College of Arts and Science Highlights

head shot of Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello

September 29, 2014, Northampton, MA – Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello has been elected to a three-year term on the board of directors of Mass Humanities. She is the first Salem State University faculty member to serve on the statewide board since its founding in 1974.

In all aspects of her work, Duclos-Orsello brings together social justice concerns and humanistic and social scientific inquiry. At Salem State, she coordinates the American Studies program, is Faculty Fellow for Service Learning, is an affiliated faculty member with the Center for Economic Development and Sustainability (CEDS) and a campus leader in general education and global education initiatives. Her projects include work on social justice in museums, the theory and construction of community, and the history and literature of Franco-Americans among other inquiries into identity formation. A recent Mass Humanities Scholar in Residence grant helped to fund Duclos-Orsello’s transcription and translation of 20 videotaped oral histories of former and current Franco-American residents of Salem.

The public humanities are a central focus of Duclos-Orsello’s work, realized through contributions to publications like Mass Humanities’ own Public Humanist and through service learning projects with Salem State students and community partners. One such celebrated project paired students with clients of Lifebridge, an organization serving the homeless in downtown Salem, in order to improve services there based on lessons students learned from client-partners and through studying the role of food in American culture, art and policy. The project included teaching class sessions on site at Lifebridge. Her expertise and passion for her interests also led her to be invited to give testimony regarding the value of the humanities for civil society at the Forum of the American Academy of Arts and Science’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2012.

In addition to teaching at Salem State, Duclos-Orsello has taught at Harvard University, Boston University and at the University of Luxembourg as a Fulbright Scholar in 2010. Her varied career has included time spent as a social worker, a museum educator, a director of Teaching American History grants, and a consultant for Boston-area museums.

Duclos-Orsello has served as a trustee of the Beverly Historical Society, the North Shore Community Development Coalition and the Boston-Strasbourg (France) Sister City Association. She also recently finished serving seven years on the Board of Trustees at the House of the Seven Gables. She is currently a member of the Somerville Community Preservation Act Committee, where she works to help fund affordable housing, historic preservation and open space projects.

Established in 1974 as the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Mass Humanities is a programming and grant-making organization that receives support from the NEH and the Massachusetts Cultural Council as well as private sources. Mass Humanities supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life throughout the Commonwealth. The board includes scholars, educators, and leaders of cultural institutions, as well as representatives of business, government, the professions and community life.

Funded projects include public conferences, lecture series and panel discussions; library reading and discussion programs; oral history projects; museum exhibitions; film series and theatre productions; summer institutes for public school teachers; and radio, television and film productions.

With an annual budget of $1.6 million, Mass Humanities sponsors and provides grant support for a wide variety of public humanities programs across the Commonwealth. In Salem, recent grants have been awarded to the House of the Seven Gables, for the creation of audio versions of the standard House tour in French, German, and Japanese, to the Swift River Valley Historical Society, for the documentation, re-housing, and inventorying of materials from 32 exhibit panels from the Prescott Museum, and to the Witch House for an expansion of the museum's family-oriented program series on colonial life.

Mass Humanities maintains an office in Northampton and can be reached at 413.584.8440 or

Assistant Professor of Physical Education Jennifer el-Sherif

Professor Motivates Students in a Personal Way

Her 17th Ironman will be October 11

On October 11, when Assistant Professor of Physical Education Jennifer el-Sherif (at right in photo) enters the water at Kailua-Kona on the big island of Hawaii, it won’t be for a leisurely swim. The endurance athlete will have several hours of challenges to overcome if she is to complete this year’s Ironman World Championship. Among them? Crosswinds that can reach 45 mph, temperatures that hover around 95 degrees and a scorching sun.

For el-Sherif, it’s almost old hat. In fact, this will be her 17th Ironman. Her first full Ironman race was in Florida in 2001; before she even crossed the finish line she’d signed up for the race in Lake Placid, New York—and still she keeps going, finishing races in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Arizona, and even Mont Tremblant, France.

What drives Professor el-Sherif are much more than the physical challenges and the flush of success upon completing the grueling races. In an article on, she notes that she is “driven to be an example to the students she teaches at Salem State University.”

“I always do my training as a way to motivate my students,” she says, “because a lot of times they only want to participate in varsity sports. I use triathlon as a teaching point, to say, ‘Look at me. I’m this age and you can continue to do this throughout your lifetime.’

Pedro Poitevin reading a book

In his sabbatical semester (the fall of 2013), Pedro Poitevin wrote two and a half books.

One of them, a book of Spanish palindromes titled Ateo Pedro Va Para Pavor De Poeta (in English, roughly Pedro the atheist is on his way to becoming a fearsome poet) is being published by Ediciones Acapulco in Mexico with a grant from Conaculta (the Mexican National Council for Arts and Culture). Another, a book of Spanish poems titled Perplejidades (in English, perplexities), is in press in Mexico at the moment. Much to the author’s surprise, in spite of what the title of the first book says about this one, it also won a grant by Conaculta, and it is being published by Cooperativa La Joplin in a collection of three books, including one by Edward Hirsch and one by the Mexican poet Aurelio Asiain. Aside from these two creative projects, Pedro also began writing a book entitled “Introduction to Real Analysis: Examples First,” a book guided by a philosophy according to which students benefit from having a large collection of examples before encountering abstract definitions or theorems. On November 25, 2013, Pedro also delivered an invited talk on poetry and mathematics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).