WMU Arts and Sciences Magazine 2021

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The Power of the Practical Also Inside – World-class, public impact research Cracking cold cases 2021

Changing the game

College of Arts and Sciences Greetings From the Dean to Our Alumni and Friends Dear Friends and Alumni, It is a great pleasure to bring you this edition of the College of Arts and Sciences magazine, following a one-year hiatus. It has certainly been a singularly challenging time for our college, as it has been for people and institutions across the world. Our faculty and staff were remarkably adept in navigating the rapid transition to a remote environment in March 2020, mastering a myriad of virtual platforms so that we could continue to provide outstanding instruction and support to our students and to engage in world class scholarship, innovation and discovery. We have nonetheless missed the personal interactions on main campus that bring joy and meaning to our work; it has truly been a delight to see so many students, staff and faculty back on campus this fall. I am especially proud of our college’s exceptional public impact scholarship, some of which is highlighted in this issue of the College of Arts and Sciences magazine. Our faculty and students work together, embodying our college’s core values of collaboration, creativity, integrity, intellectual freedom and student success in pursuit of scholarship that makes a positive impact on the world. Together, they are developing partnerships to empower marginalized communities; promoting racial equity and social justice; developing sophisticated biological models that could revolutionize treatments of injuries and illnesses; investigating media consumption and promoting media literacy; developing effective treatments for nicotine and opioid addiction; working with the Michigan state police to solve cold cases; and much more.

The College of Arts and Sciences Strategic Plan GUIDING PRINCIPLES Our Mission Our mission is to ignite and sustain a passion for learning and discovery in the humanities, social sciences and sciences, to help students, staff and faculty succeed in life and contribute to the betterment of our communities, from local to global. Our Vision Our vision is to achieve excellence in all aspects of learning and discovery across the humanities, social sciences and sciences while fostering a climate of intellectual freedom, diversity and inclusion.


We are also so proud of our alumni, including WMU 2021 Distinguished Alum Christopher Womack, chairman and CEO of Georgia Power, who is using his position to address social justice and climate change; Tristan Brown, recently appointed to a top-level position in the Department of Transportation where he seeks to promote environmental sustainability; and JC Lau, a video game producer who has tirelessly advocated for equity and inclusion in the global gaming industry. These alumni are among those we have honored for their achievements, and their passion and commitment to our college’s mission to promote learning and discovery and to better our communities, from local to global.


We are looking forward to an exciting future for the college. The $43M renovation of Dunbar Hall, which was paused for one year because of the pandemic, is back on track. The renovated building will feature classrooms designed for active-learning; welcoming, intentional spaces for students to gather and study; a dance studio; an academic advising suite; a media studio, including a journalism suite, podcasting room and a broadcasting and control room; and a beautiful addition that will bring space, light and new energy into Dunbar Hall. We anticipate that the building will be LEED certified, with two green roofs, indoor bicycle storage and high efficiency water and energy systems. To find out more on how you can contribute to the Dunbar Hall renovation project, contact Jessica Hermann-Wilmarth at (269) 387-8873 or jessica.a.hermann-wilmarth@wmich.edu.

We cherish intellectual vitality and innovation, driven by curiosity and critical thinking.

I hope that you and your loved ones are well, and on behalf of our college, wish you all the best for the year to come.

We seek to operate in an environment that features accountability, transparency and respect.


Intellectual Freedom

We promote an atmosphere in which staff, faculty, students and community collaborate in their discovery, learning and engagement. Creativity

Equity We are committed to an inclusive and equitable community comprised of diverse faculty, staff and students. Integrity

In a spirit of civility, we value intellectual freedom and the open exchange of ideas in our inquiry, discovery and learning. Carla Koretsky, Ph.D. Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Financial Sustainability We work to be financially accountable and viable through sustainable operations, programs and outcomes. Student Success We center students’ needs in our academic planning, policies and programs to enable learners to meet their educational goals.



Features Arts and Sciences News


WMU addresses institutional bias in STEM fields COVID-19 research webinar series launched And more –

Public Impact Research


Dreaming in Detroit Innovations for a brighter future


Breaking the Habit: new research may help smokers quit permanently

On the Cover

Activist scholarship for equity and justice

Christopher Womack, B.S. ‘ 79, CEO Georgia Power WMU 2020 Distinguished Alumnus

Reducing relapse in patients through smartphone technology

Magazine Staff

Unveiling marginalized refugee communities

Kathleen Refior, Managing Editor Jennifer Townsend, Associate Editor Michael Worline, Art Director

Completion First Scholarship program has lasting impact for students

Contributors Elena Meadows, Writer Erin Flynn, Writer Jamel West, WMU Student Writer Moline Mallamo, WMU Student Writer


Mark Bugnaski, Photographer Mike Lanka, Photographer

The Power of the Practical


Christopher Womack, B.S. `79, CEO Georgia Power

MSP Cold Case



WMU students working with Michigan State Police on cold case files

Holland Litho Printing Service Arts and Sciences is an annual publication of Western Michigan University’s College of Arts and Sciences, Kalamazoo, Mich., for alumni and friends of the college. The views in the magazine are not necessarily those of the University.


Changing the Game


Shifting a cultural mindset in the gaming industry

Questions or comments? Contact Michael Worline at michael.worline@wmich.edu. Magazine masthead designed by Cori Ivens `20, student graphic designer.

Connect With Us!



Arts and Sciences News 2020-21 New Western Michigan University College of Arts and Sciences leadership

Arts and Sciences dean named a distinguished woman in higher education The Michigan American Council on Education Network has recognized Dr. Carla Koretsky, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, as a distinguished woman in higher education leadership. The award recognizes groundbreaking work on behalf of women that is outside the scope of the nominee’s formal workplace responsibilities.

Dr. Stephanie Peterson

Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Nicolas Witschi

Interim Associate Dean,College of Arts and Sciences

New Chairs and Directors Dr. Jonathan Baker

Dr. Pablo Pastrana-Pérez

Dr. Kathleen Baker

Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark

Dr. Linda Borish

Dr. Heather Petcovic

Chair, Department of Psychology Acting Chair, Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism Chair, Department of History

Chair, Department of Spanish

Director, Institute of Intercultural and Anthropological Studies Chair, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences

Dr. Michael Famiano

Dr. John Saillant

Chair, Department of Physics

Dr. Megan Grunert-Kowalske Chair, Department of Chemistry

Chair, Department of English

Dr. Jeffrey Terpstra

Chair, Department of Statistics

Dr. Ilana Nash

Chair, Department of Gender and Women's Studies

As dean of the college, Koretsky has actively promoted diversity and inclusion initiatives, especially related to the advancement of women and people of color in STEM. Previously she has served as a faculty member in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences since arriving at WMU in 2000, and subsequently also the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. A problem solver by nature, Koretsky has worked tirelessly to advance access, equity and inclusion, especially in STEM. Koretsky currently serves as the WMU lead investigator on a three-year, $996,000 ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to support a collaborative partnership with Iowa State University, Michigan Technological University and North Dakota State University. The partners seek to develop and implement institutional strategies to support diverse STEM faculty, especially women who are caregivers or members of underrepresented minority groups. "As a geochemist, Dr. Koretsky is intimately familiar with the obstacles women face both within the scientific disciplines as well as higher education as a whole," says WMU provost, Jennifer Bott. Koretsky is also the co-lead of the ASPIRE Institutional Change team at WMU. In 2019, WMU was selected to participate in ASPIRE, together with 19 other higher education institutions from across the country, to develop and implement outreach, hiring and retention practices to support a more diverse and inclusive faculty. ◆

Teaching Law and Culture of Medieval England This summer 25 faculty and graduate students from institutions across the country had a unique opportunity to learn about the law and culture of Medieval England thanks to a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grant garnered by the director and deputy director of the internationally-recognized WMU Medieval Institute. Dr. Jana Schulman, director of the Medieval Institute and professor of English, and Dr. Robert Berkhofer III, deputy director and associate professor of history, were awarded a $169,000 grant – one of just 11 projects nationwide selected for funding. The grants are intended to support professional development opportunities for faculty and graduate students engaged in undergraduate teaching. Together, Schulman and Berkhofer developed and co-directed a virtual four-week summer program focused on the law and culture of Medieval England, with themes including “words as weapons'' and “crime, gender and violence.” The program provided participants opportunities to work closely with an interdisciplinary group of renowned scholars of history, English, law and medieval studies from institutions across the U.S. and Britain. In addition to engaging in lively discussions and readings of legal, literary and historical texts, program participants completed individual projects tracing themes of law and culture from medieval to modern times. Schulman and Berkhofer hope that the experience will inspire these faculty and graduate students to enhance their teaching with new ideas and perspectives on the law and culture of Medieval England. ◆

arts&sciences | 2021


Dr. Jana Schulman, director of the Medieval Institute and professor of English, and Dr. Robert Berkhofer III, deputy director and associate professor of history.

WMU addresses institutional bias in STEM fields through a nearly $1M NSF grant Western Michigan University is blazing a trail to increase the retention and success of diverse women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The $996,000, threeyear ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation aims to develop and implement institutional strategies to increase the success of women STEM faculty, especially minority women and women with significant family care-giving responsibilities, across the nation. The ADVANCE Midwest Partnership-Joining Forces Grant is a collaboration between lead institution Iowa State University and partners North Dakota State University, Michigan Technological University and Western Michigan University. “This project is intended to create significant, systemic, institutional change in support of a more diverse and inclusive workplace at Western and other institutions like it,” said Dr. Carla Koretsky, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator on the NSF grant. The ADVANCE team at WMU includes Koretsky; Dr. Heather Petcovic, chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences; Dr. Michelle Hrivnyak, faculty specialist in the Institute of Intercultural and Anthropological Studies; and Deirdre Courtney, a doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary studies.

