faculty research

Four distinguished SMU scholars named 2017 Ford Research Fellows

Four outstanding SMU professors were honored for their scholarship and research with 2017 Ford Research Fellowships. The awards were presented during the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, May 4.

This year’s recipients are Stephanie Al Otaiba, Teaching and Learning, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development; Jeffrey Kahn, Dedman School of Law; Zhong Lu, Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; and Bruce Marshall, Perkins School of Theology.

Established in 2002 through a $1 million pledge from trustee Gerald J. Ford, the fellowships help SMU retain and reward outstanding scholars. Each recipient receives a cash prize for research support during the year.

Stephanie Al Otaiba is the Patsy and Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Her research interests include school-based literacy interventions, response to intervention, learning disabilities, diverse learners, and teacher training. She has published more than 110 journal articles and book chapters and has also developed reading curricular materials. Her research has been supported by several federally funded grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and Office of Special Education Programs, and from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Jeffrey Kahn is a professor in Dedman School of Law whose areas of expertise include U.S. constitutional law, administrative law, Russian law, human rights and counterterrorism. His latest research focuses on the right to travel and national security law; his most recent book, Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists, critically examines the U.S. government’s no-fly list. Professor Kahn’s work on Russian law has been noted by name by the editors of The New York Times and published in various law reviews, as well as the peer-reviewed journals Post-Soviet Affairs and Review of Central and East European Law. Professor Kahn is a founding member of the Advisory Board of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Education Program and a Fellow of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies.

Zhong Lu is the Shuler-Foscue Endowed Chair and director of graduate studies in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. His geophysics research focuses on the use of satellite-borne radar to detect subtle changes in the earth’s surface preceding volcanic eruptions. He also researches volcano deformation, earthquake deformation mapping, fault geometry and modeling, and ground-water basin analysis. His work with InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) includes underground nuclear explosion monitoring, landslide monitoring and water-level changes of wetlands. Professor Lu has been awarded more than $3 million in grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Geological Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Bruce Marshall is the Lehman Professor of Christian Doctrine in Perkins School of Theology. He ranks among the top scholars in the world who conduct research and write about the most enduring and debated of Christian beliefs – namely, the doctrine of the Trinity. His research and writing focus on this doctrine, as well as the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. He is also an expert on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and has lectured widely throughout the United States and abroad on topics ranging from Trinitarian theology to Christology. Professor Marshall has written two books and more than 90 articles, book chapters, and reviews, and is a frequent speaker in both national and international venues.

Research: SMU study finds helicopter parenting harms boys and girls in different ways

Students Studying in Fondren Library CenterSMU researchers have found surprising gender differences in how college students react to misguided parenting. Their findings on the impact of helicopter parenting and fostering independence have been reported in a new article, “Helicopter Parenting, Autonomy Support, and College Students’ Mental Health and Well-being: The Moderating Role of Sex and Ethnicity,” in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Measuring both helicopter parenting as well as autonomy support — fostering independence — was important for the researchers to study, said family dynamics expert Chrystyna Kouros, SMU assistant professor of psychology and an author on the study.

“Just because mom and dad aren’t helicopter parents doesn’t necessarily mean they are supporting their young adult in making his or her own choices,” Kouros said. “The parent may be uninvolved, so we also wanted to know if parents are actually encouraging their student to be independent and make their own choices.”

The researchers found that young women are negatively affected by helicopter parenting, while young men suffer when parents don’t encourage independence.

“The sex difference was surprising,” said Kouros, an expert in adolescent depression. “In Western culture in particular, boys are socialized more to be independent, assertive and take charge, while girls are more socialized toward relationships, caring for others, and being expressive and compliant. Our findings showed that a lack of autonomy support — failure to encourage independence — was more problematic for males, but didn’t affect the well-being of females. Conversely, helicopter parenting — parents who are overinvolved — proved problematic for girls, but not boys.”

The study is unique in measuring the well-being of college students, said Kouros, director of SMU’s Family Health and Development Lab. The tendency in research on parenting has been to focus on the mental health of younger children.

“When researchers do focus on college students they tend to ask about academic performance, and whether students are engaged in school. But there haven’t been as many studies that look at mental health or well-being in relation to helicopter parenting,” she said.

Unlike children subjected to psychological control, in which parents try to instill guilt in their child, children of helicopter parents report a very close bond with their parents. Helicopter parents “hover” out of concern for their child, not from malicious intent, she said.

