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From the Dean


I am delighted to share with you the inaugural issue of URSI

particularly susceptible.

(Ursinus Research, Scholarship & Inquiry), a research

The joy of deep intellectual

magazine that highlights the scholarly accomplishments

engagement is something

of Ursinus faculty.

that all of our students can


carry with them, regardless


of their life path. It certainly


is a reasonable kernel of an


Scholarship is a key measure of the quality of a faculty. When we hire faculty, their scholarly products are central parts of their application materials. When we grant tenure to a faculty member, scholarship is an essential piece of evidence of the

5 Academic Spotlight

answer to “What should matter to me?” and “What will I do?”

15 C  ross-Disciplinary Collaborations

quality. And as this publication testifies, high quality scholarship

Because we are a liberal


is something that we continue to celebrate throughout faculty

arts institution, we have the license to break the boundaries


members’ careers at Ursinus.

of conventional scholarship in ways that maximize the impact,


and you will see those innovative projects in this publication.


intellectual quality of the candidate—so essential that we send work out to colleagues at other institutions to evaluate its

But it begs the question, “Why?” We are not a research university; we are an undergraduate liberal arts institution. While a generous share of our students will go on to become professional scholars themselves, most of our students do not, so why the big deal? Admittedly, top-tier colleges invariably expect scholarship of their faculty, but we are an institution that dares to be different, that dares to ask fundamental questions of ourselves, so surely the “Why?” is fair game!

At a research institution, even at many of our peer colleges, faculty are typically told that these other sorts of scholarly

25 New Research Frontiers

work “don’t count.” Ursinus takes pride in celebrating a broad

range of intellectual endeavors, from traditional scholarship


to pedagogical innovation to service and outreach to the broader public. As a result, some faculty are involved in the traditional disciplines, but others in interesting interdisciplinary partnerships, or scholarship of teaching and learning, or yet


39 Field Notes



There are many stock (and true!) answers to this question:

others in engagement with outside communities. But all of

recruitment of talented faculty, enabling student-faculty

these scholars share a joy in their work—a joy that I hope you


research, keeping up with disciplinary changes, to name a

will experience as you read of their adventures.


few. But I want to add one more to the heap. That is, simply

42 A  ccolades by the Numbers

put, joy. The joy of creation and discovery, and sharing that joy with others, is at the heart of what it means to be human. I have yet to meet a faculty member who does not light up when I ask them to explain their scholarly agenda. Moreover,


that joy is seriously infectious, a disease to which students are





Ursinus College faculty are on the cutting-edge of new and innovative research. From improvements in targeted drug delivery to political


influence on digital advertising, our scholars apply their expertise to a range of contemporary topics and view them through a unique lens. What follows are profiles of a new generation of faculty members impacting the fields of science, media, history and art. Meet our researchers. RESEARCH FOCUS: Using nucleic acids to study biological applications and processes

Samantha Wilner Assistant Professor of Chemistry In targeted drug delivery, it’s crucial for medicine to get to specific parts of the body in order to work effectively, but many of these drugs are hydrophobic—they don’t like water—and, some drug delivery vehicles are excreted or fall apart before

“We’re answering fundamental questions about the types of delivery vehicles we

they reach their destination. “We’re engineering new delivery vehicles that can

can make. If we change specific structural

be used to combat this challenge,” Samantha Wilner says. By taking advantage of

components, how does it affect the delivery

the chemical structure of nucleotides and the binding interactions that they have, Wilner is creating a more stable, dependable delivery method by joining nucleic

vehicle? That will lead us to developing

acids and lipids together to form micelles. “We’re exploring different structural

applications of the technology.”

components and creating a library of different vehicles with tunable stability.”



RESEARCH FOCUS: Cell-signaling events that drive nervous system development

RESEARCH FOCUS: Synthetic modification of fluorophores

Jennifer Round

Ryan Walvoord

Assistant Professor of Biology

Assistant Professor of Chemistry

There are many processes that have to happen for a brain to fully grow and

Ryan Walvoord is using the power of organic chemistry to improve a centuries-old

develop. One process, in particular, is that neurons are born, migrate to their

process for building fluorophores, a specific class of chemical compounds that

proper location, and form connections—called synapses—with very specific

re-emits light. “Most fluorophores are ancient. We use them from molecules that

partners. “When that doesn’t go well, it can result in any one of many different

were discovered in the 1800s and since there are improved tools, better lasers and

neurological conditions,” Jennifer Round says. Her research focuses on the

better imaging instruments, there’s been a call for improved fluorophores. That’s

mysteries surrounding a specific protein family called SLITRK. “Its presence is all

where we come in as organic chemists. We are the engineers.” Walvoord says.

over the developing brain and we know it’s doing something important. Our lab

Fluorophores are specific kinds of molecules that have specific function and utility

tries to contribute little pieces of that knowledge base: What are the proteins

across science. Its applications are broad, and many scientists use fluorescent tools

doing? What happens if you take them away? What are their partners?” Round is

in their research as detectors and imaging agents. But, Walvoord says, we have a

observing what goes wrong in brain development when the proteins are removed.

very primitive understanding of their chemical structure and how it translates to

Asking those questions is a hallmark of scientific research.

luminescent properties.

“I want to use my research as a natural teaching tool and turn students on

in using them as I am in understanding

to the idea of research,” Round says.

them, building them and making

“Brain science isn’t just a collection of

them better.”

facts. There are a lot of open questions

By modifying the structure of of fluorescein, for example, one can

and undiscovered things.”

change its color, make it brighter, or place it in certain places in

Round will soon publish a paper coauthored with students. 6 / RESEARCH MAGAZINE


“Here in my lab, I’m not as interested

cells to image biological events. Another practical example is to use fluorophores to detect pesticide runoff. “You can take them into the field and use visual phenomenon to get quantitative data,” he says.



