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Rotunda, Michele


Meet Our People: Dr. Michele Rotunda


Dr. Michele Rotunda has made a big splash at Union since her 2012 arrival. Besides teaching history and government, she is co-chair of the College’s Learning Outcomes Assessment Committee. Together with Jaclyn Swierc and Dr. Elizabeth Joyce, she led faculty throughout May 18, 2015, Assessment Day in a series of workshops and presentations featuring a Lumina Foundation-sponsored speaker on the “Tuning Project.” Speaking of “Tuning”: Dr. Rotunda was recently selected by the American Historical Association to participate on a panel of educators who will discuss “Tuning the Transfer Student: Making History Education a ‘Seamless’ Experience Between Two-Year and Four-Year Academic Institutions.” Dr. Rotunda is thoroughly a Rutgers alumna, having earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate from the Scarlet Knights. 

Q: So what’s with the doctorate? You started teaching here in 2012 and actually finished your Ph.D. in 2014.

A: Between raising kids and working, the Ph.D. took 15 years.

Q: Must be one awesome dissertation. History?

A: History, combined with medicine and the law. The title is “‘Drunkenness is No Excuse for Crime’ - Alcohol, Murder and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America.” I researched a number of cases in 19th century America in which the defendant tried to use an intoxication defense. It’s sort of a variation on the insanity defense. Sadly, most of the cases involved husbands killing their wives.

Q: So this is kind of history with a twist.

A: It's actually part social history, part medical history and part legal history.  The court cases gave me insight into these different parts of our culture.

Q: What got you into that?

A: I have a lot of different research interests. Before I became a History major, I was actually pre-med. And I’ve held a number of different jobs over the years. I actually got my first full-time job because the guy who hired me knew that history majors can do research and write. I share this all the time with our students. There’s real value to being a History major and having the skills of a History major, such as critical thinking, the ability to focus on context and perspective. These are useful in any field you pursue and (these skills) open the door to a whole range of possible careers, such as in legal studies, publishing, government, community relations, foreign service, media, and of course teaching. My husband, who’s in law enforcement, says History majors do well there too, since the job requires you to write reports that make sense.

Q: And you chose teaching.

A: I always wanted to teach History, but it was a bit of a circuitous route getting there. My first job was with a nonprofit putting both research and writing skills to use. After that I worked for my family's medical-and-surgical supply business. Once my kids came along, I was a part-time lecturer for Rutgers-Newark and I loved teaching there.

Q: So how did Union come into the picture?

A: (Union County College) had the same charm as Rutgers-Newark—but was offering a full-time position. Union’s attraction, just like in Rutgers-Newark, is that our College embraces a diverse student body. What I love about teaching in general, but specifically at our College as well as Rutgers-Newark, is that our students come from a wide range of backgrounds.  This is a valuable resource in the classroom that challenges assumptions and can help us provide students with what they need for success.  

Q: Any future scholarship on intoxication in the offing?

A: I may try to publish individual chapters from the dissertation. But I’m also involved in a fun project with my son, who’s an Elementary Ed History major at TCNJ. We’re doing some research into our family history: There’s a building that still exists called Rotunda Pool that was named after my great uncle who died in WWII and we are using this history to talk about Italian-Americans living in Newark during this time.
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