The Institute was created by a collaboration among the amazing people at TCNJ, but it’s Director, Dr. Ben Rifkin, who is also Dean of the School of Humanities & Social Sciences, took the lead. Dr. Rifkin serves as director of the program, and day-to-day management is handled by the Associate Director, Dr. Monica Jacobe.
You can read more about the Institute team here.
Dr. Ben Rifkin, Director
I earned my bachelor’s and first master’s degrees in Russian & East European Studies at Yale University, where I began my study of Russian. Between my first and second master’s degrees, I spent two years in Moscow, where I worked for a Soviet publishing house as a translator and, in a part-time position, for NBC News as an interpreter. After working in Moscow, I enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I earned my second master’s degree and my Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature. I wrote my dissertation on semiotics of narration in film and prose fiction, focusing on the transposition of narrator’s discourse in two works of prose into two major films of the transitional period immediately preceding Gorbachev’s “perestroika”, Scarecrow and My Friend Ivan Lapshin.
After defending my dissertation, I joined the faculty of the Slavic Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I directed the Russian language program for 15 years, ultimately serving as chair of the department and director of the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia. From 1999 – 2003 I also served as director of the Middlebury College Russian School, a summer intensive immersion program in Russian. From 2005-2009 I worked at Temple University, serving for some of that time as Vice Dean for Undergraduate Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts.
Since defending my dissertation in 1990, I have written two books, coauthored a third, and edited two volumes of essays about foreign language teaching, one of which won a national award from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. I have published over 30 articles and book chapters. My work has appeared in journals such as The ADFL Bulletin, The Foreign Language Annals, The Modern Language Journal, The Slavic and East European Journal, and «Высшее образование» (Higher Education), a journal published by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, among other journals. I have also led collaborative efforts to create software related to foreign language learning and teaching. I regularly give talks at conferences of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, as well as lectures and workshops at universities throughout the United States and in Russia. I have also won grants related to my focus in foreign language education (one of which, called “RAILS,” won a national award for excellence in pedagogy). I have been interviewed by the American and Russian media on matters related to foreign language education.
Dr. Monica F. Jacobe, Associate Director
I came to TCNJ in 2012, specifically to develop the Institute. Before coming here, I was a postdoctoral lecturer at Princeton University teaching writing-intensive courses in American Studies. Princeton was only the most recent place, though, in my decade-long teaching career. My teaching career began at The American University in Washington, DC, where I helped run their College Writing Program, worked in their Writing Center, taught writing and literature courses to undergrads and grad students—including large numbers of international students—and earned an MFA in Creative Writing. I fell in love with teaching because of the students I worked with at AU, and after those years, I knew there was no way I could go back to my previous journalism career or continue in the nonprofit public relations work I had been doing, which was the plan when I earned my Bachelor’s degree in English and Mass Communications at Emory & Henry College. Instead, I went on to earn a Ph.D. in twentieth-century American literature from The Catholic University of America, where I ran the Writing Center and, later, served as Assistant Director of the Rhetoric & Writing Program. After completing my doctoral work, I went on to Princeton.
My scholarly and creative work centers on the question of identity, and I am always asking myself and my students who we are, who we say we are, and how the society around us impacts that. My current scholarly book project, Off the Plantation: Work-driven Identity in the Contemporary Southern Novel, examines the ways that five major novelists who wrote after 1960 represent work as part of the regional identity of the American South. I have published a number of articles on American literature and culture beyond Southern studies and taught courses on a wide range of literature.
Another part of my research agenda that ESLAS students should be aware of is my work on American higher education. In 2006, I was a research fellow with the American Association of University Professors, thanks to a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and since then, I have been invited to speak across the country on the nature and structure of American colleges and universities and the academic profession. My own work on this field has appeared in the Western Humanities Review, Academe, College English, Inside Higher Ed, How the University Works, and the University of Venus, among others. I have also been interviewed by publications as diverse as Nature, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Times (London) Education Supplement. This expertise informs the American Studies side of the program, so that students gain not just the language skill they need to succeed but also a deep understanding of how American universities and colleges work.