as a witness to the disruptive and renewing power of questions and the imagination that I decided to give myself to teaching and writing about stories.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
My first peer-reviewed publication, “Gone with the Ibos: Water and the Material Imagination of Blackness in Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow, which was published in Callaloo, the premier literary and cultural journal of the African Diaspora.

What will you work on this year?
I am working on my first book project, Black and Blue: Water and the Material Imagination of Blackness, which undertakes an ecocritical study of the trope of water in African Diaspora literature.


 

Kathryn Lindsey

Kathryn A. Lindsey

Assistant Professor, Mathematics

Ph.D.
Cornell University

Where did you grow up?
Amherst, Massachusetts

Favorite book?
My favorite book since childhood has been Robin McKinley’s Beauty, a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. It's my go-to comfort book; rereading it feels a bit like being wrapped up in a warm hug. 

What made you decide to go into your field?
I'm drawn to the beauty and elegance of math. It's very aesthetically pleasing when ideas come together “just right,” the same way words can come together to form a beautiful poem. 

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
A research article I wrote titled “Shapes of Julia Sets.” I found a method to make a certain type of fractal, called a Julia set, approximate any “shape” that you want. The article begins with an image of a Julia set in the shape of a cat, which was fun to make.

What will you work on this year?
I will continue my research in pure mathematics in the fields of dynamical systems and low-dimensional geometry. One project that I'm particularly excited about explores the closure of the set of Galois conjugates of certain types of postcritically finite maps of the unit interval. 


 

Jia Niu

Jia Niu

Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Ph.D.
Harvard University, 2014

Where did you grow up?
Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China

Favorite book?
Not sure that I have a single favorite book. I’ve recently become a fan of Liu Cixin’s trilogy The Three-Body Problem.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I am fascinated by polymers—the massive molecules consisting of many repeating units. In nature they include diverse biomolecules including DNA, RNA, and proteins. I want to explore how to expand the scope of man-made molecules using the same principle on which natural polymers are organized.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
My Ph.D. publication, “Enzyme-Free Translation of DNA into Sequence-Defined Synthetic Polymers Structurally Unrelated to Nucleic Acids,” which was published in Nature Chemistry.

What will you work on this year?
I am interested in developing novel bioactive synthetic polymers via a combined force of rational design and evolutionary approaches. I hope these polymers will become useful tools in both fundamental research and human therapeutics.


 

Tony Tran

Tony Tran

Assistant Professor, Communication

Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Where did you grow up?
Arlington, Texas

Favorite book?
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

What made you decide to go into your field?
While trying to figure out my own identity and family history in college, I realized a lot of what I “knew” about being Vietnamese American came from popular culture and mediated depictions of the Vietnam War from a U.S. perspective. I wanted to explore the role of popular culture and global media in forming identities, but also highlight Vietnamese diasporic voices, histories, and cultures beyond just war. 

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
My work on YouTube makeup guru Michelle Phan and her “Anti-Phans”—people who hate Phan but watch her religiously—analyzes how (mostly) young Asian American women define beauty and what it means to “look” Vietnamese.

What will you work on this year?
I'll be working on finishing my book that looks at how Vietnamese Canadians use digital media to negotiate identities, especially in relation to the more dominant Vietnamese diasporic communities in the United States. 


 

Lewis Tseng

Lewis Tseng

Assistant Professor, Computer Science

Ph.D.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Where did you grow up?
Tamsui, Taiwan

Favorite book?
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a fourteenth-century classic Chinese novel

What made you decide to go into your field?
Computers and IT more generally seem like magic if you don’t know how they work. I’m interested in understanding that and hopefully making it more accessible.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
My article “Fault-tolerant Consensus in Directed Graphs,” coauthored with Nitin H. Vaidya. We identified a fundamental result on directed graphs, which is useful to many research fields like distributed computing, fault-tolerant computing, and graph theory.

What will you work on this year?
There are two main projects: collaboration with MIT on projects related to blockchain and distributed storage systems and, second, collaboration with the Toyota InfoTechnology Center on projects related to intelligent transportation systems and cloud computing.


 

Liesl Yamaguchi

Liesl Yamaguchi

Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures

Ph.D.
Princeton University

Where did you grow up?
Los Angeles, California

Favorite book?
A beautiful, massive, clothbound edition of Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color that I received as a gift several years ago.

What made you decide to go into your field
A love of the arts, directed and defined over time a particular aptitude for the language arts, and the availability of opportunities.

Of what work or publication are you most proud?
An essay I wrote on the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé in 2015. It’s a reflection on the nature of verse, and the possibility of poetry, in the absence of the metrical line.

What will you work on this year?
I’m working on a book about colored hearing, a variety of synesthesia in which particular sounds prompt sensations of color (e.g., one hears a harpsichord as “silver” or a trumpet as “red”). The phenomenon can be traced back to Antiquity in conjunction with musical sounds, but it’s not until the 19th century that language suddenly appears as a color stimulus. I’m writing about that event, drawing on accounts of colored vowels in musical acoustics, linguistics, and poetics.