Faculty Spotlight Series – Professor Dana Polanichka
Name: Dana M. Polanichka
Position: Associate Professor of History
Years at Wheaton: 10.75 (it will be 11 years in July 2020!!)
Hometown: Dalton/Scranton, Pennsylvania
Education: Lackawanna Trail Jr/Sr High School (HS Diploma), Dartmouth College (AB), and University of California Los Angeles (MA and PhD)
Where is your favorite spot to work from home?
My “home” right now is a faculty apartment at Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan. I absolutely love working on my back porch here! It is on the third floor and overlooks a surprisingly audible stream and the neighboring woods. I can read or write with the soundtrack of running water, chirping birds, and wind rustling the leaves of trees. Whenever I work on my porch, I feel both totally alone and completely connected to the world.
What one thing do you miss most from campus?
The people–no question! Students, staff, and faculty! (But yes — I also miss my
gorgeous office and all the wonderful history books in it. Those shelves of books wrap
me in the warm glow of knowledge!)
What are you currently watching on TV or reading?
I just finished Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. So incredibly engaging–but also so
troubling. I am grateful, as a happily unmarried woman, to be living in the twenty-first century! Then I devoured, in a few hours, Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, on a friend’s recommendation. I am still thinking about the ending of that one! Now I have just begun Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.
Meanwhile, I am turning into a Netflix junkie. I enjoyed Tiger King way too much (and I am only slightly embarrassed to share that). Recently I finished the first five seasons of Schitt’s Creek (genius!), and I am looking forward to soon starting the new mini-series, The Last Dance, about Michael Jordan who was my childhood hero!
Best thing about being in quarantine?
I am perpetually underscheduled, and I barely need to use a planner or calendar! What
Freedom! I imagine that this is what life used to be like.
What is your favorite thing about working at Wheaton?
The people–students, faculty, and staff! Wheaton has an uncanny ability to attract amazing human beings to our campus. Indeed, it was the people who originally drew me to Wheaton.
What historical figure do you most identify with?
Probably Bertha, the second-eldest daughter of early medieval king and emperor, Charlemagne, as I have spent a lot of time researching her life over the past few years. Bertha enjoyed being intellectually engaged, she maintained friendships with amazing people, and she reminded people of her father. Thankfully I do not have a jealous older brother like Louis the Pious, but I do have a larger-than-life father, and I always hope to be more like him.
What living person do you most admire?
Other than my parents? Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist teacher credited with founding the movement known as “Engaged Buddhism.” He is a brilliant thinker and writer, and an inspiring human being. Listening to him and reading his work puts me immediately at peace.
Do you have pets? What are they?
No — I avoid commitment. But this semester I have become quite close to 3–4 stray dogs who live on the campus at Royal Thimphu College (Handsome/Hunter, Chip, and Red are my true loves; the fourth dog, Olivia, is still trying to win me over!). They walk with me every day, and I adore them. I do not consider myself a dog-person, but I think the isolation of the global pandemic is opening my heart up to canines!
What is your most cherished possession?
“Old Baby.” She is a ragdoll I have had for nearly forty years (since I was an itty bitty little infant). For many years, we did everything together. Now I must take very good care of her–and leave her at home–because she is falling apart!
What is something surprising about you that most people don’t know?
In high school, I dreamt of becoming a level-four virologist, working on Ebola and Marburg. My mother is thrilled that I ultimately chose the safer career of medieval historian.