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New Tenure-line Faculty for the 2017-2018 Academic Year

Department of Anthropology

Alexander Bentley, Professor & Department Head

Professor Bentley is an archaeologist who researches how cultures change through time – from the earliest farmers of Europe and Asia thousands of years ago to the accelerating culture change in the digital age. His methods vary from laboratory analysis of skeletons to computational social science. His new book is The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms (MIT Press, 2017). Before joining the faculty at UT, Bentley was head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Houston. He received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

School of Art

Mary Laube, Assistant Professor

Professor Laube’s creative work focuses on the individual and collective acts of memorialization of our lived experiences and the ideologies that are fabricated from perceived information and personal mythology. Referencing various memorial artifacts such as tombstones, altarpieces, and sacred relics, she presents her painting as staging, the representation of a constructed and idealized world. Laube received her MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Iowa.

Department of Biochemistry and Cellular & Molecular Biology

Keerthi Krishnan, Assistant Professor

Professor Krishnan’s research lies at the interface between cellular and molecular biology and behavioral neuroscience. She is using a mouse genetic model to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underpins Rett Syndrome, which is an autism-associated neurological disorder. She recently published paper in the journal Nature Communications that provided a link between proteins that bind methylated DNA and behavioral traits associated with Rett Syndrome. Krishnan received her PhD in pharmacogenomics from the University of California, San Francisco, and conducted postdoctoral research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Tian Hong, Assistant Professor

Professor Hong, a mathematical and computational biologist working in the emerging area of systems biology, works on the navigation of massive experimental datasets of genetic, protein, and metabolic information to provide computational models that define and predict developmental decisions during immune, neural, and epithelial cell formation, including outcomes that lead to specific disease states including cancer and cell metastasis. Professor Hong recently generated a novel model regarding how small RNA networks guide the embryonic development of the forebrain, the spinal cord, and motor neurons, which was published in Nature Communications. Hong received a PhD in genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology from Virginia Tech and conducted postdoctoral research in computational systems biology in the Department of Mathematics at the University of California, Irvine.

Department of Chemistry

Johnathan N. Brantley, Assistant Professor

Professor Brantley seeks to address outstanding challenges at the interface of polymer science and synthetic methodology. He is interested in the design of new materials with tunable properties, as well as novel reactions that are applicable to polymer and small molecule synthesis. Brantley received his PhD in chemistry from the University of Texas, Austin. He was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Michael Blum, Associate Professor

Professor Blum has three research foci: (1) the socioecology of disasters and infectious disease; (2) coastal protection and restoration; and (3) conservation and management of freshwater resources on oceanic islands. He comes to UT from Tulane University where he was associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He directed the Tulane-Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research and served as the inaugural director of the Tulane ByWater Institute. Blum earned a doctorate in zoology from Duke University and then joined the US Environmental Protection Agency as a federal postdoctoral fellow.

Elizabeth Derryberry, Assistant Professor

Professor Derryberry focuses on how ecology drives the evolution of sensory and signaling systems, and, in turn, the interplay between divergence of mating signals and speciation. Ongoing studies in her lab include (1) ecological selection on song and lineage diversification in tropical bird radiations, (2) the ecological genomics of behavioral isolation and (3) effects of noise pollution and thermal stress on song performance. Before joining the faculty at UT, Derryberry was the Ken and Ruth Arnold Early Career Professor in Earth & Ecological Science in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University. She became an LSU Museum of Natural Science postdoctoral fellow after earning a doctorate in biology from Duke University.

Orou Gaoue, Assistant Professor

Professor Gaoue investigates the ecological impacts of global change on plant-human interactions, the viability of endangered plants populations, and the sustainability of wild plants harvest by local people. Before joining the faculty at UT, Gaoue was an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Gaoue received a PhD from University of Hawaii at Manoa and was a postdoctoral fellow at both ITME at the University of Miami and NIMBioS at UT.

Xingli Giam, Assistant Professor

Professor Giam’s research focuses on characterizing and mitigating impacts on the environment, with particular emphasis on freshwater and tropical ecosystems by combining fieldwork with the development and application of theoretical, statistical, and meta-analytic modeling tools. Giam earned a PhD from Princeton University.