What helicopter parents don’t realize is that despite their good intentions to help their child, it actually does harm, said Naomi Ekas, a co-author on the study and assistant professor of psychology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

“They’re not allowing their child to become independent or learn problem-solving on their own, nor to test out and develop effective coping strategies,” Ekas said.

Young men that reported more autonomy support, measured stronger well-being in the form of less social anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms.

For young women, helicopter parenting predicted lower psychological well-being. They were less optimistic, felt less satisfaction with accomplishments, and were not looking forward to things with enjoyment, nor feeling hopeful. In contrast, lacking autonomy support wasn’t related to negative outcomes in females.

“The take-away is we have to adjust our parenting as our kids get older,” said Kouros. “Being involved with our child is really important. But we have to adapt how we are involved as they are growing up, particularly going off to college.”

Other co-authors on the study are Romilyn Kiriaki and Megan Sunderland, SMU Department of Psychology, and Megan M. Pruitt, Texas Christian University. The study was funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at UT-Austin.

— Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

Research: Hunting down cancer-causing viruses that hide from the immune system

Robert L. Harrod, Biology Lab ResearchSMU virologist and cancer researcher Robert L. Harrod has been awarded a $436,500 grant from the National Cancer Institute to further his lab’s research into how certain viruses cause cancers in humans.

Under two previous NCI grants, Harrod’s lab discovered that the human T-cell leukemia virus type-1, HTLV-1, and high-risk subtype human papillomaviruses, HPVs, share a common mechanism that plays a key role in allowing cancers to develop. Now the lab will search for the biological mechanism — a molecular target — to intervene to block establishment and progression of virus-induced cancers. The hope is to ultimately develop a chemotherapy drug to block the growth of those tumor cells in patients.

“The general theme of our lab is understanding the key molecular events involved in how the viruses allow cancer to develop,” said Harrod, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences whose research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of viral initiation of cancer formation.

While HTLV-1 and HPV are unrelated transforming viruses and lead to very different types of cancers, they’ve evolved a similar mechanism to cooperate with genes that cause cancer in different cell types. The lab discovered that the two viruses tap a common protein that cooperates with cellular genes to help the viruses hide from the immune system.

That common protein, the p30 protein of HTLV-1, binds to a different protein in the cell, p53, which normally has the job of suppressing cancerous growth or tumor development. Instead, however, p30 manages to subvert p53’s tumor suppressor functions, which in turn activates pro-survival pathways for the virus.

From there, the virus can hide inside the infected cell for two to three decades while evading host immune-surveillance pathways. As the cell divides, the virus divides and replicates. Then ultimately the deregulation of gene expression by viral encoded products causes cancer to develop.

“They are essentially using a similar mechanism, p30, to deregulate those pathways from their normal tumor-suppressing function,” Harrod said.

— Margaret Allen

> Read more about Rob Harrod’s research at SMUResearch.com

Research: New SMU study connects running motion to ground force

SMU researchers have developed a concise new explanation for the basic mechanics involved in human running. Their research has immediate application for running performance, injury prevention, rehab and the individualized design of running shoes, orthotics and prostheses.

The work integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force application on the ground – during jogging, sprinting and at all speeds in between.

The approach could enable the use of individualized gait patterns to optimize the design of shoes, orthoses and prostheses according to biomechanics experts Kenneth Clark, Laurence Ryan and Peter Weyand, who authored the new study.

The ground force-time patterns determine the body’s motion coming out of each step and therefore directly determine running performance. The impact portion of the pattern is also believed to be a critical factor for running injuries.

“The human body is mechanically complex, but our new study indicates that the pattern of force on the ground can be accurately understood from the motion of just two body parts,” said Clark, first author on the study and currently an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“The foot and the lower leg stop abruptly upon impact, and the rest of the body above the knee moves in a characteristic way,” Clark said. “This new simplified approach makes it possible to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground — from impact to toe-off — with very basic motion data.”

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

SMU professors Zachary Wallmark, Sabri Ates earn 2017 NEH grants

Zachary Wallmark

Zachary Wallmark

The National Endowment for the Humanities has named SMU professors Zachary Wallmark and Sabri Ates as fellowship grant recipients in January – the only two recipients in North Texas for the current funding cycle.

Wallmark, assistant professor and chair of music history in Meadows School of the Arts, is using music studies, cognitive sciences and original brain imaging experiments to research the nature of our emotional response to music.

