Professor Perspectives: Part 3

Welcome to this week's post! After the popularity of the previous Professor Perspectives, it seemed only natural that this is a series worth continuing. Therefore, below you can find my interviews of three faculty members. I think you'll find their perspectives to be extremely interesting. Please enjoy!

Professor Johanna Fassl
Associate Professor, Department Chair, Art History and Visual Communication

Professor, what brought you to Franklin?
"Essentially, it was my job that brought me to Franklin. I was very excited when I saw the position advertised and responded immediately. The choice to apply for the job was driven by two things: it was certainly the location but more so the international profile and the diversity of students and faculty. To see that people came from important universities from all over the world and with the most diverse research profiles. Plus, you can sense that everybody has a twist. Since I’m not somebody who can be put in a box, I thought this was a great place for me. I’ve been here almost ten years now. Before this, I was in Venice for Colombia University, where I built a study abroad program and a study abroad center."

What is your favorite thing about teaching here?
"It’s the students. It really is, because they come from every corner of the world, and they’re all genuinely really wonderful individuals. For me to be in a classroom with an American and a European and an Arab and an Indian and a Japanese, that is super challenging. Whatever you say, you have to consider your audience, so that you say it in a way that everybody understands it, and so that you don’t offend anybody. It really sharpens your mind. Just seeing what unusual individuals they are, that’s really what makes the day. And my colleagues, we’re a small faculty and we really like each other. We're all very critical in what we do, but all of my colleagues are really really nice people."

Where do you lead Academic Travel, and what do you find to be your favorite aspect?
"I’ve gone to Paris, Prague, Munich, and Berlin, so mostly [I've led travels] within Europe. My favorite thing is to show students my world, because Europe is my world. I like to show them that Munich, my hometown, is not only about Oktoberfest, but there’s a lot more to it than that, art, culture, technology, a certain way of life. It's also rewarding to see their world, to experience through their eyes what they see. One of my favorite moments is always when we have a dinner, and, once it's over, we're all sitting around in a restaurant just chatting about ideas, challenges, dreams, and hopes. The glasses are empty and the waiters are cleaning up and probably want to close, but we’re still sitting talking, having a great conversation. Those are really great moments."

What research do you do at Franklin?
"I’m a professor of Art History and Visual Communications, so I mostly do research in how images communicate. A big chunk of my time now has been occupied by art and trauma studies. I have this project with war veterans, artists who enlisted in the war, and then came back and [I study] what happens in their art when they return from the war, or how traumatic experiences are depicted. I'm also currently working on something with the World Health Organization, a project about women, migration, healthcare and how all this is communicated in art and photography. I started off as a very straightforward art historian, and Franklin has turned me into a completely different researcher. I also investigate more straightforward visual communication - how effective images are in areas such as fashion or website building, how they communicate and how we receive them. If you want to connect it all, art and the human mind, images and their deeper cognitive and psychological impact, is what I’m interested in."

How do you think that students here differ from students at other schools?
"I think students here are extremely courageous and curious, in the sense that everybody has totally ventured out of their comfort zone to be here. If you ask students, "Why did you come here?" it’s always about travel, it’s always about movement, investigation, diversity, and venturing out of your comfort zone. So I think just as the faculty is not easily put in drawers, so are the students also very unique in that sense. They come here and put themselves in a different environment and constantly explore the world from here and feel at home anywhere. You can put them in a five-star restaurant and you can put them in a tent, and they manage and interact with their surrounding. It doesn’t matter what their background is, they welcome the most diverse situations and I think that’s very impressive."

Do you have any advice as to why coming to Franklin is a good choice for someone who might be undecided?
"I think it offers unique opportunities. Yes, sure because of geographic location and the international aspect, but it’s also a place where you can make things happen. If you want to make something happen, at Franklin you probably can. If it’s building a club, doing something charitable to help the world, or reaching out to a community, you will always find peers and support for whatever you want to do if it’s a meaningful project, and you can really make it happen. So it’s a great playground for professional experience in an academic environment."

What kind of changes do you see in students who go here? How do you think students change over the course of their time at Franklin?
"It’s amazing, they come and are all so little, and then they graduate and are such incredible grown-up human beings, so there’s enormous growth. Not only from a skills and knowledge point of view, but also as individuals. They are such well-versed, widely-travelled, wildly-curious, and well-rounded people. I think any employer should be happy to have them. I love seeing them grow beyond Franklin and it's easy to do that via social media - always a great moment of pride to see what they do when they leave."

