How does an idea transform into reality? If that idea is sparked on the Hobart and William Smith campus, chances are it’s fanned into a flame with the help of Drennen.
Standing at the nexus of environmental, energy and economic theory, Drennen teaches courses on natural resources and energy economics, sustainability and quantitative methods, and has helped lead campus sustainability efforts. He also chairs the entrepreneurial studies department, leading our student incubator and collaborative workspace — The Bozzuto Center for Entrepreneurship — where startups, nonprofits and businesses are born.
“I want students to be able to see social, environmental and economic problems, and have the skills and confidence they need to solve those problems,” he says. “This generation has to tackle the challenges of a changing climate, and entrepreneurial studies helps them design solutions that will benefit the whole world. Helping them do that is what excites me.”
Classes with Janette Gayle are a catalyst for social dialogue. As a historian of race, slavery, labor and civil rights, with a particular focus on women, Gayle’s courses engage with the most pressing topics of our time. That’s right — history classes that actually connect the past with the present.
In Gayle’s classroom, students challenge dominant historical narratives and explode myths, bringing sharply into focus how the power of the idea of race has shaped America.
“For me, whatever work I do in the classroom and outside of it is about being a conscious individual and putting that consciousness into practice,” says Gayle. “I strongly believe that knowledge is useless unless you pass it on. In this way, I hope to help create and make use of opportunity for change.”
That’s what students who take more than one class with Jim Sutton jokingly call themselves. And their numbers are legion.
One of the few criminologists teaching at a liberal arts college, Sutton is an expert on criminology and criminal justice. He teaches students to recognize patterns surrounding crime, victimization and incarceration and then pushes them to understand why those patterns exist and how real people experience them. He teaches Criminology, Juvenile Delinquency, Penology, Social Deviance and the Sociology of Police and Policing. His courses cover everything from gang behavior and sexual assault to prisons and white-collar crime.
“I take steps to help students understand what the data show, reinforcing an approach that moves beyond sensationalism, conventional wisdoms and media depictions,” says Sutton. “Ultimately, my approach is geared toward liberating students from their own experiences, which in my view is the goal of a liberal arts education.”
“At HWS, working one-on-one with faculty is not the exception,” says Brown. “Having eye-opening, ‘wow’ experiences is not an anomaly. It is in fact our goal; it’s what we do here.”
Aboard the Colleges’ 65-ft. research vessel and under the direction of Brown and other faculty, Seneca Lake becomes a living laboratory, where students explore questions about climate change, water quality and other crucial topics related to our environment. An expert on invasive species, Brown teaches students to focus on the microscopic, asking questions about how organisms interact with and adapt to their environment. With an emphasis on field-research, Brown’s courses invite students to learn through action.
“The relationship between students and faculty here on the shores of Seneca Lake is really symbiotic,” says Brown.
“I get to be an active scholar, a great teacher and a mentor — and I don’t have to choose among those things. I pursue my research and teaching in collaboration with students.”
Have you ever wondered what Progressive’s “Flo” character conveys about women workers in the digital age? Why you find yourself watching cat video after cat video when you should be studying? Why “Seinfeld” and “Friends” continue to influence culture long after they’ve gone off air? Or how brands use Tik Tok, Snapchat and Netflix to sell products?
Then a class with Shafer is right for you. An expert on advertising and branding, she says her work “focuses on the seductive circulation of objects in entertainment media with emphases on consumerism, exhibition practices, and the politics of spectator engagement.”
In a world replete with consumption masked as entertainment, Shafer’s courses are at the intersection of technology, advertising and entertainment, opening up new ideas about everything from sociology and psychology to economics and politics.
“My courses are designed to unsettle students’ notions of the status quo and to provide and provoke resistant and oppositional readings of popular culture and mass media texts,” Shafer explains.
From a beautiful setting on the Houghton House grounds adjacent to the main HWS campus, Mathews has mentored thousands of architecture students in his career, many of whom have gone on to the best graduate programs in the country and who are today designing the buildings and infrastructure that underpin our lives.
Why are graduate schools so attracted to HWS architecture students?
In part, it’s Mathews’ unique approach to the field.
“I view the subject of architecture very broadly as a way of comprehending and shaping our surroundings, and as the quintessential convergence of disciplines,” he explains. “To me, architecture is inherently interdisciplinary discourse at the juncture between idealism and pragmatism, between art, physics, mathematics, psychology, anthropology, economics, politics and the environment, and I try to convey these convergences in my teaching.”
Who better to teach students how to hone their creative writing skills than an acclaimed novelist?
While praise for Melanie Conroy-Goldman’s novel The Likely World continues to roll in from Vanity Fair and Publisher’s Weekly — the novel has been called “groovy, badass-smart, and totally trippy” — she can be found in the classroom, teaching courses on creative writing and the craft and theory of fiction. Her students also get the privilege of working side-by-side with distinguished national and international poets and fiction writers through the Trias Residency for Writers, established by Conroy-Goldman in 2011 with emeritus colleagues Jim Crenner and David Weiss.
“There’s no predictable path to writing a poem or short story, no set of steps to go through to reach the desired outcome,” she says. “Students learn to attend to the conditions which help them create, to the kind of exploration and thinking that is required to shape language and make meaning. My role is to help them make a transition to this kind of thinking, to these encounters with the creative process.”
As a college student, Professor of Art and Architecture Nick Ruth, the Class of 1964 Endowed Professor, “chose to become a studio art major because it seemed to me that making art was something that would require me to think about everything. I was able to draw together my emerging interests in philosophy, psychology, sociology, geography, and history.”
An award-winning teacher, painter and printmaker whose work has appeared in more than 100 exhibitions nationally and internationally, Ruth says he is “passionate about my work today because I still have questions to ask and ideas to explore.”