RESEARCH FOCUS: Lunar and planetary geology and impact cratering

RESEARCH FOCUS: Digital advertising and critical manipulation

Kassandra Martin-Wells

Tony Nadler

Assistant Professor of Physics

Associate Professor of Media and Communication Studies

It turns out that studying the craters of the moon is a lot like investigating a

The latest conventional wisdom about digital advertising is that “everybody wins.”

crime scene. “We’re looking at what we can learn from little pieces and fragments

Consumers are targeted by advertisements that reflect their online search histories,

of comets or asteroids that have moved through space and impacted with the

and advertisers aren’t wasting their time trying to sell products to the wrong

moon,” Kassandra Martin-Wells says. “I often compare it

audience. Tony Nadler’s research reveals quite a different reality, especially in the

to ballistics—we can learn from where the ‘shot’ was

political realm. Companies work behind the scenes to collect data every time we

fired and what was going on at the moment of impact.”

touch our keyboard. “The digital influence machine enables political advertisers

Martin-Wells uses ground and space radar methods, highresolution orbiting cameras and publicly available data from NASA to study impacts on airless bodies like the moon. Since there is no atmosphere, there is nothing to “tamper with the evidence,” so to speak. She’s studied Tycho,

to try to find our vulnerabilities, then it allows them to send precisely targeted messages—often filled with highly distorted or false claims— to leverage our vulnerabilities for their influence,” he says. Some of these advertisements will tell people what they fear the most. Digital

a 100-million-year-old crater (one of the moon’s youngest large craters) visible

ads tend to be a more effective tool for these groups than

from Earth with the naked eye. Martin-Wells says that impact cratering is the most

TV ads, which hit a broader audience.

prevalent geological process in the solar system.

It can tell us a lot about the geological history of Earth, but because Earth is still geologically active—erosion and plate tectonics erase the impacts after they form—it’s difficult to study on our planet. By concentrating on other planetary and lunar bodies, Martin-Wells seeks to understand how solar systems form and how planets evolve.


These “weaponized” digital influence campaigns seek to amplify existing resentments and anxieties, create distrust and influence decisions. The lies change behavior, from how we vote, to how we live our lives.

“Without transparency and a firm commitment to ethical constraints on how data-driven advertising works,” Nadler says, “these systems are a real danger.” 9


RESEARCH FOCUS: The world of sound

RESEARCH FOCUS: Public collective memory of slavery

Jennifer Fleeger

Patricia Ann Lott

Associate Professor of Media and Communication Studies

Assistant Professor of African American and Africana Studies,

and Film Studies Coordinator

American Studies, and English

Jennifer Fleeger has always been interested in what sound can tell us about our

Patricia Ann Lott’s research delves deep into America’s history with slavery,

culture and our values. From her days as a doctoral student to her experience as

emancipation and racism. One of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s 32 Career

a violinist, she says, “I’ve spent my life thinking about sound and how to make it.”

Enhancement Fellows for 2019-20, Lott is working on a book about collective

Fleeger challenges film viewers to think about their auditory experience as much as

memory lapse when it comes to slavery in the northern United States. A digital

the visual. “Our perception of a realistic soundscape in film might have nothing to

history project on race and equity has her digging more locally—both in the

do with how we really hear the world. I certainly don’t hear background romantic

classroom and through Ursinus College archives. Information found has

string music wherever I go. Yet I don’t question it when it appears in an American

forced students to reconcile with our past, as well as consider where

film.” Fleeger’s current work on media ventriloquism deals with contemporary

we still need to go.

issues such as deep fakes—the result of using technological tools to take fragments of voices and reconfigure them into statements, and then stitch them together with images of a person talking.

“Technologies allow us to take people’s voices and put them back in their bodies to lie to us. This is what we are up against,” she says. Another current project examines Marni Nixon, a Hollywood playback artist who did the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr and Natalie Wood.

The project is an outgrowth of Lott’s Race and the University course, which explores entanglements of racism and American higher education, beginning with the founding of the country’s first collegiate institutions through current national challenges promoting diversity and inclusion.




RESEARCH FOCUS: Early North America

RESEARCH FOCUS: Hungarian athletes, socialist sport leaders and the International Olympic Committee

Lori Daggar

Johanna Mellis

Assistant Professor of History

Assistant Professor of History

The scope of Lori Daggar’s research is as extensive and as complicated as the

A former Division I swimmer, Johanna Mellis believes it is crucial to understand

history of the United States—which is, in fact, just what her book, Cultivating

how the movement of human bodies has been politicized throughout history.

Empire, explores. Daggar’s work focuses on the development of U.S. imperialism

She researches how sport became a site of cooperation during the Cold War.

in the early 19th century in “Indian Country,” or what is now Ohio and Indiana.

Conducting oral history interviews with socialist-era Hungarian athletes allowed her

In particular, the book project analyzes the work of Quaker missionaries trying

to explore how this worked domestically and internationally, between Hungarian

to “assimilate the Indians.” It traces the development of the American empire by

athletes and the socialist state, and Eastern Bloc sport leaders and the

looking at the ideas, policies and consequences of economic development, mission

International Olympic Committee. “When most people think of sports

work and philanthropy in the 19th century. She says, “The United States’ Indian

during the Cold War, they think of these fierce East versus West political

policy is key in understanding the U.S. federal government, the U.S. empire and the

battles like the Miracle on Ice,” Mellis says. “But in order for these

economy. White settlers taking advantage of Native American infrastructure and

nations to actually use sport to achieve their political means, they

their lands is a profit-generating pattern that our country is founded upon.”

had to agree on certain terms—what competitions were, what competitions actually looked like.”

