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USCTIMES STAFF Craig Brandhorst Managing editor Designer Brandi Lariscy Avant Contributors Chris Horn, Page Ivey, Megan Sexton, Bob Wertz, Dana Woodward Photographer Kim Truett Campus correspondents Patti McGrath, Aiken Cortney Easterling, Greenville Shana Dry, Lancaster Jane Brewer, Salkehatchie Misty Hatfield, Sumter Annie Smith, Union Tammy Whaley, Upstate Jay Darby, Palmetto College Printer USC Printing Services USC Times is published twice per semester during the regular academic year by the Office of Communications and Public Aff airs, Wes Hickman, director. Questions, comments and story ideas can be submitted via email to Craig Brandhorst at or by phone at 803-777-3681.

The University of South Carolina does not discriminate in educational or employment opportunities or decisions for qualified persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetics, sexual orientation or veteran status.

LIGHTBULB MOMENTS Last fall, when one of our writers suggested a “Big Idea” issue, I was skeptical. It wasn’t a bad concept — and as we scrambled to finish everything before winter break, it was better than anything I’d come up with myself — but it seemed sort of, well, obvious. USC Times is always about big ideas, I thought. It’s nothing but big ideas. So is USC itself. Think about it. What’s research but the constant pursuit of the big idea? What’s teaching but an attempt to spark the big idea in someone else? What’s college but a whole bunch of big ideas, all of them vying for room in the crowded headspace of our faculty, staff and student body? Big ideas, big ideas, big ideas. I’m entering my fifth year as editor of this publication, and the big idea is pretty much all we’ve talked about since I planned my first cover. Seriously. I bet I hear a dozen big ideas a week just doing my job. I hear them from professors, from students, from alumni I bump into around town. I hear them from my colleagues at the War Memorial Building, whose job it is to promote everybody else’s big ideas and who, in the process, come up with big ideas of their own. I’m not complaining. Being exposed to one big idea after another is one of the principle joys of working at a large and diverse university. But a whole issue devoted to a subject we’ve been writing about since day one? I just couldn’t see it. And then, all at once, there it was. The lightbulb. The 24-page issue in your hands is the biggest we’ve ever produced and represents the start of an exciting new chapter in this publication’s history. After four year’s as a monthly — and nearly three decades in print— we’ve reinvented ourselves as a quarterly magazine with several new features and a fresh new look. We’ve changed our dimensions. We’ve even upgraded our paper. If there were ever a time for a big idea issue, I realized, this was it. There was just one thing left to do. Flip the switch,


SPRING 2018 NO. 1 3

EVENT HORIZON 4 What’s happening on campus?

BRIGHT IDEAS 6 We went looking for the lightbulb and found it glowing brightly over the heads of five faculty members. It’s illuminating stuff.


Compression heuristics help us balance our social networks. Two sociologists help us understand why that matters.

SURVIVE TO THRIVE 16 Teaching is a tough gig, especially in k-12. Carolina TIP aims to keep new teachers from fleeing the profession before they find their footing. p. 12

p. 16

FROM THE GROUND UP 18 When it comes to entrepreneurship, students have plenty of big ideas. The proof is in the Proving Ground.


p. 22

Sponsored Awards Management director Tommy Coggins talks faculty research funding.



THE OPEN BOOK — 2018 EDITION FREE PUBLIC LITERARY SERIES RETURNS FOR SIXTH YEAR In 2018, the Open Book Series celebrates its sixth birthday. The annual literary series and free community read brings a variety of authors to campus over a four-week period, starting Monday, March 26, when host Elise Blackwell leads a discussion of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel, “The Underground Railroad.” A highly anticipated appearance by Whitehead himself will follow on Wednesday, March 28. Blackwell, a creative writing professor in USC’s Department of English Language and Literature and a novelist herself, will also give a talk prior to Anthony Marra’s April 11 visit. Fellow USC faculty members Eli Jelly-Shapiro and Michael Dowdy will also lead discussions this year. “I enjoy every aspect of the series, other than the public speaking that I do as part of it,” says Blackwell. “Best of all, though, is seeing how much participants enjoy the authors I bring in. Meeting some of my own favorites is a great perk, of course.” The series is designed to expose audiences to a variety of voices and perspectives. “One of my goals every year is to bring in a range of authors in terms of subject matter and style in the hope that participants will discover at least one author they really love and learn something about a subject they hadn’t thought much about before,” says Blackwell. Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. A work of magical realism, the novel reimagines the historical Underground Railroad (of Harriet Tubman fame) as an actual functioning rail line on which Cora, an escaped slave, rides from state to state in pursuit of freedom. “Fiction and poetry help us to develop empathy for others as well as make sense of human experience for ourselves,” says Blackwell. “The combination of reading a book, hearing another reader’s thoughts on it, and then hearing directly from the author accelerates this, I hope.” THE 2018 OPEN BOOK SERIES BEGINS MARCH 26 with Elise Blackwell’s pre-visit discussion of “The Underground Railroad.” Colson Whitehead’s author appearance will follow on March 28. Subsequent discussions and author appearances include: Cristina Garcia (April 2 and 4), Anthony Marra on (April 9 and 11) and Juan Felipe Herrera (April 16 and 18). All events start at 6 p.m. in the Campus Room on the first floor of the Capstone Building and are free and open to the public.

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PUT ME IN, COACH GAMECOCK BASEBALL STARTS NEW SEASON, WELCOMES NEW SKIPPER Gamecock baseball fans can expect a lot of new faces in 2018. The new face drawing the most attention, though, will be down in the dugout filling out the lineup. That’s right, the Mark Kingston era has begun. The 30th head coach in Gamecock baseball history, Kingston comes to USC after three years as head coach at the University of South Florida, where he led the team to the NCAA tournament twice. His coaching career spans 21 years and 11 NCAA tournament appearances, including a national championship as assistant coach at the University of Miami. Now, Kingston will try to take the Gamecocks all the way to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since 2012. “As an assistant you’re an important piece of the puzzle, but as head coach you’re responsible for the whole puzzle,” he says. “Both are great, but the real value comes in watching your players enjoy the moment.” Kingston also looks forward to seeing thousands of dedicated fans decked out in garnet and black. “I can’t wait to see Founders Park filled with Gamecock fans. I’ve seen the pictures but am anxious to be a part of it,” Kingston says. Founder’s Park will host 34 games in 2018. Other season highlights include a game against the University of North Carolina at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, NC, and another against the College of Charleston at Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies. Faculty and staff can receive two complimentary tickets with valid a Carolina Card for any home game. Tickets must be picked pe

up from the Founder’s Park box office on game day. Season tickets



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are also available for $195.

