Retiring Faculty Reflect on Dartmouth and Future Plans

News subtitle

Nine professors across the institution wrapped up distinguished careers in the classroom.

Grid of retiring faculty
Retiring faculty, clockwise from top left, include Catherine Cramer, Jay Hull, Susan Ackerman, John Thorstensen, Mary Desjardins, Douglas Haynes, Ulf Österberg, Irene Kacandes, and Randolph Noelle. 

Along with the 2,000 or so students who received degrees at Commencement, nine tenured faculty members across Dartmouth are also entering a new chapter in their lives.

Susan Ackerman, professor of religion; Catherine Cramer, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences; Mary Desjardins, professor of film and media studies; Douglas Haynes, professor of history; Jay Hull, professor of psychological and brain sciences; Irene Kacandes, professor of German and comparative literature; Randolph Noelle, emeritus professor of microbiology and immunology; Ulf Österberg, professor of engineering; and John Thorstensen, professor of physics and astronomy, are all retiring this spring.

They each served on the faculty for at least 25 years, with Thorstensen, at 44 years, having arrived at Dartmouth in 1980.

Arts and Sciences

“With their dedication to academic excellence and teaching, each of these talented professors exemplifies Dartmouth’s scholar-teacher approach to the liberal arts,” Elizabeth F. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, says of the seven Arts and Sciences professors who are retiring. “Over the course of many years, they have changed thousands of students’ lives and prepared them to make meaningful contributions to the world. Their legacies will be felt at Dartmouth and beyond for years to come.”

Susan Ackerman ’80
The Preston H. Kelsey Professor of Religion and Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Ackerman joined the faculty in 1990, a decade after graduating from Dartmouth. She is a specialist in the religion of ancient Israel and its neighbors (Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Canaan), an interest she first developed as an undergraduate.

“I’ve taught both the introduction to the Hebrew Bible and the introduction to the New Testament for many years, as well as a course on ancient Near Eastern mythology,” she says. “Perhaps I’m best known for teaching about women in the Bible.” Ackerman’s most recent book is Gods, Goddesses, and the Women Who Served Them.

Among extracurricular career highlights she counts “the four different times I got to lead  the religion department foreign study program in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is a great city and an ideal way to form a very close working relationship with a group of students whom you get to know really well off campus. I’ve also been able to lead many alumni continuing education trips, including my 24th, to Morocco, this spring.” 

Joining the department where she had majored as an undergraduate “as a colleague of the unbelievably wonderful professors who had taught me—that was an amazing experience,” says Ackerman, who has been honored by both students and peers, most recently receiving the 2023 Dean of Faculty Award for Exceptional Service. To mark her three decades of teaching, the Dartmouth College Marching Band gave her a sendoff during her last class, on March 4.

Following her retirement, Ackerman will remain in Hanover and resume work on several book projects in progress. “The one that I’m hoping to publish in the next year is ‘Maturity, Marriage, Motherhood, and Mortality: Women’s Life Cycle Rituals in Ancient Israel,’” she says.

Catherine Cramer
Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

How do early experiences—both positive and negative—affect the development of our brains and behavior? Cramer has been searching for answers to that probing question for most of her career, primarily through groundbreaking experiments with rodents.

About teaching, she says that she has “particularly enjoyed the one-on-one aspects—supervising independent study and honors thesis research, helping students develop their first projects in our methods course, and advising majors and minors.”

Though she was once skeptical about the value of online learning, she says the COVID lockdown led to a change of heart.

“Before that, I’d had a pretty negative opinion about online courses, but being forced to adapt taught me, after a term or two,  that a great deal can be done in that format to foster student learning and engagement,” she says. “My students did some of the best learning I’d seen in my career during that otherwise unfortunate time.”

As she enters retirement, Cramer says she’s eager to expand her horizons.

“In addition to having more time to devote to some of my volunteer and fiber arts projects, I’m really looking forward to being able to read more, especially outside of my discipline,” she says.

“Right now I’m working my way through an introductory geology textbook. Next up may be some music theory, followed perhaps by international politics.  There are just so many interesting new things for me to learn.” 

Mary Desjardins
Professor of Film and Media Studies

“Teaching and researching at Dartmouth for 29 years has given me the opportunity to work with outstanding students, many of whom have gone on to become film producers, programmers, and professors,” Desjardins says. “My co-teaching and scholarly collaborations with dedicated faculty and staff from academic areas such as religion, geography, women’s studies, and history have contributed to Dartmouth’s interdisciplinary learning environments.” 

Desjardins has enjoyed exposing both majors and nonmajors to global cinema. “My greatest satisfaction is when I have had a student majoring in economics, government, history, geography, art history, or foreign languages tell me that the films I’ve screened and the discussions in class have enhanced their understanding of the relations among art production and identity, among  film cultures and international politics,” she says.

As chair, Desjardins represented her department in the design phase of the building of the Black Family Visual Arts Center, shepherded the department’s name change from Film and Television Studies to Film and Media Studies, and led the campaign to transform nontenure lecturer positions in film production and animation into tenure-track appointments. “I also mentored and advocated for the placement of  postdoctoral fellows in several departments,” she says.

