Professor Pawan Dhingra on What It Takes to Become a Spelling Bee Champ

Submitted on Tuesday, 5/30/2023, at 2:55 PM

The Conversation – “Whenever the Scripps National Spelling Bee takes place, parents and children may wonder: What does it take to become a champion?” writes Dhingra. “[A]s I state in my book Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, there are certain practices that can greatly boost a child’s chances of becoming an excellent speller.”

Dhingra, who is Amherst’s associate provost and associate dean of the faculty as well as the Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank ’55 Professor of U.S. Immigration Studies in American Studies, elaborates upon five general pieces of advice for succeeding at the Scripps bee, which takes place on May 31 and June 1 this year: “1. Invest in study materials,” “2. Practice independently,” “3. Make studying a family affair,” “4. Form study groups” and “5. Read a lot.”

“With all this being said, it’s important for families—and the contestants themselves—to pay attention to how they are feeling about the preparation,” he concludes. “Burning out on a single competition isn’t worth it if it undermines a student’s passion for learning.”

Dr. Alison Christy ’02 Embroiders Brain Images, Writes and Creates Games

Submitted on Monday, 5/22/2023, at 3:12 PM

Neurology Today – “I’ve spent my life in between the arts and the sciences, and I don't think you have to pick one,” says Christy, a pediatric neurologist and neuroimmunologist who features her colorful embroidered images of neurons on her Instagram account.

“I went to Amherst College, a liberal arts school, and majored in neuroscience,” she says in this Q&A, which also touches upon her earlier education in Alabama and her later enrollment in medical school, where she discovered joy in working with children. Today she is clinical director of pediatric neurology for Providence Health and Services Northern Oregon and director of the Providence Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Center.

Christy talks about her recent embroidery hobby, saying, “I think the brain is really beautiful.” One of her pieces has been added to the art collection of the Jane and John Justin Neurosciences Center at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. Christy also writes essays and short fiction, and has co-created “a card game called Endowed Chairs, featuring 12 prominent women from the history of neurology.”

“A Return to a Very Beloved Place”: Musician Rani Arbo ’89 and Her Quartet, daisy mayhem

Submitted on Thursday, 4/13/2023, at 2:00 PM

The Commons – “We aim to play old music in such a way that it doesn’t sound old, and new music that sounds a bit timeless,” says Arbo in a Q&A with arts reporter Victoria Chertok. Arbo has been playing the fiddle and guitar, and also singing, in daisy mayhem for more than 20 years.

“I played classical cello for nine years, through the end of high school. I needed a break from the pressure of the classical world that I was in and took up fiddle while I studied at Amherst College,” she says. “Being in the Pioneer Valley meant I was exposed to fiddle music, Cajun, Québécois, and contradance music. I really loved those sounds, the way the fiddle can harmonize with itself and the way it can dance.”

The interview advertises an April 15 performance by the quartet at Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, Vt. It traces Arbo’s path as a musician and also in other jobs: she worked for years as a magazine writer and is now the campus and community engagement manager at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts. 

Liann Tsoukas ’85: The “Most Hugged Professor” in the University of Pittsburgh’s History

Submitted on Monday, 4/10/2023, at 2:08 PM

The Pitt News – “In the minds of her students and colleagues, Liann Tsoukas’ kindness is what sets her apart,” begins a profile in the university’s daily student newspaper. The Amherst alumna is in her 22nd year of designing and teaching American history courses at Pitt.

“Before becoming a teacher, Tsoukas earned her bachelor’s in American Studies at Amherst College,” writes reporter Livia Daggett. “She recalls loving the small classes and the interdisciplinary liberal arts mentality—a philosophy she consciously brings to Pitt, a large STEM school, by emphasizing ‘that liberal arts ethic … which is close attention to students,’ Tsoukas said.”

Tsoukas, who also holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University, received Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences Student Choice Award in 2004 and the Bellet Award in 2013. In recent years, she has become an assistant dean for the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and “played an integral role in helping colleagues and students adapt to online learning during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Colleagues and students are quoted in the article praising the professor for her willingness to help and support others, her emphasis on civic duty, and her concern for students’ mental health.  