As Carolina’s first African-American professor, Richard T. Greener holds an important place in USC history. A professor of moral philosophy at Carolina from 1873 to 1877, Greener also acted as de facto university librarian during Reconstruction and would later be named dean of the Howard University Law School. Now, USC is recognizing him with a bronze statue outside Thomas Cooper Library. “Not only is it the right thing to do to honor him, but this is the right place because the University of South Carolina was his first big appointment,” says Christian Anderson, a USC professor who teaches the history of education. The Richard T. Greener Symposium, featuring keynote speaker Congressman James Clyburn, will be held Feb. 21, at 4 p.m., in the Russell House Ballroom. The statue unveiling will follow, at 5 p.m., between Thomas Cooper Library and the Student Health Center.




IF A LIGHTBULB CAME ON EVERY TIME SOMEBODY AT USC HAD A BIG IDEA, YOU COULD SEE OUR CAMPUS FROM SPACE. With that in mind, USC Times asked five faculty members to share their brightest big ideas, whether for a new invention, a new approach to problem solving or simply a new way of looking at the world. And while we’re still awaiting confirmation from the International Space Station, here at USC Times we can report a definite creative spark. AS TOLD TO CRAIG BRANDHORST AND CHRIS HORN

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CHUANBING TANG THE ANTIBIOTIC STRIKES BACK Chuanbing Tang, a professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, experiments with polymers from renewable natural resources used to make ‘green’ plastics and resins. Tang has figured out how to manipulate polymers to make soybean-based plastics and paint, but now he’s got his sights set on something bigger — polymers that could make current antibiotic drugs more effective and less susceptible to antibiotic resistance.

If you have a bad infection, there are very few antibiotics that can be used to treat it. And if you get infected by a superbug like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), you’ll probably end up getting a last-resort antibiotic that has a lot of side effects. If it fails, you might die. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry is reluctant to invest in antibiotic discovery because a lot of these drugs lose their effectiveness very quickly, and the companies can’t recoup their investment fast enough. In fact, you could say we’re in the post-antibiotic era. Since 1980 there have been no single new antibiotics on the market, just derivatives of previous ones. As a society we can try to keep doing what we’ve been doing for decades — find new active agents, test them and develop them into antibiotics — but that’s difficult because there’s little financial incentive for the pharmaceutical companies. A second way is to discover antibacterial agents that are not classic antibiotics. Antimicrobial polymers are getting some interest now because they are more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance against. A third way is to extend the life of existing antibiotics by combining them with tailored polymers that protect antibiotics from the bacterial attack. One of the ways bacteria fight antibiotics is to release an enzyme that hydrolyzes the medication. Our polymer technology neutralizes the enzyme so the bacteria have a low chance of successfully attacking the antibiotic. We’ve found that our polymer can combine with many different types of antibiotics, both oral and topical. Even better, the polymer we’ve developed is not only antimicrobial, it’s also antifungal. It works by attacking the charged cells of the bacteria, and while bacteria can mutate and change structures, they can’t change their charge. It’s much

more difficult for the bacteria to develop resistance to that kind of attack. We have NIH funding for this, and we’re trying to start up a company to do translational research. The first step will be to target a particular type of infection — maybe pneumonia — and test it before moving to phase II trials. Then, who knows? Most medicines fail in Phase II because they’re too toxic. Our ultimate goal is to get enough positive results in the testing phase so that a large company buys our company or we set up partial or exclusive licensing to use our polymers. It would take a long time — five to 10 years — before the FDA could approve it, but the return to the university could be huge.


TANVIR FAROUK COOL BURN Tanvir Farouk, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computing, studies combustion and plasma processes and has conducted research aimed at making natural gas turbines burn more cleanly and efficiently. He envisions a new type of combustion engine that uses different fuel types and burns ‘cold’ — in a relative sense. Farouk’s new engine most likely would be used in 18-wheeler trucks and heavy equipment. Lab tests suggest it would have an efficiency rate about 50 percent greater than current diesel engines, a data point that’s already getting the attention of companies like Caterpillar.

Think about any kind of flame, like a gas stovetop flame or even a candle flame. It’s hot. If you’re cooking on the stove, that heat is efficient but not completely — there are losses to the atmosphere. In an internal combustion engine the appearance of a flame represents energy loss. It’s the consequence of sharp temperature gradients. But there is something called a ‘cool’ flame, which burns at 600-700 degrees Kelvin compared to the 1,500-2,000 degrees Kelvin in a typical combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine, an air/fuel mixture is ignited and the flame travels from one end of the cylinder to the other. In a ‘cool flame’ engine, the entire cylinder volume would burn almost instantaneously — you’ll never see any flame. That’s significant because with lower temperature you get much higher efficiency. How much higher? Where your car engine gives you 38-40 percent efficiency — maybe 42 percent on a fancy one — our calculations and our experiments show that you could get almost 65 percent efficiency with a ‘cool flame’ engine. That’s unheard of for an internal combustion engine. We learned from some experiments we were doing on the International Space Station that diesel-class fuels have the ability to burn in a ‘cool flame’ mode. My pitch is that with an onboard fuel reformer you could take one fuel and continuously synthesize it into different forms, and as the pistons move up and down at different points you inject these different fuel types to maintain a continual cool burn combustion. I don’t see this yet for personal-scale transportation. We have filed a patent on it and have had interest from the bigger engine guys like Caterpillar, General Electric and a Rolls-Royce sub-

sidiary that does heavy marine engines. Truck transportation would be interested, too. Engines now are basically computers, which makes it easier to implement this type of combustion concept than would have been possible 20 years ago. We are publishing papers on this and have most of the fundamentals worked out. We’re talking with the University of West Virginia, which has a big transportation engine lab. If we can get an industrial partner, it will be more convincing than just showing a prototype of the engine.