Her course Making American Empire explored the violence that helped give rise to the United States. It was developed, in part, out of her recent work as a member of the first cohort of Bright Institute scholars, a program designed to help

During fall 2019, her students are creating an oral history collection of Ursinus’s famed field hockey program through interviews with alumna that will be turned into podcasts.

participants turn their research into incisive classroom opportunities. The project fits with her goal of helping students develop their capacity to become global citizens and encouraging students to engage with local communities. 12 / RESEARCH MAGAZINE





RESEARCH FOCUS: Using self-identity to bridge understanding of the human condition

Cari Freno Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Cari Freno’s art—video footage, sculpture and drawings—doesn’t provide answers, but instead insists that viewers continually question. Her latest work explores her family’s history with mental illness. In a project titled “Unearthing”, Freno uses video footage of her uncle and grandmother as a starting point to explore her role as a new mother and the history of behavior that shaped the understanding of that role. “My project gave me a chance to think about how my uncle’s decline into mental illness and my family’s helplessness in coping with it shaped my views of the world,” she says. In the studio, she uses the process of making art as a tool to own her story and better understand the human condition. She asks the same of her students in the classroom, by encouraging the exploration of personal themes and helping students navigate the boundaries of this research.


Her goal for student work is that everyone is learning—the students

Research doesn’t exist in a vacuum, especially at a liberal arts institution, where

about themselves; the viewer about a perspective different from

cross-disciplinary collaborations and learning opportunities challenge students

their own.

“Art has the potential to function as an experience that creates meaning in the world. It is a way of communicating an emotional truth that can help you relate to other human beings.” 14


to think beyond traditional academic boundaries. What follows are just some examples of the intersection of unique faculty interests.


Writing and Mapping the Anthropocene E N G L I S H AN D EN VIRONMENTAL STUDIES Humans have had a significant

Hurley says the course, grown

impact over millennia on Earth,

from a National Endowment of the

reshaping landscapes, causing

Humanities grant and co-taught with

variation in biodiversity and altering

Jon Volkmer, a professor of English,

the atmosphere. In an innovative

toggled between theory and indirect

new cross-disciplinary course

and direct observation while allowing

collaboration, Ursinus students

students to express themselves

are asked to not only observe how

beyond hard data. It’s also framed

nature around them is changing,

around the four questions of the

but to express it through written

Ursinus Quest: Open Questions

works. Writing and Mapping the

Open Minds core curriculum.

Anthropocene draws upon a debated geologic era. In the scientific

“When you hear the language that’s

world, there is disagreement on

used, you hear a lot of scientific,

whether or not we have entered the

descriptive and even cold jargon,”

Anthropocene, but Patrick Hurley,

Volkmer says. “It’s language that is

associate professor and chair of

devoid of emotional content. That’s

environmental studies, says, “It is the

the scientific way. But this stuff

broader recognition among a wider

is scary.”

“We thought that by working together, we would give students an avenue to create art by channeling the affective response to the Anthropocene into artistic statements.”

group of scientists, social scientists and humanities scholars that humans have had a very large impact on the Earth’s surface and there’s enough evidence to suggest there’s a problem.”







On the Margins: Identity and the Arts T HE AT E R A N D DA N CE Two Ursinus performing arts scholars are shining a light on hidden figures in the industry through separate, but related, research projects. In

“In all of my research, he is given short shrift. I don’t know why.”

2016, Karen Clemente, professor

Brodie said, “They would write newspapers that appeared to be written by a German soldier who no longer had faith in the German war effort. No one suspected them.” They

of dance, began researching African

Clemente charged herself with

were eventually imprisoned by Nazis

American modern dance artists at

working to more broadly publicize

and sentenced to death, but survived

the famed Lincoln Center in New

Brown’s influence.

until Jersey was liberated. Brodie

York City. “When you’re researching

plans to turn the story into a play.

one thing, it often leads to another,

Similarly, Meghan Brodie, an

While the research was separate,

so I started looking into jazz

assistant professor of theater, began

Clemente and Brodie copresented

performers,” Clemente said. During

tapping into “the lost golden age

their work to a public audience at a

a visit to Long Island University, she

of lesbian Broadway.” “There were

unique venue—the historic Colonial

walked into the Brooklyn Paramount

about 10 plays with explicit lesbian

Theatre in Phoenixville, Pa.—during a

Theatre, which operated from 1928-62

storylines during that period [1920-

William Wilson Baden faculty lecture.

and is now being restored. “There,

45], but after World War II and in the

feature films were preceded by stage

1950s, there was stricter policing of

performances,” Clemente said.

homosexuality in American culture,” she said. This history inspired her to





“I became interested in those

investigate lesbian surrealist artist

performers, many of whom were

Claude Cahun—real name Lucy

black and weren’t credited or didn’t

Schwob—and her partner Marcel

appear in historical records, save for

Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), who

a line or two.” That led her to Ralph

collaborated on arts projects. They

Brown, a “hoofer” on Broadway and

lived under the radar on the island of

in films.

