Healthy Eating with Professor Esther Wilder

Professor Esther Wilder, Associate Professor of Sociology at Lehman College, recently received a $600,000 NSF grant for her Quantitative Reasoning (QR) research. Her bio on Lehman’s website is utterly impressive, and yes, of course, she is also a super mom with two young daughters! How does she do it? What’s her secret? I met her in the Carman Hall cafeteria on a beautiful day in March (the photo above is the magnificent Music Building), with tons of stars and question marks shining and twinkling in my eyes.

I’d love to first ask you “How do you do it?” but back up a little.  Let me start by asking about your childhood.

I grew up in Pelham, Massachusetts, in a very academically and artistically-oriented family.  My father was a professor of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts. My mother was a very talented artist and interior designer, though she had actually studied microbiology in college!  Perhaps owing to my mother’s influence, I loved art when I was a child and remember really enjoying pottery and stained glass. I enjoyed a lot of sports as well. One of my big claims to fame is when I won a basketball foul shooting contest at camp and succeeded in getting 5 out of 5 free throws!  I still have the certificate! I also loved animals and exploring nature as a child. Frogs and toads were my favorite animals!  I used to bring them home all the time and I still have some very vivid images of my mother squirming and telling me to “take it outside.”  Our family also had two dogs, both cairn terriers: our first one was “Jovy” and our second was “Brindle.”

What kind of student were you?

I was a perfectionist and a bit of geek.  I guess some things never change since I think I am still that way today! I think my parents’ love for learning and their high values of education strongly influenced my siblings as well as myself. All three of us went on to obtain our doctorates, my brother in mathematics and my sister in chemical engineering.

How about the influence you received from teachers? Who were the best teachers you had?

Over the years, I think I have had several wonderful teachers, but I think the ones that I would describe as “the best” were those that had an enthusiasm and passion for their subject and the students, and who really engaged students in the course materials.  Since I majored in journalism, I was doing a lot of writing as an undergraduate. I remember Professor Norman Sims at the University of Massachusetts, who taught a course entitled, “The History of Journalism.” His lectures were so enthralling and well-delivered that I would lose track of time while in his class and he could answer any question that students raised. And he also gave us an interesting assignment where we needed to write about a famous journalist, including an examination of the journalist’s writings. 

Another faculty member, Professor Albert Chevan at the University of Massachusetts, had a similar impact on me, but more through the way he structured his class as opposed to his lecture style. I took a course on “The Demography of Minority Groups” and he taught the course in such a way that we were actively engaged in working with census data to learn about the various groups.   There were so many courses that I took that focused on memorizing facts and ideas and reporting the information back on quizzes and exams.  But what I loved about Professor Chevan’s class is that he really taught the course as a social science course and we were actively engaged in the process of scientific inquiry using raw data. And I found that to be very exciting and ultimately, I went on to graduate school to study demography.

… and have become a professor of sociology! You mentioned that you did your undergraduate work at many different schools including Haverford College, Tel Aviv University, and UMass, and were exposed to many different ideas and perspectives in terms of culture, history, politics, etc. throughout your education. How would you compare such experience as a student and your experience as a professor/teacher at CUNY?

I feel so fortunate to be at CUNY where the students are so sincere and committed and really very loving in many different ways. I typically teach two classes at Lehman including Sociology of Healthcare, and Death, Dying and Bereavement, but I have recently developed several new courses on the sociology of disability and data analysis in the social sciences that I will be teaching in the years ahead.   In any case, I may be a teacher, but I have learned so much from CUNY students, who have really taught me so much and inspired me in countless ways.  I think the diversity of the student body and what they bring to the table, in terms of experiences, perspectives, etc., makes for such a dynamic and engaging classroom environment, especially when one is teaching courses in sociology. 

Now, congratulations on your NSF grant! After learning about your interests in a wide variety of things and subjects, your conducting this interdisciplinary project makes sense to me. Will you tell us a little bit about it?  

