DEBT RELIEF | 15
STATE OF EMERGENCY | 26
WHAT LIES WITHIN | 32
Two economists uncover an easy way to help prevent student loan defaults.
In a new book, professor Elizabeth Beck examines America’s homelessness crisis.
Tweaking your gut bacteria could be the next frontier in personalized medicine.
G E O R G I A S TAT E U N I V E R S I T Y
As cyber threats ramp up at home and around the world, Georgia State researchers are working to uncover how online criminals operate — and how to keep people, businesses and governments safe.
NEXTGENERATION RESEARCH UNIVERSITY MEANS
✓ Driving INNOVATION ✓ COLLABORATING across fields of study
✓ Laying the groundwork for LIFE-CHANGING DISCOVERIES AS THE LARGEST PUBLIC RESEARCH UNIVERSITY IN GEORGIA, we’re checking all the boxes.
Learn more at
FORWARD 5 NOTEWORTHY 40 NOW YOU SEE IT 46
CAN AMERICA END HOMELESSNESS?
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
In today’s digital world, targets for hackers are everywhere. The university’s Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group is working to thwart online criminal attacks.
In a new book, social work professor Elizabeth Beck lays out the economic and social forces that have contributed to the country’s homelessness problem — and what it would take to solve it.
Your body is a superorganism — home to trillions of microbes. A group of Georgia State researchers is studying how the right mix of bacteria could be the key to treating disease.
SAFEGUARDING THE DIGITAL WORLD
COVER ILLUSTRATION BY SAM PEET
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
FROM THE VICE PRESIDENT
An Extraordinary Journey WHEN I BECAME THE VICE PRESIDENT for Research & Economic Development at Georgia State in June 2011, university President Mark Becker presented me with a challenge: to find innovative ways to enhance, expand and ultimately transform the way research is conducted at the institution. Thanks to the strength and hard work of our research faculty and staff, I am proud to say we’ve made incredible progress in meeting that goal. For the past four years, Georgia State’s external research funding has exceeded $100 million, and our research expenditures topped $200 million for the first time in fiscal year 2017. We’ve climbed 50 spots in the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research & Development rankings, a feat that puts us among the fastest-growing universities in the nation. We’ve recruited faculty whose scholarship is nationally and internationally recognized in crucial areas, from infectious disease to sustainability to data science. Georgia State has also established a number of new institutes and university-level research centers, including the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, which opened in 2014 and now grants three degrees to train the next generation of biomedical industry leaders.
And we’ve had a remarkable transformation of our physical campus, with the construction of the Research Science Center in 2016 and the forthcoming Science Park Phase 3 building on our Atlanta Campus. Georgia State faculty are producing critical discoveries, whether it’s developing a new vaccine, understanding the complex challenges facing modern cities or addressing public health concerns. These achievements are a testament to the university’s focus on building a leading research institution through innovation and collaboration. In April, I began admiring that success from right down the interstate at Auburn University. I look forward to seeing how the university continues to grow and excel.
James Weyhenmeyer Vice President for Research & Economic Development
Publishers Don Hale, Andrea Jones Editor Jennifer Rainey Marquez Contributors Max Blau, Jeremy Craig, LaTina Emerson, Jennifer Rainey Marquez, Charles McNair, Tony Rehagen Creative Director Renata Irving Art Director Matt McCullin Designer Reid Schulz Contributing Illustrators Sam Peet, Reid Schulz Contributing Photographers Meg Buscema, Jonathan Phillips, Carolyn Richardson, Ben Rollins, Steve Thackston Send address changes or story ideas to: Jennifer Rainey Marquez, editor, Georgia State University Research Magazine P.O. Box 3983 Atlanta, GA 30302-3999 email: email@example.com Georgia State University Research Magazine is published by Georgia State University. The magazine is dedicated to communicating and promoting the high level of research at Georgia State University, as well as the outstanding accomplishments of its faculty. © 2019 Georgia State University | 19-RES9113
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
PHOTO BY CAROLYN RICHARDSON
FIGHTING FIRE WITH DATA 6 | PROCTOR CREEK CLEANUP 14 | MISINFORMATION AGE 16
A VASCULAR FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ | ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States among men and women, and the number one risk factor is age. In large part, this is because of the damage that occurs in our blood vessels as we grow older. But what if you could turn back your circulatory system’s clock? Georgia State scientists recently uncovered a molecule that could serve as a vascular fountain of youth. The molecule, which is produced by the liver during fasting or calorie restriction, can delay vascular aging by preventing senescence — the gradual deterioration of a cell’s ability to divide and multiply — among endothelial cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels. The molecule, called ß-Hydroxybutyrate, not only promotes cell division. It can also help fight against senescence caused by accumulated DNA damage, the primary cause of aging. “When people grow old, the vessels that supply different organs are the most sensitive to age-related damage,” says the study’s senior author, Ming-Hui Zou, director of the Center for Molecular and Translational Medicine at Georgia State and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Molecular Medicine. “If we can make the vascular system ‘younger,’ it could reduce the risk of not just cardiovascular disease but also Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.” Unfortunately, it takes more than just skipping a meal to produce the molecule naturally. The liver only makes ß-Hydroxybutyrate during periods of extremely restrictive food intake, starvation or prolonged intense exercise. So the researchers are working to develop a chemical that can mimic its effects. “It’s been known that fasting can have an anti-aging effect, but our work has provided a chemical link,” says Zou. “The next step is figuring out how to turn this discovery into a tool that can be used by anyone, not just dieters.”
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
The High-Tech Future of Firefighting Wildfires have changed. Georgia State computer scientist Xiaolin Hu is working to change how we combat them. BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ
WILDFIRES TORCHED 8.6 MILLION ACRES of land in the U.S. in 2018. The year before, 10 million. Since the 1980s, blazes have grown more ferocious thanks in part to changing climate and weather patterns, which have extended the fire season and made forests drier and more combustible. Wildfires today are bigger and more likely to encroach on land occupied by humans. Last fall, the Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history, incinerating the town of Paradise in less than a day and killing dozens of people. All this has made fighting wildfires more difficult and more costly. But there’s a tool that has the potential to better inform decisions about how and where to deploy fire management resources: drones. Xiaolin Hu, associate professor of Computer Science at Georgia State, remembers when the Aspen Fire burned through the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona in 2003, threatening the city of Tucson, where he was working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona. Since then, he’s been focused on optimizing firefighting efforts through the use of computer modeling. “The idea is to use a simulation to predict how a fire is going to spread and then feed that information into a resource optimization model that could help firefighters working on the ground,” says Hu, who directs the Systems Integrated Modeling and Simulation (SIMS) Lab at Georgia State. There was just one problem, he noticed. Wildfires are notoriously unpredictable, so unless you feed the model live data there will always be discrepancies when you run the simulation. “What we needed was something more like a weather forecast,” says Hu. “Forecasters constantly adjust their predictions in response to new data. They have one prediction in the morning and another in the afternoon, and they may not match.” Hu realized that the simulation must be similarly
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
dynamic, incorporating real-time information about the fire’s perimeter, plus wind speed and direction, which can shape how it unfurls. In 2009, he received a grant from National Science Foundation to couple his simulation with a weather model developed at the University of Oklahoma. Yet again, he hit a snag: it’s very difficult to collect live weather data in the middle of a raging wildfire. “You can use ground sensors, but deploying them in a forest is very challenging,” he says. “Once the fire happens, the sensors may get destroyed. Satellite images are also used, but these images are not updated frequently.” In most cases, says Hu, data are collected by pilots, who can fly over a fire and visually confirm how it’s spreading. However, it’s hard for individual pilots to provide timely data about a conflagration that can cover hundreds of square miles. And there’s not a good way to measure wind beyond a weather station, which may be a great distance away from the fire itself. Drones, on the other hand, could be deployed across a large area and instantaneously feed current data into a simulation model. Hu is working with Haiyang Chao, assistant professor at the University of Kansas, who is developing a way to incorporate drone technology that can sense wind speed and direction. The drones would also be fitted with cameras to map the fire’s location, identify safer travel routes for firefighters or reveal missed hot spots. In January, Hu and his two collaborators — Chao and Ming Xin, associate professor at the University of Missouri — were awarded $1.2 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop the use of drones to predict how a fire will spread in real time. Making it easy for firefighters to direct the system and use it in a coordinated way is key, Hu says. “This technology has the potential to save lives,” says Hu. “But only if there’s a simple way for people to access the information they need.”
The five worst wildfire seasons on record since 1960 have all occurred since 2006.
In California, half of Grant money awarded to the stateâ€™s 20 most Hu and his collaborators to destructive fires develop the use of drones occurred in 2017 and to predict how a fire will 2018. spread in real time.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
FORWARD MINERAL RESOURCES
Finding Treasure in Our Own Backyard A Georgia State geologist discovers rare-earth elements in the stateâ€™s kaolin mines.
Here are the 10 most prevelant elements they discovered, ranked from greatest to lowest concentrations: 1
BY LATINA EMERSON
DOZENS OF PRODUCTS, from medical lasers to magnets to computer monitors, are made from rare-earth elements, but these valuable minerals are hard to come by in the United States. As a result, American companies import most of their rare-earth elements from China. But recently, W. Crawford Elliott, associate professor of geosciences, and graduate student Daniel Gardner collaborated with scientists at Thiele Kaolin Co. in Sandersville, Ga., to uncover rare-earth elements in an unlikely place: the stateâ€™s kaolin mines. Thiele Kaolin Co. mined for kaolin in two quarries near Sandersville as part of its normal operations and provided Georgia State researchers with the leftover mineral samples for analysis. Elliott and his team performed a heavy liquid separation to divide the minerals by density and then used X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and chemical analysis to analyze the contents. The findings suggest a new, potential source of rare-earth elements, including the heavy rare-earth elements that are highly sought after in technology. The researchers estimate they can extract 58 metric tons of rare-earth elements per year from the Georgia kaolin mines. While this is only a fraction of what Americans need to manufacture products, this study opens up the possibility of a supply in the U.S.
