Introducing Pitzer’s New Tenure-Track Professors

As we embark on the 2022–23 academic year, we wanted to offer a snapshot of the tenure-track professors who have recently joined our community. Read the full versions of their bios on Pitzer’s website.

Bahar Acu, Assistant Professor of
With Pitzer since 2022

PhD and MS, University of Southern California, Mathematics
BS and MS, Middle East Technical University, Mathematics

Bahar Acu’s primary research interests are in geometric topology, specifically contact and symplectic topology in high dimensions and their relations with low-dimensional topology. Acu has led the efforts to organize the first Research Collaboration Conference for Women and Nonbinary in Symplectic and Contact Geometry and Topology and co-edited the conference’s peer-reviewed proceedings volume.

Gautam Agarwal, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
With Pitzer since 2021

PhD, University of California, Berkeley, Neuroscience
BS, University of Texas at Austin, Molecular Biology and Computer Science

Originally focused on experimental neuroscience, Gautam Agarwal switched to computational neuroscience to explore how we can use the formal language of math and aspects of machine learning to gain deeper insight into how the brain works. His article, “Spatial maps in piriform cortex during olfactory navigation,” in the scientific journal Nature shed new light on an under-explored region of the brain and its role in odor-guided navigation.

Denise Ambriz, Assistant Professor of Sociology
With Pitzer since 2022

PhD and MA, Indiana University, Sociology
BA, University of San Diego, Sociology and Spanish

Denise Ambriz’s research and teaching interests lie in the areas of sociology of education, immigration, and Latino/a/x sociology. Her current research investigates how the achievement outcomes and educational experiences of Latinx children vary by immigrant destination and educational context. Her recent article, “Assessing the Oppositional Culture Explanation for Mexican Students,” was published in Social Science Research.

Bethany G. Caulkins, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
With Pitzer since 2018

PhD, University of California, Riverside, Chemistry
BS, California State University, San Bernardino, Chemistry
AS, Antelope Valley College, Chemistry 

Before joining Pitzer as a tenure-track faculty member in 2021, Bethany G. Caulkins spent three years at the College as a visiting assistant professor. Prior to her time at The Claremont Colleges, Caulkins lectured at the University of California, Riverside, and was a postdoctoral researcher at USC. Caulkins has studied the structural foundations of Huntington’s Disease caused by mutations in the poly-glutamine region of the exon 1 portion of the huntingtin protein.

Sandra Watson, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
With Pitzer since 2022

PhD, The Rockefeller University, Cell and Molecular Biology
BS, Spelman College, Biochemistry

Sandra Watson’s research explores the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in neuronal homeostasis and how disruptions in these pathways contribute to psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Currently, she focuses on how the brain maintains appropriate levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to addiction, depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. She seeks to integrate her research with disciplines such as art and history to improve our understanding and treatment of mental health disorders.

Sierra Williams, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
With Pitzer since 2021

PhD, University of California, Irvine, Chemistry
BS, Temple University, Chemistry

Sierra Williams’ research involves exploring proteins as potential therapeutics to combat harmful bacteria. Projects in this area focus on skills in synthetic chemistry and molecular biology to uncover the mechanism of action and evolve therapeutics with new activity. In addition to research, Williams is passionate about mentoring students, specifically from underrepresented and first-generation backgrounds.

Urmi Engineer Willoughby, Assistant Professor of History
With Pitzer since 2020

PhD and MA, University of California, Santa Cruz, History
BA, Wake Forest University, History and Studio Art

Urmi Engineer Willoughby’s research focuses on disease and ecology in North America, with a focus on the Mississippi Valley, Gulf South, and Caribbean region. She approaches histories of disease and medicine from a global and ecological perspective, and she draws connections between the southern US, the colonial Atlantic, and South Asia. Her first book, Yellow Fever, Race, and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans, was awarded the 2017 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History.