This fall, five new faculty members join the School of Human Ecology (SoHE) community, with research areas ranging from Black fatherhood and family philanthropy to Indigenous language revitalization. Their curricula vitae are as impressive as they come, as you can see on their faculty pages, but each of these people is also a storied and thoughtful individual. Read through their professional accomplishments, yes, but get to know them a bit more personally below.
Dr. Yiwei Zhang
Assistant Professor, Consumer Science | SoHE bio & CV
“It’s important to understand not just the ‘how’ of doing things, but also the ‘why.’” That’s how Dr. Yiwei Zhang, assistant professor of consumer science, describes one of the lessons she hopes students will take away from her classes. An applied microeconomist, Zhang’s research topics have pursued many “why?” investigations, including paycheck frequency impacts on consumer behavior, philanthropy motivations for wealthy families and individuals, and how heating and utility disconnection regulations impact household spending.
Born in Charleston, South Caroline, Zhang spent the last few years of high school in Columbia, Maryland, before earning degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and MIT. She then worked as a researcher with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and as a postdoctoral research fellow with the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
She was excited for the atmosphere of UW–Madison, though. Apart from being able to keep up with her hobbies of indoor bouldering, traveling, exploring new restaurants and bars, and reading online personal finance forums (yes, really!), her new position with SoHE connects her to a rich network of colleagues: “I love how collaborative people are across disciplines. A lot of universities claim to be, but UW–Madison is one of the few that truly feels that way.”
Dr. Megan Doherty Bea
Assistant Professor, Consumer Science | SoHE bio & CV
“So much of finance is social,” Dr. Megan Doherty Bea, assistant professor of consumer science, says of her initial draw to the discipline. “Individual experiences, friends, family, and social environments all shape how people think about and engage with finance. I wanted to study the social aspects of financial life.” She credits this realization to her work at an economic think tank in Washington, DC, where she worked for several years after graduating from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in Economics and French and before earning her PhD in Sociology from Cornell University.
When she’s not busy with academic priorities, the native of Media, Pennsylvania, spends her time reading, running, or rock climbing. Of UW–Madison, she says she is excited to join its “vibrant intellectual life and sense of community.”
Dr. Mariaelena Huambachano
Assistant Professor, Civil Society and Community Studies | SoHE bio & CV
Dr. Mariaelena Huambachano may have the hardest time adjusting to Wisconsin’s climate extremes. She hails from both the beautiful seaside town of Chorrillos, a district of the Lima Province in Peru, and Auckland, New Zealand, to which her family moved when she was young. “So I am both a Chorrillana and Aucklander,” says the assistant professor of civil society and community studies, recently arrived from a postdoctoral research fellowship at Brown University.
Her dual identity inspired her research, which focuses on the study of Indigenous ecologies of well-being and food sovereignty as entry points to the broader study of biodiversity preservation. This “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” (TEK) theory, and her work comparing the lifeways of Peru’s Quechua people and New Zealand’s Māori, has helped her forge close working relationships with indigenous communities throughout the world and informed her collaborations with international organizations including gthe United Nations and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Huambachano remembers her first visit to campus as “very inspiring and invigorating,” from its “excellent reputation as a research institution, its vibrant group of students and academics who are very passionate about their work, and its commitment to forging interdisciplinary research collaborations.”
Dr. Brian D. McInnes
Associate Professor, Civil Society and Community Studies | SoHE bio & CV
Dr. Brian D. McInnes also remembers a special first impression of UW–Madison: “I arrived during a class change. The energy was overwhelming but inspiring.” The associate professor of civil society and community studies, most recently a distinguished teaching professor at the University of Minnesota, knows well the thrill of a classroom. A former professional educator and administrator for pre-K through 12th grades, McInnes has long worked to teach young people “that we all have something to learn from each other and to uniquely contribute to the world. The challenge is to find what that is.”
McInnes’ research, service, and teaching center on community-based Indigenous language revitalization initiatives in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as holistic program evaluation of language immersion programs and environmental history and education on topics like the Great Lakes Water Walk movement. Driven by his experiences living and working in Great Lakes Ojibwe communities and traditional territories, he felt a particular draw to UW–Madison for what he saw as “the institution’s commitment to stand as an ally and supporter of regional Native Nations.”
“The trees also helped,” he added, noting his hobbies of bird watching (especially large raptor identification), hiking, and water sports.
Asked of his work’s connection to the Wisconsin Idea, he says, “In an age when Native languages like Ojibwe or Potawatomi are critically endangered, there is a strong imperative to ensure our efforts not only preserve but effectively teach. There is a place for Indigenous languages, stories, and cultures in every home throughout the state. Indigenous undersandings of the world can do much to help us live in a more sustainable and interculturally rich way.”
Dr. Alvin Thomas
Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies | SoHE bio & CV
Dr. Alvin Thomas, assistant professor of human development and family studies, also arrives to SoHE with extensive experience in teaching across the age spectrum. While working in elementary, middle, and high school settings, he found himself also helping his students navigate personal, family, and neighborhood challenges.
“I finally came to the realization,” he shares, “that I wanted to address those challenges on a grander scale and to examine the underlying factors in a way that would be useful to families and others who work directly with youth.” The native of St. Lucia—so, unfortunately, another rough adjustment to Wisconsin weather—graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in psychology and French, then earned his MSc and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, simultaneously undertaking a one-year fellowship with the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course. Thomas’s research aims to improve the life chances of Black children, exploring the risk and protective factors that undermine their positive development, as well as outcomes including violence, grades, and well-being. He is also focused on father-son relationships and fatherhood policy.
And why UW–Madison for him? Thomas doesn’t hesitate: “Madison’s credo that the science, the created knowledge, the research is meant to be applied to and improve the lives of real people.”
Learn more about SoHE’s new faculty on their profile pages or by following them on their respective social media platforms, linked above.