Monstrous Bodies

Dyson Lecturer Ying Wang explores disability, deviance, and feminism in the writings of 19th century French female authors.

“We had already talked a lot about a difference in identity. Differences in gender, race, sexuality—how they were represented in women’s writings,” says Ying Wang, PhD, a lecturer in Dyson’s Modern Language and Cultures Department, “but critics have overlooked a very important difference: body difference, disabled people, how women represent these figures and why they were incorporated into women’s writings.”

This exploration of body difference, Wang believes, possibly stems from fact that in the 19th century,the scientific, medical, religious, and moral discourses were destined to justify the link between femininity and disability. The female body is considered to be an inferior body—a weak body. When women represent and involve this disability in their works, specifically in their sentimental novels, there must be a reason, Wang asserts, a reason worth our attention and research.

“The concept of the normal body, this standard, is what creates this monstrous body,” says Wang. “Any deviation is considered abnormal—‘monstrous.’ We consider the female body to be abnormal, the second body.”

The 19th century female writer was considered a “monstrous” being by her contemporaries. Why? Wang says it’s mainly because in Western society, women’s roles were defined to be private—the angel of the house. “Only man had the right to write, and those sorts of public things,” Wang says, “Women should be wife and mother, but when they started to write, they reclaimed their subjectivity. They transgressed the gender constraints that society imposed on them.”

The novels Wang primarily focused her research on were Anatole (1815) by Sophie Gay, a love story featuring a deaf and mute man; Olivier ou le Secret (1824) by Claire de Duras, a tragic love story that deals with male physiological impotence; Delphine de Girardin’s Monsieur le Marquis de Pontanges (1856), a story about a woman who must choose between her mentally retarded husband and a handsome, young seducer; and finally Juliette Adam’s Laide (1878), a dramatic tale of a young woman cast from her home by her sculptor father for having an ugly face.

“I want to wake them up,” says Wang, “I want to wake up their long-forgotten work and I want to wake up the disabled figures represented in their novels. I think there must be meaning behind it—how Western women within the context of the 19th century were considered disabled—not equal to men—and how women writers used disabled figures to question the norm and the constraints imposed by society on their gender. ”

Wang, who has spent the last several years investigating the representation of the disabled body in 19th century women’s sentimental novels, says France’s literary women have been forgotten and their work rarely incorporated into canon—not because their writing wasn’t any good, but because the patriarchy ideology favored male writers while marginalizing women’s literary creativity.

“The women writers of that time were seen as abnormal. They were popular and famous at the time, but have since disappeared from our anthologies and literary collections,” explains Wang. “They were considered as hybrids—possessing the body of a woman, but the mentality and intelligence of a man.”

For Wang, the importance of the textual body is critical to understanding why women writers included disability in their work and how the disabled figures influenced the narrative structure of their novels.

“For example, when there are disabled figures—when the hero is deaf—the disability initiates that story. It motivates that story to explain what happened and why,” she says. “One of the major functions of this deviance—this absence of normalcy—is to initiate a story to tell.”

A Dog by Any Other Name

Pace’s Gerontech Research Team ushers in a whole new kind of telehealth as it partners up with GeriJoy, the talking dog brainchild of MIT alumnus Victor Wang.

“I think the guy was saying ‘doggy,’ but it morphed into Dougie, which is all right because those are words that our much older patients are able to say,” explains Assistant Professor Sharon Wexler PhD, RN, BC.

Wexler, as well as Pace’s Gerontechnology Research Team, has been woofing—working—with MIT startup GeriJoy on the development of man’s virtual best friend and health guard dog, Dougie.

“We have live staff talking to users 24/7, through the persona of the dog. The first time Sharon took the GeriJoy Companion home, she asked the dog what its name was, and the staff member on the other end happened to say ‘Dougie.’ That’s how we named the study: ‘I am Dougie, your virtual service dog’: An Intervention to Address Loneliness in Older Adults.” says Victor Wang, CEO of GeriJoy.

Whatever its name, the GeriJoy companion is a real innovation in the field of telehealth. The “talking dog” is an Android app that runs continuously on a modified (for older adult use) tablet and is connected to a remote support staff that works round the clock to talk with patients, monitor unusual goings-on inside the patients’ home, and report any changes to the patients’ family members. If necessary, the staff can request that a Pace nursing grad student conduct an in-home visit.

GeriJoy, the company that has developed this virtual service animal, has teamed up with Wexler, as well as Seidenberg Associate Professor Jean F. Coppola, PhD, and College of Health Professions Professor Lin Drury, PhD, RN, who comprise Pace’s Gerontechnology Research Team.

“We’ve been so busy this summer,” says Wexler, “We’ve been deploying GeriJoy and trying to get it in the hands of older or homebound adults at the Henry Street Settlement. We’ve also been working with Mt. Sinai Medical Center to pilot our study with hospitalized older adults. Not to mention we’ve written God-knows how many grants to further our work with GeriJoy.”

Through the app, the GeriJoy staff can see, hear, and communicate with the patient. They can also passively monitor any unusual light, sound, or motion changes, such as yelling, movement in the middle of the night, etc. So far, the majority of patients introduced to the virtual dog have taken to it—they can chat with the person on the other end and it keeps them cognitively active and engaged. After approval by the Institutional Review Board, and securing funding through the Provost’s grant for Thinkfinity and the Jeffrey Hewitt Fund for Faculty Development and the Nursing Research Endowment Fund from the Lienhard School of Nursing, the team sends nursing students to administer a battery of standardized measures for cognitive statues, loneliness, geriatric depression, and demographic data.

“We’re hoping GeriJoy will allow us to demonstrate that having this virtual pet reduces loneliness, depression, isolation, and cognitive decline,” Drury says.

The Pace professors are working with all-level students from Seidenberg and the College of Health Professions to pilot this study. The students go on home visits, offer tablet training, and work directly with patients, families, and the vendors and creators of GeriJoy.

“The most rewarding thing for all of us is to see the students working together, collaboratively,” says Wexler, “They’re all so excited and committed to the patients. I don’t think we’ve had any student reluctant to do anything—they’ve all risen to the occasion in such an incredible way.”

For more information about Pace’s Gerontech Team, click here. To learn more about GeriJoy, visit them online at

A Boy/Girl Thing

Dyson Associate Professor Emilie Zaslow and recent graduate Brian Rentas ’13 examine the media’s portrayal of gender variance and LGBTQ children.

“Most of the morning shows end with a question posed to the viewers as part of digital engagement. They ask things like ‘Would you allow your child to dress like this? What would you do if your child dressed like this? Is it ok for children to dress like this?’” explains Dyson Associate Professor of Communication Studies Emilie Zaslow, PhD. “On one hand, it doesn’t close the media frame—it doesn’t give you the answer to the narrative. On the other hand, it leaves the viewer with the sense that ‘supporting a child who is gender variant is open for debate.’”

When Zaslow and student Brian Rentas ’13 teamed up as part of the Student-Faculty Undergraduate Research Initiative, it was an opportunity for both of them to explore media and communications from a new perspective.

