North Country Ambassadors

About North Country Ambassadors:

During the search process, job candidates may have a wide range of questions about what it is like to live and work in “the North Country”.  These personal or non-job-related questions can be important to job candidates but are not appropriate for discussion with a  search committee or department members. 

For this reason, we have recruited a number of faculty members to be North Country Ambassadors. Their role is to meet with job candidates to discuss what it is like to live in the North Country, using their own personal, community experiences to help answer questions that job candidates might have. 

Faculty job candidates will be given the opportunity to meet with or speak to a North Country Ambassador of their choice.  The Office of the Associate Dean for Faculty will work directly with the job candidate to arrange this communication and will not share any information about the request with the department or search committee.

The Ambassador meeting with a job candidate must come from outside of the department that is hiring; the ambassador will provide no feedback or information to members of the department or search committee to maintain the legitimacy of the search and hiring process.

Shinu Abraham
Associate Professor of Anthropology

Picture of Shinu Abraham

My parents moved to the US from India when I was a year old, and I’ve spent most of my life in upstate New York.  I graduated from Waverly High School near Elmira, NY, and then went to India to earn a BA in psychology.  After that, I returned to the U.S to get an M.A. in International Communications from American University in Washington, DC.  In my 20s, I worked for several years doing editorial work for a publishing company in Boston, after which I decided to return to school for a Ph.D.  I began in the anthropology graduate program at Binghamton University, and then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned a Ph.D. in Anthropological Archaeology in 2003.  My research focuses on early South Indian history, ancient Indian Ocean trade, and glass and glass bead production and trade.  Right after graduation, I joined St. Lawrence University as a visiting assistant professor and was fortunate to be hired soon after as an assistant professor.  I earned tenure and became an associate professor in 2010.

Although I grew up in rural upstate New York, most of my adult life was spent in urban settings, so moving to Canton after years in D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia did require some adjustment. 
Interestingly, my life these days rather closely resembles my youth in Waverly, NY, which is a village just about the same size as Canton. I chose to stay in Canton because I love upstate New York and wanted to stay in the Northeast, and also because I really like the cozy environment and collegiality of a small liberal arts college like SLU.  I live in Canton just walking distance from campus and have wonderful neighbors and friends.  But most of my closest friends and family are settled elsewhere in upstate New York and New England, so I spend a lot of weekends away in Albany, Boston, and Connecticut.  I am also in a long-distance relationship – my fiancé is a professor of classical history at the University of Rome.  Because we are both academics, we are fortunate enough to be able to see each other pretty regularly throughout the year, over long breaks or on research trips. I’m a homebody who loves to read, sketch, and teach myself piano, but I’m also a travel junkie who loves airports.

I like to think I’ve struck a balance – I have both a comfortable quiet life here in Canton and an active exciting life on the road to see loved ones a few hours away, do fieldwork in India, and explore Italy and the rest of the world with my partner.

Ana Estevez
Sarah Johnson '82 Professor of Biology and Psychology

Picture of Ana Estevez

I was born and raised in New York City. Both of my parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic and they met in NYC in the 1960s while working in clothing factories. I don’t know why, but I have been interested in the sciences since as early as I can remember (2nd grade?). I participated in science fairs as a high school student and knew I wanted to pursue a career involving science. I am a first-generation college graduate. As an undergraduate, I attended Binghamton University and earned a B.S. in Psychobiology. I then moved to Detroit, MI to pursue a Ph.D. in Physiology from Wayne State University. After my graduate degree, I moved south to Nashville, TN to enjoy some warmer pastures while pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University. I was a post-doc, then a research associate professor, at Vanderbilt prior to moving to Canton to work at St. Lawrence University in 2005. I hold a joint appointment in the Biology and Psychology departments and all of my courses serve the neuroscience major.  Research-wise, I’ve always been interested in the brain. My current research focuses on developing pharmaceutical agents that can be used to protect nerve cells from dying during a neurodegenerative disease or after an insult (like a stroke).  At SLU, I have multiple interests outside of teaching and research that I outline below:

¨ I am serving my third (non-consecutive) term on Faculty Council (elected body for faculty governance); I am currently the Chair of Faculty Council.

