Meet Rutgers' Newest Faculty, 2018-2019
Rutgers faculty are accomplished teachers, researchers and scholars who think beyond disciplinary boundaries and care deeply about the students they teach, mentor and advise.
Meet some of the new members who joined the Rutgers community across Camden, Newark, New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences bringing diversity, vision, extensive scholarship and wide-ranging real-world experience to the classroom in our series.
Professor, School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers-New Brunswick
When Rebecca Greenbaum graduated from college in 2003 with a degree in finance she got a job and the experience she needed to know just what she didn’t want to do.
She was 22, processing car insurance claims, listening to those who were injured in crashes and spending most of her time at body shops in Florida developing damage estimates. She gave it a couple of years.
Then Greenbaum went back to school, got a master’s degree in human resource management and a doctoral degree in business administration from the University of Central Florida.
Today, the professor of human resource management at the School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick researches behavioral ethics and morality with a focus on unethical leadership, organizational justice and workplace deviance.
“These unethical leaders have a bottom line mentality,” says Greenbaum, whose work was inspired by some less than ideal bosses she encountered before going back to graduate school. “They cut corners, change performance numbers to look more successful and don’t really think they are hurting anyone.”
Greenbaum, who joined the faculty last semester after spending nine years at Oklahoma State University, teaches a course on ethical leadership to graduate students and one on organizational behavior to undergraduates. What she wants her students to understand is that you can’t stretch the truth and rationalize unethical choices and think that it’s not a big deal.
People may be able to get away with isolated cases of unethical conduct often because after feeling guilty or ashamed they change their ways to protect their reputations. But ethical behavior left unchecked often results in progressively worse offenses that are much more difficult to hide.
In extreme cases such as the Wells Fargo scandal, unethical conduct can result in financial penalties, lost employment, damaged reputations and legal charges, she says.
“What happens is that the leader creates a culture that is passed on to employees that says it doesn’t matter how you get to where you need to go as long as you get there,” says Greenbaum. “Then it becomes a vicious cycle where employees think it is okay to lie to customers in order to close a deal.”
Greenbaum decided early on that academia was a path she wanted to take. As an undergraduate she was impressed with the lifestyles of two of her professors because they were able to combine family and work.
“Probably the best advice I got was from them when they told me to go out and work after college,” she says. “I realized after my job in insurance that I didn’t like a constrained organizational setting and I realized that finance was really not for me.”
That’s when she switched from finance to management with a focus on human behavior because she was intrigued by what makes people do bad things and the detrimental effect it can have on individuals and organizations.
Greenbaum, born in New Hampshire and raised in Vero Beach, Florida, came from a working class family. Neither her mother nor her stepfather graduated from high school. So advice about college or a career path came mostly from her older sister, friends and acquaintances.
Today, the mother of four children, ages 4, 5, 7 and 9, lives with her husband and children in Metuchen. Her husband, Ryan – who was the one positive outcome of the insurance industry job – also teaches at SMLR.
In her spare time, she likes to read non-fiction. Her most recent pick, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer.
“Non-fiction seems more efficient and useful,” she says. “I’m learning while enjoying myself and sometimes it gives me interesting insights on my own research.”
On a personal note:
Rebecca and Ryan Greenbaum started their courtship as a result of a workplace softball team in Florida. The team was supposed to meet at the batting cages to practice but at the last minute none of the others could make it. So it was just the two them. Greenbaum says her husband insists that he didn’t have it planned but she thinks otherwise. Whatever is the case, it worked – three years later they were married.
– Robin Lally
Faculty Director of the New Arts Justice Initiative at Express Newark; Henry Rutgers Professor of African American and African Studies and Creative Writing; Associate Director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, Rutgers-Newark
Salamishah Tillet’s work is driven by her belief that art is a powerful catalyst for social change.
One of most important cultural critics of our time, Tillet uses her platform in multiple media outlets, including The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Guardian, to expose racism and misogyny while advancing the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements.
