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WM: Teaching and Learning

WM asked seven faculty members: What attracted you to Wabash? What impresses you most about the people at Wabash? 

Hear from alumni on the faculty, Scott Himsel ’85, Michael Abbott ’85, and Joe Scanlon ’03, as well as the four newest tenured faculty members, Lorraine McCrary, Karen Quandt, Sujata Saha, and Erika Sorensen-Kamakian.

Scott Himsel ’85

Scott Himsel ’85Associate Professor of Political Science and Pre-Law Advisor
Favorite course to teach: Religious Freedom
Research interest: The intersection of the law and religion
Other interests: Swimming and classical music

I came to Wabash for what used to be called Junior Day before my senior year of high school. Vic Powell H’55, who was dean of the College at the time, spoke. I was doing a lot of speech contests and debates. I thought, This guy is the best speaker I’ve ever heard in my life. 

As a student at Wabash, I got so enamored with academics. I had great teachers who were very interesting and different from one another. By the time I left, I was torn between whether I should become a college professor or a lawyer. If I loved it that much as a student, I’d really love it as a faculty member.

I was very fortunate to learn from people, both as a student and as a teacher. David Hadley H’76 taught me a lot about how to be open and welcoming to students and to meet them where they are. Phil Mikesell ’63 taught me a lot about how to ask better questions. Melissa Butler H’85 taught me how to connect with the current generation of students. Ed McLean H’03 was the first person who taught me my profession as a lawyer. I never had a better law professor than McLean.

As I was preparing for my first year of teaching in 2003, I watched McLean instruct his last class. I was so intrigued I stopped by the bookstore to buy the book for the course. Mike Bachner ’70, who used to run the bookstore, said, “So, you’re going to be trying to fill Ed McLean’s shoes?” I responded, “That is the one thing I won’t be trying to do.”

When I was here as a student, the faculty let me express myself. Now, my job as a professor was to figure out the best way to let other students do that. I hope that what I do is to set a table for them to come and figure out who they are, who they want to be, and how to learn that. 

Wabash is the only place I would have considered teaching. I knew the College would let me get away with being very demanding of students—not in an impolite, harsh, or unrealistic way. One of the best things you can do for college students is to expect and demand a lot from them.

No one needs to worry about the faculty. The faculty is as good as, if not better than, it was when I was here. But it’s largely because they’re doing many of the same things—helping students learn how to teach themselves.

They’re doing research out in the world, always expanding their knowledge and sharing that with students. We have very different styles, different subject matters, and different approaches. Much like students learn by being together, I think faculty learn by being together.

Each of us on the faculty and staff have something to give. We all have a role that we play. 

A good student who wants to have a good future should be on the lookout for what those different things are. 

Michael Abbott ’85

Michael Abbott ’85Professor of Theater
Favorite course to teach: World Cinema
Research interest: The convergence of theater, film, and interactive media like video games
Other interests: Music, composing, traveling 

When I was graduating from high school, I wanted to be an attorney. Wabash is where most people I knew who were attorneys had gone. I was a Lilly Scholar finalist. When I didn’t get the scholarship, I thought I would have to find somewhere else to go, but the College offered another scholarship and it all worked out.  

I hated political science. I didn’t click with the students and I felt out of place. But in the theater, I felt connected to the students and faculty. I took English classes, literature, theater, music, and things just opened up for me. I auditioned for my first play at Wabash because it seemed interesting. After that, I continued to get cast in all the plays. I also got the chance to direct a play here as a sophomore or junior, which seemed crazy and unheard of. 

I wanted to go to a conference in New York City, but I had to get money and approval. Dean Norman Moore H’63 said yes. I had never been on an airplane. I had never gone anywhere, really. While I was there, I saw multiple Broadway shows. I thought, My god, the world is so much bigger than I ever imagined.

People were making a living in the theater and they were amazing. It was life changing. I’m reminded of that when we send students on immersion trips. I’m always trying to get students to travel away from campus. It just changes you.

When I first came back to Wabash as a member of the faculty, I had the idea I would be one of the change agents who would make us co-ed. There had been a big fight right before I got here. It was still very fresh. I didn’t think I’d stay here if we didn’t go co-ed. 

As things moved on, I became more convinced this place could be intentionally single-sex—that there’d be reasons for us to be—instead of just tradition or fear of change. There was business to do here as a single-sex school, especially in the arts. My whole attitude changed. I started to feel like I could belong here and wanted to believe in this. 

There is a crisis in education for men in this country. I saw my son go through it—where it’s not cool to be smart or studious, but it’s very cool to be disengaged and neutral about a lot of things. From the minute students get here, men are encouraged to be passionate about lots of things—sports, music, art, and theater.

