New faculty members highlight UCSB’s interdisciplinary approach

Of the 22 new faculty members joining the College of Letters and Science in 2009-10, some are already full professors holding endowed chairs or working at prestigious research institutes, but the majority are assistant professors on the tenure track who are just beginning their academic careers. These young academics come to UCSB from top universities around the world with the same goals: to be successful teachers and mentors, to continue their research, and to contribute to their professions and the UCSB community through service. The three new faculty members profiled below, one each from the Divisions of Humanities and Fine Arts, Sciences, and Social Sciences, all share an international background that brings an extra dimension to their work. They also share a sense of excitement about the possibilities working at UCSB.

Moses Chikowero, Assistant Professor, History 

Moses Chikowero began what he calls his “rewarding journey of learning” in Zimbabwe, where, just graduated from high school himself and without any specialized training, he taught history, geography and the Shona language to high school students. Eventually he completed a B.A. in economic history at the University of Zimbabwe and began a program toward a master’s degree in the same field, but was forced to suspend his studies after being frustrated by disruptions caused by faculty strikes and student activism. Chikowero decided to complete his studies in Canada, and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in African history at Dalhousie University. During 2008-09, he was a post-doctoral fellow at Rutgers University.

Chikowero’s research and teaching have broadened from economic history to encompass cultural and political history. His undergraduate and master’s theses were on the economics of music and of electricity generation and distribution in Zimbabwe, respectively, but he has since started grappling with questions of culture and politics in these two major research areas. He is interested in the ways in which electrification was instrumental in the construction of (urban) colonial space and identities in colonial Zimbabwe. Similarly, he says that music and other performative cultures have also constituted important vehicles for the construction and contestation of power and identities in the same period. “The one unifying objective for these two research areas is to understand the intersection of culture and colonialism,” he adds.

Teaching is also important to Chikowero. “I am happy to have shared in the cultural and educational traditions of two different regions ? Southern Africa and North America ? both as a teacher and a student, because teaching and learning can mean very different experiences in each place.” His initial course offering at UCSB will be a shared Africa survey – Africa to 1800 – in spring 2010 (with Stephan Miesher teaching the “post-1800” half), then History of Southern Africa to Independence in the winter and a Subaltern studies graduate course with a primary focus on Africa, tentatively scheduled for fall 2010. His portfolio also includes courses on African labor history, African urban history, and colonialism and nationalism. Beyond the Department of History, he is looking forward to working with colleagues in dance, film and media studies and ethnomusicology, to name but a few, who share methodological approaches and/or the geographical focus on Africa. “While the textbook remains important, my teaching also utilizes film, dance, songs and novels,” he says.


Paulina Oliva, Assistant Professor, Economics

Paulina Oliva comes to the Department of Economics from UC Berkeley, where she has just completed a Ph.D. in environmental and development economics. A native of Mexico, she received her B.S. in economics from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE, or the Center for Research and Teaching of Economics) in Mexico City. CIDE, one of Mexico’s most important centers of teaching and research in the social sciences, is a public institution like the University of California. After studying at these two prestigious institutions, Oliva is especially excited to be teaching at UCSB. “The UC system is marvelous," she enthuses, adding that “I am a huge believer in public education because it enables individuals to receive a top education despite their socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Oliva specializes in applied microeconomics, specializing in development, labor, and environmental economics. Her current research focuses on the extent of corruption and the use of bribes in vehicle emissions testing in Mexico City. She has found that in general, there is more corruption in this sector in Mexico because the incentives to offer bribes in lieu of paying for car repairs and maintenance are greater owing to higher levels of poverty. Using her statistical background, Oliva hopes to work with the Government to examine and enhance its enforcement mechanisms, thus improving the air quality in Mexico City.

Another lesson to be learned from her research is the importance of environmental economics to the specific situations of developing countries. In the case of emissions testing, Oliva says that some countries have purchased testing software from industrialized countries but use of the technology alone has failed because it did not take into account the importance of different income levels (with the greater economic incentive to cheat) and older vehicle fleets. Mexico is designing stricter smog-check rules and an alert system to indicate when testing results are suspect.

Oliva is excited about teaching, beginning this fall with a foundation course in econometrics for graduate students. In the future she hopes to offer courses on her own specialties of development and environmental economics, and is looking forward to collaborating with colleagues at the Bren School. During the fall and winter quarters, she will be a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., working on issues related to the environment and energy provision.


Simone Pulver, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies

Simone Pulver has joined the Environmental Studies Program after an impressive international journey that includes a recent Fulbright fellowship in India, two years of teaching math and science in Namibia, a short stint at the United States Fund for UNICEF, and a series of family moves that brought her from her native Switzerland to the United States as a teenager. Pulver holds a B.A. in physics from Princeton University, and an M.A. in energy and resources and Ph.D. in sociology from UC Berkeley. Prior to joining the College, she was a research professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

Professor Pulver’s background and research epitomize the interdisciplinary approach that is a hallmark of the UCSB education. She has combined her interest in science, international development, and environmental policy, using what she calls “the analytical power of sociological frameworks” to study global environmental politics.

Pulver researches the roles and activities of non-state actors – including private sector firms and environmental non-governmental organizations – in international climate change politics. Her current research project, for which she received support from the Fulbright Program and the National Science Foundation, looks at low-carbon investment by firms in developing countries. By comparing the decisions of firms in the sugar and cement sectors in Brazil and India to invest in technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Pulver assesses the effectiveness of international climate policy in motivating action on climate change by developing country firms through participation in the clean development mechanism. The CDM is one of three flexibility mechanisms established under the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the others are emissions trading and joint implementation) through which firms in developing countries reduce greenhouse emissions by trading emissions on the open market. She hopes to present the research at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Having spent the past year focusing exclusively on research, Pulver is enthusiastic about interacting with her students at UCSB. During the fall quarter she is teaching an upper level course on international environmental law and policy, and later in the year will teach a core course on critical thinking on environmental issues. She hopes to develop courses on business and the environment in light of the growing emphasis on “green jobs” in the U.S. economy, and on current topics in U.S. and international climate policy.

October 2009


News Date: 

Thursday, October 1, 2009