FUTURE GOALS Focused on furthering the awareness of gender bias within institutions, the team has been examining child care programs and facilities at peer and regional institutions to identify where efforts that would support caregiving students, faculty and staff could be developed. They are also working on several projects to document the differential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on STEM faculty. Looking to the future, the ADVANCE partners hope to disseminate training programs and best practices developed in this project to other regional institutions. Several partnership caucus events are already in the works for 2021-22, including a presentation on understanding implicit bias by Project Implicit facilitator Dr. Perry, as well as a discussion with Dr. Bala Chaudhary on building an antiracist lab. ◆

INSPIRING GENDER EQUITY IN THE WORKPLACE Since fall of 2020, the team has hosted a series of crossinstitutional events and trainings as part of a regional women’s caucus to promote awareness about and reduce gender bias in STEM fields. From virtual film showings – including “The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science,” and “Picture a Scientist,” with panel discussions following – to crossinstitutional webinar discussions, the events have highlighted persistent gender inequities in STEM workplaces, and offer institutional strategies to mitigate bias and inequity. Lexi Jamieson Marsh, Ellen Currano, and Kelsey Vance – creators of The Bearded Lady Project.

“We’ve been able to launch several new initiatives across our regional partnership to promote and support gender equity in STEM,” said Koretsky. “In addition to the regional caucus event series, these include an Advocates and Allies program, a crossinstitutional Department Chair and Director Professional Development program, and CrossInstitutional Mentoring Committees.”

S-STEM program helps establish STEM cohorts to foster community among transfer students

The partnership recently wrapped up its first year of cross-institutional mentoring committees. These committees are designed to bring groups of mentors and mentees together across institutions based on participants’ self-identified intersectional identities – including women with caregiving responsibilities, international women, LGBTQIA+ women, and women who are members of underrepresented communities. Main topics of discussion included workplace climate, graduate student mentoring, tenure and promotion, negotiating salary, and juggling work life balance, especially during the pandemic.

A nearly $1 million National Science Foundation grant will help transfer students flourish as STEM majors while at Western Michigan University. The five-year NSF grant will fund scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students in chemistry and biochemistry programs, as well as establish cohorts to foster community and a sense of belonging among transfer students.

The regional caucus events, aimed to inform and inspire faculty and institutional leaders to take action in support of gender equity, typically drew more than 100 attendees, with the initial screening of “Picture a Scientist” drawing over 600 registrants. Following each event, surveys were sent out to participants asking them to indicate the extent to which the Joining Forces Women’s Caucus events improved their understanding of the experiences represented by women faculty in STEM and inspired them to act to promote gender equity. Nearly 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the events increased Raychelle Burks, Ph.D. Associate Professor of chemistry their awareness of gender bias in STEM and motivated them at American University. to take action to mitigate this bias. "There's a lot of research on the biases and issues that are disproportionately faced by women. For example, women are often assigned larger service loads than men. Research has also shown persistent inequities with respect to things like start-up packages and the sizes of lab space, and also that women are evaluated differently than men on student ratings of courses or in tenure and promotion evaluations," said Koretsky. "Understanding and effectively addressing these issues and finding strategies to retain and promote women in STEM is vitally important— especially women of color and women with family caregiving responsibilities, many of whom have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic."

"The S-STEM program at the National Science Foundation is specifically to support low-income but academically talented students in STEM fields," says Dr. Megan Grunert Kowalske, chair of the Department of Chemistry and principal investigator on the grant. The project will focus on recruiting, retaining and supporting future chemists and biochemists at WMU through structured and targeted interventions, such as workshops, to form connections with other students and faculty members. It will also provide resources and facilitate opportunities for cohort members to engage in research opportunities and internships. While a select group of students will join each cohort over the five-year duration of the project, the resources and programming developed will be available to all students. The first cohort began in January 2021. ◆

arts&sciences | 2021


Arts and Sciences News

Researchers exploring rapidly growing hydrogeology field through NSF grant Groundwater contamination is an increasingly critical problem in the U.S. and globally. In recent years, lead contamination of drinking water supplies in Flint and PFAS contamination of water supplies in Kalamazoo County have attracted national, as well as international, attention.

COVID-19 research webinar series launched by College of Arts and Sciences Throughout the pandemic, WMU faculty and students have engaged in public impact research that provides important insights into the long-term effects of COVID-19. Some of these projects were supported by $31,620 in grants from the University’s Office of Research and Innovation, provided by the Meader Presidential Endowment – a fund specifically designated for promoting excellence at WMU. Projects were selected for funding based on their potential for broad societal impact. Special emphasis was placed on projects that were interdisciplinary and could be completed immediately in a remote capacity. Results of the projects funded by the endowment were shared in four webinars over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year. These webinars were made freely available to the public in an effort to ensure that research findings be widely disseminated, so that they could contribute to solving some of the myriad problems the pandemic has presented. Dr. Matthew Mingus, professor of public administration, Dr. J. Kevin Corder, professor of political science, and political science graduate student Daria Blinova presented “Factors motivating the timing of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders by U.S. Governors.” In their webinar, the team demonstrated how decisions and rationales on whether or not to issue shelter-in-place orders were influenced by American federalism. Dr. Brooke Smith, assistant professor of psychology, and Alex Twohy, graduate student in psychology, studied the causes and effects of social isolation during the pandemic. In “Moderators of social isolation and mental health outcomes during COVID-19,” Smith and Twohy described the impact COVID-19 has had on human activity worldwide, as limitations on social interactions have caused significant mental health issues for many. The two presented strategies that could be implemented to improve mental health and to cope with stressors caused by social isolation. Dr. Stephen Covell, chair and professor of comparative religion, and Dr. Diane Riggs, faculty specialist II in comparative religion, noted how COVID-19 has impacted religious organizations and how these organizations have responded to it in “Pandemic response and religion in the United States.” Their efforts to analyze and better understand the actions of religious organizations is critical because it can provide insights into effective response to future emergencies or natural disasters. Dr. James Cousins, former associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Wessam Abdelaziz, teaching assistant in Arabic, examined the impacts of COVID-19 on universities, especially with respect to accreditation. In “The COVID-19 crisis, accreditation and the future of higher learning,” the two described the findings of their rigorous, year-long study on the effects of COVID-19 on teaching and learning in the academy, particularly as instructors rapidly pivoted to deliver online instruction, and how this might affect higher education accreditation for years to come. ◆

arts&sciences | 2021


Western Michigan University has long been known for its outstanding research and teaching in hydrogeology, as well as in science education. A new grant from the National Science Foundation will support a collaboration of WMU hydrogeology and science education scholars as they combine their expertise to understand how students develop and hone the 3D spatial thinking skills needed to accurately visualize and predict unseen groundwater contamination beneath the Earth’s surface. Dr. Heather Petcovic, chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences and professor of geological and environmental sciences & science education, and Dr. Matt Reeves, associate professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, will examine how students use spatial thinking skills to solve groundwater contamination problems both in the classroom and in the field. The NSF-funded team also includes an alumna, Dr. Peggy McNeal, and her colleague, Joel Moore, at Towson University in Maryland. McNeal, who earned a doctorate from Western in 2017, was a rare double winner of WMU graduate awards, having earned both an All-University Graduate Research and Creative Scholar award and an All-University Graduate Teaching award. ◆

Assistant professor directs esteemed Capital Internship Program In 2018, Dr. Lauren Foley, assistant professor of political science, stepped in as the director of the Political Science and Lee Honors College Capital Internship Program for the College of Arts and Sciences. She is only the second director of the longstanding, highly esteemed internship program, which was founded by Dr. David Houghton, associate professor emeritus of political science, in 1990, and has placed nearly 1,000 students into internships. Each year, 20-25 students participate in the program, roughly half of whom are members of the Lee Honors College. The students typically spend two full days each week during the spring semester in Lansing, where they work with members of the legislature, lobbyists and judges. Students attend legislative session meetings, help research and draft legislation, and work directly with constituents. In her role as program director, Foley recruits undergraduate students for the program, while also maintaining and making new connections with internship supervisors and sites. She also teaches a companion political science seminar course to the internship program each spring. Foley’s passion for both the program and for student success stems from her own internship experience. While in law school, she interned for a nonprofit legal counsel and a Michigan Supreme Court justice. Her internships influenced her legal education and profoundly shaped the research agenda she would eventually pursue in her doctoral studies. Foley looks forward to continuing to grow the Capital Internship Program, providing her students with unparalleled opportunities to engage side-by side with policy experts, and to pursue their passions at WMU and beyond. ◆

WMU alum paving the way in U.S. Department of Transportation

Two WMU faculty named Blue Ribbon Finalists in the National Science Foundation 2026 Idea Machine Competition

Tristan Brown is a passionate advocate for sustainability and the environment. Graduating from Western Michigan University in 2005 as both an environmental studies and student-planned major, Brown was able to personalize his course of study to fit his interests and career goals. While at WMU, Brown immersed himself in a breadth of curricular and co- curricular opportunities, applying knowledge gained in his studies to develop solutions to real world problems. The Lee Honors College student was involved in the Western Student Association, Economics Student Association, Students for a Sustainable Earth, and Physics Club. Brown served as a coordinator for the Gibbs House – a living laboratory for students to implement their sustainable design solutions and projects — and studied abroad in Malaysia. In recognition of his accomplishments, he was awarded the prestigious Morris K. Udall Foundation scholarship for environmental studies, and subsequently a Gates Cambridge scholarship. Brown has continued to advocate for environmental sustainability in roles working first for U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and later, after completing his law studies at the University of California, Berkeley, for U.S. Senator Gary Peters. From 20162017 he served as Deputy Associate Administrator for Congressional Affairs in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As an attorney in private practice, Brown focused on matters related to the transportation and public utility sectors. Currently, Brown is applying his wealth of environmental and sustainability expertise as the newly appointed acting administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In this position he oversees an agency charged with the safety of 2.8 million miles of pipeline and 1.2 million shipments of hazardous materials every day. Brown works directly with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to reduce environmental impact from pipeline and energy infrastructure. He oversees budgets, personnel, communication, and relations with Congress and agency stakeholders. Brown looks forward to advancing the agency’s mission and climate change policies. ◆

Two College of Arts and Sciences faculty were named Blue Ribbon Finalists in the National Science Foundation 2026 Idea Machine competition. The competition challenged researchers, students and community members to propose new “Big Ideas” for future investment by the NSF in fundamental science, engineering and STEM education research. Dr. Bilinda Straight, professor of anthropology and gender and women’s studies; and Dr. Todd Ellis, assistant professor of geography and science education, contributed ideas that were selected from the more than 800 entries as two of the top 14 finalists in the competition. Straight’s idea “Reversibility: Future of Life on Earth,” asks what mechanisms, motivators and tipping points determine reversible versus irreversible changes, whether in organisms, behaviors or systems, and how these changes impact the future of life on planet earth. With his idea, “the STEM Teaching and Learning Incubator,” Ellis points out that teaching innovation is often risky, expensive and requires long-term support, and proposes to empower K-12 educators to use maker spaces and cultivated collaborations to develop new approaches to STEM teaching and learning. Straight and Ellis each received a cash prize of $1,000 and an honorable mention at the winner recognition event in Washington, D.C. Western was the only institution in Michigan with finalists in the competition and the only institution in the country with two ideas included among the Top 14. ◆

Dunbar Hall undergoing transformation in renovation project Dunbar Hall, an aging, heavily-employed classroom building used by more than a dozen academic programs, is undergoing a $43 million renovation, supported by $30 million in state capital outlay dollars. Dozens of College of Arts and Sciences courses are typically taught in Dunbar, the second most-utilized teaching facility on campus, each year.

