Nine faculty members were approved for tenure by the College’s Board of Trustees at its March meeting. They include Marissa Ambio (Hispanic Studies), Stephanie Bahr (Literature and Creative Writing), Mackenzie Cooley (History), Rhea Datta (Biology), Jessie Jia, (East Asian Languages and Literatures), Julie Starr (Anthropology), Darren Strash (Computer Science), Aaron Strong (Environmental Studies), and Heather Sullivan (Government).

The granting of tenure is based on recommendations of the vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, and the committee on appointments, with the College president presenting final recommendations to the board. With the granting of tenure comes the title of associate professor. All will be effective July 1, 2024.

To get to know our newly tenured faculty a little better, we asked “What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?” Read more to see their answers.

Marissa Ambio
Appointed to the Faculty in 2017

Marissa Ambio (Ph.D., M.Phil., M.A., Columbia University; B.A., Williams College)

In 2023, Ambio co-authored a proposal that resulted in a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to institute a minor in Curatorial Studies. The program will connect students and faculty with regional cultural institutions, as well as the College’s Wellin Museum of Art and Special Collections.

Ambio’s current research and book project draw on archival research of the Cuban émigré press during the Ten Years War to explore the articulation of Cuban nationalism within a transnational context. Her recent writing examines the contemporary work of Junot Díaz to show how sound (and its absence) is used to craft literary dimensions and convey cultural concepts, like Dominican masculinity. Ambio’s work has appeared in Hispania, Latin American Research Review and Revista de Estudios Hispánicos. She enjoys teaching language, literature, and culture courses, and is an alumna of Hamilton’s study abroad program in Madrid.

Stephanie Bahr
Appointed to the Faculty in 2017

Stephanie Bahr (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley; B.A., Mount Allison University)

Bahr specializes in early modern literature and drama. Her book project, Martyred Signs: Reformation Hermeneutics, Interpretive Violence, and Tudor Poetry, contends that the Reformation’s violent disputes about how to read the Bible had a formative influence on 16th-century English literature across forms and genres, from Thomas Wyatt’s lyric poetry to Edmund Spenser’s allegorical epic and William Shakespeare’s commercial stage. In 2020, she was named an American Council of Learned Societies fellow, enabling her to take a full-year sabbatical to work on the book.

Bahr’s other teaching and research interests include the intersections of medieval and Renaissance literature; print and manuscript culture; revenge tragedy; Global Shakespeare; representational ethics; gender; and film. In her teaching, she enjoys introducing students to paleography (the study of old writing), the behind-the-scenes work of textual editing, and the vibrant ways creators from around the world have adapted and reimagined Shakespeare.

What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?
“From a young age, I have been fascinated by Reformation theology and sectarian violence. My first introduction to these concepts came in a film about Lady Jane Grey, which staged a debate about transsubstantiation: is the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally Christ’s body and blood (the Catholic stance) or is it merely a sacred metaphor (the Protestant stance). It seemed incomprehensible to me at 13 that such an abstract distinction could not only hold power over life and death, but inspire many to embrace agonizing execution. This sinister world of heretics, martyrs, and schism felt utterly divorced from the joyous world of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, which first sparked my love of Shakespeare, and this seeming disjunction puzzled me.

“Twenty-five years later, my book, Martyred Signs: Reformation Hermeneutics, Interpretive Violence, and Tudor Poetry, traces the fraught relationship between literal and figurative meanings in the 16th century across forms and genres: from the prose theology of Thomas More and William Tyndale to Thomas Wyatt’s lyric poetry, from Edmund Spenser’s allegorical epic to William Shakespeare’s commercial stage.  

“In the Reformation, people were tortured and killed for how they read and interpreted. This makes a vital difference to how we read them and their writing. And in our modern context — where debates about censorship, verbal violence, schismatic interpretation, and the definition of torture are again grimly current — I hope the study of the past may likewise offer insights into how we read ourselves.”

Mackenzie Cooley
Appointed to the Faculty in 2018

Mackenzie Cooley (Ph.D. and M.A. Stanford University; B.A., Cornell University)

Cooley is an historian of early modern history of ideas. Her first book, The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Humans, and Race in the Renaissance (2022), explores how communities from Renaissance Italy to Nahua Tenochtitlan were shaped by a lingering fascination with breeding. The book received the Modern Language Association Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies Book Award. In 2023, The Perfection of Nature was longlisted for the Cundill History Prize, and it was awarded honorable mention for the Morris D. Forkosch Prize by the Journal of the History of Ideas.

In addition, Cooley has co-edited two volumes, Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds (2023) and the forthcoming Knowing an Empire: Imperial Science in the Chinese and Spanish Empires. Her research has been funded by the Fulbright and Mellon foundations, among others. She is committed to incorporating original research into her teaching, including through the New World Nature history laboratory.

What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?
“I was raised by my mother and my godmother right outside of Syracuse ... While I was completing my secondary education, and then went on to Cornell University, I initially focused on philosophy, languages, and a broad spate of science classes, from archaeology to fish ecology, to evolution and our home in the solar system. I was most interested in the ways in which one could become lost in study, enthralled by visions of the universe or complex nests of meaning.

