Westmont Magazine Meet Westmont’s Newest Professors
Nine scholars have joined the Westmont faculty since the fall of 2015.
MARTIN ASHER(economics and business), former director of Research and Scholars Programs at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has joined the Westmont Economics and Business Department as professor of economics. He taught honors sections of microeconomics and macroeconomics at Wharton, earning the William G. Whitney Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching six times. He has also taught at Villanova University and Swarthmore College.
“Teaching at Westmont is as much a ministry as it is an academic career,” he says. “I’m happy to get to know the faculty and students here and learn from them more about integrating faith and teaching.”
Asher completed his undergraduate degree at Stanford, where he has fond memories of his days as the roommate of Ken Kihlstrom, Westmont professor of physics. Asher made his way to Washington, D.C., combining his love for math and national policy issues in the field of economics. “I took a year of absence from Stanford to work on Capitol Hill writing memos on the state of the economy to Sen. Edmund Muskie, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee,” Asher says. “It was a pretty heady job for a 21-year-old with braces.”
Teaching was never on Asher’s radar as a student. “The only thing I knew for sure was that I would not teach,” he says. However, after studying econometrics and macro modeling at the University of Pennsylvania under Nobel Prize-winner Lawrence Klein, he changed his mind as a doctoral student while teaching undergraduates at Penn. He loves to teach. However, before he began his teaching career, he returned to the nation’s capital to serve on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and pursue his dissertation at the Brookings Institution.
He has published articles about unsuccessful settlement negotiations, antitrust policies, state and county incarceration rates and earnings inequalities. He has often provided expert testimony on the economic implications of antitrust and discrimination cases.
ELIZABETH GARDNER (communication studies) graduated from Houghton College and earned a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Maryland. She has taught classes there in public speaking, rhetorical criticism, argumentation and oral communication. In 2014, she received the National Communication Association’s Benson-Campbell Dissertation Research Award. She has been the managing director of the Oral Communication Program at the University of Maryland since 2013.
At Westmont, she teaches rhetorical criticism and public speaking. “I love getting to know students well,” she says. “When they are up in front of the class, they’re a little nervous. But you get to know them because they’re always talking, and that’s the purpose of the course—to get them to speak and speak well.”
During the spring of 2015, Gardner consulted for the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C., which she attended as an undergraduate. Her current research focuses on social change and the rhetorical construction of childhood. Her dissertation examined the use of argument in the child labor reform movement of the early 1900s.
“Adolescence wasn’t a thing until around 1900,” she says. “That’s the first we hear of this special time when you’re supposed to conserve your energy and need to be sheltered. It’s interesting to see how those historical evolutions are still playing out and have different implications.”
CARMEN MCCAIN(English), a former senior lecturer in the English department and the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Kwara State University in Nigeria, will develop Westmont’s Anglophone literature curriculum. She will focus on the literature of the “global south,” which includes Africa, Latin America and developing Asia, including the Middle East.
McCain came to Westmont for a summer seminar in 2007 and considered the campus one of the most beautiful she’d ever seen. “I’ve been impressed by the friendly conversations with interesting people,” she says. “This community is supportive and scholarly, and I look forward to navigating both those things well.”
McCain graduated from Messiah College and completed a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the Department of African Languages and Literature. Her current research focuses on postcolonial literature, film and popular culture in Africa. She has a special interest in Nigerian Hausalanguage cinema and the translation of Hausa texts into English. At Kwara State, she led the new Centre for Nollywood Studies, an institute devoted to analyzing Nigerian film. She has been exploring responses in literature, film and music to the Boko Haram insurgency. She also worked with her brother, Dan, on a film, “Nowhere to Run,” which examined environmental degradation in Nigeria due to climate change and reckless oil production. “Literature helps us think about the world,” she says. “It’s a lens through which we view the world. It’s not just thinking about people writing, it’s what are they writing about and how that speaks to things we see going on in the world around us.”
