Meet the new faces of UBC Arts

The Faculty of Arts is welcoming several new faculty members to its departments, schools and institutes during the 2018-19 academic year. With research and teaching activities ranging from the psychology of memory, to climate change mitigation, to the role of art in social justice, they are poised to make exciting contributions to the university and to the wider community.


Daniela Palombo

Assistant Professor, Psychology | Twitter profile

What is your area of research or teaching?

Although we have countless experiences, a lot of what we encounter is forgotten. I investigate the factors that lead us to remember some things but not others. I am particularly interested in the effects of emotion on memory. In another line of research, I explore the adaptive value of memory. In particular, I focus on how memory and prospection (imagining events that have not yet occurred) influence decision making.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
UBC is a fantastic place to conduct research and the Department of Psychology has such a strong team of researchers. I really love that the faculty members have diverse interests. I am excited to form collaborations, work with the students in our department, and be inspired to do the best research that I can.


Pheroze Unwalla

Instructor, History & Vantage College

What is your area of research or teaching?
I am a cultural historian of the Middle East and Islamic World. Broadly speaking, my research examines the production of modern Turkish historical imaginations in the shadow of empire and at the intersection of the national and transnational. Currently, I am interested in Turkish national ‘memory’ of the Ottoman First World War as well as the convergence of heritage tourism and memorialization at Middle Eastern Great War memorial sites like the Gallipoli Peninsula. My teaching interests are varied. My courses on Middle Eastern history range from lower-level surveys to upper-level courses on graphic novels, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the Ottoman Empire, and many more. I also teach comparative courses on memory and trauma, genocide studies, and nationalism.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
It is an honour to be hired by a world-class university. More than that, however, I was thrilled to get this particular appointment, a joint position with the Department of History and Vantage College. The former contains a deep pool of innovative historians, and I am so excited to learn from them, and be a contributing member of this dedicated community of scholar-instructors. The latter, Vantage College, is a cutting-edge institution where interdisciplinary collaboration and pedagogical innovation are not just encouraged, but considered vital. Both programs offer endless possibilities for growth as a teacher and scholar. Finally, I spent most of my childhood in Vancouver. It is home. As such, it is a dream come true to return here, do the job I love, and contribute to its communities.


Erik Kwakkel

Professor, iSchool | Twitter profile

What is your area of research or teaching?
As a book historian, my primary interest is communication in the premodern world, in particular how information was disseminated in the age before the invention of the printing press. My current research focuses on the materiality of written communication (book design, materials used), as well as on the broader cultural processes behind knowledge consumption in societies that depend on written communication. How is a culture shaped by information and communication? How does book design impact learning, or the speed with which information diffuses across cultural, geographical, and temporal space? A multidisciplinary approach is a signature feature of my scholarly output, my teaching, and the outreach projects I undertake in communities beyond the university.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I hope to inspire my students to look at libraries and archives with different eyes. Objects kept in such places carry more information than merely text – handwritten or printed information: their design and materiality, too, contain important information, for example about the background of past users and the purpose for which the objects were created and kept. Moreover, the iSchool is an inspiring context for addressing the broader cultural issues in my current research. My work highlights how modern communication is built on premodern tools and processes, often going back to medieval times. I look forward to studying these connections and think that the research undertaken within the iSchool forms the perfect backdrop for doing so.


Sara Knox

Assistant Professor, Geography

What is your area of research or teaching?
I study the exchange of carbon, water and energy between ecosystems and the atmosphere. I investigate how land‑atmosphere exchanges of greenhouse gas fluxes respond to a changing climate and disturbances, and how we can modify land management practices for climate change mitigation and adaptation. I also seek to understand how ecosystem responses to global change can feedback to slow or accelerate future climate change. I combine micrometeorological measurements with remote sensing and modelling to understand soil-plant-atmosphere interactions across a range of spatial and temporal scales. This research is done in collaboration with a broad group of researchers and institutions to help inform and advance climate policy.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I am excited to be part of such a dynamic, innovative, and forward-thinking institution. I look forward to contributing to UBC’s cutting-edge research and diverse curriculum that investigates the natural and social processes that shape our environments. I am also excited to be part of a university whose goal is to actively promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in all its endeavours. The stunning campus with views of mountains, forests and the ocean is yet another reason I was drawn to UBC.


