Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 3:26 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 58º


Westmont Adds Three Professors

Three tenure-track professors have joined Westmont’s faculty: Rebecca McNamara, English; Maryke van der Walt, mathematics; and Sandra Richter, religious studies.

Rebecca McNamara Click to view larger
Rebecca McNamara
Maryke van der Walt Click to view larger
Maryke van der Walt

McNamara, whose research focuses on linguistics and medieval literature, said she loves literature and has known for some time that she wanted to teach English. While completing her undergraduate studies at Baylor University, one professor urged her to take his course on Chaucer.

“I said, ‘Oh no, that’s in Middle English and sounds really hard,’” McNamara said. “He eventually convinced me to try it out, and I was gone. I loved the difficulty of the language, the challenges, the fact that you had to know so much more than the literature to understand it.

Sandra Richter Click to view larger
Sandra Richter

"So yes, I was drawn in by a professor, and I seek to do the same thing with students here.”

McNamara earned a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Oxford, Faculty of English Language and Literature.

“The colleges are set up at Oxford just like Westmont,” she said. “It’s very interdisciplinary, people have different cross-conversations and you get to know and mentor the students.”

Her research at the Medieval and Early Modern Centre of the University of Sydney focused on emotions related to suicide in the medieval world. “I saw an opportunity to shed light on one small area of how past cultures have dealt with the aching history of human suffering,” she said.

"At Westmont, I am looking forward to having conversations with students that transcend the scholarly level and getting them to explore their own experiences as they read the texts,” she said.

Van der Walt is a native of South Africa. Her first language is Afrikaans, derived from Dutch. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and her doctorate in applied mathematics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

She was an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University before hearing about the position at Westmont.

“I was finishing up a post-doc when I saw the job online at the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences,” she said. “I thought it would be a good fit for me and my husband, who’s a software engineer. The culture here is much more similar to Cape Town, South Africa, than Nashville.”

Van der Walt’s research interests focus on computational harmonic analysis, approximation theory, and spline theory. In her post-doctorate work, she has been engaged with professors from Vanderbilt, Cal Tech and the University of Bologna in research endeavors.

“Spline Theory is a way to use functions to approximate other stuff to design things like airplane wings in a really cool way to satisfy certain properties,” she said.

“In computational harmonic analysis, you study signals in the real world, like music signals or medical signals such as an ECG, to try to mathematically understand the data better,” she said.

Van der Walt has long been active at Reformed and Presbyterian churches in South Africa and the United States, often playing violin and viola for worship services and singing in the choir.

Richter, who has taught Old Testament at Asbury Theological, Wesley Biblical and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminaries as well as Gordon and Wheaton Colleges, is the new Robert H. Gundry professor in biblical studies at Westmont.

— Scott Craig for Westmont College,


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