JONATHAN MITCHELL ’00 (physics), graduated from Westmont and earned a master’s degree and doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago. He taught as a tenured professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA before joining the Westmont faculty. “I had an excellent experience at Westmont and have come to appreciate it the longer I’ve been away,” he says.
He has been an Einstein Fellow and a W.M. Keck Foundation Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. His primary research interest is understanding planetary phenomena, including surface-atmosphere interactions on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. He is also interested in superrotating atmospheres, tidal interactions of synchronous satellites and Earth’s paleoclimate. Jonathan has received grants from NASA and has served on a NASA review panel.
“Basically, I study climate broadly defined: Earth’s climate, Earth’s past climate, Titan’s climate,” he says. “When I was a student here, the debate was just beginning about global warming and global change. It’s really heated up, so to speak, in the intervening 20 years. I’m excited to bring that expertise here as we learn about how the environment works, how we influence it and consider our moral responsibilities for it.”
DONALD PATTERSON (computer science) earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cornell University before serving as a naval operations officer for four years in Japan and Sardinia. “It was in our family DNA,” he says. His father, his uncle and both his grandfathers all served in the Navy.
He earned a doctorate from the University of Washington and received multiple grants and won awards for articles on collapse informatics and abstract object usage. “I was interested in computers in elementary school,” he says. “I saw the operational side of computers when I was in the military and then I went back to grad school and focused on the development and forward-looking side of computers.”
Among his many scholarly interests are ubiquitous computing, human computer interaction and artificial intelligence. “I’m interested in sustainability and looking at developing world situations that can use technology in innovative ways to expand infrastructure and access,” he says. “I’m looking at our future in terms of environmental and global change and seeing how we can prepare now by developing computer systems to increase our resilience.” He has co-authored a paper on computational agroecology, a new field of sustainable food development.
Patterson is developing Mayterm classes that will count toward a computer science minor. Topics include making games on iOS devices and best practices for iOS user interface design.
He finds beauty in well-written software. “There is an abstract elegance in the algorithmic foundation of software, and there is also a technical beauty in the grounding of an algorithm in code that is designed to be run in the real world,” he says. “Both of these aspects of computational thinking reflect the work of people who are using their God-given talents to produce an artifact.”
RONALD SEE (psychology) teaches primarily in the area of neuroscience. He graduated from UC Berkeley before earning a master’s and doctorate at UCLA. He has held long-term academic appointments at the Medical University of South Carolina and at Washington State University. Most recently, he taught for three years in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Tabuk in Saudi Arabia.
“God has given my wife and me exciting opportunities as Christians to use our abilities and training to go into places where others often cannot, particularly within the Muslim world,” he says. “We were in a remote area of Northern Saudi Arabia, teaching and helping in the development of a medical school. We lived there as professionals, but with a conspicuous Christian testimony within that context to our colleagues and neighbors.”
See has extensive international experience, serving as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, a visiting fellow at Oxford University, and twice as a visiting professor at Kuwait University. He also studied for a year at Georg-August University in Germany. See has been the principal investigator or co-investigator on 16 grants from the National Institutes of Health and the primary author or contributing author on more than 150 scholarly articles.
Over the last 25 years, I developed a research program focused on the neurobiology of drug addiction, particularly the factors that drive the process of relapse in addiction,” he says. “We have studied a number of factors related to brain neurochemistry and brain circuits altered by addictive drugs, with the goal of developing treatment interventions, particularly those that might break the cycle of addiction.”
A member of more than 30 dissertation committees and hundreds of student projects, See has long worked with students in research training. “I appreciate greater integration of my Christian faith and the discipline of neuroscience,” he says. “This Christian liberal arts environment at Westmont is exciting to me after having worked many years in the secular world and to now be in a place where Christ holds preeminence.”
