Faculty Focus: Fall 2021
Lorgia García Peña is the new Mellon Associate Professor in the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora; Amy Lischko is a new Professor of the Practice in the Department of Community Health; and Lawrence Uricchio is the new Youniss Family Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Biology.
A Strong Advocate for Ethnic Studies
Lorgia García Peña, Mellon Associate Professor,
Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism,
Lorgia García Peña was born in the Dominican Republic, immigrated to New Jersey at age 12, and went on to become one of the world's foremost experts on race, colonialism, and diaspora. The renowned ethnic studies scholar, who specializes in Latinx studies, joins Tufts after teaching at the University of Georgia and Harvard University.
García Peña was first exposed to ethnic studies as an undergraduate at Rutgers University. While pursuing her master's in Latin American literature and cultures at Rutgers, she found that the most interesting intellectual conversations were happening in ethnic studies.
"I was interested in looking at the kinds of knowledge production that are typically subjugated," she says. "At the time, that was a conversation that was happening in ethnic studies, as well as in women, gender, and sexuality studies and in Black studies. When I decided to get a PhD [at the University of Michigan], I knew I wanted to continue to be in that conversation."
Today many universities are cutting back on ethnic studies programs, a trend that concerns García Peña. She commends Tufts' commitment to the field, which she argues is particularly relevant at a time when we're being challenged to think critically about race and how countries have historically excluded people of certain races and ethnicities.
"What Tufts is doing is exciting," she says. "I think it's exactly where we should be headed if we want to have a serious conversation about being anti-racist and anti-colonial in universities. This is how you do it. Tufts is setting an example for other universities across the U.S. to follow and showing what it takes to make these changes structurally."
This fall, García Peña will teach "Black Latinidad," an undergraduate seminar examining how Blackness has been constructed and engaged through Latinx studies. Next year will see the publication of her latest two books: Translating Blackness, a detailed study looking at the intersections of immigration, Blackness, and citizenship in countries like Italy, the Caribbean, and the United States, and Community as Rebellion, a meditation on teaching ethnic studies as a woman of color.
On the Front Lines of Health Care Reform
Amy Lischko, Professor of the Practice,
Department of Community Health
After earning her master's degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts, Amy Lischko joined the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The state had recently received a federal grant to study how reimbursing nursing facilities prospectively could improve access to and quality of care while constraining costs.
"I saw how you could change a whole system and affect so many people at once by working at a policy level within a state," she says. "I was 28 years old and found that experience really powerful."
Even bigger things were around the corner for Lischko. She later became Massachusetts' director of health care policy, serving as a key member of the team that designed the state's landmark 2006 health care reform law. The law, which established near-universal health coverage in Massachusetts, served as a model for the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (commonly known as "Obamacare").
"The program we designed worked really well for the people of Massachusetts, and our team was proud of that," she says. "It was exciting to be part of something that would ensure almost everyone in the state could have access to good quality, affordable care."
Around the beginning of Lischko's 14-year tenure with the state, she started teaching epidemiology and biostatistics to medical students at the Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM). In 2007, after serving one year as commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, she became a full-time professor at TUSM. Along the way, she somehow found the time to earn her doctorate in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health.
In 2019, Lischko began teaching "Healthcare in America," in the School of Arts and Sciences that helps mostly first-years and sophomores understand the U.S. health care system and how to be good consumers of their own health insurance policies. She'll teach that course this fall, along with "Health Economics," a lower-division elective course that explores how to apply economic tools to study and improve health care. She says she loves teaching Tufts students because "they really want to change the world and are quite capable of doing so."
Finding a Home in Evolutionary Biology
Lawrence Uricchio, Youniss Family
Assistant Professor of Innovation,
Department of Biology
As an undergraduate at Carleton College, Lawrence Uricchio majored in physics. While he enjoyed the mathematical thinking and modeling, he didn't envision a future career within the discipline.
Uricchio turned his attention to biology, exploring various subdisciplines before landing on evolutionary biology. "I later discovered that there's a long history of people coming from the physics perspective and applying methods to problems that arise in population genetics and evolutionary genetics in general," he says.
Through his research, Uricchio studies how human evolution relates to human disease and how quickly species are able to adapt in response to our changing environment. But he also has an important complementary mission: improving representation in science.
"I want to make sure opportunities in our field are available for anybody who wants to pursue them regardless of their background. That's a huge challenge in our field," he says. "Also, I want to change how we teach in the classroom, having less of a rosy-eyed historical focus on the accomplishments of white men and looking at a more diverse range of contributors."
Uricchio comes to Tufts from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a postdoctoral scholar. He's looking forward to being part of greater Boston's vibrant higher education and scientific ecosystem. Praising the state's strong public education system, he adds that he hopes to collaborate with high school and middle school teachers to bring studies of evolutionary genetics into the classroom.
This fall, Uricchio will teach "Computational Biology," an undergraduate survey course about the intersection between computer science and biology. According to Uricchio, it will cover a broad range of topics, from molecular biology to evolutionary genetics and ecology.
"We'll also be teaching students how to code," he says. "A lot of the course focuses on basic programming problems that arise in biology and developing coding skills to solve those problems."