Nazi-occupied Jersey and,



Freedom, Citizenship and Equality PO L I T I C S AN D B I OLOGY

A new summer program funded by the Teagle Foundation took root at Ursinus in 2019 and brought high school students to campus to expose them to the college’s flagship first-year academic program: the Common Intellectual Experience (CIE). Two faculty CIE veterans, Paul Stern, a professor of politics, and Ellen Dawley, a professor of biology, led the program, which allowed students an in-depth look at the U.S. constitution and other historical documents while becoming acquainted with a liberal arts education and the power of crossdisciplinary learning. During the two

“Any person in any discipline can have these kinds of conversations. And, as an evolutionary biologist, I think the students were interested in hearing different perspectives. I think they’re captured by differing points of view.”

office and Center for Writing and Speaking. Current Ursinus students served as mentors to the high school students. “From the first day, they dove right into the material, day after day,” Stern said. “We’re introducing them to a kind of citizenship reflective of a liberal arts education— what can you do for the community? We’re encouraging students to think



deeply about that.”

weeks, the 21 students participated in discussions that touched on political

The high school students were

and ethical issues and had spirited

especially drawn to the inquiry-

debates surrounding free speech

based discussions—much like an

and censorship.

Ursinus student might find during CIE and as part of the college’s

“You have to be open-minded in what

Quest: Open Questions Open Minds

you read and talk about,” Dawley said.

core curriculum. The program also included collaboration with the college’s student life office, conferences and special events





Music Appropriation and Collaboration HISTO RY A N D M USIC

“It happens every day. Someone hears something they like and says, ‘I like that. I dig music. Let me try to replicate that,’ ” said Edward Onaci, an associate professor of history. “It happened in the 1950s with the birth of rock. There were black artists who were innovating—coming up with new sounds and styles and ways of performing—and white artists would borrow it, sometimes with


permission and sometimes not.”


That became the impetus for a course collaboration between Onaci and Holly Hubbs, a professor of music. The two Ursinus professors




are examining the global music

centuries, teaching students to define appropriation and collaboration and deconstruct preconceived notions of what it entails. Students listen to examples in class of both original versions of music and covers of those songs and sounds. The course also explores musical influences from Ghana and South Africa, how music was used to protest colonialism and racism there, and how those sounds influenced music and artists in other parts of the world.

“We want students to be intentional with how they consume and produce music. Hopefully that extends to other parts of their lives as well,” Onaci said.

industry in the 19th and 20th



Research at Ursinus College is a dynamic and multifaceted endeavor that has led to advances in medical science, the relationships between people and nations, the materials we use in everyday life and in art, and much more. Students collaborate with faculty researchers throughout their four years at Ursinus. These opportunities allow Ursinus students to use state-of-the-art equipment in the lab, collaborate with students and faculty around the country, travel to other countries, and help professors publish the results of their research. The following vignettes of selected faculty members illustrate the breadth of research at Ursinus and how our scholars investigate contemporary themes.

By Kurt Pfitzer



Medical researchers, says Jennifer King, know relatively little about the brain’s response to inflammation. This is especially true of microglial immune cells, the phagocytes that ingest pathogens, viruses and other foreign matter that enter the brain.

Jennifer King (L), Cathering van de Ruit (R)

THE SCHOLARS: Catherine van de Ruit, assistant professor of health and exercise physiology Jennifer King, assistant professor of biology

“These phagocytes act as the brain’s trash collectors,” says King. “Their proper functioning is critical to the brain’s ability to fight infective inflammation.” King studies the inflammatory protein mediators associated with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, HIVassociated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The gap between the goals of a well-intentioned policy and its actual results can be dramatic, says Catherine van de Ruit. Van de Ruit has studied HIV/AIDS in South Africa since 2002. Antiretroviral treatment only became widely available there in 2008, after having been rejected by former President Thabo Mbeki in favor of native remedies. To fight HIV/AIDS, global health organizations have established programs in which patients receive care from unlicensed local community health workers (CHWs) instead of trained clinicians. “The CHWs were touted as a model for health care delivery,” says van de Ruit, who described her findings this year in the journals Qualitative


Health Research and Sociology of Development. “But when we asked CHWs about their actual experiences, we found that most were impoverished women. They were not paid, and they received very little supervision.

or the nerve cells in the brain, by first triggering the inflammation of microglial cells. King’s students incubate microglial cells, treat them with inflammatory mediators and then use phagocytosis assays, immunofluorescence and immunoblotting techniques to measure their rate of phagocytosis. In earlier studies of HIV and HAND, King found that the HIV protein causes a significant increase in two chemokines, which regulate cell migration and phagocytosis. Chemokines are a type of cytokine, or messenger molecule.


“There’s a gap between the level of care mandated by the Affordable Care Act, for example, and what actually happens on the ground,” she says. “Once again, there are competing priorities between economic efficiency and providing quality health care.”

She and her students are now focusing on the cytoskeleton, which plays a key role in the stability and function of microglial cells, and in their motility, phagocytosis and immune response. The researchers hope to learn how inflammatory mediators affect the cytoskeletal structure of microglial cells, and whether changes in cytokine levels cause changes in phagocytosis. King takes her students annually to professional conferences. This December, they will attend the yearly meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology.

These mediators are different in each disease, says King, but all of them lead to the death of neurons,

“Both of these cases—Mbeki’s denial of antiretroviral treatment and the CHW program— come down to the same rationale: Economics usurps health care intentions.” Van de Ruit and her students also study the incidence of medical error in American hospitals. They are analyzing interviews conducted from 2012-15 with more than 300 employees at 17 hospitals. There are parallels, she says, between American and South African healthcare.


very social, some not much. They all interacted differently with me. I wanted to understand why all of these children, who had been given the same label, could be so different.”

