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2023 Summer Research Grant Awardees

Samer Abboud, PhD

Dr. Samer Abboud

Department of Global Interdisciplinary Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Syrian Refugee Lifeworlds

How do Syrian refugees decide whether to stay in their host countries or return to Syria? How do their life experiences and current government policies towards refugees shape their decision-making? My current research that will be supported with USG funding engages with these questions through an interview study of Syrian refugees. In the context of increasing pressures from host countries to return to Syria, refugees are caught between the precarity of life outside of Syria and the uncertainties and insecurities associated with return. This interview study provides empirical material for parts of a forthcoming manuscript. In this book, I ask how the Syrian government has managed the conflict through a series of legal and policy changes aimed at punishing those deemed disloyal. As displaced people, refugees are often considered to have betrayed the 'homeland' and are considered to be potential enemies of the state. Thus, their potential return raises several questions: is it safe to return? Under what conditions would it be safe? How can refugees prove their loyalty to the government to return? What happens if they are deemed disloyal? My USG supported research inquires into how refugees engage in forms of decision-making through what I am calling their "lifeworlds", a way of describing how their experiences inside and outside of Syria as well as their awareness of the government's suspicion of them, shapes their decision-making about the future.

Aronte Bennett, PhD

Dr. Aronte Bennett

Department of Marketing and Business Law
Villanova School of Business

Project Title: Selling Snail Soup: An Investigation of Competition in a Moroccan Subsistence Marketplace

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the snail soup market in Morocco is an example of coopetition in a subsistence marketplace. This possibility is interesting from academic, applied and policy perspectives, extending the consideration of a business model from its standard context to an oft-overlooked marketplace. In-depth interviews will be conducted to develop understanding of cooperative competition, coopetition, as an adaptive means of survival for microentrepreneurs in subsistence marketplaces. Work on this project will be conducted in two phases: the authors are submitting IRB applications in January with a plan to utilize Spring Break to collect data in March; over the summer they will analyze their results and prepare a draft for submission to a special issue of Industrial Marketing Management on coopetition. 

Christa Bialka, PhD

Dr. Christa Bialka

Department of Education and Couseling
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Understanding How Twitter Shapes Public Perceptions of #Disability

Since the introduction of MySpace in 2003, social networking sites (SNS) have redefined how people communicate. In addition to creating a global network of users, SNS have created platforms for people from marginalized groups who are commonly excluded from public discourse by eliminating multiple barriers to entry (e.g., time, space, and information flow). This is especially important for users with disabilities, as SNS “facilitate activism across a range of disability rights and disability technology issues, both by people with disabilities as well as their allies” (Kent, 2019, p. 266). Research has indicated that Twitter, in particular, has the power to shape public discourse regarding a variety of social and political issues (Zeitoff, 2017). However, the production and dissemination of content does not ensure adequate representation or understanding of disability, as not all disability-related content is developed with the goals of advocacy or awareness. Indeed, some disability-related content can “objectify people with disabilities and undermine the genuine aspirations of people with disabilities to be able to better access society” (Kent, 2019, p. 268). Given Twitter’s power to shape public discourse, as well as the limited empirical research on public perception of disability-related tweets, I will (1) survey a nationwide sample of 1500 participants and (2) use a combination of statistics and sentiment analysis to understand the ways that people interpret disability-related Tweets. This project represents a necessary first step toward identifying the sentiments and underlying heuristics associated with disability; these data are vital in understanding how to combat ableism.

Agenese Codebo, PhD

Dr. Agnese Codebo

Department of Spanish
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Counter Epistemologies of Waste in Latin America

My project addresses the need to approach garbage differently by focusing on the social relations and cultural practices that form around it in four Latin American countries: Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile. Looking at the work of informal recyclers, concepts of circular economy, geographical representations of landfills, artworks, documentary film, novels, and cartoneras books (book editions made with recycled cardboard), this project investigates how garbage matters culturally and socially. It specifically looks at the ways in which culture’s interest in trash and informal recycling reveals not only the aesthetic value of waste, but also points to its political, social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

Weijian Diao, PhD

Dr. Weijian Diao

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
College of Engineering

Project Title: Bifunctional metal oxide catalysts for CO2 hydrogenation to green methanol

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas which accounted for about 79% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2020. High CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is directly linked to climate change, global warming, as well as extreme weather all over the world. Research including CO2 capture and conversion have been conducted to decrease the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Hydrogenation of CO2 to green methanol is a promising route to mitigate CO2 emissions while producing an important chemical intermediate and potential sustainable, renewable-based fuel. In this project, we will focus on In2O3/ZrO2 and In2O3/CeO2 catalysts synthesis and application for CO2 conversion and utilization. By changing synthesis methods and parameters including pH, temperature, and metal precursors, In2O3 loadings will be adjusted as well as dispersion/particle size, and interaction between In2O3, CeO2 and ZrO2. We will use comprehensive characterization to verify the structure and morphology of In2O3/ZrO2 and In2O3/CeO2 catalysts. Detailed catalyst evaluation and mechanistic study will be conducted with Packed Bed Reactor for CO2 hydrogenation to methanol reaction at different reaction conditions. A correlation between catalyst performance with catalyst structure will help guide future CO2 conversion catalyst design and synthesis.

