SPARTANBURG, S.C. (courtesy wofford.edu) — Patrick M. Stanton, assistant professor of finance at Wofford College, will spend this summer applying and expanding his current research on microfinance into the Dominican Republic, where he will see first-hand how a nonprofit microfinance institution operates, selects and screens potential borrowers and how those institutions seek to alleviate poverty through the effective lending of capital to entrepreneurs in need.
Stanton is one of a dozen Wofford faculty members to be awarded summer research grants that will expand on existing research or may contribute to new projects.
“Research activity brings benefits to faculty professional development as both scholars and teachers,” says Dr. Michael Sosulski, provost. “Each year, Wofford awards a range of summer research grants to support both individual research projects and student-faculty collaborative research projects, where Wofford students work side-by-side with one or more faculty members. Both activities are dynamic, high-impact practices that enrich human knowledge in a variety of fields while modeling in a powerful way Wofford’s commitment to lifelong learning.”
Wofford’s James-Atklins Student-Managed Investment Fund already has a relationship with Esperanza International, a nonprofit microfinance institution in the Dominican Republic, that may prove to be an outlet for Stanton’s research. Stanton will travel to the Dominican with Dr. Philip G. Swicegood, the R. Michael James Professor and chair of the Department of Accounting, Business and Finance, this summer to learn more and gather data. “This will provide a great hands-on scholarship experience that will provide a true application of my research and could result in positive change within the community,” says Stanton.
Stanton also plans to use the project as a networking opportunity to develop an Interim microfinance course in which he would take students to the Dominican Republic to work with Esperanza International.
Masha Vlasova, assistant professor of studio art, will use her research grant to support her experimental film documentary exploring “the liminal space between public and private by focusing on unique sculptural arrangements in lawns” in Muncie, Indiana, where two private yards have garnered a lot of local — and national — attention as well as vandalism.
“The film pays special attention to these two private yards, whose incredible lawn sculptures (one with large-scale, wild cats and the other with large casts of wild animals, including a gorilla, hippopotamus, giraffe and deer, all painted in safety yellow with black smile faces) have been seen by the Muncie residents as an integral part of the city’s identity,” she says.
Vlasova’s film also weaves the stories of private yards with the story of a lost sculpture dedicated to Muncie entrepreneur Charles Willard. “Once standing on the building owned by his family, the sculpture was lost for over 60 years,” she says. “It was discovered by local history enthusiast Bob Good in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where, existing without a pedestal or a plaque was considered to be a dismantled Confederate general.” Returned to Muncie last summer, the sculpture now resides behind the white picket fence of the Muncie Historical Society, “occupying a liminal space between yard art, monument and public sculpture.”
Dr. Geoffrey C. Mitchell, assistant professor of biology, and his students initiated research projects in the fall 2019 semester to study corals and the algae that live in them and their impact of coral bleaching that endangers reef systems around the world. This summer this important research will continue because of the grant.
Mitchell’s students researched the cellular details of the symbiotic relationship that exists between corals and the algae that reside within them. “These ‘endosymbiotic’ algae are like tiny solar panels, providing more than 90 percent of the coral’s energy needs through photosynthesis,” he says. “The problem is — and this has been all over the news — that corals bleach when they are stressed, particularly heat stress, and they kick out their symbionts. This alters reef systems irrevocably.”
Coral reefs support some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, with thousands of marine animals depending on them for survival. The reefs provide shelter, spawning grounds and protection from predators, and organisms at the base of the ocean food chains. Coral bleaching, which causes reefs to die, impacts peoples’ livelihoods, food security and safety as well.
Mitchell is excited especially about two of the student projects. One group showed that the presence of microplastics makes anemones (their lab stand-in for corals) much more susceptible to bleaching when heat stressed. “This is a huge deal because microplastics are found throughout our oceans,” he says. “They are created as larger plastics are broken down.”
The second group was looking at how coral cells and algal cells coordinate when they are going to divide. “This is important because usually each coral cell will only have one or two algae. If the number of algae gets too high, that could stress the corals and may actually lead to bleaching. Surprisingly, very little is known about how this coordination occurs. This group demonstrated that an acidic environment can slow algal cell divisions. Corals, and anemones, are known to create an acidic compartment to keep their intracellular algae in. My work over the summer will attempt to show that this acidic compartment is the way that corals control the divisions of their symbionts.”
Two rising seniors will continue to work with Mitchell on the research this summer, with their funding coming from other sources.
Other faculty members awarded summer research grants from the Office of the Provost, and their research plans, are:
Dr. Caleb A. Arrington, professor of chemistry — Studying silver clusters of atoms, focusing on the properties of optical absorption and fluorescence of the clusters, which ultimately could be used as molecular beacons in the study of biological processes.
Dr. Stacey R. Hettes, professor of biology and associate provost for faculty development — Beginning work on a book on ways that collaboration, cooperation and communication play out in biological evolution.
Dr. Maria A. Hofmann, assistant professor of German — Working on book project for “A Crisis of Perception: Documentary Film in the Post-Truth Era,” which examines how documentary films from the past 15 years respond to the challenges of a crisis in perception in which media, rather than direct experience, determine what is real.
Dr. Kirsten Krick-Aigner, professor of German — Research on a Jewish Austrian children’s book author.
Dr. Carolyn M. Martsberger, assistant professor of physics — Continuing analysis on dual heart and brain data, writing a paper with a community partner and analyzing data from an electrical system.
Dr. Anne B. Rodrick, professor of history — Researching for “Lecturing the Victorians” project, examining ways in which cities and towns outside of London used the popular lecture to help shape their civic and cultural profiles and studying the ways in which the popular lecture changed over time; participating in the inaugural Belcher Colloquium in Victorian Studies at St. Hugh’s College, University of Oxford on “An Ecosystem of Talk: Exploring Mid-Victorian Knowledge-Based Culture, with a volume of essays to follow.
Dr. Youngfang Zhang, associate professor of Chinese — Investigating the language-learning process to propose effective instructional approaches to better engage learners.
Also receiving grants are Dr. Amy L. Telligman, assistant professor of environmental studies, and Dr. Thomas J. Wright, associate professor of mathematics.