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Y Ce Sc Dy La Nd Yb Er Gd
YTTRIUM Used for: light-emitting diodes (LEDs), lasers, superconductors
CERIUM Used for: water purification, fluorescent lamps, superconductors
SCANDIUM Used for: aluminum alloys
DYS O P R O S I U M Used for: permanent magnets, metal halide lamps
LANTHANUM Used for: rechargeable battery electrodes, fiber optics, night vision goggles
N E O DY M I U M Used for: high-strength permanent magnets, lasers for eye surgery
YTTERBIUM Used for: optical sensors, portable X-ray machines
ERBIUM Used for: optical fiber signal amplifiers, lasers
GADOLINIUM Used for: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents
Georgia State physicist Mark Stockman is developing new technology to make computers run faster — a lot faster. BY TONY REHAGEN | ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ
MARK STOCKMAN IS A QUICK THINKER. As solution. Their hexagonal lattice structure consists a physicist, he spends his time hurdling the chal- of transition metal atoms, like tungsten, squeezed lenges of the physical universe, solving complex between two layers of chalcogen atoms, oxygentheoretical problems. But recently Stockman has family elements like sulfur or selenium. In the set his mind to finding a way to make everyone a structure, electrons spin both right and left and in quicker day-to-day problem-solver — faster than we different states, creating an effect known as topocould’ve ever imagined. logical resonance. A computer can use this effect Stockman, Regents’ Professor of Physics at to process information in a matter of femtoseconds. Georgia State, is spearheading research on an Increased speed is only one benefit of optical technology that could make computers TMDCs. Whereas today, the only way to increase run a million times faster and a million times more computing power is to just stack multiple electronic efficiently, a leap that could fundamentally change processors, the sandwiched layers of the TMDC the way we live. are so thin that they are considered a 2D material. Transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs) are That not only saves physical space and materials super-thin but durable semiconductors with optical within the computer. It also conserves the energy properties that can essentially super-charge a it would normally take to cool those electronic computer’s processing and data storage capa- processors running at high temperatures. A tranbilities. How much faster? Right now, computers sistor can only sustain so much heat before it shuts complete functions in fractions of nanoseconds, down completely. less than a billionth of a second. Stockman and “One hundred processors running at one his fellow researchers at Georgia State’s Center gigabyte are slower than one TMDC processor for Nano-Optics believe that TMDCs are capable working at 100 gigs,” says Stockman. of doing the same job within a couple of femtoStockman says his research will eventually seconds, each of which is one millionth of one move on from the theoretical to the experimental. billionth of a second. He and his team are working in part from a $2 “Light is the fastest instrument available,” says million federal grant awarded in 2017. But we’re Stockman. “For the past 10 years, computers have still probably quite a few years and a paradigm run on electronic processors that haven’t increased shift away from harnessing this lightning-quick leap in speed. The only way to increase computing forward in our homes and hands. Unfortunately for power has been to use multiple processors — us, the development of such revolutionary techessentially brute force.” nology is measured in years and decades rather TMDCs could provide a much more powerful than femtoseconds.
TDMCs are so thin — made of just two atoms — they are considered a two-dimensional material.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
HISTORY UNEARTHED Georgia State geoscientists dig up a connection between climate change and evolution. BY LATINA EMERSON | ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ
NE MILLION YEARS AGO, an early species of humans — Homo erectus — roamed the lands of East Africa, gathering food, caring for their children and banding together in groups to fend off predators. As the centuries passed, their environment became increasingly dry, shifting frequently from wet to arid conditions and back again. Slowly, their home evolved from lush forests to low grasslands. These early humans learned to adapt to the fluctuating environment and even figured out how to use stone tools, which became more and more sophisticated. They began crafting handaxes and smaller, pointed tools that were ideal for darts, arrows and other projectile weapons used for hunting. It wasn’t just a coincidence that these advances in stone technology occurred at the same time as environmental changes, according to Daniel Deocampo, professor of geosciences at Georgia State. For two decades, Deocampo and his colleagues have studied how the evolution of the Earth may have influenced the evolution of hominins, a tribe of primates that includes modern humans and the extinct species of our lineage. The work is meant to indicate how humankind might survive massive climate change in the future. “We’re looking at geological sources of information about how the environment changed and interpreting what that meant for changing biological systems,” he says. Although contemporary climate change is linked to human activity, environmental shifts can also occur because of variations in the Earth’s orbit. As the Earth moves around the sun, the shape of its orbit changes from elliptical to circular, altering the amount of solar radiation the planet receives. The tilt of the Earth’s axis also changes over time, which can in turn affect the amount of incoming solar radiation. All of these changes influence how energy and water circulate around the Earth, leading to dry, arid spells at certain times and places.
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Since 2013, Deocampo and an international team of scientists have been engaged in the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project, dredging up ancient sediments at five sites across the East African Rift in order to determine what the Earth’s climate was like at various periods in history. At the Lake Magadi basin in Kenya, the researchers collected and analyzed sediments that date back a million years. “The sediments showed that Lake Magadi used to be freshwater and gradually has become more and more saline,” says Deocampo. “That tells us that arid conditions developed in East Africa about half a million years ago.” On top of the prolonged shift to a drier climate, there were also shorter fluctuations. “You might have some wet centuries and some dry centuries, so it’s getting wetter and drier and then wetter and drier in high-frequency cycles,” says Deocampo. “That’s when we see the Middle Stone Age tools being developed by early human ancestors.” According to Deocampo, these frequent climate fluctuations may have contributed to evolutionary advances by favoring a gene pool that is highly adaptable. During dry conditions, for example, early hominins probably had to travel much farther to get fresh drinking water or find animals to hunt. “Those changes may create selective pressure, as evolutionary biologists would call it,” says Deocampo. “Before the Middle Stone Age, most stone tools were fashioned from rocks that could be found nearby. But starting about 400,000 years ago, we start to see stone tools that came from geological sources many, many kilometers away.” The sediments also revealed details about the natural pace of climate change. “We can see that, historically, cycles of wetter and drier episodes are happening over thousands of years,” Deocampo says. “That’s much slower than the climate change we’re witnessing today, which is happening over the span of a human lifetime.”
SOUTHERN SURVEY MUD
A Lens on LGBTQ Life In a landmark survey, Georgia State University and the Center for Civil and Human Rights delve into the lives of LGBTQ Southerners.
TRACHYTE 200 METERS BELOW
At Lake Magadi in Kenya, Deocampo and his team drilled through 200 meters of sediment and rock to extract core samples dating back one million years.
THE SOUTH IS HOME to more LGBTQ people than any other region. But how much do we know about the gay Southern experience? Research-wise, there has been little accounting of LGBTQ Southerners’ quality of life, and how they are affected by living in a place with higher rates of discrimination and fewer legal protections than in other parts of the country. To take inventory of the needs and challenges faced by LGBTQ people in the South, the Center for Civil and Human Rights’ LGBTQ Institute partnered with Georgia State University to conduct a survey of more than 6,500 adults across 14 states. The survey covered a broad range of topics, including education and employment, health and wellness, criminal justice and safety, and sexual and gender identity. One major area of concern is discrimination. More than a quarter of all respondents and nearly half of transgender respondents said that in the past year they had been subject to jokes and slurs, the most commonly experienced form of discrimination. Workplace discrimination was most prevalent among transgender Southerners, with 14 percent reporting unfair treatment by an employer. A third of all respondents reported discrimination when trying to access healthcare services. Many people also said that they’d been rejected by friends or family, been made unwelcome at a place of worship and received poor service at hotels, restaurants and other businesses. “Most of the existing research on LGBTQ people has been done in urban centers with a large gay population, like New York or San Francisco,” says Eric R. Wright, professor of sociology and public health at Georgia State and the survey’s director. “This is really the first effort to understand the unique experiences of people in the American South. “While there is ample anecdotal evidence showing that LGBTQ Southerners experience high rates of discrimination, we did not have good data to back it up. Going forward, we hope that the survey results can guide policy decisions and direct funding toward ending discrimination and improving LGBTQ access to education, employment and healthcare.” GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Rewiring the Brains of Stroke Patients Neuroscientist and physical therapist Andrew Butler, professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and associate dean for research at the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing & Health Professions, discusses how he is mobilizing the healing power of brain plasticity. INTERVIEW BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ PHOTO BY BEN ROLLINS
Butlerâ€™s robotic exoskeleton connects to a computer. People who have had a stroke can wear it and play video games to help build strength in their impaired arm.
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
Your work is grounded in the idea of neuroplasticity. How would you explain that concept? Before the 1980s, most people believed that once the brain is injured, those neurons are dead and gone and the brain cannot recover. But what we have since discovered is that the brain is plastic — meaning it can change and modify its connections in response to stimuli. For example, maybe you remember someone growing up who had a lazy eye and who wore a patch to cover their strong eye. Wearing the patch makes the weak eye stronger, but it doesn’t change anything about the eye itself. Instead, it changes the brain, by forcing the visual pathways to develop further. How does neuroplasticity work in treating people who have had a stroke? Our approach is very similar to what I just described with the eyes. When a person has a stroke, neurons are wiped out and they often have paralysis or difficulty controlling movements on one side of the body. It gets harder to use the not-so-good arm, and so people use their good arm for everything. In our early work, we essentially put a very fancy mitten around the good arm, and forced people to use the not-so-good arm for two weeks, one-on-one with a physical therapist. This is called “constraint-induced therapy.” After two weeks of intense therapy, for up to eight hours a day, one-on-one with a therapist, we found their weak arm was stronger. And how does this therapy change the brain? We used magnetic resonance imaging and transcranial magnetic stimulation to examine the area of the brain right next to the area that was affected by the stroke. Of course, we found those dead neurons wouldn’t make your hand move anymore. But the area immediately next to those neurons was totally changed. It’s as if the brain said, I’ve got a bunch of extra neurons that are just in front of that, let’s re-wire this and use those. Still, eight hours a day is a lot of one-on-one therapy. Exactly. There’s understanding the mechanism of how this works, and there’s clinical trials and then there’s implementation. Clinicians could never implement one-on-one therapy, two weeks in a row, for eight hours a day. It was too expensive and too hard for people to comply. So, we thought, ‘What if we could take everything we know about what works — goal-directed therapy, lots of repetition, active assistance — and do it with a robot?’ We worked with a group of engineers to develop a robotic exoskeleton that would provide lots of exercise and enable the formation of those new brain pathways. And did it produce the same results? We compared equivalent doses of therapy in two groups of stroke patients. One group received 60 hours of one-on-one physical therapy and the other group received 30 hours of one-on-one therapy and 30 hours of robotic therapy. Our question was whether replacing 50 percent of the one-on-one therapy with robotic therapy would produce equivalent outcomes, and the answer was
yes. We found the same functional improvement with half as much physical therapy if it’s paired with this robotic exoskeleton. How does the device work as a rehabilitative tool? The exoskeleton is connected to a computer. People put the exoskeleton on the not-so-strong arm and play video games on screen. The computer is programmed to collect data and, using machine learning, it adapts the game to fit the individual’s ability. It learns with you. The patients could complete the session all in one go, or they could break it up to fit their schedules. But then participants said, ‘We don’t like to come into the clinic.’ So, we went back to the engineers and said, ‘Can we do this in the home?’ They said yes. We developed a robot that a person could use in their home that transmits outcome data via telemedicine. Much like your Fitbit provides data on how many steps or stairs you walk, the robot transmits how many repetitions or minutes of exercise you perform. How did the project with the Veterans Administration (VA) begin? The VA saw that our tele-robotic approach could work with veterans. At the time, a few years ago, there was a big problem where veterans were facing huge wait times for care. So, we wrote a grant application to the VA Innovation Initiative to provide veterans with limited options access to care in their homes using telemedicine. We particularly wanted to implement the therapy in rural areas because we know veterans there have an even harder time with access. And what was the outcome? We found that the therapy improved outcomes in four areas. It improved clinical outcomes: the veterans could walk better, grip things better, they were stronger. It led to greater patient satisfaction. Overall, the veterans liked it. It definitely improved access. Once veterans get discharged from the VA, especially if they live in a rural area, sometimes they aren’t getting any care. With this, they didn’t have to go anywhere. They could do it right in their homes. And it saved the money and time that veterans were spending driving into the VA clinics. The VA is still implementing the program in Georgia and around the Southeast. So, what’s next for the research? Now we’re working on moving the tele-robotic rehabilitation to the civilian world, which is a little more complicated. The telemedicine program worked in the VA because if you’re a physician or therapist who is credentialed with the VA, you can treat patients across state lines. In the civilian world, if you have a license in Georgia you can’t treat patients in Alabama unless you are also licensed in Alabama. Regardless, we are now working on a pilot implementation project with physicians and therapists with the Marcus Stroke Center at Grady Hospital. They believe in the mechanism of neuroplasticity and they believe that technology and therapy can help their patients recover from stroke.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
The new Proctor Creek Greenway offers a glimpse of the creek’s potential to become an amenity.