Desjardin’s research, culminating in her book, Recycled Stars: Female Film Stardom in the Age of Television and Video, has centered on the American film industry’s star system during the Hollywood studio era and its transformation with the introduction of new media, such as television, video, and digital filmmaking.

“I worked with the Hood Museum to bring the John Kobal collection of Hollywood portrait photography into the museum’s holdings, and to a 2022 Mellon Grant to consider ways that the collection could be mobilized in pedagogical contexts,” she says.

“The opportunity to think about how these photos were used by Hollywood studios in the promotion of film and stars has informed my current book project on publicity and the Hollywood press in the studio era, which I will continue to research and write after retirement.”

Douglas Haynes
Professor of History

During his 41 years at Dartmouth, Haynes has focused broadly and deeply on the history of modern South Asia, covering topics ranging from colonialism to urban politics to sexuality to capitalism. His book, Small-Town Capitalism in Western India: Artisans, Merchants and the Making of the Informal Economy, 1870-1960 won the John F. Richards Prize of the American Historical Association for the most distinguished book in English on South Asian history in 2012.

“Much of my work as an historian has centered on studying unconventional aspects of capitalism,” says Haynes. “I began looking at small actors in the western Indian economy—producers who had usually been left out of studies of the history of capitalism—and then became interested in advertising during the colonial period and its role in promoting global firms in South Asia.”

His most recent book, The Emergence of Brand-Name Capitalism in Late Colonial India: Advertising and the Making of Modern Conjugality, explores the rise of professional advertising targeting India’s middle class in the 1920s and 30s.

Haynes—who over four decades has never canceled a class—has led several foreign study programs, including one in India.

“I think all students can benefit from doing research and learning about cultures that are not their own,” he says. “And now that India has the largest population in the world, surpassing China, I’d like to see students taking a greater interest in that part of the world.”

Haynes’s own interest in South Asia dates back to his childhood, when, as the son of a Harvard professor, he lived for several years in India. “My father, William Warren Haynes, was involved in administering one of India’s first MBA programs,” he says.

Coming full circle, he’s working on a project about the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, “looking at the role of its graduates from the ’60s and ’70s, and the creation of what I call managerial capitalism in India.”

Jay Hull
The Dartmouth Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences

“I have always been interested in questions of self and identity,” says Hull. “ What is a ”self“ and why does it matter? At the same time, I have always valued a scientific approach to answering such questions.”

Those interests merged, he says, when he discovered social psychology as a discipline.

“I still recall when one of my undergraduate social psychology professors said in class that he couldn’t believe he was so lucky to be able to study and teach such a subject for the rest of his career. I feel exactly the same after a 40-year career studying and teaching experimental social psychology.”

Hull’s primary research focus has been on self-knowledge and self-regulation—specifically on how people process information that is relevant to who they are and how they should act. In addition to developing models of how such processes work, he has investigated applications of these models to understand dysfunctional self-regulation. 

“The latter includes research on the effects of alcohol to interfere with self-relevant thought and the consequent motivation to drink alcohol to avoid thinking about oneself when it is painful,” he says.  “It also includes research on the effects of identifying oneself with media characters who behave in a self-destructive manner, for example, by drinking, smoking, driving recklessly, and becoming aggressive.”

Hull says he’s been “fortunate to have been able to help colleagues at Dartmouth to achieve their own goals in teaching and research by serving six years as chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, two years as chair of the Department of Studio Art, and four years as the associate dean of faculty for the social sciences. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to spend my entire professional career at Dartmouth as a teacher, scholar, and administrator.”

Irene Kacandes
The Dartmouth Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature

Coming to Dartmouth in 1994, Kacandes joined and helped shape the Comparative Literature Program, which has grown and flourished since her arrival.

She’s interested in how “bridges get constructed between people and groups and how to keep communication flowing over those bridges.” Trained in comparative literature and specializing in narratology, the theory of narratives, Kacandes has focused on “stories of trauma, moving fairly quickly from prose fiction into analyzing Holocaust video testimony and storytelling in documentary film and what we call ‘life writing.’”

Some of that writing has mined her own family history.

“My most exciting moments as a writer came through trying to put together what happened to my paternal family during the fascist occupation of Greece, resulting in a book I called Daddy’s War, a ‘paramemoir,’ because while my voice was in there, I was mainly trying to communicate—even reconstruct—what happened to my father and how his traumatic experiences were stored in the memory of his relatives and offspring,” she says.

On a fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Kacandes discovered a Shoah Foundation testimony from the 1990s by a Greek Jewish woman who had been given by her mother as a baby to be hidden by nuns. “This was in fact the same young child heard briefly singing in a testimony of 1946 given by her mother to researcher David Boder.  With the help of my Dartmouth colleague Ada Cohen, I was able to track down this individual in Greece and make her aware of the 1946 recording. She was stunned and overjoyed to hear her mother’s voice again.”