The show we did earlier in the semester had a guy who’s also in the ROTC. To me, he’s the idea of what Wabash could never have been when I was a student—this tough ROTC guy who has this big heart, this soft side. He checks all the boxes about what a Wabash man can look like. 

When I was a student here, I had a very good friend, my roommate, who was a closeted gay man. It was impossible to be gay here. Not just impossible, but dangerous to be gay. And that really put me off. 

Our mission is to find men who genuinely care about whatever it is they care about, then feed that passion through whatever discipline, and make them feel like brotherhood isn’t just a bonding thing. It’s about empathy and supporting each other. It’s about caring about the success and failure of your friends, not just your own. 

Joe Scanlon ’03

Joe Scanlon ’03Associate Professor of Chemistry
Favorite course to teach: Computational Chemistry
Research interest: Using computational chemistry to model chemical reactions and metal compounds to gain some fundamental understanding in catalytic design
Other interests: Playing board games, reading science fiction or fantasy, cooking and baking (especially with persimmons)

I developed late physically, and put in hard work to play football my senior year of high school. Because of that, I still wanted to play in college. I visited Wabash and I was blown away. Dr. Bob Olsen sat down with me and mapped out the chemistry curriculum. I thought I could really excel in a place with personal attention and where I could get to know the faculty.

I had some pretty bad failures in the beginning because I wasn’t used to asking for help. I had to learn to balance playing football and how to study appropriately. That was a big change coming from high school. I joined a fraternity and there were upperclassmen who knew what professors expected and shared ideas about how to study. 

I had David Phillips H’83, Scott Feller, Ann Taylor, Bob Olsen, and they were amazing. There are good chemists here today, too, and they care about teaching. They’ve really made me feel welcome. We’re doing some incredible research.  

The students here are willing to grind, work hard, and to be engaged in class. Teaching is a lot more fun when the students are engaged. I also appreciate the different interests the students have. A lot of them are athletes and I enjoy seeing them compete. I remember how much it meant to me to have my professors come to watch. 

My boys really worship the Wabash student-athletes. After a basketball game, they ran on the court and Ahmoni Jones ’24 talked to them. He gave them high-fives once and they were over the moon. 

Wabash can be competitive. People come here with different talents and degrees of knowledge. That can be really intimidating. And sometimes you struggle early on and you have to claw your way back up. I always tell my kids, don’t put limitations on yourself. Make a bet on yourself—bet on yourself to be able to do this if you really want it.

Erika Sorensen-Kamakian

Erika Sorensen-KamakianNewly tenured Assistant Professor of Biology
Favorite course to teach: Genetics
Research interest: C. elegans—to control proteins with tissue specificity and multiple genes independently
Other interests: Cooking with my husband, grilling with my son, macramé
Sabbatical plans for 2023–24: Running my lab at Wabash with students all year to make progress on the NSF project on which Chemistry Professor Wally Novak and I are collaborating.

I knew I wanted to get a job at either a liberal arts college or a small university that had only undergraduates because I wanted to have a lab of young students. When I came to Wabash to interview, I was impressed by the infrastructure in place to support scientific research. I liked the colleagues I met. I could imagine myself starting a lab with students here. 

One thing that was helpful to me, especially in the beginning, is we do a fair bit of team teaching in science. There are some areas where I am asked to teach outside of my area of expertise. It’s been helpful to see how other people do it—the kind of energy they bring to the classroom, the way they organize an idea or do an activity. 

I was a bit nervous when I was first asked to teach Enduring Questions (EQ). That’s quite different than anything else I teach. It’s been great when they have EQ meetings and my colleagues across the campus are willing to meet and give advice about what they talk about, how they might lead that discussion, or how I can keep it interesting and exciting. 

My favorite class to teach is genetics. I always think it’s the class that ushers them from boyhood to adulthood. It requires sophomores to become very responsible and take a lot of ownership in their education. I see growth in a lot of ways when students take that class. 

My favorite lab day is in molecular genetics. They use C. elegans, which is the animal that I work with. They’re only a millimeter in size, so handling them is challenging for the students, despite the fact that most of them are juniors or seniors. About the ninth or tenth week into the semester, when they can finally move them confidently, they feel so much pride. 

Sujata Saha

Sujata SahaNewly tenured Assistant Professor of Economics
Favorite course to teach: 300-level investments 
Research interest: International finance and trade, financial inclusion, and open economy macroeconomics
Other interests: Traveling, gardening, painting, cooking 
Sabbatical plans for 2023–24: I have a research project based on a slum in India. I will have a summer intern help me get started with the project. And since it’s about the residents of the slum, I will go to India next spring to interview some of the residents and some NGOs that closely work with them.

I always wanted to be in academia. When I came to the campus, I really was moved by how welcoming it was. I still remember the wonderful lunch I had with students. Everyone I met, people from my department and outside faculty members, influenced my choice to teach at Wabash.

