Philosophy professor fresh from MIT blossoms

Susanna Rinard explains advanced concepts in logic to her philosophy students.
Susanna Rinard explains advanced concepts in logic to her philosophy students.

Susanna Rinard explains advanced concepts in logic to her philosophy students.

Not many people have stopped at Stanford and MIT on their way to UMKC. Most professors don’t teach with their spouses, not all have been asked by prestigious academic journals to submit their research and even fewer have done it before their 27th birthdays. UMKC philosophy professor Susanna Rinard can say she’s done it all.

“Don’t tell my students [my age], they won’t respect me anymore,” Rinard said with a laugh.

This is Rinard’s first year as a professor. She graduated from MIT last spring and moved to Kansas City with her husband, UMKC professor Andrew Graham, this past August. One of the major attractions of UMKC was that both she and her husband were able to get jobs teaching in the philosophy department.

“It was really important for us to get jobs in the same area and so that’s sort of for us the main thing,” Rinard said. “There are lots of other wonderful things about UMKC. We’re really happy we ended up here.”

The UMKC Philosophy Department only extends to the undergraduate level and has many classes open to the general student population. Rinard said she enjoys focusing on young philosophers early in their development and likes UMKC’s diverse student population.

“I might at 1:00 have a meeting with somebody who’s perfecting their writing sample for graduate school and then at 1:30 I have a meeting with someone who’s really struggling with the basics of logic. I really like that diversity of student interaction,” she said. “I’m also actually really impressed by some students who are working and they have kids, or they have an elderly parent they’re taking care of and they’re doing all their classes and they’re doing a good job of it.”

She also enjoys the collegial atmosphere of the Philosophy Department.

“I really liked how friendly everyone was, and how they all got along. I did interviews with schools where people were fighting with each other in the interview,” Rinard said. “I wanted to be in a place where there was a good positive community feeling among the other members of the department.”

Rinard was raised in Georgia and Oregon where she grew up on farms, and her father was a professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta. She met her husband in her first year of graduate school at MIT. Both Rinard and her husband are teaching logic classes, but instead of being competitive, they learn from each other.

“We give each other tips on how to teach, how to explain things. We also do have disagreements on how to approach things. So we have disagreements, but it’s also really helpful in preparing for class,” she said. “We’ve always been doing philosophy together. We were in classes together at MIT, every talk that I gave at MIT he was there, every time he gave a talk I was there. So we’ve just become very comfortable.”

Rinard specializes in epistemology and the philosophy of science. She was asked by the academic journal Oxford Studies in Epistemology to submit a paper by the end of the year, and just submitted a paper to the Philosophical Review. She hopes to get tenure and continue to do what she loves at UMKC.

“I wanted to do something that I thought would have a positive impact on the world,” Rinard said. “I mean of course I’m not going to get world peace tomorrow, but I wanted my job to be doing something that I thought was important. I love thinking about philosophy and I love teaching it.”

tsheffield@unews.com

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