New faculty at UW Tacoma in 2019-20

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Marking the start of the 2019-20 academic year, we present short biographies of 24 faculty members who have recently joined the UW Tacoma community.

[Photo above: front row, from left: Sarah Alaei, Kelly Kim, Kenneth Cruz, Pamela Krayenbuhl, Anindita Bhattacharya, Robin Starr Zape-tah-hol-ah Minthorn, Yajun An. Back row, from left: Kristin Kawena Begay, Alyssa M. Ramirez Stege, Connie Beck, Gordon Brobbey, Arthur S. Jago, Zaher Kmail, Vahid Dargahi, Deveeshree Nayak.]

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 24 individuals who, in 2019, have joined the UW Tacoma community.

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

Sarah Alaei, Assistant Professor
Sciences & Mathematics, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (SIAS)

Ph.D. in biology, Columbia University

Sarah Alaei is a microbiologist coming to UW Tacoma from Stony Brook University.

She completed her postdoctoral training in bacterial pathogenesis. With a National Institutes of Health Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award, she focused on undergraduate education.

Sarah has been studying the biogenesis and function of fimbriae and outer membrane vesicles generated by the gum disease pathogen, Porphyromonas gingivalis. Gum disease is one of the most common infectious diseases worldwide and there is a need for effective therapies targeting the bacteria that initiate it. She is particularly interested in applying what she has learned about bacterial fimbriae and outer membrane vesicles to the development of pathogen-specific anti-infectives that combat gum disease without disrupting the beneficial microbes in our mouths. She looks forward to continuing this research with students and developing project-based microbiology courses at UW Tacoma.

She is also excited about exploring the Pacific Northwest with her family and enjoying the perfect running weather in Tacoma.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TBIOL 301: General microbiology

Yajun An, Assistant Professor
Sciences & Mathematics, SIAS

Ph.D. in numerical analysis, University of Washington

Yajun An is interested in numerical analysis, in particular numerical methods for the wave equation.

She studies wave propagation in various media, including properties such as wave speed. She identifies numerical methods to accurately capture these speeds, and applies these methods through an inverse-problem framework for seismic imaging.

Yajun was born and raised in China, and has been living in the Pacific Northwest for about ten years. She enjoys biking, gaming with friends, and hanging out with her husband.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TMATH 125: Calculus with analytical geometry
TMATH 324: Multivariable calculus

Connie J. Beck, Associate Professor
Social, Behavioral & Human Sciences, SIAS

Ph.D. in clinical psychology and psychology, policy & law, University of Arizona

Connie Beck’s teaching and research focus on ways our legal system creates or exacerbates psychological distress for those who use it and on developing policies and procedures to minimize that distress.

She has investigated short- and long-term outcomes for divorcing couples experiencing intimate partner violence and mediating their disputes; risk and protective factors for families returning to the child welfare system; and individuals returning to the involuntary commitment process. Her recent work includes assessing distress and resilience in law students. She is the co-author of numerous articles and two books, Family Mediation: Facts, Myths and Future Prospects and Family Evaluation in Custody Litigation: A Practical, Structured and Transparent Approach.

Before joining UW Tacoma, she was an associate professor at the University of Arizona where she taught forensic psychology, ethics and the psychology of divorce. Connie is a first-generation college student born and raised in Spokane, Wash. She loves exploring new places, enjoys cooking, entertaining friends and family, and riding motorcycles.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TPSYCH 401: Family violence

Kristin Kawena Begay, Assistant Professor
School of Education

Ph.D. in school psychology, University of Washington

Kawena Begay is a licensed psychologist and nationally-certified school psychologist whose research interests revolve around appropriate identification and intervention services for students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Her current research focuses on culturally appropriate assessment practices for autistic youth, particularly those from indigenous populations.

Prior to coming to UW Tacoma, Kawena worked at the UW Autism Center providing diagnostic and intervention services (including school consultations) and developing and conducting trainings across Washington state. She has also worked at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and taught assessment and social psychology courses in the School Psychology program at UW in Seattle. Prior to earning her doctorate, Kawena worked as a public school teacher, counselor, and school psychologist in Washington, New Mexico, Iowa, and Hawai’i.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TEDUC 502: Learning about learning
TEDUC504: Educational research

Anindita Bhattacharya, Assistant Professor
School of Social Work & Criminal Justice

Ph.D. in social work, Columbia University

Anindita Bhattacharya has a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India.

After receiving her MSW degree, she worked as a social worker serving women living with serious mental illness in psychiatric institutions in India.

