Annual online reseach feature looks at the work of 12 extraordinary professors.
Annual online reseach feature looks at the work of 12 extraordinary professors.
The stories in Endeavors, an online magazine, were selected by
the office of the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and represent
a cross section of the research conducted at TCU. They were chosen to
present the depth and breadth of inquiry in the seven colleges and
Go to www.endeavors.tcu.edu for the full text of the stories and additional information regarding research and creative scholarship at TCU.
A date with antiquity
Professor Richard Leo Enos was traveling Greece in search of ancient stones: the kind that tell stories. He was hunting for inscriptions about the fabric of daily life. And specifically, because he loves words, inscriptions about how the ancient Greeks use language and oratory. A fragment of marble caught his eye, and Enos, now the Lillian Radford Chair of rhetoric and composition at TCU, was never the same again.
In January 2009, after scrutinizing 200 different careers, JobsRated.com ranked “mathematician” as the nation’s best gig.
“To a mathematician, life really is largely concerned with the solving of problems,” says TCU Mathematics Department Chairman Robert S. Doran Doran. “Advanced mathematics is also something that society tends to respect. That’s why there are programs like “Numbers” on TV. People like the magical aspects of how mathematics does things and solves problems. So it’s fun to be involved with it.”
In this dream job, research is vital. Doran has been studying operator algebras and closely related parts of mathematics for some 40 years.
But a mathematician’s special challenge, Doran says, is to make their abstract work understandable to others.
“The things we do are often so esoteric that one simply can’t relate them to normal activities, so it’s difficult to talk about them to non-math people — or even sometimes outside of one’s own math specialty.”
If you’re female and over 40, you should know a lot about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, as Suzy Lockwood director of TCU’s Oncology Education and Research Center, has discovered, you probably don’t.
In a study published in The American Journal of Nursing, Lockwood and her team revealed just how little women know about the warning signs of this deadly disease.
And yet, the consequences of ignorance are deadly: most ovarian cancer cases are not diagnosed until stage III or IV. The five-year survival rate for stage III ovarian cancer is 70 percent; at stage IV it falls to 31 percent.
If women knew what to look for, Lockwood says, more cases would be diagnosed in the early stages, and there the news is good: a five-year survival rate of 93 percent. But only 19 percent of cases are caught early.
Surveying our water sources
Here’s a tip from students of Becky Richards MS ’95 : don’t take her wastewater class unless you want to change your life.
A geologist and groundwater expert who operates her own environmental consulting business in Fort Worth, Richards views her water class as a way to shock students into caring about our most precious commodity: Upend your Evian bottle in class, and Richards may point out that dinosaurs once slurped and stomped in the same H2O.
“All the water we will ever have on the planet is already here, we’re just recycling it,” she says. “It always surprises students to hear that 95 percent of the water leaving Dallas-Fort Worth in the Trinity River is treated wastewater. But what really hits them hard is when they learn that this same water is Houston’s primary drinking source.”
Can’t anyone do as I ask?” the maestro asked the young conducting students in the room who were shifting in strained silence.
He turned to the other side of the room, to those who had come to observe the famous maestro from Bucharest judge the Latin American Choral Contest. “What about this side? Any ideas?”
Nineteen-year-old Germán Gutiérrez who was sitting with the observers, couldn’t believe it. He had just been teaching those same principles of harmony to his class. “I can do it,” he said, raising his hand.
“You can, can you? Show me.” Maestro Constantin fixed his eye on him and listened gravely.
“When I finished,” Gutiérrez recalled recently, “Maestro yelled, ‘What are you doing there? You are a conductor! Get over to this side of the room!’ ”
Speaking the language
If you can’t meet associate professor of education Cecilia Silva in the flesh, will you do her a favor and Skype her? Even after all these years speaking fluent English, telephone-talk can still make her nervous.
Silva, who has devoted her career to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), knows better than most how non-verbal clues help grease the delicate gears of communication. Born in Colombia, South America, she grew up speaking Spanish and English. Still, emigrating to the U.S. for college was a shock. One minute English was a well; the next, it was a wall.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m a smart person who’s not smart anymore!’ ” she says.
Silva recalled that feeling when she began her career in 1976, teaching bilingual third-graders in California public schools. While she worked to build her students’ English skills and confidence by day, Silva studied for her PhD at night. Her vibrant classroom became a learning lab for both the children and herself.