David Blistein ’74 Brings His Own Experience to a Docuseries Exploring Youth Mental Illness

Submitted on Thursday, 3/30/2023, at 4:14 PM

The Commons – Blistein talks with reporter Annie Landenberger about his work as a writer and co-producer of the interview-based PBS series Hiding in Plain Sight. He is also the author of the 2013 memoir David’s Inferno: My Journey through the Dark Wood of Depression.

Blistein, a “novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and former ad man” based in Brattleboro, Vt., works on the docuseries with “filmmaker Ken Burns, whom he first met when they were undergrads: Blistein at Amherst College and Burns at Hampshire College,” writes Landenberger. The first two episodes, released in June 2022, feature interviews with young people about such issues as mood disorders, bullying, addiction and gender identity.

Of his own memoir, which recounts his personal path through mental illness, Blistein says, “I hope the book made some contribution to ongoing efforts to de-stigmatize these experiences—to treat brain disorders with the same compassion (and insurance coverage) as we do physical disorders.”

Writer-in-Residence Min Jin Lee on the Relationship Between Language and Power

Submitted on Thursday, 3/23/2023, at 4:39 PM

Literary Hub – In a Q&A with Julia Kovalenko, Lee, the acclaimed author of Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires, talks about her next novel, American Hagwon. She also discusses her role as a writing teacher, the importance of advocacy and encouragement to writers, and the global privileges that come with being fluent in English.

“I didn’t think that I would love my students as much as I do,” says Lee, who taught introductory fiction- and nonfiction-writing courses at Amherst last semester. “Your inner writer needs an advocate. And a teacher can be the advocate for that inner writer who is anxious, worried, or has doubts.”

Lee, a Korean immigrant who grew up in New York City, and Kovalenko, an American-born daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, talk about multilingualism, the English-teaching industry in South Korea, translation during wartime and writing as a way to address issues of social justice. “[A] part of me believes that somehow what I do, my little story, my little essay, my little book, could be my testament against the things that I think are unfair,” Lee says. “That keeps me going.”

Retired Amherst Coach Chris Paradis Named to Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Hall of Fame

Submitted on Monday, 3/20/2023, at 9:03 AM

USA Lacrosse Magazine – “With a career coaching record of 321–123 (.723), Chris Paradis molded Amherst College Women’s Lacrosse into one of the most successful teams in the nation,” says an article announcing that Paradis is one of three coaches chosen to be inducted into the IWLCA Hall of Fame later this year. 

“Her 321 wins ranks her in the top ten all-time in NCAA Division III,” the article continues. “Overall, Paradis led Amherst to a 27-13 (.675) record in 14 trips to the NCAA tournament. Paradis, who competed for the United States national team in the World Cup, also coached field hockey at Amherst ….” She retired last year after nearly three decades at the College.

The IWLCA Hall of Fame was established in May 2017 and will induct its sixth annual cohort at a ceremony in St. Petersburg, Fla., in November 2023. In addition to Paradis, the inductees will include current Northwestern University head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and former Williams College coach Chris Mason.

Amherst Women’s Hockey Coach Jeff Matthews Continuing Family Legacy While Blazing Own Trail

Submitted on Thursday, 3/16/2023, at 2:31 PM

Daily Hampshire Gazette – “Jeff Matthews has been coaching the Amherst College women’s hockey program since 2012, and now has his team in its first NCAA tournament semifinal appearance since 2010,” writes local sports reporter Hannah Bevis. The coach’s father is C.B. “Moose” Matthews, known for his own long career of coaching high school hockey in Westfield, Mass.

“Jeff started playing [hockey] at a young age, and his dad coached him through mites until he was about 11 years old,” the article continues. “The younger Matthews played for Jim Lindsay at Deerfield Academy for four years before continuing his career in college at RPI.” Matthews played in Sweden, returned to RPI as an assistant coach, and then found years of success at Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y., before he and his wife and children moved to Amherst.

