By TORIE DIMARTILE – STAFF WRITER
THE STORIES BEHIND HOW TWO CENTRE PROFESSORS FOUND THEIR WAY ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO THE COLLEGE
Centre College has long been notorious for attracting the brightest students from all across the globe. From the heat of Texas to the cities of China, students continue to bring diverse backgrounds, ideas, and experiences to the Colonel community each year.
But what about the faculty?
While the college is known for intelligent student minds blossoming in the classroom, Centre is also known for the professors who are sowing these seeds of knowledge. Highly skilled in their subjects, most of the professors have acquired a Ph.D., or even two. After having studied in some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, contributed to major scholarly journals, and traveled to a host of foreign countries, have you ever wondered how they came to call Centre home?
Chair of the Anthropology and Sociology Program Beau Weston was born in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. However, he has enjoyed the Bluegrass State for many years. Weston remembered having the desire to teach sociology at an early age.
“I wanted to be a sociologist and teach at a small liberal arts college since I was in high school. I went to Swarthmore College, which was in a neighboring county – but really I would have crossed the world to go there,” the John M. and Louise Van Winkle Professor of Sociology said.
Pennsylvania’s religious past was a prime environment in which to begin studying the topics and concepts that Weston would eventually teach as a professor.
“Pennsylvania was a great state to learn sociology in because it is the original American melting pot of diverse religious cultures due to William Penn’s welcoming approach to all faiths,” Weston said.
The professor’s path to the heart of Kentucky began much like the journey of many students. He simply applied.
“I saw the job ad [for a professor position] and applied. Like most professors, I applied to every job in the country that I was remotely qualified for,” Weston said. “I did not limit which region I applied to – I just hoped for a small college.”
Many students find a college’s catalog to be a helpful resource when making the monumental decision of where to attend school. Likewise, Weston and his wife spent a good amount of time exploring what Centre had to offer.
“Centre had sent me a catalog before I asked, unlike any other place I applied. So my wife and I had an evening [that we spent] reading bits of the catalog to one another, each bit more enticing than the last,” Weston said. “I confess that we had not heard of Centre before we applied. We were definitely delighted to come to Centre and Danville. For me, Centre was a great job.”
Much like the adjustment from high school to the new world of college, Weston found that life in small town Danville was different from his hometown in Pennsylvania.
“The northeast encourages critical discourse, sheer argument, and sometimes brusqueness in a way that the South does not,” Weston said. “And small-town friendliness is a great boon after the anonymity of suburban life.”
Centre strives to gather diverse students to its campus in an effort to grow as a community of learners, an aspiration that Weston takes very seriously.
“A liberal arts college absolutely needs people from a variety of places and cultures to teach diversity. A small town that functions as one community, but is good at assimilating people from elsewhere, has the best of both worlds,” Weston said.
Assistant Professor of Art History James Bloom joined Centre’s faculty in 2011. Bloom’s research draws upon performance studies, economic histories of the arts, visual and literary theory, and cultural history.
He received a Bachelor’s of Art (B.A.) in art history and English literature from Dartmouth College and earned a Master’s of Art (M.A.) and Ph.D. in the former study from Duke University. Bloom crossed the country from San Diego, Ca. to begin his position at Centre. However, he had to make a lot more stops along the way before finding his way to this tiny Colonel country in the heart of Kentucky.
“My first position was at Florida State. My wife, also an art historian, was finishing her dissertation at the time and preparing to look for a job as well. She landed a tenure-track job at the University of Louisville, and I was granted a post-doctorate at Vanderbilt University. My post-doctorate was converted to a tenure-track job, and given that Nashville was some eight hours closer to Louisville than Tallahassee, I gave up my job at Florida State,” Bloom said. “I was looking to move closer to Louisville to fulfill our dream of actually living under the same roof [when] the job at Centre presented itself.”
Although coming from such a different atmosphere on the West coast, Bloom was looking forward to making his personal transition to a small liberal arts college on the other side of the country.
“I had gone to a liberal arts college as an undergraduate, so I was excited about the institutional mission. And as chance would have it, one of my dearest friends is a Centre graduate. He raved about his experience and especially about his professors, so I knew I was landing in a great spot,” Bloom said. “He had particularly fond memories of Jane Joyce and Mark Rasmussen. By pure coincidence, Professor Joyce was appointed as my faculty mentor and Professor Rasmussen was on the search committee that hired me.”
Bloom challenges his students to see the world differently by drawing on other subjects and materials to enhance class discussions. As a studio art major, junior Jennifer Kim can identify with the worldly connections made in her studies with Bloom.
“[Bloom] ties in a lot of topics from different cultures to our society. For instance, for our class that deals with art and authority, he gets us to read articles about who was in authority for art during the Nazi era in Germany and how that can be compared to our perception of public art and art in museums,” Kim said.
Moving across the country has not only given Bloom professional opportunities but those through which he can grow as a person.
“I have no doubt that whatever success I’ve enjoyed is largely attributable to the variety of experiences I’ve confronted myself with through travel and career moves,” Bloom said. “Adaptation is a process of discovery. It’s a challenge, and it’s not without its anxieties and insecurities, but seeing where you are and looking back at where you’ve come from is at once surprising and deeply gratifying.”