New Faculty at UW Tacoma in 2018-19

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Heralding the start of the 2018-19 academic year, we present short biographies of 20 faculty members who have recently joined the UW Tacoma community.

Just as there are new students every year at UW Tacoma, there are also new faculty members. Below are short biographies, accompanied by teaching and scholarly interests, of 20 individuals who, in 2018, have joined the UW Tacoma community.

(These biographies of new, competitively-hired faculty were prepared by the UW Tacoma Office of Research.)

Rubén Casas
Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in English, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Casas' ongoing research seeks to understand how people who are denied access to traditional and prescribed modes of deliberation still manage to participate in — and affect — public life.

An original interest in migrants—how they manage to be in (to live, work, and play) the U.S. in spite of social and material obstacles had led Casas to take a greater interest in the built environment, in how the way we build and organize physical space intersects and cooperates with power and ideology to promote civic engagement for some and not others. To that end, Casas has started looking at cities and the institutions that make them up, in order to ask: How is this city/neighborhood/block/park/university experienced by migrants/queer persons/service workers/women/an accented speaker of English/a disabled person? How are these populations transforming these spaces to better suit their needs and desires?

In class, Casas asks students to identify actually existing audiences in order to understand how these are hoping to effect change and encourages students to craft communicative interventions that engages these audiences, and which add to the debates and actions already happening.

Casas enjoys walking, cooking, and film.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TWRT 211: Argument and Research in Writing

Sarah A. Chavez
Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Ethnic Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in California's Central Valley, is the author of two collections of poetry, Hands That Break & Scar (Sundress Publications, 2017) and All Day, Talking (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), a selection of which won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship.

Previously, Chavez taught creative writing, Ethnic American literature, and composition at Marshall University. In addition to teaching, Chavez served as coordinator for the A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series, during which time she worked to grow the series diversity by scheduling its first ever Hispanic Heritage Month events and Native American Heritage Month reading.

Her scholarship, writing, and community organizing are primarily interested in the interstitial nature of identity and ethnic and gender performance. With a focus in Latinx/Chicanx literature and culture, Chavez uses Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory of conciencia de la mestiza (the mestiza consciousness) as a framework through which to explore the complications of cultural production and the embodiment of working-class aesthetics. Chavez enjoys yoga, the riding of bicycles, the consumption of carbohydrates, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TWRT 270: Introduction to Poetry Writing
TWRT 200: Introduction to Creative Writing

Wei Cheng
Assistant Professor, School of Engineering and Technology

PhD. in Computer Science, George Washington University

Wei Cheng’s research interests span the areas of smart city, wireless network, and security. In particular, he has been working on localization in GPS-denied environments, HCI-based security, public safety networks, and RFID systems for smart transportation systems.

His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He has published extensively and holds one U.S. patent. He served as the technical program committee chair/member and the editorial board member for several top international conferences and journals, respectively.

Before joining UW Tacoma, Cheng was an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a Postdoc Scholar at University of California Davis.

Cheng likes to talk with people from different backgrounds and learn their languages and enjoys outdoor activities.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCSS 372 Computer Architecture
TCSS 431: Network Security

Debasis Dawn
Associate Professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, Tohoku University, Japan

Debasis Dawn has extensive experience in academia and industry.

At Fujitsu Laboratories he worked on automotive radar for Toyota vehicles and at Sony on the PlayStation. At Georgia Tech he was leading the research efforts in the development of RF front-end circuits, system-on-chip solutions for gigabit Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN), radar, and wireless sensors applications using silicon-based CMOS/SiGe process technologies.

Before joining UW Tacoma, Dawn was at North Dakota State University. His recent research interests are in CMOS Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits (RFIC) development for new generation of highly integrated multifunctional devices, circuits and systems which promises a wide range of applications in science, engineering and medicine.

Dawn is serving as reviewer of numerous technical journals and has served as an National Science Foundation panelist. He holds two U.S. patents. He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCES 421: Digital Integrated Circuit Design
TEE 315: Electrical Circuits II and labs

Sonia De La Cruz
Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Media Studies, University of Oregon

Sonia De La Cruz was raised in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico, where she developed an interest in media production and worked in television.

After returning to the United States, she traveled around the country working as a labor and community organizer.

De La Cruz's research interests include international communication, communication for development, media activism, and media for social change. Although her work mostly centers on U.S. Latinx and Latin American communities, including indigenous peoples from the Americas, her work has examined various marginalized communities and their media systems.

Additionally, De La Cruz is a documentary filmmaker and has produced digital video projects for nonprofit organizations in the U.S., as well as for international NGOs. Her creative work explores social justice issues, where she addresses topics related to race, ethnicity, class, gender, Latino histories, art, labor and immigration.

