Five W&L Alumni Win National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowships For the 2017 competition, NSF received over 13,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.
Five Washington and Lee University alumni have received pre-doctoral graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition, one student received an honorable mention.
Eric Schwen ’15 graduated from W&L with a major in physics and was one of three valedictorians. He is working on his Ph.D. at Cornell University, focusing on condensed matter physics.
While at W&L, he was a Johnson Scholar and used his Johnson Opportunity Grant to travel to Madrid and Paris to attend physics conferences. He won a Goldwater Scholarship his junior year and published “A Two-State Stochastic Model for Nanoparticle Self-Assembly: Theory, Computer Simulations and Applications” and “Cooperative Sequential-Adsorption Model in Two Dimensions with Experimental Applications for Ionic Self-Assembly of Nanoparticles” with professors Dan and Irina Mazilu.
Joy Putney ’16, a physics-engineering and biology double major, is pursuing a Ph.D. in quantitative biosciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“My research will answer some of the questions at the interface of neuroscience and biomechanics using invertebrate models, which will have significant broader impact on society and human health,” she said. “Understanding principles of nervous system function has been highlighted by President Barack Obama as a major research goal through the BRAIN initiative. Invertebrates are an excellent model system to extract underlying principles of nervous system function due to the relative simplicity of their nervous systems compared to higher order animals. Increasing our knowledge of motor control and encoding mechanisms used to accomplish behaviors will enable the design of better brain-machine interfaces and neuroprostheses that use a mechanistic understanding of how the nervous system functions. This has the potential to transform how we treat neural disorders and replace lost biological functions.”
While at W&L, Putney used her Johnson Opportunity Grant to travel to the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, in Auckland, New Zealand, to conduct research in the Gastrointestinal Lab. There, she used experimental data and simulations to investigate the regulation of the stomach and small intestines.
Gabriella Kitch ’16 earned her B.S. in geology, with a minor in environmental studies. While at W&L, she held an internship with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Science Center in Richmond, Virginia, as a part of a program led by biology professor Robert Humston. The following summer, she attended an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, Michigan, where she measured mercury concentrations in a small watershed. That project became her honors thesis, “Terrestrial Mercury Cycling in Northern Michigan: Honeysuckle Creek Watershed and Burt Lake.”
Before starting at Northwestern University, Kitch assisted a lab member in taking water samples from rivers and estuaries in the Canadian Archipelago. At Northwestern, where Kitch is pursuing a Ph.D. in geochemistry, she is using non-traditional stable isotope systems, such as calcium isotopes, to look at surface ocean changes during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). “The PETM (~56 million years ago) was a period of geologically rapid climate change caused by a large carbon release and therefore may have implications for understanding how the earth system will react to anthropogenic climate change,” she said.
Randl Dent ’15 majored in psychology and sociology and was part of professor Megan Fulcher’s Gender Development Lab, where she designed and implemented a study that examined the influence gendered toys have on gendered play, as well as efficacy for gendered skills and tasks in children who were 4- to 7-years old.
She is working on her Ph.D. in health psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. “My master’s thesis, on which my NSF grant was based, examines the impact of feature-based bias on help-seeking behaviors in Black students,” she said. “In the first study, I will be examining how Black students’ mental healthcare utilization may differ based on their Afrocentric features (i.e., features that signify African descent, such as darker skin and eye colors, wider nose, thicker lips, coarse hair). In the second study, I will be using an experimental design to examine whether Black students would prefer to see a counselor whose Afrocentric features are most similar to their own. It is my hope that my research will increase the public’s awareness of feature-based bias and its impact on help-seeking behaviors in Black students. Awareness is a critical first step in providing supportive outlets to Black students. In the long term, I hope that findings will also provide the foundation for future intervention research focusing on improving Black students’ help-seeking behaviors, which will ultimately reduce the pervasive educational and health disparities.”
