The University of New Orleans is welcoming 15 new faculty members to campus this academic year. The disciplines for the new professors and instructor range from fine arts to STEM, from political science to linguistics, and from management and marketing to hospitality, restaurant and tourism.
They bring insight from research that explores cybersecurity and malware attacks and Albert Einstein’s quantum physics theory of “spooky entanglements” to financial analytics, strategic management, the horrors of horror movie relationships and many other perceptions.
“The talent is incredible,” University President John Nicklow said. “I tell parents all the time that we have the brains of a national research institution with all of the heart of a small college.”
The new faculty members joining the University of New Orleans are:
Sarah Black, assistant professor, psychology
Black was previously a post-doctoral researcher at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Her area of expertise is developmental psychopathology, with a focus on environmental and hormonal processes that confer risk for mood disorders during adolescence.
“I have long been interested in life experiences and biological processes that lead some individuals to develop psychiatric disorders but leave others unaffected,” Black said. “Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period for developing these disorders, especially depression, and especially for women and girls.”
Black said her research investigates the biological, social and environmental changes of puberty, and how those changes may lead certain adolescents to be more vulnerable to depression than their peers. She wants to understand how men and women may develop depressive disorders under distinct biological and environmental conditions. In addition, she wants to understand the relationship between hormones and depressive disorders across the lifespan.
Peter Bierhorst, assistant professor, mathematics
Bierhorst was a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colo. His areas of expertise are statistics and quantum information theory. Specifically, Bierhorst said he was drawn to quantum mechanics as a high school student after reading newspaper articles about experiments that demonstrated the curious quantum phenomenon of “spooky action at a distance.” It is a phrase used by Albert Einstein to describe the curious phenomenon of quantum entanglement, whereby two microscopic particles such as photons or electrons, can appear to act in concert instantaneously even when tested miles apart, Bierhorst said
Bierhorst said the news articles intrigued, but did not explain the phenomenon very well.
“I wanted to learn exactly what was going on,” Bierhorst said. “It was only about 10 years later in graduate school that I was able to understand it, and I was lucky enough to eventually have the opportunity, as a postdoctoral researcher, to work with experimentalists performing the next generation of the ‘spooky action at a distance’ experiments.”
Bierhorst studied ways to apply the quantum experiment to practical problems in secure communication and cryptography. While at NIST, Bierhorst helped to construct a random number generator that is used to make online passwords more secure. Because of the random nature of quantum mechanics, there is no predictable pattern to the numerical sequence. The device and experiment that led to its creation was featured in stories on NPR radio, WIRED magazine and in the April 2018 issue of the nature research journal Nature.
Angela Catalano, instructor, film and theatre
Catalano, who has a master’s degree in cinema, media and digital studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is co-founder and executive director of Shotgun Cinema, an independent New Orleans movie house that screens “off the beaten path” films.
Catalano’s research interest includes post-9/11 surveillance studies and mother/daughter and mother/son relationships in horror films. A film festival curator, Catalano also helps produce a horror film festival in New Orleans and works as a projectionist at festivals across the U.S.
She teaches courses on film theory and criticism, history of cinema, and genre.
While an undergraduate professor encouraged her to apply for a film exhibition internship, Catalano said the movie Jurassic Park was her original spark for pursuing a career in film studies.
“I want to recreate that feeling I experienced when I first saw the brachiosaurus enter the frame every time I present a film,” Catalano said.
Han Chen, assistant professor, Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration
Chen, who comes to the University from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, teaches revenue management, research methods and hospitality, and tourism marketing courses.
Chen’s research interest focuses on exploring how certain human resource practices and organizational behaviors can reduce hospitality employees’ turnover. She has also conducted research in the area of international hospitality management and consumer behaviors.
A senior project in hotel research was Chen’s inspiration to pursue a career that would allow her to conduct research activities, she said.
“I enjoy helping people learn and grow,” Chen said. “Being a professor allows me to do both things that I am passionate about.”
Nicole Fuller, assistant professor, management and marketing
Fuller, whose previous corporate position was a partner compensation analyst at Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, D.C., studies strategic management. She said she is especially interested in entrepreneurship and how businesses behave in urban communities.
