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The Professor is In


Photos by Nancy L. Ford

For students, a professor’s office is a place to go for advice on charting an academic path, to continue a discussion begun in the classroom, and, yes, to get the occasional explanation for why that paper only earned a C. Whether tidy, cluttered or somewhere in between, these intimate spaces provide the perfect setting for one-on-one interactions and reflect each professor’s personal interests. Stop on in — it’s open office hour.

Rebecca Murtaugh
As an artist, Rebecca Murtaugh wanted her office in the new Kennedy Center for Theatre and the Studio Arts to “have a reductive aesthetic” and be warm, bright, welcoming and organized.

As an artist, Rebecca Murtaugh wanted her office in the new Kennedy Center for Theatre and the Studio Arts to “have a reductive aesthetic” and be warm, bright, welcoming and organized. (The associate professor of art relocated from List Art Center where visitors had to pass through a digital lab classroom to find her office — not ideal, especially when a class was in session!) The two paintings on her wall are by her husband, Matthew Neil Gehring, an artist/art professor who teaches near New York City. One of her own sculptures is on the pedestal. “I also have many small-scale sculptures made by past students. Some were gifts, and others were donated to provide exciting teaching examples,” she says. In addition to sculpture, Murtaugh has cards and notes from alumni. “Each one carries fond memories.”
 

T.J. Davis’ officeT.J. Davis, head coach of men’s and women’s swimming & diving and associate professor of physical education, has called his office, located just off the deck of Bristol Pool, home for 14 years. Inside, the walls are covered with photos of former student-athletes and deck passes and promo posters from NCAA championships — “they all remind me of those people who make up our Hamilton family.” There are also photos of his actual family, which includes wife Marieke and daughters Marielle, 3, and Alet, 1. Chairs allow a small group of people to have a conversation in the round without a desk blocking the discourse. “Fun fact,” Coach Davis adds, “There’s an audio sweet spot in the middle of the office where, if you’re positioned correctly, your voice gets thrown all around the room because of the curved walls. It creates some funky acoustics!”

Barbara Gold"s office Edward North Professor of Classics Barbara Gold loves books (“no Kindle for me”) and can tell you where every volume is located in her Couper Hall office stacks. And she’s still adding to her collection. Among her most prized items: a large Latin dictionary that sometimes gives pages of possible meanings, several books of children’s literature translated into Latin, including Winnie Ille Pooh and Alicia in Terra Mirabili, and a dog-eared copy of one of the first feminist studies done in classics, Pomeroy’s Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves. Professor Gold has a patio off her office where she occasionally holds class or enjoys the view. “One time we parked a chariot out there that students from [Professor] Shelley Haley’s class had made, but some students took it for a ride down the Hill one night; it did not survive.”

Thomas WilsonVisitors to the Kirner-Johnson office of Thomas Wilson, the Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of History, are intrigued by the colorful ancestral scroll he bought at an antique market in Beijing about 10 years ago. In class he stresses that, as beautiful as the painting is, it was a critical tool in ritual offerings of food, wine and prayer to ancestors. “The filial descendant must be able to see his ancestors as they were in life and used portraits, usually painted while his ancestors were still living, to help conjure in the mind’s eye their faces, habits and interests as a means to bring them to the altar,” Professor Wilson says. The painting contains important clues about its date (probably 19th century) and the position of the extended family that kept it. “I ask students to point out details of the painting, and a conversation begins.”

Vincent Odamtten
Books fill the Root Hall office of Professor of English and Creative Writing Vincent Odamtten

Photos, posters, novelty clocks, ornaments, jigsaw puzzles, masks that students have given him over the years and, of course, books fill the Root Hall office of Professor of English and Creative Writing Vincent Odamtten. “I confess that I have been accused of being a magpie, but the things I collect have some significance,” Professor Odamtten says. Many of the photographs on the walls are of writers, and he has a poster of Shirley Temple in the film Stowaway that he has used in a class on Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye and in discussions of race. “And I always keep a candy dispenser on my desk, in case my students get peckish.”
 

Frank SciaccaFrank Sciacca, the Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Associate Professor of German and Russian Languages and Literatures, has spent 32 years filling his office in Christian Johnson Hall with treasures that reflect his research on Slavic traditions. Within his mini-museum are nesting dolls (matryoshka) that depict Soviet political figures, a didukh traditionally made of wheat from the last sheaf of the harvest to celebrate the continuity of crops, and ritual dolls that serve as protectresses of the home. Much of Sciacca’s collection references the Pochayiv monastery in western Ukraine. Legend has it that in the 13th century, the Virgin Mary appeared and left an imprint of her foot on a rock. Icons depict Mary holding a cloth, representing a ritual towel used as a talisman to bless lifecycle events such as a birth or wedding. “Students who come to visit are often taken aback by all there is to see,” Professor Sciacca says. “And this is only a fraction of my collection. You should see my house.”

 

Margie Thickstun
Margie Thickstun, the Jane Watson Irwin Professor of English and Creative Writing, moved into her office in Root Hall in 1994.

Margie Thickstun, the Jane Watson Irwin Professor of English and Creative Writing, moved into her office in Root Hall in 1994. “When I first occupied this office, I would be interrupted occasionally by a knock, followed by an older man asking if he could peek in. Inevitably, the next comment would be, ‘I was in so much trouble the last time I was in here!’” That’s not surprising, considering the office once belonged to longtime Dean Winton Tolles. Professor Thickstun has transformed the space into one that’s welcoming, with plants, soft chairs and a table to sit around. “I love the high ceilings, the big windows and all the light.”
 

Cindy DomackMany of the paleontology treasures in Cindy Domack’s office in the Taylor Science Center are special because they were gifts from former students. The professor of geosciences is especially fond of a stuffed eurypterid (fossil organisms commonly called sea scorpions and the official fossil of New York State). There’s also a large fossil shark tooth and a fish fossil (Knightia) that she found in Wyoming. “I thought it was so cool that as I was collecting fossil fish on the rocky slopes, a person was fishing in the river below — my catch being approximately 50 million years older,” Professor Domack says. Another favorite is a mastodon tooth given to her by her father, a marine biologist. All of her specimens are conversation starters. “Paleontology, the history of life on Earth, seems to have universal appeal — and it’s a history I love to share.”

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Contact Information


Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Alumni Review
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
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