James Biemiller ’15 is a Ph.D. student in geological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. He double majored in geology and physics and completed a senior thesis in geology with professor Dave Harbor, “Plucking as a Mechanism of Fluvial Erosion on Mars.” He won a Goldwater scholarship his junior year. Additional W&L summer research experiences included a project on 3-D photogrammetry with professor Chris Connors and a project on uplift-erosion dynamics in Argentina with professors Dave Harbor and Jeff Rahl.
“My graduate research focuses on active tectonics and fault dynamics, particularly on low-angle normal faults,” he said. “I use geophysical data and numerical models to monitor and simulate stresses on faults in the earth to better understand their potential to rupture in large earthquakes.”
Melina Knabe ’17 received an honorable mention from the NSF. In 2016, the neuroscience major and philosophy minor won a research grant from the Virginia Academy of Science to fund her senior thesis research project, “Language Translates to Executive Functions: Investigating the Bilingual Advantage in Inhibitory Control.”
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. For the 2017 competition, NSF received over 13,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.
W&L Hosts 13th National Symposium of Theater and Performance Arts in Academe Highlights include live performances, including “Exile is My Home” by W&L professor Domnica Radulescu.
Washington and Lee University will welcome visitors from around the world to its 13th National Symposium of Theater and Performance Arts in Academe on March 30.
This year’s symposium, “Home, Borders and the Immigrant Experience in Theater and the Performing Arts,” was organized by Domnica Radulescu, founding director of the symposium and the Edwin A. Morris Professor of Comparative Literature at W&L.
“This year’s symposium is particularly important and relevant given the current issues of immigration, as it addresses precisely how theater, film and the performing arts are responding to such urgent problems of our time,” said Radulescu.
The conference will feature live performances and lectures, including a pared-down version of Radulescu’s play “Exile is My Home: A Sci-fi Immigrant Fairy Tale.” The award-winning production appeared on the New York stage off, off Broadway last spring.
All events will take place in the Stackhouse Theater in Elrod Commons and are free and open to the public.
Welcoming address: Marc Connor, Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English and provost of W&L.
Opening remarks: Domnica Radulescu, the Edwin A. Morris Professor of Comparative Literature.
“Rhinoceros” and “Ficelle.” Short scenes by Eugene Ionesco and Matei Visniec, performed by students in French 342.
“African Migration in the Mind of Italy: ‘Noise in the Waters.’ ” Tom Simpson, associate professor of Italian, Northwestern University.
The presentation discusses the 2010 Italian play “Rumore di acque” (“Noise in the Waters”), which dramatizes not only the ongoing tragedy of those who die at sea in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean from the shores of Africa into Italy, but also the grotesque ways people in the ex-colonial powers rationalize and normalize their own culpability.
“New Romanian Cinema: Crossing National Borders Through Irony and Reflexivity.” Dominique Nasta, professor of film studies, Université Libre de Bruxelles.
A bright spot on the map of world cinema, Romania somehow unexpectedly produced one of the few coherent New Waves, having garnered important international recognition during the last 10 years. Essential films by Cristian Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristi Puiu or Radu Muntean set forth a new way of confronting historical or ideological facts and moral dilemmas and led to a rhetorical reshaping of the grammar of cinema.
“Re-performed Traditions and the Immigrant Experience: The Indian Theater of Roots in the United States.” Sabina Maria Draga Alexandru, associate professor of American studies, University of Bucharest.
The talk will examine some of the uses of the aesthetics of traditional Indian theater, derived from the Natya Sastra and adapted to the requirements of modern times, in stagings of theater of roots plays in the U.S. for the benefit of U.S.-located South Asian communities.
“Precarious Temporalities: Neoliberalism, Sexual Citizenship and the Global Deportation Regime.” Rachel Lewis, assistant professor in the Women and Gender Studies Program, George Mason University.
Lewis will discuss how feminist and queer refugee narratives across a variety of media platforms, including photography, painting and performance art, recast migrant precarity as a question of temporality, along with the ways in which immigrant re-appropriations of temporality through performance can facilitate refugee healing and resistance.