“I am deeply honored to receive this recognition,” Wallmark said. “With the support of the NEH, I hope in my work to help people better understand music’s grip on human emotion and imagination.”

Sabri Ates

Sabri Ates

Ates, associate professor in the Clements Department of History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is drawing on a variety of archival sources from different languages to write Sheikh Abdulqadir Nehri (d. 1925) and the Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan. In the book, Ates will explore the quest for a Kurdish state between 1880-1925, when the creation of such a state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled.

“What this grant tells us is that our work has national relevance,” Ates said. “Recognition of SMU’s faculty work by a prestigious institution like NEH further cements SMU’s standing as a research university. With the support of NEH, I hope to answer one of the enduring questions of the contemporary Middle East: the Kurdish statelessness.”

> Read the full story from SMU News

Research: Rare inscription names mysterious Etruscan goddess

Greg Warden with Etruscan steleArchaeologists translating a very rare inscription have discovered the name of a goddess in a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone.

The discovery indicates that Uni – a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place – may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization.

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” said SMU professor emeritus Gregory Warden. The University is the main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

“It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

Scientists discovered the ancient stone slab embedded as part of a temple wall at the Poggio Colla dig, where many other Etruscan objects have been found, including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla, Warden said.

Poggia Colla steleNow Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound stele to translate the text. It’s very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.

“The location of its discovery – a place where prestigious offerings were made – and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character,” said Adriano Maggiani, formerly professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription.

“It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary — a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space,” said Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project that made the discovery.

Warden said it will be easier to speak with more certainty once the archaeologists are able to completely reconstruct the text, which consists of as many as 120 characters or more.

While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before – particularly since this discovery is not a funerary text. Permanent Etruscan inscriptions are rare, as Etruscans typically used linen cloth books or wax tablets. The texts that have been preserved are quite short and are from graves.

Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date. The sandstone slab, which dates to the 6th century BCE and is nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, was discovered in the final stages of two decades of digging at Mugello Valley, which is northeast of Florence in north central Italy.

Other objects unearthed in the past 20 years have shed light on Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. The material helps document ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE.

— Margaret Allen

> Read the full story and see more images at SMUResearch.com

SMU NCAR meets challenge grant, announces $1 million in gifts for arts research

Donna Wilhelm photo by Kim Leeson

Donna Wilhelm (photo by Kim Leeson)

SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) announced that it has successfully met a $500,000 challenge grant from Dallas philanthropist and civic leader Donna Wilhelm, raising a total of $1 million in 2015 for research, programs and services.

The purpose of the challenge grant, given by Wilhelm in February 2015 with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, was to generate $500,000 for operating support for the center. Wilhelm’s matching funds will endow a new Wilhelm Research Fellow for NCAR. The center, which was established in 2012 by the University’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public.

“The National Center for Arts Research has broken new ground in analyzing and interpreting data about the arts and cultural field in the U.S.,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “NCAR’s thought-provoking research is already helping both new and established arts organizations across the country. The University is grateful to benefactor Donna Wilhelm and the donors who supported the challenge grant for their dedication to the important work of the Center.”

An NCAR advisory board member who has supported the center since its founding, Wilhelm approached NCAR with the offer of the challenge grant. “As a donor, I fund initiatives that serve broad needs and have leveraged impact,” said Wilhelm. “The National Center for Arts Research established at SMU, where scholarly excellence and innovation thrives, met my philanthropic goal.  I also believe in strategic investing.  My challenge grant was structured to sustain operating support for NCAR and establish a Research Fellow endowment.  Thanks to generous and visionary donors, we achieved both.  Donors collaborating were able to empower the unlimited potential of NCAR and foster the health of arts organizations nationwide – I salute this amazing teamwork.”

Individual donors and foundations who contributed to help NCAR meet the challenge grant include Jennifer and Peter Altabef; Belle and Don Berg; Diane and Hal Brierley; Melissa and Trevor Fetter; Ann and Trey Fielder; Carol and Don Glendenning/Locke Lord LLP; Ann and Lee Hobson; T.J. Brown & C.A. Lupton Foundation/Kit Moncrief; Communities Foundation of Texas; M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation; Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation; The Sarah and Ross Perot, Jr. Foundation; Vin and Caren Prothro Foundation/Perkins-Prothro Foundation; and the Tolleson Family Foundation.