Monica Papes, Assistant Professor

Professor Papes investigates the factors that shape species’ geographic distributions at diverse spatial and temporal resolutions by combining ecological niche modeling techniques with GIS and remote sensing tools. Before joining the faculty at UT, Papes was an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oklahoma State University. She received her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from University of Kansas and conducted her postdoctoral research at the Center for Limnology and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Department of English

Liliana Gonzalez, Assistant Professor

Professor Gonzales, through an analysis of both literature and film, explores the intersection of political neoliberalism and the drug culture that thrives at the Mexican-American border in her dissertation. She argues that many of the cultural texts that intend to be critical of this drug culture in fact end up reinforcing the injustices of neoliberalism and neocolonialism. Gonzales earned her PhD in Spanish literature from the University of Arizona. She joins the UT faculty as an assistant professor of Latino/a literature and culture with a half-time appointment in both the Departments of English and Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures.

Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences

Nicholas Dygert, Assistant Professor

Professor Dygert is a planetary geoscientist who studies the evolution of planetary interiors. He combines lab experiments, numerical modeling, and field investigations to develop a holistic understanding of the nature, origin, and evolution of the Moon and planets. He received his PhD from Brown University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.

Department of History

Nicole Eggers, Assistant Professor

Professor Eggers examines health, healing, and religion in modern Africa, with a particular focus on Congolese history. Before joining the faculty at UT, he was an assistant professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. Eggers received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Sara Ritchey, Associate Professor

Professor Ritchey focuses on the intersection of the history of medicine and the history of religion. She is completing a book on the construction of medical knowledge in women’s religious communities in the late Middle Ages. Before joining the faculty at UT, she was associate professor and department head at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Ritchey earned her PhD from the University of Chicago.

Department of Mathematics

Theodora Bourni, Assistant Professor

Professor Bourni’s work is in geometric analysis, an area of mathematics that draws on many other areas of mathematics while having broad applications in mathematics, physics, and many other scientific and engineering fields. She explores, among other things, the geometric structure of multi-dimensional surfaces related to partial differential equations and physics. Bourni earned her PhD from Stanford University. She conducted postdoctoral research at the Institute for Mathematics at the Free University of Berlin and at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics/Albert Einstein Institute in Germany.

Mathew Langford, Assistant Professor

Professor Langford’s work is in geometric analysis and involves studying how multi-dimensional surfaces “flow” according certain prescribed constraints, a fundamental technique in mathematics that also has many applications. He earned his PhD from the Australian National University. After one year as a postdoc at the University of Konstanz in Germany, Langford was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, one of the most prestigious fellowships in Europe. During the fellowship term, he worked at the Free University of Berlin.

Christopher Strickland, Assistant Professor

Professor Strickland works in mathematical biology and uses a great variety of mathematical tools, including probabilistic modeling, networks, and dynamical systems. Applications include spread of invasive species and diseases and evolution of language. He earned his PhD from Colorado State University. Strickland had a joint postdoc appointment at the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Mathematics.

Department of Modern Foreign Languages & Literatures

Rodica Frimu, Assistant Professor

Professor Frimu recently published “Computational cycles in (second) language processing: Cyclic versus non-cyclic integration in French,” in Proceedings of the 38th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. She received her doctorate in French linguistics from Indiana University with a dissertation on “Non-linguistic cognitive dimensions of subject-verb agreement error detection in (L2) French.” Frimu will teach courses in the French program and for the Linguistics IDP.

Phillip Stokes, Assistant Professor

Professor Stokes’ most recent publication is “A New and Unique ‘Thamudic’ Inscription from northeast Jordan” in the journal Arabian Epigraphic Notes. Stokes received his doctorate in Arabic language and linguistics from the University of Texas. His dissertation is titled “The Historical Grammar of Case in Arabic.” Stokes will teach courses in the Arabic program, the Linguistics IDP, and the new Middle East Studies IDP.

School of Music

Nathan Fleshner, Assistant Professor

Professor Fleshner’s research interests focus on the portrayal of dreams and mental illness in music, the application of psychoanalysis to the study of music, popular music, and the use of iPad apps for studying both pedagogical and cognitive processes. He has published and presented on each of these topics at some of the world’s leading institutions, including UC Berkeley, NYU, Oxford, and ETH Zurich. Fleshner earned his PhD in music theory from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.