“Vulnerable Bodies in Transformation.” A selection of readings from the performance series, “The Goddess Diaries.” Carol Campbell, George Mason University.
Campbell will discusses the theoretical framework around gender issues and perform selections from her work that includes true stories of fiercely courageous women.
“Exile Is My Home: A Sci-fi Immigrant Fairy Tale.” By Domnica Radulescu. Directed by Andreas Robertz. Performed by Nikaury Rodriguez, Florinda Ruiz, Mirandy Rodriguez, Mario Golden, A.B. Lugo, Vivienne Jurado and David van Leesteen. Music composed by Alexander Tanson.
“Exile Is My Home” won the 2016 HOLA Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble Cast Award. This performance is in collaboration with OneHeart Productions in New York City and is supported with funds from the dean of the College at Washington and Lee University.
The Symposium has been supported by funds from the Office of the Dean of the College, by the Center for Global Learning and the Mellon Foundation as part of the “Borders and Their Human Impact” series. Generous funding was also provided by the Glasgow Endowment for the Arts and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Washington and Lee University.
John R. Farmer ’61: Distinguished Citizen The award goes to to those who whose professional and humanitarian contributions and accomplishments are worthy of celebration.
John F. Farmer, who graduated from Washington and Lee in 1961, received the 2017 Distinguished Citizen Award from The Commonwealth Club, in San Francisco, during its gala on March 3.
The Commonwealth Club presents the award to those who exemplify the ideals and values that have guided the organization for over a century, and whose professional and humanitarian contributions and accomplishments are worthy of celebration. The award also recognizes the qualities that make an individual’s life worthy of admiration: generosity, the ability to inspire, and their desire to make a difference in the world.
“In our current societal environment, the club’s role as a platform for free and open, non-partisan and well-informed debate is front and center,” said Dr. Gloria C. Duffy, president and CEO of the club. “We are thrilled to celebrate these distinguished citizens, each of whom is shaping our future in the Bay Area and beyond. Our annual gala is a celebration of these Distinguished Citizens who embody the goals and values of the club, as well as an opportunity to gather our community and our devoted network of supporters.”
John, who is the former chairman of The Commonwealth Club and a former general partner at Goldman Sachs, has spent his entire business and professional career in the investment banking and securities industry.
He has focused his public service endeavors on private education. While living in London, he spent 13 years as a trustee of The American School in London, serving 11 of those as chair of the board. He has also served as a trustee at W&L for 10 years and chaired the university’s successful capital campaign For the Rising Generation. He serves on the board of trustees of Occidental College, Los Angeles.
John and his wife, Tawna, have four children and eight grandchildren, and live in Tiburon, California.
Building a Boutique Business Sisters Chloe Burch ’14 and Neely Burch ’13, who have been named to the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, raised $1.25 million in seed funding to build their collection of leather handbags and shoes.
The Forbes website has named Neely and Chloe Burch, both graduates of Washington and Lee University, to its list of 30 under 30 in Retail and Ecommerce.
The sisters, who are the nieces of the fashion superstar Tory Burch, have raised $1.25 million in seed funding to build their collection of leather handbags and shoes —which they will sell directly to customers through Neely and Chloe, bypassing the traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
After graduation, both sisters entered the fashion industry. Neely visited college campuses across the country in a vintage Airstream trailer that she transformed into a pop-up boutique. Chloe earned her stripes working at J. Crew as a merchant.
The business caters to the young working woman, and shoppers can customize their purchase with gold-leaf monograms, tassels or luggage tags. Last fall, their products made a big splash in Vogue Magazine, which called their bags affordable and chic.
As they note on their website: “We believe that great design stirs our emotional connection to a product. The mark of luxury is not its price or a logo — it is the inherent beauty, quality and usefulness of something special and worth keeping. Luxury should never be out of reach.”