Her current research integrates feminist perspectives to examine social and cultural determinants of women’s mental health and improve care through the development of culturally- and contextually-adapted interventions. While completing her Ph.D., Anindita taught several clinical and research-methods courses and provided field supervision to MSW interns. She has expertise in qualitative, mixed-methods, and community-based participatory research. She brings a global and social-justice perspective on social work to both her research and teaching.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TSOCWF 402: Human behavior and the social environment

Gordon Brobbey, Assistant Professor
School of Education

Ph.D. in special education, University of South Florida

Gordon is joining UW Tacoma from the University of South Florida (USF) where he earned a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, with a concentration in special education policy.

While at USF, Gordon was a graduate assistant and taught multiple special education undergraduate courses. Prior to that, he was a special education teacher in the K-12 setting where he taught students with varying exceptionalities, mostly at the secondary level.

Gordon’s research interests are in the areas of special education policy, pre-service special education teacher preparation, and special education teacher accountability and effectiveness. He is also interested in issues relating to how professionals and students from marginalized backgrounds navigate the K-12 and higher education systems. He brings a multilayered and global approach to his teaching and scholarship.

Aside from teaching and research, Gordon likes to volunteer, travel, and spend time with family and friends.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TEDUC 471: Equity and diversity in schooling and curriculum
TEDSP 595: Induction seminar for special educators

Alison Cardinal, Assistant Professor
Culture, Arts & Communication, SIAS

Ph.D. in rhetoric, University of Washington

Alison Cardinal’s research lies at the intersection of literacy studies, writing pedagogy and qualitative research methods.

She specifically focuses on developing inclusive research methods and designing equitable writing classroom experiences.

Her current book project investigates college students’ literacies — reading, writing, and speaking — and how they are used across all of the contexts which they communicate, such as at work, home, and school. Using participatory video, a method that asks participants to create videos about their lives, she collaborated with her participants to better understand the literacies that shape their lives. Through this knowledge, she develops writing and rhetoric teaching approaches that better meet the needs of diverse student populations.

Cardinal was previously a senior lecturer at UW Tacoma and looks forward to her new role as an assistant professor teaching courses in technical communication, rhetoric, and writing. When not teaching or researching, Cardinal is also a ceramics artist and enjoys hiking, traveling, and cooking.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TWRT 120: Academic writing I
TWRT 330: Written and visual rhetoric

Kenneth Cruz, Assistant Professor
School of Social Work & Criminal Justice

Ph.D. in criminology, law and society, University of California, Irvine

Kenneth is coming to UW Tacoma from Northern Arizona University where he served as a lecturer in the department of Criminology & Criminal Justice for the last five years.

His teaching philosophy is student-centered, inclusive and social-justice-oriented. His research examines the frontline experiences of practitioners who work at the intersections of behavioral health and criminal justice interventions.

As a former direct-care worker, his research is guided by the lived experiences he accumulated over his eight years in the field. His forthcoming publication, “Systemic Endangerment: A Tale of Neoliberal ‘Slumcare’” will be featured in the journal “Critical Criminology” later this year.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TCRIM 371: Helping skills in criminal justice
TCRIM 395: American criminal courts

Vahid Dargahi, Assistant Professor
School of Engineering & Technology

Ph.D. in electrical engineering, Clemson University

Vahid Dargahi is coming to UW Tacoma from the Jack Baskin School of Engineering at University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was a postdoctoral research fellow.

His research interests include power electronic circuits, novel converter topologies, wide-bandgap semiconductor devices, multilevel power converters, control of power electronic converters, grid-tied inverters, battery and energy storage devices, power system impedance measurement, motor drives, and hybrid electric vehicles.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TCES 455: Devices and control
TEE453: Digital signal processing

Arthur S. Jago, Assistant Professor
Milgard School of Business

Ph.D. in business administration, Stanford University

Arthur Jago is an organizational psychologist broadly interested in technology and ethics.

His recent research projects focus on how automation is changing organizations as well as how new technologies are shaping the future of work. In both his research and his teaching, Arthur’s primary goals are to help students navigate changing organizational landscapes as well as provide insight into both the intended and unintended consequences of technological change.

Prior to joining UW Tacoma, Arthur worked at the University of Southern California as a postdoctoral researcher examining how people respond to algorithmic management in workplace contexts.