“For me,” says Zaslow, “my work has typically been about what it means to be a girl and how the media depicts girls. I’ve worked with a lot of students on their honors theses and I’ve had students help me on my own research, but I’ve never worked so collaboratively with a student. It was an interesting thing to develop ideas together.”

Rentas and Zaslow focused mainly on the media’s portrayal of six stories including those of Bobby Montoya, a 7-year-old transgender child looking to join the Girl Scouts; J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons posing with her son and commenting on his pink toenails; and McKenna Pope, who petitioned toymaker Hasbro to create an Easy Bake Oven in gender neutral colors so that her brother could play with it.

Their research also focused on gender neutrality stories, specifically the baby named Storm, whose parents would not share the baby’s sex with friends and family and were raising the child as gender neutral. They found that the story about Storm was typically presented in a very negative light, where as the story of McKenna Pope crusading for an Easy Bake Oven in more gender neutral colors was perceived and represented more positively. Partly, Zaslow and Rentas believe, because the latter story was an attempt to prevent a boy from playing with girls’ toys.

“Americans spend nearly 40 hours a week watching television; and children generally spend much more time with media than do adults. Media is ubiquitous. We learn about who we are, who our children are, what gender is, what it means to be a boy or girl—and we learn a lot of this from our viewing and the relationship we have with television,” explains Zaslow.

The pair, who used videos and transcripts from news reports, reviewed the footage independently and would identify the lead, the pull-out quotations, catalog the guests they had, and identify the various frames within the story.

“They [the shows] bring on a psychiatrist or a mother of one of these children and say we should love and accept the child for who they are, but then they ask viewers, ‘would you love and accept your child under these circumstances?’” says Zaslow. “It basically nullifies the frame of acceptance.”

“I was surprised by what I was learning and I was coming from the perspective of wanting to research this!” Rentas says. “I knew what framing is, what a frame could do to public perception in the long scheme, and I could really only imagine what it would mean to people who don’t know anything about communication studies, who don’t have a definitive idea of what they’re being told and what the presentation means to them.”

As for the future of their research, Zaslow and Rentas plan to publish their findings and hope that the work they’re doing will add to discourse on the topic.

For more information about their work into LGBTQ media framing and the Undergraduate Student/Faculty Research initiative, click here.

Cleared for Landing

Seidenberg Professor Richard Kline and Keith McPherson ’13 team up to explore the possible uses of a flying drone quadcopter as part of the Undergraduate Student/Faculty Research Initiative.

“Flying robots are cool! It’s as simple as that.”

That’s what recent Seidenberg grad Keith McPherson ’13 will say when you ask him why he and Seidenberg Professor Rick Kline, PhD, teamed up to build their own drone, an autonomous quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle, otherwise known as a flying quadcopter, and to research current and potential applications for them.

Their interest in quadcopters goes back two years to a college level competition affiliated with the FIRST Robotics program.  Dr. Kline mentored a team, captained by McPherson, which built their first flying robot for the event, only to see it suffer a fatal crash on the first day of competition. This attempt may have ended poorly for the pair, but it did not damper their interest in the field. When the Undergraduate Student/Faculty Research Initiative opportunity came up, they jumped right on it and started over from scratch.

“We used Aeroquad, an open source platform for building the quadcopter,” says Kline, “There are three parts to Aeroquad… a discussion forum where people exchange their ideas and help one another, the hardware and building tutorials, and finally the software projects that people are using to control their vehicles.” Since neither have any formal engineering training, these and other resources were essential for their work.

With their software expertise, McPherson and Kline worked to develop code that would allow them to control their quadcopter using a WiFi connection to a laptop, taking input from handheld game controllers and rendering a virtual cockpit instrument display real-time on the screen. These replaced the more typical use of dedicated “RC” radio controllers that are one-way devices locked into issuing only motion commands.

“With the software and computer programming, we can tell the vehicle to not only move here or there, but to do flips, take photos, and record and stream live video,” says McPherson. Kline adds that “Technology keeps evolving so quickly. The control board that handles the live video costs $35, is the size of a credit card, and has the same power as a $2,000 desktop machine from 10 years ago.”

As they investigated different applications for the quadcopter, they encountered another group of drone enthusiasts who were exploring theirs for possible journalist usage for reporting news that was happening outside of traditional news organizations, such as during the Arab Spring. Should there be an event where traditional methods of communication were shut down, such as turning off Internet access, those who wanted to stream news out could use their phones or set up ad hoc networks to share images captured by their flying drones of what’s happening on the ground. McPherson shared many ideas with them and volunteered to do some web site development work for the project.

The pair also explored the use of drones for commercial purposes, such as capturing aerial images of neighborhoods and buildings for use in real estate sales and the like. Unfortunately, during their research, they found that this type of use is currently illegal, though flight regulations will be changing in the near future to take drones into account.

The building of the quadcopter included plenty of snags and took far longer than the pair anticipated, but the web sites and forums run by other drone enthusiasts were of great help in overcoming problems they encountered. “One of the biggest surprises for me while working on this project was discovering how big the Internet community is of people who are interested in building these things and sharing their expertise and sharing their designs,” Kline says, “That allowed us to do a whole lot more than if we were starting from and working in a vacuum.”

Two years ago, McPherson developed similar code for controlling the drone via computer and submitted it to the Aeroquad project with the hope that it would be included in their offerings. Despite the community’s enthusiasm over the submission, the code was not accepted to be part of the open source material. Now, after having participated in Pace’s research initiative, the pair hopes to resubmit their refined software for future inclusion with Aeroquad.  McPherson believes that the Aeroquad people will be really impressed with improvements made to the virtual cockpit and that they potentially will integrate their new software. “Research publications are always nice—and they are what’s expected of a faculty member—but for a student to be able to have significant contributions to a huge open source project, that’s exciting to me and I hope we’ll be able to pull it off,” concludes Kline.

To learn more about their project and the Undergraduate Student/Faculty Research Initiative, visit


Your Pad or Mine?

A famous frog once sang “it’s not easy being green,” but for the gray treefrogs in Dyson Professor Joshua Schwartz’s lab, the real challenge is finding a date.

“Typically, what happens with these treefrogs is if you go to a pond a lot of males are calling all at once and on any given evening, a relatively small percentage of the female population have eggs and are ready to breed,” explains Dyson Professor of Biology Joshua Schwartz, PhD. “So the females listen to the males calling and then they make a mate-choice decision. They pick a partner for the night based on what they hear. If one male’s call sounds better than another’s, then she moves in his direction.”

The female gray treefrogs are collected from a nearby field-site by Schwartz and his student researchers. Once collected, the female treefrogs are brought to the basement of Wilcox Hall, where Schwartz has set up a lab that is ideal for his female-choice experiments. An individual female treefrog is put under a screen cup inside a large enclosed chamber lined with acoustic foam which reduces echoes of the sounds of the synthetic male treefrog calls which are played on speakers that have been strategically set up in the room.