In one project, subjects looked at 3D shapes that were folded out and rotated at different angles.

The experience opened Stevenson’s eyes to the benefits of neurodiversity.

“We look at the subjects’ eye movements as they examined the shapes. How they look at the shapes, how often their eyes fixate on the corners of the shapes, depends on their gender and on the level of autistic traits they have.”

THE SCHOLARS: Carlita Favero, associate professor of biology and neuroscience Jennifer Stevenson, associate professor of psychology

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) occur in an estimated 1 to 5 percent of pregnancies in the United States, says Carlita Favero. Heavy alcohol use can cause low birth weights and facial abnormalities in newborns. Moderate intake can lead to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other problems in older children.

In Favero’s lab, students stain slices of embryonic mouse brains with antibodies and examine them using confocal, fluorescent and optical microscopy. Their goal is to determine the number and distribution of the release factors, which guide the thalamic neurons that transmit sensory information to the cortex.

Stevenson has published articles in Autism, The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, PLOS (Public Library of Science) One, and Disability Studies Quarterly. As an undergraduate student, she worked with autistic children. “Many were non-speaking,” she says, “while some were very fluent. Some were

“Neurodiversity is a fact just like biological diversity. We tend to focus on the deficits of neurodiversity, not the strengths. But just because someone communicates with me in a way that I’m not used to doesn’t mean they don’t have something to offer.


Stevenson and her students recruit subjects who are low and high in autistic traits including attention to detail, avoidance of social situations, and difficulty communicating.

“If we focus only on the negative, we lose sight of the positive. We need balance. In our research, we try to look at differences and strengths to understand both sides of the coin.”

Carlita Favero (L), Jennifer Stevenson (R)

Favero, a brain development specialist, studies the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on the thalamus, the part of the brain that transmits sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex. She is particularly interested in the prenatal formation of the pathways of neurons, axons and synapses that guide these signals. Favero’s articles have appeared in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, NeuroReport and Brain and Behavior. In 2017, an article written by 12 of her students was published in IMPULSE, a premier journal for undergraduate neuroscience research. Recently, Favero received a two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.


“The formation of these pathways, and the connections they make in the cortex, can be disrupted with even a moderate alcohol intake,” says Favero. “This can occur during the first, second or third trimester of pregnancy.” Jennifer Stevenson, a cognitive neuroscientist, studies autism and measures the traits, positive and negative, that are associated with the disability and which can also occur in non-autistic people. Albert Einstein may have had autism, says Stevenson. Ditto Thomas Jefferson and possibly Nicola Tesla.


This is especially true, says Karreth, of the Cape Town suburb of Hout Bay on South Africa’s southwest coast. Its three racial groups—Blacks, Whites and Coloreds, or biracial people—live in

that Whites, the wealthiest of the three racial groups, participate most in community policing, with neighborhood watches and patrols. Blacks, the poorest group, participate less but have formed conflict-mediation committees. Coloreds seem “fatalistic” over drugs, unemployment and gangs, and participate the least. Karreth says participation is hampered by


Apartheid, the government-enforced separation of the races in South Africa, ended in the early 1990s but its legacy still grips the country, says Ann Karreth.

Ann Karreth (L), Johannes Karreth (R)

THE SCHOLARS: Olga Nicoara, assistant professor of business and economics Ann Karreth, assistant professor of politics Johannes Karreth, assistant professor of politics and international relations

Top-down foreign aid programs are designed “by the West to fix the rest,” says Olga Nicoara, but developing nations benefit more from money and other assistance sent home to family and friends by countrymen working abroad.


of gross domestic product (GDP).

These remittances are more effective than massive international aid programs, says Nicoara, “because private individuals know best how to get resources where they are needed and they have a greater incentive to do that.”

Nicoara also studies the cultural factors and traditions that have enabled some countries to achieve peaceful revolutions. In a 2018 article for the Baltic Journal of European Studies, she recounted the “Singing Revolution” of 1988 in which 80,000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined hands, sang folk songs and successfully demanded independence from the Soviet Union.

Nicoara makes this argument in a chapter she cowrote for the 2019 book Lessons on Foreign Aid and Economic Development: Micro and Macro Perspectives.

The centuries-old Estonian tradition of huge crowds gathering to sing, says Nicoara, helped reduce the costs of leading and organizing that are typical of large-scale revolutions.

The positive influence of remittances on national economies is growing, says Nicoara, because the liberalization of the global economy allows people to move freely and to work, innovate and exploit economic opportunities in foreign countries. In Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, remittances now account for more than 20 percent

In part, this was because the singing arena provided a focal point where people could meet spontaneously, in large numbers and with little need for advance publicity.

Flag of Estonia

distinct enclaves and interact less with each other than do the races generally in South Africa. Karreth studies Hout Bay’s community police, a group of volunteers who support and provide information to the South African Police Service (SAPS), the national police force. The volunteers play an important role, she says. South Africa has a high crime rate and SAPS, having been the enforcer for the unpopular apartheid regime, lacks legitimacy. “After apartheid,” says Karreth, “the government had to decide how to police the country when people feared the police. Community policing was one of the solutions enacted.” Karreth interviewed Hout Bay residents in 2015, during her third visit to South Africa. She found

resentments among the three groups and by South Africa’s two major political parties, the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance, which exploit racial tensions for political gain. Syria, Congo, Yemen, South Sudan—the world’s civil wars have killed or displaced millions of people, but Johannes Karreth sees reason for optimism. Karreth is coauthor of the 2018 book Incentivizing Peace: How International Organizations Can Help Prevent Civil Wars in Member Countries. The book argues that highly structured intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can mediate conflicts peacefully if they have a presence in a country and can apply economic leverage.


