Contrary to popular belief, faculty do not evaporate outside the walls of the classroom. Four Drexel profs share the extracurricular exploits that keep them connected and inspired—in and outside of the classroom.
The Wildlife Photographer
Research: Environmental politics, social movements, urban food policy
Started photographing wildlife: 2007
Why did you start? Two reasons, I think. First, having turned 40, my amateur road-cycling career was drawing to a close and I was looking for something else to do in my spare time. Second, I love hunting, but hunting seasons are short and they also tend to conflict with the busiest times of the academic year. Picking up a camera offered a way to extend the hunting season, as it were. For most hunters I know, getting out into the woods and being with animals in their natural habitat is a big part of the draw. And hunting and wildlife photography draw on pretty much the same field skills: stalking game, waiting patiently, tolerating very cold or very hot weather, understanding and responding appropriately to an animal’s behavior, and so on. Even the verb “to shoot” is the same.
What do you most enjoy about this work? I love the intimacy of close encounters with non-domestic animals as much as the act of photography itself—perhaps more, I don’t know. Most of the animals I photograph in and around the city are species that have lived near humans and that more or less tolerate our presence. You can get surprisingly close to mink, herons, deer and red-tailed hawks in Philadelphia, and some of my favorite images—usually portraits—have been the result of encounters in which an animal could have chosen to leave but didn’t. I don’t use bait or blinds, so the animals always know I’m there. No cooperation, no picture.
Is there any wisdom you’ve gained from photographing wildlife?
Wildlife photography is a contemplative task. It’s an hour or two in which your mind can wander aimlessly and unhurriedly. Much of the time you’re just waiting for something interesting to happen. Except for a few moments of intense activity that require speed and decisiveness, photographing wildlife is the opposite of my professional life: Teaching classes, responding helpfully to students’ questions, writing papers, meeting with colleagues, pitching ideas to deans and provosts—all of which I love doing, by the way—is all very hard work. Photographing wildlife, on the other hand, is pure joy. I’m very privileged to have both of these things in my life.
What’s the hardest part of the work? Understanding light. I’ve known how to find and get close to wild animals for as long as I can remember, but light just is. Fortunately, we have much better weather in Philadelphia than I had growing up in northwestern Europe, where we have something like 20 different words for rain. But even so, all you can do as a wildlife photographer is show up at sunrise and hope the next 90 minutes will produce a workable combination of light and animals.
Check out Hunold’s photos at: www.flickr.com/photos/christianhunold
The Shelter-Dog Companion
Assistant Teaching Professor of Biology
PhD in Genetics, University of Münster, Germany
Courses taught: I started at Drexel in December 2012. So far I have taught Evolution and Organismal Diversity, Advanced Immunology, Forensic Biology, Forensic Toxicology, Stem Cell Research and Microbial Pathogenesis.
Started volunteering with animals: 2011
Why did you start? I have always loved dogs, and when I was preparing to move to Philadelphia, I was separated from my Labrador for 18 months (he moved over first). I missed my dog so I decided I would volunteer. I found a charity in the UK that links volunteers with local people who have dogs but, through illness or age, are unable to exercise them as much as they would like. I would go to the local care homes and walk the dogs twice a week. This meant that the dog stayed with its owner (benefiting both of them) but was also getting the exercise it needed. At the same time, I started training for a half-marathon to raise money for another dog charity.
When I was reunited with my dog, I knew that I wanted to continue volunteering so I researched local opportunities and found Monster Milers, a group of volunteers who visit local shelters and run with the dogs awaiting adoption. It seemed perfect, combining my love of dogs and running.
I’m also the co-chair of the Pre-Health Committee at Drexel, so I work with a lot of students interested in medical school. Through the Monster Milers I try to lead by example, showing students that volunteering can mean doing something you enjoy—it is not just about ticking a box on an application form, but about helping others.
What do you most enjoy about this work? The wag when you first go into the kennel and the dog knows it is going out for a run. This is closely followed by the cuddles you get at the end of the run. They love to just spend time with someone who is making a fuss over them.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned from volunteering? I think the biggest lesson I have learned is that you never know what is going to happen in life. All you can do is keep wagging and keep a positive outlook.