Patrick Moran 

Assistant Professor, French, Hispanic and Italian Studies

What is your area of research or teaching?
Hello! I’m a specialist of medieval French literature. My primary field is 12th and 13th century fiction: my doctoral thesis was on Arthurian romance cycles. My current research deals with narrative genres and conflicts in generic definitions (between vernaculars, between author and scribe, between the Middle Ages and today). I’m particularly interested in the intersection between formal poetics, cognitive studies and material philology: what can medieval manuscripts and early prints teach us about the usages, the functions and the mechanisms of medieval literature? I also write fiction! Science fiction and fantasy, specifically. My first novel, La Crécerelle, came out earlier this year, and I’ve written a handful of short stories for French-language magazines and anthologies.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I’m delighted to join UBC! This is an outstanding university, but more importantly, it’s dynamic, diverse and forward-thinking. I look forward to interacting with colleagues and students from all over the world, sharing ideas and aspirations and working together to foster an innovative and inclusive learning environment. The Middle Ages may seem distant, but studying them allows us to question our assumptions and explore the origins of many of our modern-day values and belief systems. I’m also excited to get to know Vancouver, its people and its cultures! After two years teaching in the South of France, I’m already enjoying the milder temperatures…


Ateya Khorakiwala

Assistant Professor, Art History and Visual Art

What is your area of research or teaching?
My work looks at how different materials like concrete, bitumen, and bamboo have shaped our built environments and our design cultures. Focusing on South Asia and India, I look at how our technical landscapes employ ornamental and aesthetic strategies to produce meaning and legitimacy. My courses focus on the political and cultural underpinnings of our material and aesthetic worlds. In addition to readings and discussions, we watch films, pore over primary texts, and analyze plans and drawings; all methods are employed in the effort to understand our built landscapes.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I’m thrilled to come to UBC and be a part of AHVA. I’m excited about the large and diverse community that I will be a part of. I’m looking forward to exploring the museums on campus and in the city and I love the motto, a place of mind!


Azim Shariff 

Associate Professor, Psychology | Twitter profile

What is your area of research or teaching?
As a moral psychologist, I am interested in how people decide what is right and wrong and where those decisions came from. As an applied moral psychologist, I am interested in how these insights we’ve gathered in moral psychology can inform the important societal challenges we face—be they the role of religion in society or the technological and economic changes we are rapidly hurtling towards. So, one specific set of questions: how can our understanding of the fundamental cultural and evolutionary pressures for cooperation between people teach us about the forms and functions of modern day religions? In a less esoteric domain, how do people’s moral attitudes shape the kinds of self-driving cars they will be willing to buy? Or the types of economic policies they are willing to endorse?

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
UBC is home. I grew up in Vancouver and did my doctoral degree at UBC. So, after spending 8 years down the west coast of the US (first in Oregon and then in California), it’s wonderful to repatriate to Canada. Even better to rejoin what is (arguably) the best psychology department and (easily) the best city in the country.


Nina Hewitt

Instructor, Geography

What is your area of research or teaching?
I am a physical geographer specializing in plant geography. I teach about topics including weather and climate, soil science, biogeography/ecosystems and statistics. My current research investigates plant dispersal and migration within fragmented landscapes, and alpine plant population responses to climate change.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I work with a talented set of colleagues who conduct research in exciting areas of both the physical and social sciences. The campus and environs are beautiful and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time teaching in geography over the last year. I’m lucky to be continuing on here!


