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School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Focus

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Faculty Focus: Sigrún Svavarsdóttir, Frank Lehman, and Julia Gouvea

Faculty Focus: 2016

New Faculty Join the School of Arts and Sciences

By Rachel Clarke, A16


Assistant Professor of
Music Frank Lehman


Assistant Professor of
Education and Biology
Julia Gouvea


Associate Professor of
Philosophy Sigrún
Svavarsdóttir


This academic year, Tufts welcomed a number of outstanding new faculty to our academic community, among them Assistant Professor of Music Frank Lehman, Assistant Professor of Education and Biology Julia Gouvea, and Associate Professor of Philosophy Sigrún Svavarsdóttir.

Frank Lehman is an assistant professor and the new coordinator of music theory in the Department of Music. He joined the department in 2013 to helm the theory curriculum previously taught by Janet Schmalfeldt. A music theorist specializing in 19th-century chromaticism and the analysis of film music, Professor Lehman is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard University, where he received a Ph.D. in music theory in 2012.

Although Lehman admits to having dabbled in composition, primarily for films, he says that at a certain point he decided that his "passion was in the more cerebral, analytic side of things." He is pleased to see that the theory of film music has taken off in academia in the past few years.

Lehman's publications have appeared in a number of prominent journals, such as Music Theory Spectrum and The Journal of the Society for American Music. Much of his analytical focus falls on mainstream film scores, which he inspects with a variety of original and adapted methodologies. Lehman has analyzed film scores for films such as A Beautiful Mind and The Sea Hawk. One recent project is on John Williams's music for Oliver Stone's films, which Lehman approaches from a more "political, historically-informed perspective." His latest work investigates the aesthetics and psychology of the emotion of "wonder" and how it arises in modern cinema.

Professor Lehman currently teaches a number of introductory music courses. Principles of Tonal Theory, he say is "a bit like theory boot-camp." He notes that the structure of MUS 103, another tonal theory course, enables more in-depth analysis of whole musical works. In the future, he plans to teach a film musicology and multimedia music analysis seminar, and he admits that he is constantly dreaming up exciting ideas for new courses.

He contends that, "there are remarkable musical strengths across the university," referencing sister disciplines such as music psychology. On a personal level, he notes that "you don't get to become a professional music theorist without being a tremendous geek" and strongly recommends that all Tufts students embrace their intellectual side. "They should feel free to let their own geek flags fly when they're around me…you're at Tufts, after all, we all know that you have an unseemly devotion to some academic or intellectual topic," he says.

Julia Gouvea joined Tufts in 2014 as an assistant professor of education and biology. Professor Gouvea received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, where she majored in ecology, evolution, and behavior. She also holds a M.A. in population biology and a Ph.D. in science education from the University of California, Davis.

Before entering graduate school, Professor Gouvea says she didn't realize that science education was a formal field of research. She became interested in this field as a graduate student, and now devotes her career to studying science education and helping to formulate best practices.

Currently, Professor Gouvea's research takes place in high school and undergraduate biology classrooms, although she is also interested in younger learners. She notes many concerns regarding the way that science, particularly biology, is taught in high school and undergraduate classrooms. Specifically, she recognizes that there is "too much emphasis on terms and memorized procedure, and not a lot of emphasis on creativity, wondering, pondering—the messier stuff." "The way science is portrayed in most schools doesn't actually reflect the way science actually works," adds Gouvea. In lab-based classrooms, for instance, she doesn't see much encouragement of creative thought, which she believes is a critical element of scientific practice.

Last semester, Gouvea taught Development of Knowledge and Reasoning in the Science Curriculum, a course she says drew a variety of students, including M.A. and Ph.D. candidates in science education along with undergraduates. She describes the course as being about "helping future educators think about how people learn in science, and what that even looks like, with some significant thought as to how we teach science."

In the future, Gouvea says that a "big cultural shift" needs to happen in American schools. "Science educators need to give some ownership of science over to the students," says Gouvea. "Independent thinking students can be turned off by biology, for example, because they find it procedural and constrained."

Professor Gouvea hopes to implement some of her research on science education in her classroom, noting that she hopes to "have students actively thinking about their own science education." She is impressed and inspired by the students at Tufts, and certainly looks forward to having additional undergraduate students involved in her research.

Sigrún Svavarsdóttir joined the School or Arts and Sciences in 2014 as an associate professor of philosophy, with ethics as her specialty.

A native of Reykjavík, Iceland, Svavarsdóttir pursued an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, where she concentrated on linguistics and philosophy. She returned home to Iceland, but eventually moved back to the United States to receive her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Michigan. Although she never decided to live in the United States permanently, she says, "I have not yet been able to tear myself away from American academia, which is such an amazing cultural institution."

Previously, Professor Svavarsdóttir taught at New York University, Ohio State University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Harvard University. She has taught courses mainly in normative ethics, metaethics, political theory, and theory of agency, although she has also taught specialized courses in metaphysics, mostly on objectivity. Her current research focuses on the concept of value. More specifically, she seeks "understanding of what people are doing when ascribing intrinsic value to something: to knowledge, intellectual engagement, aesthetic appreciation, art work, natural beauty, health, friendship or love." She describes herself as "among the philosophers who conduct research ‘from the armchair' so to speak," specifically noting that her research is exclusively built upon conceptual and theoretical work rather than empirical experiments or surveys.

This past fall, Professor Svavarsdóttir taught a seminar in metaethics and a seminar on objectivity in ethics. This semester she will teach a new course on food ethics, which delves into ethical questions relevant to the distribution and production of food and ethical issues related to hunger and food insecurity, and ethical issues related to the environmental impacts of modern farming techniques.

She admits that she is "still learning the ropes" at Tufts, but finds that "the campus is beautiful, the students are excellent, and my colleagues are extremely interesting."

Faculty Focus is a series of articles introducing new professors in the School of Arts and Sciences. Related article: Faculty Focus: New Faculty Join the School of Arts and Sciences.