“A focus on intellectual history came later in my undergraduate studies. I found history appealing then, as I do know, for its capaciousness. As soon as the second hand has ticked forward, a moment becomes past, and thus becomes fair game for the historian. The more you learn about the human past, the greater wonder you feel for the radically different worldviews and logics of people who have lived before us. So much is subject to change, so much tends to be universal. One can zoom out to the level of civilizations or down to the level of personal emotions, narratives, passing moments, and perceptions. Like literary studies, history has space for criticism, but one can either center that bite or write narratives that stand on their own without being a gloss missing a referent. There is infinite space for theorization and the radical play of structure, form, and meaning, as in poetry. But what you, as a historian, write counts, in some way, as true. What power.

“Moving to California for my Ph.D. at Stanford, then, was a transformative moment, a world-expanding moment. There was more than the East Coast! The Ivies! The theories of the books I read! There were real places, including some that imagined themselves as the forefront of a technological future, and I could be a part of them, too. That is the way of it with the history of science. It is an outgrowth of ideas, a new horizon of making meaning from the mysteries of nature. I love scientists for their precision, their optimism, and the groundwork they've laid building on each other's ideas. When looking toward the past, I seek to find moments of great optimism, potential, and fascination, without, of course, ignoring destruction and loss.

“During dissertation research, I traveled to archives and libraries in Spain and Italy, Mexico and Peru before returning to Stanford to complete my doctorate. And from there, I came here, to Hamilton. Back home, after a fashion.”

Rhea Datta
Appointed to the Faculty in 2018

Rhea Datta (Ph.D., Indiana University; B.A., Macalester College)

Datta is a developmental geneticist and molecular biologist whose research focuses on how proteins distinguish between specific DNA-binding sequences to regulate gene expression. Specifically, her work on gene regulation addresses biological processes during eye and embryo development, ranging from neurodevelopment to tissue patterning.

In 2023, Datta published a paper in the journal Development titled “Multi-level regulation of even-skipped stripes by the ubiquitous factor Zelda” that examines how particular short DNA sequences are regulated so that gene expression can be precisely controlled during embryonic development. The year previous she published “In Situ Hybridization as a Method to Examine Gene Regulatory Activity In Vivo” in Methods in Molecular Biology. Datta’s work has also appeared in Genes and Development, eLife, Current Biology, Developmental Biology, Evolution and Development, and other peer-reviewed journals.

Prior to joining the Hamilton faculty, Datta was a postdoctoral fellow at New York University. She has taught at NYU, Indiana University, and Sarah Lawrence College. Datta is committed to increasing representation within STEM communities. 

Junqing “Jessie” Jia
Appointed to the Faculty in 2017

Junqing “Jessie” Jia (Ph.D., M.A, Ohio State University; M.A., B.A., Shanghai Normal University)

Jia specializes in Chinese language pedagogy with an emphasis on understanding sustainable foreign language learning motivation and creating motivating experiences in the classroom and beyond. She also develops pedagogical materials for Chinese learners of various levels with a goal of transforming students into lifelong, self-motivated, and effective learners.

Since joining Hamilton, Jia has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. In addition, she co-edited an edited volume, Performed Culture in Action to Teach Chinese as a Foreign Language (2022), and published an advanced-level Chinese textbook, Negotiating the Chinese Workplace: An integrated course in advanced Chinese (2023). She hopes to leverage the results of her research to contribute to the diverse learning environment at Hamilton.

What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?
“I specialize in Chinese language pedagogy with an emphasis on the development of language learning motivation. Learning a foreign language is a long and quite often emotionally challenging journey, especially when it is a language drastically different from one’s own. My research interest originates from one simple question: how do people build and maintain sufficient drive to master a foreign language? To answer that, I conduct empirical studies to better understand which factors play a significant role in the learning process and what types of learning experience help students grow into lifelong autonomous language learners. I deeply believe the results of my research help me to create a diverse learning environment at Hamilton and effectively guide my students on their journey toward Chinese language and cultural proficiency.”

Julie Starr
Appointed to the Faculty in 2015

Julie Starr (Ph.D., M.A., University of Virginia; M.A., B.A., B.S, Ohio State University)

Starr’s research ethnographically explores culturally variant conceptual and experiential entanglements of selfhood, bodies, and embodied identities and empowerment. Her book, Modified Bodies, Material Selves: Beauty Ideals in Post-Reform Shanghai (2023), compares how Chinese and Western women living in Shanghai thought about, pursued, and/or critiqued beauty ideals they encountered in the city. Starr demonstrates that the women were operating with different notions of what she calls the “materiality of self,” as either being constantly modified by one’s environment or as an unchanging given. These differences informed how the women experienced embodied identities and how they thought about the politics of modifying certain traits of their bodies. The book won a subvention grant from the Association of Asian Studies and has received praise for its ethnographic descriptions and theoretical insights about body politics and empowerment.