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JOEL WOOTEN SPACE TO PRINT An assistant professor of management science at the Darla Moore School of Business, Joel Wooten researches innovation and entrepreneurship and has worked extensively with innovation tournaments, including XPRIZE in Los Angeles. He is also involved with summer innovation camps designed to get middle school and high school students from areas with limited STEM programs excited about math and science. His interests converge in an idea that would launch kids’ imaginations into the stratosphere.

A little over a year ago, I was invited to the White House Frontiers Conference put together by President Obama and co-hosted by Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. There were six different tracks at the conference. I participated in the inter-planetary track, alongside all these amazing people doing fascinating stuff in space — people like the deputy administrator of NASA, the director of the NSF and the lead investigator of the Jet Propulsion Lab. Right now, the mission to Mars is just about everyone’s focus. They’re already on that fifteen-year planning horizon where we have to learn how to grow food in space, and we have to learn how to manufacture in space, etcetera. One of the companies that I ended up talking to is called Made in Space. They put the first 3D printer in space — on the International Space Station — so they can manufacture small things the crew needs. Say you’re fixing something and your wrench floats away. It’s helpful (and cheaper) to manufacture another wrench instead of waiting for one to be sent from Earth. I started talking with Made in Space about how 3D printing in space could be used in education. They’ve played around with this idea before, so we began dreaming up otions. One is a national contest to help push STEM education forward, whether that’s using Smartphones and tablets, or in classrooms, or through camps like the ones I’m involved with. If there’s a big idea — if I had carte blanche, a blank check — we would launch something like that and change the way that students interact with math and science. Imagine students competing to design a device, seeing an astronaut print it out in real time and then seeing it being used. It could be super cool, but to get there they would have to learn things like TinkerCAD, so that they can do the design and then send their plans to a 3D printer. They would have to do some test trials, and, in the process, they would learn all of the hardcore engineering skills. All the while they’ve got their eye in the prize, “I’m going to do something in space!”

Everyone looks up at the stars at some point and wonders what’s out there, and what’s possible. Capturing the imagination of students with that kind of platform is the easy part. Saying to them, we’re going to interact with the International Space Station or the Falcon 9 rocket — there are so many avenues to motivate them. One thing we’ve learned from our innovation camps is that, when it comes to hardcore science problems, ‘hands-on’ works. Students get excited. They’ll dive right into a problem if you first show them what’s possible. There are a number of groups interested in this type of program. The University of Utah, for example, has a great environment for entrepreneurship and is enthusiastic about doing a test run with a smaller group, then seeing how we can scale it up. Eventually all of this can happen, and it will. We have the contacts. We have the know-how when it comes to running innovation contests. We just need a little time and a little money. All of the other pieces are there.


NANCY BUCHAN RISK, REFLECT, REVISE, REPEAT An associate professor of international business steeped in psychology, sociology and experimental economics, Nancy Buchan explores the factors that influence the development of trust and cooperation in cross-cultural relationships. But Buchan is also associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Darla Moore School of Business, meaning she has spent a lot of time designing curricula. Influenced by the ‘lean startup’ philosophy that now dominates Silicon Valley, she suggests that a little bit of calculated risk could transform curriculum development and improve academic rigor across campus.

A couple of years ago my son was a freshman here, and I went to orientation. There was a speaker talking to the students about failure, how Albert Einstein famously said something along the lines of, “If you’ve never made a mistake, you’ve never tried anything new.” But while we teach our students to take risks, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, academia hasn’t really done that itself. I’m certainly not saying we should throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to our curriculum, but we should be willing to make small mistakes so that we can learn from them. It’s something that I’ve tried to put into play in the undergraduate program at the business school. Until recently, the curriculum hadn’t been revised in a substantial way for about 30 years, so that was something important that we needed to address. We also wanted to increase rigor. The question was, how do you do that?

On one hand, the members of the undergraduate faculty committee could have said, “Okay, we’re going to come up with a plan, it has to be the best plan, and everybody has to stick to that plan.” But then after some discussion we said, “Wait, why can’t different programs try things different ways? Accounting could approach the curriculum one way, finance another way, econ another way” — we could become a laboratory. Everybody didn’t have to approach curriculum revision in the same way. Or rigor. We could experiment, see what works, then come back and design a plan informed by those experiences. The same philosophy can be applied to every aspect of education. We’ve taken a similar approach as we’ve introduced business sections of University 101, working with director Dan Friedman. The first year, we started with just five instructors, and we emphasized career education, teamwork and leadership. We put in metrics to measure it, as we had with the curriculum changes and increases in rigor, and then we said, “OK, let’s reconvene after the first year and see how things are going.” Well, they seemed to be getting the teamwork part, but they weren’t getting the leadership or career education parts as well as we’d hoped, so we reconfigured things a bit. Then we thought, “OK, let’s see how it works with more sections,” so we increased to 19 sections. And then, last year, we learned a little more. This past fall, we had about 45 sections. Dan is working with us to make this the best University 101 section that we can for business students, not by risking everything but by making improvements at an incremental rate. You see this same mindset with lean startups, which have a philosophy based on an iterative cycle. You take risks, you experiment, sometimes you fail, and then you reflect — “What could I do better?” Then you revise, then you repeat. Risk, reflect, revise, repeat. Risk, reflect, revise, repeat. That’s what our world requires right now — that nimbleness and agility. Instead of perpetuating a culture where you can’t fail, so no one ever takes risks, we should actually celebrate risk and recognize that failure leads to mastery.