“We can manipulate individual features of the synthetic call and how the call is delivered,” says Schwartz. “After the female has had a listen, we raise the screen cup using a pulley and she will hop in the direction of the call she likes best and we record that as a mate-choice decision.”

The experiments are performed in pitch blackness and Schwartz and his students monitor the females’ movements using closed circuit television and infrared illumination, otherwise known as night-vision.

“By manipulating the synthetic call, we are trying to tease apart what females like in a mate. We can vary the acoustic background, and we can set up more complicated situations by using four, six, or eight speakers all playing a variation on a call,” he says.

But Schwartz’s research isn’t a females-only endeavor. On the Pleasantville Campus, Schwartz has set up a greenhouse dome that contains a habitat that resembles the environment gray treefrogs would inhabit in the wild. The enclosure contains a population of male gray treefrogs that Schwartz monitors in the evening. Using directional microphones, he records each frog’s individual vocalizations. Those are then fed into a computer interface that he built that allows him to analyze vocal interactions among males. Sometimes, a female is brought into the greenhouse so that her mate-choice can be observed in a more realistic environment than the testing chamber in Willcox.

“The dome  is a venue for setting up an artificial chorus with real frogs; whereas with the chamber, we are using artificial sounds created with a computer,” Schwartz says. “We are trying to get an understanding of the communication system of these animals and try to understand how they can successfully communicate in extremely noisy conditions.”

For those who have never experienced a frog chorus firsthand, imagine the deafening din created by upwards of a hundred male treefrogs all vying for a bit of female attention. Despite the incredible levels of noise, females have to identify males of their own species, decide which male of their own species they want to mate with, and then finally locate him.

“In many ways, the challenges for communication in a treefrog chorus are similar to those faced by human beings trying to carry on a conversation at a crowded cocktail party,” concludes Schwartz.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Dyson Professor Abbey L. Berg discusses her research on the long-term implications of iPod usage, the implementation of tools for use in emerging countries, and much more.

“I’m really hoping to go to Belize and Mozambique within the next year,” says Dyson Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Abbey L. Berg, PhD. “I was asked by UNICEF to design a validation study comparing a low-cost hearing screening instrument to a more expensive equipment. If it turns out that this low-cost hearing screening tool is fairly accurate, it would be a wonderful instrument to use in developing countries that don’t have the infrastructure or resources that developed countries have.”

Berg, who was approached by UNICEF in May 2012, has been working on the development of a tool that is capable of assessing the risk of hearing disabilities in children 2-17 years of age in developing and emerging countries. One of the tenets of the task was to create a tool that could be easily used and understood by community fieldworkers, the majority of whom are only high school graduates.

Though hearing disability is just one of several disabilities UNICEF is exploring, Berg’s proposal has been accepted to the review process and will hopefully soon be piloted in Belize and Mozambique. “I’m very excited about the global implications,” Berg says.

In a related vein, Berg’s most recent notable research has come from her study of the changes in high-frequency hearing thresholds in adolescents. Data collected from adolescent females from a foster care facility over a 24-year period was examined.

“What my colleague, Dr. Yula Serpanos and I found was that in 2008, the high-frequency hearing thresholds were much higher—that is, the girls had poorer hearing than children in the facility in say 1990,” says Berg, “Our analysis supports that the higher high-frequency thresholds observed resulted from the increased use of iPods and other MP3 players.”

Going forward, as these devices become more prevalent, children will be more susceptible to noise-induced and age-related hearing loss; a reality that will have both social and economic consequences.

“They’re going to need hearing aids—it’s going to cost health care dollars,” she says, “and the social isolation that comes from hearing loss can be very serious. Recent studies have found an association between hearing loss and dementia.”

Berg’s most recent research continues on high-frequency hearing loss in the adolescent population. She is working with psychology and communication professionals to deduce which media best reach resistant populations, because, as Berg explains, adolescents are not known to take advice well.

“We’re currently exploring public health options and other methods to reach kids early in life. We hope that as they grow up, they won’t take risks with their hearing,” says Berg. “It’s tough, but I’m very excited about this.”

Does Size Matter?

Dyson Professor Brandon Adams and student Henry Li think it might. The pair is studying the predictive relationships between obesity criteria and neuropsychological deficits.

“It has been shown that individuals who can be classified as obese tend to do poorer on cognitive tests,” says Dyson Psychology Professor Brandon Adams, PsyD. “Typically, those who are overweight display poorer memory and poorer cognitive abilities.”

Controversial as it may sound, Adams and Psychology student Henry Li believe that this is an important topic, worthy of further exploration through Pace’s Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Initiative. Though their research is still in the early stages, the pair has begun to build a strong foundation for their study, including an examination of prior related studies and multiple interviews with medical professionals from a variety of hospitals and clinics, including Columbia University Medical Center, Wyckoff Hospital, and St. Luke’s Hospital.

“What originally made me interested in this subject was that I was obese myself when I was younger,” Li explains. “Being obese or bigger than an ‘average weight’ person did not really seem to have much of a difference in my eyes. Furthermore, there were many different standards for obesity around the world. I wanted to find out if any of these standards or classifications have any real accuracy or differences.”

To explore the correlation between body and brain power, Adams and Li think the first step is to properly examine how we define obesity. The body mass index (BMI), developed in the mid-19th century, uses an individual’s height and weight to determine body fat. Despite limitations of the BMI’s ability to measure obesity–chief among them that it does not account for muscle mass–it has been commonly used and accepted since its development. The alternative methods for determining body fat being explored by the pair include height-to-waist ratio and hip-to-waist ratio.

“With the growing rate of obesity in the U.S., it is important to understand if the statistics are accurate,” Li notes. “Therefore, it is our goal to find an alternative to the currently used BMI definition.”

During the coming months, Adams and Li hope to gain approval from the Institutional Review Board to begin recruiting sample participants for the second part of their research. Those that fit the researchers’ profile for obesity will be given a battery or neuropsychological tests to measure intelligence, memory, and executive functioning. The two are hoping to examine whether memory and cognitive abilities have an influence on weight or vice-versa.

“Dr. Adams was originally my experimental psychology professor, and I learned a lot [from him] about different ways of conducting research,” says Li. “All last semester for this research we were very busy and had to work individually, but so far we have both learned a lot from what we have gathered and shared with one another.”

To learn more about this and other research projects and pairings, visit the Undergraduate Research Initiative blog.

Supply and Demand

College of Health Professions Assistant Professor Andréa Sonenberg discusses how the anticipated increases in the number of insured will affect the already short supply of primary care providers.

“We’re going to see about 32 million newly insured people on our rosters, most of which will be on the Medicaid rosters,” says Andréa Sonenberg, DNSc, WHNP, CNM, an Assistant Professor in the College of Health Professions. “The potential problem being projected is that we won’t have enough primary care providers to service this newly insured population.”