“Matthews has a 164-70-31 mark with the Mammoths, and has led his team to two of the last three NESCAC titles,” Bevis notes. “The Mammoths [will] tangle with Hamilton on Friday night in the Division 3 Frozen Four at Orr Rink (7 p.m.). But regardless of the outcome, Matthews & Co. know the bonds they’ve forged will last long after this historic season.”

Meaghan Sullivan ’05’s Restaurant Is a Northampton Favorite

Submitted on Friday, 3/10/2023, at 4:37 PM

WCVB – “Sullivan is that friendly neighbor inviting you in for a meal and a beer,” says a Boston news segment highlighting Joe’s Café in Northampton, Mass. Sullivan has been running the popular restaurant since 2011, but it has been in her family since the 1970s.

Joe’s has “been operating out of this location since 1938,” Sullivan says. In the mid-1970s, her father and his business partner bought the establishment, and she took it over from them when they retired. The restaurant specializes in pizza and spaghetti, but Sullivan has added new menu items such as “Spanish-style mussels.”

The news segment features commentary from customers and a longtime employee, all of whom praise the restaurant’s inviting atmosphere. Sullivan talks about the distinctive decor, which includes murals depicting Argentine gauchos, as well as college pennants representing the academic successes of the many young neighbors who have grown up eating at Joe’s.  

Robert Howarth ’74’s Climate Research, Outreach Makes Waves

Submitted on Thursday, 3/9/2023, at 3:56 PM

The Cornell Daily Sun – “From leading a Cornell research lab to being featured in The New York Times, Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, has spent his career studying and educating the public on climate change,” says a profile in the student newspaper of Cornell University, where the Amherst alumnus has taught for more than 30 years.

“When I was an undergraduate, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a scientist or if I wanted to be an environmental lawyer or a policy person—someone out there making a real difference,” Howarth is quoted as saying. His B.A. in biology from Amherst was followed by a Ph.D. from MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Today Howarth is Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology.

Among other highlights of his career, the profile, written by Cornell student Aimée Eicher, mentions Howarth’s research, with Anthony Ingraffea, into methane emissions associated with natural gas; this research was publicized in The New York Times, and Time magazine named Howarth and Ingraffea two of their “People Who Mattered” for that year. Howarth currently serves on New York State’s Climate Action Council.

A New Frontier: Thomas Mitchell ’87 Launches Initiative to Study and Reform Black Land Loss, Heirs' Rights and Property Law

Submitted on Monday, 3/6/2023, at 1:56 PM

BC Law – Mitchell, professor of law and Robert F. Drinan Chair at Boston College Law School and a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship winner, answers questions from the law school’s magazine. His work includes establishing BC’s new Initiative on Land, Housing and Property Rights.

Mitchell is a co-author of the 2022 publication “Black Land Loss: 1920–1997,” “a first-of-its-kind quantitative examination of the decline of Black agricultural ownership in America,” writes Vicki Sanders. “The cost to that community during the period? $326 billion. The findings made national news.” Mitchell is also the lead co-editor and a contributing author for the 2022 book  Heirs’ Property and the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act: Challenges, Solutions, and Historic Reform.

Among other topics, the Q&A addresses how Mitchell first became interested in the legal issues surrounding land ownership and land loss among Black and brown people in the United States. He outlines what he calls the “four pillars” of the new initiative at BC (one of which includes the upcoming Land Loss, Reparations & Housing Policy Conference) and mentions further areas of research and scholarship that interest him.

(Read more about Mitchell and his work in a Summer 2021 Amherst magazine profile.)

Jared Banner ’07 on His Path to Cubs Front Office, Advice to Young Fans

Submitted on Friday, 3/3/2023, at 12:48 PM – Banner talks about his work as vice president of player development for the Chicago Cubs, helping baseball players rise up from the Minor Leagues. He also describes how Amherst coach Bill Thurston and fellow alum Ben Cherington ’96 influenced his career path.

