2018 Alumni Fall 2018 July 2018 News

Congratulations to the XPRIZE team!

A puzzle-solving smartphone game designed by SMU and Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) experts to teach struggling adults to read was today named one of five finalists in an international competition. Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis is a finalist for the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation.
A recent pilot study at SMU found that low-literate, English-language learner adults who played the game for two or more hours a week significantly improved their literacy skills after eight weeks. Anecdotal evidence also shows their improved reading skills also have improved their lives, ranging from a grandmother who finally gained the confidence to speak with her granddaughter in English, to co-workers who praised a participant’s improved language skills.
“Clearly we are very proud to have advanced in this important competition,” says Stephanie Knight, dean of SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, which provided faculty expertise in the literacy and instructional design  of the game. “We are committed to finding a successful, accessible teaching tool for low-literacy adults. And we know we are on the right track when we hear that one of our study participants gets to hear her children clap every time her reading skills improve enough for her to advance in the game.”
Finalists were selected based on field-testing performance. The SMU-LIFT team will be recognized Saturday, June 23 at the American Library Association annual meeting in New Orleans, along with the other finalists. Each finalist will be awarded a $100,000 prize.
In January 2019, X-Prize will present the team with the most effective app with $3 million, plus $1 million apiece to the apps with the best performance among native English speakers and non-native speakers.
Read more about People ForWords in SMU Magazine.

2018 July 2018 News

Game on: Esports event debuts in September

SMU Guildhall, the top ranked graduate school for video game design in the world, in collaboration with eGency Global, one of North America’s most experienced esports production, marketing and talent management firms, have announced the launch of OP Live Dallas — a premier esports event featuring high-level professional competition, a 16-team collegiate tournament, a hackathon for high-schoolers and a showcase for the work of SMU Guildhall master’s degree candidates in interactive technology.
OP Live Dallas will run September 22-23, 2018 on the main floor of the Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas.
“We are excited to be part of this collaborative effort with eGency Global,” said Mark Nausha, Deputy Director of GameLab at SMU Guildhall. “OP Live will be interactive, immersive, and unique from typical esports events. We look forward to bringing this awesome fan experience to the Dallas area.”
Through their collaboration, eGency Global and SMU Guildhall will offer esports fans a unique and more robust experience than traditional esports events, the collaborators say. Beyond the interactive and engaging experience, OP Live Dallas will also showcase the multitude of career opportunities available to video game and esports devotees. SMU Guildhall alumni work for the biggest names in the video gaming industry, as well as in gamification sectors in a multitude of other industries like tech, education, business and medical.
Read more at SMU News.

2018 July 2018 News

A win-win for Mustangs and local heroes

Honor those who serve our country and communities by purchasing football tickets through the 7-Eleven Seats for Heroes program, and make plans to attend the Salute to Our Heroes game on September 22 against Navy and the First Responders Appreciation game against Houston Baptist on September 29 during Family Weekend.
Read more and purchase tickets at SMU Athletics.

2018 July 2018 News

‘The universal language of kindness’

Mission trips are about leaving a place better than you found it, building relationships, appreciating a different culture and discovering a new perspective. In May, a group of student-athletes and staff did just that while helping the village of Silver Creek in Belize as Courts for Kids volunteers.
For some, it was the first time outside of the United States. For others, it was the first time without vacation plans or an athletics team jersey to compete in scheduled games or events. The trip only lasted 10 days, but the adventure will have a lifelong impact on both the people of Silver Creek and the travelers from SMU.
Swimmer Keegan Pho said about the time in Silver Creek, “Living in Silver Creek Village allowed me to experience and become immersed in a different culture. I will be forever changed. There is something special about the universal language of kindness.”
Swimmer Nathan Ciatti described the as transformative. “I am walking away from a 10-day service trip with lifelong friends that I am interconnected with on a whole different level than my teammates and other friends back home… Throughout our many nightly conversations after dinner, it was very evident that this trip heavily impacted all of us.”
Read more at SMU Athletics.

2018 July 2018 News

For some, it’s not just about the music

Higher empathy people appear to process music like a pleasurable proxy for a human encounter — in the brain regions for reward, social awareness and regulation of social emotions, according to a study by researchers at SMU and UCLA.
The researchers found that compared to low empathy people, those with higher empathy process familiar music with greater involvement of the reward system of the brain, as well as in areas responsible for processing social information.
“High-empathy and low-empathy people share a lot in common when listening to music, including roughly equivalent involvement in the regions of the brain related to auditory, emotion, and sensory-motor processing,” said lead author Zachary Wallmark, an assistant professor in the SMU Meadows School of the Arts.
But there is at least one significant difference.
Highly empathic people process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the areas activated when feeling empathy for others. They also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by increased activation of the reward system.
Read more at SMU Research.