Outside of the classroom, De La Cruz enjoys traveling, spending time with her spirited Scottish terrier, loves art and films, hiking, as well as cooking comforting Mexican food.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCOM 347: TV Criticism
TCOM 444: Gender, Ethnicity, Class in the Media

Kivanc Dincer

Lecturer, School of Engineering and Technology

Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science, Syracuse University

Dincer’s graduate research was on exploiting web technologies to build parallel and distributed computing platforms.

He later shifted his focus to empirical software engineering after pursuing a career in IT project management, as he led large teams building safety-critical software systems for the military and e-government services for the public. He has regularly shared his industrial experience with academia as a part-time instructor since 2000. He uses gamification techniques and simulated settings to help students feel the typical challenges in real work environments.

Before joining UW Tacoma, Dincer was the managing partner of a global IT consulting company mentoring small- to medium-sized companies to acquire funds, grants, and projects to grow their businesses. At the same time, he has contributed to the development of national-scale information systems as an international IT trainer and consultant in Central Asia, South Asia, and Europe.

Dincer raises ducks and geese as a hobby. He enjoys nature walks and sailing in Puget Sound area. He likes worldwide traveling and is a reviewer for several travel sites.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCSS 101: Computer Science Principles
TCSS 360: Software Development and Quality Assurance Techniques

Diana Falco
Lecturer, Social Work and Criminal Justice Program

Ph.D. in Criminology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Diana Falco’s research focuses on criminal justice policy with a concentration on punitiveness and capital punishment.

Her research on punitiveness examines public support for general punishment and sentencing practices, the death penalty, and rehabilitation. Her research in the area of capital punishment specifically focuses on public opinion, innocence, and miscarriages of justice.

Prior to joining UW Tacoma, Falco worked as Department Chairperson and Associate Professor of Criminology & Criminal justice at Niagara University and as Director of Gender and Identity Studies and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Saint Martin’s University. Her areas of teaching interest include drugs and crime, criminological theory, miscarriages of justice, capital punishment, and comparative criminal justice.

Falco has a passion for study abroad and has designed five different study abroad programs, taking over 200 students abroad and traveling to 12 countries. She loves to travel and explore new places. When home, she enjoys reading, cooking, gardening, entertaining friends, and spending time with her partner, their cat, two dogs, and five chickens.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCRIM 352: Women in the Criminal Justice System
TSOCWF 390: Introduction to Social Welfare Research

Durga P. Gautam
Lecturer, Politics, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Economics, West Virginia University

Durga Gautam’s prior teaching experience includes St. Joseph’s College, NY and Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

He has taught Survey of Economics, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, International Economics, Business Statistics, and College Algebra.

Durga’s research interests are in the areas of international factor movements and trade, institutions, and economic development. His most recent work focuses on the impact of external financial inflows on the institutional quality in the recipient countries. He preferably applies nonlinear and nonparametric econometric methods to analyze economic data.

Teaching economics is fun, but here is Durga's first message to the students: Learning economics is super fun. The study of economics lays the groundwork for making crucial decision in everyday life. He is really looking forward to getting to know the students and new colleagues here at UW Tacoma. In his free time, he likes chatting with friends and family, watching movies, and going for a run.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TECON 101: Understanding Economics
TECON 200: Introduction to Microeconomics

Anna M. Groat-Carmona
Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Infectious Diseases and Immunity, University of California, Berkeley

Anna Groat-Carmona is coming to UW Tacoma from Western Washington University, where she taught molecular and cellular biology, methods in molecular biology as well as microbiology.

She received her Ph.D. in Infectious Diseases & Immunity from UC Berkeley but her current research interests stem from her postdoctoral work at the Center for Infectious Disease Research.

Groat-Carmona previously identified the Plasmodium BEM46-like protein (PBLP) as an important regulator of parasite invasive-stage morphogenesis throughout the malaria parasite life cycle. Her research primarily focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying the unique cell morphogenesis of malaria parasites during early liver-stage development. Groat-Carmona also has secondary research interests that involve a collaboration with her brother, Dr. Victor Carmona-Galindo (University of Detroit, Mercy), investigating the incidence of vector-borne diseases in El Salvador.

Groat-Carmona is a first-generation Latin American and had the opportunity to spend a number of years living abroad in Costa Rica, Brazil and Spain. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys travel, art (crafts as well as painting), swimming and spending time with her family and friends.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

T BIOL 303: Cellular Biology

Juhua Hu
Assistant Professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Ph.D. in Computer Science, Simon Fraser University

Prior to joining UW Tacoma, Juhua Hu taught at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

She has also worked as a data scientist for GeNA Lab and a machine learning engineer for Ever AI.