The renovated building will house a modern communication media suite and dance studio. The School of Communication media suite will include a TV studio, control room, journalism room, and an audio production and podcast studio.

Together with Friedmann and Knauss Halls, Dunbar was originally developed in response to booming enrollment at the University during the 1960s, and helped to meet the growing demand for classroom space. Although the five and a half story, 78,000 square-foot building has served the University well over its almost 50-year lifetime, it no longer provides adequate, accessible space to support teaching and learning. The project, set to begin in spring 2020, was put on hold due to the pandemic. Design has since resumed, with interior demolition beginning in fall 2021, and University officials expecting classes to resume in Dunbar Hall in fall 2023.

DEVELOPING A STATE-OF-THE-ART LEARNING ENVIRONMENT The overhaul of the building includes completely reconfigured classrooms to support active, engaged learning, and the addition of intentional spaces for students to gather for informal learning and study. The renovation also includes significant upgrades to the existing utility infrastructure, shared with Friedmann and Knauss Halls, to maximize energy efficiency and better align with WMU’s sustainability mission. It is anticipated that the building will attain a minimum of LEED Silver certification, with the goal of achieving Gold or even Platinum status.

View from the East (Hilltop Village) looking West

Dunbar Hall will also include a remote advising office for the College of Arts and Sciences, allowing students to stop in between classes to receive personalized one-on-one academic and career advising. ◆

World-class, Public Impact Research right in the heart of Kalamazoo The contributions of Western Michigan University’s faculty and students to research and scholarship in the humanities, social sciences and sciences, have long been at the forefront of nationally and internationally recognized discovery, innovation and creative efforts in the United States and beyond. College of Arts and Sciences faculty and students continue to lead, engaging in transformative public impact research that promotes thriving, equitable, resilient and sustainable communities, in Kalamazoo and beyond. From their work documenting the stories and history of Muslim Americans in Detroit to providing the next generation of researchers opportunities to engage in biomedical quantum biology studies, faculty scholarship in disciplines spanning the college are making a positive impact on the world. The following stories provide just a glimpse into the outstanding work our students and faculty engage in every day to improve the well-being of our communities, from local to global.

arts&sciences | 2021


Dreaming in Detroit It’s 2004 and a small city near Detroit, MI, has made national headlines for igniting tension over a call to prayer. Hamtramck, a historically PolishAmerican city, was experiencing an influx of ethnically diverse Muslim Americans moving into its neighborhoods. That year, a Hamtramck mosque’s request sparked a national debate about whether Muslim Americans had the right to broadcast their call to prayer, or adhan, over outdoor speakers into the city’s streets. With protesters gathering in front of the Al-Islah Islamic Center, some Hamtramck residents were strongly opposed to the decision its municipal leaders had made: Hamtrack’s city council had unanimously approved the mosque’s request to broadcast the calls by changing the city’s noise ordinance to specifically include the adhan. It was during this time that Muslim Americans in Hamtramck first drew the interest of Dr. Alisa Perkins, an associate professor of comparative religion at Western Michigan University, who was then a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Texas. She moved to the city in 2007, immersing herself in the different cultures that could be found in the area.

The Dream of Detroit Storytelling team intends to create an interactive multimedia website, a public archive, a short film and publications documenting African American and African-born Muslim leadership and community development in Detroit historically and today. Perkins serves as the project manager, research director, intern coordinator and grant-writer for the initiative. She works closely with people such as Dream of Detroit’s executive director Mark Crain, independent filmmaker Malikah Shabazz, web-designer Sabreen Hanifa, and WMU alumna and CEO of Book Power Publishing, Zarinah El-Amin, to advance the project. The Storytelling team has already collected more than fifty videorecorded oral history interviews of Detroit African-born and African American Muslim community leaders. The interviews are being collected in a ScholarWorks online database through Western Michigan University Libraries. “WMU libraries, and especially digital humanities librarian, professor Amy Bocko, have given our work a tremendous boost,” Perkins said.

“The call to prayer debate sped up a process of mutual learning for the city’s residents. After the tensions defused, the call to prayer became an accepted part of the city’s soundscape,” Perkins said. “Hamtramck is a gateway city long known for welcoming newcomer immigrants – first Polish Catholic Americans and then the Bangladeshi, Yemeni, and Bosnian Muslims who have since gained prominence in the city’s economic and political life. As perhaps the first U.S. city with a majority Muslim population, Hamtramck potentially can serve as a model for how other cities nationwide can gracefully manage new kinds of diversity.”

HIGHLIGHTING HISTORY IN DETROIT Having spent more than a decade carrying out research on the civic engagement of ethnically diverse Muslim American communities in Hamtramck and subsequently publishing her book, “Muslim American City: Gender and Religion in Metro Detroit” (New York University Press, 2020), Perkins is now working in partnership with Dream of Detroit, a neighborhood revitalization organization, to garner and disseminate knowledge about African American Muslims and African-born Muslims in Detroit. “Detroit is one of the most important cities in the history of American Islam, being home to the Nation of Islam in the 1930s,” said Perkins. “Over the decades, African American Muslims have made enormously positive contributions to Detroit’s social, economic, and political life. In recent decades, African-born Muslims, coming from places like Senegal and Ghana, are also enriching the city.” Dream of Detroit is a Muslim-led nonprofit organization combining community organizing with housing and land development to build a healthy community and empower a marginalized neighborhood on the westside of Detroit. It is headquartered within Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center. In conjunction with the leaders of this organization, as well as local African American Muslim students, media experts, and activists, Perkins is documenting the history of African American Muslims and African-born Muslims in the area through a public humanities initiative called “The Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project.” “On both local and national levels, the histories of African American Muslims and African-born Muslims in America tend to be marginalized due to racism and Islamophobia,” Perkins said. “Our Storytelling Project creates publicly accessible materials and employs an anti-racist, critical methodology called Community Based Participatory Research to help ensure that people from the communities being represented in the project have a main role in creating and controlling these representations.”

Malia Kai Salaam, a Detroit-based Muslim American community leader, at her oral history interview. (Photo courtesy of Brooklynne Bates)

SURROUNDING COMMUNITY SUPPORT The Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project is made possible via collaboration among a wide range of community and institutional partners, activists, and residents, while also providing an opportunity for community-based high school and college student interns to get involved. Interns have the opportunity to dive deeper into their roots by conducting interviews with their elders. The project is also supported by university-based interns from across the country who work remotely preparing materials for the archive and website. Already receiving financial support through the Pillars Fund, Perkins was also recently honored with one of ten Whiting Public Engagement Seed Grants to support the project’s ongoing work. This community-led initiative will safeguard the neighborhood’s history and empower a new generation with knowledge about the past. You can view the project’s growing archive by visiting: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/dream-storytelling-interviews/ To support the students and faculty within the Department of Comparative Religion, visit https://wmich.edu/religion/giving. ◆

arts&sciences | 2021


Innovations for a Brighter Future Innovation is about exploring the unknown, facing challenges head-on and daring to find new solutions. Western Michigan University seeks to foster the innovative spirit of its faculty in a myriad of ways, one of the most exciting of which is the Presidential Innovation Professorship. This highly competitive three-year award, bestowed by the Office of Research and Innovation, is granted to only three faculty members at a time. The College of Arts and Sciences is home to two of this cycle’s awardees: Sue Ellen Christian and Dr. Wendy Beane. School of Communication Professor Sue Ellen Christian (center) and SoC intern Zaria S. Bell listen as Tamara Barnes of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum discusses the exhibit layout. Barnes is assistant director for material culture at the museum.

UNDERSTANDING THE EFFECTS OF MEDIA CONSUMPTION Sue Ellen Christian, a professor of communication, teaches journalism and information literacy. She sees the importance of media literacy as not only an academic subject, but a critical life skill. As Christian points out, media literacy isn’t just about reading the news or having a social media presence, it’s also about understanding the effects that media consumption can have on our view of the world around us. Christian seeks to educate others with an innovative new exhibit she has designed for the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, the city’s free public museum. “It was important from a community point of view to make this as accessible as possible,” said Christian. As part of her aim to make this project accessible, key components of the exhibit will also be available on the Kalamazoo Valley Museum website. The exhibit has fourteen interactive stations, both digital and analog, which are aimed at educating the public regarding media literacy and the effects of their media consumption. Christian wants to engage people of all ages, but she’s specifically encouraging seventh graders to interact with this exhibit. She believes that catching young people at a time when they are starting to use media (especially social media) with less parental supervision is crucial. In particular, Christian wants to equip young people with the tools necessary to effectively use media in their own lives. Christian’s passion for this project is rooted in her commitment to social justice issues. “People in our society are depicted by the media both positively and negatively, in simplified formats and nuanced formats,” and that can lead to issues of misinformation and ignorance. Christian wants people to understand that their voices matter, and what they consume matters, too. The exhibit opens at Kalamazoo Valley Museum in April of 2022 and will remain open for over a year. While Kalamazoo is the proud home of this project, a traveling national exhibit is also in the works.