“By contrast, the IGOs had ceased operations in Syria before the outbreak of civil war in 2011, so their leverage was really limited. As a result, the Syrian government was able to respond very forcefully to the protesters.”

THE SCHOLARS: Casey Schwarz, assistant professor of physics Deborah Barkun, chair of art and art history and director of museum studies

Karreth is also studying attitudes toward immigration in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in an effort to determine why people of different political persuasions respond differently to the growing numbers of immigrants.


“When highly structured IGOs are engaged in a country,” Karreth writes in a blog, “both governments and rebels can expect clear costs from escalating violence: it will lead to a disengagement of these IGOs and withdrawal of their staff, resources and other benefits.” Karreth cites the history of East Timor, which was annexed militarily by Indonesia in 1975 but recognized by the United Nations as an independent country in 2002 following a 23year civil war. “Indonesia was very dependent on IGOs for development loans,” Karreth says. “The IGOs sent strong signals that escalation of the conflict with East Timor would have tremendous economic implications for the Indonesian government. So, the government held back militarily.

Casey Schwarz (L), Deborah Barkun (R)

Protesters in Cape Town, South Africa

Chalcogenide glasses, which have a large nonlinear refractive index and wide infrared (IR) transmission window, are valued for their potential use as optical devices with applications in environmental monitoring, satellite imaging, medical imaging and firefighter lenses. To make devices from chalcogenide glass, says Casey Schwarz, researchers typically use an expensive process called thermal deposition, where the bulk starting material is vaporized and subsequently condensed on a substrate to form the film. Schwarz is seeking to develop photosensitive thin films of chalcogenide glass using a solution-based processing technique that requires no vaporization and is less expensive and more versatile than thermal deposition.

to laser write precise patterns in the glass film. However, more unexplored and novel propertytailorable optical glass compositions could be made using solution-based processing.

“The thinner and more photosensitive the glass films are, and the more precise the patterns on the glass,” says Schwarz, “the better the chance we can make devices with increased and tunable potential applications. Our goal is to make devices in glasses that have as broad a range of transmission as possible, from the visible end of the spectrum into the infrared.”

Solution-based processing, says Schwarz, like thermal deposition, would enable researchers



In Schwarz’s lab, students grind bulk glass into powder and dissolve the powder in a chemical to get a solution. They spin-coat this solution onto a substrate and place the substrate on a hot plate to evaporate the chemical. Their goal is to be the first research group to use lasers to etch patterns on novel compositions of solution-based chalcogenide glass with micro-level precision. Schwarz and her students also conduct research using scanning electron microscopy and other advanced characterization techniques with collaborators at the University of Central Florida. Deborah Barkun is interested in another seemingly fragile material—spider silk. But it’s not fragile at all. The tensile strength of spider silk is enduring, and Barkun is drawn to three artists (Christine Borland, Nina Katchadourian and Tomas Saraceno) who co-opt the artistry of the spider’s web.

“These artists build complicated relationships with spiders,” says Barkun, “from intentionally exploiting them and aestheticizing their work, to allowing them to work while still intervening.” She was drawn to the unique “collaboration” between artist and arachnid thanks to her research interest in artist collectives. Barkun’s earlier scholarship studied an art collective that galvanized around HIV/AIDS, which led her to theorize


models of collaborative or collective work. Her most recent publication is about the work of an Irish collective—half/angel—and a piece it created in 2005 called “The Knitting Map.” The work will be exhibited at Ursinus’s Berman Museum during the summer of 2021. The prior research “gave me a certain interest in textile,” she says. “The work I’m doing now [with spider silk] is an outgrowth of collectives and textiles—the silk is the textile medium and method of working is one that can’t fairly be called a collaboration because a spider is an unwitting maker in this equation.”

Barkun stresses the interdisciplinarity of not only the project, but the artists’ work. Although often perceived as discrete, art and science have long been connected, she says, as these artists utilize scientific (as well as historic and literary) research and methodology to realize their work.

Social Interactions: Social Media and Freudenfreude Lynne Edwards and her colleague, April Edwards (no relation), a former computer science professor at Ursinus now with the U.S. Naval Academy, develop machine learning techniques to detect cyberbullying and predation as it occurs. Their work has been funded by the National Science Foundation. Cyber predators, says Lynne Edwards, use the Internet or social media to lure minors for sex, with offers of gifts and friendship and sometimes with blackmail. Cyberbullies use the same technologies and smartphones to harass, embarrass and harm their targets.


THE SCHOLARS: Lynne Edwards, professor of media and communication studies Catherine Chambliss, professor of psychology

The two researchers have worked with data from Perverted Justice Foundation Inc., which transcribes conversations between cyber predators and activists posing as teens and posts the transcripts online. They also use data collected from youths’ cellphones to analyze bullying and non-bullying communications. From all of this data, Ursinus students develop algorithms that recognize the difference between innocent, bullying or predatory conversations. The goal is to alert social media users to danger from conversations with possible predators and bullies in order to shut down the abuse.

Lynne Edwards (L), Catherine Chambliss (R)

From mythology to horror movies, Barkun has studied every facet and fascination of spiders, which she says, “do something that human beings for eons have regarded as miraculous and have tried to emulate in their textiles and in their weaving.”