Thank you! This project is to develop a Numeracy Infusion Course for Higher Education (NICHE).  This course will teach faculty in various disciplines how to infuse Quantitative Reasoning (QR) throughout the curriculum. We have a team of more than a dozen faculty and staff throughout CUNY who are involved in this project, including two co-PIs, Professors Dene Hurley at Lehman and Frank Wang at LaGuardia, as well as a research advisor, Professor Elin Waring at Lehman. The NICHE project represents an extension of several other QR initiatives I have been involved in over the years. For example, I am currently the co-director of Lehman’s QR initiative. From 2004-2007, I served as the PI on a different NSF-funded project to improve sociology students’ scientific literacy by Integrating Data Analysis (IDA) throughout the curriculum. That project represented an adaptation of an initiative developed by researchers at the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the University of Michigan, for which Lehman had been involved.

As an aside, I don’t know if I would ever have embarked upon all these pedagogical if hadn’t come to CUNY. As you know, many CUNY students are first-generation college students who have experienced tremendous hardship, particularly in terms of economic conditions but also with regard to college preparedness.  I have an article that states that the quantitative literacy gap of minority students is a key factor in explaining their underemployment and unemployment and I have seen firsthand the challenges that our students encounter on the job market.  I feel like we owe it to them to better prepare them for this challenging world we live in and sincerely hope our project helps!

I sincerely hope so, too! It’s customary during my interview to ask the professor about her/his hobbies and interests outside their academic entity. What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time…

Um, in your non-academic time? If you have any?

(Laugh)  I love spending time with my family, especially my daughters, who are 2 and 5.  And I enjoy all kinds of activities ranging from reading to road trips to outdoor activities such as swimming, hiking, etc.  And I still enjoy arts and crafts… I’m really hoping to learn how to knit sometime in the next several years.

Well then! I’ll have to connect Professors Wilder and Dedlovskaya (my 2/6 post) and have them start a knitting club. Okay, it’s time for full disclosure. We DID have a face-to-face interview over a healthy lunch (a chicken caesar salad for her and spicy shrimp rolls for me). However, this post is mostly based on Professor Wilder’s WRITTEN responses that she sent me via E-mail. Her stories being so fascinating, it was not an easy task for me to create this shorter version (Please contact me if you’re interested in reading the full version, which I know you are!). At the end of her E-mail, Professor Wilder challenged me to go one-on-one in basketball with her, to which she added, “though I’m really out of practice these days and you might win!” This post may have an unprecedented follow-up entitled “One-On-One with Professor Esther Wilder.”

(The interview and E-mail correspondence took place on March 7 and 9, 2012)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Healthy Eating with Professor Esther Wilder

  1. Neil says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! Please check my article about hospitals in London

  2. jack wisdon says:

    Really thanks for article it is amazing for robux generator without human verification need to going to web site and save batter update.

  3. This is the reason why why many people choose hotels near for the park so that they can get essentially essentially at casa delia indonesian.

  4. Claude says:

    The very last thing you desire would be to plan your perfect vacation only to find out
    things are all sold-out whenever you invest in there.
    To help you make a knowledgeable reservation beforehand, we’d
    like to share some nice picks of budget hotels in North Las Vegas.
    If you are techie savvy, you’ll have the ability to also opt to search the internet
    for hotels from the area.

  5. Henrietta says:

    This is the reason why why many people choose hotels near for the park so that they can get essentially essentially
    the most out with their London trip. They greet their
    guests with traditional welcome and earn them feel a warmth.
    Based on your preferences and your financial budget, you will likely
    be able to pick the the one that best caters your need.

  6. Ellis says:

    With online booking of rooms, all procedures are actually simplified.
    Online hotel reservation also reduces some time to payment for
    consumers and diminishes employee payment for hotels.
    As such, you’ll wish to build your reservations when possible.

    Look into my website :: hotels amsterdam ny – Ellis,

Comments are closed.