What do you feel is Franklin’s biggest asset as a university?
"I think it’s the direct professor-student ratio and collaboration, and all the support that comes from the staff. So it's the fact that you can just walk into the President or Dean’s office; this would never happen at a big university. You CAN have a coffee or a chat or a glass of wine with your professor and I think that’s a huge asset. For me as a faculty member, I know all my students by name, that’s really important. I don’t know all of their stories, but I know a lot of their stories, and from that comes a situation where students open up, they feel comfortable, professors open up, they feel comfortable, so it’s a kind of at-ease learning environment that’s really great. It comes from being small, sharing trust and having direct access to all institutional resources."

What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
"The mountains, skiing, climbing and biking, and going to great exhibitions in Milan or Zurich with my friends, all of that, which is easily doable from Lugano."

Do you spend most of your free time here, or do you travel a lot?

"Both, it’s like 50-50. It depends how much time I have. I like being here too, there's beautiful nature and there’s good stuff going on at the LAC and other venues, but I also like going to Milan, to Munich, to Zurich; it’s a great location. Lugano is small, but the other day I was investigating graffiti in downtown locations with my travel class - we saw the most unusual things in the most unusual corners, a true revelation. You would think it's a small place and "I’ve seen it all", but Lugano does consistently offer something interesting and new - if you venture out and look for it."

. . .

Professor Bernd Bucher
Assistant Professor, Political Science

Professor Bucher, this is your second year here. Can you explain what brought you to Franklin?
"Well, before I came here, I taught at the University of Bielefeld, which is in the northern part of Germany. I had for some time promised my partner that I would look for a job further down south, so she was pretty happy when this opportunity presented itself. I applied, and felt very welcomed here. I was intrigued by what Franklin is, because it’s very unique in a European context. So personal reasons and intellectual curiosity about what this place in Lugano is are part of how I ended up here."

Are you enjoying it here? Do you like campus?
"Absolutely. For me, it’s a really big change, because all the other universities except St Gallen that I’ve been at were large - I don’t know, 30,000 or 50,000 students, so it’s a completely different setting. This is really different, but I like it a lot; it’s much more personal. How can you not like this setting, it’s just beautiful."

What is your favorite thing about teaching here?
"I think it’s probably the small classroom setting, and that you have personal interaction with your students. Compared to other places where you teach a class, here I feel like you teach students; you know them personally and it makes a huge difference whether you have sixty seventy or more people in a room or if there are 15 or maybe 20 people, sometimes less than even that. That’s a lot more fun. I think if you teach it’s important to develop some kind of feeling for whether or not students understood what you just said, you want feedback rather than to be talking to a wall. You want to know that students understand what you’re saying and that’s a lot easier with a smaller group. That makes it more personal and more rewarding in a way."

Where do you lead Academic Travel?
"I’ve went to Vienna in Spring, and that was my first Academic Travel experience. I was sort of bracing for the worst: I figured okay, this is a city I’ve been to before, but I’ve never led a group of that size and I didn’t know what to expect. I was really happy to have a lot of support from other faculty members, they gave me a lot of tips and also helped me with planning. That was great, but it turned out to be a really nice experience. I had a great group, they were really engaged. Vienna’s a nice place to go too, because it’s a small city core where you have a lot of wonderful things within walking distance, so it was easy logistics-wise and that was really fun."

What was the course called?
"That was the Introduction to International Relations course, and Vienna is a great place for that because you have a lot of international organizations there. You have the United Nations for instance, or OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries); there are a lot of different international organizations that we visited. Also, in terms of the history of international relations, in 1815 was the Congress of Vienna, and that’s a great starting point for studying international relations. You can go back further, but at that point in time a lot of things changed, and they still influence the way we do IR today, so we also did a bit of the history of IR. You could really see the history first hand there, too. I’m really happy Vienna is not too far away."

Are you going to be leading another trip?
"Yes, I’ll be going to Vienna in Spring again."

What is your favorite aspect of Academic Travel?
"I think what really stood out to me was seeing politics in action. In a classroom you try to give examples, but if you actually go to an international organization, you see how politics are actually made. We went to a decision-making meeting at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and we saw state delegates present cases and discuss, and that really shows you what politics is like. It connects theory and what is going on for students at an emotional level. So for me, the most outstanding thing about Academic Travel for international relations is that you see politics in action."