“After playing baseball for four seasons at Poly Prep Country Day School, Banner went to Amherst College and played third base and the outfield,” writes reporter Bill Ladson. “Long-time Amherst coach Bill Thurston hooked up Banner with [current] Pirates general manager Ben Cherington, who was then working for the Red Sox as the team’s vice president of player personnel. … Cherington made Banner an intern in player development.” Following a successful decade of promotions and World Series wins in Boston, “Banner worked for his hometown team, the Mets, for two years in player development before joining the Cubs.” 

Banner shares advice for those, particularly other young African Americans, who aspire toward a similar career: “The more people you can meet and learn from, the wider your network is going to grow. The more opportunities you are going to be a part of.”

Style Profile: Interior Designer Amal Kapen ’92

Submitted on Tuesday, 2/28/2023, at 3:15 PM

The Glam Pad – In a Q&A illustrated with numerous photos of her work, Kapen talks about her career path and sources of inspiration. After years of practicing law and raising her children, she opened a design and antique shop, Amal Kapen Interiors & Decorations, in Huntington, N.Y., in 2018.

“Many of my interiors incorporate new and antique or vintage furnishings and are infused with cheerful color, art and natural elements to create a youthful and colorful twist,” Kapen says. “My current projects run the gamut from a French-style chateau and cottage on the North Shore of Long Island to a Regency-style home in Baltimore and a winter pied-a-terre in Florida.” She also answers questions about her favorite Instagram accounts, design books and ways to find antiques.

“Born in South Africa and raised in Garden City, New York, Amal attended Amherst College and Vanderbilt University School of Law,” notes the article. “Her firm’s work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, HGTV, NYC&G, Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, Hamptons Homes, Traditional Home, Coastal Living, Cottages and Bungalows Magazine, Newsday and numerous blogs.”

Prisoners Donating Organs to Get Time Off Raises Thorny Ethical Questions, Says Professor Austin Sarat

Submitted on Friday, 2/24/2023, at 3:17 PM

The Conversation – Sarat, Amherst’s William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, comments on a proposed bill in the Massachusetts legislature that calls for the state’s Department of Corrections to establish a program through which incarcerated people can donate bone marrow and organs to those in need.

Originally, the bill, put forth by representatives Judith Garcia and Carlos Gonzalez, would have incentivized donation by offering time off of donors’ prison sentences. Now the representatives “are planning to introduce a version without the promise of a sentence reduction. Still, the idea of giving sentence reductions in return for organ donation raises serious ethical issues. As someone who has studied punishment and imprisonment,” Sarat writes, he questions “whether prison inmates can ever consent freely to organ donation.” Prison is arguably an inherently coercive environment.

Sarat touches upon the history of organ donation, the current shortage of registered donors in the United States, and the particular difficulty of finding matching donors for racial and ethnic minorities. He describes some of the ethical guidelines for donation, as well as some efforts in other U.S. states to allow prison inmates to donate. 

Professor Jallicia Jolly-Grindley: A Black Immigrant Girl’s Quest for Health Equity

Submitted on Thursday, 2/16/2023, at 3:29 PM

The Jamaica Gleaner – “In both the U.S. and Jamaica, the most vulnerable girls and women of our society remain deprioritised in healthcare and social services,” Jolly-Grindley writes. “Now, as a professor of Black Studies and American Studies who teaches and researches Black women’s health and reproductive justice in Jamaica and the United States, I help combat health inequities through education and mentorship as well as mobilisation and community organising.”

Jolly-Grindley, a postdoctoral fellow and visiting assistant professor at Amherst, describes the experiences of relatives and friends who were neglected or mistreated by the health care systems in both countries. “Even as an ‘educated,’ middle-class woman with a Ph.D., I still experienced reproductive coercion and medical racism while giving birth in the United States,” she writes, “which confirms research findings that having a higher income does not protect American Black women from harm.”

However, the professor notes, the “generational impacts of health inequalities became stepping stones for legacies of health advocacy and activism” within her own family. She cites the labor-organizing work of her grandmother and mother, as well as her own experience in launching an initiative called JamHealth: Encouraging Holistic Health & Empowering Communities in her childhood home of Rae Town, Kingston, Jamaica.