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Rock Ethics Institute welcomes Douglass, VanHaitsma as Sherwin Early Career Professors

The Penn State College of the Liberal Arts has named two of its faculty members, Kristina Douglass and Pamela VanHaitsma, Douglas S. and Joyce L. Sherwin Early Career Professors in the college’s Rock Ethics Institute.
by David Price Oct 12, 2020

DouglassAndVanHaitsmaThe Penn State College of the Liberal Arts has named two of its faculty members, Kristina Douglass and Pamela VanHaitsma, Douglas S. and Joyce L. Sherwin Early Career Professors in the college’s Rock Ethics Institute. This professorship recognizes faculty in the early stage of their career for outstanding achievements in research, teaching, and service that integrate ethics in innovative ways. The three-year appointment, which runs from 2020 to 2023, includes support for recipients’ research and teaching programs.

Douglass, assistant professor of anthropology and African studies, is an archeologist who studies objects from the past to better understand how human populations shape their environment. “I was both surprised and honored to learn that I was named a Sherwin Early Career Professor,” said Douglass. “There are so many amazing faculty at Penn State, so it is humbling for my work to be recognized and for the College of the Liberal Arts to make such a significant investment in support of it.”

VanHaitsma is an assistant professor of communication arts and sciences and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, as well as the interim director of the Center for Humanities and Information. Her research draws on archival materials to examine sexuality and rhetoric during the 19th century. In response to being named a Sherwin Early Career Professor, VanHaitsma emphasized her gratitude: “I am grateful to the Sherwins for their gift and for all the support I have received while at Penn State -- especially from the departments of Communication Arts and Sciences and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Center for Humanities and Information, the Rock Ethics Institute, and the College of the Liberal Arts.” 

These two professorships were made possible through an estate gift from Doug and Joyce Sherwin. Doug, who graduated from Penn State with a degree in chemical engineering in 1940, died in 2015; Joyce preceded him in death in 2013. When announcing their gift in 2008, Doug and Joyce indicated that they did so in large part because they wanted future students to benefit from strong, caring faculty much like Doug had as a student. They chose to establish the professorships in the College of the Liberal Arts because they felt it would have the greatest impact on the largest number of students.

During their appointments as Sherwin Early Career Professors, both Douglass and VanHaitsma plan to build on their already impressive research programs, which have received numerous honors. While at Penn State, Douglass has established the Olo Be Taloha Lab and led the Vezo Ecological Storytelling and Knowledge Exchange. This project works closely with fishing communities in southwest Madagascar to preserve local knowledge and practices and to understand their role in environmental conservation. The work was featured in the journal Nature and has been praised as a model for empowering local communities and treating them as equal partners in research. Douglass looks to expand the project while at the Rock Ethics Institute.

Recently, VanHaitsma published her first book, “Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education." This study looks at romantic letter writing in the 19th century to gain insights into past same-sex relationships and the creative ways people challenged cultural norms at the time. Research for this project received the Rhetoric Society of America’s 2015 Charles Kneupper Award. During her Sherwin Early Career Professorship, VanHaitsma plans to focus on writing her second book, tentatively titled “The Erotic as Rhetorical Power: The Romantic Friendships of Women Teachers, 1848–1922.”

“Professors Douglass and VanHaitsma are both leaders in their respective fields and incredibly deserving of this honor,” said Ted Toadvine, the Nancy Tuana Director of the Rock Ethics Institute. “Their research and teaching exemplifies interdisciplinary work in ethics at its best -- which is exactly what the Rock Ethics Institute aims to promote.”

The Rock Ethics Institute was established in 2001 through a $5 million gift from Doug and Julie Rock. Its mission is to promote engaged ethics research and ethical leadership from its home in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.