¨ I regularly teach a summer term abroad course, The Neuroscience of Fear;

¨ Since my arrival in 2005, I have been a member of the Health Careers Committee, which advises and guides our pre-health enthusiasts as they navigate the application process to health professional schools;

¨ I am also involved in science outreach efforts and organize various events with undergraduate students aimed at elementary school kids. Our aim is to stimulate interest in the sciences.  

In Canton, I volunteer for the Campus Kitchens projects when our students are away from campus on a break. I am an avid yoga enthusiast and attend weekly Vinyasa classes at the Canton Yoga Loft. I also enjoy several of the fitness classes offered by the SLU fitness center. I am a trivia buff and try to make it to the ‘Geeks Who Drink’ pub quiz in Potsdam a few Wednesday nights every semester.   Typical weekends include game nights or movie nights with friends. I am a member of a local rowing club (the Grateful Oars) that rows out of Norwood Lake in the summer. I am also a member of a small book club and I appreciate the variety of books I have been able to discover via this venue.  My husband Tim and I reside in the village of Canton with our Shih Tzu, Miko.

Alanna Gillis
Assistant Professor of Sociology 

Headshot Alanna Gillis

I grew up in Hilton Head, South Carolina and everyone in my extended family lives in the southeast. Prior to moving up here to Canton, the coldest place I had ever lived was Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where did my graduate work. Everyone in my family thought Chapel Hill was too cold to visit in the winter, so they very much questioned my decision to move up here. The coldest temperature I had ever been outside in was 14 degrees. Positive 14 degrees. And I thought it was inhumane to make me go to class that day in grad school. Let’s just say I worried my family was right. But turns out with a proper winter coat, boots, and a beautiful setting, winter is now my second favorite season here! Canton transforms into a winter wonderland for months of beautiful white fluffy snow that still looks like a Hallmark movie even after several years of living here. I am being honest when I say that I genuinely look forward to winter every year!

I attended Furman University, a liberal arts college, for undergraduate where I graduated in 2013 with a BA in Sociology. I spent a year working on the US-Mexico border with undocumented immigrants and refugees before going to graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill to get my MA and PhD in Sociology studying race/class/gender inequality in higher education. I defended my PhD in March 2020 (yes, that March 2020!) and graduated in May 2020. I started my position at SLU in Fall 2020 so I have never known faculty life of the “before” times.

However, thanks to the welcoming community here, I quickly made friends with fellow faculty, staff, and Canton community members. I spend a lot of my free time outdoors doing whatever sport is in season—swimming, cycling, running, hiking, and now I’ve added downhill and cross-country skiing! I will admit that I was very nervous to move here as a single 29 year old woman who is part of the LGBT community. However, there are a lot of queer families and I feel right at home being out in all spaces of life. I was able to buy a home my first semester and it’s situated on the Grasse River, only 1.5 miles from campus. I love watching the deer, groundhogs, rabbits, and more frolic in my backyard. I also foster cats through a local organization, Focus on Ferals.

Randy Hill
Associate Professor of Performance and Communication Arts

I live with my husband in the teeming metropolis of Dekalb Junction, New York, exactly ten miles from the SLU Campus.  Actually, it’s not really teeming, much less a metropolis—population 342 and one half (someone is always pregnant).  No stoplights, not even a flashing
yellow light.  And both of us love it, a lot.  We have lived in the North Country since 1989 and in 1998 we purchased an old dairy farm (circa 1860).  So, our quarter horse (Rosie), our thoroughbred (Madigan), our donkey (Otie—yeah, he’s “Donkey Otie”), the chickens and barn cats, and always at least one house dog, usually two—they’re our “little people”—compete for our time. 