Starr teaches introductory courses in cultural anthropology as well as upper-level courses focused on the anthropology of China, selfhood, food, race, and the body.

What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?
“I have spent my career investigating ethnographically how and to what extent concepts and experiences of selfhood vary cross-culturally and the kinds of contexts that inform or make such variations possible. In my book, I compared the body politics of Chinese and Western women living in Shanghai and demonstrated how the two groups were operating with different ideas about what I call the ‘materiality of self’— either as constantly being modified by one’s environment or as unchanging and natural, respectively. These differences informed their experiences of ‘who they are,’ especially in relation to embodied identities and the politics of modifying certain physical traits. Rather than presume, then, that selves just ‘are,’ my work demonstrates how even in the current milieu of global capitalism, selves are produced and experienced in radically different ways in different contexts.”

Darren Strash
Appointed to the Faculty in 2018

Darren Strash (Ph.D., M.S., University of California, Irvine; B.S., Cal Poly Pomona)

Strash’s research focuses on how to solve computationally difficult graph problems in practice. Such problems include computing cohesive subgraphs (such as cliques and k-plexes), independent sets, cuts, and covers. To solve these problems, Strash brings together techniques from algorithm theory, combinatorial optimization, and operations research. His additional areas of expertise include computational geometry, graph drawing, and dynamic data structures.

Before coming to Hamilton, Strash was a visiting assistant professor at Colgate University. Before Colgate. He also spent two years in Germany as a postdoctoral researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s Institute of Theoretical Informatics. Strash worked for three years as a software engineer at Intel. In his free time, he enjoys playing strategic board games, reading sci-fi and fantasy novels, and contributing to openstreetmap.org.

What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?
“A fascinating and surprising conflict exists between the theory and practice of algorithms. Current theory states that a large collection of interesting and important problems are computationally hard to solve (i.e., NP-hard problems); however, my research shows that simple rules can often solve these problems very quickly in practice. My most exciting moments are when I solve a data set that has so far eluded researchers — especially when I solve it with only simple techniques. While this solution often appears as a single number in a table or plot, there is a moment in time where I am the only one who knows it. This work opens up deeper areas that are begging to be explored: it suggests that the theory is incomplete, that our understanding of real-world data is incomplete, that more can be done to resolve these differences. Buried in these observations are multiple lifetimes of questions waiting to be answered.”

Aaron Strong
Appointed to the Faculty in 2018

Aaron Strong (Ph.D., Stanford University; M.A., Tufts University; B.A., Swarthmore College)

Trained as an interdisciplinary sustainability scientist, Strong focuses his research on understanding the impacts of climate change and the dynamics of climate feedbacks in both terrestrial and marine systems, including work on ocean acidification, carbon sequestration, and sea-level rise. Last year, he published several research articles with Environmental Studies students. Strong and Clare Barbato ’22 published an article on soil carbon offset programs in the journal npj Climate Action; he and Robbie Rioux ’21 wrote on strategies for reducing runoff pollution to Skaneateles Lake in Environmental Challenges; with Hanna Pierce ’20, Strong published “An evaluation of New York State livestock carbon offset projects under California’s cap and trade program” in Carbon Management; and Katie Tanner ’23 and Strong wrote “Assessing the impact of future sea level rise on blue carbon ecosystem services on Long Island, New York” in the journal Sustainability.

Strong has also published in Sustainability and Climate Change, Ecology and Society, and Marine Policy.

Concerned with both the biophysical and human dimensions of climate change, his work also employs participatory scenario-based, spatially explicit assessments that seek to enhance climate justice and provide actionable information to decision-makers. Before coming to Hamilton, Strong was an assistant professor in the School of Marine Sciences and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.

What idea have you spent your career investigating or exploring and why?
“One of the things I value most about Hamilton is being able to teach truly interdisciplinary courses on the climate crisis that integrate both the scientific and human dimensions of this defining problem of our times. From my core course on climate change to upper-level courses on climate resilience and renewable energy, I find tremendous meaning in having the opportunity to train students to go out into the world to address climate change head on.”

Heather Sullivan
Appointed to the Faculty in 2013

Heather Sullivan (Ph.D., M.A., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; B.A., Elon University)

Heather Sullivan’s research focuses on the way that state capacity shapes political outcomes. A central concern of her work is the role that subnational variations in state capacity play in protest politics. She explores this theme in a series of articles that draw on an original dataset of protest and response in Mexico, and has published on protest violence (Journal of Conflict Resolution 2019), repression (Political Research Quarterly 2021), symbolic protest management (Global Studies Quarterly 2023), and concessions (Democratization 2024).

Sullivan also has an active project that explores the determinants of financial inclusion in Latin America. This project focuses on the role state capacity and partisanship play in influencing levels of financial access. Apart from her research on Latin America, she also published a pedagogy article on undergraduate research methods (PS: Political Science and Politics 2023). Sullivan is currently serving as a Good Authority Fellow, allowing her to use her expertise in political science to provide in-depth analysis of the news for a public audience.

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