“I previously worked in corporate, but felt misaligned,” Fuller said. “My goal was to pursue a career that allowed for continuous learning, mentoring future leaders, and producing work that impacts the community in meaningful ways.”
Fuller holds a doctorate in business management from Texas A&M University, a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas, and a bachelor’s in finance and new business management from Georgetown University.
L. Kalo Gow, assistant professor, film and theatre
Gow, who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in performance, will also direct and assist on voice and movement for stage productions.
She has worked professionally as a director, voice artist, actor, screenwriter, movement coach/choreographer, and vocal coach for theatre, film, television and commercial media in Canada and the U.S. since 1988.
Gow holds master’s degrees in acting and creative arts learning with a theater specialty. Her academic publications include “Teaching the Totality of Self: The Roy Hart Theatre” and “The Vocal Vision: Views on Voice by 24 Leading Teachers, Coaches and Directors” from Applause Books.
Her research studies have included historical dance and gender gestures and movement throughout history and experimental voice work and human octave voice range.
“I’m thrilled to be here in this amazing, wonderful place,” Gow said. “And I have my dream job because I get to teach both voice and movement and that’s very rare.”
Randy Kearns, assistant professor, management and marketing
Kearns, who worked as a paramedic for a decade and spent eight years as a Federal Emergency Management Agency reservist responding to federally declared disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, is well versed in the field of trauma. His area of expertise is in healthcare management, policy, operations, disaster medicine, trauma and burn care.
His career path also includes stints leading a county emergency service department and faculty posts in healthcare, including at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine for seven years.
Prior to coming to UNO, Kearns was an associate professor and healthcare management department chair at the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina.
“I enjoy history and understanding the path from a historical perspective, to where we are today in healthcare and medicine,” Kearns said. “I just published a book with Arcadia Publishing regarding historical sanatoriums and asylums of eastern North Carolina.”
Xueyan Sherry Liu, assistant professor, mathematics
Liu, who will teach pre-calculus and introductory statistics, arrives at the University after spending two years as a postdoctoral fellow in the biostatistics department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and three years as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“I am more than happy to teach what I have to students and lead them to a higher level of knowledge in sciences to facilitate their future pursuits,” Liu said. “Hence, being a faculty is my dream job. I am lucky to join UNO and love my work in such a great academic environment with all positive support from the math department, the Colleges of Sciences and the University.”
Liu’s research focus is in count data and generalized linear statistical models.
Robert Mahon, assistant professor, earth and environmental sciences
Mahon, a geologist whose work focuses on sediment transport in modern and ancient depositional environments, has a dual nature depending of his audience. His work, Mahon said, lies at the intersection of sedimentary processes and stratigraphy, which is the study of the layers created by the deposited sediments.
“I do quantitative stratigraphy,” Mahon said, “so looking at earth’s ancient record of surface processes and trying to put quantitative bounds on some of those ancient conditions to get a better understanding of the long time scale evolution of surface processes and their response to changes and environment.”
Mahon holds a joint appointment in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He will teach basin analysis, sediment transport, sedimentology and stratigraphy, and advanced sedimentology.
Anna Mecugni, assistant professor, fine arts
Mecugni’s focus is on contemporary art and curatorial studies. She also is slated to take over as director of the UNO-St. Claude Gallery, located off-campus in the St. Claude Arts District.
“I’m super excited to take that on,” said Mecugni, who was a lecturer in art history at Loyola University New Orleans before joining UNO.
Her previous positions include visiting scholar and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, exhibition assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and research assistant and lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“I’m very excited and look forward to teaching a course in contemporary and social justice,” she said. “I think it will get a lot of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary collaboration going.”
Mecugni, who laughingly said she hails from “the south of the north of Italy,” said an uncle inspired her career path. Her uncle, Alessandro Palladini, is an architect and painter who studied architecture at the University of Venice, she said.
When Mecugni was born, her uncle created a mural on a discarded wooden door that hung in her bedroom.
“Every night before going to sleep I would look at this work and find new things every single day,” Mecugni said. “The painting is both figurative and abstract, very colorful, with interlocking geometric shapes, buildings, winding streets, trees, and fantastic forms and creatures that make you imagine all kinds of stories about them.”