“We’re studying some potentially really exciting things, and we’re using this professorship as a way to establish a community of people who are capable of investigating these questions.”

Dr. Beane assists Arts and Sciences students during a grant-funded summer course aimed at providing biological sciences majors and minors with the opportunity to participate in original research.

PROMOTING ADVANCES IN QUANTUM BIOLOGY Dr. Wendy Beane, an associate professor of biological sciences, is working to increase interdisciplinary communication within her field of quantum biology. Beane is a classically trained biologist who works in her lab with planarian flatworms to determine the mechanisms of regeneration. She began branching out and collaborating with researchers in other fields, such as physics and engineering, when she saw the great potential for this interdisciplinary research. Quantum biology, as Beane explains, is a relatively new field of scientific inquiry. It deals with processes that occur on the subatomic level. Quantum biology is highly interdisciplinary as it brings together various fields, including physics, nanoscience, chemistry, biology, and engineering. While there are centers of quantum research in Europe and Asia, there currently is not one in the United States. Beane is working to change that, via her work here at WMU. In her cutting-edge research, Beane is exploring how external environmental factors affect stem cell activity. This research is leading her to look at the impact of weak magnetic fields on concentrations of free radicals, which might have positive effects like the promotion of cell proliferation. Beane explains that the potential therapeutic implications of this kind of research could be tremendous, and she’s excited to be able to contribute to the new field of quantum biology in her lab.

While the research has exciting potential implications and applications, conducting it can present a challenge. As Beane notes, this largely stems from communication barriers. Different disciplines have different styles of research, and that means different styles of communication, too. “Even though we’re all scientists…we find that we have trouble talking to each other,” Beane said. Beane wasn’t going to let that hinder her research, so she developed a solution. The Quantum Biology Interdisciplinary Trainee Exchange program, or QBITE, will provide scientists with opportunities to shadow scientists in other labs to better understand how their colleagues in different fields operate and communicate. By facilitating this kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration, Beane hopes communication will be enhanced within the scientific research community. “We’re studying some potentially really exciting things, and we’re using this professorship as a way to establish a community of people who are capable of investigating these questions,” said Beane. ◆

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Breaking the Habit:

New research may help smokers quit permanently The subsequent media attention took Stull by surprise, especially given that potential therapeutic application is likely still years away. Quitting smoking is challenging, and the products currently available to aid in smoking cessation are not effective enough as standalone treatment options. As Stull points out, someone who slips while attending a social event is likely to re-trigger the addiction, despite the use of cessation aids. Additionally, one of the more well-known drugs on the market recently made national news when it was recalled by its manufacturer, Pfizer, over concerns that it may lead to cancer when used long-term. Given the difficulty of kicking the smoking habit, as well as the disappointing efficacy in available nicotine replacement therapies, the media interest in Stull’s work is, perhaps, understandable. With the pandemic interrupting laboratory-based work, Stull spent his time writing a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health, which garnered $448,682 that will support his research group over the next three years. What will the team work on with this funding? First, they hope to find a potential combination therapy for human application using NicA2, the cytochrome c protein, and the next step in the chain reaction that degrades nicotine in the environmental systems – cytochrome c oxidase. They will also attempt to re-engineer NicA2, forcing it to use plentiful molecular oxygen as the electron acceptor rather than cytochrome c.


Dr. Ricky Stull didn’t expect his research into potential enzymatic therapies for treating nicotine addiction to get so much attention, but it has been a welcome surprise. Researchers have known for decades that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the world, and have been working to develop reliable, effective methods to help tobacco users kick the habit. The discovery of NicA2 provides a tantalizing opportunity to explore new ways to do just that. NicA2 is an enzyme that degrades nicotine and is produced by bacteria growing in tobacco fields; pilot studies on rats suggested that administration of the enzyme as a nicotine blocking therapy could be effective. However, Stull’s lab showed that the enzyme degraded nicotine very poorly, requiring dosages that would not be feasible for human application. But Stull’s lab not only identified this roadblock, they also uncovered the first step in a potential solution. For the enzyme to work, it requires a second molecule to act as an electron acceptor, completing the reaction which degrades the nicotine. According to Stull, it made sense for the researchers who first described NicA2 to assume that degradation of nicotine occurred with molecular oxygen functioning as the electron acceptor. In fact, the enzyme uses a protein known as cytochrome c instead.

DUMB LUCK How did Stull’s lab discover that this protein was the missing link? “Dumb luck,” Stull says. “The answer was hidden right in front of everyone’s faces all along.” Computer algorithms are used by the researchers to analyze genome data, and the protein was missed in the initial scan. A follow up scan caught the protein, leading to the key breakthrough: that cytochrome c was required to efficiently and quickly facilitate the breakdown of nicotine by NicA2.

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Stull enjoys working with undergraduate students, and in fact, his NIH funding is contingent on the research being conducted primarily by those students. It was, notably, one of Stull’s undergrads, Christopher Clark, who discovered that cytochrome c was the key to unlocking the enzyme’s potential to be a useful tool to combat nicotine dependency. Currently Stull is mentoring six undergraduate students in his lab.

Dr. Stull (left) preparing an experiment with a re-engineered version of NicA2. Undergraduate Christopher Clark (right) purifying NicA2 for analysis.

“They are really eager and hungry, and can get a lot done. The passion is incredible. For their development and education, getting experience in the lab is critical for them. Getting handson experience doing research is incredibly important for when they get on the job market, or when they go to grad school, or even informing them about whether or not they want to pursue a degree and a career in the chemical sciences.” OTHER IMPACTFUL RESEARCH Nicotine enzymes are not Stull’s only area of research interest these days. Currently he is working with a partner at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, studying bacterial responses to reactive oxidants. This research focuses on the ways bacteria use a flavin dependent enzyme to evade immune system responses. “If we can find an inhibitor or a drug that kills that enzyme we can make bacteria more sensitive to our immune response and prevent infection, or get rid of an infection,” Stull said. “Bacteria are evolving resistance to the antibiotic compounds that we have,” and this research provides potential new solutions to this critical problem. The two are hoping to publish this research in the near future. ◆

Activist Scholarship for Equity and Justice “It matters to see people who look like you in the fields you aspire to go into because that means you belong.” Without representation, students of color oftentimes feel left out of their fields of choice, which can have detrimental effects on their chances of success. Perryman-Clark’s scholarship-activism has led her to write two books and edit one anthology on educational and pedagogical issues impacting African American students. Her first book, “Afrocentric Teacher-Research: Rethinking Appropriateness and Inclusion” (Peter Lang Publishing, 2013), delves into the topic of African American Language, and the myth of language versus dialect. Perryman-Clark explains how languages are subject to systems of power and privilege, and how language is frequently used as a tool of oppression: “What gets classified as a language versus a dialect often is arbitrary and is based on power and privilege and who decides what gets to have the prestige of a language.” Respecting students’ own languages is vitally important in pedagogy, as PerrymanClark’s second book, “Students’ Right to Their Own Language (SRTOL): A Critical Sourcebook” (Bedford St. Martins, 2015) attests.

he world of academia isn’t just about concepts, theories or ideas; it’s about making real-world changes to help underrepresented communities. That’s precisely what Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark is striving to do with her work at Western Michigan University. As director of the Institute for Intercultural and Anthropological Studies and professor of English, Perryman-Clark juggles her work among various roles. This year she was selected to be an officer of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and is currently planning the 2022 annual convention, slated to be held in Chicago. As the program chair for the convention, Perryman-Clark wanted to find a theme that brought together her love for education and her passion for social justice issues. The theme, “The Promises and Perils of Higher Education: Our Discipline’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Linguistic Justice,” invites scholars of diverse backgrounds to contribute their scholarship to the field of rhetoric and writing. This is another step toward inclusion, as Perryman-Clark realizes that in order to change the world for the better, we have to start by changing academia to be more inclusive and diverse. Diversity needs to be reflected in both the student body and the faculty of universities, and scholars of color need to have their voices heard by the rest of the academy.

Her most recently published book (co-edited with Collin Craig), “Black Perspectives in Writing Program Administrations: From the Margins to the Center'' (NCTE/CCCC, 2019), won the Council of Writing Program Administrators Best Book Award for 2020. Perryman-Clark explains that this came at a critical time for race relations, and she felt great pride in co-editing a book that considered the experiences of educators working with students of color. Increased dialogue leads to increased representation, which helps students succeed. At the end of the day, Perryman-Clark hopes that her legacy in higher education will be one of consistency. Regardless of the position she fills, whether it be as professor, director, dean or chair, “it all comes back to this work and why it matters.” She also wants to encourage others to make a lasting impact. Contributions toward fundraising opportunities for students majoring in African American and African Studies can be made at wmich.edu/intercultural/giving. ◆

This passion for diversity and inclusion is deeply rooted in her own lived experiences. While receiving her education, Perryman-Clark noticed that there were very few professors who looked like her. “I was constantly having to read from the perspective of others, I learned content from the perspective of others without having my experience included.” Perryman-Clark adds, “It matters to see people who look like you in the fields you aspire to go into because that means you belong.”

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Dr. Perryman-Clark’s book (co-edited with Collin Craig), “Black Perspectives in Writing Program Administrations: From the Margins to the Center'' (NCTE/CCCC, 2019), won the Council of Writing Program Administrators Best Book Award for 2020.

Part of that transformation includes increasing the graduation rate. Although WMU still has one of the lower sticker prices of Michigan public universities, many students encounter life circumstances that force them to withdraw from college because they can no longer afford tuition. Gone are the days when it was possible for most students to earn sufficient funds through summer and academic year employment to afford college tuition. Even a situation as seemingly minor as a car breaking down can interfere with a student’s ability to work and attend classes, interrupting their progress toward degree completion.