Byron Seward ’70: High Tech Farmer Byron Seward ’70 won the 2017 Delta High Cotton Award for his efforts in producing a quality fiber economically and in an environmentally responsible manner.
Byron Seward, a 1970 graduate of Washington and Lee University, farms over 20,000 acres, with his son, Darrington, near his office in Louise, Mississippi. What’s unusual is that he’s checking in on his farm from his office computer, using long-distance monitoring to manage his 300 fields of cotton, soybeans and corn.
“We like the remote display access that allows us to see, in real time, where all our equipment is, how it’s operating, what the yield is, and an extensive array of data that we can use to analyze every factor that influences crop performance and yield,” said Byron in an interview with The Delta Farm Press. “With this technology, there are no secrets — we can see where all of our equipment is, and how it’s operating.”
His attention to detail on production, efficiency and conservation earned him the 2017 Delta High Cotton Award presented by Farm Press and The Cotton Foundation for his efforts to produce a quality fiber economically and in an environmentally responsible manner.
“Byron and Darrington are some of the most efficient and innovative farmers I’ve encountered anywhere,” said Peter Peerbolte, a veteran agricultural marketer who nominated Byron for the award. “They are on the cutting edge of technology — and they use that technology to great benefit when it comes to stewardship of the land.”
When Byron graduated from W&L, he entered the Army and worked as a systems analyst, which gave him a leg up in what he calls the “brave, new world of digital farming.”
After his service, Byron, too, became a farmer like his father and grandfather before him. His approach, however, was a bit different. Early on, he began using variable-rate fertilizer applications, which gave him greater control over the amount of nutrients he applied to his crops.
Over the years, it’s not just the precise application of fertilizer, seed and herbicides that Byron has perfected. He also uses variable-rate application systems for plant growth regulators, defoliants and irrigation. In addition, he rotates crops and has experimented with the spacing between rows of planted crops.
Still, it isn’t easy.
“Farmers I talk to find themselves in a difficult situation, one in which it’s getting tougher to hang on,” Byron said. “We need some relief from these low [commodity] prices and high input costs to make it easier to invest in new technology.”
Marcia France on Chemistry, Cooking and Culture This associate dean of the college is interested in green chemistry, playing the flute and teaching her Science of Cooking class in Italy
“Challenge yourself. Take advantage of all the opportunities W&L has to offer. When there’s a speaker on campus, go and fully engage. Think of a question you could ask, and then ask it. Study abroad. Go to a country you’ve never been to before, learn a new language, and engage with the people. Pursue activities that interest you, on campus and in your community. Sit down with your friends and talk about something that’s happened in the world recently.”
Your research involves green chemistry. What is that?
My research focuses on developing better methodologies for carrying out organic transformations. In particular, I am interested in developing greener reactions that would result in more efficient chemical syntheses that produce less waste. The research could help produce various types of pharmaceutical compounds in a more environmentally friendly way. Recently, I have been thinking about moving my scholarship in a completely different direction related to my longstanding interest in the science of cooking, focusing on the intersection of the science, history and culture of food. Many food production traditions and methodologies developed over generations because they worked to create a product people enjoyed, without the practitioners understanding the underlying science. Yet, when examined closely, many of these practices make sense from a scientific viewpoint.
Your Science of Cooking course is your favorite class to teach. What do you love about it?
I also love teaching organic chemistry, don’t get me wrong. It’s what I was trained to do, and that is my passion, but the Science of Cooking class gives me a chance to explore something completely different and work with non-major students. I’m meeting students I would never have met otherwise. And I’m not going to lie; we go to Italy! And we eat really well! I would probably enjoy organic chemistry even more if I did that in Italy, too. When you teach abroad, you get to interact with the students, outside as well as inside the classroom. I love that part. And every time we go, I learn something new, too.
You helped start the W&L-University of St Andrews exchange program, which allows science and pre-med students to study in Scotland and receive W&L credit. What prompted you to start this?