Hu's primary research interests are in the areas of machine learning and data mining, with a particular focus on understandable information organization that facilitates human end users to efficiently and effectively interpret or understand machine learning and data mining outputs.

Hu has published extensively and has actively served as a program committee member or journal reviewer in the research community.

Hu loves to spend her free time shopping, walking, hiking, cycling, and playing volleyball or badminton with family and friends.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCSS 551: Big Data Analytics

Athirai Aravazahi Irissappane
Assistant Professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Ph.D. in Computer Science, Nanyang Technological University

Athirai Irissappane’s research interests focus on applying machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques (deep learning, unsupervised learning techniques, POMDPs, etc.) to solve a variety of problems, including fraud detection, decision making under uncertainty, image recognition and time series analysis.

Her papers have been published by top AI journals and conferences.

Prior to this Irissappane was a senior machine learning scientist at Dimensional Mechanics, an AI-based company. She also taught at the University of Washington Bothell. Athirai intends to build a strong collaboration with industries involving them in AI-based research while simultaneously establishing a thriving environment for students to contribute and learn from. Apart from work, she enjoys traveling, exploring new places, meditation and always looks forward to learning new things (especially in AI).

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCSS 554: Information Retrieval and Web Search
TCSS 305: Programming Practicum

Thillainathan Logenthiran
Lecturer, School of Engineering and Technology

Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, the National University of Singapore

Previously, Thillainathan Logenthiran worked at Newcastle University and University of Strathclyde (both in the U.K.) as well as in industry in Singapore (electrical consultant companies and several projects with Singapore utilities and Oil & Gas industries).

Thillainathan has carried out extensive research in various areas of control and management of modern power systems and smart grid technologies. He has published extensively in international refereed journals, book chapters and conference papers. His research areas of interest include smart grid, smart home/building, micro grid, renewable energy resources, optimization, and applications of optimization techniques, computational intelligent techniques and intelligent multi-agent system for electrical power engineering. His Google scholar profile can be viewed from here.

Dr. Thillainathan Logenthiran has been very active member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES). He received several awards and scholarships including the first prize award in Siemens Smart Grid Innovation Contest in 2011 and a Newcastle Teaching Award in 2016.

Teaching, Autumn 2018


Randy Myers
Associate Professor, Social Work and Criminal Justice Program

Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Society, University of California, Irvine

Randy Myers is an Associate Professor in the Social Work and Criminal Justice Program.

Prior to arriving at UW Tacoma, Randy was an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

His research examines the relationship between inequality and violence, community-derived alternatives to the criminal legal system, and the lived realities of juvenile justice. His articles have appeared in Theoretical Criminology, Critical Criminology, Punishment & Society and the British Journal of Criminology, among other outlets. His book Youth, Community and the Struggle for Social Justice, which is co-authored with Tim Goddard, was published by Routledge in 2018.

When not working, Randy enjoys exploring his new home in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two children.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TCRIM 155: Media, Crime and Justice

Allen Olson
Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, University of Washington

Allen Olson is focused on the teaching and learning of physics and quantitative reasoning.

He began his career as a high school science teacher and has been involved in public higher education for more than 15 years as a staff member, faculty member, and academic administrator.

Most recently, Olson moved back into a faculty role at The Evergreen State College after serving as an academic dean there and then at South Puget Sound Community College. He enjoys interdisciplinary teaching and helping students (re)discover some of the structures of the natural world and how those structures can be modeled mathematically.

Olson has lived in the Puget Sound area for over 25 years. He and his family currently live in Olympia where they enjoy cooking, gardening, and the wonders of the Pacific Northwest

Teaching, Autumn 2018

T PHYS 120: Physics Collaborative Learning Seminar
T PHYS 121: Physics - Mechanics (and labs)

Christopher Schell
Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago

Chris Schell is an urban ecologist whose research integrates evolutionary theory with ecological application to disentangle the processes accentuating human-carnivore conflict.

Specifically, Schell’s interests lie in understanding the endocrine mechanisms that underpin carnivore behavior, as well as explicitly examining the anthropogenic drivers (i.e. human densities, roadways, pollution, interactions) that select for bold, habituated, and less fearful individuals in metropolitan areas.

His research is uniquely tied to the community: urban ecology is inherently a synergy of anthropogenic forces and natural processes. Hence, he often works closely with underrepresented communities, wildlife managers, cultural institutions, and philanthropic organizations to help foster mutually enriching relationships among people and wildlife. He looks forward to creating a broad-reaching and inclusive research program that engages students at UW Tacoma, Tacoma Public Schools, Point Defiance Zoo, Metro Parks Tacoma, and greater Pierce County to emphasize that nature is no further than our own backyards.

