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High Caliber Hires

The college’s talented and diverse new faculty are already making an impact in classrooms, labs and the community


A photo of six faculty members sitting and standing together.

From left: Michele Tracy Berger, Matthew Lacombe, Barbara Mann, Divita Mathur, Metin Karayilan and John Bickers. Not pictured: Abdel Halloway. | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

The College of Arts and Sciences has welcomed 21 new faculty members in the past 16 months. These scholars are in fields from religious studies to chemistry—and they are sparking innovations, fostering student achievement, and enhancing equity and inclusion on campus. 

“They are leaders in their fields,” said Joy K. Ward, PhD, who was instrumental in recruiting faculty as dean of the college and is now Case Western Reserve’s interim provost. “They are faculty who are helping us to understand our culture, our history and our place and time. They are at the forefront of critical innovations.” 

The new faculty hires result in part from increases in enrollment, external research funding and fundraising, along with the college’s strong budget. 

And now the college is conducting searches to fill 16 positions for next year. The aim is to continue building on the success of the new faculty, who already are making an impact, said Interim Dean Lee A. Thompson, PhD, a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. 

“Our senior faculty mentor our new faculty who in return bring innovative ideas and perspectives with them that re-energize ongoing work and spark new directions,” she said. 

Read on to meet seven of the college’s accomplished new additions.

Photo of Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Supporting Humanistic Inquiry and Fostering Creativity and Community

“I see the college as a place where people can think outside the box and across disciplines, a place where imagination and creativity are modeled.” —Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger, PhD, the Eric and Jane Nord Family Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, couldn’t have written a better ending to her first semester on campus. 

Berger, director of the university’s Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, organized a first-time, two-day scholarly writing workshop in May. Led by an outside facilitator, the retreat created a “nonhierarchical, noncompetitive space,” Berger said, for 30 faculty and postdoctoral fellows across the college engaged in the demanding and often solitary exercise of academic writing. 

“Most faculty experience their career in silos, whether in their department or their field of inquiry, and they’re craving community,” she said. “It was great to see junior scholars talking to more senior scholars and people in the humanities talking to people in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and the social sciences.” 

Previously a professor and associate chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Berger is moving ahead on several fronts. 

At the Baker-Nord Center, she’s crafting strategic programming, building her team and planning to expand the annual Cleveland Humanities Festival to collaborate with more community partners on the city’s West Side.

During an interview over the summer, Berger said she was eager to engage with students with the start of her teaching schedule this fall.

 Her course, “Embodied Politics: Contemplative Practices and Social Justice,” is both interactive and interdisciplinary, cross-listed with the Department of Religious Studies, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and African and African American Studies. The course is inspired by her scholarship over the past decade, which focuses on the health and wellness practices of Black women and girls. It includes traditional assignments as well as meditation and yoga, and explores how activists and scholars interested in social change increasingly engage in these contemplative practices to further their work. 

“I’m at this exciting [juncture] in my career where I get to be curious in new ways,” Berger said. “I see the college as a place where people can think outside the box and across disciplines, a place where imagination and creativity are modeled.”

Giving Voice to Underrepresented Communities—Past and Present

Photo of John Bickers

John Bickers | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Tasked with building the college’s Native American history program, John Bickers, PhD, a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, has become a scholar of Ohio’s Indigenous roots. 

“I went to a [Cleveland] Guardians game for my birthday,” said Bickers, the Jesse Hauk Shera Assistant Professor and an avid baseball fan, “and then I talked with my students about how Native peoples went to [the ballpark for decades] on opening day to protest the [former Indians] mascot. 

“It has been interesting to connect my lived experiences—and those of my students—with both Ohio’s Native past and its Native present,” said Bickers, whose scholarship focuses on 19th- and 20th-century Indigenous history. “I want to help establish Case Western Reserve as the place to study Native history.” 

Bickers joined the college in fall 2022. He is part of the university’s North Star faculty hiring initiative to build a more inclusive campus and hire faculty committed to diversifying their fields and departments. 

Bickers is already making his mark. 

In March, he and Noël M. Voltz, PhD, an assistant professor of history who holds the Climo Junior Professorship, landed a $492,000 Higher Learning grant from the Mellon Foundation. The three-year award will enable Bickers and Voltz—who specializes in African American, early American and African diaspora histories—to create a more comprehensive narrative of Black and Native American political life in the United States before the modern civil rights movement. 

“Diversity is understanding the world in a myriad of ways that are true and real for a myriad of people,” Bickers said. “I’m excited to engage in that important work.”

Championing Diversity in the Lab, the Classroom and Beyond

Photo of Abdel Halloway

Abdel Halloway | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Biologist Abdel Halloway, PhD, has always had an interest in the natural world—but little access to it. 

A native of Chicago, Halloway, PhD, has sickle cell disease, which often keeps him indoors. A typical ecologist spends a lot of time in the field, collecting and observing animals, plants, microbes and other organisms then analyzing the data and specimens in the lab. But “that [field] experience was never available to me,” he said. 

Halloway worked for three years as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow in biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University. In July, he joined the college as an assistant professor and evolutionary game theorist who uses a mathematical lens to examine ecological communities and describe, for example, the density or interactions of organisms. “I knew I had to select a mathematical pursuit if I wanted to engage [with the natural world],” he said. 

A North Star hire, Halloway said he was drawn to CWRU for its commitment to increasing representation of faculty of color who are differently abled.

