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New faculty eager to make their mark

September 23, 2011 By Susannah Brooks

Some come directly from graduate school; some come from established careers at major universities. All of the new faculty members are excited to get to work.

“I’ve been so eager to get going with the students that some of us have already been working for about two weeks,” says Daniel Grabois, new assistant professor of horn in the School of Music.

After 25 years in the New York City area as a performer and educator, Grabois made the leap to the Midwest. He wasted no time making his Madison debut, performing in the 35th Karp Family Concert to open this year’s Faculty Concert Series.

For many new hires, coming to UW–Madison signifies a major change in their way of life: supervising others instead of being supervised, finding new outlets for scholarship. Grabois is especially excited that his new position includes dedicated time for personal projects, a first in his long career.

“I’ve always had to carve out time for my own projects outside of my work — and there was no time!” says Grabois. “Now I’m going to be doing some recording, composing, some arranging for the faculty quintet [Wisconsin Brass Quintet] I play with. The sky’s the limit.”

Melanie Matchett Wood and her spouse, Phillip Matchett Wood, lucked out in the dual-career lottery. After years on both the East and West Coasts, the Midwest natives — she’s from Indiana, he’s from La Crosse —were thrilled to bring their young family closer to home.

Both found their first tenure-track positions as assistant professors in the Department of Mathematics.

“I’m really happy with the amount of enthusiasm there seems to be at the university level for getting undergraduates involved in research. Math is a fun place to do that,” says Melanie Matchett Wood, who specializes in number theory and algebraic geometry. “I don’t have a lab; it’s not like they can come in and wash the dishware. It takes a little more work; they have to get in and do some actual mathematics. When it works out, it can be really fun.”

Undergraduate research was a major draw for Alan Sorensen, one of two tenured professors who left Stanford to join UW–Madison’s economics department.

“I spent eight years at Stanford teaching exclusively graduate students,” says Sorensen. “I think it will be fun to teach students at an earlier stage, drawing them in — hopefully! — to the intellectually exciting aspects of economics. Right now, the collection of economists on the faculty is outstanding.”

Colleague Robert Staiger could be considered a double-boomerang: He began his career at Stanford, taught at UW–Madison from 1993-2006, returned to Stanford, and now comes back to UW–Madison. This year’s effort also netted P. Dean Corbae from the University of Texas at Austin, who has a joint appointment to teach finance in the Wisconsin School of Business.

The economics department’s astonishing recruitment power during the past few years is a story in itself. Between major gifts and support from the first two rounds of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, the department has gained eight new faculty positions since 2009.

But the city itself remains a top recruitment tool for every department. Sorensen’s family left their roots on the West Coast, but he, his spouse and their sons have found a hearty welcome in Madison. The Matchett Woods, who arrived in July, describe the endless stream of Capitol Square activities as “a party, all summer.”

“This is an exciting time for all of us,” says Grabois. “There’s people around! It’s much easier here to meet people than in New York.”