Since joining Rutgers University-Newark last fall, the celebrated author and activist is elbow deep in her newest passion project as the faculty director of the New Arts Justice Initiative at Express Newark.
The university-community collaborative serves as a vehicle for students, faculty and residents to promote positive transformation in the city, with New Arts providing support for emerging artists and activists as they explore themes of race, gender, sexuality and the value of art in public spaces.
“We can have legislative changes, but you can’t do much without changing people’s hearts and minds,” said Tillet, who is also the Henry Rutgers Professor of African American and African Studies and Creative Writing and associate director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience. “Art is the way to get people to that reality.”
She should know. Two decades ago, she turned to her craft to heal herself after a sexual assault – and wound up healing national audiences in the process. Her journal and portraits taken by her sister, Scheherazade Tillet, a Mason Gross School of the Arts graduate, became the basis for “Story of a Rape Survivor (SOARS),” a multimedia experience featuring musicians, dancers and stage performers. The sisters toured colleges across the country in the early 2000s with “SOARS,” working to create empathy for survivors and rally against rape culture.
“We used storytelling, art and dance to explore this difficult subject and found it to be effective not just for victims, but bystanders and allies as well,” Tillet said.
Building on “SOARS” success, the Tillet sisters cofounded the Chicago-based nonprofit A Long Walk Home in 2003, where they use art to empower young people to end violence against girls and women. The national platform has received numerous accolades, including from feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who described it as “a gift” that “beautifully blends art, policy and grassroots organizing to empower our most vulnerable and voiceless Americans.”
Art and activism permeates all of Tillet’s roles at Rutgers-Newark, including her undertakings at the Price Institute. In February, she played a primary role in curating the Marion Thompson Wright lecture, The Erotic as Power: Sexuality in the Black Experience, which resonated with a large, youthful audience.
Tillet says she was drawn to Rutgers-Newark by the energy and excitement of being at a university that actively positions itself as an anchor institution to its community. “I’ve long been committed to trying to understand how art, activism and social justice are related to each other and can activate each other,” she said. “Newark is a city that has vibrantly cultivated those conversations, while Rutgers-Newark is trying to ground those connections for its students, our city, and beyond."
Under the tutelage of Professors Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Werner Sollors, Tillet earned her Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization and M.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard University and her Masters in the Art of Teaching from Brown University. She has her B.A. in English and African American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude and was mentored by Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin.
She has received accolades for her book Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination and is currently working on two more projects. The first, In Search of The Color Purple, due out this fall, is a meditation on the lasting appeal of Alice Walker’s novel and protagonist Celie’s feminist awakening.
Tillet’s other endeavor, All The Rage: Mississippi Goddam and the World Nina Simone Made, explores how the civil rights icon’s music, anger and frustration with racism and sexism travels through the 20th century. The Simone project presented an opportunity for Tillet and her sister Scheherazade to once again tag-team a powerful subject matter. Their trip to Simone’s birthplace in Tryon, North Carolina, helped frame Tillet’s narrative and resulted in Scheherazade’s photo exhibit Little Girl Blue: A Sojourn to Nina Simone’s Childhood Home, which was on exhibit at Express Newark through winter 2019.
The New Arts Justice Initiative is the next frontier for Tillet. The opportunity to guide it, she said, and take an active role in shaping the community she calls home, is a key reason why she is at Rutgers-Newark, which she sees as an institution with a strong commitment to social justice and its host city.
“As a resident of Newark, I’ve been able to see the city go through a variety of social and economic changes,” she said. “As a scholar and as a writer, I’m interested in how you really make a difference in the community in which you live. So considering that combination, it is a great fit for me.”
– Lisa Intrabartola
The Art of Treating Employees Well
Professor, School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers-New Brunswick
A bad dorm assignment and a flair for desktop publishing were precursors of Michael Sturman’s more than two-decade long academic career, researching individual job performance and compensation to figure out the best way to keep employees productive and committed.
