Allegheny hires new professors in biology, psychology, global health

Allegheny’s campus has seen many renovations this fall — some more noticeable than others. While many have noticed the major renovations to Bentley Hall and the location changes of many of the college’s offices, students may not have noticed the numerous new faculty members.

One of Allegheny’s newest faculty members is Yee Mon Thu, assistant professor of biology.

Prior to teaching at Allegheny, Thu was a visiting assistant professor at Grinnell College in Iowa for two years. Thu received her Bachelor of Arts in biology and global development studies from Grinnell in 2004.

In 2011, Thu received her doctorate in cancer biology from Vanderbilt University. During her time at Vanderbilt, Thu mentored eight undergraduate students in inquiry-based biological research projects and served as a co-leader for a group discussion class for first-year graduate students.

After her time at Vanderbilt, Thu became a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota. In addition to being a postdoctoral fellow, Thu also served as a research mentor and co-instructor. During her time at the University of Minnesota, Thu trained three undergraduate students in research projects and helped teach a course on the biology of human health and diseases.

In August 2016, Thu returned to Grinnell College as a visiting assistant professor.

“I always wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college, so that was my goal when I started graduate school,” Thu said.

Thu taught a variety of courses, including advanced cell biology and introduction to biological chemistry, among others. In addition to being a visiting assistant professor at Grinnell, Thu also served as a research adviser, a committee member for the Health Professions Advisory Committee, a seminar organizer and a faculty leader and mentor.

After two years at Grinnell, Thu accepted a job as an assistant professor of biology at Allegheny, where she teaches courses such as molecular biology.

“Students are very engaged, and they rise up to the challenge. (Students) are curious and they engage with the materials. … My favorite part (of teaching) is to interact with students,” Thu said. “Earlier, I had a review session with students and we were going back and forth and when they got it, they have that moment, and that is my favorite part.”

In addition to Thu, Allegheny also hired Kimberly Caldwell, visiting assistant professor of psychology.

“I was brought on for just this year to sort of fill in some gaps in teaching after (Allegheny) had some retirements,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell completed her doctorate at the University of Buffalo and then decided to move back to the Meadville area to be close to family.

“I had been job searching places within a couple hours of (Meadville), so that we were still somewhat close to family and then I happened across this one year job here, and it was like my golden ticket,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell is currently teaching two sections of foundations of psychology and a new course, which she created, called ingestive behavior.

“(Ingestive behavior) is the neuroscience behind eating and drinking,” Caldwell said.

In the spring, Caldwell will be teaching another class she created, titled animal behavior.

Caldwell is hoping to apply to open positions at Allegheny and become a permanent faculty member of the college.

“As far as liberal arts colleges go, this is a fantastic place to be,” Caldwell said.

Allegheny also hired Pamela Runestad, professor of global health studies.

Runestad received her Bachelor of Arts in english with a minor in psychology from Augustana College. Runestad also pursued a Masters in Japanese language and society from the University of Sheffield and a Masters and doctorate in anthropology from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

“I’ve been a teacher all my life,” Runestad said. “Before becoming faculty, I taught English as a foreign language in Japan for several years. Before that, I was a science education intern. I’ve done day camps and everything. Pretty much from the time I was about 14 or 15 years old, I’ve been in some form of education.”

Runestad’s decision to teach at Allegheny was very different than many other professors’.

“I had a relationship with Allegheny before I came here as faculty, and that is not totally common” Runestad said. “People often ask ‘Where do you want to go? Where do you want to teach?’ and it really doesn’t work like that for Phds, we kind of have to go where there are jobs.”

Runestad was a part the global health workshop for undergraduate education hosted by the college three years ago.

“I came back again last year and became part of the steering committee for workshops,” Runestad said.

While Runestad was serving on the steering committee, she was made aware that the college was looking to hire a full-time medical anthropologist.

“It was an easy choice for me because I knew this was a good place with good faculty and staff and students,” Runestad said. “I feel lucky in that it was an easier decision for me to make.”