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT Georgia State researchers worked hand-in-hand with residents of Atlanta’s Westside to map environmental health threats in the Proctor Creek Watershed. BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ | PHOTO BY JONATHAN PHILLIPS
ILLEGAL TIRE DUMPING. Land contaminated by toxic chemicals. Fetid standing water. Sewer overflows. These are just a few of the environmental health issues that for decades have plagued the Proctor Creek Watershed, a 16-square-mile swath of Northwest Atlanta that includes dozens of neighborhoods. In 2013, Proctor Creek caught the attention of activists and researchers when the watershed was added to the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an Environmental Protection Agency program meant to reconnect communities with their urban waterways. Finally, there was investment and momentum to tackle the pollution and neglect, but the community was skeptical about whether the publicly available data were comprehensive enough to reflect all of their concerns. “It’s important to identify what’s actually impacting the people who live in the community,” says Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, co-chair of the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council and a recent Ph.D. graduate from Georgia State’s School of Public Health. “Yet datasets often miss that fine-grained, street-level data.” To address the problem, Jelks and other Georgia State public health researchers began working to build an app that would allow watershed residents to identify and document the environmental hazards that were negatively affecting their health and quality of life. Jelks says that bringing in community members to co-design the mapping tool was key. “We were able to leverage community expertise to determine which problems to focus on and how to formulate the queries in a way that was user-friendly,” she says.
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With the app in hand, longtime residents teamed up with Georgia State faculty members and students to collect photo and video evidence of environmental hazards in their neighborhoods. The data were then used to generate a series of maps, which showed where illegal dumping, stormwater infrastructure problems and other issues were most densely clustered. Since the research was published last year, the group has been asked to present its findings to Atlanta city councilmembers and the city’s Department of Watershed and Department of Public Works. The project has also helped empower residents of the Proctor Creek Watershed to advocate for meaningful change, says Christine Stauber, associate professor of environmental health at Georgia State and one of the study’s authors. “One advantage of community-based participatory research is that it also creates a space for community members to be part of the solutions process,” she says. “And when the community becomes involved in conversations around policy, that in turn puts a human face on the problem.” As a resident of Atlanta’s Westside for more than two decades, Jelks agrees. “I saw for myself how residents can be marginalized when they bring their concerns to officials. Sometimes they’re seen as lacking credibility,” says Jelks, who is now an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Spelman College. “We started to think about how the community can back up its claims in a way that’s rigorous enough to be respected by the people who can take that data and make it actionable.”
FORWARD BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
A SIMPLE SOLUTION TO STUDENT DEBT?
Two Georgia State economists have found a small change could go a long way toward addressing the student loan crisis. BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ
AMERICANS COLLECTIVELY OWE a total of $1.5 trillion in student loans, making student debt the largest category of consumer debt after mortgage debt. But this massive debt load isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to James Cox, the Noah Langdale Jr. Chair in Economics at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, and Daniel Kreisman, assistant professor of economics. “The problem isn’t that students are borrowing for college. It’s a good investment,” says Kreisman. “The problem is the way in which loans are being paid off.” Within four years of leaving school, about a quarter of student loan borrowers are unable to keep up with their payments. A 2018 report from the Brookings Institute, a public policy nonprofit, estimated that nearly 40 percent of borrowers may default by 2023. One reason for the high default rate, says Kreisman, is that a majority of students enroll in a 10-year fixed repayment plan. However, the return on investment of a college degree — a higher salary — may not materialize until after that 10-year period, when people have worked their way up the career ladder. An income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, on the other hand, offers insurance against default by pegging monthly payments to a borrower’s monthly earnings. “These plans make it very hard to default,” says Kreisman. “If you earn nothing, your payments will be nothing.” The U.S. Treasury Department has found that the default rate for those who choose IDR plans is less than 1 percent. So why aren’t more students choosing them? To answer that
question, Cox and Kreisman tested several ways to incentivize IDR plans for borrowers, which they detailed in a recent paper. They found the most effective mechanism was also the simplest: changing the pre-selected plan offered on StudentLoans.gov. “Navigating the student loan process is confusing and overwhelming, and when people are overwhelmed they tend to avoid making a decision,” says Kreisman. “So, changing the default option can play a really big role in determining what plan borrowers ultimately end up in.” The researchers tested other possible incentives, like providing more information about likely post-graduation earnings and explaining how each type of loan works in clear, easy-tounderstand language. While these made a small dent in borrower behavior, none worked nearly as well as changing the pre-selected plan. Kreisman notes that some borrowers may still decide against IDR plans: they can take longer to pay off, meaning more interest will accrue, and require annual income certification, which can be cumbersome. But he argues that for the majority of students, the benefits of safeguarding against default far outweigh the potential costs. Missing loan payments lowers your credit score, making it harder to lease an apartment, get a mortgage or even land a job. Next, the researchers hope to partner with Georgia State to understand how the university can use this information to serve its own students. “One idea would be to encourage our students to enroll in IDR plans right out of the gate,” says Kreisman, “or to make sure they are aware of the loan counseling that the university offers.” GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
FORWARD CHANGING MINDS
How to Talk About Climate Change Geosciences professor and outgoing provost Risa Palm investigates how to reach those who oppose action on global warming. BY JEREMY CRAIG | ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ
THE UNITED NATIONS’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last fall warning of a catastrophic effect on the world’s people, environment and economy if temperatures rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which could happen as soon as 2040. But meaningful action to stop climate change is not possible without political will, and despite overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, there are still many who don’t believe in it or consider it a matter of grave concern. Risa Palm, professor of geosciences and the university’s provost for the past 10 years, is studying how attitudes toward climate change are formed, and how they might change depending on the way the issue is framed. “Most people do accept that the climate is changing as a result of human activity,” says Palm. “But there is a skeptical and powerful minority who either do not believe that climate change is a serious problem or that our actions are making it worse.” In 2017, she and her colleagues in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies analyzed data from a panel of 9,500 respondents who were asked the same question about climate change in 2010 and 2014. They found that direct experience with warmer weather, drought and weatherrelated natural disasters had a very small impact
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“Once attitudes are politicized, they are difficult to change. Once a position has been taken, such as loyalty to a team, people reject new information as tainted or propaganda.” — RISA PALM
Time for a Carbon Tax? on the respondents’ acceptance of climate change. What did matter was whether they identified as a Democrat or a Republican. Between 2010 and 2014, Americans’ opinions about climate change became more polarized by political affiliation, increasingly aligning with those of others in the same political party. “Once attitudes are politicized, they are difficult to change,” says Palm. “Once a position has been taken, such as loyalty to a team, people reject new information as tainted or propaganda.” Political attitudes toward climate change may not be completely intractable, though. In the 1970s, after all, the United States took bipartisan action to limit aerosols and reduce air pollution, and founded the Environmental Protection Agency. So what could convince climate change skeptics to change their minds? Palm believes that focusing on the economics of climate change — such as its effect on housing markets in areas of sea level rise, flooding and wildfires — could be key. “In places like South Florida, we may see higher interest rates on home loans or additional mortgage insurance requirements,” Palm says. “There is already research showing that coastal properties are being affected by lower prices, and lenders and insurers are being advised to take such factors into account.” The challenge, she says, is how to navigate the country’s highly-partisan environment so that those in the skeptical minority can join with others to tackle the problem. In this way, the U.S. differs from nearly all other countries, where party identification matters less when it comes to attitudes about climate change. In 2018, Palm contributed to a study showing that globally, the biggest predictor of climate change concern is not party affiliation, but belief in democratic values. “Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution,” says Palm. “By gaining a clearer understanding of who is most likely to oppose climate change actions and how to reach them, we can identify an effective way to overcome bias to get people to agree to take action. There is a lot more to do here.”
A new study by a Georgia State economist shows that it may be more feasible than previously thought.
The only way to avoid a worst-case climate change scenario, scientists agree, is to start drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions. To incentivize individuals, governments and corporations to pull the plug on fossil fuels, many economists favor imposing a global tax on carbon. Enacting such a policy would require the cooperation of countries around the world, a daunting task that may be more attainable than once thought, according to a new survey led by assistant professor of economics Stefano Carattini. He and his collaborators surveyed 5,000 people in the U.S., India, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia and found consistently high support for a global carbon tax among the public — if certain conditions are met. For example, the research showed people were most receptive to a global system of harmonized carbon taxes, in which countries agree on a tax rate but maintain control over how the revenues are spent. Most respondents said they would support the taxes if revenues were given back to citizens as per capita “dividends” or spent on climate projects. The researchers also simulated the economic effects of a worldwide carbon tax, using different tax rates and uses of revenues, and found it would not disrupt the global economy, especially if the revenues were used to reduce income taxes and stimulate growth. Their work, which was published in Nature in January, earned support from prominent economic experts. The same day of the study’s publication, the Wall Street Journal ran a policy letter pushing a carbon tax, penned by a group of 45 renowned economists — including two Nobel Prize recipients, four former Federal Reserve chairs, two former Treasury secretaries and former chairs of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
RESEARCH | FALL 2018
As cyber threats ramp up at home and around the world, Georgia State researchers are working to uncover how online criminals operate â€” and how to keep people, businesses and governments safe. BY CHARLES MCNAIR | ILLUSTRATIONS BY SAM PEET
The City of Atlanta awoke to a real-life nightmare on March 22, 2018. Overnight, unknown cybercriminals had attacked municipal government computer systems. At 5:40 a.m., when early-bird customers tried to pay their water bills, the system failed to respond. Atlanta Police Department officials tapped keyboards in frustration, unable to process reports. The ransomware attack clogged sewer infrastructure requests and brought the gavel down on local court proceedings. “This is much bigger than a ransomware attack,” said newly elected Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at a hastily convened morningafter press conference. “This really is an attack on the government, which means it’s an attack on all of us.” Using SamSam Ransomware, the cybercriminals likely entered a vulnerable city server, then introduced their own encryption program. It unriddled passwords on desktop computers, garbled data and created chaos. The city received a ransom note demanding six Bitcoin (cryptocurrency worth about $50,000 at the time) in exchange for a key to remove the encryption and return the data to normal. Some victims of ransomware attacks quickly pay to make the problem go away. Cybercriminals often target hospitals, where administrators may decide that a hushed payment outweighs the grave risks that encrypted data might pose to patient safety.