We don’t have children so I can’t really speak to the strengths and weaknesses of school systems from the inside—though as a professional educator, I do keep my eyes and ears open.   Given our rural
location, it’s not difficult to know what happens across various communities in and around Canton.  That’s one of the many joys of living here—you know your neighbors, and they become friends quickly.  People are friendly and caring.  As a Southerner steeped in rules of etiquette and politeness, I got a wonderful lesson in “country folk are good country people” no matter where that country is.  Here’s an “institutionalized” example that shocked me when I moved here: there are no city or county fire departments—all firefighters do this work on an all-volunteer basis—and they are remarkable men and women.  Neighbors in the best sense. 

My research, on hiatus for too long, focuses on ritual and performance, and how those intersect in multiple ways ranging from what we understand as “aesthetic performance” to the performance of everyday life to the role of performance in war-making.  I have a couple of projects underway, a collection of oral narratives from my tribe the Lumbee Band (of the Cheraw Nation, an Eastern
Souian language group) of North Carolina and a manuscript on the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1864.

My teaching, always front and center, happens in the Performance & Communication Arts Department.  I teach courses in rhetoric and public speaking, performance studies, and native studies.  I have chaired or co-chaired the department since 2002, served on the Professional Standards Committee (our tenure committee), and the Faculty Council (our faculty senate).

Daniel Look
Associate Professor of Math, Computer Science, and Statistics 

Picture of Daniel Look

To frame my relationship with higher education I’ll start by mentioning that I am a first generation college student and the only member of my extended family with a graduate degree. I was raised in Maine in what could be called a fishing village (Harrington, Maine, population <1000); my mother made wreaths, worked the blueberry fields, and packed fish while my father was a minister and over-the-road truck driver. I have known that I wanted to teach from a very young age and that I wanted to teach college from the time I learned that as a college professor you only had to teach one subject. (I still have a book a friend of the family, a mathematics professor, gave me for my 12th birthday calling me a “fellow mathematician”, even though that was the year long division made me briefly reconsider my choices.)  

My research interests include complex dynamics, mathematical art, popular culture depictions of mathematics (particularly comic books and 1930s pulps), and the statistical analysis of writing. I regularly give talks at a variety of conferences with themes varying from purely mathematical to popular culture. (My favorites are a small conference held at the childhood home of  Robert E. Howard (the author of Conan the Barbarian) and Necronomicon, a celebration of H.P. Lovecraft). St. Lawrence University has been a fantastic place to explore my academic pursuits beyond my training in mathematics, an opportunity I am not sure would be encouraged at many universities. I was drawn to this job due to its emphasis on the scholar-educator as I wish to continue my serious pursuit of scholarly works while also fostering my craft as an educator.

Outside of research and teaching I am an avid runner, musician, lover of punk rock, Dungeons & Dragons player, and enthusiastic fan of anything related to the Transformers franchise. To be honest, although SLU was incredibly enticing, I never imagined myself finding a home in a place like Canton, NY. As soon as I set foot in Boston, MA for my PhD I felt I was meant to be in a city as I had no great love for the outdoors and craved the anonymity provided by city life. However, upon entering a SLU classroom in 2009 and meeting our students, my “job until my next” job quickly became my “I plan to die here” job. A few years later I met my wife and I have to say that I couldn’t be happier with the series of accidents that made me who I am today and landed me in a work environment where I am supported in and out of the classroom and surrounded by colleagues who constantly amaze me with their skill and depth of character.

Laura Mills-Smith
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Picture of Laura Mills Smith

I started at St. Lawrence in 2017, after visiting for a year at Roanoke College. I hold B.A.s in Anthropology, English, and psychology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (in my and Jimmy Stewart's hometown, Indiana, PA). I specialized in developmental psychology at Virginia Tech, earning my m.s. in 2013 and my Ph.D. in 2016. The thread that holds my academic interests together is a desire to learn about language acquisition and social development in infants and young children. My research has focused on how infants use social cues during word-learning tasks. I also have a line of research about the picture book preferences and reading habits of caregivers and young children. my teaching responsibilities include Introductory Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and a psychology seminar about perceptual development in infancy. I have mentored independent study students on topics ranging From the cognitive demands of switching between first and second languages to the challenges faced by parents when deciding whether to breastfeed, to modification of toys for children with physical disabilities. Students are also assisting me with the picture book project.

