Four professors “in the spotlight”
Although not one male was in the audience, last Thursday’s “Women in the Spotlight Series” focused on four female professors who have received grant funding to pursue individual research projects in recent years.
This monthly event, which was free and open to the greater College community, allowed the professors to discuss their projects in detail.
Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Mathematics Department Jan Holly spoke first. In 2005, Holly received a National Institute of Health Grant that allowed her to begin researching different motions; she received the grant again in 2008. Her research was inspired by her desire to understand the misperception of motion. As she stated in her talk, humans are able to understand some motions but not others. Examples she offered included JFK’s flight path, which causes spatial disorientation, and inner-ear disorders, which have similar effects.
The grant allowed Holly to pay a researcher at NASA to run experiments while she performed the mathematical modeling on the Hill.
During the presentation, Holly shared a Power Point that featured pictures of the experiments, mathematical formulas and output demonstrations. Holly concluded her talk by explaining that her goal is to apply these mathematical models on a global framework. “We should be able to take data and allow it to predict what will happen in many situations with motion,” she said.
After Holly’s presentation, Associate Professor and Department Chair of the American Studies Department Laura Saltz took the floor. Saltz was awarded a 2005-2006 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. This grant, combined with a yearlong sabbatical, allowed Saltz to devote two years to her project, which focuses on the relationship between American photography and American Romantic Literature in the nineteenth century.
Her idea for the project arose out of her thesis, “Disappearing Women.” During these years, Saltz found that she needed to perform much more research than she had expected, and she ended up relating photography to different authors than she originally anticipated. These authors include Thoreau, Emerson and Poe.
Despite this change in plan, Saltz learned quite a bit about photography during the nineteenth century: “These processes allow the immaterial to become material…and photography is understood in terms of physics, not optics,” she said. Although Saltz has yet to complete her project, she is satisfied with what she has accomplished so far and describes her writing as a book of intellectual language.
The third speaker, Professor of English Debra Spark, received the Michigan Literary Fiction Prize in 2009. This award covered the publishing costs of her most recent novel, Good for the Jews. Spark described her novel as a “loose retelling of the Book of Ester in the Bible,” and explained that she was inspired to write the novel several years ago when she took her four-year-old son to a celebration of Purim, the Jewish holiday.
In preparation for the holiday, she re-read several Biblical stories and realized that the book of Ester provided an interesting perspective on gender roles. She soon hatched the idea to write a modern adaptation of the story. “Retelling the story gave me the plot…and having the framework gave me the ability to work on other aspects of the novel, like character development and setting,” she said. After Spark spoke, she provided the audience with the opportunity to listen to a scene that she read aloud.
The final speaker of the day was Associate Professor of East Asian Studies Hong Zhang, who has received two prestigious awards during her time at the College. The first was a 2007 Freeman Foundation and Asian Network of Student Fellows program, which enabled Zhang to take five students on a research trip through China. Each focused on a specific area of study: Park Restoration, Restaurants, Modes of Transportation, Construction Boom and Consumerism.
Zhang supplemented her presentation with a Power Point and photographs from the trip.
She then spoke about her experiences in China with the 2009-2010 Fulbright Research Grant. Zhang presented many of the research projects that she has undertaken in her quest to understand the significant changes that China is undergoing.
One of her projects, “Between City Life and Rural Ties: Migration, Marriage and Modernity in Contemporary China,” revealed that, “of the 200 million migrants in Beijing, 80 percent are under 30 years of age.” While Zhang studied many aspects of Chinese culture, she was most impassioned about education systems in migrant schools.
A question and answer session followed the presentations. The “Women in the Spotlight Series” features two more sessions this semester: Thursday, March 17 and Thursday, April 21. Both will take place at 4 p.m. in Lovejoy 215.