Bowdoin Paves Way for New Scholars in Liberal Arts

Story posted May 04, 2009

Karen Teoh
Consortium for Faculty Diversity Post Doctoral Fellow Karen Teoh

For many people, it's a natural leap to enter the world of Bowdoin. However, there is a growing contingent of community members who may count themselves among the I-never-would-have-imagined variety, people for whom Maine or Bowdoin's liberal-arts experience is a foreign concept.

And that doesn't just apply to students.

Take Karen Teoh, for instance. An ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, Teoh entered Yale University as an economics major, fully expecting her American college experience to prepare her to enter the family business tradition. Instead, she got hooked by history and the desire to pursue an academic life.

"I realized that I love learning and history and school," says Teoh. "This was definitely an unexpected career path."

After completing her Ph.D. from Harvard in 2008, Teoh came to Bowdoin, where she has taught a highly popular course, The Making of Modern China, and a seminar titled, The Modern Girl and Female Citizen in China and Japan. Her stint as a visiting scholar and lecturer is part of Bowdoin's participation in the Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD).

The CFD has been in existence for over 20 years, originally created as a "feeder" to encourage under-represented students to enter liberal-arts programs. More recent initiatives have targeted faculty recruitment among its more than 50 college and university members. The one- or two- year program supports both pre- and post-doctoral scholars and offers substantial support and flexibility for continuing their scholarship and teaching.

Karen Teoh in class
Teoh engages students in discussion in her seminar, The Modern Girl and Female Citizen in China and Japan.

"Liberal arts colleges are not always an obvious career choice for emerging scholars coming out of top research universities," notes Bowdoin Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "Part of the mission of CFD is to proactively engage prospective faculty members with the intellectual and cultural diversity liberal arts colleges have to offer.

"Bowdoin welcomes 25 percent new students each year, so we are quickly able to achieve a wonderful level of diversity in our student body," adds Judd, "but it is more challenging with faculty since there are only a handful of tenure-track openings each year. The CFD is one of several tools we are using to increase the range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds in Bowdoin's faculty and to introduce new scholarship that engages issues of diversity for all students."

Bowdoin is a highly active CFD member college, with four current CFD scholars and four new scholars joining the faculty in fall 2009.

Teoh's two-year appointment, which will continue into the 2009-2010 academic year, has helped her hone her teaching skills while giving her time to prepare her dissertation for publication as a book—an opportunity most scholars don't get at an early stage in their careers.

"All of Bowdoin's CFD scholars are finishing up dissertations or are about to go back on the job market; it's a challenging time," remarks Teoh. "It's great to have support and to have a group of peers you can talk to about the whole process. And I'm really enjoying working on my teaching, which I feel passionately about."

Current CFD fellows are: Jarrett Brown, English, a pre-doctoral candidate from the College of William and Mary who is completing his Ph.D. in American Studies; Karen Lindo, Romance Languages, who earned a Ph.D. in French and Francophone studies from UCLA; Karen Teoh, history, who earned her Ph.D. in modern Chinese history from Harvard University; and Chad Uran, anthropology, a pre-dissertation fellow from the University of Iowa.

Upon completing his studies, Uran, a White Earth Anishinaabe of the Ojibwe (White Earth tribe) will join the Bowdoin anthropology faculty in a tenure-track position, a post that he was recently offered following a highly competitive national search. Jarrett Brown, who is finishing up his second CFD teaching year at Bowdoin, recently accepted a position on the English faculty of the College of the Holy Cross, where he will teach African Diasporic literatures.

New CFD scholars joining Teoh and Uran for the 2009-2010 academic year include: Mariana Cruz, a Ph.D. candidate in education from Cornell University; Nestor Gil, an installation and performance artist who recently earned an M.F.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill; Jessica Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. and African Diaspora History from the University of Maryland, College Park; and Keona Ervin, a post-doctoral history fellow from Washington University in St. Louis, who will be lecturer in history and gender and women's studies.


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