New colleagues bring diverse perspectives

To prepare for success in a global economy, students fare best when they study with faculty who bring a variety of life experiences. As stated in the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate Strategic Report, strengthening the diversity among our faculty at all levels is a critical means for building a more inclusive, respectful, dynamic and innovative campus climate at UNH.

The University of New Hampshire has been able to attract and retain high quality underrepresented scholars in a variety of disciplines, which directly aligns with the university’s strategic priority to Expand Academic Excellence. The Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Engagement and Faculty Development and University leaders are working to promote the recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty scholars.

castro-ponce profile photo Kabria Baumgartner profile photo

Md Shaad Mahmud left his native Bangladesh to begin his graduate work in electrical...

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Tonya Evans, professor of law at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce...

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Clara Esther Castro-Ponce, Lecturer in Spanish, joined the Department of Languages, Literatures, and...

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Kabria Baumgartner originally interviewed for a position in the Women’s Studies...

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Md Shaad Mahmud  left his native Bangladesh to begin his graduate work in electrical engineering more than five years ago at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Mahmud joined the College of Engineering in 2018, after he received offers from five schools. What made him choose UNH?

“I chose UNH because of the people – the faculty, especially my department chair (Kent Chamberlain).,” he said. “When I interviewed, I never felt like I wasn’t part of the faculty already. That helped me make the decision to come here.”

Mahmud came to the United States in search of resources to help him bring his research to life. In Bangladesh, he said, he was unable to purchase components that would allow him to build electrical components. It takes months for equipment to get there, which also makes it expensive, he said.

One of the fruits of his most recent research endeavors is the SensoRing, originally aimed to monitor the nervous system of premature infants. Hospitals were using gel and patches to gather infants’ vital statistics, which can be harsh on a baby’s skin. If you instead create a device small enough to put on a finger or ankle, it’s easier on the baby, he said.

“The advancements in wireless body sensor network and micro fabrication techniques have created a great opportunity for using miniaturized wireless microelectronic devices in a variety of health and life science applications beyond the NICU,” Mahmud said.

“We later realized that this could be used for patients to measure their mental health. It’s already patented,” he said, and is more accurate than a FitBit or an Apple Watch. “When you wear a watch, it moves a lot and the data is not as accurate; for example, the heart rate is not accurately calculated.”

Although adjustment to living in both the United States and New Hampshire has taken some time, Mahmud credits programs like the New Faculty Orientation for introducing him to other faculty from other cultures. He’s also gotten involved with the Office of International Students and Scholars, which coordinates programs and activities to fosters awareness, appreciation and understanding of other cultures.

 

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Tonya M. Evans,

Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, was just recently named Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. Dean Evans developed and directs the UNH Law Blockchain, Cryptocurrency & Law online professional certificate program, launched in spring of 2019.

She joined the law school in the fall of 2017, after serving as Associate Professor of Law and the first Associate Dean of Inclusion and Equity at Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, PA. The only professor teaching intellectual property law, Evans desired, ultimately, to teach at a law school with other IP professors. A place where she would walk down the hall and have conversations with others in her field rather than having to travel often in order to connect with fellow IP law professors.

“I got to know Ann Bartow and Alexandra Roberts from the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property. When I spoke with them, I didn’t know anything about New Hampshire,” Evans said. “After my visits,” recalled Evans, “[e]verything about New Hampshire made sense and I fell in love with the people. I found a home here and everything is working out well.” 

Law is not Evans’ first--or only--career. She attended Northwestern University on a four-year tennis scholarship and afterward competed on the women’s professional tennis circuit—including in the US Open, Virginia Slims of Philadelphia, and Lipton in 1993. It was after retiring from tennis in 1995 that she sought out her juris doctorate at Howard University. 

‘My parents instilled in me—you give yourself options, you get to decide; other people don’t get to decide for you,” she said. Options come from being educated, excellent, and prepared. Both of her parents, walk the walk. Her mother, Susan Borden Evans, Esq., is an esteemed patent-focused IP attorney in Philadelphia, PA, and her father, Dr. Richard A. Evans, M.D., is a Maine-based surgeon, the first black president of the Maine Medical Association, and serves in high-level leadership positions with the American Medical Association.

Evans found a home in academia after clerking for the Honorable Theodore A. McKee in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and then working at Drinker Biddle & Reath and Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia until she established her own firm in 2002. During that time, she also founded an publishing services company now known as Legal Write Publications. A spoken word artist, Evans performed at live venues around the world and is the author of two poetry books: Seasons of Her: A Collection of Poetry and SHINE! (book/CD).

“I am an entrepreneur at heart. I wasn’t particularly happy in big firm life,” she said.