With the Supreme Court’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) taking place this past June, and with the outcome of this year’s Presidential Election, it is expected that the PPACA will progress to full implementation over the course of the next two years. In an effort to seek out ways to improve access to care for the newly insured, Sonenberg and Dyson Assistant Professor of Public Administration Hilary Knepper, PhD, teamed up with Joyce Pulcini, PhD, PNP-BC, FAAN, FAANP, of George Washington University to examine the role of regulatory policies on the practice of nurse practitioners and the health outcomes of would-be patients throughout the United States.

“Our premise is that regulatory policy impacts the ability of nurse practitioners to practice to the full extent of their education and scope of training,” asserts Sonenberg, who goes on to say that the Institute of Medicine recommends the expansion of the scopes of practice for nurse practitioners, who studies have shown to have clinical outcomes that are at least as good as physicians, and who’s patient satisfaction rates are oftentimes significantly higher than physicians.

“Nurse practitioners are a high-quality, cost-effective solution to the primary care shortage,” Sonenberg says, “Not to mention that they’re highly sought after by patients.”

Currently, many of the regulations governing scope of practice within the country, which vary from state to state, are very restrictive. The restrictions typically come in three areas: legislative, which regulatory body decides what the scope of practice for nurse practitioners can be; reimbursement policy, the percentage of the service fee Medicaid or a private insurer is willing to pay a nurse practitioner for providing the same service as a physician; and finally prescriptive authority, which gives nurse practitioners the right to prescribe medications independently of physician supervision.

“We look at how many nurse practitioners practice in a particular state, what percent of the services under Medicaid are delivered by nurse practitioners in that state, the population health outcomes in the state, and whether or not there is any correlation of those variables to the regulatory policies within the state,” she says.

States with more stringent restrictions on scope of practice for nurse practitioners may be less likely to attract nurse practitioners, which potentially impacts the patient population’s access to care within the state. If nurse practitioners are only earning 85 cents to the dollar as compared to a physician delivering the same service, or if a nurse practitioner is able to diagnose a patient’s health issue but must send the patient to a physician to receive a prescription for medication, access to care becomes even more strained.

“I think it’s so important to do this work collaboratively and intercollegially,” says Sonenberg. “I think it expands our perspectives and viewpoints as scholars. For example, working with our colleague in Public Administration has offered a different perspective than solely the health care outcome perspective. And working with a researcher from George Washington University gives us a new geographical outlook, which is especially important when looking at policies that vary depending upon location.”


What the Nose Knows

Dyson Professor Jack Horne, PhD, and his students use a state-of-the-art confocal microscope to study how genes affect the development of the brain and olfactory system in zebrafish.

Image of zebrafish embryo axons taken with Pace’s confocal microscope.

“There are olfactory neurons, the ones that actually sense the smells, that synapse first in the olfactory bulb, which is the first step in smelling for zebrafish and humans, and from the olfactory bulb they send that smell information to a bunch of other parts of the brain,” explains Dyson Professor Jack Horne, PhD. “We’re working on that second step, where the neurons in the olfactory bulb send out axons to wire-up to several different parts of the brain, and we can actually view that wiring-up in live embryos of zebrafish.”

Horne and his team of Pace undergraduates use zebrafish in their research for two main reasons: the first being that they are a vertebrate model system, which means that the basic brain structure and organizational parts are very similar to humans, unlike other model organisms such as the fruit fly. Second, the embryos of zebrafish are essentially transparent, which makes them perfect for doing microscopy work.

“The cerebral cortex of the mouse is more similar to ours than the fish is, but it’s difficult to watch the brain development of the embryo because not only is the brain inside a skull, but also inside the mom mouse,” says Horne.

In zebrafish, Horne is able to incorporate a fluorescent protein in the early developing neurons and watch them grown in real time thanks to the use of Pace’s newly acquired confocal microscope. Horne’s basic experimental approach is to look at how genes affect the pattern of axons growing back into the brain. “We found a couple of genes that if we disrupt their functions we no longer see the normal pattern of nerves growing to other parts of the brain,” he says.  “That tells us that those genes are important to the normal process of how the brain wires up.”

“The genes that we’ve identified to be involved in the development of the zebrafish olfactory system are likely to be involved in how the human olfactory system wires up,” Horne says.

In 2011, Horne and colleagues at Pace were awarded $335,000 by the National Science Foundation for the acquisition of the confocal microscope that he and his student researchers are using in the labs. The microscope allows for 3D imaging (much like a medical doctor’s use of MRI) of the developing brain in the still living zebrafish embryo. The images can be taken intermittently over time to loop together in the creation of a time lapse video of brain development.

“It’s the microscope that makes it possible. Without the microscope, our students wouldn’t be able to do their projects. Before we got our own at Pace, we would have to go to the Albert Einstein Medical School to use theirs,” says Horne. “It’s a big boon to what we’re doing in our lab.”

Making Peace: A Q&A with Emily Welty

Dyson Professor and Director of Peace and Justice Studies on the NYC Campus, Emily Welty, PhD, discusses her experiences with conflict and peacemaking both abroad and right here on Wall Street.

Emily Welty, PhD, is no stranger to conflict—well, studying conflict, that is. She recently completed a major research project that served as the basis of her doctoral work, during which time she spent a year in Uganda and Kenya observing the faith-based peace building by nongovernmental development organizations, the Mennonite Central Committee in particular. Welty is also part of a seven-year advisory board with the World Council of Churches, where she works to help churches think about how to engage in international affairs, peacemaking, and social justice.

Most recently, Welty collaborated with fellow Pace faculty members including Matthew Bolton, PhD, Meghana Nayak, PhD, and Chris Malone, PhD, on a book entitled Occupying Political Science: The Occupy Wall Street Movement from New York to the World. The book, which will be published in January 2013, focuses on how political science helps to explain Occupy Wall Street and what Occupy Wall Street demonstrates about political science. Welty’s research examines the different ways nonviolent tactics have been used by Occupy Wall Street.

You address peacemaking from several different perspectives, but your specialty is the “religious dimension of conflict and peacemaking.” Why do you suppose religion plays such a crucial role and what have you learned from your personal research experiences?
Conflict affects everyone and often many of the dynamics that make conflict feel particularly uncomfortable is that it calls into question central, core parts of our identity or worldview. Globally, we see many conflicts both internationally as well as domestically that involve core tenets of people’s identity. Faith, religion, and spirituality represent core identity tenets for many people— they are among the nonnegotiable aspects of our personal identity. So, when that identity is challenged, it is particularly difficult.

I first became interested in studying religious dimensions of peacemaking because I was frustrated by the way that religion was often blamed for causing conflict. My experiences living and studying in Palestine/Israel, South Africa, and Northern Ireland as a Watson fellow made me realize that religion is a force for both conflict and peace. In all three of those cases, religion has been used by parties to justify violence but there have also been tremendous voices for peace coming out of the religious groups. I find religion fascinating—the more I learn about the strong peacemaking and social justice traditions in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, the more interested and excited I become about the power of religion to be a force for peacemaking.