It goes back to my love of being abroad. As an undergraduate, I never had the chance to study abroad, although I really wanted to. It’s so difficult for science students to find opportunities to do that. Very few science majors have the ability to take a complex, upper-level science course in a foreign language, so it often restricts them to English-speaking countries. The U.K. and most other English-speaking countries approach chemistry education very differently in terms of class sequencing, so there’s no one-to-one correspondence between a class you would have in the states and a class you would have over there. Another issue is that a lot of American med schools won’t accept credits for pre-med core courses from abroad. I wanted to find a way to let my students have the opportunity that I wasn’t able to have. That’s why I really wanted to be involved in creating that program. W&L now has this built-in, tailor-made program for our science students. It’s definitely something that’s unique.
What is the coolest activity you’ve done with a class?
One of the students in my 2016 Spring Term class took the initiative (months in advance) to book a reservation at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. Although not officially part of the course, most of the class chose to go. We enjoyed one of the most amazing meals of my life — a nine-course tasting menu in our own private room. Chef Massimo Bottura came out a couple times and had a fairly long conversation with us. A month later, the restaurant was named number one in the world!
A hallmark of a W&L education is the close interactions between faculty and students. How have you seen this in action?
One thing is just having students over for dinner. I don’t know that that happens at a lot of other universities. The former program coordinator [from IES Siena, our partner organization] for my 2015 Spring Term class was recently at W&L to give a couple talks. We took that as an opportunity to have a class reunion at my house, complete with lasagna prepared with our cooking instructor’s recipe. The classroom — you can get that at any school. But, as I walk around the lab teaching, I chat with the students about their classes, what they’re doing that weekend, or what sports teams they’re on. I know them as people, not just as students.
What do W&L students bring to the classroom?
The idea of the liberal arts. Some of the most creative ideas emerge from taking the way something is done or conceptualized in one field and applying it in another. That’s the strength of the liberal arts. At W&L, there is this convergence of really bright students who are interested in so many different things. They bring so many perspectives. We have the diversity of an organic chemistry student who is double-majoring in economics. Some of my students are passionate about music and some are athletic stars. It’s a unique environment where students combine so many of their interests in the classroom.
As associate dean of the College, part of your job is connecting students to national fellowships and mentoring them through the entire application process. What advice do you have for students looking at fellowship opportunities?
Take full advantage of your W&L education. That starts on day one. You want to be cultivating the types of qualities that will make you a good applicant. I once heard someone say that it’s not about being a Rhodes Scholar, it’s about being the kind of person who could win a Rhodes scholarship. So challenge yourself. Take advantage of all the opportunities W&L has to offer. When there’s a speaker on campus, go and fully engage. Think of a question you could ask, and then ask it. Study abroad. Go to a country you’ve never been to before, learn a new language, and engage with the people. Pursue activities that interest you, on campus and in your community. Sit down with your friends and talk about something that’s happened in the world recently. W&L is great for the well-rounded student who’s involved in many different things. But find where your passion is and work on the focus as well, developing intellectually in a small area as well as some of those broader areas. Start that early and keep working on it. Then start that application process early, because you can always tell a last-minute application.
Why is Midnight Breakfast your favorite W&L tradition?
It’s just so much fun, and a huge stress relief for students. It’s finals week. They’ve been studying heavily for exams, and then they come through the dining hall late at night, and professors and staff are there serving them smoothies and waffles. I love being out there and serving them. I always want to be assigned to a station where I get to interact with the students. Even if it’s 11:30 at night, those smiles on their faces when I hand them a smoothie is totally worth it. They’re really grateful, and I think they find it so fun to have professors and deans out there serving them in this role reversal. It’s this nice study break that they really deserve. Even if it’s the middle of finals, everybody’s happy to be at Midnight Breakfast.
When did you play in Carnegie Hall?
I’ve played the flute since fourth grade. While getting my master’s, I played in the Yale band, which performed in Carnegie Hall. We also marched in the first George Bush’s inaugural parade. Then, of course, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world with the W&L Wind Ensemble: Japan, China, Egypt, Russia, Costa Rica — all kinds of cool places.