Searching for perfect feedback
Professor Paul King has been accused of being a “closet rhetorician” because of his passion for language. The chair of the Department of Communication Studies is fascinated by communication and believes that meaning is socially constructed through our use of language. His research focuses on communication and social cognition — the study of how people process information.
“I argue that the way people think about experiences affects their behavior, including communication behavior,” he says. “And while my research ranges widely in terms of context, including studies of classroom communication, interpersonal influence, reactions to information overload, etc., the underlying theoretical principles of communication tie the work together.”
A topic that expressly interests him is student feedback sensitivity. “As a professor, I want my students to succeed in the classroom,” says King. “Feedback from teachers to students is central to learning, but it’s how students process feedback that is important to their ultimate success.”
Refining social skills
Social rules at middle schools are unwritten and can be difficult to decipher for any new student, particularly those with learning differences.
That’s why faculty and students are studying what happens to elementary-level students at TCU’s Starpoint School after they graduate and head out into the “real world” of middle schools.
“We want to help them make friends,” says Nancy
Meadows, director of the Alice S. Neeley Special Education Institute and an associate professor of special education at the College of Education.
Studies of transitions from Starpoint School and KinderFrogs, the TCU school for children with Down syndrome from 18 months to 6 years old, already has helped the two laboratory schools’ teachers and TCU students adjust their curriculum to better prepare students.
Now the research is expanding to look at social transitions as well as academic. Just how does a laboratory school prepare students for making friends?
Buying into the Asian market
It was a sabbatical leave in 1997-98 that pointed business professor In-Mu Haw in an exciting new direction — he headed to universities in Hong Kong and China to learn about emerging capital markets in Asia, places the native South Korean had never visited.
“It was an interesting time to live in Hong Kong, when Hong Kong just returned to China after 150 years of U.K. control,” he said.
Haw was impressed with Hong Kong’s economy, democracy and cultural diversity. He was equally fascinated by the corporate market’s “unique” ownership structures, governing systems and developing accounting and capital market regulations. His fascination soon turned to full-scale research.
Since 1999, Haw has studied the effects of corporate governance on earnings quality, firm performance, cost of capital and corporate payout policies for companies in emerging Asian economies — earning an international reputation as a leading authority along the way.
Diving into cultural understanding
Professor Jeff Ferrell has always been attracted to people on the edge.
“If you look through history — anything from jazz to gay culture to punk rock — some of the most interesting stuff has come from the margins,” says Jeff Ferrell, professor of sociology.
And that’s exactly who he studies. From graffiti artists to dumpster divers, Ferrell goes one-on-one with urban outsiders, using an eyewitness method of research called ethnography. After all, what better way to learn than seeing what you are studying and doing it for yourself?
It’s a method that often leads Ferrell out of the classrooms and into the streets. “Life is much more complex than we might believe,” Ferrell says, “You have to humble yourself and make sure you are listening to their account.”
Anyone who thinks that physical education classes just steal time from the classroom hasn’t met Deborah J. Rhea. She’s turned school gyms into laboratories for learning and teaching.
First she developed PE classes that got more kids moving, in part by adding activities beyond competitive sports. Then she integrated health science lessons that kids can use the rest of their lives. That curriculum, which meets the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, is now used in 10 Texas school districts.
“I want to create environments where kids want to move and where they understand why it is important to keep moving,” says Rhea, associate dean of health science and research for Harris College of Nursing & Health Science and an assistant professor of kinesiology. “I want to make sure that teachers pay attention to each child, even the ones who don’t seem to be ‘getting it.’”
Now she is fine-tuning that curriculum by expanding her research into the effects of ethnicity and culture as they pertain to suiting up for gym and for life.
Sharing the fascination
Young David Conn wasn’t a troublesome boy. That’s why his behavior on a field trip when he was just 12 years old was so surprising. As the teacher led the way to the gear-turning, kid-friendly exhibits at the Newark Museum, David stopped short, clutching the hand of another sixth-grader, unable to move.
His teacher fussed; the waiting kids grumbled. But Conn’s feet wouldn’t budge. He was transfixed by two images on the wall.
A curator saw the commotion and drew Conn aside to tell him about the great 15th-century printmaker, Albrecht Dürer. Conn just kept staring, all eyes and heart. Finally, Conn found his voice. “I don’t know what it is,” he said. “But I’m gonna do it.”
“Those images of Dürer’s fascinated me,” says Conn, who has been a master printmaker and art professor at TCU for 40 years. “They were unlike anything I’d ever seen. The precision, the line-work. I loved it. In that moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”