What is one surprising or unexpected thing you’ve learned while conducting your research?
I feel really strongly about the importance of approaching research with both passion and curiosity. It is more important to know how to ask good questions and listen than it is to try to be an expert or tell people how to do things. I think I bring this same sensibility with me into the classroom. My students have wonderfully rich personal experiences that they bring with them to Pace; I see my role here as helping them to think about their own story by using peace and justice studies theory.

I have also been continually surprised and grateful for the hospitality I have been offered in almost every context that I have worked. Many religious traditions refer to the tradition of offering hospitality to the stranger and I have seen that in practice throughout my work. Throughout my research in East Africa, dozens of Ugandans, Kenyans, and North American volunteers spent hundreds of hours with me sharing their story. That kind of abundant generosity is humbling and an enormous privilege. As a researcher, having so many people help you in so many ways, means you must produce the finest quality work to honor them.

What do you hope to gain or learn by continuing research into conflict and peacemaking?
My larger goal is to help the process of peace and justice studies become part of the mainstream curriculum at universities—it is a wonderful interdisciplinary field and so many different disciplines have much to offer.

In my own research, I hope to continue to understand how contemporary faith traditions can draw on their own cherished traditions in order to end the suffering of others. I am very inspired by so many of the people I meet around the world who are practicing nonviolence and making enormous sacrifices for peace—I see my role as a researcher as helping to tell their stories. I want to change the perception that religion is a cause of conflict.

Do you have any other research plans for the future?
I am getting ready to leave for a trip to Sri Lanka and Myanmar/Burma to speak to several religious leaders about reconciliation. While most of my research has been international, I am interested in looking at the role of religion in social justice movements here in New York City as well. There has been intriguing work by faith leaders involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement that I would like to examine further.

Green Tweets

Seidenberg Professor Catherine Dwyer examines if Twitter can truly be the tipping point for climate change.

“You have people clicking the ‘like’ button or retweeting and feeling like they’ve actually done something for the environment instead of say recycling,” says Catherine Dwyer, PhD, Seidenberg associate professor and member of Special Interest Group on Green Information Systems (SIGGreen). The group, which brings together a wide variety of Green IS professionals and researchers, uses technology to facilitate transglobal collaboration and research. SIGGreen members recently traveled to Barcelona where Dwyer presented her research on Twitter’s role in the issue of climate change.

Dwyer presenting in Barcelona, Spain.

“Everybody is on Twitter and there is a goodwill feeling that has a role in advocacy. We saw it with the Arab Spring and other political events and it certainly has enabled a lot of connections between people who were not connected before,” says Dwyer. “But can Twitter really make a difference in something as complex and interconnected as climate change?”

Using Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis from his article “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” Dwyer mapped his findings onto the issue of climate change. “He had terrible timing—In October 2010 he writes that Twitter basically doesn’t matter, and along comes the Arab Spring in early 2011,” explains Dwyer. “It looked as though he was completely wrong, but he really made some good points.”

Twitter, she agrees, is great for making connections with different people and sharing information, but the degree to which people are engaged hasn’t been measured yet. So is all of this liking and retweeting just a superficial phenomenon in social media?

The answer is yes and no. While Dwyer and other Green IS professionals are working out the nuts and bolts of recognizing, measuring, and optimizing engagement, Dwyer has noted a trend. Most social media, she believes, seems to be most successful in the advocacy arena when related to a current or ongoing event like the Gulf oil spill. “Organizations were all over Twitter then, and they were breaking all kinds of news stories,” she says “but we don’t have those sorts of events every day.”

To learn more about SIGGreen and the work they’re doing, click here.

Scary Stories to Tell on the Web

Dyson Professor Jillian Mcdonald tells her own story about what happens when art meets Internet and how collaborative research with Seidenberg student Julie Gill ’12 helped bring her Horror Stories to life.

Jillian Mcdonald and Julie Gill '12

“When we first completed horror stories in 2009, it was working, but neither of us was excited about it,” says Jillian Mcdonald, an associate professor of fine arts and co-director of the Pace Digital Gallery, discussing a new venture to put her work online. This lack of excitement is what prompted Mcdonald and her undergraduate partner Seidenberg student Julie Gill ’12 to continue their work as part of the first undergraduate student/faculty research initiative.

“We initially made the project in a design environment using Adobe Flash, but by the time we finished, Flash appeared to be on the verge of obsolescence,” says Mcdonald. “We saw this research opportunity as a chance to redo the project in a way that was more viable online and especially on mobile platforms. It was a way to release the project in a more current fashion.”

The project Mcdonald and Gill were collaborating on was a web-based artwork entitled Horror Stories, which Mcdonald describes as “not a film per se, but a contemporary update and visual equivalent to ghost stories told around a campfire.” It is an online space where visitors can consume and produce their own chilling tales―using Mcdonald’s footage or uploading their own.

As Mcdonald designed the visual and aural elements of horror stories, Gill went about figuring out how best to translate the artwork to the web. In her blog chronicling her work, Gill writes “I researched many new web technologies and languages with the features in mind. We know that video upload and play is the most important thing so the main criterion when researching languages is the video support offered by the language.  I found that Ruby on Rails, a new and cutting edge web programming language, has the best support for video uploading and YouTube support.”

After deciding that Ruby on Rails would be the best language choice for horror stories, Gill began learning the language and programming around Mcdonald’s artistic imaginings. Using Mcdonald’s vision as a guide, Gill was able to code a veritable palette of images, sounds, and video clips that visitors to the site could use to compose their own horror story. Visitors could then view and share their own or user-contributed creations on different social networking platforms.

“The aspect of collaboration can potentially make artwork more rich, exciting, and participatory,” says Mcdonald, who is known for her video and performance art that typically feature macabre zombie marches or the artist’s insertion of herself into movie scenes with well-known actors. “More and more I find myself working with actors, musicians, sound designers, and programmers, among others. Over the last three or four years, I’ve worked on large scale videos and performances involving many actors. These have required a lot of collaboration.”

Want to tell your own scary story? Visit Horror Stories online at

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Dyson Psychology Professor Paul Griffin, PhD, and Pace student Boyan Robak explore gender differences in romantic rejection and how experiencing a break-up is similar to experiencing loss through death.

“He had some interesting questions, like ‘is it harder to break up with someone than to lose someone?’” says Dyson Psychology Professor Paul Griffin, PhD, of his student research partner Boyan Robak. “He used a lot of death references for comparison, and a light went off in my head because I had done some previous work on bereavement and was in the process of co-writing a paper on grief therapy with my colleague, Anthony Mancini.”

The research, which was part of the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Initiative, was proposed to Griffin by Robak, who had recently been through a break-up. For Robak, the break-up inspired questions about gender differences and how people deal with romantic rejection. The pair developed a questionnaire that was re-conceptualized from one that would be used to measure grief after death. The questionnaire was given to 162 young adults who had been in a romantic relationship of at least three months that had since ended. The questionnaire used attachment theory to elucidate what attachment style respondents had (e.g., an anxious attachment style was exhibited by those individuals who were anxious or worried about their partner not loving them and avoidant styles expressed by those who were removed from and guarded about romantic relationships). The questionnaire also measured respondents’ levels of self-esteem and rejection sensitivity.