One student who experienced this firsthand is Trevor Woo, a senior biomedical science major from West Bloomfield. “This absolutely saved me during the pandemic,” he said of the completion scholarship. Only a few weeks from graduation, Woo received the frightening news that his mother was on the way to the hospital with COVID-19. He took leave from his work as a medical scribe; with that job and his mother his only sources of income, he had to become entirely self-sufficient in the midst of a global pandemic.

Completion First: Scholarship program has lasting impact for students Jessica Hermann-Wilmarth, new chief development officer for the College of Arts and Sciences, has a goal of building a culture of alumni engagement and support. She seeks to inspire alumni to remember the benefits of the education they received, involve alumni as volunteers and encourage alumni to invest back into the University. Hermann-Wilmarth, herself an alum after receiving a master’s of public administration from Western Michigan University in 2014, has worked in advancement and fundraising since her undergraduate years, when she enjoyed her student job making phone calls to alumni and annual donors. Prior to joining Western Michigan University staff three years ago as a director of major gifts, Hermann-Wilmarth served as chief development officer for the West Michigan Cancer Center. Her role is new within the College of Arts and Sciences, where she intends to grow a team to oversee fundraising and alumni relations for the college. Its first member, Gina Johnson, began on July 1 as assistant director of leadership giving. Western currently has an endowment of $480 million, which supports student scholarships, programs, research and state-of-the-art learning facilities. These funds augment the work of the college or provide scholarships as prescribed by the donors who set up the endowments. In early 2020, WMU began a fundraising campaign seeking to raise $1.25 billion; a recent generous donation of $550 million from anonymous donors – the single largest gift to a public higher education institution ever - advanced that cause significantly. The campaign represents a unique opportunity for Hermann-Wilmarth and Johnson to help the College of Arts and Sciences raise additional funds in support of undergraduate and graduate student scholarships, to support faculty and student research and discovery, and to further the mission of the college. “The goal is to create an investment in Western Michigan University that transforms it,” HermannWilmarth said.

“When they think about taking a semester or a year off, they often don’t return,” HermannWilmarth said. Starting college, taking out loans and not graduating can leave students in an even worse place, because they have no degree to help them get a job, Hermann-Wilmarth noted. “We want to invest financially in students so they can graduate,” she said. “Maybe in 10 years our graduation rate across the board can be in the 90s.” The 6-year graduation rate for students who entered the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011 was just 50.1%. Enter the Completion Scholarships — modest scholarships (currently $4,000) that bridge the gap for students — making the final semesters of college financially possible or allowing them to remain full-time students. These scholarships are awarded to students who have been successful in college but a financial reality, such as dwindling funds or an emergency, is making the next semester of college an impossibility. “What we know is just this little bit of financial support can really make a difference for students,” Hermann-Wilmarth said. “That’s the great thing about Western, the advancement office, financial aid, the faculty - everyone cares about students and wants them to succeed.” Eligibility for a Completion Scholarship is determined by financial need and academic standing. When the College of Arts and Sciences began offering completion scholarships in 2017-18, they awarded 95 scholarships, and 95% of those students have now graduated. The following year they awarded 70 scholarships, and 86% of the cohort have now graduated, with others still on track to complete their degrees. “For $4,000 you can change a student’s life forever,” Hermann-Wilmarth said.

The scholarship helped not only with his tuition, but also with rent for himself and his brother Frank, who came to live with him while attending medical school online through the University of Miami. Meanwhile, his mother developed acute necrotizing encephalopathy. She slowly declined into a comatose state, not responding to verbal cues, and the week before Woo’s final exams, she entered hospice. Trevor and Frank had been able to FaceTime with her through an iPad, but eventually had a chance to visit her in the hospital. As they pondered whether it was time to say goodbye, she looked at them and asked “why are you crying?” Suddenly she seemed to rally and begin recovering. She recently finished speech therapy, is doing outpatient physical and occupational therapy, and is almost back to her old self. Woo, now volunteering and shadowing at the Van Buren Cass District Health Department, plans to apply for medical school during the next cycle, and ultimately to become a physician. Walking through this journey with his mother has allowed him to see not only doctors putting their hearts into their work and the passion necessary for success in the field, but also the recovery side – physical, speech, and occupational therapy. “I got a crash course on all of the care processes,” he said. Woo is extremely appreciative to the College of Arts and Sciences for paving a path to his future through the completion scholarship. “It gave me a buffer into the real world and allowed me to graduate,” he said. “I can't thank you guys enough!!”

To support the undergraduate Completion Scholarships funds visit,

wmich.edu/arts-sciences/giving, or detach and use this convenient remittance envelope.

Trevor Woo, a senior biomedical science major from West Bloomfield — is extremely appreciative to the College of Arts and Sciences for paving a path to his future through the completion scholarship. “It gave me a buffer into the real world and allowed me to graduate,” he said. “I can't thank you guys enough!!”

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The Power of the Practical

Chris Womack (Right) and Matt Laughin (Left) presenting at the Aspen Idea Festival in Aspen, Colorado, June 2019.

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Christopher Womack, B.S. ‘79 in political science, exemplifies the power found in the practical application of wisdom. Born in southern Alabama, he was motivated to attend Western Michigan University by the people who were closest to him. “I decided that I did not want to go to school in Alabama. I wanted to see a different part of the world,” said Womack. The dangers and social suffocation of the Jim Crow South played a key role in his decision to leave the place of his birth for Michigan. “Michigan was not perfect, but it was above the Mason-Dixon line.” While he makes it clear that Western was largely segregated during the time he attended, he also notes that the University was invested in the development of African-American professionals and leaders. In spite of this segregation, Womack enjoyed great friendships - including with his first roommate, who was white - during his undergraduate term at school, and engagement with the whole student body. Mentorship was another source of inspiration. He cites former political science professor David Houghton as someone who guided him to the work that would initially shape his future career. “My engagements with professor David Houghton led me to an internship with the City Manager’s Office in Kalamazoo,” said Womack. Houghton emphasized practical experience. This eventually led Womack to complete another internship, this one in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1978. “The exposure I got gave me a sense of direction concerning what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

THEORY AS PRACTICE No outcome of one’s life can be reduced or entirely attributed to the educational institutions that one attends, but WMU undoubtedly played a crucial role in helping Womack develop the skills that have made his varied career possible. Womack was able to put his considerable skills in both theoretical and applied analysis to use over his extensive career at the Southern Company. Joining in 1988 after working for the U.S. House of Representatives as a legislative aide, Womack held several leadership positions within the company and its subsidiaries, where he worked on shaping public policy and developing various logistical strategies. Another key to his success has been his desire to constantly reach beyond what is merely sufficient. This desire led to his doctoral studies. Womack notes that he pursued his undergraduate degree for his family, but his pursuit of a doctorate was a result of his own intellectual appetite. “I had this crazy idea and personal philosophy,” said Womack. “It was that my undergraduate degree was for my family and my community. It was a celebration for them. My graduate degree was for greater opportunities and growth potential. My doctorate degree would selfishly be for me.” Womack’s continued education has been of great use to him in his current role as CEO of Georgia Power. His approach has been to use his background in political science as a basis for grounding theory in reality.

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There are several theoretical concerns that go into every process and social engagement,” he said. “Social science deals with every aspect of humanity.”

Meet our 2021 College of Arts and Sciences Student Contributor Writers

Womack maintains that so-called theoretical social science is actually closely connected to historical facts, and as such, the theoretical and the practical act as figure and shadow in Womack’s work, complementing and informing each other at every step.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE As the CEO of Georgia Power, Womack is always looking to the future. The expertise, background and perspective he has developed inform two critical issues: racial justice and climate change. Womack brings a powerful combination of lived experience and a grounded view of social science to issues of diversity and racial equity at Georgia Power. Although Womack uses the word “selfishly” when describing his pursuit of a doctorate, his ambitions for Georgia Power benefit the entire region and are enhanced by his scholarly accomplishments. His vision stands to benefit employees and community members of diverse backgrounds. “What does social injustice and racial injustice mean for our company, our community and our stakeholders? What does that look like?” Womack takes these questions very seriously. “Making sure we are increasing and expanding our workforce and supplier base and making sure all of our employees are being included is work that we are seriously committed to.” Climate change is another issue that is on Womack’s mind; he takes note of the progress that Georgia Power has made on this front, with his focus on establishing a greater independence from carbon-based energy. “8 to 10 years ago, most of our [power] generation came from coal. Today, probably less than twenty percent of our generation comes from coal. We’ve increased the amount of renewables that are in our system. We’ve also increased in the area of solar energy,” Womack said.

Jamel T. West, BA ‘22

WMU student writer, English major Jamel T. West is an English major with a concentration in literature. He has worked with the Writing Center and WMU’s College of Arts and Sciences Alumni magazine. After graduation, West plans to pursue work in book reviewing, teaching and submitting his fiction for publication. He also plans on pursuing a doctorate in literature. His greatest passions are literature and cinema. In his free time, West loves to go bowling and spend time on leftist politics and theory.

As in the case of racial injustice, he approaches this issue with the particular conceptual toolset acquired through his education and experience as a Black man who has worked his way up from his beginnings in Alabama to a present leadership position for one of the largest providers of energy in the U.S. With his bold, progressive, yet grounded vision, Womack is a WMU alumnus who can be counted on to continue to lead Georgia Power as it addresses some of the world’s most critical challenges. ◆

Moline Tucker Mallamo, BA ‘20 WMU student writer, Medieval Studies MA candidate

Western Michigan University, 1978 - 1979 Alpha Phi Alpha at the Kalamazoo Hilton Hotel. From left to right: Kevin Thornton, Bruce Perry, Harold Hill, Raliegh McCormick, Rodney McCormick, Anthony Samara, John White, Chris Womack, Marty Wagner, Lawrence Claxton, Warren Miller and Mike Dennis.

