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News and Notes

March 2009

These highlights related to the social, behavioral, and economic sciences at Michigan State University are brought to you by the Office of the Dean. For the latest news, visit our Web site at www.socialscience.msu.edu.

Faculty and staff are encouraged to share news of current research projects, publications, events, and awards. Call 517/432-0746 or send an email to Michelle Strobel.


Congratulations to Dr. Thomas Summerhill on his appointment as Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs in the College of Social Science. After conducting a college-wide search, Dr. Summerhill was selected on the basis of his experience, background and interests. He has served as Acting Associate Dean since January 2008. Dr. Summerhill is an associate professor in the Department of History, where he teaches courses in historical methods, the American Civil War, and historiography of the U.S. to 1865. Dr. Summerhill also serves as Director of the Center for Integrative Studies in Social Science.

Lisa Cook (assistant professor, economics) has been serving on President Barack Obama’s Economics and International Trade Team as a World Bank Review Team leader. Listen to a recent interview with Dr. Cook on KAR, in which she shared her recommendations regarding U.S. policy toward the World Bank and the Treasury Department's International Affairs Department.

Ed McGarrell and Tim Bynum, both of the School of Criminal Justice participated in a recent congressional briefing, titled “Reducing Violent Crime at Places,” where they made separate presentations on the Project Safe Neighborhoods research project. Click here for summaries of McGarrell’s and Bynum’s presentations.

Two College of Social Science faculty have been selected to participate in the 2009-10 MSU Lilly Teaching Fellows Program. The newly named Fellows, project titles, and mentors are:

  • Judith Danovitch (assistant professor, psychology), “Teaching critical thinking about information skills,” Mentor: Lauren Harris (professor, psychology)
  • Kirk Goldsberry (assistant professor, geography), “Visual literacy for geographers: Enhancing graphic communication of geographic information,” Mentor: Alan Arbogast (associate professor, geography)

Eight Fellows were selected for the 2009-10 cycle. The MSU Lilly Program is designed to encourage the teaching fellows to become future faculty leaders and models for their peers as well as inspire a broad range of faculty at all ranks to develop new and enhanced programs which emphasize and sustain teaching excellence.

The Times Literary Supplement recently reviewed Cars for Comrades, authored by History professor Lewis Siegelbaum. Siegelbaum uses the biography of the Soviet automobile to construct a thoughtful meditation on how cars embodied, encouraged and exacerbated fundamental contradictions in the 70-year experiment of Soviet communism.

Congratulations to Tim Pleskac (assistant professor, psychology), who won the Hillel Einhorn Young Investigator Award for his research on Decision Making and Learning While Taking Sequential Risks, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 34, 167-185. The award was presented by the Society for Behavioral Decision Making. Submissions were judged on their theoretical importance, methodological soundness, implications for practice, and position within the core of judgment decision making.

Two faculty members are among 15 members of the MSU community who constitute the first cohort in a new university initiative, the Walter and Pauline Adams Academy for Instructional Excellence and Innovation. Robyn Mace, academic specialist in the School of Criminal Justice and Cathleen McGreal, associate professor and coordinator of online programs in the Department of Psychology. The initiative engages fixed-term faculty, continuing appointment librarians, academic specialists and other academic staff in furthering their development as teachers whose instructional decisions are rooted in research on effective teaching and learning.


The School of Labor & Industrial Relations will host a webinar on March 26, titled "The Employee Free Choice Act and Working Constructively with Labor Unions." more...


MSU's African Activist Archive goes digital
From WILS-AM: More than 1,300 pieces of memorabilia from the U.S. movement supporting freedom and justice in South Africa from the 1950s to the 1990s can now be found in MSU's African Activist Archive, thanks to digitization provided by the MSU computing center. Walt Sorg interviews David Wiley, former director of Michigan State University's African Studies Center, and Christine Root, African Activist Archive project manager at MATRIX, about the archive. Read the press release.

From Public Broadcasting Service (PBS): Mara Leichtman, assistant professor in Michigan State University's Department of Anthropology, discusses Chrislam in Nigeria. ... "It's nothing foreign to a Muslim to believe in Jesus, to pray to Jesus or some of the other prophets, to light a candle for the Virgin Mary, for example, as I've experienced Muslims do in churches in Senegal. They believe, in some cases in Africa and various African counties, in what I call 'spirituality without boundaries,'" she says.

Parasites On the Mind
From Discover (blog): There are two things I really like to learn about parasites and the human mind. And so I was intrigued to learn about some studies that suggest that we defend ourselves from infections not only with an immune system made up of cells and antibodies, but one made up of unconscious behaviors. Other people can make us sick, and so perhaps we deal with them differently depending on our risk of getting sick. The study from Carlos Navarrete, a psychologist at Michigan State University, and his colleagues designed an experiment to compare how pregnant women responded to strangers. During the first trimester, both mother and child are particularly vulnerable to infection.

Amazon deforestation: Earth's heart and lungs dismembered
From LiveScience.com: Splintered, charred wood litters the outskirts of an expansive ranch that lies on recently cleared land in the Brazilian Amazon. On the newly planted pasture, cattle leisurely graze, occasionally lifting their heads to gaze past heaps of dead trees toward an island of dense vegetation that has thus far been spared. But it too may soon be cut down. ... "Probably 80 to 90 percent of all cleared land in the region (the Brazilian Amazon) is attributable to some form of pasture or ranching," says Robert Walker, geography professor at Michigan State University and an expert on land-use change in the Brazilian Amazon.

What we don't know still hurts us, environmental reserachers warn
From Science Daily: Knowledge gaps continue to hobble scientist's assessments of the environment, Thomas Dietz and other researchers warn. Dietz, director of the MSU Environmental Science and Policy Program and professor in sociology and crop and soil sciences, was involved in a worldwide 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that enlisted hundreds of scientists to develop a view of ecosystems through the lens of services that those ecosystems provide humanity. Their warning follows sobering conclusions drawn from what they do know and could help set the global agenda for research funding in the years to come.