Paul Griffin, PhD

“We found that romantic break-ups were a real part of their lives, whereas death is not,” explains Griffin. “When people talk about grieving due to death, they don’t have the same experience as a loss versus a break-up. This is probably because the romantic relationship is much more personal because at this point in their lives the relationship losses they incur due to romantic break-ups are more significant than those due to death. But what I would like to make clear is that the likely reason why break-up loss is ‘more personal’ is because at this point in their lives the relationship losses they incur due to romantic break-ups are more significant than those due to death.”

As expected, attachment style did affect the way people reported they reacted to break-ups. People who were more anxious measured significantly higher in bereavement symptoms. The inverse was also true—that individuals who had avoidant attachment style were less likely to report having a hard time after a break-up. Also, true to prediction, individuals who reported high self-esteem were less likely to be “hung up” on a break-up.

Boyan Robak

“We asked who was responsible for the break-up, thinking that if the other person was responsible that the respondent would be more likely to feel rejection. We thought this would especially be the case with women,” says Griffin “but there was no significant gender difference when reacting to breaking up.”

The pair also predicted that the majority of break-ups would be initiated by men. However they found that women were just as likely to end a relationship, something that Griffin believes lends itself to changing social norms.  More investigation should be done, says Griffin, on how break-ups affect well-being. He plans on doing subsequent follow-up studies in Pace’s new Psychology Lab.

“We did a lot of work on this. It wasn’t my project—it was Boyan’s. I don’t think I would’ve gone down this road,” Griffin says, “but the great thing about working with students is that they force you to think outside the box.”

Are you interested in working with an undergraduate student to conduct research during the 2012-2013 year? Pace is committed to strengthening the undergraduate research climate through the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Program, designed to increase opportunities for students to undertake research and scholarship with faculty. Click here for more information.


Basking in the Glow

Dyson Professor Andrew Wier studies the symbiosis of the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid and bioluminescent bacteria in the hope of shedding some light on human bacterial infections.

“They pretty much eat better than I do,” jokes Andrew Wier, PhD, assistant professor of Biology and Health Sciences. He’s talking about the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid; purple golf ball-sized, shrimp-eating invertebrates that glow in the dark and sometimes call Pace their home.

The tiny tropical predators piqued the interest of Wier, who collects his own specimens, because of the unique symbiotic relationship they share with the bioluminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri. This mutualistic interaction between the squid and the bacteria, how the bacteria thrive without causing suffering or infection in the squid, is just one of the aspects that Wier is studying.

“What makes them interesting to me as a research scientist is that when they are born—when they hatch from their clutch of eggs—they are free of bacteria, but very quickly—like humans—acquire bacteria from their environment,” he says.

Soon after hatching, the nocturnal squid collect the microbes they need to survive. The bacteria, which Wier says act as a  cloaking device, inhabit the squids’ light organ and get the nutrients they need from the squid, in return, the bacteria illuminate to match the amount of moonlight hitting the top of the squids’ mantel. This essentially erases the shadow of the squid, allowing it to hunt its prey in stealth mode. Each dawn, before burying itself in the sand, the squid ejects up to 95% of the V. fischeri from its light organ.

The bioluminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri, inside of the squid light organ. Transmission electron micrograph.

“I am interested in the dialogue—the molecular interaction—between the host squid and the symbiotic bacteria,” says Wier. “The bacteria is related to Vibrio cholera which cause diseases in humans. We see this in countries like Haiti that can’t get clean water.” For Wier, understanding the symbiotic relationship between the squid and V. fischeri could be the key to gaining a better understanding of human bacterial diseases. Wier plans to collaborate with parasitologist and Director of the Haskins Laboratories Nigel Yarlett, PhD, to aid in his research.

Also helping with Wier’s research are the biology students who chose to do in-lab research as part of their Capstone course. The students help to conduct research that faculty is working on and help to fund grants, bring in money, and publish first-rate scientific papers.

“The students are doing real research here,” says Wier. “They’re interested in going to medical school, going into academia and even physical therapy, and they find that the value of working in a lab, getting to know their professors, and getting this real world experience puts them head and shoulders above the crowd.”

Silver Surfers

Jean F. Coppola and her nationally recognized collaborative and multidisciplinary research team study older adults, computing, and what happens when the Internet Age and the Golden Age collide.

Jean F. Coppola, PhD

“Someone at that age is sometimes scared that they’re going to break the computer,” says Jean F. Coppola, PhD, of the senior citizens she works with. “But they don’t want to be left behind. They want to learn.”

Coppola, an associate professor of Information Technology at Pace’s Seidenberg School, is also one of the lead researchers in a nationally recognized collaborative and multidisciplinary team studying older adults and computing.  The Gerontech Team, which is led by Coppola and Lienhard Professors Lin Drury, PhD, and Sharon Wexler, PhD, comprises several Westchester County administrators and professors from both Pace and other institutions, is currently working with several community partners and Pace students to improve the quality of life—emotionally, cognitively, and socially—for older adults learning about technology.

A few years back, Coppola was called on by the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services to participate in Take Your Grandparent to Work Day. Due to the logistical limitations of the request, Coppola and her students brought their work to the senior citizens. “We had support from IBM—we had laptops with a network—and we taught the seniors to make photo greeting cards using their photos of family and friends,” she says. “After that experience I knew we had found something special.”

Afterwards, Coppola co-developed a service-learning course called “Intergenerational Computing,” which was first offered to Pace students in spring 2006. This small class was the first formal incarnation of what Coppola and her students are researching today. The students, who also learn about social gerontology and technology in action, go through sensitivity training so that they are better able to understand the needs of senior citizens.  The training, which is conducted by Drury and Wexler, involves students using everything from wheelchairs, walkers, and leg weights to experience limited mobility, to glasses and earplugs that simulate vision and hearing impairments, to popcorn in shoes to create a feeling like arthritis. This creative and necessary part of training helps ensure students have a new awareness of their senior citizen pupils and instills in them a patience that is necessary when working with senior citizens.

The course has expanded and evolved since its introduction in 2006. Coppola’s gained new community partners including nursing homes, adult day care centers, and centers that cater to people living with cerebral palsy. In addition, the research team has partnered with for the donation of touch-screen computers and, which has donated 1,000 licenses for their brain fitness software.

As words like Google, Twitter, and wiki enter our everyday lexicon, seniors are increasingly eager to learn about computing and technology. Through Coppola’s research program, Pace is helping provide seniors with the tools they need to use a computer, navigate the internet, and participate in social media.

“Just the other day I had one of the [senior] ladies come up to me and say ‘I think you really can teach an old dog new tricks,’” says Coppola.

For more information about Jean Coppola, PhD, and the work of Pace University Gerontechnology Program, click here.

Editor’s Note: Since publication, The Los Angeles Times featured Pace’s gerontechnology program headed by computer science professor Jean Coppola, PhD, and nursing professors Sharon Wexler, PhD, and Lin Drury, PhD, on March 20, 2012. The same day, Coppola was honored by Cerebral Palsy of Westchester which declared the day “Jean Coppola Day” for the work she does teaching technology to older adults.



