Faculty Research Grant Winners 2017-18

Ten faculty members have won Saint Mary’s 2017-2018 Faculty Research Grants, only the third year that ranked faculty have had the chance to apply for a fully funded grant up to $9,000 given annually to support new or accelerated scholarship. Faculty research “is a vital part of being a university,” said Provost Bethami Dobkin, whose office makes the awards based on recommendations from a faculty review group. Supported by existing endowment funds, the internal research grants typically pay for what Dobkin called “the time and tools” necessary to carry out a research project, chief among them a reduced teaching load.

Hisham Ahmed
Professor, Politics

War, Displacement and Radicalization

This book project aims to examine the impact of war and displacement on the education and potential radicalization of Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees, especially in, but not limited to, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. These countries are chosen because they are the most stable politically in the Middle East at this stage, at least for now, and because most of the displaced refugees ended up in one of them. The main hypothesis in this study is that radicalization becomes inevitable during wars unless alternative solutions are considered, i.e., unless some robust, systematic international programs of aid to alleviate the suffering and to replace despair with hope are introduced. In addition to literature review, Hisham plans to visit Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and possibly other countries in the Middle East and Europe, such as Lebanon, Italy, Greece, and Hungary, security circumstances permitting, to meet with many of the refugees in an attempt to understand the impact of displacement on their behavioral tendencies and social characteristics. Other locations of refugee concentrations and dwellings may be visited as well, such as some places in the United States like Michigan, where the largest Arab-American community lives.

Manisha Anantharaman
Assistant Professor, Justice, Community and Leadership

Re-Cycling Class: The Environmental Politics of the New Middle Classes of Bangalore, India

Anantharaman’s book examines the environmental politics of the middle classes of India through a study of two community-driven sustainability initiatives in the city of Bangalore. Through community engagement, and using ethnographic research methods, she investigates the conditions under which members of Bangalore's new middle classes adopt sustainable consumption practices such as bicycling and zero waste management, and the social processes by which these practices are both stabilized and contested. She shows that these "sustainable" practices both reproduce and occasionally transform how the middle classes relate to their own identities, to urban space, and to members of the urban pool. The Faculty Research Grant will support the completions of her book manuscript, which she plans to publish in Routledge's Equity, Justice and the Sustainable City Series. This book will be one of the first to examine community-driven sustainability initiatives in emerging economies and demonstrates that the dynamics of environmental action have a complex relationship to class. Not only is it necessary to problematize class politics in the environmental practices of the middle classes, it is essential to look for interstitial spaces of possibility and moments of transformation engendered by cross-class alliances that can show the way to more socially-just sustainable futures. The key to achieving the socially just greening of Indian lies in the ability of middle-class and working-class actors to form cross-class alliances that jointly advocate for changed policies that emphasize both sustainability and social justice.

Rebecca Anguiano
Assistant Professor, School of Education

Socially Just Family Engagement in Urban Schools: Stories of Transformation and Implications for Inclusive School Practices

In collaboration with a colleague, Anguiano seeks to examine their unique model of parent engagement developed to serve families with children attending high-poverty, urban schools. They aimed to create a humanizing experience for families by combining a Freirian (1970) model of popular education with a grass-roots community organizing approach (Warren & Mapp, 2011). Qualitative interviews and quantitative survey data with Latinx immigrant families who participated in the program spurred new questions for theory development. Their purpose is two-fold: (a) First, using grounded theory methodologies (Charmaz, 2014), they will use the first round of qualitative results to solicit community feedback from the families at school site 1, incorporating these community discussions into the next iteration of analyses. In this way, they aim to engage in participatory research practices that honor the communities they have collaborated with, further validate their model of family engagement, and continue theory development with regard to family engagement in inner-city schools. (b) Next, they will utilize a qualitative, comparative case-study design to investigate the implementation of the model of family engagement at the second school site in east Oakland.

Vidya Chandrasekaran
Associate Professor, Biology

Elucidating the mechanisms underlying the growth and retraction of dendrites during embryonic development and injury

Dendritic growth and retraction are an integral part of the development of the embryonic nervous system and neuronal injury. However, the mechanisms underlying dendritogenesis are not fully understood. Therefore, the overarching goal of Chankrasekaran’s research is to examine the role of various biological molecules during dendritic growth. Her lab uses cultured embryonic rat sympathetic neurons as a model system to study dendritic growth and currently focuses on three pathways—Inhibitors of differentiation, y-secretase and micro RNA mediated signaling pathways. Currently, the main constraint on her research is the limited availability of funds for supplies and the lack of a horizontal laminar flow hood on campus to do the animal microsurgeries for isolating neurons in a sterile environment. Funding through the Faculty Research Grant for the acquisition of the laminar flow hood, the animals and the supplies needed to move her animal work to Saint Mary's College will enable her to bring her ongoing research projects closer to publication in a peer­reviewed journal.

