Distinguished Professors Join Westmont

Dr. Rebecca McNamara (English)

Dr. Rebecca McNamara (English)

Three notable tenure-track professors join Westmont’s faculty this fall: Rebecca McNamara (English), Maryke van der Walt (mathematics) and Sandra Richter (religious studies).

McNamara, whose research focuses on linguistics and medieval literature, has always loved literature and knew she wanted to be an English teacher. While completing her undergraduate studies at Baylor University, she repeatedly ran into a professor who wanted her to take his Chaucer course.

“I said, ‘Oh no, that’s in Middle English and sounds really hard,’” McNamara says. “He eventually convinced me to try it out, and I was gone. I loved the difficulty of the language, the challenges, the fact that you had to know so much more than the literature to understand it. So yes, I was drawn in by a professor, and I seek to do the same thing with students here.”

McNamara earned a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Oxford, Faculty of English Language and Literature. “The colleges are set up at Oxford just like Westmont,” she says. “It’s very interdisciplinary, people have different cross-conversations and you get to know and mentor the students. That was an aspect of my scholarly job that was missing at UCLA and at the University of Sydney, where I did a post-doc. I love Westmont, it’s great.”

Her research at the Medieval and Early Modern Centre of the University of Sydney focused on the emotions related to suicide in the medieval world. “I saw an opportunity to shed light on one small area of how past cultures have dealt with the aching history of human suffering,” she says.

“You have to bring in Christianity in order to teach many of the texts, but at Westmont,  I am looking forward to having conversations with students that transcend the scholarly level and getting them to explore their own experiences as they read the texts.”

Van der Walt is a native of South Africa whose first language is Afrikaans, derived from Dutch. She earned her Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees at Stellenbosch University and her doctorate in applied mathematics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She was an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University before hearing about the position at Westmont. “I was finishing up a post-doc when I saw the job online at the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences,” she says. “I thought it would be a good fit for me and my husband, who’s a software engineer. The culture here is much more similar to Cape Town, South Africa than Nashville.”

Dr. Maryke van der Walt (mathematics)

Dr. Maryke van der Walt (mathematics)

Van der Walt’s research interests focus primarily in computational harmonic analysis, approximation theory, and spline theory. In her post-doctorate work, she has been engaged with professors from Vanderbilt, Cal Tech and the University of Bologna in research endeavors. “Spline Theory is a way to use functions to approximate other stuff to design things like airplane wings in a really cool way to satisfy certain properties,” she says. “In computational harmonic analysis, you study signals in the real world, like music signals or medical signals such as an ECG, to try to mathematically understand the data better.”

Van der Walt has been active for many years at Reformed and Presbyterian churches in South Africa and the United States, often playing violin and viola for worship services and singing in the choir.

“Especially in the sciences like math, it’s wonderful to be able to work in an environment where you can talk about your faith and how God created the universe,” she says. “I haven’t been at an institution where that is done, so I am excited about that.”

Dr. Sandra Richter

Dr. Sandra Richter

Richter, who has taught Old Testament at Asbury Theological, Wesley Biblical and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminaries as well as Gordon and Wheaton Colleges, is the new Robert H. Gundry professor in biblical studies at Westmont.

Read the full story about Dr. Richter here: http://blogs.westmont.edu/2017/08/16/richter-to-fill-chair-in-biblical-studies/