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Humanities Scholars Faculty

The Humanities teach us who we are. -John Lithgow

Our leadership team has been hand-picked to escort you on your year-long journey through the Humanities. We hope you enjoy new discoveries about our disciplines, yourself, and our faculty and staff partners. Start getting acquainted with them now!

Taunya Dressler, Program Coordinator

Taunya is a Salt Lake City native who is passionate about education in the Humanities. She has taught English in Morocco, served as teacher trainer in the Philippines for the U.S. Peace Corps, and guided educational tours throughout Italy. She firmly believes the world is the greatest classroom of all. She received her M.A.T. from the School for International Training and her B.A. in English from The University of Utah. Taunya has more than 15 years professional experience in teaching, training, writing/editing, public relations and program development. When she is not at the U, she enjoys playing in Utah’s mountains and deserts.

Lepa Espinoza, Program Coordinator

Lepa Espinoza is an assistant professor in the Department of English. She has spent the past decade working in public schools in Utah, first in Ogden as an AmeriCorps volunteer, then teaching Language Arts and Reading in Weber School District, and most recently in Salt Lake City District, teaching high school Reading and AVID. She has worked to promote literacy and a passion for reading and exploring our place in the world through literature and self-exploration. She earned a Master of Arts in English from Weber State. She has also earned a Reading Endorsement, English as a Second Language Endorsement, and is working on becoming certified to teach yoga.

Lepa grew up in Soldotna, Alaska, a small town about 150 miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. She is half Alaska Native and half Macedonian and values their rich cultures. She lives in Salt Lake City with her two daughters, Penelope and Uma, and her husband, Corey. When she isn’t teaching, Lepa enjoys yoga, hiking, playing volleyball, traveling, and spending family time at home with her husband and little ones, including her dachshund, aptly named Gato.

Avery Holton, Communication

Avery is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, where his research focuses on digital and social media, innovation, and health and disabilities. He served as an H2 Honors scholar in the Honors College (2014-2015), and his  research thus far has emphasized the changing roles of the public and journalists in light of new technology, network theory and applications of network analysis, health messages and delivery, and gaps in health communication. In the classroom, he teaches a blend of online content creation and social media engagement. Avery completed his PhD in 2013 as a William C. Powers, Jr. Fellow with the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

Jessica Straley, English

Jessica Straley is associate professor of English at the University of Utah. Her primary research field is Victorian Literature with particular interests in the culture of childhood and nineteenth-century science, especially evolutionary theory. Her book, Evolution and Imagination in Victorian Children’s Literature, was published by Cambridge University Press. She also has a forthcoming book chapter on sentimental and satirical representations of dead children in Victorian and Neo-Victorian texts. For the U’s English department, Dr. Straley teaches courses in the Victorian Gothic, Children’s Literature, and Darwinism and the Literary Imagination; she also teaches a course on Capital, Class and Conflict for the Business School. Currently, she is working on two new research projects: one focused on the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde and the other investigating the dinosaur in Victorian art, literature, science, and popular culture.  

Danielle Olden, History

Danielle Olden is assistant professor of history at the University of Utah, where her research and teaching focus on modern U.S. history, U.S. West History, and Chicana/o History. From the time she was an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, Professor Olden has been deeply engaged in trying to understand how different forms of social stratification and identity shape people's diverse experiences and contribute to institutional inequity. What is race? How does race operate? What role does gender play in socioeconomic advancement? What is the relationship between race and class? A critical engagement with history, she believes, provides important insights for understanding these important contemporary questions. At present she is working on her first book, which explores school desegregation in Denver, Colorado in the late 1960s and 1970s, and how the courts and local citizens constructed Mexican American racial identity.

Aaron Kaplan, Linguistics

Aaron Kaplan teaches in the Department of Linguistics, where he specializes in theoretical phonology: sound patterns in the world's languages. He teaches courses on a variety of topics, such as the linguistics of crossword puzzles and the structure of Romance languages.  He earned his PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has been at the U since 2010.  He is also the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Linguistics.

Dustin Stokes, Philosophy

Dustin Stokes is associate professor of Philosophy. He researches and teaches in the areas of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, philosophy of art, metaphysics, and theories of knowledge. Some questions he explores with students concern how we should theorize the human mind, how we come to understand and know about the world around us, and what’s special about human sensory experience, cognition, imagination, and emotion. Most generally, he attempts to instil in his students a healthy sense of wonder about the world, coupled with precise tools of analysis for exploring and clarifying that wonder.

 Christie Toth, Writing & Rhetoric

Christie Toth is assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric Studies. Her research focuses on writing instruction in community and tribal colleges, and she is particularly interested in how writing faculty adapt their teaching to local contexts. Her teaching often focuses on the role writing plays in both perpetuating oppression and pursuing social justice. She earned her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2014, where she conducted her doctoral research on locally responsive writing pedagogy at a tribal college on the Navajo Nation. She works closely with faculty colleagues at Salt Lake Community College, and she is currently collaborating with a team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants on a study of transfer student writing experiences at the University of Utah.

Karin Baumgartner, World Languages & Cultures

A native of Switzerland, Professor Baumgartner teaches German language and literature and comparative literature (e.g. From Grimm to Disney). She received her Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis with a concentration in German literature and Women's Studies. Prior to joining the University of Utah in 2006, she was Assistant Professor of German at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, and spent the academic year 2005-2006 in Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship. Currently, Professor Baumgartner is writing the monograph Mapping the Nation: German Travel Guides, 1789 to 1871, a study that investigates how early German travel guides shaped the discourses of national identity in the German-speaking countries. Professor Baumgartner appreciates the Wasatch Mountains in summer for hiking and in winter for skiing.


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Last Updated: 8/28/17