Cal Poly CLA News

Class Acts

Get to know these faculty members outside of the classroom. These educators represent the breadth of knowledge found in the College of Liberal Arts.

Jennifer Denbow, Cal PolyJennifer Denbow / Political Science Department

Specialty Area: Law, Political Theory and Reproductive Politics / Years at Cal Poly: 5 

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? Civil Rights in America. I love the critical discussions that happen in that class and the opportunity to get students excited about close reading, critical thinking and social justice.

Are there any scholars or individuals that have inspired you? There are too many to name, but one of my grad school advisors was especially important to my intellectual development and inspired me to be a more critical scholar. I am also continually inspired by my students and their curiosity.

Extended Online Edition

How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? A week after I gave birth to my daughter in Maine, Cal Poly called to ask me to come out for an interview. I wasn’t sure about making the trip with a newborn, but I did a Google image search for Cal Poly and saw images of the beautiful Rec Center pool! I figured I might as well escape the dreary Maine weather for a few days so I came out to interview a few weeks later. Really, I fell in love with California as a graduate student and so when I got offered a job at Cal Poly, I was happy to return.

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? Most of my research focuses on reproductive law and politics in the United States, but it is difficult to fit my research into neat disciplinary categories. My Ph.D. is from an interdisciplinary legal studies program, and every research project I undertake pulls from a variety of disciplines.

What is your favorite class/student moment? I love the moments of class camaraderie when it seems like everyone is engaged in the topic at hand and interested in sharing their perspective in the spirit of furthering our collective understanding.

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? These days I have been into hiking and trail running. I also really enjoy rock climbing, but it has been hard to make time to do that since I became a mom.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book, what would it be? A desert island survival guide!  

Matt Harsh, Cal PolyMatt Harsh / Interdisciplinary Studies in the Liberal Arts Department

Specialty Area: Science, Technology and Society (STS) / Years at Cal Poly: 

What is your favorite class/student moment? It has been amazing to see students thrive in our new interdisciplinary studies (IS) major! Many of these students couldn’t find their academic community in their previous majors. But in the IS program, they have gone on to win awards and get accepted to graduate school. It was such a privilege to work closely with several of these students on their senior projects last year.

What is/are your guilty pleasure(s)? Taylor Swift’s “Lover” album. Scotch whisky. Bad mystery novels.

Extended Online Edition

How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? I am very excited to be here at Cal Poly! I chose to come for a few reasons. I was hired to direct a research center, the Center for Expressive Technologies. CET makes and uses creative technologies in ways that give us voice and strengthen our communities. Even before a global pandemic, the largest economic crisis in history, and mass protests against systemic racism, this work was important. Now it's totally critical. I also came here because of the faculty I met when I visited campus. Cal Poly has exceptionally strong researchers in my field of STS who are also great teachers and fantastic humans that make working really enjoyable. Finally, I was attracted to the idea of Learn by Doing and working with exceptionally smart and passionate students. (Also, the Central Coast climate didn't hurt! I moved here from snowy Canada!)

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? My main area of research has been the structure and governance of research and innovation in Africa. I focus a lot on new and emerging technologies like nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and whether and how these technologies can lead to more equitable social and economic outcomes for communities in Kenya, Uganda or South Africa. I also research new methods to visualize and understand technology and society, like using film and video to make movies that can be used in teaching and for general audiences. As a teacher-scholar, I am involved in education research as well. Here, I study new ways to prepare students to cross boundaries between humanities and technology, or between policy and industry. We need more of these types of people if we want to solve major challenges we face as a society that don't fit in a disciplinary box.

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? ISLA 123: Intro to Science Technology and Society. I use a method where students lead class to help us experience the trade-offs connected to a new area of science or technology. Students can't use slides or give a presentation;they have to do something interactive. It's amazing to see what students come up with, like role playing, game shows, competitions, and scavenger hunts.

Are there any scholars or individuals that have inspired you? John Lewis. A good friend gave me Lewis's book, Walking with the Wind, right after I finished college and just started a job doing community organizing for a small environmental non-profit. The self-sacrifice that Lewis embodied in order to bring out collective betterment is constantly an inspiration to me. And Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist and environmentalist with whom I was able to work a bit while I was in undergrad. Seeing her work as an activist and author, and raise a family at the same time was beyond inspirational (especially now that I have a family of my own). And the issues she was involved in, like fighting against companies patenting genomes of indigenous rice varieties, led me to my Ph.D. in STS.

What is one thing you wish your students knew about you? I'm new to SLO, so I love it when students give me recommendations about places to go in the area. I also love it when students give me music recommendations.

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? Anything outside! I love to swim, trail run, bike or just hang out at the beach with my family. And playing music on guitar or piano.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one book, what would it be? Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. It's an amazing piece of science fiction that can be read at so many different levels. And it is so long and involves so many interwoven stories, it's kind of like cheating because it's more like several books in one.

Do you have a favorite getaway location? Paris. I'm so lucky to serve as Assistant Director for a conference and film festival on video ethnography that takes place there every year.

What is a fact about you that few know? I'm American, but spent half of my adult life living in other countries: Scotland, Kenya and Canada.