Do you have a favorite place to travel?
There are two places that are most near and dear to my heart because I’ve spent so much time in them. Definitely St Andrews, because I spent a sabbatical and several summers there. It’s almost become like a second home. I’ve also spent five months collectively in Siena, Italy. I’ve gone from being a tourist to having a sense of belonging. I have friends I look forward to seeing whenever I go back to St Andrews or Italy, so those are two places that I love.
Do you speak any other languages?
I speak French fairly well. As an undergraduate, I lived in a French-speaking house for four years, and then I did a sabbatical in 2011 in Paris. I’ve really been trying to keep up my French. Here at W&L, I try to go to the French table in the dining hall as often as I can. I did take two years of Japanese at W&L. I also took two years of German in college. And I’ve been working on Italian on my own for the Science of Cooking class.
It’s A Capital Deal Logan Bartlett ’10 makes the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for venture capitalism.
Logan Bartlett, the vice president of Battery Ventures in Boston, is on the Forbes 30 Under 3o list for his work in venture capital.
Forbes noted that the 2010 Washington and Lee University graduate “has helped deploy $65 million of capital across seven deals with Battery from his perch in New York and along the Amtrak corridor to Boston, attending board meetings alongside partner Neeraj Agrawal at Pendo, Appboy and Amplitude. Startups he’s worked with have raised more than $280 million in follow-on funding.”
Logan joined Battery Ventures in 2014. Previously, he worked for Spurrier Capital Partners as an investment banking associate and at Deutsche Bank as an investment banking analyst.
Scott Boyd Joins W&L’s Board of Trustees
Scott Boyd, who graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1986 with a B.S. in biology, was sworn in as a trustee of his alma mater on Feb. 10, in Lexington, Virginia.
He earned a doctorate of medicine from the Medical University of South Carolina in 1990 and received additional training in neurological surgery at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. Following a residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Boyd returned to practice in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, where he joined Columbia Neurosurgical Associates in private practice for 19 years.
In 2015, he founded the Lexington, South Carolina, Brain and Spine Institute. He currently serves as chief of neurosurgery for Lexington Medical Center.
Boyd has served W&L as a member of the Science Advisory Board since 2013. He was a member of the Class of 1986’s 25th reunion committee and co-chaired his 30th reunion committee. While at W&L he was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity.
He and his wife, Mary Morrison Chapman, are parents to Austin (USC Honors College ’15), Hugh (W&L ’17), Crawford (UVA ’19), and Anne Morrison (Hammond School).
Chip Mahan ’73 Embodies UNCW Seahawk’s Spirit His award honors his outstanding professional achievement and personal commitment to community engagement.
James “Chip” Mahan III, a 1973 graduate of Washington and Lee University, was named the 2017 Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington during its homecoming.
Chip, the founder, CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Live Oak Bank, received the award for his outstanding professional achievement and personal commitment to community engagement.
His résumé includes serving as CEO of S1 Corp., which became the first internet bank and grew into a $234 million software and services provider. Earlier in his career, he launched Cardinal Bancshares, was chairman and CEO of Citizens Union National Bank & Trust Co., and formed an investment group that purchased Citizens Union.
In the Wilmington area, Chip is noted for his numerous humanitarian and community activities. In 2014, he received the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Development Award for Outstanding Stewardship for creating a superior workplace environment, while preserving the longleaf pines and live oaks growing on the site.
Poverty, Mental Health and Public Policy — Canadian Style Professor Tim Diette testified before the Canadian House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Harry E. and Mary Jayne W. Redenbaugh Term Associate Professor of Economics, acting head of the Economics Department, faculty member of the Africana Studies Program and the Shepherd Poverty Program. He will become the associate dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics on July 1, 2017.
