New faculty members begin teaching and research at U of I

LAS welcomes 38 new professors in a variety of academic units
New faculty
The College of LAS is welcoming 37 new faculty members this academic year. A few of them attended a new faculty member event in the Natural History Building in October. (Photo by Carly Conway.)

The College of LAS is welcoming 38 new professors for the 2022-23 academic year. Their new positions range from clinical professors to assistant professors and an endowed position in more than 20 academic units, ranging from African American studies to economics, philosophy, statistics, and several others.

Most of the new faculty members started their new roles at the beginning of the fall semester, but some arrived later in the semester or are scheduled to start in January.

“Bringing in new people each year is invigorating and important for the College of LAS,” said Venetria K. Patton, Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS. “New faculty members bring new ideas, new energy, and new knowledge that help make us stronger and more insightful. Our new people come from all over the world. They are promising, accomplished, and will help make LAS even better.”

New faculty discussions
A new faculty member event gave attendees the opportunity to meet a variety of people already established in the College of LAS. Most new faculty members started in August, but a few are starting later in the year or Spring 2023. (Photo by Carly Conway.)

The College of LAS hosted a reception for the new faculty members earlier this fall. Anna Torres-Cacoullos, a professor in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese, said that she was raised in New Mexico, where speakers of English, Spanish, and Native American languages coexist. Now at the U of I, she hopes to aid efforts to support minority populations on and around campus.

“As a student of literature, I realized that stigmatization against Hispanic and Latin American cultures and ways of life was based on a broken understanding of community,” Torres-Cacoullos said.  “Now as a scholar and teacher of Spanish literature and culture, I’ve become committed to foregrounding the relationship of literary studies to other areas of sociocultural inquiry and developing strategies that promote historical, cultural, and artistic awareness.”

Torres-Cacoullos said she came to Champaign-Urbana because of the world class research and research support offered to scholars on campus. The campus, she said, is an important center for the support of historical, cultural, and artistic awareness of Latina/Latino and minority communities.

Her research spans a broad range of topics in literature, film, and philosophy. While she specializes in late 19th to early 20th century Spanish literature and culture, her work has also considered questions about gender, race, and body politics in contemporary literary and film productions emerging from Spain. 

“In today’s global political climate increasingly marked by xenophobia and prejudice, an understanding of diverse ways of life is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing us today,” Torres-Cacoullos said. “In my research and teaching I seek to make diversity a cornerstone for understanding current issues, and to help equip my students to address new conflicts.”

For Kevin Van Bortle, a new professor in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, coming to the University of Illinois was an easy decision. The professor has studied gene regulation and development for more than a decade and feels that being in Champaign-Urbana allows him to take his research further.

“It’s no secret that this campus is a hub for interdisciplinary research, there’s the Beckman Institute, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, the Cancer Center at Illinois, and that’s just the start. You really can’t ask for more,” Van Bortle said. “My team is working to deconstruct the mechanisms that allow cancer cells to produce specific RNAs that help cells proliferate. The resources on this campus give us an opportunity to make important discoveries.”

But he doesn’t just examine cells all day. Van Bortle appreciates the beauty of campus and also has a love for music that began in grade school.

“I do have hobbies! One thing I do when I need to get away from everything is play the saxophone,” Van Bortle said. “I don’t play as much as I used to, but I like to pick it up and break off the rust when I can.”

Daniel Maroun, a new professor in the Department of French & Italian, has worked at the U of I since 2017, but he was recently hired as a tenure track faculty member. Now as an assistant professor he hopes to continue exploring research avenues that are tied together by queer kinship, sexual identity, citizenship and how individuals navigate these issues.

“My research looks at new performances of acceptable masculinity and how they're interrelated, whether they confront classical notions like fatherhood, heterosexuality, strength, and virility,” Maroun said. “For example, one of the biggest notions with HIV/AIDS is that you're not really a man if you have HIV/AIDS, because men are supposed to be strong and disease-proof. So what my research looks at is how those men create their own performances of masculinity that not only push back on what classical notions are, but are equally justifiable.”

Maroun’s research is aimed specifically at Francophone communities, an area he is familiar with as a first generation Lebanese academic. He’s learned to examine kitchens as an area of cultural significance.

“I was in the kitchen a lot during my childhood, and I think for a lot of individuals who were always in the kitchen, the kitchen is a safe space, the kitchen is a place of culture, the kitchen is a place of learning,” Maroun said. “Once I moved to France, that's when I really started to get into cuisine, learning about what food can do for an individual, breaking it down to not just mom's recipes and grandma's recipes, but really unpacking what food is. So it's nice to be able to bring in my influence to a department where we share a common language—French—but we also have these diverse cultural backgrounds.”

A full list of new faculty follows:

Leo Alexander III, psychology

Kirk Barrow, astronomy

David Beck, history

Jochen Bojanowski, philosophy

Keva Bui, Asian American studies

Anna Torres-Cacoullos, Spanish and Portuguese

Víctor Cervantes, psychology

Stewart Coles, communication

Gökçe Dayanikli, statistics

Dominic Evangelista, entomology

Daniela Alonso Fontes, economics

Brooklyne Gipson, communication

Jozien Goense, psychology

Tasha Holden, psychology

Chris Kempf, English

Rana Khoury, political science

Minkyung Kim, communication

Marynia Kolak, geography and geographic information science

Alexa Kuenstler, chemical and biomolecular engineering

Rosalyn LaPier, history

Yuan Liu, mathematics

Ross Maguire, geology

Daniel Maroun, French and Italian

Charlesia McKinney, English

Marcelo Medeiros, economics (Jorge Paulo Lemann Endowed Chair)

Anna Mendoza, linguistics

Hanna  Muller, linguistics

Eddie O'Byrn, African American studies

Timur Oikhberg, mathematics

Michael Rizzo, psychology

Joshua Shea, economics

Benjamin Snyder, chemistry

Kevin Van Bortle, cell and developmental biology

Mirelsie Velázquez, Latina/Latino studies

Wei Wei, mathematics

Anna Whittington, history                   

Yujeong Yang, political science                                   

Bo Zhang, psychology

News Source

Christian Jones