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Moline Tucker Mallamo is a current MA candidate in medieval studies with WMU’s Medieval Institute. She graduated from the Lee Honors College at WMU in 2020 with her BA in anthropology and English rhetoric and writing studies, and is a current member of Phi Beta Kappa. Mallamo teaches a first-year writing course with the Department of English. She also works as a graduate research assistant for two projects; these include an interdisciplinary research project with Drs. Brian Gogan, Lisa Singleterry, and Sue Caulfield, and planning the 2022 Conference on College Composition and Communication with Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark. After graduation (slated for April 2022), Mallamo plans to continue pursuing her education at the doctoral level.

Student Notes Mohammed Hashim, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences,was awarded a highly competitive Schlanger Ocean Drilling Fellowship from the U.S. Science Support Program. This program facilitates involvement of the U.S. scientific community in the International Ocean Discovery Program, which focuses on fundamental research in marine geoscience. Hashim was also recently honored with the Best Student Talk Award at the Midwest Geobiology Conference for his talk “An Experimental Investigation of Iodine Incorporation into Dolomite: Implications for the Iodine Redox Proxy.”

Thomas Weinandy, an applied economics doctoral candidate, was a finalist in the Three Minute Thesis competition hosted by the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools. He placed as one of the top six finalists in the Midwest for his video, “The Chicken Sandwich Wars” which was based on his research into social media’s effect on retail food traffic.

Ky’Aria Moses, a second-year master’s student in the behavior analysis program, received the 2020 Cooper and Andronis Scholarship from the National Institute for Effective Instruction for her thesis research. Her research examines the impact of self-monitoring and feedback on teachers’ rates of behavior-specific praise in classroom settings.

Ronnie Miller, a doctoral candidate in sociology, received a Fulbright Research Award and American Center for Mongolian Studies Field Research Fellowship for his dissertation research, “Former Herders in the Mongolian Capital of Ulaanbaatar: Rural-to-Urban Migration and Adaptation.” This is the first time in the Sociology Department’s history that a graduate student has received a Fulbright grant for dissertation research. Miller’s study seeks to understand how political economy and climate change in rural Mongolia have pushed herders to migrate to cities and how these former herders navigate their new lives in the urban area. Michael Caliendo, an offensive lineman for the Bronco football team, was named a MAC Distinguished Scholar Athlete, a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy and an Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America. This marks the second Academic All District selection for Caliendo. He graduated with a degree in biological sciences in 2019 and is currently pursuing a master’s in biological sciences at WMU. Caliendo was also a semi-finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy in 2020, college football's premier award for community service, and named a CoSIDA First Team Academic All American over the summer.

Deirdre Courtney, a doctoral graduate assistant, proposed, created and taught a course titled “Climate Change in African-American Communities.” The new course focuses on climate change, the role that people serve in nature, and how global warming disproportionately impacts communities of color. She hopes her class inspires students to act and become more civically engaged. Courtney was recently awarded a fellowship from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium to develop climate change educational materials and curriculum for vulnerable communities in the state of Michigan. She also serves as a fellow on the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Midwest Partnership project. Working with colleagues from WMU, Iowa State University, Michigan Technological University and North Dakota State University, Courtney helps organize programming including presentations, workshops and training for university faculty and leadership to promote the advancement of diversity and inclusion in STEM fields Tabitha Mpamira, a clinical psychology doctoral candidate, was awarded the 2021 Champion Award by the Female Founders Alliance, which promotes grassroots celebration of diverse leadership. The award recognizes the advocacy Mpamira has organized through her public platform to promote and advance her work against sexual and gender-based violence. Mpamira is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 10 years of experience as a mental health therapist. In 2015, she created the EDJA Foundation to provide free medical, legal and mental health services to survivors of sexual assault in East Africa. In just a few years, EDJA has supported hundreds of survivors— female and male, from ages 4 to 90— through counseling, legal advocacy and medical services in the Rukungiri and Kanungu districts in Southwest Uganda. The foundation provides a legal advocate to every survivor. The advocate takes responsibility for assisting the police with arrests, paying fees and making police reports, and supports the families through the long, complicated, and often expensive court process. Quinn Heiser, a third-year student majoring in geography and geographic information science and minoring in philosophy and computer science, was recently awarded a USGIF scholarship by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation to further the advancement of geospatial tradecraft. Through academic research at Western Michigan University, he has studied the dispersion of sexually transmitted infections in lowincome areas in southeastern Michigan, population projections based on existing construction for Charlotte County, Florida, and the prevalence of cases of diseases of the nervous system in Michigan counties.

Alberto Cintron-Colon, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences, was selected as a mentor for the Puerto Ricans in STEM Mentoring Program. Cintron-Colon will support fellow Puerto Ricans around the world in STEM fields, connecting and empowering them to reach their goals. Cintron-Colon is also the recipient of a 2020 Yale Ciencia Academy Fellow.

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Reducing Relapse in Patients Through Smartphone Technology Dr. Anthony DeFulio, associate professor of psychology, was two months into a study in partnership with DynamiCare Health in early 2020 when the pandemic hit. The study, funded by a $222,383 grant from the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, was intended to facilitate DeFulio’s collaboration with local hospitals to recruit recent overdose patients to enroll in treatment and to participate in his research. Recruitment for the study started in February of 2020, and went well for the first month. “Recruiting in emergency departments became a functional impossibility for the duration of 2020,” DeFulio said. “We even tried bringing on additional hospitals,” expanding beyond Kalamazoo to St. Joseph and Grand Rapids. That didn’t work. “After a lot of effort of trying to complete the study as originally planned, we realized that if we wanted to produce something meaningful out of this project, we were going to have to shift our focus.”

Also available to those participating in the contingency management therapy is a team of recovery coaches who are readily accessible to patients via text messaging and video calls. What is perhaps most important to the success of contingency management is the incentive system. For DeFulio’s study, the incentive was money delivered via reloadable gift cards. The monetary incentive does come with restrictions that ensure that patients use the money for daily needs, and not to further fuel drug dependence. Spending can be tracked by clinicians to determine if extra help is needed in recovery.

LONG-TERM OUTCOMES The study conducted by DeFulio’s team was shortterm, and as such, does not have data on the longterm outcomes of patients who participated. Relapse is an ongoing challenge for many patients, regardless of their specific substance dependence. If a patient stops taking prescribed medication or stops going to counseling, relapse is common.

And so, the research team targeted a population that was more accessible – patients in treatment centers and clinics rather than hospitals. By partnering with a clinic in Kalamazoo and one in Ohio, the team finally had everything in place to test DynamiCare’s technology, designed to disrupt opioid dependence and subsequent relapse in patients.

“There’s growing evidence that the effects of contingency management for a significant proportion of the people who receive it produce really long-term positive outcomes,” said DeFulio. “We’ll really learn the most about long-term outcomes as this becomes more widely available because we’ll have much bigger datasets. Once we have that then we’ll understand the kinds of things that will help us promote those good long-term outcomes.” This will be the focus of research for at least the next ten years.

The project began without precise procedures to promote medication adherence. By the end of the project, DeFulio says that they were able to develop these procedures and complete feasibility testing, which proved that their approach was working.

THE PROCEDURES What are these procedures and how do they work? Patients download a smart phone app which offers a reliable, verifiable measure of their behavior by tracking GPS location data, proving patients are where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there. It also allows patients to upload what DeFulio calls “video selfies” as proof that they are taking prescribed medications or completing saliva toxicology testing.

WHAT’S NEXT? “There’s growing evidence that the effects of contingency management for a significant proportion of the people who receive it produce really long-term positive outcomes”

The app implements an intervention called contingency management, which has been studied since the early 90s with ample evidence of its effectiveness in modifying a wide variety of behaviors. Despite its demonstrated efficacy, it hasn’t been widely implemented. The biggest barriers to implementation and dissemination of contingency management therapy to date have been resources, time and space – and outpatient treatment clinics lack all of these. Smartphone technology allows clinicians to implement the intervention right in your pocket at relatively low cost. “There is a bigger need for treatment than there is a capacity for treatment,” said DeFulio. “It’s important for the community to understand and support” the work of Doctoral candidate Hayley Brown and Dr. DeFulio discuss the results of a recent contingency management study. clinics.

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DeFulio is working on a new grant funded study that addresses one of the primary barriers to implementation – the human element. “Even after we sort out the whole problem about logistics with this smartphone intervention, people still have to do stuff … clinicians in particular have to introduce their patients to this intervention, explain it to them, and then assist in monitoring outcomes as the intervention unfolds, and provide additional support.” DeFulio’s team is coupling two independent intervention methods — interdisciplinary teams who develop individualized care plans to meet each patients’ unique needs and incentives shown to be highly effective at achieving specific clinical outcomes — to create a better delivery method for substance abuse treatment, which they’re calling “incentivized collaborative care.”

COMMUNITY IMPACT Given that treatment of drug addiction costs upwards of a trillion dollars annually in the United States, DeFulio’s research has the potential to save millions of dollars each year. More importantly, DeFulio’s work could save countless lives. ◆

Gu was honored for her research article, “Bargaining with Confucian Patriarchy: Money, Culture, and Gender Division of Labor in Taiwanese Immigrant Families” (Qualitative Sociology, 2019).

EXAMINING SOCIAL SUFFERING Her inquisitiveness remains unabated as she dives into a new project, developed in response to the recent influx of Burmese refugees in Battle Creek, Michigan – a city that has become a destination for refugees and others fleeing political violence in Myanmar thanks to the support of local church groups in the mid-1970s. The project seeks to explore how the expansion of a particular ethnic group, Burmese Christian refugees, changes social dynamics, economic development, job markets and the culture of the city. Since 2015, Gu has traveled frequently to the southcentral Michigan city to conduct ethnographic research, interviewing members of the Burmese

Left Dr. Chien-Juh Gu ▲

Right Gu with Edward Thawnghmung, a Burmese refugee, in his garden, in Battle Creek, MI.