Mira, Cal Poly

Mira Rosenthal / English Department 

Specialty Area: Creative Writing, Poetry, Literary Translation and Comparative Literature / Years at Cal Poly: 4

Are there any scholars or individuals who have inspired you? The work of Polish Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz has been incredibly important for my own development as a poet, translator and thinker. His essays on what it’s like to live under an authoritarian regime feel unsettlingly relevant today.

Do you have a favorite getaway location? The Elfin Forest and Montaña de Oro! They [are great] for getting away from daily life and gaining perspective. More globally, the Langtang Valley in Nepal and Memento Park (or, as I call it, the Field of Fallen Statues) outside of Budapest.

Extended Online Edition

How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? I’m originally from Northern California, and the landscape of the region shows up a lot in my poetry. I was excited to return to the area. Since coming here, I’ve developed a deep love of the central coast’s chaparral. I also love teaching contemporary poetry courses to students who seem particularly thankful for an opportunity to expand their creative horizons and to delve into the ways that poets confront the pressing issues of our time.

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? Based on archival research, my poems are often built from fragments of language that seem to haunt us through personal memory and cultural inheritance. In my current project, the poems reflect a landscape affected by climate change and impending ecological disaster, seeking to reveal the effects of drought on the regional terrain of California—only in this case the drought is also internal, reflecting the silences that society maintains around the experiences of its most vulnerable.

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? My favorite course to teach is a senior seminar on documentary poetry that brings to students’ attention the growing body of archive-based projects in contemporary American poetry, in which poets embrace the role of historian, advocate, journalist, and engaged citizen. From a poet with cerebral palsy investigating the history of the eugenics movement to an African American poet documenting Hurricane Katrina, each and every one of the books that we read uses poetry as a way to bear witness to and challenge systemic oppression. Students think about how poets connect with and find inspiration in primary sources, and what ethical considerations such authors face.

What is your favorite class/student moment? I was teaching the work of Amiri Baraka when the Black Lives Matter protests began over the killing of George Floyd. It was amazing to witness my students making profound connections between the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and our own experiences in the present moment.

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? I love crafting, such as knitting and sewing. I’m a dedicated lap swimmer, and I play a mean game of ping pong. I’m hoping to get into bee keeping this year with a Warre hive.  

Grace Yeh, Cal Poly

Grace Yeh / Communication Studies Department

Specialty Area: Asian American Studies and Cultural Studies / Years at Cal Poly: 13

What are your research/scholarly pursuit(s)? I am part of the Public Humanities Collaborative that is sharing the stories of our Black, Indigenous and people of color communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The collaborative includes faculty, students, staff and community members. We have been thinking about the power of stories and storytelling and the politics and ethics of archiving and sharing stories from racialized communities.

What is your favorite class/student moment? Whenever a student teaches me something, which is all the time!

Extended Online Edition

How/why did you choose to work at Cal Poly? My Ph.D. is in English, and I had applied for jobs in the English department—except this was the one position that was in Ethnic Studies. I value the challenge to disciplinary training and the transdisciplinary focus of this program. And I especially value my students and colleagues for their critical engagement with teaching and learning that is relevant to those who have been marginalized or silenced.

What is/has been your favorite class to teach? This is a tough one! I have been fortunate to teach what I enjoy teaching. Survey of Asian American Studies is the one I teach most often, and I change something every quarter, adjusting the class to speak to the moment or to my own interests, and to what students seem interested in. In the last 2 years, I created a course to complement the annual Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN) so that students have an opportunity to understand the genre that will be 32 years old this next spring as well as the subjects in the script. PCN is an annual performance created by PCE and

Are there any scholars or individuals that have inspired you? I have been following the kia’i, or protectors, of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai’i. What we’re witnessing there is the active work of decolonizing the islands. They exemplify stewardship of the land and care for their people that exists outside or in resistance to settler colonial, capitalist structures and habits.

What is one thing you wish your students knew about you? If you know me, you know I’m an open book.

What are your hobbies/extracurricular activities? I picked up the ukulele and the guitar and have been challenging myself to sing and play at the same time. I used to play the violin decades ago, so the transition to stringed instruments wasn’t too bad. But I’ve never been a singer until I had children. I think raising kids and teaching have helped me become more shameless, less shy! And I have a newfound and very deep appreciation for musicians who can sing and play at the same time.

What is a fact about you that few know? I am a failed pre-med student and spent a few years after college trying to figure out what I would do before landing in graduate school to study literature. This period included failing miserably at being a perfume vendor in a department store (I was fired), working in a pediatric cardiology research lab (I couldn’t take the monotony of the lab and the slaughter of rabbits), teaching English in Korea (I was almost fired when I arrived because I didn’t look like a native English speaker), and inquiring at a tattoo parlor for how to become a tattoo artist (I didn’t like the idea of having to learn-by-tattooing on myself). The takeaway here is that doors closing can actually be a great thing!

What is/are your guilty pleasure(s)? I can’t think of something that I enjoy that I feel (or should feel) guilty about. Guilt would mean that there’s something unethical in that pleasure! Well, actually, that means the time spent with my smart phone.  



Related Content