Principles of Microeconomics
Urban Education: Poverty, Ethnicity and Policy
Economics of Education
Q: You recently testified before the Canadian House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. How did you end up in the Great White North, and what did the committee want to know?
Yes, I landed in Ottawa in a snowstorm. My ancestors are from Quebec, which is right over the border from Ottawa, and I grew up in Vermont, so it was a bit of a homecoming for me.
My long-time collaborator and colleague, Art Goldsmith, and I had published, along with two other co-authors, a book chapter that focused on unemployment and mental health, and I think that work caught their eye. The Canadian standing committee was exploring poverty-reduction strategies and realized another issue they needed to consider as a contributing factor to poverty was adverse psychological consequences related to unemployment.
Before I flew up, I spent some time listening to audios of previous meetings and reading prior minutes and briefs. I could tell that the committee was examining unemployment from a number of perspectives and was interested in what factors lead to poverty.
Q: Who else joined you as expert witnesses?
I was the only American. I was joined by the president of McMaster Children’s Hospital and a doctor who worked in the hospital’s Child and Youth Mental Health Program. The third person was the executive director of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. We were each allowed an opening statement, followed by 100 minutes of lively questioning by the committee members. The other experts’ testimony built upon what I said, and we ended up covering a wide range of issues contributing to poor mental health, different levels of educational attainment, employment, and general well-being including drawing on other research with Art Goldsmith that examines effects of stalking, sexual abuse and violence in the home and the community.
In my opening statement, I focused on describing recent work that examined the impact of short-term unemployment of 26 weeks or less on mental health compared to longer spells of unemployment. It appears as though shorter bouts of unemployment are not particularly harmful. It tends to become more of a problem if a person is out of a job six months or longer. I also pointed out that that the negative effects of long-term unemployment are larger for blacks and Latinos, as well as among the more highly educated.
As I discussed the findings for my research, I also reminded policy makers that my conclusions are based on U.S. data. The impact of unemployment on mental health might be different in Canada — and even among different communities in Canada — which has a more robust set of social services to cushion the impact of joblessness. I took all the lessons I tell my students about being cautious in interpreting results from papers and put it into practice before the committee.
I also gave credit to the Shepherd Poverty Program for informing some of the testimony I was about to give. The program has given me the chance to interact in an interdisciplinary environment, to think more broadly than my traditional training might have led me to think, particularly the importance of sociology, philosophy and psychology and how much those disciplines play a role in economics.
It was one of the more rewarding professional experiences of my career. Nothing beats my great interactions with my students, but outside the teaching component, it’s exciting to see the ivory-tower research potentially be used to improve the lives of citizens. As a scholar, it’s why I do what I do.
Q: You’re team-teaching a class with the W&L Teacher Education program this spring.
This is the class on Urban Education — which also satisfies requirements for the Shepherd Poverty Program minor — where students will spend time in the schools in Chesterfield County, near Richmond. It will combine both the economics of education and views from the Teacher Education program with a service-learning component. I think looking at education from these two perspectives will generate a much richer conversation about education policy.
Q: You’re also developing a new Spring Term class that travels to Denmark.
I’m excited to be team-teaching this class with Haley Sigler, director of teacher education at W&L, which will explore childhood in Denmark. We’ll be doing a mini-practicum in the schools, where our students will teach a small lesson and visit with public and private schools in Copenhagen and also rural communities on the Jutland. They’ll also meet with a welfare board that deals with issues of school, child care and other family policies.
I want the students to be thinking about economic policy that supports childhood education. How does Denmark pay for and manage early childhood education and child care? What are the requirements for teacher licensure? How much testing should there be? These questions are very similar to what we ask ourselves in the U.S.
We may also visit an Islamic school so we can better understand the ethnic, racial, religious and cultural differences there. Denmark has excellent social services, but as a homogenous society that is dealing with an influx of immigrants, they are asking themselves if they want their taxes to be going to people who are different from them. In many ways, it’s not all that different from the questions we’re asking ourselves here in the U.S.