There is a lot of flexibility and opportunities to grow as an educator. Any courses I want to teach, it is just a proposal away. There’s a lot of scope for research as well. 

The mentorship is really wonderful. We can literally walk into anyone’s office with any question without thinking whether the person is from economics or not. If there is a problem or situation, there are people who listen. And if a solution doesn’t exist, people are more like, “OK, let’s work together and see if we can find the solution.”

The students are very respectful here. In the classroom, they have high spirits. And if you make fun with certain things in class, they take it very positively. They are very invested in what they do. And they really appreciate what we do for them.

I’m glad that I could make friends at work, which is very special. My family is back home in India. Especially during the pandemic, when I could not see my parents for three years, so many colleagues and friends would check in with me. They really care, not just that I grow professionally, but that I am happy personally. 

During Thanksgiving or Christmas, or any celebration, they will check in and see that I’m not left alone here. One of my colleagues even mentioned, “OK, you have a festival going on back home. We can do something together to celebrate it here!” It’s a wonderful feeling to have really good colleagues and friends always around who are there to support you in and out.

Lorraine McCrary

Lorraine McCraryNewly tenured Assistant Professor of Political Science
Favorite course to teach: Disability and Politics
Research interest: Communities of care by and with people with disabilities, as well as politics and literature
Other interests: Reading to my children
Sabbatical plans for 2023–24: Going to the U.K. for the year to work on a book project titled “Disability, Community, Care.”

When I visited Wabash, I was very impressed by the community I encountered and the collegiality. There is a lot of warmth and jovial spirit. That was attractive to me. I’ve been really grateful for the support for my research and teaching. And I’m encouraged to pursue it. 

I love to see our students’ development and growth over time—and the way they learn to engage with ideas—and how they are totally open to it. They don’t say, “That’s political theory; I can’t do that.” But they just learn to do it, which is wonderful. 

I love the spiritedness. I had a class last semester in which I had a discussion leader each day, just for 10 minutes. Before each student came up, the whole class would clap. And when he was done, the whole class would clap again. I just loved that they can make class fun and sort of silly. I like teaching students like that.

When I first arrived at Wabash, Warren Rosenberg H’98 took my class “just because.” Then Frank Howland took it, and then Nick Snow took it. I love that my faculty colleagues want to be learning and dialogue partners on some of these ideas. 

Warren helped me be a teacher at Wabash. I didn’t know you emailed students when they missed class. He said, “Where is that guy? How are we going to get him here?” He was really great. I’ve received a lot of mentorship. 

My faculty colleagues have supported me personally—when I meet with Warren to talk about teaching and research, he asks me what I’m doing to take care of myself. I appreciate that so much. When my family was facing difficult health circumstances, one of my colleagues brought his kids over twice a week to babysit for the whole semester. I’m very grateful for their support. 

Karen Quandt

Karen QuandtNewly tenured Assistant Professor of French
Favorite course to teach: French 302: Introduction to Literature
Research interest: Environmental themes in 19th-century French poetry
Other interests: Birdwatching, classical, alternative, and electronic music, and violin 
Sabbatical plans for 2023–24: Work on my book manuscript on environmental themes in the works of Victor Hugo and spending lots of quality time with family.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Wabash when the job announcement came up. As I started investigating online, I noticed the faculty seemed really, really strong. Then I happened to meet someone from Indiana shortly before I had my first interview. I lived in Delaware at the time. She said, “Oh, yeah, it’s a great school.” She didn’t have any personal ties to Wabash. She just knew about it and was excited for me. 

I have a great network of not just colleagues, but also friends. Working across disciplines is a real thing here. I think that at a lot of other, bigger places that’s just talk. It sounds good to say, “Oh, I’m interdisciplinary.” Here you really can be. 

The dedication to mentorship has been really crucial for me. Also, I would say the sense of humor. I appreciate that people have a great sense of humor—especially in my department, which is helpful for my sanity some days.

French 302: Introduction to Literature is when students really have to grow. It’s a bridge course to the upper level, more heavy-duty literature courses. We learn the mechanics of how to talk about poetry, theater, and novels. I’ve had the best conversations in that class, and the students learn so much. They feel proud that they’re at a level where they can be saying a lot of different things in French. They’re expanding their vocabulary, and they can start talking about more sophisticated things. 

I like that students feel comfortable coming to see us in our offices. They came and congratulated me after they got the email about my tenure. I would never think that students would actually do that. One of my former students is in France right now; he sent a postcard to congratulate me. They go above and beyond to show their character. 

I’m excited about possibilities moving forward. We already have a lot of options for students studying off campus. I’m excited about conversations that are happening now about goals to have more students enjoying and benefiting from those experiences, thinking of ways to encourage those who normally wouldn’t think they’re good candidates, to rethink that.