Jon Hamar, Assistant Professor

Professor Hamar is a versatile musician, gaining national recognition in both the classical and jazz genres. Hamar has performed with a wide array of artists and recorded on many soundtracks and video games. He has an MM in jazz and contemporary media from the Eastman School of Music. Hamar joins the UT faculty as an assistant professor of bass.

Jaclyn Johnson, Assistant Professor & Associate Director of Choral Activities

Professor Johnson is in popular demand as a clinician, honor choir conductor, and presenter. Her research specialties include working with the male voice, Latin American music, and vocal pedagogy. Johnson has a DMA in choral conducting from the University of Michigan.

Andrew Sigler, Assistant Professor

Professor Sigler writes music for a wide variety of ensembles and instrumentation. In addition to his work as a classical composer, he has a background in commercial music and counts Microsoft, Google, and T-Mobile among his former clients. Sigler has a DMA in music composition from the University of Texas at Austin and joins the UT faculty as an assistant professor of music composition

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Miguel Madurga Flores, Assistant Professor

Professor Flores received a prestigious CERN Research Fellowship to build a neutron detector array for studies of radioactive beta decay at the famous radioactive ion beam facility in Geneva, Switzerland. These experimental studies are critical for understanding the structure of neutron-rich atomic nuclei and the cosmic abundances of the chemical elements. Madurga will be heavily involved with the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, currently under construction at Michigan State University, which will be the foremost low-energy nuclear physics laboratory in the United States. Madurga earned his PhD in physics from the Autonomous University of Madrid and completed his postdoctoral research at UT.

Maxim Lavrentovich, Assistant Professor

Professor Lavrentovich’s dissertation and postdoctoral work covered topics in biophysics, non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, and soft matter physics. His most recent work focuses on pattern formation in pollen grains and in liquid crystal droplets. Lavrentovich has published 11 articles, nearly all of them as first author, including several papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lavrentovich earned his PhD in physics at Harvard and conducted his postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania. He will continue his research in biophysics at UT and have a joint faculty appointment with ORNL.

Department of Political Science

Christopher Ojeda, Assistant Professor

Professor Ojeda studies American politics and focuses on how social and economic inequalities shape the way ordinary individuals think about and engage in politics. He earned his PhD from Penn State University and just finished two years as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University.

Gary Uzonyi, Assistant Professor

Professor Uzonyi studies international relations and looks at how political actors choose to use violence to accomplish their goals, with a specific focus on the decision to attack civilians during civil war. He earned his PhD from the University of Michigan. Uzonyi joins the UT faculty from Duke University.

Department of Psychology

Kristy Benoit Allen, Assistant Professor

Professor Allen aims to identify behavioral, cognitive, affective, and biological factors that underlie the intergenerational transmission of anxiety. Her goal is to develop and refine mechanistically-based prevention and intervention approaches, particularly for the children of anxious parents. Allen earned her PhD from Virginia Tech and completed postdoctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh.

Kirsten Gonzalez, Assistant Professor

Professor Gonzalez focuses on the psychological well-being of individuals with marginalized identities, including racial/ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people. She is equally passionate about social justice ally work and studies the efficacy of interventions designed to reduce prejudice and build allies in privileged communities. Gonzalez earned her PhD from the University of Kentucky and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Loyola University Maryland.

Department of Sociology

Christina Ergas, Assistant Professor

Professor Ergas researches the relationship between social inequity and the natural environment with a focus toward how power relations structure access and exposure to environmental goods and harms. She earned a PhD in sociology at the University of Oregon, Eugene. Ergas joins the UT faculty from Brown University where she was a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Environment and Society.

John Kasey Henricks, Assistant Professor

Professor Henricks’ research interests lie in understanding how racial inequalities are reproduced over time through institutional arrangements sponsored by public finance. His research is a two-fold examination of 1) the ways face-neutral tax laws yield racially disparate consequences in the distribution of tax liability; and 2) how racial ideology discursively shapes, and becomes shaped by, conflicts over state finance. Henricks earned his PhD in sociology from Loyola University Chicago. He joins the UT faculty from the University of Illinois, Chicago, where he was a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy.

Tyler Wall, Assistant Professor

Professor Wall’s research interests focus on the politics of racialized state violence, most recently in histories of police violence in the United States. He earned a PhD in justice studies from Arizona State University. Wall joins the UT faculty from Eastern Kentucky University where he was an associate professor in the School of Justice Studies.