Costanza Gislon Dopfel
Professor, World Languages and Cultures

Proceedings for Pregnancy and Childbirth: History, Medicine and Anthropology–An International Symposium (Collection and editing of presentations for publication)

The funds will be used for the proceedings—editing and publishing of papers presented—of the international conference on the history of pregnancy and childbirth, which Dopfel has organized together with her colleagues from the University of Bologna, Alessandra Foscati and Antonella Parmeggiani, and at which she will also present. The conference will take place on May 30 and 31, 2017 at the university of Bologna, Italy, and will include two days of sessions, roundtables and discussions on issues of pregnancy and childbirth from antiquity to the present. The speakers include prominent scholars from the United States, UK, Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy. Since Saint Mary's and the University of Bologna have an agreement that encourages partnership between the two institutions, this conference would be the first result of such collaboration. At the same time, this is a unique event in terms of the interdisciplinarity and internationality of its participants, who range from medical historians, to doctors, anthropologists, art historians, classicists, and more. It is important therefore that the proceedings be recorded and the papers translated into English. This effort will take over a year, it will involve working with professional translators and language editors as well as collaborating closely with her two colleagues in Italy. The final result will be a collection of the original papers with individual long summaries in English for the French and Italian presentations.

Helga Lenart-Cheng
Associate Professor, World Languages and Cultures

Completing the manuscript of My Story is Our Story: A Literary History of Social Networking

Lenart-Cheng’s book project investigates the contemporary phenomenon of storytelling for social justice, including its historical and literary precedents. In the last decade we seem to have rediscovered the community-building potential of personal stories. “Share Your Story—Building a Community” is the motto of many of today's story­sharing sites. But what exactly is the role of autobiographical stories in improving social cohesion? And is this idea really as new as some would suggest, dating it to the birth of the internet, or does it have longer historical roots? By addressing these questions, her book will offer a critical contribution to the field of life-writing studies, which is a growing field globally; and it will also join an extensive, interdisciplinary dialogue around the concept of community, an idea that is key to our institutional ethos here at Saint Mary’s.

S. Marshall Perry
Associate Professor, School of Education

PISA 2015: An international examination of school leadership and student opportunity to learn

The proposed study examines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 school and student datasets. This large-scale dataset has played an important role in educational policy due to policymakers’ interest in ranking the achievement of countries and comparing subgroups. This research offers a more nuanced examination of the relationships among principal characteristics and instructional leadership with student achievement, opportunity to learn, and noncognitive outcomes using statistical analysis. Other than the time spent on data creation, preparation, and analysis, the budget supports lesson planning for courses and student involvement in national or international research conference presentations. The proposed research fits within Perry’s research trajectory on examining opportunity to learn for disadvantaged students and provides students and builds on previous theoretical work on political psychology and empirical work involving other international datasets from OECD. The proposed study offers Saint Mary’s students an opportunity to be guided through a research analysis and presentation process, and see the culmination of their collaborative work at a peer-reviewed academic conference. The timing of the proposed study is strategic given that the 2015 PISA will become available to researchers outside of OECD for the first time later this month.

Aaron Sachs
Associate Professor, Communication

Food Discourses in the Nicaraguan Cacao/Chocolate Industry

This study examines the discursive and rhetorical practices of the cacao/chocolate industry in Nicaragua through participant observation ethnography, semi-structured interview, and textual analysis of communication and marketing materials. Funds will support time for data analysis and travel. This project helps Sachs further establish a new line of research examining how organizational communication about food underwrites the distribution of power within the food system. Data from this project will be used in the production of three deliverables: (1) a multimedia website "stories from the Nicaraguan cacao/chocolate industry," (2) a journal article on "progressive" discourses of social justice in the Nicaraguan caca/chocolate industry, and (3) a book chapter on "storied food" and the use of narratives in food marketing as part of a larger book underway on using popular culture sites to examine communication across difference and the self-other relationship. Through all three deliverables, this project explores how organizational ideologies and relations of power are exposed and hidden by the rhetorical strategies used by food production organizations to communicate with internal and external stakeholders.

Jia Wu and Peter Freund
Associate Professor, Performing Arts and Professor, Art and Art History

Dance Film, Hope is the Thing with Feathers

The proposed project is the first of its kind to be created at Saint Mary’s and is a collaboration between two faculty members from the Arts and Performing Arts Department, Associate Professor Jia Wu and Professor Peter Freund. The cast will include dancers and alumni from Saint Mary’s. Jia plans to create a new dance film from her theatrical dance piece, Hope is the Thing With Feathers. This title, from a poem by Emily Dickinson, is also inspired by a quote from the American author Raymond Carver, “What we talk about when we talk about love.” Wu’s original theatrical piece was commissioned by the Shanghai International Arts Festival and premiered at the Duanjun Theater in Shanghai. Out of 88 works commissioned by the Shanghai International Arts Festival in the past five years, it was received an Excellent Creation Award. Integral to the visual poetry of the piece will be the use of high-speed photography. A high-speed camera was funded by the 2014-2015 Faculty Research Fund as a collaborative proposal from Professors Freund, Wu, and Ronald Olowin. This will be an ideal project to apply and utilize this equipment to create a unique dance film. By employing a very fast shutter speed the camera is able to capture movement that can’t normally be seen by the naked eye.

To learn more about research, scholarship, and creative activities at Saint Mary’s, attend the Scholars’ Reception on Feb. 17, 5-7 p.m., in Hagerty Lounge, De La Salle Hall.