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Atlanta refused to pay. Instead, the city mobilized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and cybercrime experts. It took days to assess system damages and bring operations back to normal. Ten months later, a federal grand jury charged two men in Iran with the Atlanta crime and others. The attackers allegedly carried out a 34-month cybercrime spree that raked in $6 million in ransoms and cost some 200 victims an estimated $30 million in reparations. Along with Atlanta, the Iranian duo allegedly hit the Port of San Diego, the City of Newark, N.J., and medical centers. Although the Atlanta attack cost the city millions and made international news, it represents just a fraction of the global impact of cybercrime, whose scale is nearly unimaginable. In February 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., and McAfee, a cybersecurity company, issued a study that appraised the
The Researchers cost of cybercrime at $600 billion annually, a number approaching one percent of the total global economy. The report estimates that two-thirds of people online, or more than two billion individuals, have had their personal information stolen or compromised. Between 300,000 and a million viruses and other malicious software products are created every day. Corporations and organizations suffer more sophisticated attacks — and in full public view. Expensive, image-damaging incidents have occurred at Equifax, Marriott, Yahoo, The Home Depot, Target Stores and Facebook, among hundreds of other organizations. “Cybersecurity is changing because the world is changing,” says Richard Baskerville, Regents’ Professor in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business’ Department of Computer Information Systems. “It’s a great challenge for us not just to protect information systems, but to protect the entire digital world those systems are creating for us.”
Developing Smarter Security Learning more about how to intercept cybercriminals can’t happen fast enough. The rise of “smart” gadgets has turned everything from door locks to TVs into targets for hackers. And as every aspect of life becomes increasingly digitized, even voting systems, medical networks, power grids and military weapons are vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. In 2017, Georgia State University announced an initiative to address issues of cybersecurity and public policy in two vital sectors of the nation’s (and Atlanta’s) economy — financial technology and health information. The initiative is funded by Georgia State’s Next Generation Program, which aims to build research of strategic importance to the university, and combines talent housed in the Robinson College, the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences. The goal: to better understand the technical — and human — challenges of cybersecurity. David Maimon, associate professor in the Andrew Young School’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, is head of the EvidenceBased Cybersecurity Research Group. He and his colleagues seek a stronger factual platform for cybersecurity decision-making. “Companies spend a lot of money on
Richard Baskerville Regents’ Professor, Computer Information Systems
Donald Edward Hunt Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Criminal Justice & Criminology
David Maimon Associate Professor, Criminal Justice & Criminology
William Joseph Sabol Professor, Criminal Justice & Criminology
Yubao Wu Assistant Professor, Computer Science
cybersecurity, yet we can’t really say whether these tools or policies are making us more protected,” says Maimon. “That’s because we lack solid evidence about their effectiveness at reducing the susceptibility of breaches from outsiders or insiders in organizations.” Maimon doesn’t fault corporations, manufacturers and governments for being slow to tackle the dangers posed by cybercrime. However, he points out that as technological
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
“Once upon a time, people walked into a bank and robbed it. Now people hack a bank and rob it. Technology and digital evolution are changing the landscape of crime itself.” — Donald Edward Hunt
innovation ups the security ante at blistering speed, cybersecurity defenses, and decisions based on them, increasingly risk failure. In February 2019, he and his collaborators brought together some 30 local chief information security officers and cybersecurity experts and asked them to think about potential ways of measuring the effectiveness of tools and policies they use in their daily operations. “We gained some insights about the issues that companies are dealing with,” says Maimon. “Now we are in a better position to tailor experiments and other data collection efforts that local industry and government could leverage.” Baskerville, who is also part of the EvidenceBased Cybersecurity Research Group, is
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
studying what’s called a cyber kill chain, a framework developed by Lockheed-Martin to describe an attacker’s activities, to pinpoint when and how cybercrime can be stopped. One aspect of the kill chain is deception, in which attackers pretend to be authorized system users in order to gain access. “In the animal world, there are natural examples of deception, such as a gopher snake pretending to be a rattlesnake by shaking its tail,” he says. “But here in the cybersecurity world, it’s more like a rattlesnake pretending to be a gopher snake.” Good deception on the part of an attacker can increase the security burden. Defenders have to find every system vulnerability and correct it. Attackers only have to find one.
Cybersecurity 101 You can’t make yourself 100 percent hacker-proof, but you can help protect your personal data by adopting these four simple safeguards. Quit using predictable passwords. Data breaches have given criminals information about how people typically construct their passwords, and hackers can use a combination of guesswork and algorithms to test pretty much every permutation of your kids’ names, the year you were born or other typical password tricks (like “pa$$w0rd”). Avoid standard password templates, use a different password for every website and change your passwords often. Pay attention to those “software update is available” notices. When you’re hard at work, stopping to update or patch your software may seem like an annoying time-suck. But software updates aren’t just for cool features or faster run-times, they also introduce security fixes that can make you less vulnerable to hacks. Read your email like an English teacher. If you get an email that seems suspicious — say, from your bank asking you to verify a transaction — read it carefully. Grammar and spelling mistakes are tell-tale signs of fraudulent emails. And check the sender’s email address. The name may say “Bank of America” but if the “From” address is your own email account (or another account that doesn’t match the company’s Web domain), it’s likely a phishing scam. Never click any unfamiliar attachments or links. Most of the time, institutions like banks will not include attachments in an email. They also won’t do things like “deactivate your accounts immediately” unless you click a link and type in your Social Security number. Don’t open any files you aren’t expecting, and be wary of urgent requests for personal information.
The trick, says Baskerville, is to find consistent behavioral patterns among cybercriminals during the progression of a cyberattack. “Then we can develop tools and computer configurations that can mitigate the consequences of an event while it’s occurring,” he says. “For example, defenders can also engage in deception, creating traps that are difficult for attackers to evade.”
Wiretapping the Web “Once upon a time, people walked into a bank and robbed it,” says Donald Edward Hunt, a postdoctoral research fellow in criminal justice and criminology. “Now people hack a bank and rob it. Technology and digital evolution are changing the landscape of crime itself.” Hunt understands cybercrime from experience. Before entering academia, he was a white-collar crime investigator for 10 years before embarking on a 14-year cyber career at the world’s largest credit card processing company. Hunt works today with Maimon to set online traps — also known as “honey pots” — to study criminals’ methods and motives. “Honey pots are essentially computers programmed to look like businesses,” says Hunt, describing Maimon’s research. “But we purposefully leave a hole in their security — that’s the honey. When cybercriminals hit the site, we capture everything they do and add it to our data set.” The information is blended into a larger database and analyzed to establish trends, make comparisons to other external data sets and inform policy. The researchers are not at liberty to say much about honey pot investigations. (Strict guidelines with the Institutional Review Board govern Georgia State’s research.) They can’t reveal how cybercriminal attacks are monitored, or what and how data are captured. They do say that, depending on the event, researchers sometimes make contact with wouldbe cybercriminals. “It usually takes the form of some type of deterrent message sent to the attacker, and then subsequent monitoring to see if the intervention had any effect,” Hunt explains. Gauging deterrence and analyzing the actions and reactions of cyber attackers can uncover clues to blunting cybercrime.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
“What makes them stop?” Hunt asks. “We’re seeing what works, what doesn’t work. What are the motivation, drive, skills and tools they need? We want evidence, statistical analysis, for predicting these things.” William Joseph Sabol, professor of criminal justice and criminology, studies how to better measure the extent of cybercrime and the criminal justice system’s responses. “It’s been more than a dozen years since the federal government attempted to measure corporate cybercrime victimization,” says Sabol. “Since then, much has changed in how and how often these attacks happen. This presents challenges for measuring cybercrime and its impact.” His work is made more complicated given that many smaller cybercrime cases don’t make headlines at all. National and international surveys show that companies report cybercrime — the hacks, server intrusions, phishing scams — to law enforcement at relatively low rates. Sabol supports the Cybersecurity Research Group’s efforts to understand how cybercrime is changing, and what these changes might mean for law enforcement. “If cybercrime justice requires special technical knowledge, for example, will we one day have something like a cybercrime court, where judges and prosecutors need special training?” he asks.
Bringing the Dark Net to Light Yubao Wu, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, deals in large-scale analytics, otherwise known as big data. His computers crunch massive amounts of information sent over from Maimon, Sabol, Hunt and others, and he also sifts his own findings to spot information that might be valuable. Much of his time is spent mining cryptomarkets — websites that conduct commercial business on the Dark Net, the criminal underworld of the Web. On these sites, which function like a blackmarket Amazon or eBay, users can purchase everything ranging from illegal drugs to malicious malware programs. Wu and his team are using big data to try to strip information from cryptomarkets, uncovering
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Behind the Keyboard By studying a cyberattack and the way it’s carried out, experts can help shed light on the perpetrators. Here, researcher Donald Hunt ventures general assumptions about hackers who engineer three kinds of intrusions, from least-sophisticated to most-sophisticated. Scenario 1: Credit Card Fraud “Let’s say you get a call from your credit card company for a $150 charge at a clothing store in Sweden, but your card has never been out of Atlanta. That’s probably a solo hacker, and a person who doesn’t need much in the way of technical know-how. Card numbers can easily be stolen with a skimming device when you swipe to make a purchase. On the Dark Net, criminals can purchase thousands of card numbers from skimmers or other sources for as little as $50.” Scenario 2: A Ransomware Incident “This kind of attack requires more skill. Attackers usually get in when a person clicks on a link or an attachment embedded in an email. Once inside, the criminals can swipe information or shut down a system and hold it hostage. A ransomware hacker may work alone, but they often work in teams, connected through computers that might be spread all over the world. One hacker might research a target company, while another writes code for the attack, yet another composes phishing emails, and another maps a network or encrypts the data, and there might be still another person who directs it all.” Scenario 3: Influencing a Presidential Election “With this kind of coordinated, sophisticated attack, attackers are typically in close proximity. Picture an organized office, a command center. These people are very good at what they do, and they are usually brought together by a common goal or a commonly known leader. This may be a foreign government, or people acting on its behalf, conspiring to target national stability or security. Many people believe the next war is going to be fought online, if it’s not being fought already.”
information about who’s there, what they’re selling and what it can be used for. The goal is to deter cyberattacks by identifying would-be hackers and their possible methods of attack. That task becomes Herculean, though, as cryptomarkets pop up like mushrooms. “As our lives become more and more digitized, that offers more and more paths to sensitive data,” says Wu. “More opportunity means more demand for criminal markets.” It’s too much information for humans to comb through, at least not in time to circumvent criminal attacks. So Wu is developing computer programs that can crack the data on cryptomarket transactions in real time and analyze it using processing technology. Buyers in cryptomarkets provide ratings on transactions, which often includes the amount of the transaction (in Bitcoin) and the aliases of the buyer and vendor. Bitcoin transactions
are designed to be anonymous, but basic information — the transaction time, amount and the Bitcoin addresses of both the sender and receiver — is stored in a public ledger. By using algorithms that can grab and match up these two sets of information, Wu could identify the Bitcoin addresses of those selling and purchasing items on the Dark Net. This could provide security experts with more information about how cybercriminals operate, including their financial activities, sales volume and market size. Wu says that this kind of technology-aided approach is the future of fighting cybercrime. “We’ll more and more see humans guide artificial intelligence to gather crucial data,” he predicts. “Then, with luck, we can use that intelligence to send out alerts to the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration, enabling them to take action before attacks happen.”