“I remember I needed something to do when I got to Cornell as a freshman, so I knocked on the door of an academic guru of job performance and compensation and told him that I would work for him for free and help him with his presentations,” says Sturman, who recently joined the faculty at the School of Management and Labor Relations as a professor of human resource management. “Even though I was a freshman, I ended up jumping over grad students because I knew how to use different fonts, shadows and bullet points, and in the early 1990s that was a real competitive advantage. He needed my services, and that worked well for me.”
After Sturman earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, he began his academic career studying job performance, compensation systems and human resource analytics. His worked ended up focusing on the hiring and compensation practices of frontline employees who deal directly with a paying public.
Sturman has been in academia his entire life. After graduating from Cornell, he joined the staff of Louisiana State University as an assistant professor for three years before returning to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration for the next 18 years prior to his new stint at Rutgers. He never worked at a hotel front desk, but researching the line-level employees made him understand that motivating and developing employees, and figuring out the best way to compensate them through pay and benefits, is critical to keeping guest service workers – the people who make or break the business – from souring.
“Human resources in general is a great field to study because so many companies do it so badly,” says Sturman, who has authored three books on managing hospitality organizations. “Part of the reason is that dealing with people can be so messy. But it doesn’t have to be. There are ways to do it that are good for the employee and the company.”
The 47-year-old father of five doesn’t take himself too seriously. In class, he uses quotes from movies to make points to students, and he admits that Straight Man – a novel in which the protagonist, an English professor at an underfunded West Central Pennsylvania state university, threatens to kill a duck a day until his department receives funding – is his favorite book.
On a personal note:
Sturman married his high school sweetheart who helped get him through French, which he hated. They met in jazz band at a New York State high school, and he still plays rhythm guitar, saxophone and piano. He loves music, he says, and jokes that he hasn’t been able to form a band at Rutgers because his new department isn’t prioritizing the hiring of musical talent.
“A bunch of us at the hotel school at Cornell had a band,” Sturman says with a laugh. “We’d get together at my house to practice and did an event at the school’s bowling alley. But I think it was as much about the drinking and eating as the music.”
– Robin Lally
Inaugural Clement A. Price Chair in Public History and the Humanities and Director, Price Institute, Rutgers-Newark
If there’s one thing Jack Tchen wants his students to take away from this article it’s this:
“I’m an anchor baby.”
“Please, make sure you put that in there,” said Tchen, a world-class scholar, curator, organization-builder and long-time NYU history and urban studies professor who joined Rutgers University-Newark this fall to lead the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience and serve as the Inaugural Clement A. Price Chair in Public History and the Humanities.
His parents arrived as refugees from China in the early 1950s after the “repeal” of the Chinese Exclusion Law. Still, the United States capped entry of those of Chinese heritage at 105 people per year.
“That law was a part of the longstanding Anglo-American fear of ‘yellow peril,’” he said. “My parents learned of a landmark 1898 Supreme Court ruling in United States vs. Wong Kim Ark that ruled any baby born on U.S. soil was a citizen. So that was me.”
He makes a point of sharing this personal information to show the connection between anti-immigrant and racist sentiments then and now have shaped who are welcomed and who are not welcomed to enter and stay in the United States.
“Birthright citizenship is exactly what Trump is trying to repeal now,” he said. “That attack against the promise of ‘equal justice for all persons’ under the Fourteenth Amendment is a critical though often forgotten part of our nation’s civil rights history. I’m part of that history – we all are.”
Tchen’s academic and curatorial pursuits stem, in part, from his experiences growing up a racialized minority in the Midwest – where he was the only non-English speaker in kindergarten – and seeing that pattern of white Protestant’s others in the New York metro region. He’s spent the better part of four decades studying how intersected racial categories morph over time, unearthing and archiving the experiences of various marginalized communities – Asian, black, Italian, Irish, Jewish and indigenous among them – which he says have been glossed over by American history.
At the Price Institute, he established the New York Newark Public History Project to challenge those accounts of history. Among the stories being examined is “The Indian and The Puritan,” a statue created by Mount Rushmore sculptor and known KKK sympathizer Gutzon Borglum in 1916.