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LAUREN GREENWALD WAYS OF BEING Assistant professor of photography Lauren Greenwald considered becoming a doctor, pursued a career in architecture, lived on a sailboat for a year and worked as a project manager renovating apartments in Paris – all before finally going to graduate school to study photography. Her work is a reflection of that wanderlust, but the lens through which she examines the world could work for anyone, not just the aspiring artist. “If you just slow down and look at something, you start to think about how it was created, why it was created and why it’s important,” she says. “A shift happens.”

Even before I was making art consciously, the ways that I moved through space were very important to me. Every place I go puts me in a particular way of being. When I lived in Paris and New York, that meant walking around. When I was in graduate school in New Mexico, that meant road trip projects where I would drive into this empty landscape on a motorcycle, where I could feel the wind against my body. My medium is photography, but I don’t have a traditional foundation in studio art. I came to studio art by a very circuitous, winding road. I was an art history major as an undergrad — I studied architectural history — but my first major was pre-med. I fell in love with art history because it encompasses everything we experience. Art history is political history, it’s the history of economics, it looks at science, it looks at technological advances — it’s commentary on the visual world we create. People say they don’t know anything about art, but we think visually, we communicate visually. And nowadays, everybody is a photographer. Think about Snapchat and Instagram. Even the emoji phenomenon is visual language. We don’t always speak the same language, but sometimes the visual language can bridge the differences. One of the most profound experiences I had before I decided to go to graduate school involved taking my father and my stepmother through the Louvre. I was living in Paris at the time — I was working as a project manager, renovating and decorating apartments — and when they came to visit I took them to see some of the thing they wanted to see, and then we spent a day going through the Louvre. These are people who don’t come from an art background. Their backgrounds are in business and medicine. But by stopping to talk about the various pieces, I was able to provide historical context and ask questions that could help them engage — even if they didn’t know who the artist was, even if they didn’t know anything about the technique. If you just follow the arrows and the signs, you’re going to have a very prescribed experience. But if you take the time to

open your eyes, it becomes a very different experience. If you go to see the Mona Lisa, maybe give yourself two hours to wander around the Louvre first, before you get to that painting that you’re “supposed to see.” Our experiences form us. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I experienced a sort of profound dissatisfaction with what I was doing. I had a lot of moments where I thought, “What have I done? I’ve decided not to be a doctor. I’ve decided not to be an architect. I’ve kind of bounced from one experience to the other.” But when I talk to people about the life I’ve lived, their eyes light up. Life is so much more interesting when you give yourself the time and the space to explore. Don’t give yourself a specific path. Let yourself have those moments of discovery. The moment of discovering something is so much more interesting than saying, “I’m going to go look at this thing that I already know is there.” T



Friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances — managing relationships can be complicated, and when two or more people in your social circle don’t get along with one another, those complications can multiply, causing tremendous cognitive stress. So how do we balance competing relationships with our need for a stable social structure? Associate professor of sociology MATT BRASHEARS and his research partner, adjunct professor of sociology LAURA BRASHEARS, point to something called compression heuristics. Since 2013, the duo has been exploring how these mental “cheats” help humans manage complicated social networks and meanwhile speculating on how they might one day inform new behavioral therapies for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), novel approaches to artificial intelligence and even alter our understanding of human evolution.

You’ve sometimes compared compression heuristics to software — the brain itself being the hardware. Can you explain how this “software” works?

If I ask you to remember a series of numbers — 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 — there’s a pattern. Remember the starting point, you can predict the rest. But if I give you a totally random sequence, you have to use brute force to remember. People can do it, but it’s hard and not as reliable. Compression heuristics give us the ability to find the patterns. We can then throw away everything else. It’s more complicated than that because social networks are not as simple as number sequences, but that’s the basic concept. MATT:

There’s an evolutionary theory that we evolved bigger, more capable brains primarily to solve social challenges. The bigger

the analytical part of the brain, the neocortex, the bigger the social group that can be constructed before it’s unmanageable. For humans, “unmanageable” means you make mistakes, you commit faux pas, relationships are damaged and membership in the group sloughs off. And our brains use these compression heuristics to manage social networks.

Let’s back up a little. In an adult human, the brain takes up about 3 percent of your body mass, but it consumes 20-25 percent of all your metabolic energy. And that’s constant, no matter what you’re doing. When you’re sleeping, your brain is still eating a fifth to a quarter of all the calories you consume. It’s hugely expensive — so what are we doing with all that energy? MATT:

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The thinking behind what’s known as the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis is that being just a little bit smarter than the other humans in your group gives you an advantage in solving certain challenges that come with communal living: “How do I facilitate good relationships while getting what I want, but that other people also want?” If you’re ostracized, you die, but if you never pursue your own needs, you don’t benefit. It’s about balance. But the brain has only grown so big, and yet we manage bigger and bigger networks.

The brain is already so big and so expensive — in terms of the energy it requires — that there’s a tremendous advantage to finding a way to cheat. If you can grow your network without having to grow your brain, that should be selected for very hard. That’s what we’re arguing that compression heuristics are doing. They allow you to manage bigger networks with the same cognitive resources. MATT:

You describe a social network theory called “triadic closure,” which seems key to understanding compression heuristics. Maybe you could explain this concept.

Let’s start with the idea of balancing. It turns out that people feel uncomfortable when their relationships are inconsistent. Say there’s a person named Fred. Fred is connected to John, who is a personal friend. Fred is also connected to Martha, his girlfriend. He likes John and he likes Martha, but he discovers that John does not like Martha’s company. Fred is going to start feeling very uncomfortable in that situation. He has a cognitive desire to have everybody on the same page, to balance the feeling everybody has for each other. It’s easier when everyone likes each other. It’s also easier if everybody dislikes each other. LAURA:

So, if Fred breaks up with Martha, he might also want John to dislike Martha. MATT:

Right. In that scenario, they would each share a mutual antagonism. Humans often form triads, but triads can also be very unstable, because if the affect changes in any one of those relationships, it sends the other relationships into jeopardy. LAURA:


One of the papers Laura and I wrote together explores the idea that we’re more comfortable when relationships are balanced because it’s then much easier to track accurately. If everything is balanced, and everybody is getting along, it’s easier to not screw up. At a dinner party, the faux pas is awkward. If you’re in a hunting party on the Serengeti, that could mean the difference between a successful hunt and getting eaten by a lion. MATT:

To bring it back to compression heuristics, let’s say you’re in a group of 20 people, and you know that everybody likes each other, instead of having to remember that all of those 20 people like each other, you have just one piece of information to remember. LAURA:

Everyone belongs to the same club.

