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School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Focus

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Faculty Focus

New Faculty Join the School of Arts and Sciences

By Alexandra Erath, A16

Kendra Field
Assistant Professor
of History and
Africana Studies

Melissa McInerney
Associate Professor
of Economics

Benjamin Wolfe
Assistant Professor
of Biology

This fall, Tufts welcomed a number of outstanding new faculty to our academic community, among them Kendra Field, Melissa McInerney and Benjamin Wolfe who joined the history, economics, and biology departments respectively.

Kendra Field joined the history department as an assistant professor of history and Africana studies after teaching at the University of California, Riverside. Originally from New York and Massachusetts, she attended Williams College and completed a master's in public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Ph.D. in American history from New York University.

Professor Field's research and teaching interests are broad, encompassing United States, African-American, and Native American history, with a focus on the history of race and slavery. This semester, she is teaching Slavery and Race in the United States.

She is also working on her first book, "Growing Up with the Country: A Family History of Race and American Expansion." The book tells the story of a migration of ex-slaves from the deep south to Indian Territory, Mexico, and West Africa after the Civil War. Field says the book is a family history. "It follows several families who made this journey, including my own ancestors," she explains. The research is as varied as it is interesting. "Because of my familial connection," she explains, "this project relies deeply on oral testimony and storytelling as well as archival research."

Field is working with some of her students on their own family connections to the history of slavery and race. She looks forward to teaching additional courses next semester, including Civil War, Race, and Reconstruction, as well as a seminar, Family Histories and American Culture.

Field attributes her desire to be a historian in part to her experiences in a liberal arts classroom, and she is enthusiastic about again working with students on the history of race and freedom.

Associate Professor Melissa McInerney of the economics department specializes in health, labor, and public economics. A Pennsylvania native, McInerney attended Carleton College in Minnesota. After completing her bachelor's in mathematics, she received her master's in public policy from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and then completed a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Maryland, College Park.

McInerney's research combines elements of several economic fields. In one project, she is examining whether a Medicaid expansion for individuals with disabilities increases the likelihood that those individuals will be employed. She is also conducting research about the expected effects of the Affordable Care Act, specifically how expanded access to health insurance might impact programs such as Workers' Compensation or previously insured Medicare beneficiaries.

McInerney says she finds "the emphasis on public service and citizenship" at Tufts attractive. "It's a nice complement to my research and teaching interests, which are all driven by public policy questions," she adds.

McInerney is teaching Basic Econometrics and is looking forward to teaching Labor Economics, a course which addresses questions such as why some groups earn more than others, and why certain jobs pay higher or lower salaries than others. "I really enjoy working at Tufts," says McInerney, "but I still feel that I have a lot to do to prepare for my first Boston winter!"

Assistant Professor of Biology Benjamin Wolfe is especially interested in the ecology and evolution of microbial communities. Originally from Pennsylvania, Wolfe studied Natural Resources/Plant Science at Cornell University and received his Masters of Science in Botany from the University of Guelph in Canada. He then completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University, where he conducted research as a post-doctoral researcher for several years before coming to Tufts.

Professor Wolfe's current research is a continuation of his work at Harvard: the development of cheese rinds as a model system for dissecting the diversity and function of microbial communities. The next steps will be to discern some of the molecular mechanisms underlying the patterns of tremendous diversity found in cheese rinds. "As we begin to determine what drives the war and peace on your wheel of Camembert," Professor Wolfe explains, "we'll better understand the factors that maintain diversity in many types of microbial systems."

Wolfe is also interested in the more general science of food. He has written about the microbiology of food for several publications, including Lucky Peach magazine and co-founded the website, a digest of the science of fermented foods. In the future, Wolfe plans to teach a non-major course, Feast and Famine: The Microbiology of Food, which will examine the role of microbes in food production, processing, and consumption. "Everything in our lives revolves around issues related to food," he says. "It's fantastic to see food being integrated into the undergraduate teaching experience."

Faculty Focus is a series of articles introducing new professors in the School of Arts and Sciences.