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
SOCIAL WORK PROFESSOR ELIZABETH BECK HAS LONG GRAPPLED WITH THE QUESTION: HOW CAN WE SOLVE AMERICAâ€™S HOMELESSNESS PROBLEM? IN A NEW BOOK, SHE LOOKS TO THE PAST FOR ANSWERS. BY MAX BLAU
PHOTO BY STEVEN THACKSTON
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
In fall 1975, 15-yearold Elizabeth Beck tagged along on one of her mother’s business trips to New York. Beck, then a Pittsburgh high school student, was excited — it was the first time she had been there. But as they left, her mother issued a surprising word of caution: that in New York she might encounter people living on the street. Before then, Beck had never heard of homelessness, let alone seen it with her own eyes. “It can be difficult for Americans born after the mid1970s to understand that widespread homelessness was not a normal part of our world,” says Beck. “Up until the 1980s, homelessness was typically episodic, with people becoming unsheltered when the country experienced economic downturn, rather than a chronic, ongoing problem.” The memory of that trip never left her mind. In the years that followed, as America’s homeless population soared, Beck embarked on a lifelong quest to work with what she calls the “forgotten and invisible.” While the scope of her research has expanded to focus on trauma, mass incarceration, restorative justice and community development, Beck, a professor of social work at Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, has never stopped thinking about how homelessness has transformed into a steady fixture of American life. She recently co-authored a book, “The Homeless Industry: A Critique of U.S. Social Policy,” with Pamela Twiss, a professor of social work at California University of Pennsylvania. The book chronicles the economic and political forces that first contributed to the rise of homelessness and examines how long-term efforts to curb homelessness have been thwarted by inadequate funding, poor implementation of policies and the country’s traditional response to poverty. (Over the years, national polling has found that most Americans say poverty is more likely to be caused by personal failures, such as a lack of motivation or drug abuse, than structural forces, such as a shortage of jobs.) Beck and Twiss believe America can still end homelessness. But future solutions will require officials, providers, researchers and advocates to revisit the failures of the past. They say a shift in priorities and perspective is required, one as dramatic as the rise of homelessness itself.
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Before Beck’s trip to New York, homelessness was invisible to her. The daughter of two professors, each active in the Civil Rights Movement, Beck had been raised to spot signs of injustice in the world. Yet she doesn’t recall seeing homeless people in her hometown of Pittsburgh. Her lack of awareness wasn’t uncommon: The federal government wouldn’t even begin counting the national homeless population until the early 1980s. The first reports estimated that between 250,000 and one million Americans lacked housing. Around the same time, after graduating from Ohio University, Beck moved to Washington D.C., and got a job waiting tables at a restaurant. Immediately, she noticed “astonishing numbers” of people living and dying on the streets of America’s capital. Beck had so many questions about their experiences — Who were they? How did they become homeless? What was their daily life like? — that she began volunteering at a city shelter. Soon, she was hired to work at the shelter’s day center. Beck also volunteered with the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), an advocacy group pressuring Congress to provide aid for homeless assistance. In 1984, she moved into a women’s shelter at the corner of 2nd and D streets operated by CCNV. As the coordinator of the overcrowded and under-resourced shelter, she worked as many as 70 hours a week. She often encountered unpredictable emergencies, like the time a shelter resident delivered a baby on the premises. Despite the substandard conditions, Beck took great pride in caring for the women, even if it was in small ways that at times seemed insignificant. “There were few ways we could actually help someone,” Beck writes in the book. “But, sometimes, we did. Sometimes a woman just needed shelter for a few nights before she received her first paycheck. Rarely, despite consistent advocacy on the part of staff, we were able to help residents secure a spot in a 28-day treatment program for addiction, but the lack of aftercare often resulted in relapse. Occasionally, we were able to help women
transition from the shelter after working with them for a very long time to get their disability and Social Security checks. My general feelings of helplessness were such that I became an expert of delousing, as this allowed me to make a real difference in the quality of someone’s life.” Beck knew the work was urgent and necessary. Living unsheltered not only had the potential to be a death sentence, particularly during the frigid D.C. winters, it was also linked to higher rates of mental illness, substance misuse and infectious disease. As Beck oversaw the shelter, she observed what she calls an “embittered struggle” between CCNV and the Reagan administration, as each tried to influence the public on what the government’s role should be in addressing homelessness. At the core of this fight, Beck and Twiss write, was the U.S. government’s embrace of an ideology known as neoliberalism, which promoted fiscal austerity, deregulation and the reduction of government spending. Federal data suggest the safety net programs can lift millions out of poverty. Research shows that the reduction of those programs can expose families to increased housing instability, a precursor to homelessness. By the end of the Reagan-era recession, some experts estimated the U.S. homeless population had quadrupled. “Homelessness is not accidental,” Beck says. “When you slash major safety net programs, cut support for the
poor and don’t ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing or subsidies for working people, you end up with more homeless people. And that’s what happened.” Higher rates of homelessness, experts have found, come with a huge price tag. A 2006 study estimated that providing housing for 150,000 chronically homeless individuals — an estimated 5 percent of the total homeless population that year — could save nearly $8 billion in healthcare costs and shelter space. Beck’s involvement with the CCNV coincided with the most contentious era of homelessness advocacy in modern American history. To raise support for an effort to convert a vacant federal building into shelter space, the group’s leader, Mitch Snyder, an ardent agitator who helped elevate homelessness into national consciousness, fasted for 51 days, a saga that culminated with a “60 Minutes” segment. (Snyder won, and the building was converted.) Congress was also pressured into passing a series of smaller emergency relief bills, followed by what remains the most influential piece of homelessness policy of the past generation: the Stewart B. McKinney Act of 1987, a federal law to establish and fund assistance programs for homeless people. The McKinney Act authorized $1 billion for homeless assistance. But advocates remained frustrated by the lack of funding for prevention measures, such as funding to
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
“HOMELESSNESS IS NOT ACCIDENTAL. WHEN YOU SLASH MAJOR SAFETY NET PROGRAMS, CUT SUPPORT FOR THE POOR AND DON’T ENSURE AN ADEQUATE SUPPLY OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING OR SUBSIDIES FOR WORKING PEOPLE, YOU END UP WITH MORE HOMELESS PEOPLE. AND THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED.”
Improving Care for Georgia’s Families In addition to her work on homelessness, Beck also works as a principal investigator for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). For the past eight years, Beck has received $1 million in grant money to support veteran employees with advanced training in how to deal with sensitive issues ranging from working with LGBTQ youth to helping fathers talk to foster kids about sex. “When somebody is in a traumatic state, we try to help employees understand why traditional techniques might not work,” Beck says. Over the past two years, she has also received $3.5 million to expand the work with DFCS into what’s known as the Child Welfare Training Collaborative. The statewide effort educates DFCS’ local community partners — including police officers, school leaders, judges and healthcare providers — on the effects of trauma on child brain development. In bringing these stakeholders together, the collaborative creates a space where information is provided about the most pressing issues facing children, as well as strategies to build resilience within families. “It puts everyone on the same page: that sometimes kids’ behavior that seems inexplicable can be explained by looking at brain development and the effects of toxic stress,” Beck says.
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PHOTO BY BEN ROLLINS
prevent evictions, preserve low-income housing and provide the mentally ill with adequate shelter. “The McKinney Act was supposed to have had a much larger vision,” Beck says. “That vision got lost.”
In the late 1980s, after helping to open a transitional housing facility, the first of its kind in Washington D.C., Beck left to enroll in a Ph.D. program in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. Soon after finishing her dissertation, in the mid-1990s, she joined Georgia State’s nascent social work program. “I was deeply impressed with what Georgia State was trying to do in terms of its community partnerships,” Beck said. “The university reached out and asked what kinds of skill sets were needed in the community and what the school could provide.” During Beck’s time at Georgia State, she has expanded her research beyond homelessness to study how state lawmakers’ views of poverty affect their support for government assistance for families, the role of restorative justice in social work and how family members of those who have committed capital crimes experience grief. In 2007, she co-authored “In the Shadow of Death,” a book focused on the stories of death row inmates’ family members, to illustrate the broader idea of restorative justice, a concept that encourages offenders to be rehabilitated by fostering mediation with the people and communities they harmed. For the past several years, she’s also been the principal investigator on a large training initiative for Georgia’s Department of Child and Family Services. In 2014, the Society for the Study of Social Problems announced that its annual meeting would focus on the half-century since Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. Beck presented an abstract — “From Poverty to Psychiatry: How Social Justice Got Lost in the Movement to Address Homelessness” — that analyzed the response to the homelessness crisis of the 1980s. Soon after, a book editor called to ask: Would you write a book on homelessness? “So much of the story wasn’t told,” Beck says. “By going back to the beginning, I felt I could influence officials to make more informed decisions about policies.” When Beck signed on to write “The Homeless Industry,” she reached out to Twiss, a fellow University of Pittsburgh alum who had traveled in similar homeless advocacy circles. Now both social work professors, they agreed on a holistic portrayal of the homeless advocacy movement of the 1980s. “We didn’t want to end up laying blame with a particular set of people,” says Twiss, “but show there were many parts and people that led to where we ended up.” To fully understand the rise of homelessness in the 1980s, they read through hundreds of newspaper stories, academic journal articles and reports from advocacy
organizations. They pored over government documents, including congressional hearings and notices from the Federal Register, the daily journal of new federal rules and regulations. And they spent time at Georgia Washington University, reading through the papers of Snyder and other CCNV members who donated their records to the special collections library there. After three years of research, Beck and Twiss identified a set of five core factors they argue gave way to the rise and persistence of homelessness. One, they say, was a historical view that blamed poor people for their life circumstances. Two, politicians began to embrace neoliberal economic and social policies that disproportionately harmed lowincome, working-class and black individuals. Three, compromises in policy reforms allowed homelessness to be treated as an emergency, instead of an inevitable consequence of current policies. Four, policymakers framed homelessness as a psychiatric problem rather than a problem rooted in a nationwide affordable housing shortage. And finally, they argue that the creation of a large social service sector formalized what became a “homelessness industry.” Beck and Twiss also advocate for three kinds of policy changes they say must happen in order to not just end homelessness but also prevent it in the future. First, officials should increase rent subsidies for the poor or even create a universal housing voucher program, in which renters would be required to spend just 30 percent of their income on housing. They say there also needs to be a nationwide minimum wage increase, along with other policies that reduce economic disparities. Finally, they argue in favor of a universal healthcare system that covers mental health conditions. To accomplish these goals, they encourage the adoption of a framework that would include housing as part of a wide set of guaranteed human rights. Across the country, Beck points to some state and local policies that could serve as a template elsewhere in the fight against homelessness. Nineteen states and 24 cities have recently raised the minimum wage. In some places, including Seattle and San Francisco, it has increased to $15 an hour. In states like Illinois and Connecticut, lawmakers have also passed policies to protect people experiencing homelessness from facing discrimination based on their housing status. Beck and Twiss acknowledge that without more federal funding for ambitious solutions, progress toward ending homelessness will be limited. The authors also doubt that radical policy shift will happen without a radical shift in the way Americans view poverty. “How we view the poor, in a society that really values individuals who can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, colors our response to homelessness,” Twiss writes. “It’s a shame that we don’t talk about the mismatch between income and resources and housing costs.” Or as Beck puts it: “We must return to the values that honor our shared responsibilities to each other.”