Sort of. If the network is fully balanced, as long as I know how I feel about everybody else, then I just need that info to know how everybody else feels about everybody else. So, if I like Laura, and I know that I don’t like you — and I know that the whole network is balanced — then I know that Laura doesn’t like you. I don’t have to track that relationship. I can reconstruct it whenever I need it. MATT:

One interesting application for compression heuristics that you’ve suggested would involve behavioral therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder.

Are you familiar with the Heider-Simmel test for autism? It’s fascinating. The basic version is, you have a cartoon of geometric shapes, the geometric shapes spin around and interact, and you ask the subject to describe what happens. Neurologically-typical individuals will generally narrate using highly social terminology. They’ll say, for example, “Well, the circle and the square are friends, but the triangle came in and chased the square away because the triangle is mean.” ASD folks will narrate directly as they see it. There’s no social layering. They might say, “The circle and the square were beside each other and the triangle came in and bumped the square, and the square shook really hard and then went away.” There’s no agency. MATT:

In neurologically-typical individuals there is a tendency to automatically ascribe social relationships and content to non-social stimuli. We see this in our day-to-day lives. You talk to your computer, you argue with your car. You know that they’re inanimate, but you still interact with them in a social way. Neurologically-typical individuals tend to adopt and develop these heuristics pretty automatically. We’re not necessarily aware that we’re doing it, but we’re doing it. With ASD folks, they may not be able to do that automatically, but that doesn’t mean you

couldn’t teach them some of these heuristics to help them think about how networks should fit together. Is anyone doing this yet? MATT: Not that we’re aware of. The first publication in this research stream was 2013, so we’re still trying to understand more heuristics. One thing we’re interested in exploring is how people make decisions about their networks, not just how they recall them but how they take the next step and choose a social movement — “Should I try to become friends with this guy?” “Should I look to this person as a leader?” The implications could be quite far reaching.

Let’s go off in a really wild direction for a moment. As you know, the discussion of marriage between homosexual individuals is often very contentious. But if a same-sex couple can get married, that doesn’t make a heterosexual couple any less married than they were before. One possible explanation is that what marital relationships mean when it comes to third parties could be part of a kin schema. It could be a well-developed, frequently used compression heuristic. Changing that dynamic by allowing a same-sex couple to be married represents a fundamental shift — the world is no longer aligned with what that compression heuristic is telling someone — and this causes discomfort, especially in older individuals, who may have less plasticity. Generally, it’s harder to learn the older you get. So, we might find that some reactions to broad social change stem from this — “Suddenly the world is harder for me to keep track of, and I don’t like that.” Humans are cognitive misers.

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We like things to be easy if they can be. So instead of learning something new, they might wish the world just go back to the way it was before. In theory, if you could teach compression heuristics to people with autism, could you not also address rigidity in older people?

As I always tell my students, we can’t solve a problem until we understand it. I think, yes, absolutely, it’s possible, but it would take somebody very clever to figure out a way to address that with an older adult. Of course, I would love it if we could find a way to help people be more expansive in their thinking. LAURA:

But then, when Matt was talking it made me think of my grandmother, who is turning 96 next week. She has always been open to social change. That makes me wonder if some people are just more flexible with heuristics than other people. I would add that your grandmother emigrated from Austria, right after the Anschluss in WWII. So she had to learn a completely new society, a new set of norms. That would give her more building blocks. That period in her youth where the world was very malleable could have influenced the way she thinks about things. MATT:

That’s true. And, of course, you might also look at people who have migrated, even within a country. People who have moved around might be more flexible in their thinking. LAURA:

But even if we can’t come up with a good therapy, understanding this can help change the narrative. If we find that older individuals are more resistant to social changes that really impact the way they use heuristics to navigate social relationships, the narrative shifts from a moral question to a question of difficulty. We could start to recognize that it’s actually harder for older individuals to navigate the world in the face of these broad social changes. MATT:

And that would apply to everyone, really. As we get older, we all become more rigid in our thinking.

Exactly. This isn’t to say that sometimes people aren’t prejudiced, but some part of this that we thought was prejudice might not be. It might be that we have some difficulties just because we are humans and we have human limitations. It’s helpful if we understand that. MATT:

So, long-term, where does the exploration of compression heuristics go?

Humans evolved to be social creatures. Anthropology has noticed this for a long time. Psychology has to a lesser extent. What I think is so exciting about this research happening in sociology is that we’re now really thinking about how our biology and our social capability go hand-in-hand. This is just one step in that process. LAURA:

Right. We tend to think of this fixed biological hardware, the brain, and then we lay this social programming over the top. But one of the interesting things about compression heuristics is that at some point in our evolution, humans developed the ability to identify and use them — and it actually changed the evolutionary pressures on humans, or our hominid ancestors. Once we figured out how to use compression heuristics, there was no longer as big an evolutionary pressure to build a bigger brain for storage. The pressure was to build a different sort of brain that could use these rules and computations, in the sense that a computer does computations. MATT:

It’s as if our biological brain developed to allow us to do something social, and then that software figured out how to use that social stuff, and that software itself had an impact on the way the hardware developed. It dramatically changes the way that we think about human evolution. The other really crazy thing to think about is artificial intelligence. I was at a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences and one speaker brought up the idea of building artificial intelligences using affect control theory. That’s a theory that concerns how emotions are evaluated by humans. Understanding compression heuristics would help us teach these machines how to process social information. If you’re going to build a hyper intelligent machine that’s going to be making decisions for you, it’s probably a good idea for it to understand how you think and how you want the world to look. Otherwise, it may do something very logical from a machine perspective but that would be absolutely horrible from a human perspective. T