I'm really a developmentalist at heart for all things. I always want to know where things come from - people, languages, foods, television, movies, etc. I'm a factory and behind-the-scenes fanatic as a result. I come from a long line of teachers, and my father is also a psychologist. I reside in the Village of Canton with my husband, our children, and two small dogs. Our son (b. 2015) attends public school, and our daughter (b. 2020) attends daycare. my husband works for the ARC of St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties. You can regularly find us supporting the women's ice hockey team, although we're branching out and hope to support even more athletic teams. As a family, we're pop culture junkies, especially science fiction and fantasy, and board game lovers. I'm an avid crocheter, too. The North Country has been a place we've loved getting to know and love to call home.

Ronnie Olesker
Michael W. Ranger '80 and Virginia R. Ranger P'17 Professorship in Government, Chair of Government

Picture of Ronnie Olesker

I was born in Israel but spent some of my childhood in Boston. After 15 years of living in the Tel Aviv area, I returned to Boston for my graduate studies at Tufts University. I earned my PhD in International Relations and moved to the North Country in 2008. I teach international and Middle East politics in the Government Department and my area of expertise is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I earned tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014 and full professor in 2022.  Despite my urban upbringing (Tel Aviv and Boston), I have adjusted quite well to the lifestyle, the pace, and the weather of the North Country.

I was a single woman when I moved to Canton, but I met my husband shortly after in Ottawa (about an hour and half away). We got married in 2011 and we have three very young children, ages ten, 8, and 7.  I am now an American citizen and can speak with candidates about the immigration process to the US.

My kids go to Canton school, and I am very happy with the wonderful treatment they get there. We live only a mile away from SLU, in the village of Canton, very close to the school. I find that the lifestyle afforded to me in the village is particularly suited for families with small children. We have built a wonderful life here despite some of the challenges of living in a remote and rural area away from close family. I am a secular Jew and my children regularly attend the Hebrew School at Beth‐El synagogue in Potsdam. We also try and attend the cultural events hosted by the synagogue around the holidays.

I am happy to discuss issues pertaining to being an international (non‐American) hire and the process of attaining a Green Card and citizenship, Jewish‐cultural life in the area, being married to a spouse who does not work in the same area (or same country for that matter!), about raising small children in the North Country, the status of the school system in the village, the costs of daycare and babysitters, SLU’s maternity/family leave policy, the availability of pediatricians, the ease of travel, both domestically and internationally, being away from family, being female and single in the area, and anything else that may help you make the decision about whether our community is the right fit for you.

Allie Rowland
Maurer Associate Professor of Performance and Communication Arts

Picture of Allie Rowland

I moved here first as a visiting assistant professor in 2014. At the time, I had no idea how much I would come to love it. Coming from Denver, I was spoiled by superb restaurants, top-notch athletic facilities, and a deep dating pool. It took me about a year of pouting before I adjusted to the charms of Canton and Potsdam. now I am a proud north Country "lifer," just like my partner, who also works for the university. We bought a house and had a kid. I have found St. Lawrence to be a nourishing place for my scholarship, teaching, and service. I have found the North Country to be a nourishing place for the spirit. There is no shortage of local food options and outdoor adventures. I am happy to talk secrets on how to stay warm in the winter (fleece-lined leggings, a good coat, and a wood stove). I have a unique role on campus as director of the rhetoric and communication program, I like to call myself the public speaking champion across campus. I give workshops to students on speaking skills, and I get to work with faculty on developing speaking assignments as well. Trained as a rhetorical theorist, I have a forthcoming book that looks at the subtle ways in which we use evaluative language to describe various groups of people in public discourse. I earned tenure in early 2019.

Alex Schreiber
Associate Professor of Biology

Picture of Alex Schreiber

I am an endocrinologist (hormones and development) who studies how humans and other animals adapt to extreme environments, such as high altitude, cold, and aridity. I moved to SLU in 2008 from Baltimore, MD. I have an 11-year-old daughter who attends a tiny alternative private school in Canton. As the child of a U.S. Foreign Service officer couple, I grew up in Bolivia, Brazil, Uganda, and Guatemala. I went to high school in New Orleans, so I say “y’all” a lot. After my undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps and taught math and science in Kenya, East Africa, for two years. After earning a master’s degree in biology from Eastern Washington University and a Ph.D. in zoology from University of Rhode Island, I then spent 10 years doing post-doctoral research studying the developmental biology of metamorphosis at the Carnegie Institution/Johns Hopkins University.

