Life after Penn: Notes from our Alumni/ae

Graduates from our German PhD Program and students from Comparative Literature with an emphasis in German have enjoyed considerable success in landing positions in the academy and in other settings. Here are some of our recent graduates.

Erika Kontulainen (PhD 2020) is Assistant Professor of German at Auburn University. 

David Nelson (PhD 2020) is Digital Projects Specialist for the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia

Didem Uca (PhD 2019) is Assistant Professor of German at Emory University after an initial appointment as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Colgate University.

Sonia Gollance (PhD 2017) has held positions at University of Vienna, The Ohio State University and the University of Göttingen (Germany) and is now a Lecturer of Yiddish at University College London.

Bridget Swanson (PhD 2017) is Assistant Professor of German and film at the University of Vermont.

Daniel DiMassa (PhD 2014) is Assistant Professor of Humanities and the Arts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Caroline Weist (PhD 2014) is Assistant Professor of German Studies at the University of Richmond.

Matt Handelman (PhD 2013) is Associate Professor of German at Michigan State University.

Melanie Adley (PhD 2013) held positions, among others, as Associate Director of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies at Penn, as Associate Director and Senior Lecturer of Women's and Gender Studies at Vanderbilt University, as the Head of the English Department at the German School Manhattan and as the Director of the Writing and Learning Center at Bard High School Early College.

Leif Weatherby (PhD 2012) is Director of Graduate Studies, Associate Professor of German at NYU.

Claire (CJ) Jones (PhD 2012) is Associate Professor of German at Notre Dame University. 

Curtis Swope (PhD 2009) is Associate Professor, Modern Language & Literatures at Trinity University.

Vance Byrd (PhD 2008) was awarded tenure at Grinnell College and will be returning to Penn as Presidential Associate Professor of German, with a secondary appointment in History of Art in January 2022.

Adrian Daub (PhD 2008) is Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Stanford University.


Scroll down for perspectives from Penn Germanics' alumni.  

Curtis Swope (PhD 2009), Trinity University, San Antonio

Nov. 2011

I received my PhD from Penn in 2009 and am an Assistant Professor in the Modern Languages Department at Trinity University in San Antonio. My research focuses on representations of architecture, cities and space in twentieth century German literature with a focus on post-War socialist theater and novels. Recent publications include an essay on Wolfgang Hilbig’s prose in Germany in the Loud Twentieth Century (Ed. Feiereisen and Hill, Oxford University Press). I have an article forthcoming in Film Criticism (Spring 2012) on methodologies for assessing the politics of contemporary German cinema and am currently preparing the manuscript for a monograph entitled Building Socialism: Architecture and Literature in the GDR. The project traces responses by GDR playwrights and novelists to mid-century modernist design, shows how these responses were instrumental in the the turn to more experimental literary forms and illuminates the intellectual histories GDR writers shared with contemporaneous writers critical of modernist architecture in the FRG, France, Britain and the United States. 

I can’t say enough good things about German at Penn. Christina Frei taught me what it means to be an excellent teacher and the whole faculty, by example, in seminars and in one-on-one advising sessions, showed me the ins-and-outs of being a top-flight researcher. More than this, the faculty modeled collegiality and academic citizenship. From the excitement (and Indian food) of faculty-student colloquia to the “ceremonial splendor” of Delta Phi Alpha inductions, being a Germanist at Penn was fun – in addition to being rigorous, eye-opening and spot-on as preparation for my career.

Ginny Lewis, Northern State University, Aberdeen

Dec. 2011

My years spent earning my M.A. and Ph.D. in German Literature at PENN were happy indeed! After graduating in 1989, I taught German for 12 years at Drake University, and after a few more years spent teaching at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Lycoming College, I landed my current position at Northern State University, a public university with a liberal arts college feel. Teaching the valuable and fascinating German language and culture is very satisfying work – I am most grateful for my career and for the education at PENN that has allowed me to pursue it. I have authored several books and numerous articles and, I hope, managed through these to sell my readers on some important ideas concerning social justice, the role of narrative in the promotion of sound ethics, and the place of German authors in addressing these themes. You can read my ideas for example in my 2007 book “Globalizing the Peasant: Access to Land and the Possibility of Self-Realization,” or my German-language novel “Schön kästnerisch verfahren.” I am currently working on the author Berthold Auerbach, whose 200th birthday anniversary will be celebrated in the year 2012. I was introduced to Auerbach during my years at PENN and he continues to fascinate me to this day. Look for the new edition of his great work “Diethelm von Buchenberg” that I am preparing for the Wehrhahn Verlag. It is a great read and one of the best works of 19th-century German Realism. If you read it, let me know what you think – I am eager to get the word out about this novel and to restore its place in the German literary canon!