Survive to Carolina TIP aims to keep new teachers in the classroom BY CRAIG BRANDHORST

olving big problems requires big ideas — and one of the biggest problems facing public education in South Carolina and elsewhere is teacher retention. Consider: In 2016, South Carolina watched 6,482 teachers abandon the classroom, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. Meanwhile, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, teacher turnover costs South Carolina school districts $23 million a year. Again, big problem. Or big problems, plural. So, what’s the big idea? Look no further than the College of Education, which last year launched Carolina TIP — short for Carolina Teacher Induction Program — as a way to keep promising new teachers from fleeing the classroom before they’ve hit their stride. It’s a complicated challenge, but the core idea is simple: Invite new teachers to participate in a three-year post-graduate professional development program to improve their classroom effectiveness and help mitigate the various stresses that come with being a new teacher. “There is a longstanding belief in the College of Education that support shouldn’t end at graduation,” says Carolina TIP director Nicole Skeen.

“There’s a big difference between learning about classroom management in the safety of the university or practicum classroom environment and standing on your own in front of 30 9th graders and actually having to apply the various pedagogical strategies you’ve acquired.” Rooted in a white paper by associate professors of education Thomas Hodges and George Roy, Carolina TIP was embraced by College of Education assistant dean for accreditation and professional partnerships Cindy Van Buren and dean Jon Pedersen, who began making the case for the new program across the state, even penning a powerful op-ed in The State newspaper last July. Pedersen also authorized the search for a director, someone with plenty of classroom experience, both as a teacher and as a teaching coach. Skeen was an ideal fit. A longtime middle school teacher and instructional coach in Richland District One, Skeen received her M.A.T from Carolina in 2005. She had also served as an adjunct methods and materials instructor at the College of Education. Her job now, as she puts it, is to “take this radical idea and figure out how to make it a reality.”

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Initially, that meant poring over the data on teacher retention and researching induction programs from around the country. That meant finding a corporate partner — Colonial Life — to cover the cost of daylong Saturday workshops and provide materials. That meant partnering with districts and getting their feedback. “It’s imperative that we work in conjunction with schools and school districts. This needs to be a collaborative effort at its core,” says Skeen. “This program should enhance induction efforts without competing with what’s already being done.” Indeed, the state already requires each school district to provide orientation, a trained mentor and an induction program for new classroom teachers. For a host of reasons, though, some districts are able to do a better job easing new teachers into the profession than others. Sometimes it’s a resource problem, sometimes it’s a time problem. “Time is the enemy of all teachers,” says Skeen. “A mentor could be the most well-trained, well-intentioned mentor that ever existed, but they have to have to have the time to provide in-class support to another teacher. I can go into a school — or someone like me, we call ourselves Carolina Coaches — and be solely dedicated to the needs of those new teachers.” The first cohort of 15 new teachers, all of them Carolina graduates hired in 2017 by Midlands-area professional development schools (PDS), began the program in October. The goal is to recruit 75 first-year teachers next year, bringing the total number of participants to 90. “We intentionally chose to work in our PDS schools for now because we already have a sustained partnership with them,” Skeen says. “That gave us this sandbox to get messy in and learn as we go, and provides a safe environment to work out the logistics of support.” All teachers in the program receive classroom observations and feedback, lesson analysis and personalized mentoring. They also attend Saturday workshops on the USC campus, where they receive targeted support training, according to Skeen. “Participants aren’t just listening to somebody describe best practices. We’re getting our hands dirty, wrestling with ideas and how to implement them,” she says. “We want teachers to walk away with powerful strategies they can implement on Monday with no additional preparation.” Participants are likewise encouraged to start thinking longterm and to reflect on their development as educators.

“It’s a holistic approach,” says Skeen. “We’re there to meet the teachers’ needs, whatever those needs may be. For first-year support, classroom management is clearly the biggest focus.” But as teachers begin to get a handle on the basic day-to-day challenges, the emphasis shifts from mere survival to improved classroom practice. By the second semester, teachers will begin to explore strategies for reaching all students and addressing barriers to learning. “One of the nice things about this program is that we’re not tied to a particular agenda,” Skeen explains. “If the teacher needs to vent, we provide a safe space for that. If a teacher needs encouragement, we break out the pom-poms. And we aren’t just meeting with them on Saturdays. We’re in their classrooms, we’re calling them, emailing them, meeting after school, on weekends, over winter break.” In the second year, the keyword is “stabilize,” according to Skeen; in the third year, the keyword is “sharpen.” “Typically — and research backs this up — year three is when you see teachers have a real impact on student learning,” she says. “By year three, they have better footing. The goal is to create teacher researchers in their own classroom and leaders in the schools.” The program, too, is a work in progress. Skeen and her partners in the College of Education refer to 2017-18 as an exploratory year, and envision 2018-19 as the pilot year. If all goes well, Skeen hopes to have a replicable model by year five. “Right now, we’re still defining our model,” she says. “Next, we need to refine that model, see what works, what doesn’t. With each iteration, we’re going to learn new things that we need to change, things we never anticipated. We’re bound to make a million mistakes, but that’s part of the process.” And if all goes as planned? “The primary goal is to keep teachers in the classroom,” says Skeen. “But I’m confident this will also be a strong recruiting tool for the university. Teachers receive top-notch preparation in the College of Education, and then if they teach in South Carolina, they get an additional three years of support.” T