Unveiling Marginalized Refugee Communities For Dr. Chien-Juh Gu, it is impossible to disentangle the roles that gender and immigration play in marginalized communities across the world. The Western Michigan University professor of sociology has spent her career listening to members of migrant communities — analyzing and exploring the factors contributing to their resilience in the face of enormous challenges. An immigrant herself, Gu was born and raised in Taiwan. Her passion for inquiry developed from her own lived experiences. Growing up, she was always asking questions about why people behave the way they do and how social inequalities are shaped by gender or age. “Students were discouraged to ask questions in a society in which conformity and obedience were highly valued,” said Gu. “It was not until my freshman year when I took Introduction to Sociology that I found the key to answering my own questions. Since then, I have not stopped studying sociology because it provides a means to satisfy my curiosity.” That curiosity has led to her distinguished career as a sociologist, marked by numerous academic articles, two books, and an abundance of awards. Most recently, Gu was named a finalist for the Rosabeth Moss Kanter International Award for Research Excellence in Work and Family. Of the 2,500+ articles published in 2019 in over 80 leading English-language journals from around the world, just four finalists were selected for this prestigious award.

refugee community. She seeks to understand the transition of Burmese Christians, from an oppressed religious minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma, a Buddhist country) to a visible racial minority in the United States, and how this impacts both individuals and communities. Her most recent article, titled “Displaced Social Suffering: Burmese Christian Refugees in a U.S. Midwestern City,” was published in the Journal of Refugee Studies, and demonstrates that the suffering doesn’t necessarily stop after they arrive in the U.S. Often, they continue to encounter mistreatment and racial prejudice as they work to rebuild their lives. For instance, many Burmese refugees find employment in slaughterhouses and factories where they frequently encounter difficult working conditions, including being denied time off, use of restroom, or receiving verbal abuse from supervisors and co-workers. “During many interviews with Burmese refugees, I listened to how they were mistreated in factories and how they survived the horror in the sending and transit countries,” said Gu. “My heart ached for my subjects during these interviews, but I also find it meaningful when I write up their experiences in my books and articles.” With a new book in the works, Gu’s observations are helping to bring scholarly and public attention to this often invisible refugee group. Through life stories and interviews of their lived realities of displacement, Gu’s book provides further understanding and knowledge to help dispel stereotypes of the community, hopefully influencing policies and social practices that can improve their life situations. “In spite of the growing number of Burmese refugees in the U.S. in recent years, little is known about this community. Their life experiences are heard through my research.” ◆

arts&sciences | 2021


Students in Western’s Cold Case Program like McKenzie Stommen (right) participated in homicide investigation training with the Michigan State Police.

McKenzie Stommen feels a rush examining clues alongside law enforcement as they work to track down a killer. While the crime scene is staged, the homicide detective training she's participating in offers a very real and rare peek behind the curtain at what it takes to solve these critical cases.

"I really feel like I'm in my element when I'm in the Kercher Center and I have my hands on the files. And being able to combine academics with service learning feels like a very well-rounded approach to education and solving these cases," adds Stommen.

"It helped me to see just how much a detective is actually dealing with on an average day, how many moving parts there are out in the field," says Stommen, a junior criminal justice student from Portage, Michigan. "It's really fascinating. It's very different from what you would expect from watching something on TV."

Just a few months into the program, it's already producing results: an arrest is imminent in the team's first cold case, and students are also working on two others.

Stommen is in the inaugural cohort of Western's Cold Case Program. Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten, professor of sociology and faculty member in the criminal justice studies program, worked with the Michigan State Police (MSP) to create the first-of-its-kind partnership, which turns students into detectives by recruiting them to pour through decades-old files and employ new technology to breathe life into stagnant homicide investigations. "We have been scanning massive binders of case files going back into the ‘80s and turning them into searchable formats," Stommen says. "While we're doing that, we're also going through all the information, processing it and saying, 'Okay, this was never followed up on,' and coming up with our own questions and possible new leads for the detectives." The students do their work in the Kercher Center for Social Research. Equipment the center acquired for the Wrongful Conviction Program, which gives students the opportunity to review case files and learn how to look for facts that could lead to a wrongly convicted individual's exoneration, sets the program apart from others nationwide. That includes an encrypted system. "Having the technology that a big university provides was key for the police. Because instead of simply scanning documents, we could scan them into a character recognition program that allows detectives to search for specific terms—thousands and thousands of pages could be covered in seconds," Kuersten says. "So it's created this great, symbiotic relationship."

arts&sciences | 2021


"The partnership at this point has been excellent. It's a win-win for both us and the program," says Det. First Lt. Chuck Christensen, commander of the MSP Fifth District Special Investigation Section. "It saves our detectives and our resources countless hours on the front end of the case, because in cold cases, the number one thing you have to do is get them organized in a fashion where you can recall information quickly." He's spoken with contacts in the MSP's sixth district, in the Grand Rapids area, who are hoping Western's students can help on one of their cold cases as well. "I'm getting phone calls from all over the world—police departments asking, 'Can your students work on this for us?'" says Kuersten. "How cool is it for a college student to be able to say they were involved in a criminal case and the work they did actually delivered new information that led to an arrest? I hope this has a tremendous impact on their educational goals and career aspirations." "The organizational skills that they're acquiring can be used not only in investigative police work but in any type of investigative work, cases that involve trial preparation or jobs that would require preparation for a large project," adds Christensen. There's also a more immediate benefit for students: They get the chance to potentially bring closure to families who have been living with decades of hurt. "It's an honor to be working on something like this because it makes you realize that these cases involve real people. You see these things on TV or on the news and you realize there's a family behind this; there's a real story behind it," Stommen says. ◆

Faculty Notes Dr. Michael Famiano, chair and professor of physics, was recently selected to serve as a Fulbright Ambassador, and will join a select group of scholars who serve as representatives, recruiters and spokespersons for the Fulbright program. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Famiano also displayed his penchant for leadership, creating an initiative to help international students with food and rent assistance. The organization, Community Student Connection, provided students approximately 8,000 bags of groceries from March to August, and raised nearly $200,000 in donations to cover an estimated 400 months of rent over the summer for WMU students. Dr. Sally Hadden, associate professor of history, co-founded Feed the Fight Kalamazoo, an organization that delivered meals to hundreds of front-line health care workers around the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization raised $100,000 in contributions from the Kalamazoo community and delivered nearly 10,000 meals to workers on the frontline during the pandemic.

Dr. Autumn Edwards, professor of communication, was named one of the 30 women you need to know in 2020 by Women in Robotics. Edwards researches how people’s beliefs about the nature of communicators and of communication both shape and are shaped by their interactions with social robotics. Dr. Germán Zárate-Sández will explore bias in language teaching and train students to be comfortable with learning an unfamiliar dialect as the recipient of a highly competitive Fulbright Scholar Award from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Zárate-Sández, an associate professor in the Spanish department, and director of the introductory Spanish program, will travel to southern Brazil in February for a research project expanding the dialectal competence of English and Spanish teachers at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. Dr. Linda Borish, chair and associate professor of history – and an expert in gender and sport history – was interviewed for a PBS Masters documentary film on Gertrude Ederle. In 1926 Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel, beating the men’s time by over two hours. The film is part of the documentary series, “Unladylike2020,” which marks the 100th anniversary of suffrage in the United States and features 26 women who broke barriers to change American society. Dr. J. Kevin Corder, professor of political science, and co-author Dr. Christina Wolbrecht, professor of political science, University of Notre Dame, received the Victoria Schuck Award for their book, “A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage,” (Cambridge University Press, 2020). This marks the second time the pair have received the award – the American Political Science Association also honored the collaborators in 2017 for their book, “Counting Women’s Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage through the New Deal,” (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Corder and Wolbrecht are the only two-time recipients in the nearly 40-year history of the award.

Dr. Erika Friedl, the Edwin E. Meader professor emerita of anthropology, has been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Iranian Studies. The highly distinguished award is presented to someone who has spent their life promoting and supporting the field of Iranian studies. Friedl was selected from among the top scholars of anthropology, history and linguistics in the world. She is the second woman and the first social scientist to win this award.

Monique Haley, assistant professor of dance and African American and African studies, was recently recognized by The Black Album Mixtape for her choreographic work, “Culture Loop,” created in collaboration with Chicago's Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre. The Black Album Mixtape, created by Golden Globe award-winning actress, playwright, and activist Regina Taylor, is a national and international platform that promotes social and racial justice and recognizes African American artists of all mediums. Dr. Charlie Kurth, associate professor and director of graduate admissions for philosophy published a research article in Emotion Review titled “Cultivating Disgust: Prospects and Moral Implications” that was subsequently adapted for a popular audience and published in Scientific American, on the moral value of disgust. Dr. Qiji (Jim) Zhu, professor of mathematics, was honored with the 2021 Champ Award presented by Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo. Zhu noticed that some of his incoming students didn’t have the basic math skills needed to be successful in college. He decided to be part of the solution by volunteering and inspiring K12 students to gain critical math skills to help them succeed in college and beyond. Dr. Denise Keele, associate professor of political science and environmental and sustainability studies, was honored as one of the first-ever recipients of the Climate Change Award from the Michigan Climate Action Network. In her roles as a founding member and director of both the WMU Climate Change Working Group and the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, Keele has spent nearly a decade educating students and community members about the threat of climate change and how to mitigate it. Dr. James Butterfield, professor of political science, is a recipient of the prestigious 2021 Michael P. Malone International Leadership award by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. Butterfield has been involved in inclusive internationalization of higher education, leading the university’s efforts to develop new study abroad programs and helping to develop a comprehensive plan for internationalization of the undergraduate curriculum. Dr. Gregory Veeck, professor of geography, recently published the 4th edition of his co-authored book, with C.W. Pannell, X.P. Shen and Y.Q. Huang, “China’s Geography: Globalization and the Dynamics of Political, Economic, and Social Change.” The newly updated book traces the changes occurring in this powerful and ancient nation across both time and space. The third edition, published in 2017, was recently ranked as #9 on a list of all-time best-selling regional geography e-books. Three Western professors from the College of Arts and Sciences helped high school students prepare for their advanced placement exams during the pandemic through a partnership with the College Board. Together with faculty from more than 200 universities worldwide, including such prestigious institutions as Cornell and Harvard, Drs. Jonathan Bush, professor of English, Pablo Pastrana-Pérez, chair and associate professor of Spanish, and Eli Rubin, professor of history, created free, online AP Daily videos accessible to millions of students around the world.