(Don’t) Fall into the Gap

Sr. St. John Delany discusses her research on literacy and the gender gap—how boys and girls differ in the way they focus, process, and memorize information.

“Over a period of a year, three mothers came to me—they didn’t know each other and came from different parts of Westchester—and each one said to me ‘my son can’t get past the first sentence when he’s asked to write,’” says Sr. St. John Delany, PhD, associate professor at the School of Education. “It was uncanny.”

Delany, in addition to teaching at the School of Education, is also the Director of Pace’s Center for Literacy Enrichment, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring. For Delany, the trend in boys having difficulty in reading and writing caused her to start thinking about the differences between boys and girls.

She asked herself why boys are the way they are, if they really were different from girls. “Girls try to please you,” she notes. “They try to maintain an interest in whatever it is, try to achieve whatever it is—boys are much more off-handed.”

She set to the task of investigating the brain and how it functions, reading article after article, until she had the opportunity to do a full-fledged research project with undergraduate student Andrew Newmark, who is currently blogging about their work.

Together, Delany and Newmark are monitoring the progress of young readers using a specially developed computer program that uses activities to strengthen students’ ability to focus, process, and memorize information. The group, made up of 10 elementary school students, uses the software five days a week and will work for a minimum of 13 weeks. Delany expects the program will wrap before this coming April.

“We are looking at the differences in the way boys and girls process information and what is the defining cause that might make this [gender gap] occur. But we don’t know just yet. We might find out there is no difference in the way they process information,” says Delany, remaining optimistic about discovering new information before the end of the research project.

The neighboring town of New Rochelle has implemented a similar program for middle and high school aged students, and since then students’ test scores have improved dramatically. Although high scores are important to Delany, she says her main goal in life is to make people better readers.

“I want to know: where is the deficit? Where are these children in the continuum of cognitive development?” she says. “I want to know what we can learn to understand these children better and apply the strategies each one needs.”

For more information about the research being conducted by Sr. St. John Delany and student Andrew Newmark, follow Andrew’s blog on Literacy and the Gender Gap.

Star(gazing) Wars

You’ve all heard of IQ, but what about VIQ? Visual Intelligence Quotient, that is. That’s what researchers in Pace’s robotics labs are working on in an effort to create robots that can perceive and react to their surroundings.

“We don’t have R2D2 wandering around because robots don’t really know where they are. Your computer doesn’t know it’s on your desk,” says D. Paul Benjamin, PhD, director of Pace’s robotics lab and professor of computer science at Seidenberg. “And that’s what we’re trying to do—build in the software that can give robots that capability.”

If this sounds like something straight out of a video game, then you’re right. For Benjamin, the concept of having a robot be able to understand the world around it came in part from watching iconic plumbers Mario and Luigi navigate the virtual, but working, world of Super Mario Brothers, a video game Benjamin began playing with his oldest daughter about 15 years ago.

“We’re working on a computer vision system for a mobile robot so that, as the robot moves around it will use what is essentially computer game software, like Super Mario, and the main thing about that is the software understands the physics of the world, so balls can bounce and people can’t walk through walls, and so on,” explains Benjamin.

The robotics lab, which has been a part of the University for several years, is frequented by academically exceptional undergraduate and graduate student researchers who are dedicated to the development and exploration of intelligent agents. Benjamin, who has been awarded a prestigious $300,000 research grant by the Army Research Office, is currently in the second year of his work on the visual intelligence initiative. “This is really cutting-edge research,” he says, “There are very few people around the world working on projects like this.”

Students Lin Yixia and Vinnie Monaco with a robot.

“What we’re doing is creating a system, with a pair of stereo cameras, where the robot makes a virtual copy of the world around it in real-time, so that as it moves around, it sees people moving, cars driving, and it makes a copy of it in its virtual world,” says Benjamin. “The virtual world runs like the real world and can be run faster than real-time. It can be used to predict what people are doing and where they are moving.”

The creation of an intelligent agent that is aware of its environment and the things in it and can appropriately interact with humans and objects is the ultimate goal for Benjamin and his team, although at the moment the team is just working on getting the robot to interact with people in the lab.

“We hope that by the early part of next semester to have it moving around,” Benjamin says, “We’re going to see if it can cross the street on its own—something that’s hard enough to do in Manhattan for people!”

For more information about Pace’s robotics lab and the work being done by D. Paul Benjamin, PhD, click here.

Project Pericles Grant Winners

From sustainable development to disability studies to peace and justice, grants support a variety of faculty who are ensuring all is A-OK in Pace’s community-based learning courses.

Community-based learning courses for Civic Engagement and Public Value (AOK1) are an important component of our students’ education and the University’s Core Curriculum. Recently five Pace faculty were awarded $1,000 Project Pericles Fellowship Grants to develop courses that address the importance of social responsibility and active citizenship.

Professor of Management for the Lubin School George L. DeFeis who received a grant to focus on sustainable development says his interest in the field began while he was working as the Director of International Affairs for the American Society of Civil Engineers. “I was interested in the world’s diverse interests in sustainable development, from a multitude of standpoints—haves and have-nots, collective interests and individual interests, long-term versus short-term,” he says.

After having an opportunity to teach a course on environmental policy in the graduate program at the City College of New York, he developed his Project Pericles proposal: “Global Sustainable Development: Management and Social Responsibility.” “The corporate (and personal) responsibility component was based on my growing interest in Eugene Lang’s vision of service learning and civic engagement,” DeFeis says of the course, “which is absolutely imperative for our growth in the globally interconnected world of the 21st century.”

Another side to the same civic engagement coin are the two courses proposed by Dyson College Professor of English Stephanie Hsu, PhD. In one course, “Disability Studies in Literature and Culture,” Hsu will focus on works including novels, poetry, creative fiction, and autobiographical works about and by people with disabilities. Additionally, students will complete a semester-long service learning experience at a community-based organization that serves youth with disabilities.

“The service learning component of [the class] will help students think about disability as a cultural concept,” says Hsu. “By comparing their academic readings to their first-hand experiences they will gain insight into how disability culture itself is produced.”

The other course proposed by Hsu, “Diasporic Literature and Communities,” takes advantage of the New York City Campus’ downtown location and the diverse culture the surrounding neighborhoods offer. “Diasporic literature and film relates the distinct histories and cultures of immigrants and people of color to contemporary issues in U.S. society while also imparting important lessons in global citizenship,” Hsu says.  While the course can be tailored to fit various ethnic communities—Latino, African American, Native American—it will first be presented by Hsu with a focus on Asian American literature and culture, which seems a natural fit for Pace’s location. “Pace’s downtown campus is just steps away from Manhattan’s Chinatown, one of the oldest and, currently, most dynamic diasporic Chinese community in North America,” Hsu notes.