Based on empirical studies that were later replicated by researchers in Europe, Chambliss found that depression is often associated with low levels of freudenfreude and high levels of schadenfreude. This phenomenon, she concluded, becomes self-reinforcing, depleting our resources for enjoying others’ successes and causing us to lose friends.

In another project exploring diversity in cyberbullying, Edwards and her colleague have found that there are racial, gender and cultural differences in the ways that different groups experience cyberbullying.

After working with people with severe mental illness, Chambliss and her students concluded that empathy promotes mental health. They developed the inter-personality mutuality training system, based on two positive behaviors for which Chambliss invented words.


“When it comes to cyber predation, our algorithms recognize that if a predator asks a kid for age, sex, location (asl), or says, ‘Don’t tell your parents,’ you know they’re on the path to an event,” Edwards says.

Kara McShane

The two researchers have started a company called E-2 Unlimited Technologies, which helps companies ensure that cyberbullying is not occurring on company websites used for online discussions. Catherine Chambliss has had a lifelong interest in the balance between human beings’ capacity for caring and their capacity for competition. “When someone else succeeds,” she says, “the caring part of you wants to celebrate that person’s success. The competitive part of you feels threatened and depressed. This is a constant struggle.” In her 2016 book, Empathy Rules, Chambliss coined a new term—freudenfreude—to describe the joy people take in the successes of others. The word is the flip side of schadenfreude, or the pleasure we feel over others’ misfortunes.

“Shoy means sharing another person’s joy,” she says. “Braggitude means that when you talk about your accomplishments, tuck in an expression of gratitude. If you’re celebrating having passed an organic chemistry test, thank your roommate for keeping the room quiet to help you study. And if someone is telling you about their success, ask them how they did it.” “You build freudenfreude when you establish nurturing relationships with other people.” Chambliss readily shares her own successes. Three of her five books have had multiple student coauthors, including Empathy Rules with 14.

THE SCHOLARS: Kara McShane, assistant professor of English Alvin Grissom II, assistant professor of computer science

Technology: AI for All Ages Kara McShane, a medievalist, specializes in understudied authors, including “that greatest of all writers in the Middle Ages—anonymous.” Her current focus is Destruction of Jerusalem, or Titus and Vespasian, an anonymous poem of 5,161 lines composed in late 14th- or early 15th-century England. The work has drawn scant attention from scholars and its last edition was published in 1905. Only 12 copies of the original manuscript survive. McShane has traveled to where they are housed— Oxford, the British Library, Yale and Rochester— and used an open-source collation software to transcribe and compare the poem’s various versions, which, having been handwritten, contain variations, mistakes and misspellings. The poem retells the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by Roman soldiers around 70 A.D. The poet takes liberties with history and betrays the prejudices of his medieval


contemporaries. The poem’s Roman soldiers are Christians who act like medieval knights, its Jews are malevolent actors, and the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus is secretly Christian. “Aesthetically speaking,” says McShane, “this is not great poetry. It is not beautiful like Chaucer. It’s only recently that scholars have looked at texts like this to see what early cultures produced, what their values and interests were, and whether we have inherited some of the unpalatable values like the ones this poem promotes.” McShane and Alvin Grissom II are using machine learning to shed new light on the works of John Gower, an English poet and friend of Chaucer. Machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), enables a computer to identify key words, patterns and relationships in a massive quantity of data, such as a novel, in a few seconds.


Kara McShane (left) and Alvin Grissom. Photo: Jeff Fusco.

“Gower is seen by editors today as stodgy, conservative and boring,” says McShane. “Alvin and I are hoping machine learning can help us open his texts and see if they surprise us.” Grissom, a computational linguist who speaks and reads Japanese, was one of the first researchers to apply machine learning to the simultaneous translation of human languages. “My focus was on language topology and sentence structure,” he says. “German and Japanese both have a subject-object-verb structure. This requires you to wait for the end of a sentence to translate it or develop a creative way of predicting how the sentence will end.” Last year, in a collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Massachusetts, Grissom tackled the problem of adversarial machine learning, in which neural models are tricked by malicious input. “We tried to figure out the specific pathologies of these models and how we could mitigate them.”

Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) and has already received more than 20 citations. More recently, Grissom’s group created a dataset, available online for download, that allows researchers to analyze prejudicial language used by announcers of American football games. They described this project in a paper published in the Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on EMNLP. After transcribing and cataloguing decades of football game broadcasts, Grissom and his collaborators developed a machine learning algorithm to analyze the texts. Their results aligned with previous findings by social scientists.

“We found that sportscasters tended to emphasize the physical attributes and abilities of black players while they were more inclined to describe white players’ mental acuity. This is a microcosm of the kind of descriptions you see throughout society.”

Field Notes Sometimes, research takes students and faculty beyond the classroom to different pockets of the world for unique learning experiences. These are just some of the Ursinus scholars whose work extends beyond the borders of Collegeville, Pa.

A paper by Grissom’s group, “Pathologies of Neural Models Make Interpretations Difficult,” was published in the Proceedings of the 2018



Cory Straub

Associate Professor of Biology Research on the Map: Sweden No more pesticides. Cory Straub is exploring natural alternatives to chemical pest-killers. Predators, such as beetles and spiders, provide a natural ecosystem service by killing pests, but they can fail to provide this service if not at their optimal temperature. And, climate change is increasing both temperature averages and extremes. Straub’s research group investigates whether predator species function best at different temperatures, thereby ensuring that some species will continue to kill pests, no matter the temperature. In the summer of 2019, Straub, along with students Emily Klein ’20 and Daniel Bliss ’21, spent seven weeks in Sweden investigating, characterizing and confirming the

thermal niches of two species of ground beetles. They confirmed their expectation that these predators function best at different temperatures, but also discovered that light intensity (e.g., a cloudy versus sunny day) contributes to their activity. Their results suggest that a diverse array of predatory species can provide better, and more reliable, natural pest control as the climate changes. Straub hopes to continue this research with further fieldwork. He aspires to influence policymaking to decrease overall pesticide use and promote farm management strategies that encourage predatory insects and the pest control they provide.

