Professors win fellowships to enrich scholarship

Two Wheaton faculty members have won fellowships that will further their scholarship and in turn enrich the classes they teach.

The Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation has awarded fellowships to Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tom Armstrong and Assistant Professor of Art History Sean McPherson.

The foundation aims to support scholarship and travel that improve and enhance the quality of classroom instruction.

Tom ArmstrongFor Armstrong, the fellowship will allow him to develop new courses as well as a laboratory for scholarly work in the growing area of robotics, which lends itself to the interdisciplinary study encouraged through the Wheaton curriculum.

“Students and faculty ranging from neuroscience to philosophy to mechanical engineering to the visual arts find homes under the robotics umbrella,” Armstrong wrote in his proposal to the foundation. “Now, more than ever, robots for use in the classroom and in student research projects are available and affordable.”

The support of the fellowship will allow Armstrong to travel to Odense, Denmark, for the event RoboDays, which brings together international engineers and industry experts in robotics to focus on using robots in creative enterprises, how humans interact with robots and the utility of robotics in assisting learning. In addition, he will attend RoboCup 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, to learn from other college and university teams participating in the international competition.

The professor is looking forward to sharing his knowledge and experiences.

“I will be able to introduce our students to computer science from a variety of compelling perspectives,” said Armstrong, whose interest in robotics and artificial intelligence dates from an early 1980s episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” where Rogers visits a robotics factory. “Computer science captures multiple aspects of the traditional liberal arts. I enjoy bringing these areas of study to students in a novel light and integrating them into our ‘Connections’ curriculum.”

McPherson’s fellowship will support his scholarship on the transition to modern, international influences in the architecture of Japan, and it will bolster the resources available for classes he teaches on this and related topics.

In his proposal to the foundation, McPherson noted the “paucity and poor quality of English-language scholarship on Japanese architecture, the lack of visual resources on early Meiji-period architecture,” and the difficulties in providing students with a deep understanding of the qualities of modern buildings and landscapes in Japan.

Sean McPhersonThrough archival research, field studies and collaboration with other scholars in Japan, McPherson plans to develop resources that better tell the story of how Japanese architects and builders embraced international influences while reflecting the country’s traditional building styles. The work also will lay the groundwork for future research and publications on Japanese modern architecture.

“Japanese architecture has fascinated me since I first studied architectural design in Japan in the 1990s,” said McPherson. “Perhaps in part because of my own diverse cultural heritage, I have always been drawn to artistic and architectural manifestations of cultural hybridity. Although I was awed by the monumental Buddhist temples and challenged by the cutting-edge, high-tech architecture I encountered in Tokyo, Kyoto and other cities, I was equally intrigued by the traces of Japan’s encounter with modernity in the form of 19thcentury buildings that combined elements of different design and building traditions.

“Many people believe that Japanese art is characterized by simplicity and restraint; it is important to understand that many forms of aesthetic expression in Japan also feature decorative elaboration and visual complexity.”