Kacandes now plans to pursue several public-facing projects, including facilitating “Humanities for Humans,” where academic experts speak to nonacademic audiences on current hot topics such as inequality, climate change, and migration, and curating a Facebook group called “Doing Something,” about people doing positive things to improve our world. “And as I plot a few more books of my own, I continue to enjoy encouraging other scholars through the Interdisciplinary German Cultural Studies book series I edit at De Gruyter Publishing,” she says.

John Thorstensen
Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Thorstensen was hired by Dartmouth in 1980 to operate and glean information from a telescope at MDM Observatory. Originally launched by Dartmouth with the University of Michigan and MIT on land adjacent to Kitt Peak National Observatory west of Tucson, Ariz., MDM is now shared by five universities.

“It’s become a centerpiece of my work,” says Thorstensen, who will continue as MDM’s president. 

Thorstensen focuses primarily on X-ray binaries, a class of small double stars “with enormously strong gravity,” he explains. “It’s 10 billion times stronger than Earth’s on the surface. So when matter falls onto them, it drops through an enormous amount of gravitational potential and gets up to hundreds of millions of degrees and emits—just glows—with X-rays.”

About his early years at Dartmouth, Thorstensen recalls being “thrown right into the deep end, teaching large introductory courses in Wilder, where the acoustics weren’t great. But my mother and father, both teachers, were into dramatics. This was incredibly helpful, facing 100 students, because I knew I was on stage. I had to project and I had to be present.”

As more and more students have chosen to prepare for STEM careers, Thorstensen has advised patience in the face of seemingly intractable problems.

“Sometimes I worry that there’s too much ‘gee whiz’ in the way we talk about science, to the extent that people, when they actually do hit something really hard, don’t expect it and get discouraged,” he says. “This stuff is really cool, but sometimes you really have to stop and think hard about something. You have to be puzzled. And you have to work your way around through it.”

Geisel School of Medicine

Randolph J. Noelle

Emeritus Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

Noelle came to Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine 40 years ago when the field of immunotherapy was still in its infancy.

This spring, a group of professors, chief scientific officer, molecular biologists, and other leaders in immunology and cancer immunotherapy attended a retirement symposium for Noelle and to also mark the progress they had made.

“My greatest achievement is having provided the mentoring and environment to foster the professional heights that they all have achieved,” Noelle said in a Dartmouth Cancer Center story about his retirement.

It noted that his first breakthrough came in 1992 with the discovery of the molecule “CD40 ligand,” a key molecule that instructs the immune system to turn on and to make antibodies and T cells that can kill tumor cells.

That led to the first antibody drug for human use, but also some setbacks, according to the Cancer Center story.

His work ultimately contributed to a re-imagined antibody that was licensed for use in 2017 and can be used to treat multiple sclerosis.

“Randy has had a remarkable career, not only as a scientist, but also as a dedicated mentor to so many. The extraordinary legacy of his work is seen in his achievements, and in the incredible achievement of his trainees,” David Leib, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, wrote this spring in announcing the creation of The Randolph J. Noelle, PhD Trainee Research Gift Account.

“His irrepressible energy, enthusiasm, and optimism also make him a special colleague that all of us at Dartmouth will miss upon his retirement.”

Noelle credited Geisel and the Cancer Center with providing the foundation for such work.

“We really have such a unique and special environment where an undergraduate college is so closely integrated with a medical center, a superlative graduate program, and a cancer center that does a lot of great research,” Noelle said.

“My job was to create an exciting, congenial, interactive environment where people work together, find money, provide mentoring, and keep people enthusiastic about what they really want to do. The interaction drives success for all of us.”

Thayer School of Engineering

 Ulf Österberg

Professor of Engineering

Österberg was hired by Dartmouth and Thayer in 1989 to teach and do research in the field of electro-optics, aka photonics. His research was focused on nonlinear effects occurring in the glass used in optical telecommunication fibers. With the help of an National Science Foundation PYI award, the research changed into signal processing inside fibers, work that was done in close collaboration with the math department.

The same optical fibers were also used to support the research of  the medical imaging group at Thayer.

“What all of the research had in common was the difficulty in sending electromagnetic waves through media that was both absorbing and scattering. This problem has been part of my research for most of my career,” Österberg says.

After receiving tenure Österberg was asked to take on more administrative duties, and in the late 1990s he was heavily involved with student life.

Throughout his academic career, Österberg put a lot of effort into teaching. When he left Dartmouth in 2009 to go to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology he took that as an opportunity to learn more about teaching pedagogy.

When he returned to Dartmouth in 2018 he used this knowledge to try to improve the teaching of the mandatory systems classes that are part of the engineering core curriculum.

“If I were to give any advice to young faculty,” he says, “it would be to put less material into their courses and focus more on a few basic facts.”

At a recent retirement lunch for Österberg, Thayer School of Engineering Dean Alexis Abramson congratulated him on a “long, deeply impactful career.”

“When he returned to Thayer in 2019, he quickly rediscovered his love of teaching and advising students at Dartmouth. And during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he brought his patience and good nature to his classes on Zoom and shared many laughs with new colleagues,” she said.

Österberg plans to spend most of his retirement getting back into playing classical guitar and working on a book project. 

No tenured faculty is retiring this spring from the Tuck School of Business.

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