"It is so easy to supersede the history of the Lenape people from this region with that of the colonists. With this project, we will replace the myths of our past with the truths of European diseases, violence and claims of colonial property rights – all of this should be basic public knowledge,” he said. “And we’re supporting the newlyformed United Lenape Nations Project to archive and tell their own history and make their own culture.”
At Rutgers-Newark, the chance to work at the most diverse university in the country committed to social justice is what draws him to the Brick City each day.
“That’s why I feel close to the students I work with here at Rutgers-Newark,” he said. “I really identify with them and love researching the past, present and future collaboratively.”
“I would love to be a blues harmonica player, but I have no musical talent whatsoever,” Tchen said. “I sing flat, and my ear doesn’t exist for that.”
– Lisa Intrabartola
In 1997, the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers-Newark was founded to foster research and programming in the arts and humanities that emphasizes intercultural understanding. The institute hosts annual programs, such as the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, a conference established in 1981 that explores themes related to increasing historical awareness in Greater Newark. The institute is named for the late Clement A. Price, a Rutgers-Newark distinguished professor and Newark city historian committed to social justice and civic engagement in the communities in which he lived and whose teaching and research focused on African-American history and culture, urban and social history, and American race relations.
Helping Nurses Harness Their Political Power
Dean and Professor, School of Nursing-Camden
The career of the new dean at the School of Nursing-Camden was shaped by military service and her desire to work toward social justice and equity.
In high school, Donna Nickitas participated in a program assisting nurses in a busy New York hospital. She shadowed members of the profession who cared for the most at-risk and vulnerable patients in the community.
“Those nurses sincerely treated these individuals with dignity and with respect – that always stayed with me,” Nickitas said.
The experience inspired her to become the first in her family to go to college and enter the health care field.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Nickitas wanted to see the world outside of New York, so she joined the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps. But, instead of traveling the globe, she was assigned to Rapid City, South Dakota.
However, her time in the military provided an opportunity to fine-tune her advocacy and leadership skills. She eventually climbed the ranks from second lieutenant to major.
“Somehow I survived the brutal winters and learned about becoming a servant leader, an astute team member and a fierce advocate for my patients who were often miles from home, family and friends,” she said. “My service with the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps taught me that I was never alone and all I had to do is ask when I needed help. Now, that is a lesson worth remembering.”
At Rutgers, she wants to help nursing students in Camden understand the intersection of policy, economics, legislation and health care and how they can use their voice as professional nurses to help influence regulations and standards that shape their practice.
“It is not enough to know what nurses do, but also to know what nurses know," she said. "In other words, nurses must see and care for the whole person. The sum of nursing knowledge involves more than the parts of providing direct physical, emotional and spiritual care. It means seeing the whole person and making sure all individuals have access to quality care – caring that is governed by the New Jersey State Nurse Practice act as well as other state and federal standards, laws and regulations."
Under her leadership, partnerships with other Rutgers units are thriving, including a study abroad program that gives students the opportunity to experience new perspectives in the field.
Nickitas recently joined Rutgers students, faculty and administrators on a trip to Varadero, Cuba, as part of a collaboration between the two countries. The purpose of the trip was to sustain international relationships and advance interdisciplinary programs as a way of highlighting global concepts with local applications.
While there, Nickitas says that she saw many parallels to her own research. She witnessed how Cuban citizens worked around embargoes to introduce measures for community development and economic sustainability.
“I learned quickly that world policies and politics are not always what you see and hear from news and social media outlets,” Nickitas said. “It was clear to many of us how local politics guide and direct everyday life.”
She examines similar themes in her book, Policy and Politics for Nurses and Other Health Professionals: Advocacy and Action, which was recently released in its third edition. The work highlights what nursing professionals need to know to make a difference for their patients outside the exam room.