Valerie Whitney

Assistant Professor, School of Music

What is your area of research or teaching?
I work with students mainly on the performance side of their music study at UBC. My goal is to develop students’ potential not only as performers, but also as communicators and cultural contributors who are able to take their study of music into any arena to enrich society.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?

UBC is growing rapidly in myriad ways. It is exciting to join the School of Music in this moment of growth, to become part of the process of building a stronger program of study for our students which will give them to the tools they need to build a career in or outside of music after they leave UBC. The abundant beauty of the natural landscape of Vancouver certainly adds to the charm!


Igor Drljaca

Assistant Professor, Theatre & Film

What is your area of research or teaching?
My artistic practice focuses on narrative and documentary films that rely on traditional and hybrid approaches. This work features the use of long takes, a mix of improvisation and scripted elements, and a combination of actors and non-actors. Many of my films are influenced by themes stemming from the wars in former Yugoslavia, as well as the experiences of the Bosnian diaspora community in Canada. More recent work is interested in the role of narrative in the creation and maintenance of various ideologies. The Stone Speakers, my latest film, which you can see at VIFF next month, deals with how competing groups in a post-war society create tourist spaces to perpetuate specific national narratives.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
UBC’s excellent faculty, staff, and students are the main reason I’m excited to be at UBC. There is a vibrant intellectual community here that I am excited to both contribute to, and to draw upon as I develop my future projects. I’m also happy about being in Vancouver, since so much of my work deals with diversity and this city is the perfect place for exploring such themes.


Camilla Speller

 Assistant Professor, Anthropology

What is your area of research or teaching?
I am an archaeological scientist, and my research explores a broad range of environmental issues and human-environment interactions in the past and present. My work explores how humans have shaped their physical world, from broad-scale impacts on ancient ecosystems to the micro-environment of the human body, primarily using biomolecular approaches including ancient genomic analysis (ancient DNA), ancient proteomics, and collagen peptide mass fingerprinting (ZooMS). Currently, my research focuses on three areas: marine ecosystems, biogeography and biodiversity; animal domestication and ancient microbiomes.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
Having moved here from the University of York, UK, I’m excited to be back in the Pacific Northwest, and to develop new research and collaborations around marine ecosystems and resource management. I’m particularly keen to meet and work with colleagues in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries to explore issues of long-term human impacts on marine environments.


Y-Dang Troeung

Assistant Professor, English

What is your area of research or teaching?
My area of research and teaching is transnational Asian literatures, critical refugee studies, and global south studies. Broadly speaking, I work at the intersection of literature and human rights, with a focus on how refugee artists use creativity and aesthetics to imagine alternative modes of social justice in the aftermath of war and displacement. I’m currently completing a book project entitled Forms of Refuge: Cold War Calculations and Cambodian Transpacific Critique, which examines artistic responses to the history and afterlife of the Cold War in Cambodia.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I’m excited about being at UBC because of the dynamic research environment, the diverse and politically-engaged student population, and the opportunities for collaboration across the university and with the community. I’m looking forward to teaching undergraduate courses on Global South Connections: Literatures of War, Militarism, and Migrations and Postcolonial Studies: Writing Refugees. I’m thrilled to be joining the Department of English, and to being a faculty affiliate of the Asian Canadian and Migration Studies Program and the Social Justice Institute. I look forward to contributing to the inspiring research and teaching already underway in these departments.