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
Your body is much more than just flesh and bones. It’s a complex ecosystem teeming with trillions of microorganisms, which — as Georgia State scientists are finding — may be the key to understanding and treating all kinds of disease.
BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ
You probably think of yourself as a singular being: Me, myself and I. But in truth, you are not so selfcontained. Humans are superorganisms, home to an invisible ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes. Your body is so packed with tiny lifeforms they outnumber your own cells.
THE BIGGEST CONCENTRATION OF MICROBES — UP TO 1,000 SPECIES — RESIDE IN YOUR GUT.
These hangers-on, known altogether as the microbiota, can be found from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, but the biggest concentration — up to 1,000 species — reside in your gut. Most are benign or even beneficial. Bacteria are responsible for breaking down otherwise undigestible food into usable fuel and producing essential vitamins and nutrients. Even beyond their basic functions, scientists have discovered these miniscule organisms have an outsized influence over your health. In conditions ranging from obesity to anxiety to autoimmune disorders, the microbiota seems to play a role. At Georgia State University, an interdisciplinary team of researchers is working to elucidate the mechanisms by which these bacteria communicate with the body and how changes to the microbiota can promote or protect against disease.
WHAT SHAPES THE MICROBIOTA? Just as environmental ecosystems differ from place to place, these bacterial ecosystems differ from person to person. No two individuals have quite the same microbiota. Your gut flora grows and evolves in response to many factors, including genetics, the food you eat and the medications you take. Even stress can play a role, as Georgia State researchers have found. In a study published last year, scientists examined how social stress affected the gut microbiota of Syrian hamsters, animals that rapidly establish hierarchies — in which one hamster becomes dominant and the other becomes subordinate — when paired together. They found in both the “winners” and the “losers” that the microbiota became less diverse overall after being subjected to social stress. This would seem to be an equally negative effect, given that good health generally seems to depend on a rich mix of gut bacteria. “Yet when you look at the composition of the microbiota, different bacteria were impacted in dominants versus subordinates,” says Kim Huhman, Distinguished University Professor of
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Neuroscience and lead author of the study. “In dominants, social stress actually increased the presence of certain microbes that are thought to have a positive impact on the body’s stress response.” The researchers then analyzed whether any microbes present before the animals were paired could predict whether the hamster would become dominant or subordinate. The answer was yes. Huhman and her team are now studying whether manipulating gut microbiota can have an effect on the animals’ behavior when they are then subjected to social stress. “If certain gut microbes can have positive or negative effects on people’s ability to deal with social stress, then we could potentially improve people’s resilience by changing their gut bacteria,” says Huhman. “And social stress is a huge exacerbator of mental health conditions like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. We know that antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs don’t always work very well for some individuals. What if we could manipulate your microbiota instead?”
COEXISTING — OR COMBATING?
We often think of bacteria as something to be eradicated, whether by disinfectants, antibiotics, or our own immune systems. So how is it that trillions of bacteria can live inside our bodies without kicking up a massive immune response? In the gut, the key is mucus, which forms a barrier between the microbes and the cells that line your intestinal tract, also known as the intestinal epithelium. As long as bacteria stay on their side of the fence, so to speak, the immune system doesn’t bother with them. If those microbes break through the mucus and come into contact with the epithelium, though, it can mobilize the immune system into action, triggering an inflammatory response that has cascading effects throughout the body. One factor that can disrupt that delicate balance is food additives, Georgia State researchers have discovered. Andrew Gewirtz,
can have positive or negative effects on people’s ability to deal with social stress, then we could potentially improve people’s
by changing their gut bacteria.” – Kim Huhman
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
AS EXPERTS HAVE GAINED A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE GUT, IT’S CLEAR THAT YOUR MICROBIOTA AND YOUR BRAIN ARE CONNECTED VIA AN INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY.
professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, and Benoit Chassaing, assistant professor of neuroscience and a former post-doctoral researcher in Gewirtz’s lab, have found that synthetic emulsifiers — common additives used to improve the texture and extend the shelf-life of processed foods — make it easier for bacteria to penetrate the mucus barrier. In animal models, their research has linked emulsifier consumption to obesity, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases such as colitis, conditions all marked by chronic inflammation. “We know that the microbiota is regulated and influenced by the body, by genetics and by outside factors like diet,” says Gewirtz. “Now we’re trying to better understand how.” But studying the mechanisms by which a particular factor like emulsifiers affects the microbiota is challenging because of the complex relationship between the bacteria and its human host. To get around the problem, Gewirtz and Chassaing are taking the host out of the equation. In their labs, the microbiota is replicated in vials, each containing a colony of human gut bacteria cultured from fecal samples. “In this model there’s no intestine, no immune system, no inflammation,” says Chassaing of their method. “We can analyze the makeup of bacteria and monitor how it changes in the presence of, for instance, food additives. Then we can transplant the same microbiota into mice to assess whether they experience inflammation or get sick.” The scientists’ research has revealed that different colonies of gut flora respond in different ways to stressors like emulsifiers. They have identified some microbiota that are completely resistant to the negative effects of the food additives, and others that are particularly susceptible. The next step, they say, is to understand which bacteria are driving the susceptible phenotype and which are driving the resistant phenotype. “If clinicians could use this approach to analyze the microbiota of a patient with, say, inflammatory bowel disease, it could help personalize their treatment strategy,” Chassaing says. “A doctor could say, ‘Cutting out emulsifiers won’t make any difference for your inflammation,’ to one patient, and tell another patient, ‘You have a susceptible microbiota and you should avoid these additives.’” Learning more about how and why our immune system tolerates the microbiota may also help scientists better understand autoimmune diseases, chronic conditions in which the immune system goes into overdrive, attacking the body’s own tissues. “How do certain microbes thwart the immune response? Some of it can be explained
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by physical barriers like mucus,” says Lezek Ignatowicz, professor in the Institute of Biomedical Sciences. “But it’s clear there are also active processes at work.” Ignatowicz is interested in regulatory T-cells, a type of white blood cell that is known to keep the immune system in check, prevent autoimmune disease and maintain tolerance of antigens, proteins found on the surface of a pathogen that can trigger an immune response. He and his team are trying to pinpoint whether certain types of bacterial antigens may be preferentially recognized by these cells or even enhance their function. “We’re not going to solve this overnight because of the complexity of the microbiome,” Ignatowicz says. “But if some species are shown to be ‘liked’ by regulatory T-cells, you could imagine these can be provided to patients suffering from autoimmune diseases.”
THE GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION
Not so long ago, many scientists believed the microbiota’s sphere of influence couldn’t possibly extend to the brain, given that the blood-brain barrier is meant to block bacteria and other microbes from reaching the organ. But as experts have gained a deeper understanding of the gut, it’s clear that your microbiota and your brain are connected via an information superhighway of neurons, chemicals and hormones that can “listen” for signals from those trillions of microbes. Recent studies have shown that the microbiota is involved in determining your mental state and the development of diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to depression to autism. They may even play a role in neurodevelopment, according to Nancy Forger, professor and director of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State. All vertebrates, she says, build a brain by overproducing neurons and then killing off about half of them at birth. “We’ve known about this phenomenon for decades,” says Forger. “But nobody knows what triggers it, what ends it or why there are huge differences in the number of cells that die in different regions of the brain.” She and her team have hypothesized that exposure to microbes, which first occurs as babies enter the birth canal, could be responsible. Last year, they published the results of an experiment in which mice were delivered into either a sterile environment or normal, non-sterile conditions. The study determined that a germ-free environment altered patterns of cell death across the brain, producing a higher rate of death in several areas.
CALL OF THE WILD A pilot project to turn lab mice into country mice could change the way scientists approach biomedical research. Laboratory mice are often referred to as “clean,” meaning they are bred, raised and housed in super-sanitized environments. By keeping out microbes that mice would normally encounter in the wild, the argument goes, researchers can control for more variables in their experiments. “The question is, are we making things so artificial that we’re not getting clear insight into the human condition?” asks Tim Denning, professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences. With a restricted microbiota, the immune system of a clean mouse looks quite distinct from that of an average human. A wild mouse nosing around the garbage bins, on the other hand, has an immune system that — like yours — developed in the presence of diverse microbes. It’s no secret that most therapies that work in lab animals fail when they get to clinical trials, and genetic differences between mice and people aren’t always to blame. “When you think about making vaccines or drugs, which animal model would you want to use in your experiments?” asks Denning. “I think most people would say we should include the animals that more closely mimic a human.” Using wild mice, however, presents huge practical limitations. For one, wild mice aren’t always easy to come by. For another, clean mice are bred in a way that makes their genetics extremely well-defined: A lab mouse across the globe will have basically the same DNA as a lab mouse at Georgia State, which means scientists can share tools and replicate results.
“If you get a mouse from outside, many of the tools don’t work. We don’t know the genetics of that mouse,” says Denning. “So how do you maintain the power of the current model while doing something about its limitations?” His solution: Take the clean mice and make them dirty. In 2018, Denning worked with Mike Hart, director of the university’s Division of Animal Resources, and John Kelley, the division’s assistant director, to build an outdoor facility where typical lab mice could burrow in the soil, forage for food and get exposed to the type of microorganisms that wild mice do. “We take a group where we know their genetics, we know their history, we know everything about them,” he says. “Then we put half of the animals in a clean lab environment and half outside.” Next, Denning and other scientists can begin examining changes in the microbiota, changes in the immune system and changes in response to disease. Researchers can also breed the mice in the outdoors and monitor the development of the immune system from birth. The facility sits on a secure Georgia State property in Panthersville, about 10 miles from the downtown campus. Denning and his collaborators hope that it will be invaluable in understanding how environmental factors influence the development of the microbiota. “Most scientists are reductionists; they want to control every single variable. But in the real world, there are tons of variables,” says Denning. “This approach lets us make observations and then start to work backwards to figure out the causes.”
The mice are housed in containers made from retrofitted vegetable shipping crates, made of thick plastic and then lined with steel mesh. “There’s no way a mouse can chew through,” says Denning.
A wireless surveillance system allows investigators, veterinarians and animal care technicians to monitor the mice, which are nocturnal. “You just open up the app to see the mice in real time using night vision,” says Denning.
Mice like to burrow, so each container is buried nearly four feet underground and fitted with a top which extends another four feet above ground. Inside are shelters, nesting material, food, water and natural vegetation.