Steve Mumford, assistant professor, political science
Mumford, who will teach in the Master of Public Administration program, has more than a decade of experience evaluating and implementing performance measurements systems for accountability and learning in the nonprofit sector. He also has worked as a research consultant evaluating programs.
“I study and advise local nonprofit organizations, particularly in the areas of program evaluation and data-based decision-making,” Mumford said. “I also study leadership, management, and communication styles among managers in the nonprofit sector, and how those characteristics relate to organizational effectiveness. I like to apply and evaluate innovative mixed methodologies in my work.”
Mumford has a doctorate in public policy and administration from George Washington University, and a master’s in public administration. His interest in public service was piqued by his mother, who was a public school teacher, and later through his own volunteer work, including a stint with the Peace Corps in West Africa while in college, he said.
“I pursued an MPA to turn these passions into career prospects,” Mumford said. “Since then, I worked as a program evaluation consultant with many nonprofits, foundations, and public agencies throughout the country, as a manager at a firm based in Seattle, and on my own.”
Mumford will teach “The Profession of Public Administration” and two online courses: “The Nonprofit Sector” and “Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations.”
Luca Pezzo, assistant professor, economics and finance
Pezzo, who teaches research, portfolio analysis and econometrics, said he has always been interested and fascinated by financial markets. That interest also made him want to learn how to properly invest his money, and to share that knowledge with others, he said.
His interests lie in asset pricing theory and empirics. He said his focus is structured around two broad questions: What are the determinants of the wedge between theoretical and actual prices in financial markets? What are the implications for investment decisions?
“During my studies I came to realize how our capitalistic reality is exclusively founded on the principle of profit maximization,” said Pezzo, who holds a doctorate in finance from Washington University in St. Louis. “Even if very efficient, I don't always find this principle ethical. So one of my objectives has become to teach people the tools to be able to independently assess financial markets, and be aware of their threats.”
Lisbeth Philip, assistant professor, English and foreign languages
The department’s search committee set out to find a Spanish linguist. They found that and more with Philip, who has expertise in translation and interpreting. Indeed, prior to joining the University of New Orleans, Philip was the academic director and lead professor of Loyola University’s Translation and Interpreting Certificate program.
She has worked as a translator and interpreter in Louisiana for more than 25 years and is a certified Spanish court interpreter, a registered interpreter in French in Louisiana, and a certified healthcare interpreter in Spanish.
At Loyola, she developed and taught courses in translation and interpreting in the legal and healthcare settings, Philip said.
Philip said she looking to expand the program at the University of New Orleans.
“I’m looking forward to taking it to a different level, where we can have a lot of service learning, experiential learning,” said Philip. “I do training for the Louisiana Supreme Court, and the Louisiana Department of Education for their teachers in community interpreting so they meet the requirements of the Office of Civil Rights and Title VI.”
Philip holds a doctorate from Tulane University in linguistics and master’s degree from UNO in romance languages, linguistics and a master’s degree in secondary education from Loyola.
Her research areas include working with bilingual communities on language maintenance and language shift in Louisiana and in Latin America, specifically, Costa Rica.
Phani Vadrevu, assistant professor, computer science
Vadrevu is a bug person—in the technical sense. His expertise is in cybersecurity. Specifically, he has researched web security, network security and malware, those testy “bugs” that gives us the computer blues.
Vadrevu, whose undergraduate major was in mechanical engineering, said he was so intrigued with computer science that he pursued the subject in graduate school.
“It was fascinating to study about the building blocks of Internet communication,” he said. “For grad school, I specifically chose computer science and for the first time, got acquainted with research in computer security.”
Vadrevu was enamored.
“It was fun to learn how the fight between the bad and good guys has been evolving for the past several years,” he said. “I felt like reading research papers on this topic was almost like watching a movie!”
His first research project at the University of Georgia was a system called AMICO that was used to detect malware downloads. The project was so successful that it garnered a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Vadrevu said.
“After this project, I knew clearly that I wanted to pursue this area of research on a longer term,” he said.
Erin Cox, assistant professor, biological sciences, will join the faculty in January.