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New professors join teaching faculty, pursue research

Anna Boarini | Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Frosh-O and Transfer-O activities may have wound down last week, but the University welcomed one last group to campus as new professors began their tenure at the University.

The new professors come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences.

For engineering professor Ashley Thrall, Notre Dame will be her first teaching job after earning a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from Princeton University last May.

“I was drawn to academia because it offers the opportunity to educate and mentor the next generation of scholars while also enabling professors complete freedom to pursue their research interests,” she said.

This year, Thrall will teach a course on structural steel design, a core requirement for all civil engineering and geological science students. In the future, Thrall said she hopes to develop and teach courses in advanced steel design and bridge design, the topic of her dissertation.

Thrall was drawn to Notre Dame partially because of its Catholic tradition.

“Notre Dame’s rich and unique tradition of viewing research as service is deeply intertwined with its Catholic identity”, she said. “I found this tradition to be very inspiring and believe that my research interests — the design of deployable structures for disaster relief — will fit in well with the character of the University.”

Professor Matthew Wilkens is also a new face on campus. However, unlike Thralls, this is not his first job in academia.

After earning a doctorate in literature from Duke University, he worked at Rice University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Wilkens said he enjoys his work because it provides him the opportunity to discuss literature with gifted students and academics.

“I’m paid to read books and talk about them with smart students and colleagues,” Wilkens said. “It’s pretty great.”

Like Thrall, Wilkens sought out a university that placed importance on both research and educating students.

“Notre Dame has exactly the combination of first-rate research and serious teaching that I was looking for,” he said. “A lot of schools claim to value both those things, but it’s rare to find them done so well together.”