2022 Alumni July 2022 News

SMU alumna crowned first Asian American Miss Texas

Congratulations to history-making SMU alumna Averie Bishop ’19, ’22, the first Asian American Miss Texas.

She currently serves on the Mayor’s Anti-Hate Advisory Council. It was established last year by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to advise the city and police on ways to increase tolerance and understanding and engage the private sector and communities in discouraging hate and encouraging diversity.

Bishop received a B.A. in human rights in 2019 and graduated from Dedman School of Law in May. While she was an undergraduate, Bishop and her mother establish the Tulong Foundation in 2015. The nonprofit organization serves an area of the Philippines where Marevi Bishop grew up. The foundation supports children’s education and efforts to develop sustainable farming and clean drinking water. As an SMU Human Rights Fellow in 2018–19, she spent the summer in the Philippines building water wells in rural communities.

On the Hilltop, Bishop displayed her vocal talent as Cinderella in Into the Woods, the student musical presented during Family Weekend in 2017.

Bishop will now start preparing for the Miss America pageant, which will take place in Connecticut in December. She is active on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, offering a candid look at her life as a law student and beauty pageant contestant.

Read more:

2019 February 2019 News

Programmed for the data-driven future

Vince Miller, a second-year graduate student, chose the Applied Statistics and Data Analytics (MASDA) program in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences because he was looking for “a top tier education.” After his first year at SMU, a data scientist internship at Capital One turned into a full-time career. He’ll be working for the bank after graduating in the fall. He recently shared some insights about his SMU student experience in the college’s newsletter, Inside Dedman College. EXCERPT:

What drew you to the MASDA program? With so many options within the field, what makes SMU’s MASDA program special?

While I was considering what graduate program I wanted to attend, I was able to speak with our advisor Dr. Robertson as well as then-current students. These conversations gave me the confidence that MASDA was exactly what I had been looking for: a top tier education that would allow me to develop applied statistics knowledge while gaining experience using industry standard as far as available technology for data science from insightful professors. In my second year, I have found that the insights given by my professors have been invaluable. The main insight I’ve taken away is that an understanding of applied statistics is the best background to have within this industry.

Can you share an experience or two that sums up your time in the program best? Is there a particular member of the faculty, project, or course that you would consider to be a defining moment for you?

The class that I enjoyed the most was “Intro to Data Science.” A defining moment was when the course began, and I did not expect such a mathematical approach to the subject. I expected the course to be similar to other data science tutorials or certifications I had completed, but after a short period, I realized that the professor understood how important a fundamental understanding of statistics was in the field. This course definitely gave me an upper hand when comparing myself to students from other programs.

Read more at Dedman College.

2018 Features March 2018 Main Spring 2018

An education mixologist’s bold blend of science and the arts

Sam Weber ’18 says he’s the “type of person who likes to stay busy.” That’s an understatement. As a student researcher, he trains others working on cell biology experiments and explores the use of the performing arts in public health education. And this spring he is directing his second 24-Hour Musical, Heathers the Musical. The Dedman College Scholar and University honors student will graduate in May with B.S. degrees in biological sciences, and health and society, and a B.A. in chemistry, with minors in Latin, classical studies, musical theatre, history and human rights. The senior dynamo is currently weighing several post-SMU academic opportunities that will lead to his ultimate goal: medical school.
Growing up in Overland Park, Kansas, Weber became fascinated with science by watching Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The 2001 film, the first 3-D animated feature made outside Hollywood, was directed by SMU alumnus John Davis ’84. Weber, whose mother is a nurse, imagined being Jimmy while playing with his junior chemistry set. Later, when he stumbled upon the Harry Potter novels and films, he says his interest in science became intertwined with magic.
In seventh grade, after Weber heard a neurologist speak to his class about the wonders of the brain, he began to make the connection between science and medicine. While his fellow students were enthralled with the brain-shaped gummies she passed around the class, Weber locked onto the floating pink blob in a jar she had brought for show and tell. “She said the brain was ‘the last true frontier of science,’” he recalls.
In high school he straddled the two worlds of science and art – taking AP biology and chemistry courses and working downtown at a neurology lab, while participating in theatre, rehearsing for plays and musicals nightly. He thought that when he got to college he would have to keep his two loves – the sciences and the arts – separate.
But when he got to the Hilltop, he says he realized he could successfully combine those seemingly disparate worlds. As a University honors student in on the pre-med track and through numerous campus opportunities, SMU has enabled him to explore his interests in the performing arts. In his senior year, he has even found interesting ways to fuse his interests.
Patience With The Process
As a first-year student in his general chemistry course, Weber made such an impression that Associate Professor Brian Zoltowski considered him a natural to work in his lab.
Before enrolling at SMU, Weber had already gained lab experience at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Zoltowski says Weber “displayed a unique combination of creativity, passion and deductive reasoning that is, frankly, atypical anywhere. His ability to devote himself to any task, and complete it at the highest possible level, made me trust him right away.”
Nearly four years later, Weber runs the entire cell biology focus of Zoltowski’s lab, which conducts research on circadian clocks and the molecular mechanisms of blue-light photoreceptors. The senior trains graduate and undergraduate students who work with cell culture and drug discovery projects. He is instrumental to the research group’s mission as he leads and directs multiple projects, which has enabled Zoltowski to greatly expand their research scope.
On a Thursday afternoon in November, Weber is working in the tissue lab at Dedman Life Sciences Building on what he calls the “downstream biological application of manipulating proteins.” His project focuses on a protein complex that is responsive to light “much like the rest of our circadian biology; our rhythms are linked to the sun and the light we have available,” Weber says. During a process called transfection, he forces some human cells to take up and incorporate foreign DNA into their own. Once that DNA is incorporated, the cells start to express that altered form of the protein, “so we can see how the overall complex functions with these changes in response to light.”
The transfecting process is precise and time-intensive, requiring a lot of tedious work, Weber says while adding one of 2,112 pipette strokes to different wells. After this step, he puts the cells under a blue LED lamp to simulate an “awake” state. The next day he treats these cells with a solution that causes them to glow in varying intensities.
On this particular day, the experiment doesn’t generate any usable data. The blank wells show the same or higher luminescence than some samples, which shouldn’t be physically possible, he says. “This tells me something was wrong. In this case, one critical reagent, a substance or compound added to a system to cause a chemical reaction, was running low.” So he orders a new bottle and repeats the experiment, troubleshooting until it doesn’t have an error.
The setback doesn’t bother Weber. “So many things can go wrong in biochemistry – the temperature in the room, the humidity, how bright the room is, how much air the AC is moving, shelf life of reagents and more can all contribute, just like human error, to poor results. Things don’t work all the time; science is slow and crawling,” he adds.
Finding The Magic
“I’m the type of person who needs to stay busy and wants to be involved,” Weber says, adding that SMU enabled him to engage in many different activities, take on several majors and sample numerous minors because it accepted all 46 hours of his AP credits, allowing him to get ahead in his biology degree plan. “There are lots of opportunities to get involved at SMU,” pointing out that funding often is made available through Program Council or Student Senate for events like SMU’s 24-Hour Musical.
Outside his classroom and lab work, Weber joined the student-run Program Council, overseeing campus concerts and entertainment events and directing Sing Song, the annual competition among student organizations that perform musical revues. He also served as a resident assistant in Virginia-Snider Commons for two years, providing resources and programming on mental health, career planning and handling social stressors. And he’s president of Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Health Honor Society and on the Embrey Human Rights Program Student Leadership Board, to name only a few of his numerous roles.
He’s studied abroad with SMU in Oxford, Rome and Paris, and went on SMU’s most recent human rights trip to Poland over the winter break. All the while, he also applied to medical schools, a time-consuming and demanding task in itself.
Scenes from Into the Woods
With the 24-Hour Musical, Weber is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Charlie Weber ’16, who along with Ally Van Deuren ’15 began the musical in spring 2015 to provide nontheatre majors an opportunity to perform on campus. The production is choreographed, blocked and rehearsed during 24 hours spread over three days. Last fall, Weber directed Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, staged on the quad in front of Dallas Hall in September during Family Weekend. This was his fifth 24-Hour Musical.
During the first year of the SMU 24-Hour Musical, Van Deuren recalls, “Sam, then a freshman, walked in the first day ready to work. He took partial or total lead in choreography, tech, production and costume design, graphic design and many more day-of tasks that no one else had the headspace to handle. He was a much-needed source of organization, whether he was lending a hand with heavy lifting, maintaining order with a cast of 40 students after a long day of rehearsing or finding quick solutions for any last-minute costume mishaps.”
Weber also is recognized for maintaining a cool head in the face of possible disaster. During rehearsal and the staging of Into the Woods, the sprinklers came on in the flowerbeds where the orchestra sat. Weber was unflappable.
Sam Weber says art is innate in all people.During the chaos that a tightly developed production engenders, Weber found time to mentor the next generation of 24-Hour Musical leaders. Sophomore theatre major Stevie Keese ’20 assisted Weber with Into the Woods and found him generous and approachable. “Sam helped me articulate my artistic thoughts through our late-night passionate debates on the future of theatre and the arts,” she says. He also taught her about ambition and “how to ask for exactly what you want with no apologies, while continuing to be gracious and grateful.”
Weber has found working on 24-Hour Musical to be invaluable in developing skills that will carry over into his post- SMU life. “It is some of the best training students can get working in professional environments. We hold the project to a very high standard, and I’d like to think that learning on the fly, making bold choices and the time management that are required for 24-Hour to be successful are the same kinds of skills professional theatre artists develop,” he says.
He’s also been grateful to his professors, who have given him leeway with his classes and studies to spend time cultivating and following his theatrical interests. Last year, Weber worked as a choreography fellow for the Public Works Dallas musical production of The Tempest, co-produced by Meadows School of the Arts and the Dallas Theater Center. The community outreach production used local community groups and 200 nonprofessionals to stage Shakespeare’s play. Weber found it “motivating to work with people who had never done performance art before, but still got it; they understood movement and narrative. It really reaffirms how art is truly innate in all people.”
Putting It All Together
As a capstone to his four years at SMU, Weber is merging his love of science and the arts through a research project that explores the relationship between performing arts and public health from a medical anthropology angle. He is studying how theatre performance can help engage the public in a discussion of mental illness, thereby reducing the stigma it often creates. His research is supported by a Mayer Interdisciplinary Research Fellowship.
Brian Zoltowski says creativy is a key part of the scientific process.Weber says that everything he’s done or achieved at SMU has helped prepare him for medical school and a life in the profession. As an undergraduate, he didn’t want to be what is called a “gunner,” a term applied to pre-med students who adhere solely to a regimen of science courses and, while making high GPAs, explore little else outside that regimen.
As his passions for pure science and performance have intersected, he’s come to understand that “medicine is an art. Physicians perform for and with their patients, seeking to achieve an honest and productive outcome,” Weber says.
Zoltowski, who has observed how Weber has grown in multiple ways, regards him more as a colleague than as a mentee. “Sam as a student is unique. In the sciences people often forget that you need to be extremely creative, have excellent abilities in deductive reasoning and be skilled in computational methods,” he says. “Creativity is a key part of the scientific process, as we have to find unique ways to combine disparate concepts or new approaches to tackle complex problems. Often young scientists will be unable to combine the deductive and computational approaches with creative insight. Sam is different – he excels in all three capacities, even in this early stage of his career. Most important, his strength is in creativity and thinking outside the box. That is why he will have tremendous success in anything he pursues.”
Susan White ’05