Arthur enjoys hiking, cooking, exploring new places, and spending time with family and friends.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TBUS 300: Managing organizations
TMGMT 475: Creating, leading and implementing change

Kelly Kim, Assistant Professor
Sciences & Mathematics, SIAS

Ph.D. in chemistry, California Institute of Technology

Kelly Kim is an organic chemist interested in the synthesis of biologically-relevant complex molecules, such as those produced naturally in plants and animals.

Her research focuses on exploring reaction methodologies and devising efficient strategies for synthesizing novel organic compounds. Kelly is especially interested in examining how changes in molecular structure influence biological activity.

Natural products have long served medicinal purposes, even before specific therapeutic agents could be identified. Kelly is fascinated by how far humans have come in elucidating molecular structure and reactivity. Indeed, the ability to target and produce virtually any molecule of interest has afforded modern society with countless comforts, from life-saving medicines to the materials from which many of our belongings are made.

Originally from Florida, Kelly comes to UW Tacoma after postdoctoral work at UW in Seattle. Kelly enjoys running, playing the piano, and playing games with friends and family.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TCHEM 251: Organic chemistry I

Zaher Kmail, Assistant Professor
Sciences & Mathematics, SIAS

Ph.D. in statistics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Prior to joining UW Tacoma, Zaher Kmail taught Math courses at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska.

He has also collaborated with the Department of Agronomy & Horticulture at University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a statistical consultant for the past four years.

Zaher’s area of specialization is in the design and analysis of experiments, with particular interests in causal structure modeling, optimal design, and multivariate analysis. He is also interested in interdisciplinary collaborations with faculty and students to develop and apply new methods of design and analysis to their research.

Zaher is new to the Pacific Northwest and enjoys exploring the beautiful, new region that he now calls home. Outside the classroom, Zaher enjoys backyard barbecues, gardening, and spending time with his wife and four children.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TMATH 110: Introductory statistics with applications

Pamela Krayenbuhl, Assistant Professor
Culture, Arts & Communication, SIAS

Ph.D. in screen cultures, Northwestern University

Pamela Krayenbuhl is a media historian whose research focuses on the relationship between moving images and the (other) arts.

Most of her scholarship looks at dancing bodies in film, television, and video games; her current book project analyzes the dances of male stars in mid-twentieth century film and TV. More broadly, she is interested in race/gender/sexuality, media genres, stardom, media authorship, and intermediality.

Prior to joining UW Tacoma, Pamela was an assistant professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, where she taught courses in film history, global music video, media adaptation, and Hollywood/Bollywood musicals. Before moving to Qatar, she catalogued the extensive Ruth Page Collection at the Chicago Film Archives and co-founded Modet Dance Collective.

Pamela is also a contemporary ballet dancer & choreographer, amateur photographer, and proud Trekkie. As a California native, she is thrilled to be returning to the West Coast.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TCORE 104: Introduction to humanities
TFILM 201: Introduction to film studies

Gregory Lund, Lecturer, Geospatial Technology Coordinator
School of Urban Studies

M.GIS in geographical information systems, University of Washington

Gregory Lund has been at UW Tacoma since 2010, teaching the art and science of Geographic Information Systems and how the rapidly expanding technology is applied to nearly every facet of daily life. #GISisEveryWhere

Gregory’s courses include technical and applied introductory, intermediate and advanced courses in geographic information systems using ESRI and open-source products.

As part of his position, Gregory continues to grow and maintain the School of Urban Studies’ undergraduate degree in GIS and spatial planning, certificate program in GIS, and graduate degree in geospatial technologies. His teaching augments technical material with critical and real-world examples of GIS applications in urban, environmental planning and other scenarios.

Originally from the East Coast (where he held teaching positions in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont), Gregory moved to Washington to be closer to Mount Rainier. A lifetime Syracuse Orange fan, he is happy to be a UW Husky (alumnus and faculty member), complete with UW football season tickets. He enjoys the non-football season with frequent walks to Cheney Stadium for Tacoma Rainiers games and “the other ‘futbol,’” as a Reign FC season-ticket holder.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TGIS 311: Maps and GIS

Sasha Malinsky, Lecturer
Sciences & Mathematics, SIAS

M.S. in applied mathematics, University of Washington

Sasha Malinsky has been teaching mathematics in Puget Sound-area colleges since 1990, including at UW Tacoma since 2017.

As an educator he is focused on helping students develop their own relationship with mathematics and broader human knowledge. Vivid graphical illustrations of key concepts and techniques, creative use of language and analogies, examples from engineering and aviation, natural and physical sciences, history of ideas and personalities of mathematics are all parts of his constantly evolving teacher’s toolkit.