Lisa Marie Anderson, Hunter College, New York City

Dec. 2012

After graduating in 2004, I spent a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, and a year as a Postdoctoral Lecturing Fellow in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature at Duke University. In 2006 I joined the faculty of the German Department at Hunter College (City University of New York), where I currently teach as an Associate Professor. My research is concerned with intersections between religion, philosophy, and literature in modern German thought. It was at Penn that I discovered my interest in the first two fields and began to see how it could impact my study of literature in productive ways. I recently published a book based on my dissertation research, German Expressionism and the Messianism of a Generation (Editions Rodopi 2011); related essays have appeared in a number of collections, including On the Outlook: Figures of the Messianic (Cambridge Scholars Press 2007) and a special 2007 issue of Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds. While that work focuses on the Expressionist movement I fell in love with as a graduate student, I’ve also done some recent work on pre-20th-century writers, primarily J.G. Hamann: Hegel on Hamann (2008) and Hamann and the Tradition (2012) both appeared with Northwestern UP. I even revised the paper I wrote for Prof. Weissberg’s Realism seminar, on Ersatzreligion in Theodor Storm, for publication in Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies (2009).

My other scholarly passion is translation. Hegel on Hamann includes the first complete English translation of Hegel’s 1828 review of Hamann’s life and work. I’ve done a number of translations for The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, and recently translated Peter Sloterdijk’s essay “Voices for Animals” for a volume on animal ethics. I’m hoping in the coming years to expand my currently limited experience in literary translation.

I remember hearing from the faculty while I was at Penn how important it was, given the current climate for American Germanistik, to be well trained as a generalist. I have certainly found that to be true and valuable advice: since graduating, I have taught everything from Das Hildebrandslied to contemporary Swiss and Austrian literature. At Hunter, our German curriculum is based on ACTFL’s proficiency model, which I first encountered at Penn, in pedagogy seminars and in the extensive support I received while teaching there – teaching, incidentally, that still counts as one of my fondest memories of graduate school.

Christa Spreizer, Queens College/CUNY, New York City

Jan. 2012

I attended Penn to study for the PhD in German Literature, worked for two years as a Lecturer after attaining the doctorate, and am currently a tenured assistant professor at Queens College/CUNY. I head the German Program, teach undergraduate courses, help administer a Berlin summer abroad program, and advise students from the world over. Queens has one of the most diverse student populations in the country, students speak over 67 different languages. When I went on the market it was incredibly competitive, especially in the humanities, and I credit my successes in procuring interviews and landing the job with the experiences a Penn degree affords. I had the opportunity to train as a Germanist with world-renowned scholars, and, just as important, to teach a wide variety of undergraduate courses during my years there. Colleges and universities are looking for recent graduates with extensive teaching experience, and I’m glad I took advantage of this. It’s also important to develop a well-rounded educational experience, and I credit my years as a Graduate Fellow and Senior Resident in the College House system with helping me to widen my outlook beyond research and the degree. The people I met were a wonderful support network for me, and I am still in touch with friends made there. In fact, I meet Penn faculty and grads everywhere – in New York, within the CUNY system, and also when traveling abroad. It turned out to the be the right choice for me.

Kerry Wallach, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg

Jan. 2012

I live in the middle of the Civil War. Though it may sound like an odd claim, this is no exaggeration, as anyone who has visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania knows all too well. Gettysburg bills itself as the “biggest small town” in America, with a population of fewer than 10,000, but millions of tourists passing through every year. Ghost tours constitute one of the biggest industries in town; horse-drawn carriages clop through the alley by my apartment several times a day. One is equally likely to see a Union soldier or hoopskirt-clad dame as someone from the twenty-first century enjoying a latte in the local coffee shop. The town and surrounding battlefields are eagerly readying themselves for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 2013.

In August 2011, I started a job as Assistant Professor of German Studies at Gettysburg College, which is located in South Central Pennsylvania, about 2.5 hours from Philadelphia. Having completed my Ph.D. at Penn in Spring 2011, I was delighted to land in a position at a liberal arts college not far from my alma mater. In fact, Gettysburg is also quite similar in size to Wesleyan University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. As a faculty member of a relatively small department, my responsibilities extend from helping to redesign the curriculum (we just put through a proposal to change the department’s name from “German” to “German Studies”) to giving 40-minute research presentations once or twice a year, coordinating undergraduate teaching assistants, serving as the faculty advisor for German Club, and meeting with students nearly every day. I teach a mixture of language and literature/culture courses, most of which I am free to structure as I please. Approximately one course every year is conducted in English. Beginning in my second year, I will also participate in faculty governance and act as the primary advisor for several students.