“In a few short years, NCAR has placed Meadows at the epicenter of evidence-based insight into the arts ecosystem with the underlying purpose of helping arts leaders make better decisions,” said Meadows Dean Samuel Holland. “This significant gift from Donna Wilhelm and all those who contributed to meeting the challenge will allow us to sharpen our focus, build scale, and extend the reach of NCAR to places where its work is most needed.”

The first Wilhelm Research Fellow is Richard Briesch, professor of marketing in the Cox School. Briesch holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Northwestern, an M.B.A. from Rice and a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from Carnegie Mellon.

“Rick has been working with NCAR since we launched in 2012,” said Zannie Voss, director of NCAR.  “He is one of the most well-respected econometricians in the country and specializes in consumer behavior.”

Voss added, “We are so grateful to Donna Wilhelm and our additional generous donors for endowing the research fellowship and providing critical operating support that will help NCAR continue its dedicated work to help arts and cultural organizations nationwide.”

> Read the full story from SMU News

Tune In: SMU students take on CNN

SMU students at CNNRita Kirk, SMU communications professor and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, recently took three students to New Hampshire to visit presidential headquarters and organize focus groups for CNN during the Iowa Caucus. As a CNN analyst herself, Kirk has the opportunity to bring students as part of her research staff and throw them into a high-paced, challenging, exciting and demanding atmosphere.

Students put together a focus group of 60 independent voters, gathered poll data, and analyzed the data in real-time. They had to be in control of every piece of data that came across them. They visited different campaign field offices and ended the trip by helping Dr. Kirk run her focus group on live international television.

Learn more and read the perspective of a student on this trip at the SMU Adventures blog

Three years of ‘educational diplomacy’ between SMU and Pakistan culminate in 2015 Islamabad conference

Workshop participants at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University

Participants in a workshop at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University. (Photo courtesy of thePeshawar.com)

Two professors and a clinical graduate student from SMU’s Department of Psychology will travel halfway around the world to help the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University (SBBWU) of Peshawar, Pakistan, host an international psychology conference in Islamabad on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

The conference, “Advancing Women Issues: Local and Global Directions,” will feature 55 speakers and 400 participants from across the region. It’s the culminating effort of a three-year partnership between SMU and SBBWU supported by a $1.2 million U.S. State Department grant.

“I look at it as educational diplomacy,” says SMU Psychology Department Chair George Holden. “The U.S. State Department wanted to do something to help relations between the countries and recognized the need to help Pakistan develop its educational system so the Pakistanis can better improve their country.”

At the conference, Holden will present the SMU and SBBWU’s joint research on trauma in Peshawar, where the threat of a terrorist’s bomb is never far from mind. During a Friday, Dec. 11 workshop, SMU psychology professor Lorelei Rowe and graduate student Rose Ashraf will present the latest version of Rowe’s popular psychological assessment tool, SCID-5, which helps doctors diagnose their patients through an interview-like examination process.

Other presenters will focus on topics such as promoting the well-being of women and children in Pakistan and the impact of Nepal’s earthquake on Nepalese women and children.

The SMU-SBBWU partnership is one of 20 funded by the State Department. All 20 partnerships connect American universities with universities in Pakistan or Afghanistan. SMU’s grant also brought SBBWU students and faculty to SMU, where they interacted with SMU students and faculty in an exchange of ideas and education.

— Kenny Ryan

SMU Prof. George Holden to speak at congressional briefing on corporal punishment in public schools Nov. 18, 2015

George Holden, SMU Professor of Psychology

George Holden, SMU Professor of Psychology

SMU Professor and Psychology Department Chair George Holden will speak before a congressional briefing titled “Spare the Rod: Protect the Child” from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18 in Washington D.C.

Holden, a leading expert on parenting, discipline and family, will participate in a panel designed to tackle the ongoing phenomena of corporal punishment in schools – which is still legal in 19 states, including Texas, though outlawed in Dallas and the state’s other metropolitan areas.

“There’s very limited research about the impact of corporal punishment in schools, but what research is available is focused on how much it’s used and to whom its used on,” Holden says. “It’s mostly used on minority students and students with disabilities.”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida, is hosting the briefing, which will be attended by congressional staffers. Hastings’ goal, says Holden, is to introduce a bill that will outlaw corporal punishment and paddling of children in schools.

Holden believes this is the second recent attempt to pass such a bill. In 2011, New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy introduced a bill called the “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act,” which failed to make it out of committee.

The 19 states where corporal punishment in schools is still legal are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

– Kenny Ryan

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