2017 Alumni December 2017

Meet the ‘$1-billion queen bee of dating apps’

That’s SMU alumna Whitney Wolfe Herd ’11 on the cover of the Forbes 30 Under 30 issue. Herd founded Bumble, “America’s fastest-growing dating-app company,” just three years after receiving a bachelor’s degree in international studies from SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. This is her second consecutive appearance on the business magazine’s list of top “youthful visionaries” in 20 industries. In the profile that accompanies her December 12, 2017, cover, the 28-year-old entrepreneur talks about her mission to empower women via social networks devoted to dating, friendship, and business and networking. “We let our users guide our innovation. We let our users guide our brand.”

By Clare O’Connor

When Whitney Wolfe Herd started planning an October launch party for a new product at Bumble, America’s fastest-growing dating-app company, she was deliberate in her choice of venue: the Manhattan space that for 57 years hosted the Four Seasons restaurant, where regulars like Henry Kissinger, Vernon Jordan, Edgar Bronfman and Stephen Schwarzman created the ultimate power lunch.

The space now has a new name, new management and a new menu. And, as Herd insists, a new perspective on business. “The power lunch is no longer just for men,” Herd announces to the mostly young, mostly female crowd, before ceding the stage to the pop star Fergie. “We all deserve a seat at the table.”

That table surely now includes the 28-year-old Herd, who has changed the tenor of dating dynamics. By letting women make the first move, Bumble has amassed over 22 million registered users, to closest competitor Tinder’s 46 million, and at more than 70% year-over-year growth, to Tinder’s roughly 10%, it’s closing the gap quickly.

Read more at Forbes.

2017 Alumni December 2017

SMU alumnus’ research key to a Nobel for circadian rhythm discoveries

As a young researcher, Paul E. Hardin ’82 clocked innumerable hours in a pitch-dark lab to shed light on one of the keys to good health. Hardin was the first author on one of the fundamental papers from a body of circadian rhythm research to win the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The Nobel Prize went to Hardin’s former colleagues Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall of Brandeis as well as Michael Young of Rockefeller University “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.”
“It’s a really beautiful example of basic research that has led to incredible discoveries,” Hardin commented in Quanta Magazine. “Almost every aspect of physiology and metabolism will be controlled by the circadian clock.”
Hardin earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from SMU in 1982 and a doctorate in genetics from Indiana University in 1987.
As a postdoctoral researcher in Rosbash’s lab from 1987 to 1991, Hardin demonstrated that the protein encoded by the gene that controls circadian rhythm in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) fluctuates over a 24-hour period, rising at night and falling during the day. His research over the past two decades has helped establish the fruit fly as a model organism for studying the circadian clock in humans and allowed scientists to unravel myriad ways in which that natural timekeeper affects our health. These discoveries may lead to new treatments for a wide range of afflictions – from jet lag and sleep disorders to obesity and heart disease.
Hardin, Distinguished Professor and John W. Lyons Jr. ’59 Endowed Chair in Biology at Texas A&M University, told Texas A&M Today: “A Nobel prize for ciradian clocks is great for the field. It is, indeed, exciting to have worked with two of the three winners and to see them and my field honored with such a momentous award. It is a proud moment for circadian clocks.”
His research has earned international recognition, including the 2003 Aschoff-Honma Prize from the Honma Life Science Foundation in Japan. He has served as president of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Genetics Society of America and the Society of Neuroscience. He is the author of more than 100 publications.
A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Dr. Hardin was the son of SMU President Paul Hardin III, and we apologize for the error.
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2017 June 2017 News

Tuning in to plants’ 24-hour rhythm

Findings of a new study solve a key mystery about the chemistry of how plants tell time so they can flower and metabolize nutrients. The process — a subtle chemical event — takes place in the cells of every plant every second of every day.
The new understanding means farmers may someday grow crops under conditions or in climates where they currently can’t grow, said chemist Brian D. Zoltowski of SMU, who led the study.
“We now understand the chemistry allowing plants to maintain a natural 24-hour rhythm in sync with their environment. This allows us to tune the chemistry, like turning a dimmer switch up or down, to alter the organism’s ability to keep time,” Zoltowski said. “So we can either make the plant’s clock run faster, or make it run slower. By altering these subtle chemical events we might be able to rationally redesign a plant’s photochemistry to allow it to adapt to a new climate.”
Read more at SMU Research.

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


SMU Alumna Elizabeth Holzhall Richard ’81, ’84, New U.S. Ambassador To Lebanon

Elizabeth Holzhall Richard credits one of her Dedman School of Law professors with urging her to take the Foreign Service exam, the first step in her long and lauded career in the United States diplomatic corps. In her 30 years of service, she has held posts in some of the world’s hot spots, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. She grew up in Hammond, Indiana, and was interviewed by the Northwest Indiana Times for a story published on June 21. Richard earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences before graduating from law school.

Elizabeth Holzhall Richard, a former Hammond resident, is scheduled to be sworn in today as the new U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.
Richard served most recently as deputy assistant secretary and the coordinator for foreign assistance to the Near East in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. In that role, Richard oversaw a foreign assistance budget of more than $7 billion.
Richard, 56, said she was thrilled when she was told she would be named to the post in Lebanon. She called it both a huge honor and a huge responsibility.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, so I’m absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to serve with the folks that I’ll be working with and try to be able to make a little bit of a positive contribution,” Richard said.

When attending law school, Richard said she took some international law classes and one of her teachers suggested she take the foreign service officer test. Richard said she wasn’t really exposed to the fact that there was this line of work out there prior to that time and now urges young people to consider such a career. The government is seeking people from a wide variety of backgrounds and parts of the country to serve.



Brooks McCorcle ’82: Catching Up With A Fast-moving Innovator

AT&T executive Brooks McCorcle ’82 specializes in “breaking glass,” and in the spring, she invited a group from SMU to join her.
“‘Breaking glass’ is looking at new and different ways to do things,” says McCorcle, president of Emerging Business Markets, a startup within AT&T that is responsible for identifying and rapidly launching innovative solutions to drive value and growth in AT&T Business Solutions.

Brooks McCorcle ’82

Approximately 30 students and several members of the SMU leadership team and alumni joined McCorcle for a “Hack-a-Pitch” and “Barnstorm”– sobriquets that capture the lightning pace and freewheeling spirit of the brainstorming event.
Emerging Business Markets, co-located at the AT&T Foundry® innovation center, in Plano served as the setting for the collaborative exercise centered on finding new opportunities for the company to work with SMU to improve and enhance the campus experience. The group first broke into small teams to exchange ideas and formulate proposals. They later regrouped for a pitch session.
“We set up a little bit of framework, then let them go after it,” McCorcle explains. “I was really impressed by the students’ creativity and their poise and confidence when they presented their ideas to the group.”
>See video of SMU students participating in the Hack-a-Pitch learning experience
As a result, AT&T prepared a proposal of 30 ideas generated from the session that were shared with SMU leadership. They touch on many aspects of student life including the application process, on-campus living and job recruitment.
McCorcle recently followed up with University leaders to discuss possible next steps, including potential app development.
The unbounded intellectual workout that McCorcle facilitated is the type of activity she would have relished as an SMU student. She earned a B.B.A. in the Cox School of Business and explored other interests through minors in economics and women’s studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
While she enjoyed “great relationships with many of my professors,” McCorcle says Ann Early stands out in her memory. Early taught for many years and was instrumental in introducing the study of women to the SMU curriculum in the 1960s. She directed SMU’s Women’s Studies Program when McCorcle was a student. Today, the Ann Early Award is given each year to a Women’s and Gender Studies minor in recognition of academic achievement in the minor and service to the program.
“She was not only brilliant, thoughtful and courageous as she forged new ground in academia, but she was an incredibly authentic person,” McCorcle says. “She pushed you to your limits and truly wanted to know and understand your point of view. From her I learned how to articulate your viewpoint as a headline supported by proof points. I still do that today.
“She made a huge impact on me, showing me what the possibilities for women were. I have modeled many of my leadership characteristics on her,” she adds. “I try to be as authentic and inspiring as she was, to welcome a diversity of views, to be an advocate. And, I invite my team to my home. I learned that from her. She invited her students to her home, and it was such a meaningful way to show that she cared about us as people. It really forged a relationship of trust.”
McCorcle honed leadership skills through various roles with student organizations. A member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, she served as Panhellenic rush chair. As a member of the Program Council, she welcomed such luminaries as actor Vincent Price to the Hilltop. She also participated on the student judiciary committee.
For her contributions to the SMU community, she received the “M” Award, the University’s highest commendation for students, faculty, staff and administrators.
McCorcle went on to earn an M.B.A. from the Olin Business School at Washington University.
Over her 24-year tenure with AT&T and its predecessor companies, she has held positions in Mergers & Acquisitions and Finance, and executive positions in Consumer Marketing, Customer Care and Sales.
She has earned numerous professional awards. In 2012, she was listed among the “Top 30 Women in Finance” by Treasury & Risk magazine and was named the “#1 Investor Relations Professional in the Telecom Industry” by Institutional Investor magazine for 2011. The Dallas Business Journal recently honored her in the 2014 “Women in Business” awards program that recognizes outstanding local women business leaders who not only are making a difference in their industries, but also in their communities.
For her work in the community with Friends of the Dallas Public Library and other organizations, she received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
While discussing her accomplishments, McCorcle circles back to SMU.
“SMU does a great job of preparing you to succeed out of the gate,” she says. “You leave with the academic foundation and confidence you need to be successful in your first job. And the valuable lessons you take with you and apply immediately are those you will use and refine over the course of your career.”
– Patricia Ward


Setting The Stage: Faculty Discuss Roots Of Their Current Research

Teaching children who were struggling to read launched Stephanie Al Otaiba on an investigation of early literacy intervention that continues almost two decades later as a professor in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
Delores Etter’s future path was not as clear. Etter, a professor in the Lyle School of Engineering, grappled with the relevance of her mathematical expertise outside the realm of higher education until she discovered the link through electrical engineering and digital signal processing research.
Robert Lawson, a professor in the Cox School of Business, recognized the value of computer muscle as he sought to move to a different plane the debate about the merits of free-market versus interventionist economic systems. The data-driven evaluations of international economies that Lawson has been instrumental in developing are intended to remove conjecture and rewire the discussion along empirical bases.
In contrast, subjective observations and human foibles lie at the heart of historian Sherry L. Smith’s inquiries. An early interest in Native American culture and treaty rights motivated Smith, a professor in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, to delve into the power of perception in shaping much of our nation’s history involving American Indians.
While their explorations may not intersect, these faculty members share intellectual curiosity, the courage to test the status quo and a desire to teach and guide students. Following, they trace the roots of their interests and discuss the defining experiences that inspired their research and eventually led them to SMU.
Opening a new chapter for struggling readers
Stephanie Al Otaiba folds her tall, graceful frame until she is eye-to-eye with the two young girls quietly poring over workbooks. She starts chatting with them about their reading assignments. Without prompting, one of the students says she is dyslexic, then asks, “Can you be a teacher if you’re dyslexic?”

Stephanie Al Otaiba, the Patsy and Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education, conducts reading intervention research involving fourth-grade students at Stevens Park Elementary School in Dallas.
Stephanie Al Otaiba, the Patsy and Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, conducts reading intervention research involving fourth-grade students at Stevens Park Elementary School in Dallas.

In a soothing voice, Al Otaiba assures the student that people with dyslexia excel in many fields, and that with the skills she is developing now, she is on the right path to joining their ranks. Pleased by the answer, the girl goes back to her book.
“That’s why we teach,” says Al Otaiba, who was recently named the Patsy And Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning, the second Centennial chair in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
The exchange took place in a classroom at Stevens Park Elementary School in Dallas, where she was observing her team of research assistants involved in a school-based research project that examines the efficacy of the Voyager Passport reading intervention. The widely used program combines targeted instruction and progress monitoring for young students who need supplemental assistance. The children have or are at risk for reading disabilities, and in the fall, they scored in the bottom 30 percent in reading comprehension on standardized tests.
The research – the first of its kind performed with this intervention – involves fourth-grade students in West Dallas and Northern Florida schools. It started July 1, 2013, and will continue through June 30, 2017, and is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Al Otaiba, who came to SMU in January 2012 from Florida State University, collaborates with FSU Professor Jeannie Wanzek, principal investigator, on the project.
Al Otaiba focuses on early literacy intervention for struggling students, understanding students’ response to intervention and training teachers how to use data to guide instructional decisions. Her current research portfolio extends to six other grant-funded projects.
“I’m fortunate to have a strong team of research assistants, including some current and former SMU graduate students, led by Brenna Rivas, an alumna of the doctoral program in the Simmons School,” she says.
Connecting research to the classroom completes the equation, she adds. “For any of us who do intervention research, what keeps us passionate is the feeling that we can impact the greater community through improving teachers’ practices and, in turn, improving outcomes for children.”
Her mission to aid children with learning difficulties began in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. While visiting family she met her late husband, a UAE citizen, and her temporary stay turned into a 16-year residency and an incubator for her future career in education.
“A friend was working with the United Nations to establish a special education program. At first I worked as a volunteer, then completed teacher training and started teaching in 1981,” she says. “The longer I taught, the more I wanted to learn about evidence-based practices that helped students learn.”
A decade later, she earned a master’s degree in special education and began to follow beginning reading and special education research. After her husband’s death in 1996, she returned to the United States and completed the Ph.D. program at the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.
The global relevance of Al Otaiba’s research performed in the intervening years recently drew her back to the Arabian Peninsula, this time to Muscat, Oman. At the invitation of Mahmoud Emam, an assistant professor of special education at Sultan Qaboos University, she served as a guest lecturer at a two-day workshop about reading disabilities and interventions. She continues to consult on his grant to improve special educators’ ability to use data to guide their intervention.
“Since there are few measures available in Gulf Arabic, developing appropriate formative progress monitoring measures has been a challenge. Dr. Emam and his team have been adapting measures associated with response to intervention in English,” she explains. “It was wonderful to see how dedicated they are and motivated to helping change the face of special education and how developing countries are using U.S. research and making it their own.”
Closer to home, Al Otaiba is acting as an Engaged Learning project mentor to junior Stephanie Newland. Newland hopes to learn more about the impact of the Jesters Program, a musical theatre activity for people with intellectual and/or physical disabilities, on participants, parents and volunteers.
Eyeing The Future Of Engineering
The yellow-orange light emitted from the scanner casts an eerie glow in the darkened room. Delores Etter positions one of her student researchers in front of an apparatus that resembles a vision-testing machine in an optometrist’s office. As the student sits in a fixed position, visible and near-infrared light is used to take a clear, high-contrast picture of his irises.
Delores Etter and a student researcher demonstrate the scanner used to take iris images for biometric research they conduct at the Lyle School of Engineering.

A digital template of the image – a map of the naturally occurring random patterns that make each person’s iris unique – will be created and stored in a database. With this type of database, matcher engines sort through templates at lightning speed and make identifications with extreme accuracy.
This research at the vanguard of technology with wide-ranging applications is happening at the Lyle School of Engineering, where Etter leads SMU’s biometrics research program. Etter, who joined the SMU faculty in 2008, holds the TI Distinguished Chair for Engineering Education in the Lyle School of Engineering. She also serves as the first director of SMU’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education.
In offering hands-on opportunities to undergraduates, she ties what they learn in the classroom to knowledge and skills that will fuel their careers after graduation. Her own college experience informs her belief that students should make those relevant connections early.
“I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, and I could do all this wonderful math, but I didn’t see the applications,” Etter remembers. “I started questioning what good was it to know it if it didn’t seem useful.”
Major life events – she got married and had a child – took precedence over her academic career until she accepted a position at the University of New Mexico. Although she was teaching computer science, many of her students were electrical engineering (EE) majors.
“I didn’t have a clue about it, and I sat in on the first EE course so I could see how to tie in my classes to what they were doing,” she says. “It totally changed my life. I thought ‘Here’s the real-world application for all that math I know.’”
She went on to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UNM at a time when few women entered the field. Etter blazed trails across the technology spectrum, making significant contributions to the knowledge base on digital signal processing and the emerging specialty of biometrics. She also became an internationally recognized advocate for early STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.
Her rising stature in academic and engineering research was noticed in Washington, D.C. She served as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and Assistant Secretary of the Navy under two presidents. She also held the Office of Naval Research Distinguished Chair in electrical and computer engineering at the United States Naval Academy.
With her finger on the pulse of the international intelligence community, Etter brought biometrics research to SMU “because it has national significance in terms of security.”
Etter and former colleagues from the Naval Academy initiated a joint research project involving biometrics databases. At Lyle, students comb through the iris image data they have collected to “get rid of the noise” that could interfere with accuracy. In conjunction with the project, they will travel to Annapolis for a week this summer to interact with industry experts and government specialists working on real issues related to national security.
In the fall, she will take a group from SMU to the Biometric Consortium Conference in Tampa, Florida, where they will sit in on presentations and visit state-of-the-art exhibits. They will follow up by writing reports about what intrigued them and what they learned.
These experiences not only enhance their engineering toolkit, but also open their eyes to possibilities, Etter says.
“I want to develop a cadre of students who understand biometrics, find it fun and interesting, and want to go out into industry or government and add their innovations to the field.”
Measuring The Economic Might Of Freedom
In the film “Economic Freedom in Action: Changing Lives,” successful entrepreneurs in Chile, Slovakia, South Korea and Zambia describe how they mapped their personal routes to prosperity when unbounded by restrictive government policies and institutional structures. The documentary aired on 200 PBS stations nationwide from November 2013 through January 2014. The program was based on the findings of the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) report released in 2012.
The Cox School of Business' Robert Lawson travels the world lecturing about the Economic Freedom of the World annual report that he coauthors.
The Cox School of Business’ Robert Lawson travels the world lecturing about the Economic Freedom of the World annual report that he coauthors.

Economist Robert Lawson coauthors the yearly index that is produced by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian public policy think tank. Lawson holds the Jerome M. Fullinwider Endowed Centennial Chair in Economic Freedom in the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom in SMU’s Cox School of Business,
“If you boil it down, economic freedom is about people being free to make their own choices in their economic lives – government largely leaves them alone to buy and sell what they want at prices they have negotiated,” Lawson explains. “It’s analogous to freedom of speech and religion.”
First published in 1996, the study now covers 151 countries and territories. Using data collected from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum and other sources, researchers employ 42 distinct variables in ranking countries on a zero-to-10 scale, with 10 representing the highest level of economic freedom. Economic freedom is quantified using five different factors: size of government, legal structure and security of property rights, access to sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation of credit, labor and business.
For Lawson, the report provides the data-driven clarity missing from the intellectual free-for-alls he participated in with fellow graduate students at Florida State University.
“In broad terms, they were Adam Smith versus Karl Marx debates, free market versus interventionism. They were great, but they were primarily theoretical and hotly ideological,” he says. “Those discussions basically took us nowhere, whereas using data advances the debate on empirical grounds.”
While earning a master’s degree and Ph.D. in economics at FSU, he served as a graduate assistant to economist James Gwartney, who became a mentor, friend and collaborator on the EFW report. Gwartney holds the Gus A. Stavros Eminent Scholar Chair and directs the Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education at FSU. It was Gwartney who took on the challenge of developing a scientific instrument that could be used to quantify economic freedom. He enlisted Lawson to add his data-mining expertise to the groundbreaking project.
“Kelvin said to measure is to know, and we wanted to know,” Lawson says. “We started collecting data and feeding it into the computer. It was a long process. It took seven or eight years to develop our first report.
“It was very important to us to use objective data to avoid subjective views influencing the ratings of any country,” he adds, “And transparency was key. We wanted to develop a research tool that others could replicate.”
A self-described “math guy,” Lawson says he was first drawn to economics by its demand for “analytical rigor.” Although he started his undergraduate education at Ohio University as a political science major, he changed his mind “within minutes of my first economics class.”
Lawson, who joined SMU in 2011 from Auburn University, teaches in the M.B.A. program at Cox. He also travels the world as a guest lecturer on the topic of economic freedom.
Because he misses teaching and mentoring undergraduates, he recently launched an interdisciplinary reading and discussion group for these students. The 12 participants had to apply for inclusion and commit to completing weekly reading assignments.
“The readings are eclectic and cover political science, philosophy and economics,” Lawson says. “I lead the group, but it’s not a lecture; it’s a forum for student discussion. They ask questions, but it’s really up to them to talk through the issues and draw their own conclusions.”
Documenting The Power Of Perception
A fascinating character from her childhood still looms prominently in the memory of historian Sherry L. Smith, University Distinguished Professor of History and assistant director of SMU’s William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies in Dedman College.
SMU History Professor Sherry L. Smith's award-winning research examines perceptions that have shaped national policy regarding Native Americans.
SMU History Professor Sherry L. Smith’s award-winning research examines perceptions that have shaped national policy regarding Native Americans.

The man she describes as “a sort of surrogate grandfather” lived in a rustic cabin near her family’s home at Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan and was an Indian hobbyist.
“He had grown up in South Dakota, and his home was full of all sorts of Indian items. He would dress in full Native American regalia and tell stories. Of course, I was in awe,” she says.
Much like today’s Civil War re-enactors who bring battles back to life, hobbyists gathered in tribal clothing to recreate Native American ceremonies. While she leaves it to other scholars to dissect the hobbyists’ motivations and influence, Smith has documented a provocative perspective on Native American history.
“The central questions in my research are how have non-Indians perceived Native Americans and how did those ideas shape political action and our culture,” she explains.
Her interest in Native American issues first took a scholarly turn when she entered Purdue University. As she worked toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, she became particularly sympathetic to Indian demands for justice regarding sovereignty and treaties.
“As a member of the Baby Boom generation, I believed we could change the world,” she says. “At first I considered a path through law, with a specialization in Indian law, to make a more immediate impact.”
Instead, she elected to make a difference in academia, an option she had not seriously contemplated before a pivotal conversation with a professor.
“He asked if I had ever considered getting a Ph.D. No one had ever suggested that before,” she says. “I realized then how professors can open up a realm of possibility you’ve never considered and really make a huge difference in your life’s trajectory.”
She subsequently earned a doctorate at the University of Washington and launched a career in higher education that has spanned three decades.
Smith, who joined SMU in 1999, focuses on actors at the frontline of evolving attitudes and policies affecting Native Americans. She has documented the moral conflicts experienced by army officers involved in the Western expansion; the influential writings that helped change American opinions from 1880 to 1940; and the fight for Indian rights in the 1960s and ’70s.
She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters. She also has written four books, including two prize-winners. Reimagining Indians: Native Americans Through Anglo Eyes (Oxford University Press, 2000; paperback edition, 2001) received the 2001 James A. Rawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians and the SMU Godbey Author Award. Smith’s most recent work, Hippies, Indians and the Fight for Red Power (Oxford University Press, 2012), is the first book to examine the loose coalition that cut across racial, ethnic and class lines to push for political reforms that strengthened Native American sovereignty. The book garnered a 2014 Godbey Award.
While on leave from teaching in the spring, she is revisiting the life of Charles Erskine Scott Wood, an Army officer who figures in Reimagining Indians and earlier writings, from a very different angle. His complicated, 35-five-year relationship with Sara Bard Field, a married woman 30 years his junior who eventually became his wife, plays out against a backdrop of Progressive Era politics, Bohemianism and West Coast radicalism.
“It’s a fascinating story, but quite different from my previous research,” she says. “In this case, I’m letting their story take precedence over analysis, and as it unfolds, allow readers to decide how they feel about the couple.”


SMU Alumna And Earth Sciences Research Faculty Member Named Researcher Of The Year

Mihan House McKenna ’05, a research geophysicist with the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Miss., is the recipient of the 2013 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Researcher of the Year Award.

Mihan House McKenna '05
Mihan House McKenna ’05

McKenna received her doctorate in geophysics from SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and now holds the position of research faculty member. She maintains an interest in applied research and academics at SMU through her joint supervision of graduate students and service on dissertation committees, according to Brian Stump, Claude C. Albritton Professor of Earth Sciences, who supervised McKenna’s thesis research.

McKenna’s achievement comes as no surprise to Stump. “She reaches out to understand a variety of technologies, and then finds innovative ways to apply them,” he says.

After earning her doctorate, McKenna joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pursue infrasound research. Infrasound refers to sound that is below the frequency band audible to the human ear and can travel great distances. Scientists measure low-frequency acoustic waves as they move through the atmosphere to monitor many different types of natural and man-made events. Such events can range from shallow earthquakes to volcanic eruptions to nuclear explosions to meteorites passing through the atmosphere. Infrasound study also plays a role in many other research spheres, from cardiology to animal communication.

McKenna’s current investigations apply infrasound experimental techniques, mapping and numerical analysis using high-performance computing to create complex 3D models of structures. The models are used to evaluate the health of buildings, bridges and other structures without having to physically examine them.

Mihan House McKenna ’05 accepts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Researcher of the Year Award from David Pittman, director of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center.
Mihan House McKenna ’05 accepts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Researcher of the Year Award from David Pittman, director of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

“All structures ‘sing’, but we cannot hear the vibrations because the frequencies are below what humans can perceive,” says McKenna, who is also a federally certified bridge inspector as well as a registered professional geologist. “Using the naturally emitted, low-frequency structural acoustics (infrasound), engineers are now able to assess condition, capacity and holistic behavior of large, critical structures from distances of 10 or more kilometers by listening to the music these structures create.”

This type of remote monitoring has many potential applications, from tactical route reconnaissance for the military to evaluating the safety of civilian structures.

McKenna’s area of expertise supports tactical decision making for deployed military expeditionary forces. She directs the Remote Assessment of Critical Infrastructure working group at ERDC, which has research projects with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Defense Intelligence Agency, Los Alamos National Laboratory and academic institutions. She supports several ongoing Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) programs related to national security.

As an SMU graduate student from 1999 to 2005, she merged her undergraduate interests in physics, acoustics and music with geophysics in the form of infrasound research, comments Robert T. Gregory, chair of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College. “Mihan came to SMU with a strong background in physics from Georgetown University where she was also an accomplished musician, which helped spark her interest in acoustics.”

As a graduate student, McKenna served as a research assistant supported by funding from the U.S. Air Force. She also excelled in the classroom/laboratory as a teaching assistant in earth science courses. Among the undergraduate courses she assisted with were Stump’s “Earthquakes and Volcanoes” and Gregory’s “Solar System” classes.

At SMU she conducted research in support of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and currently serves as an advisory member of the U.S. and International Infrasound Working Groups for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna, Austria.
– Patricia Ward


Alumnus-Faculty Collaboration Yields Game-changing West Nile Research

Epidemiology and economics merged in a groundbreaking analysis of West Nile Virus data by SMU alumnus Robert Ware Haley ’67, M.D., and Tom Fomby, SMU Professor of Economics.

Medical researcher Robert Haley '67, M.D., (left) and SMU economist Tom Fomby joined forces with Dallas County health officials on a groundbreaking study of data collected during the nation's largest outbreak of West Nile Virus, which occurred in Dallas County in 2012.
Medical researcher Robert Haley ’67, M.D., (left) and SMU economist Tom Fomby joined forces with Dallas County health officials on a groundbreaking study of data collected during the nation’s largest outbreak of West Nile Virus, which occurred in Dallas County in 2012.

The interdisciplinary University-community research collaboration reveals several key findings about West Nile outbreaks and points to the use of a mosquito vector index rating system to trigger early intervention. Those results are published in the July 17 issue of JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association), the prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal.
Haley, Chief of Epidemiology and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and Fomby, Director of the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economic Studies in Dedman College, joined forces with Wendy Chung, Chief Epidemiologist for the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department, and her colleagues, Christen Buseman, Sibeso Joyner and Sonya Hughes, in the study. James Luby, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and a longtime research collaborator with Haley, is also an author.
>Read more about their West Nile research
A senior author of the journal article, Haley calls the research a “stone soup” project, referring to the folk tale that demonstrates how cooperative efforts benefit the entire community. “Everyone contributed their data and expertise to produce significant advances in our understanding of West Nile.”
The perfect storm of conditions that created the 2012 public health emergency in Dallas County presented an unprecedented opportunity to study the anatomy of the nation’s largest West Nile outbreak, says Haley, who has been involved in research on mosquito-borne illnesses since he was a medical student at UT Southwestern in the 1960s. He spent 10 years with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, serving as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, before returning to the medical center in 1983 to found the Division of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine.
Last year, an estimated 400 people in Dallas County suffered mild to severe West Nile infections. The county’s 20th death related to that outbreak was recorded in April 2013.
The econometric approaches Fomby brought to the statistical analysis of the unusual data were crucial, Haley says. This latest research cross-pollination follows previous work – along with Wayne Woodward, Professor and Chair of SMU’s Department of Statistical Science – on two noteworthy appendicitis-related studies published in 2010 and 2011.
“With the publication of these two papers we saw how techniques developed in one field can be usefully applied in other fields when researchers embrace collaborators outside of their own areas of expertise,” says Fomby.
Fomby’s specialized knowledge of count time series models exposed the value of the mosquito vector index as a leading indicator of subsequent West Nile Virus outcomes. And, his use of event study analysis – which he says is “fairly unique to applications in economics and finance” – showed aerial insecticide spraying was not associated with increases in hospital emergency room visits for respiratory symptoms or skin rashes.
Another key discovery materialized when Haley combined data collected by the county health department – including patient statistics and mosquito-trap test sample results – with weather information.
“Major outbreaks of West Nile occurred in 2006 and 2012. Both of those years had the fewest hard-freeze days in the winter and, overall, warmer than average temperatures,” he says.
Merging health department data with census tracks located another marker: areas of higher property values, higher housing density and higher percentages of unoccupied homes are at higher risk. In Dallas County, the data showed West Nile clustering in the Park Cities and North Dallas, areas with environments ripe for house mosquitoes, which are more likely to transmit the disease.
Along with the findings, the researchers provide an instruction manual for health officials in other counties to calculate their vector index by plugging in their own data.
“Virtually every community in the country has the potential for a West Nile outbreak, and provided with this prediction model, they can conduct their own analysis and determine when to act,” says Haley.
Both Haley and Fomby say they look forward to continuing a partnership that stems from a Town and Gown Club at SMU meeting in 2006.
“I gave a talk on how data mining (also called big data) was affecting many areas of our lives on a daily basis,” Fomby recalls. “Robert commented on how he saw quantitative reasoning and data analytics significantly affecting his fields in the future.”
Haley, honored as a Dedman College Distinguished Graduate in 2008, traces his SMU roots to its early days. His maternal grandfather, Samuel D. Ware, was a strong proponent of building a Methodist University in Dallas. His parents, Arvel E. Haley and Charlotte Ware Haley, met in a music class at SMU. In fact, more then 20 members of his extended family are SMU alumni.
After finishing pre-med requirements, he also completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and social sciences at SMU and taught a philosophy survey course for a year after graduation. That liberal arts background continues to inform his work.
“The hardest part of research is asking the right question,” he says, “and there’s nothing like studying philosophy, in some depth, to understand the right way to ask a question to get the answer you need.”
In addition to research projects with Fomby, Haley has worked with Woodward and Richard Gunst, Professor of Statistical Science, and William Schucany, Professor Emeritus, on pioneering brain imaging data studies of veterans with Gulf War illness. Haley holds the U.S. Armed Forces Veterans Distinguished Chair for Medical Research Honoring America’s Gulf War Veterans at UT Southwestern.
“When I had a really difficult problem in blazing new ground in statistics, I was lucky enough to have one of the top departments here in my backyard,” says Haley. “What they did was absolutely original, creative and brilliant.”
– Patricia Ward

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A Conversation With Dean William Tsutsui

William Tsutsui has been dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences since July 2010 but already he has made news. Tsutsui was blogging about his experiences with the Japanese American Leadership Delegation that was visiting Tokyo when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan March 11. His interviews and SMU Adventures blog provided media outlets (from The New York Times and NBC Nightly News to CNN and The Dallas Morning News) with an eyewitness account of the natural disaster’s impact on Japan. In fact, Tsutsui’s quote comparing the movement of downtown skyscrapers to “trees swaying in the breeze” was the Times’ quote of the day March 12. He also has spoken to numerous student groups on the subject. Tsutsui, a specialist in modern Japanese business and economic history, joined SMU from the University of Kansas, where he served as associate dean for international studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, professor of history and director of the Kansas Consortium for Teaching About Asia. He received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from Princeton University, a Master of Letters in modern Japanese history from Oxford University’s Corpus Christi College and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies. As dean of the largest of SMU’s seven schools, Tsutsui has been promoting the benefits of a liberal arts education to numerous alumni and SMU constituents and developing a strategic plan to position Dedman College for further progress. He also is helping Dedman College prepare for its major role in implementing the new undergraduate University Curriculum, which goes into effect for the entering class in fall 2012. And on occasion, he will eagerly share his passion about the Japanese film icon, Godzilla, the subject of one of his books. Action figures of the mutant monster line the shelves in his office in Dallas Hall. In the following interview Tsutsui shares his optimism about the future of Dedman College.

You have said that Dedman College and SMU provide the perfect formula for the model of success in higher education. What do you mean by that?

"SMU and Dedman College are the perfect mingling of the two great traditions of teaching and research," says Dean William Tsutsui.

We’re at a difficult point in higher education in the United States. It’s not just the economic issues facing a lot of universities now, but also an existential crisis – what are we doing, what value are we giving to students? I spent 17 years at the prototypical flatland state university being asked by taxpayers in the state of Kansas to train their kids to do anything and everything and to do it for nothing. Big public institutions like Kansas and Berkeley and Ohio State are wonderful examples of the modern American research university that have contributed to life, well-being and knowledge in countless ways. The problem is that the model of a gigantic state university funded largely by federal research grants and touching every aspect of society looks increasingly like a brontosaurus, and we’re undergoing climate change in higher education. In particular, state universities have lost touch with a fundamental part of their mission – the education of undergraduate students. That’s something that liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams have long focused on and continue to do extremely well. But liberal arts colleges also fall short in serving students and society because they don’t have the commitment to creating knowledge that a research university does. SMU and Dedman College are the perfect mingling of these two great traditions of teaching and research. We have high-powered, cutting-edge research, scholars winning highly competitive national research grants and creating knowledge that could change millions of lives. At the same time, every faculty member in the College is dedicated to teaching undergraduate students. A rich undergraduate experience, based on individual relationships between faculty and students inside and beyond the classroom, must continue to be the hallmark of Dedman College and SMU.

How do you make the case that the liberal arts continue to play a vital role and make significant contributions to society?

We are undeniably in a moment of renewed worries about the state of the liberal arts and increased scrutiny of the place of liberal education in American colleges and universities. The discontinuation of departments and degrees, especially in the humanities, at many institutions has been chilling. And students seem to be voting with their feet, walking in the same direction for a couple of generations: away from the liberal arts and toward professional schools. We’re all familiar with the arguments for why a liberal education is the best possible preparation for life and career in America today: look at any corporate board of directors or the leadership of any top government agency and you are likely to find a slew of liberal arts graduates; the liberal arts prepare you not just for one job (as more narrow professional or vocational training might) but for a wide range of jobs that need readily transferable skills like reading, writing, research, analysis and creativity; the liberal arts prepare individuals to lead full, open-minded, civically engaged and reflective lives; today, nations like China and India are trying to emulate the liberal arts from America to stir creativity and breadth in their undergraduates. But we also need to emphasize the role of the liberal arts in combating the fear that seems so prevalent today in American families and throughout our society, a pervasive sense of anxiety growing from economic uncertainty, international concerns, and political divisions. It is precisely at this moment, I believe, that the liberal arts are the most valuable. The constant questioning, critical thinking and healthy skepticism that characterize the humanities and sciences are a potent antidote to uncertainty and anxiety. A liberal education teaches us that “not knowing” is the normal state of being and that by thoughtful, self-reflective and collaborative investigation, experimentation, discussion and debate, new options can be discovered, new truths revealed and a new comfort found amid insecurity and doubt. The liberal arts help us master and direct our fears and approach the future not with apprehension and unease, but with the confidence that no challenge is too great to be studied, contemplated and eventually surmounted.

You’ve been working on a strategic plan for Dedman College. One of the main initiatives is support for undergraduate education. What does that entail?

Students conduct research in the lab with Eva Oberdorster (right), senior lecturer in biological sciences.

As part of a university with several high-caliber professional schools that offer attractive undergraduate programs, Dedman College must provide the kind of curricula and educational experiences that can draw the best students to the liberal arts. To get those top students requires an institution to not only offer excellent academic programs but also top scholarship support. Dedman College has been a little behind the times in that regard. Happily, with the Dedman College Scholars program we’ve begun to compete for exceptional students at the highest level. We must work harder to build the financial base of endowed scholarship funds that are necessary to increase the academic quality of our undergraduates. We need to take advantage of our real strengths at SMU and one of those is our size – this is still a very intimate campus, where students can have extraordinary experiences and take on unique roles. One of the ways they can do that is through undergraduate research. At large state universities focused on attracting huge research grants, faculty often don’t have the time to mentor undergraduates, to give them an enhanced educational experience. At SMU we can do that in our labs, libraries and classrooms. Dedman College also needs to create more degree programs that capture the interests of students, such as we have achieved through the Embrey Human Rights Program. Students today (and especially those we have at SMU) are incredibly idealistic – they grew up doing community service projects and participating in volunteer programs. The Human Rights Program offers them an opportunity to explore how they can make a difference at a personal level in the world. We need to develop similar major and minor programs that build on faculty strengths and engage our undergraduates: I hope we can expand our existing environmental studies program and consider degrees related to important issues like migration, where Dedman College has interdisciplinary expertise in anthropology, sociology, literary studies and political science. We also need to provide more opportunities for international exposure, both inside the classroom and through education abroad, and for service learning. New and enhanced options in experiential learning and building global awareness will contribute to the undergraduate experience.

How does the strategic plan address graduate education?

That is a tough one, because many people still think of SMU as primarily an undergraduate institution. Nevertheless, the research projects that we’re engaged in and the high-level scholarship that takes place in the College are not sustainable without vibrant graduate programs. Strong graduate programs also feed collaborations across disciplines, build bridges to the community through research and service, and enhance the productivity of faculty. Graduate students also can play an important role in mentoring undergraduates and facilitating undergraduate research projects. Many graduate programs in Dedman College have long histories and records of educating and placing their students. Unfortunately, graduate education is probably the least well-funded part of the College now. We need to find ways to build support for our doctoral programs, to offer students financial packages (including health benefits) that are competitive with other top universities around the country, and to increase the number of graduate students within our departments.

In a time of budget cutting and faculty reduction at universities nationwide, you are proposing an increase in Dedman College faculty. Why?

Despite the overall growth at SMU, the development of new programs and the ever-increasing demands on scholars and educators, the total number of faculty in Dedman College has not changed in 25 years. Recruiting and retaining a faculty of excellence is an ongoing challenge, especially in today’s competitive climate. For Dedman College, however, the size of the faculty may well be our most pressing concern. Almost all College departments have fewer tenure-track faculty than their equivalents in SMU’s comparative peer institutions, and some are not even staffed to the levels found in small liberal arts colleges. This situation means that Dedman College departments generally do not have the number of faculty necessary to provide the breadth of teaching and research generally expected in leading American universities. We need to work through the Second Century Campaign to build the number of endowed chairs, which have a rapid and substantial impact on the reputation of the University. We can hire well in Dedman College, we just need the financial resources to do it.

Why are interdisciplinary programs a major aspect of the College’s strategic plan?

Maria Richards (right), coordinator of SMU's Geothermal Laboratory, and graduate students study a map that denotes geothermal resources.

The budgetary zero-sum game that has affected Dedman College for the past 25 years has made it very difficult for faculty to collaborate across disciplines – they’ve pulled back into their departments, reluctant to support interdisciplinary endeavors. But the problems of the world today are too big for any one discipline or department to solve. Look at any of the big issues – cancer, health care, climate change, democratic transformations – all of these require scholars with a variety of training and expertise coming together to explore possible solutions. I am proposing the creation of a new organization in the College to stimulate the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration that feeds an active intellectual climate. Dedman College is rare among universities at our level in that it doesn’t have a humanities center. I envision a high-profile institute that will spark interdisciplinary connections across departments and schools, throughout the humanities and sciences, spanning research and teaching. It also would welcome undergraduate and graduate students in addition to faculty. I can easily imagine it contributing to the development of new courses and new degree programs, as well as enhancing our ability to compete for large research grants. Dedman College is fortunate in having a number of established units that support interdisciplinary research: the Tower Center for Political Studies and the Clements Center for Southwest Studies have international profiles, the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man is a long-term contributor to research in the natural sciences, and the new Center for Scientific Computational Science has great potential. These centers and institutes can and should provide leadership in stimulating dialogue across campus, but the new institute will play a critical role in creating a vibrant culture of interdisciplinarity in the College and at SMU.
What are your priorities for research in Dedman College?
Historically, the majority of externally funded research at SMU has been conducted in Dedman College. We have the potential to do even more, but we need to provide better support for undergraduate and graduate research and further assist junior faculty members in competing for the top national grants. We also need bridge funding to help senior faculty start new projects or launch new areas of investigation. In addition, we must ensure that the natural and social sciences have adequate laboratories and collaborative spaces, and that they have the latest technology to support the work of scholars and students. Dedman College faculty members have long been enthusiastic participants in the process of discovery, and a lot of people locally recognize the value of that research – the benefit it brings not just to the world but to Dallas in particular – because it generates new economic opportunities and addresses a wide variety of social, political and cultural challenges. People want to invest in people. That’s why it is so important to get our faculty out into the community as part of The Second Century Campaign. When alumni see the passion that our biologists, economists, psychologists and other faculty bring to their research, they understand that what can seem like a faceless institutional gift actually has a very human imprint. To help stimulate research activity, the College, working with our Campaign Steering Committee co-chairs Kelly Hoglund Compton ’79 and Fred Hegi ’66, has created the Dean’s Research Council, a donor organization that provides resources for promising new scholarly projects. We’ve already received a $100,000 leadership gift from Pierce Allman ’54 and have selected some impressive young, tenure-track faculty members – Amy Pinkham in psychology, Yunkai Zhou in mathematics and Lisa Siraganian in English – who will receive seed funding as a springboard to compete for large federal grants.
Why is it important to raise Dedman College’s profile?
Dedman College serves Dallas in countless ways, but we seldom get the recognition we deserve because few people are aware of all that we do. The College’s outreach spans from members of our Economics Department consulting with the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Dallas to our faculty in the sciences collaborating with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center to undergraduate students in sociology, world languages and religious studies working on tutoring, bilingual education or local history programs with low-income communities in East Dallas. Connecting Dedman College more deeply with Dallas will enrich faculty scholarship and the student experience, provide new opportunities for applied research and funding, and contribute to our region’s economic vitality and the quality of life.

What will Dedman College’s role be in implementing the new University Curriculum (formerly General Education Curriculum), effective fall 2012?

Dedman College is where all SMU students begin their collegiate journey, no matter what majors or minors they ultimately choose. The University Curriculum provides the common knowledge, skills and experiences every student must accrue before he or she graduates. The new curriculum makes it easier to pursue multiple majors and minors. It also accommodates more opportunities for honors programming, international study, undergraduate research, internship experiences and service learning. Students must demonstrate second-language proficiency equal to four semesters of college study. What I particularly like is that the new curriculum engages students more actively in the process of their own education, forcing them to do more than just sit in a classroom and take notes from PowerPoint slides. It will require students to think about how they learn and what they’re going to learn, asking them to be more active and intentional, for example, in identifying a community service experience or gaining global perspectives. SMU will be in the forefront of having an up-to-date student-focused curriculum. Of course, this new curriculum also will pose a few challenges for Dedman College. The foreign language requirement will have a huge impact on our World Languages and Literatures Department. We also have to work to develop our interdisciplinary offerings. There is sure be a lot of juggling in introducing this curriculum, but it’s a valuable opportunity for faculty and the institution to evaluate and sharpen the undergraduate experience – this challenges us to reflect on what we are doing in the classroom and what we can be doing better.

What are you saying to alumni who may be concerned that the SMU “as they know it” is going to change?

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to alumni about their strongest memories of SMU. Some will mention athletics, for others it was their sorority and fraternity experiences. But I’m often pleasantly surprised by the number of alumni who can remember the first classes they took. I was talking recently to a successful graduate in the automobile industry who transferred to SMU; he remembers even today that one of his first classes was in philosophy, and that he called his parents right afterward and said, “This is the place I was meant to be.” That’s exactly the experience I want our students to have when they take classes in Dedman College. I don’t want them to think, “This is high school, year five.” They need to be exposed to a broad range of perspectives (and challenges) by their instructors. As long as we keep engaging students and firing their curiosity, that fundamental experience of an SMU education will remain consistent over the decades. That’s the genius of the liberal arts – you never know what will capture a student’s passion. There is so much to learn out there in the world, and it’s unlikely we’re ever going to learn exactly all that we need to know. Take for example the events unfolding today in Libya. You probably can count on one hand the people in America who’ve had courses on Libyan politics. It’s not a good investment of resources at most universities to have specialists in only that field. Nevertheless, as informed citizens we need broad exposure to political movements, to Islam, to technology and its power, and to civil-military relations that allow us to understand an unpredictable and rapidly changing situation like we’re seeing in Libya and all over the Middle East. And that’s what the liberal arts can offer us. Even if you haven’t been trained to deal with a specific issue or series of events, a broad liberal education equips you with a toolkit of analytical skills for making informed, intelligent decisions about a rapidly changing world.

What are your final thoughts on Dedman College?

The time is now for Dedman College; we have all the ingredients to really fly – a wonderful faculty, a strong student base, and a supportive administration and Board of Trustees. Now is the time for us to define our vision, to ask where we want to go and how investment will make a difference, and then to take off. There is no more optimistic campus in America than SMU, and there is no part of this University better positioned for growth and success than Dedman College.

To support Dedman College’s faculty, students, research and programs, visit or call Courtney Corwin ’89 at 214-768-2691.