“It discusses a variety of topics, including an update on the Affordable Care Act and enhanced primary roles for nurses, and how nurses can harness their political power so that they can influence health policy,” Nickitas said.
On becoming an urbanite:
Growing up in an Italian-American family, Nickitas counts food and family among her core values. Now, as a recent transplant to urban Philadelphia from suburban Connecticut, she can share the region’s rich cuisine and culture with her adult children. She counts water ice among her favorite treats, further cementing her status as a Philadelphian.
– Carissa Sestito
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Camden
John Steinbeck's East of Eden, the classic American novel that examines the struggle between good and evil, has influenced Daniel Semenza's career working to understand the causes and consequences of violence.
Semenza, a sociologist who teaches courses on juvenile delinquency, cybercrime (including online teen dating aggression and cyberbullying) and violence in society, says he first read the book at 15 and keeps returning to it because he finds a different message every time.
"As I get older, I find new wisdom within the book," he said. "The questions that Steinbeck was asking continue to be important for the study of violence today. In the same way that issues of free will and love among families are very complicated in the book, understanding why we as humans hurt one another is an ongoing project for societies around the world that needs to be kept up."
Semenza is currently conducting research related to cyber aggression, intimate partner violence and reactions to mass shootings. He is also identifying links between health and crime.
One of the goals of this research, he says, is to encourage decision-makers and stakeholders to make investments in community programs that can improve health and prevent crime at the same time.
"If we can better understand how poor health and related behaviors can lead to crime and delinquency, then increasing efforts to improve health may also decrease violence and crime," he said.
And he's working with colleagues in other Rutgers-Camden departments in the process.
"Rutgers-Camden is a great place to do interdisciplinary work."
During his short time at Rutgers, Semenza is already making strides in educating the general public about violence. He recently appeared in a video on how to explain violent events to children as well as a video to help parents identify signs of cyberbullying.
Fun fact: When he is not researching or teaching at Rutgers-Camden, you might spot Semenza and his wife, Isabel, eating dim sum or ramen noodles in Philadelphia. Both Japanese food enthusiasts, they recently honeymooned in the country to "eat their way" through Tokyo, Kyoto and other cities.
– Carissa Sestito
Bringing Star Trek Technology to Real Life
Umer Hassan remembers being fascinated by the handheld tricorder used to diagnose medical conditions on Star Trek.
Hassan aims to recreate some of that technology in real life. As an engineer and a global health researcher, Hassan is developing biosensors that can quickly and inexpensively detect infections in people living with HIV/AIDS in underdeveloped countries.
In these countries, he said, one in five people living with HIV/AIDS could be infected with other diseases, and the biosensors’ swift measurements could be lifesaving.
“I am a bit critical of the tricorder—one device won’t be able to solve all the problems,” he said. “But it can diagnose, and some of the idea came from Star Trek. I develop point of care biosensors that are low-cost, completely automated and can quantify or diagnose disease rather than relying on expensive equipment.”
Even as a child he has looked for ways to apply technology to solve everyday problems, and when he was an eighth-grade student, he developed a computer program to do his math homework for him just because he loved creating automated systems.
Now, as a professor, he’s looking to teach the next generation of engineers how to create automated systems that could save lives in his new spring 2019 course, "Biosensors for Global Health."
The biosensors may have a global impact, but Hassan says that they can be used close to home, too. Recently, Hassan spent time in a local hospital for the birth of his daughter, and he soon realized that the biosensors could assist physicians and save lives.
“Collecting blood samples from newborns and infants is really painful for the babies and, of course, for the parents, too,” he said. “For pediatric populations collecting large volumes of blood samples for diagnostics is not easy. Our biosensors require only a drop of blood to get the required diagnostic test done. This will not only reduce the amount of blood sample collected, but also the reduce the cost and time it takes to receive the results.”
Did you know?
Even professors have bucket lists. Hassan wants to see the world, especially the countries that are home to the people his device could serve. But his preferred mode of transport is not limited to the ground – he wants to learn how to fly a plane and deep sea dive, too.
– Carissa Sestito