With more than 4 million tourists per year and a unique ecological complexity that does not exist anywhere else in North America, Yellowstone National Park felt like a natural place for Richard Wallace to conduct his research. Acting as a board member for over a decade and now serving as Educator-inResidence of the Northern Rockies Conservative Group (NRCC), Wallace

how they can improve. In the future, Greenburg and Wallace hope to increase awareness about education in the Greater Yellowstone region. They are working to develop a report and design informational workshops. He also hopes to integrate new policies that can better improve human-wildlife coexistence and strengthen the relationship between education and conservation.

Lauren Wynne

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Research on the Map: Mexico Food is integrated into most aspects of life in Lauren Wynne’s field site. It evokes pleasure, fuels interactions, and yet, it is also a source of anxiety. This is what inspired Wynne to investigate the changing nature of human relationships with food in rural Yucatán, Mexico. Beginning as a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellow in Mexico,

Richard Wallace

Professor of Environmental Studies Research on the Map: Yellowstone National Park

provides leadership in educational program assessment. Along with his research assistant, Jess Greenburg ’21, Wallace analyzes and assesses how well educational programs in the Greater Yellowstone region meet the needs of the ecosystem. He collects data on the many and varied education programs to investigate the teaching and learning that occurs. The two then evaluate which of these programs are successful at serving the conservation needs of the ecosystem and advise on


uncovers all levels of society. When published, Chao’s book project will be the first regional history from China. She hopes to eventually bring her research into the classroom by developing a capstone seminar that conceptualizes her fieldwork: “How do we narrate the ancient past? How do we use archaeological data to tell ancient stories? What is the ethical goal of being a historian of the ancient past?” These are the questions that Chao will challenge her students to explore.

Glenda Chao

Assistant Professor of History Research on the Map: China History is normally written by the winners, but Glenda Chao looks to write history from the bottom up. Focusing on pre-imperial China in the first millennium, her research marries history and archaeology to redefine preexisting historical narratives. Through conducting archaeological work and historical analysis, Chao’s research seeks to construct a regional history of ancient China—something that is not typically done. The material culture of the region brings in new perspectives to history. Unlike written histories that are typically derived from the elite, “Archaeology is more democratic,” she says, noting that it

Richard Wallace

Cory Straub

Wynne quickly realized that people continually talked about food. Although not her original path, this sparked a 15-year (and ongoing) exploration of human-food relationships. In her current research, Wynne focuses on the effects of the decline in agriculture and the rise of tourism in Mexico. “Only in the past few decades has there been a radical shift in food production in Yucatán,” she says. Her research investigates what realms of people’s lives have been affected by this shift and how it reshapes their everyday routines. Through this research, Wynne hopes to draw attention to people’s complicated relationships with food. Her research shows that food reflects many larger social and economic inequalities in the region, but, as she notes, “it also is a source of pleasure.”

Glenda Chao

Lauren Wynne



Student External Grants, Scholarships and Distinctions

on the Brain

At Ursinus, students studying neuroscience engage in contemporary approaches to challenging questions. The neuroscience curriculum encourages students to think beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries and approach questions utilizing knowledge gained from biology, biochemistry, computer science, philosophy, physics and psychology. Over the last five years, the work of students students in Associate Professor Joel Bish's lab includes:




students who will become published authors in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (a top five journal in sports sciences)

Student Conference Presentations

students who are coauthors They are Jillian Casarella ’17, on “Atypical cognitive control Rachel Raucci ’17 and is a lasting result of mild Lisa Grous ’17. traumatic brain injury,” currently under review by Sports Health.

students who have been published in undergraduate research journals.

Data courtesy of Joel Bish, associate professor of psychology.

Staff faculty members who submitted grant proposals

grants submitted

They are Shannon Kiss ’20 (primary author), Dominique Ballinger ’21, Noah Yeagley ’19, Tatyanna Neumann ’18, Sinead O’Callaghan ’18 and Victoria Javes ’18.

students who have presented at international conferences


Faculty Publications

Faculty members earned research grants or grants to support other programs

Top granting agencies:

National Science Foundation

National Institutes of Health

Ursinus College 601 E. Main Street Collegeville, Pa. 19426 (610) 409-3000 ucmag@ursinus.edu

students who have presented at national conferences

President Brock Blomberg Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Mark Schneider

American Heart Association

Chief Communications Officer Tom Yencho Director of Communications Ed Moorhouse Creative Director Dominic Monte Lead Designer Lauren Milewski, Philly Design Co.

Contributing Writers Samantha Harvey ’20, Ellen Cosgrove Labrecque ’95 and Kurt Pfitzer Photography Mark Likosky Special Thanks Meredith Goldsmith, Professor of English and Associate Dean Ava Willis-Barksdale, Executive Director, Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations



Profile for Ursinus College

ursi: Ursinus Research, Scholarship and Inquiry  

Ursinus College Research Magazine - Fall 2019

ursi: Ursinus Research, Scholarship and Inquiry  

Ursinus College Research Magazine - Fall 2019

Profile for ursinus