2018 July 2018 News

Big idea: Nanoscale surgical robots

MinJun Kim builds the type of “nanoscale transformers” that once existed only in the vivid imaginations of science fiction writers. Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering and the Robert C. Womack Chair in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, creates tiny robots “that may one day perform surgery, deliver drugs directly to tumors and help doctors see what’s happening inside the body’s hardest-to-reach spaces,” according to a story published by The Dallas Morning News on June 1, 2018.

By Anna Kuchment
Science Writer
The Dallas Morning News

MinJun Kim says he “got a shock” in graduate school when he discovered the science fiction film Fantastic Voyage.

In the movie, a submarine crew shrinks down to miniature size and travels through a scientist’s body to save him from a dangerous blood clot in his brain.

Today, Kim builds robots the size of particles, viruses and microbes that are capable of doing many of the same things as the Fantastic Voyage crew. He creates tiny devices — about 500 times thinner than a human hair — that may one day perform surgery, deliver drugs directly to tumors and help doctors see what’s happening inside the body’s hardest-to-reach spaces.

“They are kind of like nanoscale transformers,” says Kim, 46,  a professor at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. He’s a fan of sci-fi and credits films like Fantastic VoyageInner Space and Big Hero 6 for inspiring his work. He was surprised that the makers of Fantastic Voyage, which came out in 1966, could have foreseen many of the projects he’s working on today.

Read the full story.

2018 July 2018 News

Crunching data to crush bacteria

Peng Tao, assistant professor in SMU’s Department of Chemistry, received the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award to support his research in fighting antimicrobial resistance. Tao’s innovative strategy involves developing computational methods and an advanced theoretical framework to predict protein evolution.
“There are a special group of proteins called beta-lactamases in bacteria causing infections,” explains Tao. “The main function of these proteins is destroying antibiotics. And these proteins evolve very quickly leading to so-called ‘superbugs’. We are developing theoretical models to understand how these proteins carry out their functions as machines and predict how these machines may evolve when encountering new antibiotics. If successful, our models could be used by other researchers and pharmaceutical companies to develop new generation of antibiotics with low or even no antimicrobial resistance.”
The insight this research yields will have instrumental applications in the advancement of biomedical and pharmaceutical development.
In addition, Tao and his team are equipping and encouraging future scientists by developing online educational tools and conducting social media outreach to make science education more widely available for students and general public.
Read more at the National Science Foundation.

2018 July 2018 News

Research and mentorship honored

Paleobotanist Bonnie Jacobs, professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, has been named a Paleontological Society Fellow for her contributions to the field of Cenozoic paleobotany as well as her stellar mentorship of students and postdoctoral researchers. She was particularly lauded for her transformative research on the Cenozoic vegetation and climate of Africa.
“The research I am working on with colleagues and students is aimed at understanding how tropical ecosystems in Africa came to be what they are today, and more specifically, how they were impacted in the past by global climate changes, first and foremost,” explains Jacobs. “I am always thrilled by the discovery of new fossils, but the most joyful, rewarding part of my work comes from friendships developed through shared experiences in the field, and through collaboration in research. There is great fun in that, and in learning from others, including postdocs and students. The work and these relationships have been and are a tremendous part of my life, I am very grateful for that, and it is what makes the honor of this award so sweet.”
The Paleontological Society selects fellows who have made significant contributions to paleontology through research, teaching, or service to the profession. Jacobs has been a member of the Paleontological Society for more than a decade and is one of three fellows to be elected this year.

2018 Alumni Fall 2018 July 2018

Plunging into green engineering

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2018 Alumni July 2018

From Big D to the Big Apple

Dancer Kelly Zitka ’15 intended to land a job in marketing, but the allure of the stage won out. SMU Meadows recently profiled the up-and-coming performer who has added acting and singing to her repertoire with an eye toward a career in musical theater on Broadway.

By Diamond Victoria

Launching from the classroom to the Big Apple, Meadows alumna Kelly Zitka knows that perseverance and a little spontaneity can help to find footing in the world of performance art.

The dance and business major now calls New York home, and is learning more about the world of dance theater through rigorous training and auditioning. Staying in New York for good, however, was never part of her original plan. But with growing insight into her art, Zitka is betting that risking uncertainty can pay off.

Zitka traveled to New York at the end of January for what she considered a temporary refresher in dance training and auditioning. “It was kind of a spontaneous decision and I thought I would only stay for a month. But now, I’m not sure if I plan on leaving,” she says.

Read more at SMU Meadows.

2018 Alumni July 2018 News

ICYMI: In Case You Missed It

Enjoy this roundup of interesting videos and stories highlighting some of the people and events making news on the Hilltop.