Ruth’s recent paintings and prints unpack the complicated relationships between our communications capabilities and our capacity for meaningful communication. “At some important level, my work is about paradox, about situations where unlikely things seem to be true at the same time,” he explains. “My interest in paradox is also a source of inspiration for me in my teaching. I am fascinated that through craft and idea, art can sometimes express what is beyond the reach of words. In this sense, art is not a body of knowledge to be mastered or a language in which to become fluent, but instead is a mode of asking questions and being receptive to the unexpected.”
Discovery happens every day in laboratories and classrooms on the Hobart and William Smith campus, but Associate Professor of Physics Leslie Hebb recently discovered something that was — literally — out of this world. Observations taken with the Colleges’ Richard S. Perkin Observatory have been used by Hebb and her colleagues to confirm the existence of a new extra-solar planet, one that revolves around another star 117 light years away. Brightness measurements of the star taken at the observatory were combined with other data to determine that the planet is about 2.5 times the size of the Earth and about 10 times its mass. “The fact that we can detect a planet from our telescope at HWS is pretty exciting,” says Hebb, noting that she and her students, who serve as research and observing assistants, are continuously looking for other planets around other stars. “There are planets everywhere,” she says. “Whether there’s life everywhere, we don’t know yet, but there are certainly planets everywhere.” And Hebb, HWS students and the Perkin Observatory are here to help find them.
Professor of Political Science Kevin Dunn is an expert on international relations theory, African politics — and punk rock. Whether he’s engaging with students about the complexities surrounding state-making in the African Great Lakes region or U.S. foreign policy toward developing nations, he’s simultaneously helping them to develop a sense of their place in the world. “I strive to show students how they as individuals and members of American society have an impact on the world around them, both positively and negatively,” he explains. Part of that exploration takes place through the lens of the global punk-rock movement. Acknowledging that his work is “often outside the parameters of traditional political science,” Dunn argues that punk provides a powerful tool for political resistance and personal self-empowerment. Examining punk concepts like disalienation and anti-status-quo attitudes in political action allow him to help students “think of themselves not as passive observers of the world of politics around them, but active agents.”
Christine de Denus says she is, first and foremost, an educator. “Teaching for me is an opportunity to share my knowledge with students and to see them grow as individuals.” Through a spectrum of courses ranging from inorganic chemistry to organic structural analysis, de Denus launches students from the fundamentals of the periodic table to deeper understandings of how and why things work and challenges them to synthesize their knowledge from a broad array of material. Her approach to teaching and learning has positioned students well for careers as forensic scientists, chemical engineers, health-care professionals, and more.
As the director of the First Generation Initiative (FGI) and Posse 8 mentor, de Denus has served as an adviser to many students outside of her field as well. “Ask a lot of questions,” de Denus encourages. “Expose yourself to new subjects and new people. Cast your net broadly.”
Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski is a scholar of the American Jewish experience, genocide, terrorism, religion, and violence. In his classroom, students learn about the most somber and terrific moments in human history. They also learn about agency, and as Dobkowski says, how to “find their own voices and recognize how they might use them to create change and progress.”
Every other year, students join Dobkowski on “The March: Bearing Witness to Hope,” a trip to Germany and Poland to trace the journey of the Holocaust. More than just a chance to experience history, students gain a framework with which they can begin to identify and address injustice when they see it.
“The students are not just learning about history, but with their physical presence they are touching and indeed entering history, living that history and bringing it forward to inform their present and their future,” Dobkowski says.
Associate Professor of Psychological Science and Department Chair Jamie Bodenlos takes being a mentor seriously, attending conferences and conducting research with her students. “These experiences make them stand out when they are applying to graduate school, as many undergraduates never get these kinds of opportunities,” says Bodenlos, a founder and current faculty adviser for the campus chapter of Psi Chi, earning the international honor society’s Florence L. Denmark Faculty Advisor Award.
Prior to COVID-19, Bodenlos attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness conference with students in her “Psychopathology” class who heard from practitioners as well as people with psychological disorders.
Students are also an integral part of Bodenlos’ research in all stages from collecting data and running sessions to writing manuscripts. Her most recent work on cognitive fusion is conducted with three former students: Elizabeth Hawes ’19, a research assistant at the Medical University of South Carolina; Sarah Burstein ’19, a psychometrician in a neuropsychology clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Kelsey Arroyo ’18, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida.
In the early 2000s, Associate Professor of Political Science Stacey Philbrick Yadav spent several years studying, working and traveling in the Middle East, predominantly in Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon. While she has returned to the region almost every year since, ongoing conflict has meant developing new ways of conducting research. Living in the region continuously was a “great way to develop language skills, conduct new research and build lasting relationships,” says Philbrick Yadav, who brings the depth of firsthand knowledge to her political science and international relations courses.
Since the onset of civil war in Yemen in 2015, she has been working with scholars in Yemen and in Europe to develop research on peace building strategies in local communities. “My partners and I were relying on video calls and collaborative writing platforms long before I ever integrated them into my classroom, but it’s been helpful to be able to show my students firsthand how these tools can enable us to do research with others across distance and differences in circumstance."
An expert in Middle East politics with a particular focus on Yemen, she teaches a range of courses that exemplify the interdisciplinary curriculum at HWS, integrating theory, research methods, case studies, current events, and the social, economic and cultural underpinnings of political discourse.
“One of the reasons that I have most enjoyed teaching at HWS since 2007,” she explains, “is that I know my own path began in a similar, small liberal arts classroom, when my professor had a passion for the material that I just couldn’t ignore. Before I knew it, I was studying abroad, applying to graduate school, doing my own research...but it all began with one class.”