Do you do any research here at Franklin? If so, could you explain what you do?
"Yes. I can try to explain what I do. Research is very important for me, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I have three main research projects/overarching projects going on. I generally apply figurational sociology to problems of IR, so that would probably take a long time to explain. But I'm interested in taking sociological approaches and applying them to classical questions of international relations, that’s one aspect of my research, and I apply that to all sorts of things - identity formation, or rogue state formation, deviance in IR, general security dynamics. What I also like to do is research in the field of Norm Diffusion Theory - these are models of where norms come from, how they spread, and what roles they play in international relations. The third strand of research I do is situated within a theory called the English School, which is all about the concept of international society. There’s also the concept of world society, and I’m very much interested in theory building at the intersection of international and world society; that interests me very much and I do a lot of theoretical work in that area, too."

How do you think students here differ from students at other schools?
"That’s really difficult to answer, especially since I know students personally better here than I did at other universities. I think at other universities I got to know the very interested and engaged students, because they would be the ones coming to my office hours and asking me questions, whereas the great bulk of people I would not really get to know. I feel like the students here are much like the students I got to know at other places: they seem engaged, they’re very interested, so I don’t think they differ substantially. What stands out is that they’re very diverse. You have many different backgrounds represented here at Franklin, and that is something you can’t find in many other places to the same degree."

Do you have any advice as to why coming to Franklin is a good choice for someone who might still be undecided?
"Franklin definitely facilitates a good learning experience. You don’t only have a diversity of things you can study here, but you have a great diversity of different cultures. So you get to know a lot about the world just by being at Franklin because you encounter so many different people. I was rather surprised, and this is a good thing, at the degree of care and interest professors take in students. I was much more used to 15 minute talks and then, "please get out of my office," simply because you had so many different students to take care of. But professors here know their students, they take care of their students, so if you’re a student that thinks, "How will I do in a new environment far away from home?" Franklin does a lot to help students make being away from home a really worthwhile experience."

Do you have any recommendations for incoming students who might still be undecided on what to study?
"I think at the very beginning it’s really rewarding to keep an open mind and take many different courses, even if you have some idea of where you want to go. The bachelors phase can really be a formative phase where you discover new interests, where you start to get interested in things that you hadn’t really considered before. So I would recommend not to limit yourself in the sense of just pursuing a path that you had set out before, really to give yourself the opportunity to discover new things. If you do that, I think that the most important part is simply that you apply yourself to your studies, that you take them seriously. That you don’t just take one or two courses here and there and not really pursue a path, but keep an open mind, make sure that you get the most out of it by applying yourself, and you might discover that your interests are a lot more diverse or different than you initially thought."

What do you feel is Franklin’s biggest asset as a university?
"I think in a way it’s size. It’s small, it’s personal, there’s a lot of interaction between people; you get to know people. At the same time, it’s more diverse than larger institutions as well. So I think it’s a wonderful example of how diversity can really work to the benefit of everybody, and given that it’s so small, it’s a close knit community. I feel that everyone here shares in making Franklin a little bit better every day, with common projects. It’s great to be part of a common project, something developing as well. So common cause and diversity go hand in hand."

What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?

"My hobby is bouldering and climbing. That’s what I do whenever I have free time: I go bouldering, and Lugano is definitely one of the best places for bouldering that you’ll find anywhere. There are three very famous and very good bouldering areas nearby: Cresciano, Chironico, and Magic Wood. If you’re not into bouldering, few people know, but this is really one of the top three destinations worldwide for that sport, so I feel super fortunate to just get in my car, take my equipment out, and go bouldering. That’s awesome."

. . .

Associate Professor, Communication and Media Studies

Where are you originally from and what brought you to Franklin?
"I’m originally from Japan; before I came to Franklin I studied in the United States. That’s where I did my graduate studies, the masters at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and then I did my Ph.D. at Rutgers in New Jersey. When I was finishing my Ph.D., I was looking for a job and I found Franklin College, as it was back then, and I thought it seemed like an interesting place."