The generalist training, teaching experience, and extensive mentoring I received at the University of Pennsylvania prepared me extremely well for my job at Gettysburg. At Penn, I acquired a foundation in German literary and cultural traditions that makes it possible for me to generate a wide variety of course syllabi. Christina Frei’s unparalleled pedagogy training and the experience I gained as a teaching assistant for “The Devil’s Pact” continue to shape the way I teach. Penn German department faculty members generously provided superb mentorship with respect to my coursework, dissertation, and professional development. Always encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary interests at Penn, I do the same at Gettysburg, where I am active in the Advisory Council for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the new Judaic Studies Minor.

As a scholar who is deeply immersed in the study of history, I find Gettysburg to be a fascinating place that self-consciously transverses the usual boundaries of space and time. History comes alive on a daily basis: every one is an amateur history buff, and some try to experience the nineteenth-century atmosphere to the fullest. Indeed, some of my students are reenactors – they spend whole days camped out on the battlefields, dressed in outfits that would make Scarlett O’Hara jealous. The study of the Civil War can also be relevant for German Studies: for example, one particularly zealous German 101 student submitted a video project entitled “Die wahre Geschichte einer Bürgerkriegsfanatikerin” (The True Story of a Civil War Fanatic).Come visit anytime to observe this somewhat surreal, yet no less true story for yourself.

Susanne Shields, University of Pennsylvania

Feb. 2012

I received my Ph.D. from Penn in 1996. Currently I am a Lecturer in Foreign Languages in German and the director of the German Language and Culture Program at the Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. At Lauder I teach language courses in contemporary social, political, cultural and business issues for Wharton MBA students who specialize in the German language and culture. I also teach advanced language courses for undergraduate students in the University of Pennsylvania German Department, where I specialize in the topics ‘Germany and the European Union’ and ‘Foreigners and Foreigner Policies in Germany’.

Starting in 1996, I have planned, coordinated and directed the annual 8-week Summer Immersion Program at the Lauder Institute in Munich, Frankfurt, Weimar and Berlin. This has given me the opportunity to collaborate with many wonderful colleagues from the German Department. I am especially interested in cross-cultural communication, focusing on the relationship between foreign language study and cultural understanding in a business context, and have done research in this area. I feel very lucky to be teaching at the Lauder Institute and the German Department where I work with dedicated and enthusiastic faculty, staff and students.

Getting my education in the German department at Penn was a wonderful experience. The strength of the program with its outstanding faculty and high-caliber peers has prepared me well for my teaching career. The opportunity to teach language classes at different levels and to collaborate with knowledgeable colleagues, enabled me to become a successful instructor/teacher here at Lauder. The Penn German program was full of fun, intelligent and accomplished people many of whom I am still close with.

David Kenosian, Bryn Mawr College

Feb. 2012

I received my PhD from Penn in 1991 and eventually became Visiting Assistant Professor in the German Department at Bryn Mawr College, not far from Penn. Penn prepared me well both for research and for my teaching responsibilities at Bryn Mawr, a liberal arts college that values interdisciplinary work. My training in graduate seminars was challenging, demanding and stimulating. The rigorous and thorough program in the history of German literature that I received at Penn made it possible for me to teach courses on a wide range of literary and cultural topics.

In addition, the preparation in language pedagogy was outstanding. Thanks to the guidance I received I was well prepared to teach at all levels and to identify ways of improving our language program and my own courses over time. That is becoming increasing important as my department considers new ways of integrating textual interpretation in the language program.

Ed Dixon, University of Pennsylvania

March. 2012

My graduate studies leading to the Ph.D. in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Penn provided me with a foundation for a career in language education that continues to develop for me in new and exciting ways. My degree opened doors to positions at universities and colleges, such as Swarthmore and Georgetown where I was able to build on my experiences as both a teacher for German and educational technologist. Today, the two “hats” that I have worn since then have merged into a new position at Penn as the Director for Technology in the Penn Language Center where I taught in 2010 the first online course in a foreign language from the University of Pennsylvania. Although my present job does not have a focus on the Enlightenment and Romanticism, the primary areas of my earlier research, my affinity to German literature continues to enrich and inform my work today. Through my work, I seek to develop new media settings that make the study of language and literature more accessible and challenging for students. Has this been a rewarding career? Without a doubt. Among the many opportunities and rewards I have received since my doctorate in 1994, one sticks out immediately. In 2011, I received Penn's affiliated faculty award for distinguished teaching in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies.