2017 March 2017 News

In Case You Missed It: March 2017

In case you missed it this month, please enjoy these quick links to cool stories and interesting videos!

2017 March 2017 News

Register for learning adventures

Skill-building projects in coding, programming and robotics are among the new additions to the SMU Summer Youth Program at SMU-in-Plano. Weekly workshops are offered for students entering grades K-12 from June 5 through August 4. Popular classes fill early, so register today. Use the code ALUMSY17 at checkout for 20 percent off.
Read more at SMU Summer Youth Programs.

2017 Alumni March 2017 News

Mastering tech entrepreneurship

Coming this fall: SMU’s new master of science degree in engineering entrepreneurship. The program will focus on technology development through a business lens with the aim of providing managers and entrepreneurs with the skills they need to start and lead new technology ventures.

2017 March 2017 News

Revealing a hidden star

It’s 7,000 light years away from Earth, but a rare pulsating star identified recently by SMU astrophysicists could shed new light on scientists’ understanding of the universe’s expansion. As big as or bigger than our sun, the new delta Scuti is one of only seven known stars of its kind in our Milky Way galaxy.

2017 March 2017 News

May the force be with you

Want to run faster? A new study by SMU researchers simplifies the physics of running, enabling scientists to predict ground force patterns that determine performance. Their work also has immediate applications for shoe, orthotic and prostheses design as well as injury prevention and rehabilitation.

2017 March 2017 News

Remembering Professor Dennis Simon

Dennis Simon, an award-winning professor and mentor to University students since 1986 and a leader of SMU’s Civil Rights Pilgrimage, died February 12 in Dallas after a long illness. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 3, in Perkins Chapel at SMU. The family requests that memorial gifts go to the Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

2017 March 2017 News

Bridging the digital divide

SMU student Eskinder Abebe’s eyes light up when you ask about his favorite project. While he fuses his passion for art and science in everything from videos to futuristic gadgets, Abebe is really excited about working with the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity on designing an inexpensive “inclusive” tablet.

2017 March 2017 News

Festivities, football and fun!

Founders’ Day Weekend, April 6–9, kicks off on Thursday with Golden Mustangs Day and continues on Friday with Sing Song. Saturday’s Community Day activities include family fun at the Meadows Museum and the Mustang Fan Fair and the spring football game. See the full schedule, and make plans now to come home to the Hilltop this spring.

2017 Alumni March 2017

SMU Alumnus Michael Trusnovec’s Life Of Dance

Shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in dance performance at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, Michael Trusnovec ’96 joined Paul Taylor’s renowned modern dance company. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News published on February 7, 2017, he talked about his lifelong obsession with dance and obsessively watching videotapes of Paul Taylor Dance Company performances in the library as an SMU student.
By Manuel Mendoza
The Dallas Morning News
When he landed at Southern Methodist University in the early 1990s on a full scholarship, Michael Trusnovec was aiming for career in musical theater. Then the Long Island native discovered the choreography of Paul Taylor.

Michael Trusnovec and Eran Bugge in Esplanade. Photo by Paul B. Goode/Courtesy of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance

“I saw the theatricality of Broadway all of a sudden taken to a whole different level in his work, a much deeper level,” Trusnovec says. “It’s not just about a bunch of people on stage executing movement. There’s a purpose and a meaning behind these dances, even if it’s just a mood and not necessarily a story. There’s no way I can execute a Taylor dance without thinking about who I am in that dance, and that fed my appetite for theatricality.”
More than two decades later, he is such a key member of Taylor’s New York-based company that Trusnovec is considered a potential successor to the 86-year-old modern dance pioneer when he retires as artistic director. Trusnovec joined Taylor’s junior troupe shortly after graduating from SMU in 1996, and he never left.
Now he’s back in town this week as Paul Taylor American Modern Dance prepares to perform at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. Taylor and the Eisemann have a relationship that dates back to the center’s opening in 2002, when it presented the premiere of Taylor’s Dream Girls, commissioned by the city of Richardson.
Saturday’s show will be the company’s eighth appearance at the Eisemann and will include the third premiere of the partnership, former Taylor dancer Lila York’s Continuum. Rounding out the program is a pair of Taylor classics, Books of Beasts (1971) and Cascade (1999).
Performed to Max Richter’s re-composition of Vivald’s The Four Seasons, Continuum is the latest example of the company’s expansion of its repertory beyond Taylor’s choreography. Trusnovec describes it as highly formal and structured, with warlike fight scenes and movement that starts stiff and staccato and evolves to become lighter and more open.