What’s the hardest part of working with these animals? Leaving them in the shelter. The staff does an amazing job of making the dogs feel at home, but it can be a stressful environment for them. Fortunately, most of the dogs that I have run with usually find homes within the week. My husband has to be very firm with me—otherwise I would take them all home. But when I hear that the dog has found a permanent home, it is a great feeling.
The Ironman Triathlete
Assistant Professor of English
PhD in English, Certificate in Psychoanalytic Studies, Emory University
Research Areas: Trauma studies, trauma theory, and psychoanalysis; literary and cultural theory; postcolonial literature and theory; sub-Saharan African literature and history; South Asian literature and history; memory studies
Started competing in triathlons: 2001
Why Did you Start? I used it as a way to continue training for rowing in the off-season but then fell in love with it.
What’s your greatest accomplishment thus far in this area? Completing two Ironman races: Florida and Wisconsin.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned while training/competing? There is, inevitably, a moment in the Ironman race when every part of my body wants and needs to stop. It usually happens around miles 17/18 of the run and persists until about mile 24. My legs are screaming with pain; extreme fatigue has settled into all of my muscles; I’m completely depleted of calories; and my stomach starts rejecting everything. There are no words to describe what the body feels like after nearly 12 hours of persistent, high-intensity exercise: it hurts physically and emotionally.
I train on average 20-30 hours per week. I love it, but I give up a lot to do it. So when I hit that moment in the Ironman and wonder if my body will make it through a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride through hills, and then a 26.2-mile run, it’s devastating. But I’ve never once thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ I only think, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I will.’ And somehow, I keep running, mile after mile through the physical and emotional pain. Then I get to mile 24 and I know that I’ve done it— the hard work is over, now it’s the final run to the finish. It’s of course adrenaline that kicks your body into high gear and helps you straighten up, run faster, high-five people in the crowd, and cross that finish line with a smile that is, for me, the most pure smile. There is nothing greater to me than hearing, ‘Jennifer Yusin, you are an Ironman.’ And it’s not because I’ve just finished. It’s because I put in the time, day after day, month after month. It’s because when I thought I had nothing left to give, somehow I got up and I did more and I pushed past the pain. There’s no other journey like the Ironman: it makes you confront every one of your vulnerabilities. But in so doing, it teaches you about your limits and then teaches you how to redefine your limits, and thus how to redefine yourself.
The mantra of the Ironman is ‘Anything is possible.’ And that’s what competing and training have taught me: I am bounded by nothing. It has reminded me that the most important thing in life is the journey. The finish line is incredible because of the journey and because of the tremendous physical and emotional processes such journeys entail. These lessons frame every aspect of my life, whether it be working with my students or enjoying a nice dinner with friends. It has taught me to focus my attention on the process of becoming and evolving—and that’s a process that is never done. I have learned that success of any kind emerges organically and in unexpected and richer ways when it’s not all about the finish line.
The Science Fiction Author
Professor of Mathematics
PhD in Mathematics, New York University
Research Areas: Algebraic topology and algebraic geometry. I used to do computer science, too.
Courses Taught: Mathematics, all areas and levels.
First started writing science fiction: 1990s. My latest novel is not science fiction, however. It is autobiographical, based on a difficult time in my life when my 16-year-old brother committed suicide.
Why did you start writing? My wife and I went on a beach vacation and I looked for a trashy beach-read. All of the ones I saw were so bad I thought even I (whose most difficult subject in college was English) could write something better. So I bought a bunch of notebooks and wrote a science fiction novel.
What do you most enjoy about this work? I enjoy it in the same way I enjoy mathematical research—it’s creative. Writing allows my imagination a free rein, unconstrained by mathematical correctness. Of course, this is replaced by other constraints—one cannot force characters to do things ‘they’ would ‘never do.’
Is there any wisdom you’ve gained from writing? Well, I finally learned the rules of English grammar that eluded me throughout school! I also learned some things about storytelling and the three-act structure of a story.
What’s the hardest part of the work? Finding and dealing with publishers. One of my novels is based on an odd dream I had. As I wrote it down, the first line was ‘I was 12 when I realized I was a ghost.’ I thought it was a great opening line for a novel so I wrote out the whole dream (approximately 350 pages) and found a publisher. The editor said, ‘Lose the opening line!’ and ‘How can a 12 year old be a ghost?’ I said it was a metaphor for reincarnation. The literal-minded editor said he didn’t understand and readers wouldn’t either.