Schell loves exploring the natural and urban faces of the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Danielle, and sons Cairo and Dakari. And, of course, go Seahawks!

Teaching, Autumn 2018

No classes

Claudia Sellmaier
Assistant Professor, Social Work and Criminal Justice

Ph.D. in Social Work and Social Research, Portland State University

Sellmaier joined the faculty in the Social Work and Criminal Justice program in 2015 as a lecturer and is looking forward to continuing her work in teaching, and research as an assistant professor.

She worked as a social worker and as a supervisor in Germany serving young adults struggling with stable housing. Sellmaier is bringing her international social work experience to her teaching, focusing mainly on policy, research, and macro practice courses both for undergraduate and graduate students.

Her research focuses on disability, work, and care. Sellmaier investigates how disability discrimination and a lack of supportive services affect economic security for fathers of disabled children. She also investigates the intersection of education and disability, looking at disability teachings in social work education and ability-inclusive teaching practices.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

T SOCW 501: Social Policy and Economic Security

Amanda Sesko
Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Psychology, University of Kansas

Amanda Sesko is coming from the University of Alaska Southeast, where she worked since 2011 as Associate Professor of Psychology, teaching courses such as social psychology, psychology of gender, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, human sexuality, introduction to psychology, and research methods and behavioral statistics.

Sesko's research focuses on stereotyping, prejudice, and social judgment with an emphasis on intersections of social categories and underrepresented groups. In her primary line of research she investigates the processes and outcomes of invisibility as a unique form of discrimination (e.g., committing memory errors for individuals’ statements and faces) that may be experienced by groups that do not fit gender and race prototypes. Additionally, she examines how group representations that are outdated or erroneous, or misperceived to be outdated, affect behavioral attributes (perceptions of what people do) and stereotypes of American Indian and Alaska Native people.

Sesko enjoys exploring new places while hiking, camping, and getting out on the water with her husband Ryan and one-year-old daughter Raina.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TPSYCH: Fundamentals of Psychological Research I
TPSYCH 345: Stereotyping, Prejudice and Discrimination

Emma Slager
Assistant Professor, Urban Studies

Ph.D. (expected) in Geography, University of Washington

Emma Slager is a geographer interested in community technology, urban inequality, and infrastructure.

Her research lies at the intersection of urban studies and critical technology studies, specifically focusing on grassroots community technology efforts in low-income neighborhoods that respond to overlapping forms of social and economic marginalization. Slager's current project analyzes community Internet networks in Detroit, not as examples of neoliberal community responsibilization but rather as survival programs rooted in black liberation.

Slager teaches digital mapping and spatial analysis, and her teaching experience spans teaching coding classes to middle school students, running counter-cartography workshops with elders, and teaching in university classrooms.

Originally hailing from Michigan, Slager comes to UW Tacoma after doctoral studies at UW Seattle and is excited to move to the South Sound.

Teaching, Autumn 2018


Yi (Jenny) Xiao
Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. in Social Psychology, New York University

Jenny Xiao is a social psychologist whose research examines how social groups tune our perception, attitudes, and action.

In one line of work, she examines how biased perception can play a role in police interactions with racial minority members. She’s also interested in studying interventions that could change people’s implicit biases. Xiao is very excited to work with students at UW Tacoma on research projects. In both research and teaching, Xiao hopes to guide students in gaining a deeper understanding of the psychological roots of diversity, social justice, and equality.

Prior to coming to UW Tacoma, Xiao was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY. She has also taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This will be the first time for Xiao and her family to live on the West coast, and they are very excited to explore the Pacific Northwest area.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

TPSYCH 309: Fundamentals of Psychological Research II
TPSYCH 240: Social Psychology

Xingyue (Luna) Zhang
Assistant Professor, Milgard School of Business

Ph.D. in Business and Economics, Lehigh University

Luna Zhang is an Assistant Professor of Business Analytics.

Her research interests include business analytics, large scale data analysis, economics of electronic commerce, online consumer behavior, information systems and operations management interface. As part of her research, she has collaborated with an online platform company, a large supermarket chain, and shopping malls to study consumer behavior and the firm’s operations management.  Luna’s current project focuses on structural demand estimation in online and offline markets, and the complementary and substitutive relationships among products within and across multiple product categories.

Zhang previously taught Introduction to Information Systems, Demand and Supply Chain Planning, and Money, Banking, and Financial Markets at Lehigh University.

She enjoys traveling, cycling, swimming, hiking, and reading.

Teaching, Autumn 2018

T ACCT 301: Intermediate Accounting I

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / September 18, 2018
Photos by: 
Ryan Moriarty
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or