How long have you been at Franklin?
"This is my eleventh year. So I’ve been here for ten and this is my eleventh. I came here with Professor Hale; we both started in 2006. So we are survivors." (laughs)

What would you say is your favorite thing about teaching here?
"The students. It’s very, very interesting. I still remember, I used to teach intercultural communication in the United States, but when I first started to teach intercultural communication here, the classroom was completely different. I do a lot of discussion in class, and the kinds of reactions and ideas that came from students were completely unexpected. At the beginning sometimes it was very challenging, but at the same time it was really interesting and stimulating. I feel everybody here has such a good heart, and a really pure curiosity about learning. That’s what I like about being here."

Where do you lead academic travel and what do you find to be your favorite aspect?
"I used to [lead travels to] Japan, and I led travel to South Korea where I have a really good colleague, that’s something I did. After that I started to do more nearby travels, like to London, and most recently I went to Italy. Academic travel is just a different way that we get to know students, and it’s really nice to be outside of a classroom and on-site to talk about whatever theme the travel is based on. So that’s a nice thing about travel."

Can you explain the research that you do?
"Because my Ph.D. was about mobile communication and fashion (fashion in the sense that mobile devices are used for expressing identity) early on that’s where my research focus was. I’m still interested in mobile communication and fashion, but since then I've developed it a bit, and now I work on the issue of social robots as an extension of media. I’m also working on the topic of wearable technology and fashion, so this is probably where you can see a bit more natural progression from the mobile phone to wearable technology and fashion aspects. Those are the general areas that I work on, but I’m also focused on the aspect of emotions, which I find very important. Related to that, I also have recently worked on the issue of emoticons/emojis, so those are general areas that I do research in. As a summary, I study information communication technologies and interpersonal communication, with a particular focus on emotions and fashion."

Here is a link to Professor Sugiyama's TEDXLugano Talk regarding emotions and communication technologies. 

How do you think students here differ from students at other schools?
"I think compared to when I was in the US, the question, "Where are you from?" is tricky. A lot of people have a hard time answering that kind of question here, and there are a lot of complexities in student's experiences and also their worldview, so that’s something I find very interesting and very particular here. I think a lot of them are quite adventurous; the students here are not the kind of people who stay within the box. Faculty/staff are like that too, so it’s a small campus, but we don’t stay within the container."

What changes do you see in students who attend Franklin? You’ve seen people start as freshmen and graduate, what kind of changes have you seen in them over those years?
"Everyone definitely grows up. Particularly during the years that I teach FYS (First Year Seminar), it’s really amazing how much those who are in my FYS learn and grow and become independent. I think it also depends on their culture, family, and background, but some of the students who come here are under very tight parental control before they come here, and then they all have to start making decisions about what they do. That’s something that I see; some students really grow tremendously and change a lot. I think I would say that independence and responsibility for their own actions, that’s something that they obtain."

What do you feel is Franklin’s biggest asset as a university?
"The small environment. Again, there’s really a wide variety of perspectives that we are able to share, and we learn from each other. Also, simply being exposed to different languages, even if we don’t speak them, we hear them, in the classroom and outside, and that is also a really great asset for us. Because I also did a study abroad when I was at university in Japan, and I went to graduate school abroad - it's a great way to learn independence and responsibility, and that’s something students can really cultivate. A small environment is good for relatively young undergraduate students; faculty and students can really help each other. So I think that environment can nurture development and that’s a great asset for Franklin."

What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
"I go to Milan a lot, I really do. I like to go to museums, so for that Milan is a great place. There’s always something going on - interesting events, interesting exhibitions - and I also like to see all the people. Milan has changed during the past 10 years since I moved here, and recently I started seeing a bit of similarity between Milan and Tokyo, from my perspective. Maybe that’s actually one of the reasons I like to go there. The other day I went to the Illy Coffee Cafe, in a very new area of Milan, and I walked into this cafe and somehow felt like I was in Tokyo. There’s actually an Illy Coffee Cafe in Tokyo as well, so there’s a certain uniformity and sense of placelessness. It’s interesting to have that kind of stimulation. Particularly related to what we do in communication studies, it’s always going to give me a lot of things to reflect upon and think about and talk about and share with my students and friends, so that’s why I enjoy going to Milan."

. . .

That's all for this week! If you would like to check out the previous Professor Perspectives, click through for part one and part two

Are there any faculty members you would like to hear from in particular in the next edition? What kinds of questions would you ask? Let me know in the comments below!

Arrivederci and till next time,



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