When she was studying abroad in Italy as an undergraduate, Nicole Welk-Joerger couldn’t help but notice the parallels between her art history classes and her anthropology classes, especially with regards to Italian history. She mentioned it to her respective professors.
“They were insulted!” she laughed. “They were like, ‘We are trained in our specific fields. Art history is nothing like anthropology, and anthropology is nothing like art history.’ I’m sitting here in the middle thinking, you know, this would be a lot more fun if you just taught a course together.”
But, that’s Nicole Welk-Joerger for you. She’s something of an expert at making connections.
That’s why she’s a great fit for her role at UWM. Welk-Joerger is the new assistant director at the university’s Center for 21st Century Studies. She was hired in January and joins C21 Director Anne Basting in her endeavor to connect scholars from all disciplines, on campus and in Milwaukee, to facilitate new research and collaboration.
“The mission statement of the Center has long been ‘creating a community of scholars to address the pressing issues of the time.’ What I’m really passionate about ihelping to create that community,”
she said. “For me, it’s about meeting as many people as I can across the campus as well as elsewhere, seeing those connections, and getting those people to talk to each other and see what’s possible.”
In addition to those responsibilities, Welk-Joerger oversees several graduate students working on projects under the C21 umbrella, and she’ll also teach a course on the history of medicine in Spring 2023.
Despite being on the job for only a few months, Welk-Joerger has taken to her new role with aplomb. She spoke excitedly about the Center’s Library, which is being catalogued and reorganized, and the rolling symposia she is helping organize with the C21 Director, Lead Faculty Advisor, and community partners. At special program retreats, she said, she watched as people from across disciplines met to offer their friendship and academic services to others.
“That kind of synergy and community is what I’m all about,” she said. “I feel like I’m going back to that room in Rome with that art history professor and anthropology professor and thinking they should talk to each other. I’m now doing that here at UWM.”
Nicole Welk-Joerger is all about making connections. From her education to her farming background, all roads led to UWM.
Welk-Joerger grew up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her parents had a small operation of about 40 milking cows, and Welk-Joerger was the president of her local 4H chapter as a kid.
Her parents valued education, and Welk-Joerger is the first in her family to attend college.
“My parents needed to be well-read, and know how the weather works and also have basic biology for when they’re breeding cattle and making sure the cows are safe and healthy,” she pointed out in example.
Welk-Joerger, though, found herself interested more in arts and humanities. She loved languages and art, so left the farm and headed to Temple University in Philadelphia for her undergraduate education.
Welk-Joerger laughs when she talks about her research. “I am a very curious person. It’s hard to talk about my story because I go where I’m curious about something, and I dive deep.”
During her undergraduate and Master’s classes, she was interested in art history and worked with clay and glass design, in addition to learning languages and anthropology. She hoped to focus on the history mural arts in Philadelphia, but her project fell through. She was scrambling to find a thesis topic, and so returned to her farming background. Her thesis project turned into a paper on agribusinesses that worked with Amish farmers.
“There were a few Amish farmers who read that piece,” Welk-Joerger laughed.
From there, her work has taken on an agricultural bent. She’s studying food sustainability, the intersection of agriculture and pharmacology in the U.S., and even how electrical lines near dairy farms affect the cattle that live there.
Undergrad: Temple University, BA Art History and Anthropology; Study Abroad in Italy; McNair Scholar
Graduate: Brandeis University, MA Anthropology – “There I fell in love with science and technology studies,” Welk-Joerger said.
PhD: University of Pennsylvania, PhD in History and Sociology of Science. Dissertation titled, “Feeding Others to Feed Ourselves: Animal Nutrition and the Politics of Health, 1900-2019”
Animal connection to UWM
Welk-Joerger hadn’t thought of working at UWM until her research led her to an “Animals in the Archives” conference where she met Nigel Rothfels, an animal historian and the current acting dean of the UWM College of Letters & Science.
“His love and his electricity for UWM and the Center was just so inspiring. Between that and the (research) I saw coming out of the Center and Anne Basting being the director, I was like, let’s go for this!” she said.
Welk-Joerger refers to herself as a jack-of-all-trades, because she’s worked in just about every one.
“I’ve been all over the place. I’ve taught at Franklin and Marshall College and Drexel University. I had a postdoc at North Carolina State University teaching agriculture history courses. I found myself at Princeton University as an environmental studies postdoc.”
That’s on top of her other jobs throughout her life: Art museum gallery coordinator, Segway tour guide, amusement park employee, theater and opera house usher, film photography darkroom assistant, and newspaper columnist, to name a few.
“I just tried everything and had a lot of fun doing that,” Welk-Joerger said. “Those types of things were so necessary to my person and to where I am today.”
It all led to UWM
“I’m just so excited that I found a job and a capacity where I can use all of those skills in various ways and connect with a bunch of people that have similar skill sets,” Welk-Joerger said. “I love learning from people and I’m so excited to learn more. I’ve been here since January and I’ve barely scratched the surface.”