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School of Arts and Sciences

Looking Back from Year Two

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Professors Reflect on Their First Year at Tufts

Professor Lisa Lowe


By Anna Burgess

One year ago, several new faculty members joined the Tufts community along with the class of 2016. Among them were Lisa Lowe, Pawan Dhingra, and Ujjayant Chakravorty, professors who hail from three different departments but have one important thing in common: Tufts is not their first teaching experience. Each of these professors has an informed and comparative perspective on teaching. Recently, Dhingra, Lowe, and Chakravorty offered us their first impressions of Tufts, comparisons to other universities, and thoughts on their future with the school.

Lisa Lowe, Professor of English, and Director, American Studies Program

Professors Lowe, Chakravorty, Dhingra come to Tufts from very different backgrounds. Lisa Lowe, an English professor and director of the American Studies program, taught at the University of California, San Diego for more than twenty years, in a literature department that focuses on comparative world literature. An economics professor specializing in energy and environmental policies, Ujjayant Chakravorty came to Tufts from the University of Alberta in Canada. Sociology professor Pawan Dhingra was a professor at Oberlin College for several years. Immediately prior to his arrival here, Dhingra was on sabbatical, helping to curate an exhibition on the Indian-American experience for the Smithsonian Institution.

How did these three seasoned professors experience their first year on the Medford/Somerville campus? Dhingra, who will chair the Department of Sociology this year, says that he is "still getting to know the faculty," but feels like he has a good picture of the student body. "I'm really impressed," he says of the undergraduates, who, "ask a lot of good questions. They seem committed to what they're trying to learn." Lowe has a similar view of Tufts graduate students. "I really enjoyed coming to know the graduate students in English, who are wonderful and engaged," she says.

Pawan Dhingra, Professor of Sociology (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

The comparatively smaller size of the Tufts community has been an adjustment for Lowe, and for Chakravorty. Chakravorty explains that his research budget at Tufts is smaller than his government-funded budget at the University of Alberta, but he says that, "[Tufts] does try to help out, and that's really good." He also cites some positive aspects of a smaller school: "It's a very close knit community [here] and I like that." Chakravorty adds, "In a big university, you can get lost." Lowe agrees that the smaller classroom at Tufts "enables us to work with students closely, face-to-face...in a more thoughtful, extended fashion." Dhingra, who is used to a small school, says that Tufts, to him, feels very large. He mentions that Tufts is three times bigger than Oberlin, but that, "It's been great...getting to understand the breadth of the university."

All three professors view Tufts as a place with clear goals and continuing growth. "Tufts is making a lot of investments in [my field of environmental economics]," says Chakravorty. He sees the school trying to make an environmental impact—so far, he's participated in the Tufts Energy Conference, a forum for cross-border and cross-sector discussions on pressing energy issues, and the Tufts Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS) symposium. In a similar vein, Dhingra describes undergraduates as "very civic-minded," and also notes that students seem to be motivated by a desire to serve local and international communities. He and Lowe can appreciate this international focus that Tufts is known for, as they both have spent years studying world cultures.

Ujjayant Chakravorty, Professor of Economics (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

Judging from their appreciation of Tufts' goals, as well as their experiences thus far, it appears that Lowe, Chakravorty, and Dhingra see the university as an excellent fit. Asked about his future as Sociology Chair and as a member of the Tufts community, Dhingra says, "I'd like to see a continued emphasis on teaching students at a very high [level]," while Chakravorty wants to "keep working towards strengthening my area at Tufts," and hopes to develop an economics Ph. D. program. Lowe expresses excitement about the courses she taught last year, and about working with students in the future. As she gears up to start the new semester, she's thinking a lot more long term: "I look forward to being at Tufts for many years to come."

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