2017 Features March 2017 March 2017 Main News Spring 2017

It’s Not Just Research. It’s Also Personal.

It’s a scorching July afternoon, a few weeks before summer term ends and fall classes begin. Strains of conversation, followed by a burst of laughter, waft through the hallway that leads to Patty Wisian-Neilson’s chemistry lab in Fondren Life Sciences Building. Inside, Patricia Nance ’17 checks a beaker filled halfway with a milky polymer as it gyrates on a magnetic stirrer. Everything is going smoothly today, but when she hits a snag in the lab, Nance has a tried-and-true formula for shaking off disappointment and moving forward.
“Thinking of my grandmother’s battle with breast cancer reminds me that my research has a real purpose: to benefit the millions of women around the world who might one day find themselves in her situation,” Nance says. “Looking at it from that perspective makes any setbacks seem minor.”
With help from “Dr. Patty,” as Nance calls her professor and mentor, the SMU senior shaped an Engaged Learning project inspired by her grandmother’s fight for good health and fueled by her passion for inorganic chemistry.
For the past two years, the chemistry and math major has been developing a new antibacterial polymer, or coating, for breast implants.
“Synthesizing antibacterial polymers has been a project in Dr. Patty’s laboratory for some time now. When I inherited the work, the results did not look very promising. Instead of attempting to fix the procedures, Dr. Patty and I designed a new method of synthesizing these polymers,” Nance explains. “This made me feel as if my project were contributing something original to the work of the group. I also shifted the focus of my project after reading about some of the issues encountered with reconstructive breast surgery for mastectomy patients.”
Post-mastectomy breast reconstruction using saline or silicone gel implants is part of the recovery process for many women. However, their bodies have a difficult time combating infection-causing bacteria because their immune systems have been weakened by radiation and chemotherapy.
“The infection rate at the implant site is about 30 percent in post-mastectomy patients, compared to about three percent in those undergoing a standard enhancement procedure,” Nance explains.
She’s on a mission to even out the equation for women like her 75-year-old grandmother, “who has officially beaten breast cancer twice.” The high-energy septuagenarian loves to hike in the mountains and travel, and her determination to maintain an active lifestyle influenced her decision more than a decade earlier to eschew reconstructive implants, her granddaughter says. “She read about the risks and didn’t feel it was safe enough.”
Personalizing her research is one of many examples of how Nance’s independent spirit infuses all aspects of her University experience. Always game to try a new challenge, she enrolled in an arts and culture course at SMU-in-London last summer. Participants were encouraged to “become Londoners” and put their own stamp on the five-week experience. Even though she had not traveled out of the United States before, she relished living on her own and exploring the rich history and cultural diversity of England’s capital.
The chance to make her mark on the world as a student, her way, is what drew her to SMU in the first place.
“When I visited SMU, it was immediately clear that the school would be a good fit for me. During my tour I learned about undergraduate research opportunities, which were very important to me as a future researcher,” she says. “SMU really excels at providing undergraduates with opportunities to work closely with professors on important research with real impact. You don’t get that at other universities.”

Mentors shape a star researcher

Nance attributes her academic drive to strong women mentors who “recognized something in me I didn’t recognize in myself.”
It’s almost impossible to picture now, but in middle school she was the poster child for academic underachievement. At 13, her stepfather’s job took the family from the only home she had known in Raleigh, North Carolina, to “the tiniest place I had ever seen,” Santo, Texas, population 315 – about a two-hour drive west of Dallas. She was not happy, and her low grades showed it.
Nance’s high school science teacher Rita Elizabeth Tallant remembers “a young girl who was exceptionally bright but trying to find who she was and where she fit in.”
When Nance was placed in Tallant’s biology class, part of the school’s distinguished achievement program, she thought it was a mistake and tried to switch. “In my mind, I definitely wasn’t going to college,” she remembers. “I planned to go to cosmetology school.”
Tallant had other plans for her reluctant student. She served as the science coach for state UIL and Science Olympiad competitions, and eventually persuaded Nance to participate in her sophomore year. She thrived, winning numerous ribbons and medals, and eventually asked Tallant to find a university professor who could tutor her for a complex chemistry event.
Nance graduated at the top of her class of 47 from Santo High School four years ago and chose SMU as the best path to pursue a degree in evolutionary biology.
On the Hilltop, she found another mentor in “Dr. Patty.”
Wisian-Neilson made an indelible impression on Nance on the first day of her General Chemistry I introductory class. “Dr. Patty is famous for her ‘Welcome to College’ speech, and I was really intimidated by it. She had office hours after class, and I went in immediately and introduced myself by saying, ‘Hi, I’m Patricia, and I’m really terrified by your class.’ We’ve been close ever since.”
The professor’s classroom lecture made it clear the subject wasn’t easy, but in private she assured the first-year student that if Nance knew enough to be worried, she probably didn’t need to be.
After more than 30 years as an educator and researcher at SMU, Wisian-Neilson knows a serious scholar when she meets one. She instantly recognized Patricia’s “unusually strong work ethic and superb determination and, of course, amazing intelligence.”
Since joining the University in 1984, the chemistry professor has earned numerous accolades, including the President’s Associates Outstanding Faculty Award in 2013 and the Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor designation in 2005.
Like Nance, she grew up in a small town with limited resources and opportunities for budding scientists, yet managed to flourish because of caring teachers who recognized her potential. In another parallel in their stories, Wisian-Neilson didn’t discover how much she enjoyed chemistry until she began working in a lab as an undergraduate at Texas Lutheran College. Her involvement in polymer research now predates the birth of most of her students.
“I was part of what I call the ‘Sputnik Generation,’ so there was a recognition that science would be important to the future,” she says.

In the chemistry lab, ‘a team of equals’

While Nance started out doing research in a biology lab, by the spring of her first year, she had fallen in love with chemistry and switched her major. The summer after her sophomore year, she joined Wisian-Neilson’s research team, and the professor moved back into the lab to train her.
Her professor characterizes the event a bit differently: “I moved back into the lab to work with her. Note the ‘with,’ because I felt like we were a team of equals,” Wisian-Neilson says. “Within a few weeks, she was making suggestions for the project and designing her own direction for making biomedical coatings. We had discussions, not lectures.”
The work was intense but exhilarating, Nance says.
“The precursor to the polymer is air sensitive, so it’s not something you necessarily learn in your class labs,” she explains. “I was working with new materials, glassware and techniques to make sure the product is never exposed to air. You learn about safety really quickly because the product is reactive to air.”
Nance’s research involves polyphosphazenes, a versatile class of hybrid inorganic polymers with a phosphorous-nitrogen backbone. Because of their structural diversity and biocompatibility, they may ultimately be deployed in a multitude of biomedical applications, from drug delivery systems to tissue engineering.
Her contribution to the field will be a coating that attaches directly to synthetic implants. The coating should thwart bacterial colonization that causes serious infections in women who have undergone breast cancer treatment.

Scholarships create a platform for success

While on her scientific quest, Nance receives crucial support from the Hamilton Undergraduate Research Scholars Program in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and SMU Engaged Learning.
A gift from the late Jack and Jane Hamilton established the scholars program in 2008. The competitive funding opportunity allows promising students like Nance to collaborate with distinguished faculty members on significant research. The program has grown from nine students in its inaugural academic year to 31 today.
Dan Hamilton ’71, ’79 and Diane Hamilton Buford continue to fund the program to honor their parents. In March 2016, they and other family members attended the annual Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute celebration for undergraduate research scholars, where Nance and other students explained their work and talked about their progress.
“It has been exciting to see our father’s vision grow over the years,” Dan Hamilton says. “Education was his priority, and he would be so proud to see what these students are accomplishing. The level of their research is amazing.”
As a Hamilton Scholar, Nance is compensated for working up to 10 hours per week in the lab on her project.
“Getting paid to do research is still so amazing to me. Not only am I able to do what I love, but I’m also able to devote large amounts of time to it because I’m not having to work a second job for living expenses,” she says. “It’s not common for a student my age to really love his or her job, but I am so passionate about my work. That’s something I wouldn’t be able to say without the Hamilton Undergraduate Research Program.”
An Engaged Learning Fellowship supplies additional funding for her signature project. The program challenges students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to capstone-level research. The successful completion of a project is recorded on a student’s SMU transcript, a valuable distinction for those applying to graduate school or seeking a first job.
In August, Nance and another SMU student researcher, Shreya Patel ’17, presented posters and discussed their individual Engaged Learning projects at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Philadelphia.
“It was the first time I had been in such a large group of scientists, and it made me feel that I have so much still to learn, but I was also pleased by how much I understood,” she says. “Other scientists had great feedback about our work. It really helped to have new sets of eyes on the project. I also met research developers who expressed interest in perhaps working with us, so that was encouraging.”
The experience was so valuable that she plans to attend to the ACS spring meeting in San Francisco in April.
Nance also receives merit-based Harold Jeskey and Lazenby scholarships from the Department of Chemistry, a tuition scholarship from the Dedman College and Southwestern Medical Center Graduate School of Biomedical Science BRITE collaborative, and was one of the Texas students who received a STEM Columbia Crew Memorial Scholarship. Additionally, she was named a 2016-17 Barry Goldwater Scholar, a national scholarship presented to top science, mathematics and engineering students nominated by their universities.
“The chemistry department does so much for its students, from providing teaching assistant jobs to writing countless recommendation letters. They even provide departmental scholarships, which have significantly eased my own financial burden,” she says. “I am so lucky to be a part of such an amazing department that truly cares for each of its students.”
Her final semester in Dr. Patty’s lab has been bittersweet for both student and mentor.
“We really do become a family in the lab, so it’s hard to see students go,” Wisian-Neilson says. “But I really can’t be too sad because they are going on to what we’ve been preparing them for.
“I give her credit for putting the ‘oomph’ back into my research program,” she adds. “This semester there is a new graduate student and four undergraduates. I am not sure this would have happened without Patricia’s enthusiasm and passion.”
Nance has applied to top graduate schools, where she plans to continue inorganic chemistry and delve into nanoscience.
“I’m hoping to find a graduate program similar to the undergraduate chemistry program I’ve found here at SMU: a department full of amazing and personable chemists who value both teaching and research,” she says. “I am looking for another program that cherishes its students both as chemists and as people while pushing them to become better scientists.”
– By Patricia Ward