Additional grant winners and fields of study include Dyson Professor of Fine Arts Linda Gottesfield’s course on integrating design and service, Dsyon Professor of Political Science Emily Welty, PhD, course on peace and justice, and Dyson Economics Professor Walter Morris, PhD, course on the economics of poverty and income distribution.

For more information about civic engagement at Pace and Project Pericles, please click here.

Chic To Be Geek

How sci-fi conventions, Star Trek, and a deep love of history paid off for Dyson professor Nancy Reagin. Learn about how her recent publications have shed a historical light on today’s pop culture.

“Like sports fans and music fans, literary fan groups love to discuss and parse out books that they care about, and I’ve always enjoyed dissecting my favorite science fiction series with other science fiction devotees,” says Nancy Reagin, PhD, professor of history and women’s and gender studies within the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. Self-described as a life-long fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, Reagin began attending sci-fi conventions when she was a teenager.

As a student and lover of history, Reagin has always been fascinated by the incorporation of history into the dreamed up, imaginary worlds of series like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even Twilight. “Science fiction often plays with history, since the stories often involve time travel or discuss how things might have turned out differently if something in the past had been changed,” Reagin says. “And many characters and themes are often deliberately based on historical examples: the Trade Federation in Star Wars is similar to the British East India Company and Voldemort and the Death Eaters in Harry Potter were modeled on the Nazis, according to J.K. Rowling.”

Reagin published several books on modern German history after earning her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, but in recent years she’s begun to translate her love of history and literature into several popular history anthologies that have been enjoyed by scholars and non-scholars alike.

In 2009, Eric Nelson, a Pace alumnus and executive editor at Wiley & Sons, asked Reagin to help develop a series focused on history and pop culture. “I knew that the series would be a lot of fun to pull together,” she says. “It was easy to recruit historians who were also fans to use their expertise to analyze various series.”

Since then, Reagin has worked to produce Twilight and History, which was published in 2010 and translated into six languages, and Harry Potter and History, which was released this past June. Currently, Reagin is working on  Star Trek and History, which will be on the market in summer 2012. She is also collaborating with Janice Liedl, PhD, a historian from Laurentian University, on The Hobbit and History, due out in 2013.

Also on Reagin’s docket this year is a collaboration with Lucasfilm and Star Wars creator George Lucas. When representatives from Lucasfilm approached Wiley & Sons to create a volume dedicated to the history in Star Wars, the publishing house knew that Reagin was the person for the job. Working with  Liedl, Reagin plans on examining the historical influences in the Star Wars dynasty.

“To work with Lucasfilm on this is an amazing opportunity. I never imagined—when I saw the first Star Wars movie at the age of 17—that I’d be editing a scholarly volume on this in collaboration with George Lucas!” she said.

But it isn’t just the pros that are getting in on the action. Reagin has actively recruited some of her students at Pace to contribute to the volumes she’s worked on.  “I realized early on that this series was also a possible vehicle for publishing work by some of my best students,” she says. “I wanted to offer some of my students the opportunity for their work to appear in collections that contained chapters by senior historians and which were published by a good trade press.”

Promoting Partnership, Creating Curiosity

Maria T. Iacullo-Bird, PhD, executive director for the Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences discusses the importance of undergraduate research—for both students and professors.

The Center for Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE), within the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, is headed by Executive Director Maria T. Iacullo-Bird, PhD, who also teaches in the Dyson History Department. Iacullo-Bird is an intellectual and cultural historian of American history with specializations that include the organization of knowledge, the history of higher education, and public history.

Why are research experiences important for students?

Undergraduate research is one of the high impact practices outlined by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU). Undergraduate research experiences routinely require sustained and intensive faculty mentoring that increase undergraduate achievement and retention. Through research opportunities, students acquire strong analytic and reasoning abilities and advance their oral and written communication skills. Additionally, they are part of or develop projects that can work to clarify career goals, enhance their graduate or professional school applications, and contribute to their future areas of professional specialization.

How does collaborative research benefit faculty?

Faculty benefits for collaborative research with students include: enriched teaching experiences through the development of mentoring relationships and enhanced student outcomes; a deepened and expanded institutional culture of inquiry and research that benefits professional growth and development; opportunities for further funding that include support for undergraduate research for existing and future projects; and student assistants to work on research projects.

Can you tell me a bit about some of the partnerships CURE has with external organizations?

Through the Pace institutional membership, CURE has an ongoing membership in the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR), a national organization of over 900 colleges and universities whose mission is to “support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.” CURE oversees several grant programs that provide experiential service-learning opportunities for Pace students. These grant programs include the Community and Volunteer Mobilization (CVM) AmeriCorps, Jumpstart, the Liberty Partnerships Program, and Upward Bound. External partners associated with these grants include the Chinatown Beacon YMCA, the Chinese-American Planning Council, Middle School 131, Hamilton-Madison House, Our Lady of Sorrows School, the High School for Leadership and Public Service, the High School of Economics and Finance, and the High School for Human Services and Health Professions. Brooklyn high school partners include Brooklyn High School for the Arts, Clara Barton High School, George Westinghouse High School, Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, and Williamsburg Preparatory High School.

How many students/faculty members participate, on average?

At present, CURE’s grant programs and projects provide an average of sixty undergraduate students with work and service positions.  Several hundred disadvantaged youth who attend school in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and range in age from preschool through high school are served by these existing grants. Faculty and staff can teach, mentor, and develop research projects within these existing grants and at any one time, two or three faculty are involved in CURE-housed grant programs.  However, CURE’s larger mandate within Dyson is to coordinate and foster undergraduate research by targeting funding sources for both faculty and students, offering support to faculty as they write and submit grant applications, advising the management of the post-grant award phase, and tracking all Dyson-funded applications. During the last academic year, approximately half a dozen Dyson faculty and staff consulted at CURE regarding funding sources and the grant application process. As a relatively new Center, CURE expects these numbers to gradually increase as it becomes better known throughout Dyson.

What are some of the teams working on now, or notable projects from the recent past?

As part of a Dyson public history course taught by myself, undergraduates conducted, recorded, and transcribed over 90 interviews of individuals from Pace and the larger New York City community who had witnessed the 9/11 tragedy. For the 2011 year, Thinkfinity, AmeriCorps, and Dyson College Undergraduate Summer Research funds are supporting a digital project phase as students assistants check and digitally convert audio tapes and printed transcriptions and upload the finalized versions into the Pace Digital Commons.

How do students/faculty get involved in research through CURE?

Students and faculty can get involved in research through large informational events or individual communications and meetings. For example, in September 2009 CURE participated in Dyson’s External Grants day, an event that was open to the entire University community to inform faculty about the grant-funding process. CURE continues to be involved with similar grant-awareness events for Dyson faculty targeting specific interdisciplinary collaborations. Additionally, students and faculty can participate in service-learning and teaching opportunities and develop research projects offered by the CURE-managed grant programs ranging from reading-readiness activities with preschool children to teaching writing and study skills to low-income, first-generation college bound high school students.

For more information about CURE and the research opportunities available for both faculty and students, click here.