“There’s never been a more important time for intellectual property law than right now,” she said, adding that there are serious implications for both copyright infringement and data privacy issues as a result of the “copy and paste” society in which we live. Evans is interested in looking at how the database structures we use today—many of which have been implicated for data breaches—might be transformed to better protect our data, identity, and privacy. As the director of UNH Law Blockchain, she has traveled around the world speaking of the impact of this new technology on intellectual property and international trade.

Although Evans is the only person of color on the UNH Franklin Pierce Law faculty, she said she has had tremendous support in academia at the law school. She applauds the efforts of the Office of Engagement, the former provost, and others in the administration on main campus and the law school for their commitment to inclusion. UNH Franklin Pierce Law Dean, Megan Carpenter, is especially committed to inclusion, recognizing that inclusive excellence benefits all students and, ultimately, the clients and communities they will go on to serve.

The focus should be on inclusion, rather than diversity, Evans said, because it’s too easy to “check the boxes” of diversity. And ensuring that faculty from diverse backgrounds are included in meaningful conversations is even more important. “In more than a few classes I’ve taught [at UNH Franklin Pierce Law], there has not been one African American student or person of color. But the numbers are getting better.” 

“(At UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law) I get to be who I am and express myself in a supportive environment,” she said. “I am thrilled with the experiences I’ve had so far."

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Clara Esther Castro-Ponce, Lecturer in Spanish, joined the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts in 2018. A native Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico, Castro-Ponce completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Puerto Rico, where she majored in Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature. Then she moved to Rhode Island to pursue graduate studies at Brown University, where she obtained a doctorate in Hispanic Studies. When she arrived in Rhode Island, her English was mostly "bookish English". Now she currently speaks English with "near-native" fluency.

Prior to joining UNH, she taught at Rider University and other institutions. She has also conducted doctoral research in Spain at the Real Biblioteca de El Escorial and the Biblioteca Nacional de España. It was her husband’s job relocation that ultimately led her to UNH.

“When I was applying for jobs, I decided to throw a radius around the universities near me—and the University of New Hampshire was a great option,” she said. “UNH is the best-kept secret.”

As a lecturer, she teaches a wide array of Spanish language, literature and culture courses. Castro-Ponce also has experience working in translation and intends to teach translation courses at UNH in the future.

New Faculty Orientation helped acclimate her to the UNH community, as have other informal faculty interactions. Castro-Ponce said she’s spent her time so far time striving to understand the needs of the greater UNH community. She hopes her students learn that if you put discipline behind learning and take advantage of all the university has to offer, you will be better prepared to enter the real world.

"My role is to enrich the perspectives of the people who meet me.” Even though Puerto Rico is not a different country, it is removed from the United States and it is also a culture that is not common to the mainstream culture of the Northeastern United States.”

Knowing more than one language gives you cultural capital, she said, adding that it provides everyone the opportunity to better understand the world and flourish in a global society.

“When you learn a new language, you acquire a new soul,” Castro-Ponce said. “To learn a new language is to be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else who doesn’t share your culture. Language is a gift. I do my very best to make sure my students can share that gift and experience and enjoy it every day.”

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Kabria Baumgartner originally interviewed for a position in the Women’s Studies program. After learning about her research in 19th century African American women’s activism, the UNH English Department hired her to teach in the American Studies program, where she has taught African American literature and culture since she joined the faculty in late 2017. In these classes, gender and race are topics that naturally bubble up in discussions.

One of the texts Baumgartner often assigns is Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1859 about a young black girl who is abandoned and made an indentured servant to a white household, where she is abused and treated poorly. The story takes place in New Hampshire in the 1830s and 1840s. Almost always, it’s a story her students are unfamiliar with.

“In teaching the novel, we talk about race and gender in the context of Northern New England. Students get to see what life was like for a black girl in the 19th century and how the issues of race and gender intersected,” she said. “They consider what that might mean in the present and how those issues might still be at play in the State of New Hampshire. It opens up a world they might not have given much thought to—and they appreciate learning it.”  

Baumgartner’s research focuses on African American women’s activism in the United States from the late 18th century to the present.  “For African American women (I’ve studied), the pursuit of knowledge had everything to do with empowering themselves. Literacy was a marker of empowerment. For example, in the early 19th century, quite a few African American mothers were illiterate, but they would see to it that their children had access to a public or private school or other educational opportunities,” she said. 

Baumgartner’s book-- In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America (New York University Press, 2019) looks at African American women writers, students and teachers who championed black educational opportunities in the Northeast between 1820 and 1860. Her book, in some ways, pays homage to her own mother, an African American teacher who valued education, and aims to answer the question of why black mothers thought that education was so important for their daughters, both then and now.

Gaining a deeper understanding of African American culture in the United States prepares UNH students for a more diverse world, she said.

“It’s important for them as they move and travel. When they move to bigger cities with a more diverse population, they will be able to better understand complex issues of difference because they've talked about them before,” Baumgartner said.

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