Regular soil samples will show which bacteria, fungi or viruses the mice have encountered. “We think the dirt, where they’re living, is going to be the biggest change agent,” says Denning.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
A HIGH-FIBER DIET IMPROVES THE DIVERSITY AND HEALTH OF THE MICROBIOTA. FIBER FEEDS THE GOOD BACTERIA IN YOUR GUT, HELPING THEM FLOURISH.
“That got us thinking: Perhaps we have evolved to be microbe-expectant,” says Forger. Her theory is that the vagus nerve, which extends to the gut and communicates directly with the brain, may be expecting microbes to appear immediately after birth. If they aren’t present, it could throw established patterns out of whack. In a second study, the researchers also found that cell death in the brain was altered depending on whether mice were delivered vaginally or by Cesarean section. C-sections, which account for about 30 percent of U.S. births, can limit the development of an infant’s microbiota in two ways. Surgical delivery means babies don’t get exposed to a multitude of microbes as they pass through the birth canal. And mothers are routinely given antibiotics before the procedure, altering their own microbiota, which in turn influences that of the newborn. “There’s evidence that suggests Cesarean births may affect human neurodevelopment, but of course you can’t do a randomized controlled experiment in which you assign mothers to different birth modes,” says Forger. “These animal studies are helping us determine what’s causing the effect.” Another team of researchers is examining how changes to the microbiota can inform the way we think and behave. Neuroscience professor Geert de Vries is working with Gewirtz and Chassaing to build on the work they have done on emulsifiers, by looking at how the food additives affect behavior in mice. In a recent study, they found that consuming emulsifiers not only affected the gut microbiota of male and female mice (albeit in different ways) — it also affected their behavior. Male mice exhibited more anxiety-like behavior while female mice became less social. The key is inflammation, says de Vries. “We know that gut inflammation triggers local immune cells to produce signaling molecules that can affect tissues in other places, including the brain,” he says. “And we know that people that have a so-called leaky gut have higher preponderance of psychiatric symptoms and anxiety. If we could reduce inflammation related to the interaction between bacteria and the epithelium, we could provide a new way of treating these disorders.”
MICROBES AS MEDICINE Every year, almost half a million people in the U.S. become infected with Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, bacteria that can wreak havoc inside the gut, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. The first-line treatment for C. diff is antibiotics, yet the bacteria are resistant to many
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of the drugs. If the infection comes back again and again, patients can die. For those desperate sufferers, experts have discovered an unusual treatment can be effective in combatting C. diff: a fecal transplant. The procedure delivers a slew of helpful bacteria into the patient’s colon to crowd out the pathogens and “reset” the gut microbiota. And there are many scientists, including Gewirtz, who believe the microbiota could be altered in the same way to fight chronic disease. “There’s currently interest in using fecal transplants for inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes,” all conditions that have been linked to an imbalance of the gut microbiota, he says. The next step in this work is figuring out how to replicate the benefits of a fecal transplant with precise cocktails of bacteria. “As of now, the human microbiome can only be manipulated broadly,” he says, “by wiping out whole colonies of bacteria through antibiotics or by introducing complex colonies of bacteria through fecal transplants.” These transplants, while effective at fighting infection, have occasionally resulted in unintended effects. Some transplant recipients have gone on to develop obesity or metabolic syndrome, conditions that may be linked to harmful bacterial species in the donor’s gut. “The consensus is that a fecal transplant — which is a very imprecise technique — is a temporary approach,” says Gewirtz. “The hope for the future would be to eliminate or introduce specific bacteria to prevent or reverse specific conditions.” Scientists also have to determine the best way to get new bacteria to take up permanent residence in a recipient’s body. “Clinical trials for fecal transplants to treat prediabetes or insulin resistance show very promising initial results,” says Gewirtz, “but after a few months, the effects fade and the microbiota returns to its initial state. We’re looking at ways to lastingly manipulate the microbiota.” One way to do that is by changing the way we eat. A high-fiber diet, for example, improves the diversity and health of the microbiota, Gewirtz has found. That’s because fiber doesn’t just feed you, it also feeds the good bacteria in your gut, helping them flourish. “The potential of dietary ingredients like fiber and emulsifiers to impact the microbiota — in both positive and negative ways — is exciting to me, because it’s very easy to manipulate,” says Gewirtz. “It’s not easy for a person to change their genetic risk factors. Whereas changing your diet is very much achievable.”
The of the microbiome go way beyond the gut. We may one day be able to enlist our tiny colonists to treat all sorts of
from inflammatory bowel disease to obesity to diabetes.
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
NOTEWORTHY SE L EC T FACU LT Y HONOR S A N D ACCOM PL ISH M E N TS
ANDREW YOUNG SCHOOL OF POLICY STUDIES Ann-Margaret Esnard, Distinguished University Professor of Public Management and Policy, has co-authored “Geospatial Applications for Climate Adaptation Planning.” Dan Immergluck, professor in the Urban Studies Institute, has been named an influential education leader in Atlanta Magazine’s inaugural “Atlanta 500.” Mirae Kim, assistant professor of public management and policy, has received the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action’s 2018 Outstanding Article in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly for “The Relationship of Nonprofit’s Financial Health to Program Outcomes: Empirical Evidence from Nonprofit Arts Organizations.” Carlianne Patrick, assistant professor of economics, has received the Southern Political Science Association’s Artinian Award. Bruce A. Seaman, associate professor of economics, and Dennis R. Young, professor emeritus, co-edited the “Handbook of Research on Nonprofit Economics and Management, Second Edition.” Tim Sass, Distinguished University Professor of Economics, was among the nation’s top 200 scholars ranked in the Education Week blog, “The 2019 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.” BYRDINE F. LEWIS COLLEGE OF NURSING & HEALTH PROFESSIONS Rafaela Feresin, assistant professor of nutrition, has received a $500,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to examine the effects of berry consumption on the reduction of blood pressure and associated cardiovascular risks. COLLEGE OF THE ARTS Kimberly Cleveland, associate professor of art history, has been appointed a 2019 Faculty Fellow at Georgia State’s Humanities Research Center. Cleveland will pursue her book project, “Artistic Renderings of Brazil’s Black Wet Nurses: Visualizing the Women Who Nourished a Nation.”
Maria Gindhart, associate professor of art and design, was a presenter at the Sculpture Symposium Day during the Fine Arts Paris art fair. COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES Eyal Aharoni, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, has been awarded $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to study predictors of violent and anti-social behavior. Michael Beran, associate professor of psychology, authored “Self-Control in Animals and People,” which examines what self-control is, how it works and whether humans are the only species able to demonstrate it. Sarah Brosnan, professor of psychology, philosophy and neuroscience, was appointed editor of Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B. Brennen Dicker, executive director of the Creative Media Industries Institute, was the inaugural recipient of the Gallantry Award at the 2018 Women in Film and Television Gala. Mario Feit, associate professor of political science, won Contemporary Political Theory’s 2018 Best Paper prize for his article on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s democratic impatience. Gladys Francis, associate professor of French and Francophone studies, was the Honorary Keynote Speaker at La Caraïbe en Question, organized by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Regional Council of Guadeloupe. Eric Friginal, associate professor of applied linguistics and ESL, has published a textbook, “Corpus Linguistics for English Teachers: New Tools, Online Resources, and Classroom Activities.” Zhi-Ren Liu, Distinguished University Professor of Biology, is the founder of a pharmaceutical research company, ProDa BioTech, which has received a $2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop an effective therapy for pancreatic cancer.
Georgia State faculty: Share your research news with us. Send your noteworthy accomplishments to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
continued on pg. 42
QUALITY OF LIFE
A SEARCH FOR MEANING What does a good life look like for people with dementia? Professor Candace Kemp is working to find out. “WHEN SOMEONE IS GIVEN A DIAGNOSIS OF DEMENTIA, we sometimes lose sight of them as a person,” says Candace Kemp, professor of gerontology. “Frequently, emphasis is placed on lost abilities rather than how they can still find purpose or make their voice heard.” Yet Kemp says that meaningful engagement is not only possible for people with dementia, it’s critical to maintaining quality of life. It’s also a huge unmet care need. Kemp and her collaborators in the university’s Gerontology Institute received more than $3.3 million last fall from the National Institute on Aging to research the best ways to help assisted-living residents with dementia be optimally engaged in life. They hope to uncover general principles that can be personalized and adapted for different settings beyond assistedliving communities. “What’s meaningful to you might not be meaningful to me and vice versa,” Kemp says, noting that there are some studies that suggest meaningful engagement is also a potential avenue for addressing anxiety, agitation and aggression in people with dementia. “These behaviors are all forms of communication. If bingo is not your thing, and someone is trying to make you do
PHOTO BY MEG BUSCEMA
it, that could spark or worsen agitation.” Over the next five years, Kemp and her research team will study the routines and engagement patterns of 75 individuals in 12 assisted-living communities and personal care homes across the metro Atlanta area. To gain insight into a range of experiences, they will choose a resident sample that is diverse in terms of age, sex, type of dementia, type of care partner, and cognitive and physical ability. The group will interview residents when possible, along with family members, staff and others who are involved in engagement in the community, such as volunteers or hospice workers. At the end of the study, Kemp hopes to define best practices for meaningful, person-centered physical, social and emotional engagement and provide guidance for how to promote it across various settings and functional abilities. “The goal is to produce something that is useful not only for care providers but also family members,” says Kemp. “Sometimes people find it hard to communicate with those who have dementia, and as a result they struggle to connect. I hope we’re able to come out with strategies that care partners can use to create meaningful experiences.”
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
NOTEWORTHY Jennifer McCoy, professor of political science, has received a fellowship from the Institute of Advanced Study to support a research residency with Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, in spring 2019.
Holley Wilkin, associate professor of communication and public health, has received the American Public Health Association’s 2018 K. Everett M. Rogers Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to advancing public health communication.
Monique Moultrie, associate professor of religious studies, has been awarded the Book of the Year from the Religious Communication Association for her work, “Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality.”
COLLEGE OF EDUCATION & HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Janet Burns, clinical assistant professor of learning sciences, has received the national Post-Secondary Innovation Award at the 2018 Association for Career and Technical Education Conference.
Rashid Naim, principal senior lecturer of political science and faculty adviser to the Georgia State Model United Nations team, has been appointed to the board of directors of the National Model United Nations (NMUN), the nonprofit that oversees NMUN competitions.
Marisa Franco, assistant professor of counseling and psychological services, has received $339,384 from the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center to research a smoking cessation intervention in China and Vietnam.
Deirdre Oakley, professor of sociology, and her editorial team of Georgia State students have published the first issue of City & Community since the journal moved to Georgia State last year. Oakley was named editor-in-chief in January 2018. Marise Parent, professor and associate director of the Neuroscience Institute, has received $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study how brain areas involved in memory control eating behavior. Dominic Parrott, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Research on Interpersonal Violence, has received $2.5 million from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to understand and prevent interpersonal violence and address the impact of victimization with public policy. Victoria Rodrigo, professor of Spanish applied linguistics, has published a textbook, “La comprensión lectora en la enseñanza del español LE/L2: de la teoría a la práctica,” which covers practices for integrating reading skills into Spanish instruction. Elizabeth Tighe, an assistant professor of psychology, has been selected as a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science. Erin Tone, associate professor and associate chair of psychology, has been elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Gangli Wang, professor of chemistry, has received $485,263 from the Department of Energy to study how nanostructured materials, or materials with hollow structures on the nanometer scale, affect how other substances pass through them.
