by Megan Zaroda ’ 0 7 | photography by Chuck Zovko
Not so long ago, Megan Rothenberger ’02 was taking courses on College Hill as a biology major, evaluating the water quality in tributaries of the Bushkill Creek, and cheering the Leopards at Fisher Field. She told friends that one day she’d be a college professor.
Now, indeed, she is a professor—and back on College Hill. In 2009-10, Rothenberger and two other recent grads, Meghan Masto ’03 and Lauren Sefcik ’04, returned to their alma mater as tenure-track faculty members. They are assistant professors in the departments of biology, philosophy, and chemical and biomolecular engineering, respectively.
While none of the three alumnae admits to intense feelings of déjà vu, all say that crossing the Quad or grabbing a quick wrap in Farinon Center does bring back memories. They bring their own undergraduate experiences to complement their passion for teaching and research as they work to shape the next generation of Lafayette students.
“I always said I wanted to end up at a place very much like Lafayette. I love to teach, I love to write and do research,” Masto says. “Institutions like Lafayette really allow their professors to strike a great balance. I am so fortunate to have had the great college experience that I did. It would be very rewarding if I could help others get the most out of their time here.”
Helping others is how Sefcik got into teaching. During grad school, she saw the undergraduates she mentored blossom in their own projects. As a person who always wants to learn something new, she’s even more engaged when her students are as turned on by their research as she is by hers.
“Biomedical engineering is fascinating. There’s something about combining materials and cells to create tissues and organs outside the body to eventually be implanted as replacements,” she says. “It’s just mind-boggling sometimes. When I actually stop and think about the big picture of what I’m doing, it almost sounds like science fiction.”
Rothenberger’s research interests started in childhood. “When I was a little girl, I think I learned to read using Zoobooks magazine. My Mom and I would read about a different animal every single night,” she says. “My enthusiasm for ecology, though I didn’t know it was called ecology at the time, continued through high school and college.”
Rothenberger spent two years teaching at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, lecturing to classes with nearly 200 students and missing the rapport between professors and students that Lafayette is known for.
“By the end of each semester this year, I knew each of my students very well. I like it that way. My job doesn’t feel like a job on most days, and I feel that the work I am doing is meaningful,” she says, adding that she’s still “processing” the year, which was “a whirlwind.”
Sefcik found it challenging to experience the high expectations that students have for their professors from the other side. “It’s a great thing!” she says. “I just always need to bring my A-plus game. If you’re busy or not feeling well and your A-minus or B-plus game shows up in the classroom, the students notice instantly.”
If that’s a “professor crime,” Masto, too, was guilty of an infraction she swore she’d never commit. In the fall, her three-hour night class in feminist philosophy occasionally ran over time. “I couldn’t believe it!” she says. “Luckily, my students do the shuffl e-papersand-pack-up-your-books routine to let me know when we’re approaching the end of class.”
Of course the young professors’ favorite extracurricular activities have evolved in the time since their undergraduate days. When she’s not in her classroom, lab, or offi ce, Masto maintains a plot at the College’s organic garden and chases her one-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, around with a camera. Sefcik has transitioned from spending late nights in the “fishbowl” to watching HGTV and the Food Network. And Rothenberger dreams of adding to her feline brood, Jezebel, Loki, and Rufus.
While any professor can put her stamp on a student’s experience, these three have a distinctive perspective on the Lafayette experience.
“I remember my experiences here and hearing about my friends’ experiences. I remember what our lives were like, how busy we were, the things we worried about,” Masto says. “I try to keep these things in mind when I interact with my students. I know that my class—while it’s obviously incredibly important!— is not the only thing they have on their plate.”
Rothenberger agrees. What is there about being an alumna that makes her a better professor here? “Simple. I understand the benefits and challenges of being a Lafayette student.”
“Some buildings have changed, some fraternities have disappeared, people have come and gone,” Masto says. “But returning to Lafayette definitely feels like coming home.”
Meghan Masto ’03
B.S. in psychology and A.B. in philosophy, with honors, at Lafayette (thesis: Believe It or Not: The Semantics of Belief Attributions). Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (dissertation: Knowledge, Questions, and Answers)
Megan Rothenberger ’02
A.B. in biology, with honors, at Lafayette (thesis: Water Quality Comparison of Two Tributaries of the Bushkill Creek). Ph.D. in aquatic ecology at North Carolina State University (dissertation: Long-Term Impacts of Changing Land-Use Practices on Water Quality and Phytoplankton Assemblages in the Neuse River Ecosystem, North Carolina)
Lauren Sefcik ’04
B.S. in chemical engineering at Lafayette. Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia (dissertation: Regulation of Sphingosine 1-Phosphate Signaling for Therapeutic Arteriogenesis and Tissue Engineering)