Other than my typical biology lecture/lab courses (e.g. Hormones and Development, Cell Biology, Human Anatomy and Physiology) I teach two courses in the First-Year Program: 1) “Epigenetics: Environmental Influences on Animal Development, Behavior, and Disease”, and 2) “Extreme Physiology”. I also teach two summer courses, one in East Africa (“BioExpedition Kenya”), and one in Nepal (“Himalayan Odyssey”). In both cases, students learn about conservation biology and high-altitude physiology. Every year I have 3-8 students who conduct research in my lab during the school year, as well as during the summer.

In addition to teaching and research, I facilitate a public lecture series called the ‘Science Café’, in which local North Country scientists and science aficionados present their research to the general public off campus. I am also writing a gigantic textbook titled “Integrative Endocrinology” for Oxford University Press.

Alexander Stewart
Associate Professor of Geology

Alex Stewart

I live on the mighty St. Lawrence River in Morristown, NY with my family; we also have a home in the city of Ottawa just 75 mins to the north where my wife works (remotely and in person).  We straddle both worlds—rural and urban and leverage both to make the most fulfilling time of our “North Country [south country to Canadians!].” 

I grew up in the Bluegrass region on the Mason-Dixon line and realize and recognize that it took me over a decade to overcome the culture shock that is northern/northeastern United States (lifeways).  Despite the culture shock, there is no other place I’d rather be than here with my family.  As slow or fast as is your life’s pace, it’s between here and Ottawa and/or Montreal!

I am an associate professor of geology and came to this in a non-traditional way as a first-generation college student and retired, veteran of three-foreign wars with the U.S. Army.  I started, academically, in Alaska, then to Kentucky and Texas and, finally, St. Lawrence University.  Opportunities abound here—if you have an idea and a student who wants to join you—then there are no limits to the things you can accomplish here.  Personally, I am a field geologist who has taken over 100 students to over 10 countries over the last decade—from eastern Africa and the tops of Kilimanjaro (Tropical Palaeoclimate) to the fjords and volcanoes of Iceland or Alaska to Wales and England where the discipline started.  The geologist who sees the most rocks, wins, or the SLU student who experiences the real world wins!

My family and I love the outdoors, the Adirondacks, hiking, fishing, camping, and hunting.  We also love fine foods and travelling the world. 

Jen Thomas
Associate Professor of Performance and Communication Arts
Associate Dean of the First Year

Picture of Jen Thomas

I am a first-generation college student. My family settled in Minnesota in the late 1880s and the land and family farm are still in the family. It was a big deal for me to leave "the land" and go to college in northern Minnesota. I received my BA in theatre and English literature from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. I moved with a handful of friends to Seattle, WA after graduation and started working at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in their marketing and public relations department. A year later I was recruited by my boss to move across the country to reinvigorate another regional theatre. So...a year after arriving in Seattle I found myself moving across the country with everything I owned in my 1985 Chevy Impala (his name was Maynard) to New Haven, CT to work at Long Wharf Theatre. I stayed in Connecticut for three years before heading back to Seattle. I worked in Issaquah (a suburb of Seattle) for three years at Village Theatre as their patron services manager. Finally, my partner encouraged me to apply for graduate school. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary by moving to Eugene, OR where I earned my MA and Ph.D. in theatre and a graduate certificate in women's and gender studies. Immediately after graduation, I landed my dream job...at Concordia College, my alma mater. We moved back to Minnesota and believed we were where we were supposed to be...until I couldn't manage the 70+ work weeks and my kids were surprised rather than happy to have me at home for supper. During one hiring cycle I decided to apply for "ideal" jobs only to see what would happen. I was devastated to get the offer from St. Lawrence, a funny thing to say because I knew I was saying goodbye to my home again. We’ve lived in Canton for 7 years now, my partner Danny works for a technology company via the internet. We have three daughters, one in elementary, one in middle school, and one in high school. We are active in supporting the schools through the parent organization and Danny is on the school board. We live in the village and have strong connections to all of our neighbors and joke about Canton being a contemporary "Mayberry." We are happy to call Canton our home.