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We’ve all had those moments when the solution to a nagging problem suddenly presents itself while we’re driving to work or taking a shower. But most of us never think to patent, produce or package our solutions for the marketplace. University of South Carolina students and recent grads do just that through the Proving Ground — a startup business pitch competition along the lines of ABC’s “Shark Tank” television program. Over the past eight years, the Proving Ground has awarded more than $250,000 in prizes, with many winners going on to successfully launch businesses. And while prize amounts have changed, one thing that hasn’t is the program’s commitment to helping students find their entrepreneurial footing. “I tell my students they don’t have to start a business to succeed in my class, I just want them to be aware that it is a possibility,” says Dean Kress, creator and director of the Proving Ground and director of the Darla Moore School of Business’ Faber Entrepreneurship Center. Participants create a business plan and try to sell their idea to a panel of judges. Plans go through three point-based judging rounds, culminating with a live pitch on March 29. The team left standing in each category wins. Along the way, students discover whether their idea can actually work and can win thousands of dollars to help make it become a reality. Students can submit their business plans through Feb. 23 and have access to LivePlan, a cloud-based business plan software, at a reduced price. This year’s presentations are in the spring to give students more time to prepare. “I didn’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body,” says Jocelyn Paonita Pearson, who graduated in 2013 with degrees in international business, finance and global supply chain management. “The competition forces you to think through your idea. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to go through the process of actually trying to start a business.” Pearson worked as a student government liaison to the Proving Ground in its first year. Her own idea was an app called PTtrax that let personal trainers keep track of all their clients’ progress on one handheld device, like an iPad.


“I think we were a little ahead of our time,” she says “When we tried to pitch it, gyms said there was no way they would let their trainers carry an iPad. Now, try to find a trainer without one.” And while PTtrax ultimately went bust, the experience helped prepare Pearson for her next endeavor. She now operates the Scholarship System, a six-step online course that gives families and college students the tools they need to help pay for college and graduate — as she did — debt-free. EMPOWERING PATIENTS

For 2016 winner Rob Castellanos, the Proving Ground provided the push he needed to start his business, Syndio Health — a health information platform where people can discover and rate treatments, ask questions and learn how to manage their conditions. Initially, the Bogota, Colombia, native wanted to help people collect all their medical data in one location as they moved from doctor to doctor. His own experience trying to find the cause of intense back pain led him to the idea. “I went five years dealing with the pain,” he says. “But the anxiety was worse. One doctor told me I might have spinal tumors — cancer. We spent tens of thousands of dollars with no real diagnosis.” Castellanos finally discovered he has a form of arthritis, the symptoms of which he controls with a diet that helps reduce inflammation. After he won the Proving Ground competition, Castellanos used the money to hire developers and tried to raise additional capital, but the idea of consolidating medical records and carrying them electronically was not scalable. With federal privacy requirements, the security on his servers and the data contained there would have been cost-prohibitive. “So we came up with another idea that could scale while still remaining aligned with the original mission,” he says. “One that provided immediate value to the user and that could enable network effects.” In addition to giving patients a place to research their conditions, Syndio Health collaborates with medical professionals for original content, expert opinions and treatment evaluation. He plans to launch the platform in March, starting with the condition fibromyalgia, but he hopes to add more this year. The company is already working with more than 50 patients. “It’s a platform to help patients help patients,” he says. “Our mission didn’t change, but our product changed. You can’t get married to one product. If the product doesn’t work, you need to be able to change your direction while remaining true to

your original purpose — ours being to empower people’s health through connection.” PITCH PERFECT

The Proving Ground is also has been a great place to test ideas, even if they are not looking to start a full-time business. Kate McKinney, a native of Lakewood, Colorado, had been mulling an idea for years about how to introduce opera to children in Columbia. The music performance major was talking to one of her professors about the idea when he suggested she make a pitch to the Proving Ground. “I had 48 hours until the deadline,” she says. “I pulled two all-nighters to get the business plan submitted.” Then the real work began. “It was one thing to write it down,” she says. “But it was another to take what you wrote on paper and figure out how to present it to a panel of judges.” After winning in the social impact category, McKinney and her competition partner used the prize money and raised more funds to host a free two-week opera camp in Columbia. “That was the challenge,” she says. “We wanted it to be free for the participants. The goal was to reach kids who may not have been exposed to opera, who may be in schools without those kinds of resources.” At the end of the camp, the 15 students put on a performance that they had worked on during the two weeks.

Jocelyn Paonita Pearson

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“We also coupled some life skills classes, like budgeting and wellness, with learning the music and putting on the show,” McKinney says. McKinney, who works in public relations for the San Francisco Symphony, says the camp would have been a full-time job — without much pay — if she tried to do it every year. But she still carries the lessons she learned from it and the Proving Ground. “We all know there is intrinsic value to art, but you have to sell that to people,” she says. “You have to have a business model — something that is practical.” ONE MAN’S TRASH

Senior economics major Ryan Barkley traces his entrepreneurial roots to his days as a grade-schooler in Massachusetts when he would cull his neighbors’ recycling bins, looking for cans that would earn him 5 cents each in deposits. Much later, when he and friend Jeb Roberts found themselves on breaks in college, they borrowed a pickup and a trailer and used it to haul away junk for customers. Some goes to landfills, but the pair also looks for items that can be sold or donated to charities. “We’ve been hauling junk for two years now on breaks and weekends,” Barkley says. “The more jobs we do, the more we learn about what our customers want.” Eventually, the pair purchased their own trucks and trailers and had so many customers, they couldn’t serve them all. “We couldn’t meet demand, so we started referring friends with trucks,” Barkley says. “So we started to think ‘How can we do that on a larger scale?’ ” Their concept, Hauled, won last year’s competition. Their business is a web application that connects folks needing junk hauled away with folks willing to do the hauling. Think Uber for junk removal. “We’ve studied Airbnb and Uber, and we’re looking at what the process looks like before the transaction,” Barkley says. “That’s where we add the value — and that’s what I’m passionate about in the long run, creating that value.” The win was Barkley’s third try in the Proving Ground. His first two efforts didn’t get to the round where judges review the business plans from top to bottom. “The big thing with the Proving Ground is you have to show what the problem is, not just your solution,” he says. T

EYES ON THE PRIZE The Proving Ground has grown steadily over its brief history, from less than 25 entrants, all from the Columbia campus, in 2010, to over 60 in 2016, from across the USC system. The competition has also tripled the categories to include the Maxient Innovation category, the Avenir Discovery category and the SCRA Fan Favorite Category. The $17,500 Maxient Innovation Prize is awarded to the undergraduate student or team with the most innovative business concept that focuses on an existing need. Second place is $5,000. The $17,500 Avenir Discovery Prize is awarded to the undergraduate student, graduate student or young alumnus (graduate from May 2012 to the present) for the most innovative business concept that focuses on an existing need or problem. Second place is $5,000. The $5,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize is chosen by the audience at the finale event. Second place is $2,500.