“We understand what it’s like to be the student who may not have thought of themselves as a researcher or a professor,” Halloway said. “We can connect with them in an authentic way to effect real change in higher education.”

Forging Innovative Research Partnerships That Improve Patient Outcomes

Portrait of Metin Karayilan

Metin Karayilan | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

“I wanted to be at a university where I could build an innovative research program [with partners] who can help us get our work out of the laboratory and target patients and diseases.” —Metin Karayilan

Polymer scientist Metin Karayilan, PhD, arrived in fall 2022 as an assistant professor of chemistry with five patents or patent applications—and an eye for high-impact research. 

He was drawn to the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across the university, including the School of Medicine, on laboratory-to-bedside innovations that could improve outcomes for millions of patients. His current research includes making injectable liquids that solidify on the eye, sealing any trauma on the surface and preventing an ocular pressure decrease and loss of vision. 

He also landed a college Expanding Horizons Initiative [EHI] grant with fellow chemistry professor Divita Mathur, PhD, as well as Lydia Kisley, PhD, an assistant professor of physics, and School of Medicine Professor Faruk Orge, MD. Their aim: to develop a liquid that could be applied to the eye to facilitate cataract surgery and easily extracted to prevent later complications that can result when even a drop is left in the eye. With the help of EHI seed money, the team hopes to attract larger grants and write a provisional patent application. 

Karayilan, who did his postdoctoral work at Duke University, said he thrives on such cross-disciplinary collaborations, which also amplify the tangible impact of his scholarship. “I wanted to be at a university where I could build an innovative research program [with partners] who can help us get our work out of the laboratory and target patients and diseases,” he said.

Producing New Scholarship—and Helping Students Do the Same

Photo of Matthew Lacombe

Matthew Lacombe | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

A leading scholar on the historical development of the American gun debate, Associate Professor Matthew Lacombe, is another high-powered hire for the college. 

The inaugural holder of the Alexander P. Lamis Memorial Endowed Professorship in American Politics, Lacombe, PhD, joined CWRU in fall 2022 from Barnard College. In 2021, he authored Firepower: How the NRA Turned Gun Owners into a Political Force. 

In addition to advancing his own research, which includes a book-length project on unlikely interest-group alliances, Lacombe has enjoyed being in the Department of Political Science, which, he said, is “special because we have the resources of a research university, but our class sizes are small—only 15 or 16 students.

He also has enjoyed fostering students’ intellectual curiosity. A seminar he taught in the spring on U.S. gun politics, for example, produced term papers with “some really thoughtful responses,” he said. Now he’s eager to help students turn some of those papers into capstone projects and senior honors theses. 

Although Lacombe commuted between his native Cleveland and New York City during his tenure at Barnard, he considers his appointment to CWRU an official return. 

“I’m thrilled to be working at a premier research institution in my hometown—a place that’s so important to the city,” he said.

Building on the College’s Strengths in the Humanities

Photo of Barbara Mann

Barbara Mann | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Barbara Mann, PhD, called her new position—the inaugural Stephen H. Hoffman Professor of Modern Hebrew Language and Literature—a “unicorn” in higher education. 

“Newly endowed chairs in the humanities are few and far between these days,” Mann said. “It’s very, very special—and indicative of the college’s investment in building a more robust Judaic studies program with the study of Hebrew language and literature at its core.” 

Mann, who arrived on campus in January from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, said she always has been interested in how literature connects to the world and relates to other domains of scholarly inquiry: the visual arts, public space, architecture and photography. 

“Jewish Studies is a field that relies on that kind of collaboration,” she said, “so the college’s commitment to critical thinking and working across disciplines was incredibly appealing to me.” 

Mann has authored three books. Her current project examines the creation of books in concentration camps during the Holocaust. “I’m interested in how people found the materials, time and desire to create a book” and how these volumes circulated as “a kind of keepsake” after World War II, she said. 

Mann is also enjoying her exploration of Cleveland. “The city has historically been a vibrant, active center for Jewish culture and learning,” she said. “So even though Cleveland is new to me, it feels very familiar.”

Photo of Divita Mathur

Divita Mathur | Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Collaborating Across Disciplines to Advance Research With Impact

“I enjoy these collaborations because my body of knowledge can have a bigger impact. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.” —Divita Mathur

Divita Mathur’s introduction to the college set the tone for the collaborative spirit with which she embraces her research on synthetic DNA nanotechnology as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.

In 2021, Mathur, PhD, gave a virtual presentation about her postdoctoral work to scientists in Cleveland. She then talked with some of them individually in virtual meetings. The conversation that changed her career was with Carlos Crespo-Hernández, PhD, associate dean for research in the college and a chemistry professor. Their discussion about possibly partnering on research in the future catalyzed her interest in Case Western Reserve.

“I was struck by the collaborative ideas that he proposed, ideas that he had come up with over a decade ago, but [that] were still highly relevant and not fully explored,” said Mathur, who previously held a joint position as a postdoctoral scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and George Mason University. 

She came to CWRU in 2022 with a National Institutes of Health Pathway to Independence Award given to promising early-career scientists. 

During her first year in Cleveland, Mathur teamed up with colleagues in the college and across campus on projects and grant proposals. Those collaborations include two college EHI awards: one with Francis Hobart Herrick Professor of Biology Christopher Cullis, PhD, to create nanoparticles that deliver genes to plants, and a second with fellow chemistry professor Metin Karayilan, PhD. 

“I enjoy these collaborations because my body of knowledge can have a bigger impact,” Mathur said. “Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.”

Page last modified: January 16, 2024