SERAH SHANI (anthropology) earned a doctorate from Columbia University and was a visiting professor at Eastern University. She holds three master’s degrees: sociology of health and medicine from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, international and transcultural studies from Columbia, and anthropology and education from Columbia. A native of Kenya, she completed her undergraduate degree at Daystar University, concentrating on community development and music. She speaks five languages: English, Swahili, Maasai, Kisii and Kikuyu. She is conducting research on African immigrant parents and schooling in the United States, focusing on Ghanaians in New York City, which will be the subject of a forthcoming book.
Shani has lectured and taught at Yale, Southern Connecticut State, Cornell and Columbia. Her presentations have explored many topics, including Islam, parenting, African diaspora, and water, sanitation and health concerns. “My research interests lie broadly in exploring the social life of cities,” she says, “and more particularly the informal and innovative strategies by which different ethnic and racial urban residents claim their rights to the city. My current research looks at urban migration, transnational movements, identities and the sociocultural economic adaptation for recent African immigrants to the United States.”
AMANDA SILBERSTEIN (chemistry) graduated from Caltech and earned a doctorate at UCLA. She became familiar with Westmont through her sister, Megan, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in music. “I visited on weekends and went to her music events,” Amanda says. “I told her years ago that I could see myself living in Santa Barbara; it’s a wonderful place.”
As a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech, Silberstein examined the effectiveness and toxicity of polyamides targeting liver cancer in cell culture. She won numerous fellowships during her graduate studies and served as an intern at Genentech in San Francisco and worked as a lab scientist for Advion Biosciences in Ithaca, New York.
“Chemistry is my family business,” she says. “My grandfather and my uncles are all chemists, and some of my earliest memories are of my grandfather taking me out at night to point out constellations or planets in the night sky. I was probably the only 5-year-old who knew the phases of the moon. I developed an early interest in science and that directed my career path in college and beyond.”
At Westmont, she focuses her research on synthetic chemistry. “I work on methodology development with the goal of working toward total synthesis, making naturally occurring small molecules.”
She is enthusiastic about integrating faith into her sessions. “Having a largely secular education, I am looking forward to bringing my faith into my work, examining it for myself and demonstrating for students the interplay between Christianity and science.”
SAMEER YADAV (religious studies) was born and raised Hindu in Idaho with parents who emigrated from India. “Hindu in Idaho sounds like a sitcom,” he says. “My conversion occurred in my senior year of high school and first year of college, and I have an identical twin brother who is now a pastor. He and I are the only Christians in our family; it was his conversion that led me to the Lord.”
This unique upbringing gives Yadav an interesting perspective on how Christians think about God’s presence in the world. “All Christians believe that God is omnipresent, so He’s everywhere, but there’s a sense in which God’s being everywhere has the paradoxical consequence that God seems to be nowhere,” he says. “It’s difficult to say what we mean when we talk about God’s presence in a locale given that God’s presence is global.”
Yadav graduated from Boise State University before completing master’s degrees from the Master’s Seminary and Yale Divinity School. He earned a doctorate at Duke, focusing on systematic and philosophical theology, with secondary concentrations in the Hebrew Bible and moral theology. His book, “The Problem of Perception and the Perception of God” (Fortress Press, 2015), addresses philosophical issues in how we ground Christian belief and practice.
“From early on in the church’s history, theologians have thought a lot about experiencing God—what it might be like to experience God and how to describe experiences of meeting God,” he says. “My book and my work merge different disciplines, mainly in the philosophy of mind and the early Christian mystical tradition, to articulate a contemporary way of thinking about how to describe God’s presence to us.”
He is working on a book about Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century Cappadocian Eastern church father. “He is well known for developing what has been called the theology of the spiritual senses, to describe the unique sensitivities that we as humans have toward God,” he says. “Clearly we have unique sensitivities toward physical things, such as seeing light in a particular way. But Christians suppose that we also have some kind of sensitivities toward God. What are those like? How do they work? How do you train those faculties to become capable of “tuning in” to God’s presence?” Yadav most recently served as a postdoctoral fellow in the John Wesley Honors College of Indiana Wesleyan University.