Big ideas don’t come cheap. Equipment, travel, support personnel — as faculty know all too well, even the most promising research project won’t get far without funding. Enter the Office of Sponsored Award Management (SAM), which assists with the very first steps of identifying funding sources. “If you look at any process, the first thing is to know where the money is, and then figure out, ‘How do I get it?’” says Tommy Coggins, director of SAM. And Coggins knows how tricky that can be, particularly for new investigators. When he started working in SAM office in 1980, about one in four grant applications from researchers around the country was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Now, thanks to a shrinking pool of federal money and more researchers competing for those dollars, the success rate for an NIH grant application is one in 12 to 15. But that doesn’t mean your dreams need to die on the drawing board. USC’s faculty have set a new record for sponsored award funding each of the last three years, garnering $253.6 million for research, training and service in fiscal year 2017. USC Times talked to Coggins about the role his office plays in assisting faculty members searching for funding and how faculty can improve their chances of bringing in big bucks. How does your office help faculty looking for research funding?

It’s a matter of determining what funding opportunities match your interest. We have a variety of ways to assist with that, including a database, Pivot, which matches faculty interests with funding sources based on keywords. Pivot also allows faculty members to match up with other faculty members on campus. Within our Office of Research Development (ORD), we have

staff available to assist with the larger-than- normal projects, multi-disciplinary projects and multi-investigator projects. How do you get the word out about funding sources?

If a faculty member is waiting on our staff to tell them where the money is, they’re probably behind the competition. We believe most of our researchers are well-schooled and savvy about how and where to find funding. Occasionally, there could be a nugget out there that is not well known, and ORD regularly announces these opportunities through a campus-wide Listserv. As agencies, foundations, nonprofit organizations or other sponsors announce programs, we push those out as well. What types of funding are USC faculty members typically looking for?

At USC, and other universities, faculty are looking to match their research interests with those of a federal funding agency. NIH is our largest federal funder followed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Those are the primary agencies that fund fundamental and basic research. For more applied research, there are the mission-directed agencies like DOD, DOE and NASA. For USC and all research universities, government funding accounts for the vast majority of externally sponsored projects. How do the agencies make those decisions about what to fund?

Federal granting agencies have a pot of money that is allocated for certain programs, including research. Awards are made based on how proposals are scored by expert peer review panels. Each program within an agency issues grants beginning with the proposals with the highest scores. The process continues until the

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(right) Tommy Coggins

funds available are exhausted. Some very good proposals often don’t get funded the first time. The key for faculty members is to be responsive to peer reviewer comments and try again. Researchers are encouraged to reapply and address any shortcomings. For example, the review panel may suggest obtaining more pilot data or suggest revisions to project design or methodology. The big thing is to take advantage of the peer review and resubmit the proposals. So it’s typical to reapply several times for the same grant?

Some of the agencies have cut back on how many times the same or similar proposal can be submitted. For example, NIH allows only one revision. This policy varies from agency to agency, so researchers should be familiar with their agencies’ policies on resubmissions. The message to a researcher may be, “Your idea is good, but we’re the wrong place.” It sounds like a long, difficult process.

You write the proposal based on lots of preliminary work, submit it, it undergoes review and it’s forwarded for a funding decision. Six to nine months later, you hear something. It takes that long for the actual funding to get through the process. But the proposal itself is usually the product of a lot of work, building on years of working in a specific area. A typical grant supports a team including a principal investigator, one or two graduate students, a co-investigator or a post-doc associate, travel, equipment and supplies. What’s the current funding situation? Is there an average amount for a grant?

In real dollars, the money has shrunk. The 21st Century Cures Act should make more funding available in biomedical and

health research, but it’s always subject to cuts. If you look at the federal budget, a huge amount goes to defense and entitlements, so the discretionary part is already small, and the research part is an even smaller sliver. The average grant is $300,000 to $500,000 per year, but it’s much smaller in areas like the humanities. What about non-government sources of funding?

For research proposals, we do a good bit with private industry, but usually those are contracts. If we are dealing with industry, we are dealing with somebody who wants us to help them solve a problem. Solving their problem and advancing our research often can mesh. Boeing is an example where our expertise in aerospace engineering can be applied to their real life production issues. These arrangements provide research funding for faculty and valuable experience for our students. How do new researchers break through?

There is growing concern that young investigators are having a hard time getting in the door, so agencies are trying to address that, particularly NIH. There are strategies they are working on to try to encourage more and quicker funding for young investigators. Federal funding is finite, and it is subject to being cut. New grants often bear the brunt of the cuts. It’s tough for new investigators. The competition is fierce and the dollars really aren’t growing to stay on pace with the cost of research. There have been modest increases at agencies but not enough to significantly improve success rates of first-time applicants. New faculty members should get to know the SAM staff person assigned to their department and create a collegial relationship. Knowing who to call during the crunch of preparing a proposal can greatly reduce the stress. The sooner they get let us know what they’re doing, the more we can help them. T


Watching a new issue of USC Times roll off the presses is always a thrill, and the December 2017 issue was no exception. We only slapped that Post-It note on the uncut pages to remind us that while we may be scaling back production in 2018, our mission continues. The new USC Times quarterly will feature more stories, interviews, roundtables and photography than ever, plus a fresh new look. No, we’re not downsizing — we’re just refocusing our efforts.

USC Times Spring 2018 No. 1  
USC Times Spring 2018 No. 1