Marcin Morzycki

Assistant Professor, Linguistics

What is your area of research or teaching?
I work on formal semantics, which is the component of theoretical linguistics that strives to provide a rigorous, scientifically precise characterization of how meaning in natural languages works. This encompasses the question of what individual words mean and how those meanings are composed into the meaning of larger phrases. My research has focused chiefly on the semantics of modifiers—expressions such as adjectives, adverbs, and intensifiers which can often be left out of a sentence without rendering it ungrammatical. I’ve spent nearly a decade and a half teaching semantics and general linguistics at all levels (undergrad to Ph.D.) at Michigan State University.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
One exciting element of coming to UBC is the new colleagues I’ll have. I’ve been very fortunate in my current position to have quite a few colleagues whose company has been extremely beneficial to me, but nothing on the scale of what UBC can offer. It’s not only an independent linguistics department, but among the most distinguished in the world. I’m excited in particular about the prospect of being at a place that’s a global leader in research on less-well-studied languages. That will, I hope, make it possible to extend my own research in new directions that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible, and I hope that will prove to be a two-way street.


Ervin Malakaj

Assistant Professor, Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies | Twitter profile

What is your area of research or teaching?
My research focuses on 19th-century literary cultures, film history (Imperial Germany, Weimar Germany, cinema of the 60s and 70s), narrative theory, queer theory, and critical pedagogy. My first book will examine the influence of fluctuating literary markets on authorial agency and narrative form. A second book project concerns the primacy of melodramatic form for the articulation of queer experiences and queer activism during Germany’s Weimar Era.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
UBC’s Faculty of Arts maintains a strong commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship. I look forward to connecting to colleagues across units and programs by way of establishing new research projects and contributing to longstanding endeavors. In addition, I am very excited about UBC’s dedication to undergraduate and graduate education. In particular, I am looking forward to contributing to the university’s ongoing commitment to diversity, decolonialization, and social justice in and outside of the classroom.


Naomi Schwartz

Assistant Professor, Geography

What is your area of research or teaching?

I’m a geospatial ecologist who uses remote sensing, GIS, and field data to understand the fate of tropical forests in a changing world. Tropical forests, which are home to much of the world’s biodiversity and carbon storage, are threatened by deforestation, climate change, and increasing rates of disturbance. At the same time, these forests regrow quickly after clearing or disturbance, acting as a carbon sink in the process. My research asks questions about how climate and land-use change influence vulnerability to fire, drought, and other extreme events in tropical forests. I am also interested in how forests’ responses to extremes change as they regenerate after logging or agriculture. I have worked in the Peruvian Amazon, Puerto Rico, Cambodia, and southern Appalachia.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
Being a member of the UBC faculty is my dream job! I am thrilled to be joining the Geography department, with its diverse disciplinary background and research foci, as well as the broader community of ecologists at UBC across many departments. I’m looking forward to exploring the mountains and beaches around Vancouver and BC – what a privilege to have the chance to live and work in such a beautiful place!


Emily Huddart Kennedy

Assistant Professor, Sociology

What is your area of research or teaching?
I am an environmental sociologist. In my research and teaching, I focus on how different groups in society relate to the non-human environment. What sorts of activities feel most effective for people who want to minimize their impact on the planet? Who gets credit for their pro-environmental activities? I’m excited to ask these and other questions with students and faculty at UBC.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I’m excited to be at UBC because I love living near forests and ocean! Work-wise, I am eager to connect with faculty and students who are interested in environmental protection, sustainable consumption, and local food movements.


John Paul Catungal

Assistant Professor, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice

What is your area of research or teaching?
My academic work is located at the intersection of critical urban geography and intersectional feminist and queer of colour theorizing. I am interested in “for us, by us” community organizing, especially by migrant, diasporic and ethno-racial communities in Canadian cities, in the realms of health, education and social services. I am also concerned with how gender and sexual norms, identities and politics inform these efforts. Moreover, I maintain a more general interest in the application of intersectional feminist and queer of colour theorizing to examining the politics of urban policymaking, development and community building. My teaching concerns critical race feminist and queer issues, and include courses on representation, subjectivity, queer of colour theorizing, and popular culture.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I have been at UBC in different capacities since January 2014, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. In my new position as Assistant Professor, I am excited to continue pursuing my research projects concerning queer of colour urbanisms, community organizing and Filipino Canadian studies. I am also keen to continue my pedagogical and curriculum commitment to making learning spaces within and beyond the classroom affirming for marginalized students, faculty and staff. This work requires collaboration, and so I look forward to continue working with my colleagues and students at the Social Justice Institute; the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology; the Philippines Studies Series; Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies; Geography; and the Kababayan Academic Mentorship Program.