Gholnecsar Muhammad, assistant professor of middle and secondary education, has received nearly $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to study a professional development model designed to improve secondary school teachers’ literacy instruction in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) content areas. Kris Varjas, professor of counseling and psychological services and director of the Center for School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management, was highlighted in the American Psychological Association’s “Thank A Scientist” campaign for her research on bullying and cyberbullying. COLLEGE OF LAW Lisa Radtke Bliss, clinical professor of law, has been named a Fulbright Distinguished Chair. She will teach students enrolled in the Human Rights Clinic and the Patients’ Rights Clinic at Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, in Fall 2019. Erin Fuse Brown, associate professor of law, has been cited for the Best Antitrust and Mergers Article from the American Antitrust Institute for her article with co-author Jaime S. King, “The Anti-Competitive Potential of Cross-Market Mergers in Health Care.” Karen Johnston, assistant director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth, has received a grant from UN-Habitat’s Urban Legislation Unit to help determine the impact planning systems have on sustainable urbanization. Timothy D. Lytton, Distinguished University Professor of Law, has received a grant from the U.S Department of Agriculture to study the impact of insurance on fresh produce growers. continued on pg. 45
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IMAGE OF CROSS IN FRONT OF SCHOOL IN CONCERT
BOYS TO MEN Professor Patrick Freer is working to help choral teachers guide boys through the voice change. DURING PUBERTY, a boy’s vocal folds elongate, causing his voice to deepen, sometimes by an octave or more. As boys mature through these changes, it may become more difficult for them to control their voices. Historically, male singers were sidelined during this time, sometimes kicked out of choirs or told to stop singing until they were adults. Music education professor Patrick Freer knows this firsthand. “I was a boy who was told my voice was ‘broken’ when it started to change,” he says. “It took years for me to make my way back to singing. It wasn’t until college that I found a teacher who said, ‘Well, let’s see what you can do instead of what you can’t do.’” For decades, Freer has focused his research on how choral teachers can more effectively guide boys whose voices are starting to change. His work earned him an invitation to spend the fall 2018 semester working with faculty at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, one of Europe’s leading music conservatories. While there he became involved in a project with the Vienna Boys Choir, which was established more than five centuries ago and is one of the best-known boys’ choirs in the world. Its conductor, Gerald Wirth, has made the group notable for their inclusion of boys with changing voices, Freer says. “He has developed a system of working with adolescents that has become informally known as the Gerald Wirth method,” he says. “At first, the choir’s funders were simply interested in codifying his technique, but as more researchers got involved, it moved beyond that. Now we are focused on analyzing what makes his method and that of good choral teachers in general so successful?” To do that, the choir’s leadership has brought PHOTO BY MEG BUSCEMA
together an interdisciplinary team of researchers. There are neuroscientists who are interested in studying how different choral instruction approaches affect the brain, as well as the resulting musicianship. There are computer scientists who are developing simulated classrooms to train educators and technology to analyze choral teaching techniques. Freer and his colleague Helmut Schaumberger of the Mozarteum are working to inform those efforts by contributing their expertise in instructional methods and teacher training. In February, they began working on a review of the existing research into effective techniques of successful choral instructors and conductors. “We do know that there are choral teachers who are more successful than others, but we haven’t necessarily done a good job of figuring out exactly why that is,” Freer says. “There’s an old adage in our field, which is ‘We had a great choir program in our school, and then she left.’ I hope this project might lead to a more evidence-based set of standards and methods and tools that can be applied in all different kinds of singing communities, not just those that include middleschool boys.” Freer stresses that getting it right in adolescence is critical when it comes to music education. He has conducted numerous studies showing that if people, particularly boys, stop singing in adolescence they will likely never sing again. “Many teachers will say that adolescent boys don’t like to sing,” says Freer. “Well, that’s not what I find in my research. Boys do like to sing. It’s choir — the method or format of the instruction — that’s the problem. So now the question is, what do we do about that?” GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
RAISED BY RADICALS In her new book “Small Arms: Children and Terrorism,” communication professor Mia Bloom explores how and why terrorist groups recruit and exploit children. Here are three takeaways from the work, which also includes contributions from psychology professor John Horgan. Different groups use children in different ways. Some groups use children to carry out acts of violence, others use children as ammunition in a propaganda war. Even within a terrorist group, says Bloom, there may be different pathways of involvement and levels of coercion. “As many countries now are facing what to do with these children,” says Bloom, “it’s important to understand that not all kids living under terrorist rule were involved in the same activities.” Children must be taught to hate. The book challenges the notion that children involved in terrorism are genuinely radicalized, ticking time bombs that may be “reactivated” at a later date. “Even if they’re saying outrageous things on video or during interviews, it’s just words that they’ve been made to learn by rote and repeat,” says Bloom. “They’re not necessarily dangerous or true radicals.” Children can be influenced or even brainwashed by their parents, the educational system or a culture of martyrdom. But it’s not until around age 15, says Bloom, that adolescents begin to be genuinely converted to the ideology. And they can be un-taught. DDR — demobilization, deradicalization and rehabilitation — is a pressing issue that many Western countries have to face. But it’s also a thorny one, says Bloom, for which there’s often a lack of resources or political will. The best approach is multi-pronged, in which children are provided with proper schooling, vocational training (to reduce recidivism) and religious reeducation (because many terrorist groups preach a warped version of Islam). Children also need social workers and therapists to help them deal with trauma. Bloom stresses that successful DDR programs don’t just help reduce the likelihood that children will go back into terrorism. They also help prevent kids from being pulled into gangs or criminal activity. “It’s about preventing all kinds of negative outcomes for these kids who have already been subjected to such horrific experiences,” she says.
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ALSO ON SHELVES…. “The Politics of White Rights: Race, Justice, and Integrating Alabama’s Schools” by Joe Bagley Bagley, assistant professor of history at Perimeter College, examines how legal battles were used to fight school desegregation in Alabama. “Breaking Bad & Cinematic Television” by Angelo Restivo In today’s “golden age” of television, Restivo, associate professor of film, media and theatre, describes how “Breaking Bad” and other contemporary series have built a new aesthetic in the post-network entertainment world. “Navigating MicroAggressions Toward Women in Higher Education” edited by Ursula Thomas Thomas, assistant professor of cultural and behavioral sciences at Perimeter College, explores the experiences of women of color in higher-education institutions. “The Wrongful Convictions Reader” coedited by Russell D. Covey According to the National Registry of Exonerations, more than 2,000 men and women have had their convictions overturned in the U.S. In this book, Covey, professor of law, discusses the major factors that contribute to wrongful convictions.
COVER COURTESY OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS
Ryan Rowberry, associate professor of law and co-director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth, has received an Aarhus University Foundation Research Grant to study legal protections for Danish coastal cultural heritage. Jonathan Todres, professor of law, has been appointed to the board of editors of a new peer review journal, the International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy, and Practice. INSTITUTE FOR BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES Richard Plemper, professor, has received a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a compound antiviral drug to treat the flu. Bao-Zhong Wang, associate professor, has received a five-year, $3.86 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a universal flu vaccine using a microneedle patch. Jun Zou, research assistant professor, has received a $552,000 Junior Faculty Development Award from the American Diabetes Association to study how dietary fiber can protect against diabetes and other disorders associated with metabolic syndrome. J. MACK ROBINSON COLLEGE OF BUSINESS S. Tamer Cavusgil, the Fuller E. Callaway Professorial Chair and director of the Center for International Business Education and Research, has been recognized as the most prolific author and the co-author of the most influential article by Advances in Global Marketing, which published a comprehensive review of scholarly academic literature in international marketing covering 1995-2015. Rajeev Dhawan, the Carl R. Zwerner Chair of Economic Forecasting and director of the Economic Forecasting Center, has received his fifth Crystal Ball Award from Pulsenomics. The award is given annually for accuracy in projecting the future path of the Zillow Home Value Index over various time horizons. Mark Keil, the John B. Zellars Professor of Computer Information Systems, has received the Association for Information Systems Fellow Award for outstanding contributions to the information systems discipline in research, teaching and service. V. Kumar, Regents’ Professor, the Richard and Susan Lenny Distinguished Chair in Marketing and executive director of the Center for Excellence in Brand & Customer Management, has been
honored by the American Marketing Association with a namesake scholarship, the V. Kumar Award for Service to Marketing Scholarship. The award is given to an academic in the field who has chaired or been a committee member on multiple dissertations, mentored doctoral students and taught Ph.D. seminars. Isabelle Monlouis, professor of practice and associate director of the H.J. Russell Center for Entrepreneurship, has received a grant from VentureWell to develop an innovation and entrepreneurship program for WomenLead, Georgia State’s university-wide undergraduate leadership course. Veda Storey, the Tull Professor of Computer Information Systems, has received the Association for Information Systems Fellow Award for outstanding contributions to the information systems discipline in research, teaching and service. She also received the 2018 Peter P. Chen Award for outstanding contributions to the field of conceptual modeling. PERIMETER COLLEGE Maher Atteya, Antara Dutta and Jerry Poteat, professors of chemistry, received a University System of Georgia Textbook Transformation Grant to publish a digital textbook, “Chemistry: Learning by Doing.” Andrea Hendricks, associate professor of online math and associate department chair for online math and computer science, has authored a textbook, “College Algebra with Support.” SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH Kathleen Baggett, associate professor of health promotion and behavior and interim director of the Mark Chaffin Center for Healthy Development, and her colleagues received nearly $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education to develop and study a framework for supporting early interventionists serving families of toddlers with autism. Christina H. Fuller, assistant professor of environmental health, has received a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to investigate the potential for tree barriers to mitigate high levels of air pollution in communities near busy roads. Matt Hayat, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, has been invited to become a founding member of the Associations of Schools and Programs of Public Health Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Workgroup.
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WRITTEN IN STONE At 3,820 meters above sea level, Mount Chirripó in Costa Rica is one of the highest points in Central America. It’s also where Georgia State scientists and students are studying how continental crust is formed. “Whether continental crust is being formed today and under what conditions continues to be one of the most significant questions in geosciences,” says Paulo Hidalgo, senior lecturer in the Department of Geosciences. “In Costa Rica, we can reconstruct the beginnings of continental crust that has formed more recently — millions of years ago, as opposed to billions.” The image above is a thin section of granite (a type of igneous rock derived from magma) as seen through a petrographic microscope, which researchers use to analyze the mineral content of the sample. Relationships between crystals in the rock and their chemistry can shed light on its history as it cooled from a molten state, allowing scientists to make inferences about the source of its magma. The research will also help further pinpoint when the Central American isthmus — the narrow strip of land linking North and South America — closed, cutting off the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea and marking the beginning of a major global climate shift.
RESEARCH | SPRING 2019
IMAGE COURTESY OF RUSSELL KIRN
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