Two professors get tenure, one an endowed chair

Two faculty members, Betty Zimmerberg and Heather Williams, were offered tenure by Williams College and subsequently promoted to associate professorships as announced by the College on July 28. Gail Newman was also named to the William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair in the College.

“Williams College has been a very supportive environment for the kind of teaching I had hoped to do,” Zimmerberg said. “I have been able to use experiential and cooperative teaching techniques. Students in my seminar class conduct clinically important and completely novel experiments that they design themselves.”

Zimmerberg also said she is very proud of the 18 senior honors theses she has sponsored, and has greatly enjoyed teaching at Williams.

Zimmerberg, currently chair of the neuroscience program at Williams, has been with the College since 1989. Her research in the past has included work on fetal alcohol syndrome, which received more than $1.2 million in funding from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health. Her current research, along similar lines, pertaines to the production of an endogenous tranquilizer produced by the brain known as allopregnanolone.

This chemical acts as a modulator of neural transmission, and Zimmerberg investigated its effects on the brain. Zimmerberg was the first to characterize its behavioral effects in young animals, and has studied the development of the neurosteroid response in animals as well.

Zimmerberg hopes to relate this work to her previous research to explain why children affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome sometimes have no measurable brain damage but have psychological problems and difficulty coping with stress.

Williams, a professor of behavioral neuroscience, came to Williams in 1988. Williams’ research pertains to speech and complex methods of auditory communication. To investigate the construction of such communication systems, Williams, along with a group of honors students, performed an experiment in which several adult birds who are not known to change their songs after puberty were observed in their reactions to injured vocal tracts. In all cases, the birds reworked their songs so as to make possible communication through song under altered circumstances. In doing so, they accessed parts of their brains thought to lie dormant after puberty.

“Professor Williams is a remarkably talented and creative scientist,” David L. Smith, Dean of the Faculty said. “Her commitment to scholarship and teaching are inspiring.”

Newman was appointed to the William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair as an opportunity to contribute to the enhancement of the quality of teaching at Williams.

Her current research involves late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century German literature, and is influenced by psychoanalysis, particularly the theories of the British object relations analyst D.W. Winnicott. She is now exploring the complexities of family relationships in Romantic and Post-Romantic German literature.

Newman has been at Williams since 1983, during which she has written on the authors Novalis, Heinrich von Kleist and E.T.A. Hoffmann. She looks forward to her position in the chair as an opportunity to work more closely with students.

“In many ways I have experienced the Williams job as ideal,” she said. “On the teaching side, I’ve been able, with the support of my department, to experiment with all sorts of course topics and pedagogical techniques.”

Each faculty member plans to continue her research, and all have said Williams is an atmosphere not only conducive to research, but also for teaching and getting to know both students and members of the department.

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