Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Tufts students turned professors reflect on their undergraduate memories, campus changes, traditions 

Taylor Levesque during her time as a Tufts student (left) and as a visiting lecturer (right).

Tufts professors come from a variety of different educational backgrounds and areas of interest that lead them to universities all around the world. For some faculty members, this meant returning to lecture at the same place where their passions for research, academia and learning all began.

Taylor Levesque (LA’15, AG’17) always dreamed of going back to Tufts to teach. Levesque pursued both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Department of Child Study and Human Development. She is currently working as an associate program manager for Child Services at Aspire at MGH, a program that works with children with an autism spectrum disorder. This spring, she officially began her role as a visiting lecturer in the ExCollege, teaching a course titled “Summer Camp and Youth Development.”

Levesque was excited to return to teach at Tufts.

“I knew that Tufts was the only place I wanted to go,” Levesque said. “It was kind of like returning back to home. …  [Tufts] is a place that gave me so much and that I learned so much from.”

Deborah Schildkraut (LA’95), a professor of political science, decided to apply to be a lecturer because of her positive college experience at Tufts as well as the campus’s proximity to other Boston universities. According to Schildkraut, one of the changes she has noticed since her time as an undergraduate in the Department of Political Science is her students’ breadth of knowledge on current events.

“One thing that strikes me as different is just how informed our students are about everything going on in the world, and I'm sure technology has a lot to do with that,” Schildkraut said. “It's just easier to find out what's going on, not only in other countries, but in states … so that makes the classroom really engaging, where my job is really to help students think about what they're seeing happening day-to-day in kind of a broader academic perspective.”

According to Schildkraut, she decided to go to Tufts in order to pursue a career related to politics and human rights as well as to explore her passion for art. Not only was Schildkraut a political science major, but she also minored in studio art and worked at the Tufts Art Galleries for three years.

“One of my painting teachers exhibited some of my paintings in a gallery and that was really hard work. … I ended up focusing on printmaking,” Schildkraut said. “I was proud that I maintained that side of myself while I was a student.”

Schildkraut revealed that her undergraduate advisor, Jeffrey Berry, a current professor in the Department of Political Science, encouraged her to pursue a Ph.D. in political science. Berry also pushed her toward American politics research by hiring her as a research assistant.

“I am where I am today, not just because of Tufts, but because of … Berry in particular,” Schildkraut said. “Now he’s a co-author of mine [and] my office is next door to his. It's kind of incredible that I got to come back and work so closely with him.”

Levesque attributed some of her career aspirations and teaching inspiration to her mentor, Kerri Modry-Mandell, a senior lecturer in the Department of Child Study and Human Development.

“[Modry-Mandell] is so incredibly knowledgeable, but more than that … she’s just so giving of her time and so giving of her knowledge and resources and really just gets to know her students,” Levesque said. “[She’s] someone who really inspired me as a teacher and someone I hope to become like in the future.”

Levesque said she appreciates the changes made internally within the department such as introducing courses focusing on neurodivergent populations including those with autism spectrum disorder.

“When I was at Tufts, there was no formal autism-type training available. There weren't really any professors [for which autism spectrum disorder] was their expertise or their specialty,”  Levesque said. “Since I left the department now … there's now such a huge focus on more of this ASD type of population and … neurodiverse population”

Similarly, Justin Hollander (LA’96), a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning, noticed a lack of urban planning courses available for undergraduates during his time as a student at Tufts, as they were only offered to graduate students.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve definitely made a point of trying to expand opportunities,” Hollander said. “I’ve been part of running our Urban Studies minor … and [the department] also drastically expanded our undergraduate course offerings. There was nothing available when I was an undergrad.”

Unlike other faculty members who went straight to graduate school, Hollander worked as an urban planner for 10 years before returning to academia. Hollander emphasized that Tufts provided him with great mentors and preparation for his career.

Hollander hopes to expand upon the opportunities he had as an undergraduate at a research institution for future generations by making it his priority to fundraise for graduate students and provide more support for international students.

“I’d like to be able to attract more donations and more foundation support to be able to make a Tufts education …  available to anyone who has the aptitude,” Hollander said.

Richard Jankowsky (LA’95), an associate professor of music, also wishes to expand opportunities for low-income students to attend Tufts. As a first-generation low-income student himself, he experienced  challenges while attending Tufts and appreciates the financial resources it has developed over the years.

“I am really thrilled that the university has taken so many steps to improve financial aid, diversify in numerous ways, and establish structures such as the FIRST Center to support students from similar backgrounds as mine,” Jankowsky wrote in an email to the Daily. “I encounter more and more students who face challenges related to their socioeconomic background and it is gratifying to be able to support them.”

While acknowledging that there is still room to grow, Levesque also recognizes Tufts’ efforts to become more inclusive toward all types of students over the years.

“I've been connected with a lot of resources through the university and again, a lot of these resources are focused on creating classroom spaces and content and curricula that’s responsive to every student,” Levesque said. “That's just been something that's been really cool to see from …[the] lecturer perspective.”

Returning to Tufts as a lecturer or professor brings back memories of student life. For Levesque, she has many fond memories at Tufts, such as being a resident assistant in Lewis Hall, joining the Tufts Taekwondo Club and participating in Senior Week events.

“My all-time favorite memory [was] during Senior Week. … I happened to meet my now husband at Tufts, coming back, literally, on the bus from Lucky Strike,” Levesque revealed.

As Schildkraut reflects on her undergraduate academic experiences, she fondly remembers being a part of an ExCollege Explorations class titled “Morality and International Relations.” In fact, she read a book during that semester that she still assigns today for her political psychology class. Schildkraut also completed several Tufts traditions, such as painting the cannon twice for her organization, Amnesty International, as well as attending the MacPhie Pub before it closed.

“There are things that blow my mind when I think about things [that] have changed,” Schildkraut said. “I remember there was a smoking section in the Campus Center, … and I was here during the MacPhie Pub days, so I have plenty of memories of being at the MacPhie Pub [watching] Battle of the Bands.”

For Jankowsky, one of his favorite Tufts undergraduate memories was being a tour guide for Chick Corea, a famous American jazz pianist.

“We had lunch at Espresso’s Pizza where the conversation turned to my jazz composing,” Jankowsky wrote. “He took a look at one of my pieces and invited me, other students in the jazz band, and the Kiniwe ensemble to perform it to a packed Cohen Auditorium. Having a jazz icon play my piece was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.”

These Tufts faculty members spoke fondly of their experiences at Tufts and how the university prepared them for future career opportunities.

“As someone who was not really expected to go to college, I was proud of simply finishing my studies at an institution like Tufts, with enough success to be a strong candidate for doctoral programs and a career in academia,” Jankowsky wrote.

Ultimately, Levesque was interested in teaching in order to provide mentorship opportunities for young adults. One of the things she loves most about being a visiting lecturer is her interactions with students.

“My students are so lovely. They’re warm, they’re smart, they’re open-minded [and] they’re really eager to learn,” Levesque said. “We’ve created this community culture where they feel comfortable asking questions of me and asking questions of each other, … and I think creating that atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable is something that I feel really proud of and just hope to continue fostering over time.”

For Schildkraut, her students are also part of what makes her job as a professor at Tufts so rewarding.

“As a faculty member … one of my absolute favorite things is to connect my current students with my former students,” Schildkraut said. “I’m always in awe of the amazing, interesting, important work they do related to politics and the pressing issues of our time. So, if I feel like I had any small part to play in helping them get to do the things they do, that's what makes me most proud.”