2017 Features March 2017 News Spring 2017

SMU Law Clinic Gives Fresh Start To Families In Distress

When third-year law student May Crockett ’17 entered the VanSickle Family Law Clinic program, she expected “to gain practical lawyering experience.” What she never anticipated was the life-altering impact her work would have – on her clients and her future.
The high point of her two semesters with the clinic in SMU’s Dedman School of Law was handling an adoption from the beginning to a happy ending. The action protected children from a perilous situation, driving home the magnitude of Crockett’s role as a legal advocate and emotional anchor.
“I didn’t realize I would become an integral part of my clients’ lives. Whether it is finalizing an adoption or helping them through a difficult divorce, my clients rely on me heavily,” Crockett says. “Without the clinic, these clients would have no one to turn to.”
SMU’s community clinics open doors to legal services for low-income North Texas residents unable to afford representation. One of the newest among 10 clinical programs and projects offered by the Dedman School of Law, the VanSickle Family Law Clinic launched in January 2016 under the direction of Chante Prox. Prior to joining SMU, Prox was managing attorney and mediator with Barnes Prox Law, PLLC.
“Having built my own practice, I was excited to take that experience and apply it to the challenge of shaping a clinical program from scratch,” she says.
Helping families heal lies at the heart of the clinic’s mission – and is a cause Prox has embraced throughout her career. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and started out as a caseworker with Texas Child Protective Services (CPS). What she saw there was a revelation for someone who grew up in a stable home.
“Our family wasn’t perfect – no family is – but my parents always made sure I felt safe, secure and loved,” she remembers. “They were my first role models. Thanks to their example, I knew what it takes for a family to be strong and healthy.”
In contrast, many of her cases at CPS involved children whose parents were debilitated by drug abuse and whose grandparents were raising them. Prox later became a champion for those “second-time parents” while serving as a legislative aide for Texas State Senator Royce West. She recommended the “Grandparents Bill” West sponsored to provide financial assistance to grandparents raising their grandchildren to keep them out of the foster care system and preserve their family ties. Tenets of the bill have been adopted in federal kinship care legislation.
In a prophetic twist in Prox’s life, divorce pushed her to take a leap she had been considering for years, and she enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. When she moved out of the classroom and into the courtroom as a student attorney, it reinforced her passion for the legal profession and family law. She has been an enthusiastic booster of clinical programs ever since.
Prox says it takes a special breed of attorney – part therapist, part legal ninja – to handle the emotional highs and lows involved with family law proceedings. Things get personal as attorneys navigate the choppy legal waters surrounding some of life’s most stressful changes.
“You are often more than a lawyer assessing and advising clients on their legal rights,” she explains. “Clients frequently come in with a lot of baggage and issues. Acting as an effective advocate for them requires listening, understanding and patience. It’s an area of law that you really have an affinity for or you don’t.”
Student attorneys see the full spectrum of the field when they work in the VanSickle Family Law Clinic, which functions much like a family law firm. The clinic handles divorce, child custody, visitation, paternity, child and spousal support, and adoption proceedings. Cases can include enforcement actions and modifications of previously issued court orders.
Each semester the case selection process starts with a call for applications, which is posted on the clinic’s website. In spring 2016, 150 Dallas-area residents contacted the clinic to inquire about services, and 12 applicants were accepted, with two cases assigned to each of six student attorneys.
While Prox is the attorney of record and sees the proceedings through to their conclusion, students are in the driver’s seat during their clinic commitment. They interview and counsel clients, conduct factual investigations and legal research, prepare court documents and negotiations – including property settlement and custody agreements for divorce actions – and represent clients in court.
Prox serves as a sounding board during weekly one-on-one meetings with students. She also accompanies them to major settlement negotiations and all appearances in the 17 different courts in Dallas County that handle family law issues.
Students embrace the high ethical and professional standards set by the clinic and emphasized by the director. “I’ve been so impressed with the students as they take ownership of their cases, apply my teaching and demonstrate exemplary lawyering,” Prox says. “Their professionalism in dealing with clients is particularly meaningful because our low-income clients often don’t expect to be treated with respect.”
In addition to the cases assigned through the clinic, student attorneys work with the courts and community legal clinics to provide some assistance to pro se litigants – individuals representing themselves in court. Through this work, they help keep minor policy and procedure issues from clogging courts already swamped with cases.
“Pro se litigants are offered advice on such things as how to dress and given information about where to file and how to conduct themselves in court,” Prox explains. “They won’t be as frustrated if they know what’s going on and what is expected of them in court.”
“Chiefs” serve as her proxies for addressing students’ day-to-day questions and concerns. In the fall, third-year students Crockett and Ashley Jones ’17 filled the roles. Both were in the first class to participate in the clinic and have completed family law internships.
After receiving her Juris Doctor (JD) in May, Crockett will join a family law firm in Houston. She’s looking forward to lending a legal hand in the Gulf Coast city.
“I will definitely continue doing pro bono work,” she says. “Almost half of the cases that come into the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid arm of the Houston Bar Association, are family law related, so my clinic work has been great preparation.”
Jones also will earn her JD in May and praises the clinical program for adding an unmatched dimension to classroom training.
“The clinic offers a very special social component that is vital to being a successful attorney,” she says. “From day one, you are given real clients, with real problems, who depend on you to help them. No other internship or law school experience has provided me with this level of real-world client contact and responsibility.”
Giving families in distress a fresh start is the ultimate reward of family law practice, she says.
“I had the opportunity to finalize a client’s divorce in court. She was my first client, and I really got to know her and her story,” Jones recalls. “When we were walking out of the courtroom, she had the biggest smile on her face, and she kept thanking me. I realized that as a student attorney, I’m not just getting amazing experience that will prepare me for the rest of my career, but I’m also affecting and changing lives.”