Penny Vlagopoulos
Assistant Professor of English

Picture of Penny Vlagopoulos

I arrived in the North Country in 2014 from Laredo, TX (the other border), where I had my previous tenure-track position for five years. I think of my mostly first-generation college students there fondly and still, feel attached to the U.S. -Mexico border region. Before that, I lived in New York City for 12 years, a place I consider one of my homes and to which I return frequently. I earned my Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia University and had a stint as a visiting assistant professor at Boston University before heading south. I grew up mostly outside of Boston after an itinerant early childhood. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Greece and the rest of my family still lives in Athens, so I have always straddled worlds and I feel most at home when crossing borders. My teaching and research focus on 20th- and 21st-century U.S. and global literature and film, with an emphasis on multiethnic literatures and issues of diaspora, cosmopolitanism, and globalization. I  also teach courses at Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg, NY. Comprised of both SLU students and incarcerated students, these classes stem from my interest in social justice activism and my desire to be more involved in issues that are specific to our region. I hope to develop other kinds of community-based learning courses in the future. I directed the NYC Semester Program in New York City in 2016-17 and still serve as faculty coordinator. It has been a real joy to watch this program grow and to connect some of our best students with many of our most committed alumni. One of SLU's many benefits is its rich array of study abroad programs, and I hope to explore other parts of the world with my students in the future. I have a first-grader who is very social and has a lot of creative energy. He plays piano and soccer and his spirit of adventure keeps him excited about all kinds of activities. He attends the agriculture-focused North Wind After School Program, run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and has learned so much there. We often go on day trips around the North Country and beyond, From visiting the Wild Center in Tupper Lake to swimming at Higley Flow in Colton to taking advantage of Syracuse's many offerings. We also like to head north and visit Ottawa, Brockville, Kingston, and Montreal, and the list keeps growing. We have a vibrant community of friends and find ourselves more deeply entrenched in our world here every year. We get fresh food from local CSAs, attend as many cultural events as we can, and have recently tried cross-country skiing, ice skating, canoeing, and a range of other indoor and outdoor activities. 

In-Sil Yoo
Associate Professor of Music

Picture of In-Sil Yoo

I am a native of Seoul, South Korea.  My parents are not musical, but my brother, a conductor, and I both went to the same university in Korea to study composition, theory, and piano.  I was formerly an organist at my church for 15 years and a member of a Korean drumming group until I came to the US in 1995.  I earned my doctorate in composition at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, IN.  I was previously on the faculty at Knox College and Indiana University where I taught courses in music theory, composition, and technology.

My research involves working with artists, dancers, and filmmakers.  My compositions have been performed in the United States, France, and Korea by soloists, choirs, and ensembles including the Laurentian Singers, the Knox College Choir, the Korean Symphony Orchestra, Young-In Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Alexander String Quartet.

I have been at SLU since 2003. Life in Canton was challenging yet rewarding, living away from family in Korea.  But I settled into a new life here, got married, had children, and bought a home.  I have two children, one in middle school and the other in elementary school. My husband is a consultant residing in Washington state, so we are frequent travelers.  My kids and I travel to our other home in Washington for major holidays and breaks.  I love to cook and my family loves to eat Southeast Asian food.  There is an Asian grocery store where we can buy most ingredients, and supplement those options through several online shops.  We can even order fresh food packed in an icebox and shipped to our house.  Canton is a remote town, but it is this remoteness that draws residents closer in a mutual bond.  It is a wonderful and safe place to raise a family, with excellent daycare options and afterschool programs.  My kids are both involved with various activities, sports, art, and music. Because there are other colleges nearby, we gain access to cultural events, art exhibitions, shows, and concerts that my children can enjoy; all in the area we call the North Country.