Anne-Michelle Tessier

Assistant Professor, Linguistics

What is your area of research or teaching?
I study phonology and its acquisition: how children and adults learn to produce and perceive the sound sequences of their language(s). As a result, I also study how speech sounds are stored and represented in the mind, why and how the sound patterns of very different languages turn out to be rather similar to each other, and how learning algorithms can (or can’t) model children’s developmental stages in language acquisition.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
So many linguists and other colleagues to talk to! So many children and adults learning many different languages in the Lower Mainland to study! … The ocean, the forests and the mountains don’t hurt either.


Márton Sóskuthy

 Assistant Professor, Linguistics | Twitter profile

What is your area of research or teaching?
Variation and change are fundamental aspects of language. Linguistic changes unfold in an orderly fashion, but they follow a strange and unintuitive “rulebook”. Some common changes are truly mystifying. For instance, vowels like the one in French “vous” often shift to something more like French “vu” – this has happened in English, Ancient Greek and Swedish. Why do such changes occur?

I approach this question by looking at language as a complex cognitive system. I use simulations and statistical methods to understand how basic physiological, social and cognitive principles lead to change. I specialise in the study of sound change (often in English and Hungarian). An additional goal of my research and teaching is to improve statistical and quantitative skills in the language sciences.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
UBC is full of people doing interesting work on language. It really is the place to be if you’re interested in anything to do with language! I’ve also had a chance to talk to a few undergraduate and postgraduate students, and I’m thoroughly impressed by their level of knowledge and enthusiasm. I’m especially excited to be working with students from the Cognitive Systems program – this is a new challenge for me, but one that I’m really looking forward to.

Vancouver is a linguistically extremely diverse city, which makes it a linguist’s paradise. I plan to capitalise on this diversity in my research and teaching. Finally, I have a bit of a thing for cycling uphill… I don’t think this one requires any further comment!


Patrick Pennefather 

Assistant Professor, Theatre & Film

What is your area of research or teaching?
I will be teaching Sound Design for Theatre and Film at UBC, and mentoring sound designers on three productions at the Freddie Wood Theatre this fall and winter semester. I am also co-appointed with the Master of Digital Media Program.

My previous research focused on understanding the value and benefits of rapid prototyping for students and client partners, particularly on xR projects (VR, AR, mixed reality) in project-based learning environments. My sound research at UBC will be in the area of spatial audio for both physical and virtual environments. I will be initially guided by how sound can direct a user’s attention in Virtual Reality environments.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
I am and have always been interdisciplinary in my own work and in collaborations with others. I am excited to continue my research and in bridging that research with mixed reality environments within film and theatre and extending those collaborations to engineering (computer science), natural sciences (particularly brain science), music and business (strategic design).


Sunil Bhatt 

Instructor, Asian Studies

What is your area of research or teaching?
I work on the areas of Structural Linguistics (Indian and Slavic languages), Sociolinguistics, Language Endangerment, Second/Foreign Language Acquisition and Language Education.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
UBC offers exciting research possibilities in my field. The expertise of colleagues from the Department of Asian Studies will lead to an exchange of ideas and cooperation on future research projects. The multicultural environment here makes UBC very welcoming to foreigners. The mild climate of Vancouver is a welcome change from the cold of Toronto.


Connor Kerns

Assistant Professor, Psychology

What is your area of research or teaching?
Child psychopathology, autism spectrum disorder, anxiety disorders, trauma-related disorders.

Why are you excited to be at UBC?
To build collaborations with my brilliant colleagues in and outside of psychology to improve understanding, assessment and treatment of children with ASD.