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Washington State University

Roots of Contemporary Issues News

Faculty Changes

The 2020-2021 academic year was certainly challenging. Like faculty everywhere we pivoted quickly in order to provide the best educational experience possible in an online format. Our collective success in that regard is testament to the strength of the program and the dedication, resourcefulness, and care of our faculty.

Jesse Spohnholz

While we are thankful for the respite that comes with the end of this year, it brings with it some bittersweet changes. After nine years of devoted leadership Jesse Spohnholz is stepping down as RCI director. We thank Jesse for his care in faculty mentorship, attention to assessment, and dedication to creating quality undergraduate education. Starting in August, Spohnholz will begin as Director of History of the 21st Century, a national collaborative project aimed at promoting reform in general education history courses.

Rob McCoy

Rob McCoy will become RCI director beginning July 2021. Rob previously served as interim director during the 2019-2020 academic year. We welcome Rob to the position, and wish Jesse well in his future endeavors (and are thankful we still get to see him in the halls of Wilson-Short!).

The 2021-2022 academic year may bring some significant changes in leadership, but it will also be marked by some continuity; namely, the program’s ability to attract top rate scholars and teachers. We are pleased to welcome Yanqiu Zheng to our department as RCI postdoctoral teaching fellow, starting August 2021. Zheng’s fields are Modern China, Intercultural Relations, and Food History. He is the author of several peer-reviewed articles and his book In Search of Admiration and Respect: Chinese Cultural Diplomacy in the United States, 1875-1974 is currently under review with Columbia University Press.

Faculty Accomplishments

In spite of this year’s challenges, our faculty excelled in their recognized commitment to scholarship, teaching, community outreach, and service.

Robert Franklin
Eugene Smelyansky

RCI faculty continue to impress with their scholarship and publications. Eugene Smelyansky published his monograph Heresy and Citizenship: Persecution of Heresy in Late Medieval German Cities as well as his edited volume The Intolerant Middle Ages: A Reader in 2020. Charles Weller’s edited collection (that includes two essays from Weller) Reason, Revelation, and Law in Islamic and Western Theory and History came out early 2021. Robert Franklin co-edited a book with Bob Bauman entitled Echoes of Exclusion and Resistance: Voices from the Handford Region. JoAnn LoSavio published an article entitled “Burma in the Southeast Asia Peninsula Games, 1950-1970: Buddhism, Bodhisattvas, Decolonization, and Nation Making through Sport” in The International Journal of the History of Sport, December 2020. Clif Stratton published “Bronze Hammer: Race and the Politics of Commemorating Henry Louis Aaron” in Atlanta Studies, February 2, 2021.


Ken Faunce

This year we celebrated the publication of the first five books in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series published with Oxford University Press. The series follows the thematic structure of the RCI class, and is edited by Jesse Spohnholz and Clif Stratton. Stratton’s Power Politics: Carbon Energy in Historical Perspectives; Spohnholz’s Ruptured Lives: Refugee Crises in Historical Perspectives; and Sean Wempe’s (former post-doc in the RCI program) Chronic Disparities: Public Health in Historical Perspective were all published ahead of fall semester. Later in the semester Ken Faunce’s Heavy Traffic: The Global Drug Trade in Historical Perspective joined the list. And in early 2021 Karen Phoenix’s Gender Rules: Identity and Empire in Historical Perspective rounded out the offerings. The team is currently working with Oxford to build a companion website to aid instructors in teaching the books. Their efforts really serve as a good example of how pedagogy and scholarship are intertwined.


Katy Whalen

RCI continues to value collaborative partnership in creating quality undergraduate education. Katy Whalen co-authored an article with Undergraduate Services Team (UST) librarians Jen Saulnier Lange and Corey Johnson (RCI library liaison and Steering Committee member). The article details the findings of the Library Research Assignment Study begun in spring 2019 (and funded with a WSU Smith Teaching and Learning grant). “Scaffolded Research Assignment Analysis Required for a Required First Year Course” appears in the January 2021 edition of The Journal of Academic Librarianship. In May, the three presented their findings for a panel at the LOEX 2021 conference.


JoAnn LoSavio.

The 2020–2021 academic year saw our faculty receive important awards and recognition for their efforts in the classroom. JoAnn LoSavio earned a WSU Vancouver Teaching Innovations Small Grant and a Mini Diversity Grant from the Vancouver Campus Council for Equity Diversity and Inclusion. The funds will be used to support a Roots of Contemporary Issues Instructor Cohort Workshop Series. Co-led by Aaron Whelchel, the first workshop in the series is entitled “Creative Pedagogy to Engage, Motivate & Inspire Classroom Community” and was held on May 28, 2021. Aaron Whelchel won the Excellence in Online Teaching Award for 2021. Charles Weller received a Learning Communities Excellence Award in recognition of his outstanding work in the First-Year Focus Program for the 2020–2021 academic year. Robert Franklin won a 2021 Smith Teaching and Learning Grant as part of a group project.


Brenna Miller

RCI is committed to the University’s emphasis on equity and justice. In Spring 2021 Brenna Miller and Karen Phoenix conducted a research project into the Library Research Assignment (LRA) process to better serve our first-generation students in an effort to combat the equity gap found in the grading scale across the course as a whole. Their subsequent report, titled “Library Research Assignment Equity Assessment Project,” and presentation of the data to the faculty, led to some agreed-upon programmatic revisions to the LRA instructions. Those changes will be made this summer and implemented fall semester of 2021, and will serve as a springboard for further conversations, pedagogical initiatives, and outreach efforts from the RCI program and faculty.

Karen Phoenix

Miller and Phoenix also launched a new public history project, bringing community attention to the History department.

In partnership with Northwest Public Broadcasting’s Morning Edition, “Past as Prologue” aims to showcase faculty research relevant to Northwest public audiences in short vignette form. Thus far, the work of nine members of the history department have been aired.