Sasha’s main applied interest is in orbital mechanics, and in a current project he is developing a course for students interested in the basics of orbiter missions to nearby planets.

He is also active in the arts, as a musician and as a board member at Fremonstor Theatricals, a community organization that produces musical, theatrical, and circus events and festivals.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TMATH 126: Calculus with analytical geometry

Michael McCourt, Lecturer
School of Engineering & Technology

Ph.D. in electrical engineering, University of Notre Dame

Michael McCourt, who has been at UW Tacoma since 2017, has focused his research on the area of control systems and intelligent systems.

These systems — which include physical dynamics, digital computers, and networks connecting components — must interact with other systems, and with humans, in a cooperative way. While machines are great at taking measurements and performing repetitive tasks, humans are better at understanding context and making decisions in dynamic environments. Teaming humans and machines together effectively will be crucial for designing next generation intelligent systems.

Mike attended the University of Washington and received his B.S. in electrical engineering in 2007. He attended the University of Notre Dame earning his M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering as well. Before joining UW Tacoma, he was a research scientist at the University of Florida. Mike is a member of IEEE and advises the IEEE student group at UW Tacoma.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TCES 230: Introduction to logic design

Alex Miller, Lecturer
Social & Historical Studies, SIAS

Ph.D. in literature, Fordham University

Alex Miller is a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington Tacoma.

He teaches courses in literature, American studies, and ethnic, gender and labor studies.

His research addresses the connections between representation, affect, and material transformations in contemporary art and politics.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TCORE 104: Empathy in contemporary American storytelling
TEGL 101: Introduction to ethnic, gender and labor studies

Robin Starr Zape-tah-hol-ah Minthorn, Associate Professor, Director of Educational Leadership Doctoral Program
School of Education

Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies, Oklahoma State University

Robin Minthorn is an enrolled citizen of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma and a descendant of the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Apache and Assiniboine Nations.

Prior to becoming a faculty member at UW Tacoma she was an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico and taught courses related to Indigenous leadership and leadership and organizations in educational settings.

Her research interests include areas around Indigenous leadership in higher education, inter-generational leadership perspectives in tribal communities, supporting Native American college students, and campus climate for Native American college students. Robin is also the co-editor of Indigenous Leadership in Higher Education and Reclaiming Indigenous Research in Higher Education, both from Rutgers University Press.

Robin is also a co-founder of Gamma Delta Pi, American Indian Sisterhood, RAIN (Retaining American Indians Now) as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. As a professional she co-founded the ONASHE (Oklahoma Native American Students in Higher Education) annual conference. Robin has served on the boards of many organizations, such as the National Indian Education Association (NIEA). Robin is the current chair of the AERA (American Educational Research Association) IPA (Indigenous Peoples of the Americas) SIG (Special Interest Group).

Deveeshree Nayak, Lecturer
School of Engineering & Technology

M.S. in information systems, M.A. in criminology
University of Memphis

Deveeshree is passionate about teaching and learning cybersecurity and information technology.

She began her career as an information security analyst and has been involved in various roles related to cyberscurity before the joining UW Tacoma.

She grew up in India before moving to the U.S. for further studies in information systems and criminology from the University of Memphis in Tennessee. She has five research publications in the field of cybersecurity and privacy. She has been awarded several scholarships to attend technical and security conferences such as Google I/O, the Grace Hopper Celebration, the Tapia Conference, Defcon and Black Hat USA. Presently, she is a member of the Anita Borg Institute, IEEE, Women in Engineering and Women in Cybersecurity.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TINFO 240: Discrete mathematics for information technology

Alyssa M. Ramirez Stege, Assistant Professor
Social, Behavioral & Human Sciences, SIAS

Ph.D. in counseling psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alyssa M. Ramírez Stege is a queer Latina, U.S.-born and Mexican-raised counseling psychologist.

She grew up in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico where she received her bachelor’s degree (licenciatura) in psychology from the Universidad de las Américas Puebla. After receiving her Ph.D. she moved to Portland, Ore., where she recently completed her doctoral internship at Pacific Psychology & Comprehensive Health Clinic.

Her research is focused on developing and incorporating culturally-grounded psychotherapeutic interventions and clinical supervision practices. Her clinical interests focus on trauma-informed care for underserved and marginalized populations, particularly Spanish-speaking Latinxs. She looks forward to infusing her clinical and research knowledge to invite students to critically consider the multi-layered experience of mental health and wellbeing.

Alyssa enjoys being active, watching movies, eating, and cooking anything that reminds her of home. She loves exploring new sites around the Pacific Northwest with her partner Whitney and caring for their furry babies. When she can, she visits with family in Mexico and the Midwest.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TPSYCH 210: Abnormal psychology

Bára Šafářová, Acting Assistant Professor
School of Urban Studies

Ph.D. (expected) in architecture, Texas A&M University

Bára Šafářová is originally from the Czech Republic.

She moved to the United States following her architecture education and professional experience in the United Kingdom. She worked in several firms on projects that ranged in scale from individual to regional, and covered residential, commercial, and masterplanning developments in the UK and internationally.

Bára’s research focuses on the role that urbanism and architecture can play in spatial discrimination of historically marginalized groups. Her current research looks at how housing production facilitates housing segregation on the United States-Mexico border. She is also interested in understanding inclusion in the physical and digital environments of learning. To identify barriers to inclusion on and around campus, Bára has organized several diversity hackathons at Texas A&M University during her Ph.D. studies there. Each hackathon was conceived as a platform for students to work with campus organizations that serve underrepresented students such as persons with disabilities or LGBTQIA+ students, to imagine how barriers could be overcome in the future. At Texas A&M, she also taught undergraduate and graduate design communication courses that covered, for example, hand-drawing, technical drawing, digital image manipulation, 3D modelling, and studio photography.

Outside of scholarly work, she likes to draw, listen to podcasts, wander around cities, and learn new sports.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TUDE 210: Introduction to urban design history and theory
TUDE 450: Urban design studio 6 (Senior project 1)

Duong (Rita) Than, Lecturer
Sciences & Mathematics, SIAS

M.S. in applied mathematics, University of Colorado Denver

Rita grew up in DaNang, a small coastal city in Vietnam, and came to Tacoma 12 years ago, making it her second hometown.

She has taught a wide range of math classes including statistics, business college algebra, college algebra, calculus sequence, differential equations and matrix algebra. Rita’s scholarly interests focus on connections between spatial statistics and graph theory, spatial scanning methods in detecting disease clusters, and innovative and data-driven pedagogies in mathematics teaching.

Rita enjoys doing community outreach that helps promote sciences and mathematics in local schools. With the goal of inspiring students excited about mathematics through games and activities, she organized the first Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival at UW Tacoma in 2019, and plans to host this event annually.

In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing as a beginner, cooking Vietnamese food, and talking with people from different cultures to learn more about the world.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TMATH 124: Calculus with analytic geometry I
TMATH 308: Matrix algebra with applications

Emily Thuma, Assistant Professor
Politics, Philosophy & Public Affairs, SIAS

Ph.D. in American studies, New York University

Emily Thuma is an interdisciplinary historian of the twentieth-century United States.

She works at the intersection of American studies, feminist and queer studies, critical race and ethnic studies, legal studies, and critical prison studies.

Her research focuses on social movements, legal reform, and the politics and lived experience of criminalization and incarceration since the 1960s. Thuma’s book “All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence” was published this past spring by the University of Illinois Press.

Prior to joining the faculty of UW Tacoma, Thuma was an assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies and history at the University of California, Irvine. At UW Tacoma, she will be teaching classes in law and society, gender and law, critical race theory, queer studies, social movements, and other topics.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TLAW 363: Law and society
TLAW 452: Race, ethnicity and law

M. Billye Sankofa Waters, Assistant Professor
School of Education

Ph.D. in education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dr. M. Billye Sankofa Waters, a Chicago native, began her career in education in 1996 with the 10,000 Tutors program for Chicago Public Schools.

This deepened her interdisciplinary journey into the sociology of education, Black feminism, critical race theory, abolitionist teaching and qualitative inquiry. Her work consistently examines and elevates the holistic well-being of Blackgirls and Black families. She most recently authored “We Can Speak for Ourselves: Parent Involvement and Ideologies of Black Mothers in Chicago” (2016), and co-edited “Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood: The Lauryn Hill Reader” (with Bettina L. Love & Venus Evans-Winters, 2019). Her current project, “The Audre Lorde Dinners”, examines self-care practices of Blackwomen who serve as community othermothers and activists.

Sankofa Waters is the founding executive director of Blackgirl Gold Unapologetic, Inc., a non-profit charity that builds opportunities for Blackgirls to operate in their respective gifts through writing, funding, and connecting.

Teaching, Autumn 2019

TEDUC: Community education: learning beyond the classroom

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / October 10, 2019
Photos by: 
Ryan Moriarty
Media contact: 

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