arts&sciences | 2021


2019 and 2020 Alumni Awards

Department of

Biological Sciences Dr. Colleen Mouw BS ‘00

Department of

Chemistry Robert DeRyke

School of

Communication Dr. Chris Groscurth

Assistant Professor of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island

BS ‘02 President and CEO, Terumo Cardiovascular Systems

Department of

Geography, Environment, Geological and and Tourism Environmental Sciences Dr. Michael P. Bishop BS ‘82 Dr. Thomas Robyn BA ‘72

Department of

Global and International Studies Kathleen Fish BA ‘11

Professor of Physical Geography, Texas A&M University

Retired Consultant and Administrator

Attorney, Ellis Porter, PLC

Department of

Physics Dr. David P. Hoogerheide

BS ‘04 Research Physicist, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Center for Neutron Research

Department of

Political Science Dr. Katia Levintova

Ph.D. ‘04 Professor of Political Science and Global Studies, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

Department of

World Languages and Literatures Dr. Seven Mattes BA ‘07 Assistant Professor, Center for Integrative Studies, Michigan State University

BA ’02, MA ’04 Director of Learning, Design and Development, Stryker Corporation

Department of

Psychology Dr. Caio Miguel Ph.D. ‘04 Professor of Psychology and Director of the Verbal Behavior Research Laboratory, California State University, Sacramento


Department of

Department of

Department of

Ph.D. ‘05 Managing Director, JP Morgan Chase

BA ‘96 High School English and History Teacher, Stoney Creek High School

Environment and Sustainability Mark A. Lee BA ‘95, BS ‘95

Mallinson Institute for Science Education Dr. John Knapp II Ph.D. ‘72

Mathematics Kevin Dykema MA ‘99

Founder and CEO, Better World Builders, LLC

Author and Retired Professor

Mathematics Teacher, Mattawan Consolidated School District

School of

Department of

Department of

Special Secretary and Advisor, Social Sector, the Executive Office of the Deputy President, Republic of Kenya

Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

BS ‘95, MS ‘97, Ph.D. ‘06 Director of Biostatistics, Kidney Health Research Collaborative at the University of California, San Francisco

Comparative Religion Alfredo Hernandez MA ‘12

Equity Officer, Michigan Department of Civil Rights

Institute of the

Economics Dr. Sonila Beliu

Public Affairs and Spanish Administration Dr. Rose Marie Brougham Geoffrey E. Kaituko MPA ‘06 BA ‘93, BA ‘96, MA ‘99

Department of

History Richard Cahow BA ‘70, MA ‘77 Social Studies Teacher and Department Chair, Kalamazoo Central High School

Institute for

Intercultural and Anthropological Studies Dr. Melissa Cheyney MA ‘97

English Cara Lougheed

Department of

Statistics Dr. Rebecca Scherzer

Department of

Philosophy Dr. JC Lau MA ‘07

Producer, Harebrained Schemes

Associate Professor of Clinical Medical Anthropology, Oregon State University

Western Michigan University takes pride in being learner centered, discovery driven and globally engaged. The College of Arts and Sciences 2019 and 2020 Alumni Achievement Award winners were selected by faculty for exemplifying these pillars and for their remarkable contributions to society.


Department of

Department of

Department of

Department of

Department of

Biological Sciences Dr. Denise Olson BS `84

Chemistry James Salvador

Comparative Religion Dr. William W. McCorkle, Jr.

Economics Paul Carlson

Geological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Robert LoPiccolo MA `72

BS `98 Staff Researcher, General Motors

Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Durham Women’s Clinic

MA `02 Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory of the Experimental Research of Religion

BA `87 Senior Investment Specialist, Old National Bank

Philosophy Dr. Monique Wonderly

Department of

Department of

Institute for

History Sharon Ferraro

Intercultural and Anthropological Studies Timarshay Bracewell BA `16

Mallinson Institute for Science Education Dr. James Price Ph.D. `73

College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Career Coordinator, North Carolina A&T State University

Retired Professor of Health Education and Public Health, University of Toledo

BA `92 Historic Preservation Coordinator, Downtown & Southtown Design Review Coordinator, City of Kalamazoo

Department of

Sociology Dr. Kristen DeVall

BA`98, MA `02, Ph.D. ‘08 Professor of Sociology and Criminology, University of North Carolina, Wilmington

School of

Department of

Statistics Dr. Ruvie Lou Maria Martinez Martin MS ‘03, Ph.D. `07

President and CEO, Lansing Economic Area Partnership

Associate Director Biostatistics, Novartis Pharmaceuticals

Global and International Studies Daniel Hadley BA ‘10 Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State

Department of

MA `07 Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego

Public Affairs and Administration Robert Trezise, Jr. MPA ‘94

Retired President, Peace River Group, LLC

Physics Dr. Ayman Said

MS `00, Ph.D. ‘04 Physicist, X-Ray Science Division Argonne National Laboratory

Department of

World Languages and Literatures Dr. Rebecca Makas

BA ‘09 Assistant Teaching Professor, Augustine and Culture Seminar Program, Villanova University

Department of

Psychology Dr. Dylan Schmorrow BA `89, MA`90, Ph.D. ‘93 Chief Scientist and Executive Vice President, Soartech

Department of

Spanish Bonnie Moss BA ‘01, MA ‘07 Spanish Teacher, Portage Public Schools

Three Alumni Achievement Award winners who have excelled beyond the normal scope of achievement in their professional field through global engagement, discovery driven or learner centered endeavors are selected as the college’s Pillar Award honorees. arts&sciences | 2021


Like the characters in the video games she produces, Dr. JC Lau has faced challenges in her career, but has overcome them one by one to land at a job she enjoys, helping make the video game industry more welcoming to people from all walks of life. Currently a producer at Harebrained Schemes in Seattle, Washington, she served as a founding member of their Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council, a group comprised of studio leadership and members of underrepresented groups, to consult and provide guidance for positive studio impact. Her master’s degree in philosophy from Western Michigan University guided her on that path, as she worked as a teaching assistant for then faculty specialist and current department chair Dave Paul’s class on race and gender issues in America. Lau gravitated toward the course to gain an academic perspective on her own experience as the only non-white, non-male, non-American student in her cohort of 12. Later, she taught the class, focusing on how the marginalization of certain groups is reinforced by the gaming industry. After graduating from Western in 2007, Lau earned her doctorate at Australian National University – the top ranked university in the southern hemisphere. Her connections at Western played an integral role in her acceptance into their doctoral program. Lau subsequently worked at Virginia Tech for a couple of years, teaching moral, political and legal philosophy, as well as a race and gender topics course. It was then that she decided she wanted to make games – the fruit of a seed that had been planted decades before.

PURSUING A CHILDHOOD PASSION In the early 1980s, Lau’s mother – thinking computers might be a good investment – presented her three-year-old daughter with her first computer. On that “clunky Apple IIe,” Lau got her start as an avid Pac-Man player. For the first few years, she noticed that all video game characters were white males. But the introduction of a lead Chinese female character, Chun-Li in Street Fighter II, was a literal game-changer for her. Lau’s first role in the gaming industry came at Microsoft, where she worked on the Xbox team in localization – translating the words on the screen into other languages. The nature of the work lent itself toward empathy and openmindedness, and the team she eventually led was diverse and inclusive. Then she took a job at Bungie, a large studio working on video game titles rather than consoles. She kept projects with thousands of tiny moving parts on budget and on schedule. “I love working on video games,” she said. “It’s weirdly chaotic. There’s a magical element to how they get made.”


quoted in a June 6, 2021 NewYork Times article on this topic, “The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian,’” by Brian X. Chen:

At the 800-person studio, a team member could go for years without meeting other people on their project – only seeing their messaging icon. Of that group, however, only about 10 were women of color or Asian women.

On one occasion, multiple colleagues congratulated Dr. Lau, who identifies as Chinese Australian, on a presentation led by a colleague of Korean heritage. “These were people I worked with on a daily basis,” she said.

And in a studio with “200 guys named Dave – there were more Daves than women!” colleagues still called the women by the wrong name, or mistakenly gave them credit for work others had done.

Dr. Lau, 40, left the company in 2018, after two years, and said a major factor behind that decision was the feeling that she wasn’t being recognized for her contributions, which included testing games and founding the company’s diversity committee. She suspected that her gender and race — and her co-workers’ inability to even recognize who she was — put her at a disadvantage, especially at a large company.

The occurrence of mis-naming one’s Asian workplace colleagues is so frequent that the phenomenon has been termed the “Interchangeable Asian.” Lau was

arts&sciences | 2021


“We have to do more to stand out from any other Asian we might be mistaken

Lau, in her studio office, where, when she's not in meetings, she manages a game development project and team.

Lau with Malin Castegren, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Paradox, at PDXCON 2019 in Berlin. Both were awarded the Gold Star Bunny – an honor for those who go above and beyond on the team.

for in order to advance,” she said. Dr. Lau, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, left Bungie to become a producer at a smaller games studio.

a letter to studio leadership. They received a response from the CEO: “What can we do to support you?”

However, Lau notes, this concept is not particular to Bungie – it’s cultural across the gaming industry.

“Everyone has a really good growth mindset,” Lau said. “We want to learn how to be better – to get to know people for people.”


Lau has contributed to these efforts by organizing the first HBS Harejam – – a studio-wide game jam/hackathon and monthly lunch for various minority groups at the studio (BIPOC, LGBTQIA+).

At her current 70-person studio, she loves having the opportunity to make cool games like BATTLETECH with cool people. But more importantly, she feels validated. After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, a group of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) team members trying to process the events wrote

“I can’t solve the problem for the industry as a whole, but I can impact the people around me in my studio,” she said. “If enough people do that… overall there will be a shift in the cultural mindset of those who make games. I can make things better for our player base.” ◆

arts&sciences | 2021



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