Two New International Studies Faculty to Work Across Disciplines

DATE: November 2, 2005
CONTACT: Ronnie Hess, Director of Communications, Division of International Studies,
(608) 262-5590,

Two New International Studies Faculty to Work Across Disciplines

Madison, WI – Until just a few months ago, Claire Wendland and Laura
Schechter were not exactly your average graduate students but true to type
were finishing work on their dissertations, looking for jobs at colleges
and universities, and hoping to begin teaching careers in their respective
They had interviewed and been offered a few jobs. And that’s where
the typical part of the story ends.

Wendland and Schechter decided to accept positions at UW-Madison and in doing
so became the first faculty members hired under a new initiative developed
by the Division of International Studies and called “seed hires.” Under
the program, International Studies and three colleges – the Colleges
of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Letters and Science and the Medical School – have
partnered to create faculty lines in emerging new fields and areas of scholarship.
Not only interdisciplinary but international, the positions are designed to
ensure that multiple programs, such as the International Institute, and multiple
departments benefit from the faculty members’ expertise. Wendland’s
background is in medical anthropology and Schechter’s in development

Wendland, who is an assistant professor in both anthropology and obstetrics
and gynecology, was actually born in Madison at UW Hospitals when the medical
center was located at 1300 University Avenue. Her father had been an engineering
graduate student at UW-Madison but, after receiving his degree, took a job
at Boeing and moved the family to Seattle. Wendland received an M.D. at Michigan
State University and did postgraduate specialty training at the University
of New Mexico. She worked as an obstetrician-gynecologist on the Navajo reservation,
then returned to school for graduate studies in cultural anthropology at
the University of Massachusetts. Switching from medicine to anthropology
was a challenge for Wendland. “My first semester was pretty intimidating,” she

It was her work on the reservation, and time spent as a medical student and
researcher in Africa, that got her interested in cross-cultural differences
and international education. Practicing medicine in a large urban hospital
in Malawi, with 14,000 deliveries a year but limited medical facilities, was
a very different experience from what Wendland had been accustomed to in the
U.S. On the reservation in New Mexico, many of her patients spoke only Navajo.
Wendland has some knowledge of French, German, and Spanish as well as Chichewa,
the national language of Malawi. Her field research has examined the assimilation
of values by African health practitioners during training and practice in Northern-style

Schechter, who is an assistant professor in agricultural and applied economics,
has an international background as well. Raised in Los Angeles in an upper
middle class family, Schechter grew up aware that she was extremely privileged
compared to many people in other parts of the world. While she was an undergraduate
at the University of California-Berkeley, she spent a summer teaching English
literature in a high school in China. “That was great, the people were
so friendly,” she says. As a result of her teaching experience, she
decided to major in development studies, an area she says she gravitated
to because
the coursework was interdisciplinary, with courses in sociology, economy,
history and Spanish.

graduation, Schechter (left) spent two years in the Peace Corps in Paraguay,
doing agricultural extension work. She helped villagers diversify their crops,
putting less focus on cotton and moving toward the production of sesame,
a natural sweetener native to Paraguay with a ready market in Japan. The Peace
Corps stint helped develop her interest in agricultural economics. It also
gave her the seeds for her dissertation research, again at UC-Berkeley in
and resource economics. She had observed that about 50 percent of the farmers
in Paraguay had experienced some kind of theft, and that there was a lack
of trust among them, the logical result of criminality but also years of dictatorship
in the South American country. Her thesis, on trust, trustworthiness and
in rural Paraguay, analyzed how the agricultural workers looked at gift giving
as bribery but developed it creatively as a disincentive to crime.

The transition from being graduate students to professors has been exciting but also daunting for the two women. “AARGH,” Wendland says in
mock-terror when asked what it’s been like. But she adds that the work
of doctor and professor are similar, inasmuch as both involve explaining
and teaching. Wendland is teaching a medical anthropology course, a small
group course in the Medical School, and a graduate seminar, “Anthropology
and International Health.” “It’s a great opportunity to
learn,” she says.

Schechter says she is busy teaching, developing lesson plans, going
to committee meetings, and writing grant proposals to get more funding for
her graduate students. Schechter is teaching two courses this year, including “The
Growth and Development of Nations in the Global Economy,” which includes
International Studies and economics majors, and “Latin American Economic

What impresses both women about UW-Madison and accounts
in large part for their decision to come here is the cross-campus emphasis
on interdisciplinary teaching and research. Schechter says teaching across disciplines will expand her perspectives on economics, and growth and development. “That’s
the whole draw of this position,” Wendland says. “It’s not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity.”

During a morning meeting, as they discussed what had brought them to UW-Madison, both women even began to see parallels in their research and opportunities
for collaborative work. Schechter is interested in exploring networks of
trust, gift-giving, and informal mechanisms people use to ensure against
calamity. Wendland is focusing on bio-medical concepts of risk, and the nature of medical
evidence. “We definitely need to talk,” Wendland says to Schechter
as they both make plans to collaborate.