Adriano Duque, PhD

Dr. Adriano Duque

Department of Spanish
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: The Traditions of Africa in Pliny's Naturalis Historia

I am seeking support to finish editing a chapter and submit it for publication to Cambridge University Press. The Traditions of Africa seeks to illuminate marginalized African communities as overlooked receivers of African traditions negotiating their status and disrupting linear, continental traditions of antique reception. In this sense, my approach features three innovative elements. First, it exposes how the idea of Africa challenged the incongruencies of Roman citizenship across the Mediterranean. It examines how African beliefs in monstrous races and sex-changing creatures challenged and shaped Roman perceptions of law and citizenship. Taking non-conforming sexuality as a reference, it argues that monstrosity served as a template to argue for the integration of African citizens into the Roman Empire. Second, it examines how African traditions were essential for constructing royal genealogies in Northern Africa. Most notably, I discuss how these genealogies forced Africans to confront and reexamine their religious and geographical beliefs. Third, I will discern the complexities and challenges in African traditions expressed by African patrons and the influence they had in shaping Roman culture.

Frank Galgano, PhD

Dr. Frank Galgano

Department of Geography and the Environment
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Water and the Environment-Conflict Nexus

If climate change is the defining crisis of our time, then violent conflict triggered by its adverse effects represents an existential threat to society. This is the environmental security paradigm which is one lens through which we now examine global security and conflict. Water is a particularly challenging factor in the environmental security milieu because it is necessary for life, and it is an essential resource for which there are no substitutes. Today, about one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and this problem only promises to intensify in a greenhouse world, affecting nearly three billion by 2050. Yet, links between water disputes and violent conflict are a matter of some polemic in the literature; although, quantitative studies are sparse. Many scholars suggest that water disputes are resolved by cooperative means. Hence, this USG proposal examines the thesis that the effects of climate change have altered the security landscape profoundly, and the history of peaceful water–conflict resolution is no longer a reliable guide for the future. Climate change and persistent droughts are already significantly affecting the supply of water in many regions, thus we can no longer continue to rely on quasi–peaceful means using established diplomatic and international protocols. This research examines newly available conflict data to quantifiably assess water and conflict in a Geographic Information System.

Meredith Bergey, PhD, and Lance Hannon, PhD

Dr. Lance Hannon
Dr. Meredith Bergey

Department of Sociology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Exploring Policy Variation in the Selection of External Reviewers for Tenure Cases in the Sciences

There is a robust research literature documenting differences in peer review processes for scholarly outlets. Knowledge of this variability has provoked discussion about what constitutes the best approach for ensuring rigor and innovation in research (e.g., single-blind vs. double-blind review, or more recently, double-blind vs. open review). Our proposed study aims to expand this conversation to peer review processes specified in rank and tenure guidelines. We plan to qualitatively analyze a large corpus of publicly available rank and tenure procedures from an assortment of institutions in the United States. Results from a pilot study suggest significant variation in (1) the candidate’s role in the reviewer solicitation process, (2) level of secured anonymity for reviewers, (3) attention to potential conflict-of-interest scenarios, and (4) maximum number of external reviews allowed. We hypothesize that many of the debates about best practices for journals and funding agencies will also be relevant for rank and tenure procedures. Moreover, external reviews for rank and tenure cases may be subject to unique issues, such as occasions when reviews are formally cast as disinterested assessments but informally understood as letters of recommendation.


Dr. Jonathan Hubler

Department of Civil and Environmental
College of Engineering

Project Title: Quantifying Soil Fabric Changes during Earthquakes

The goal of this study is to evaluate soil fabric changes due to liquefaction during earthquake events. Soil liquefaction is a complex phenomenon that causes saturated, cohesionless soils, such as sands and silts, to lose strength and behave similar to a liquid during earthquake shaking. Current methods used to predict liquefaction triggering and post-liquefaction response do not account for changes in soil fabric. By understanding the micro-mechanical changes in soil fabric resulting from liquefaction during earthquake events, improvements in design and resiliency of infrastructure can be made. This project seeks to quantify and compare soil fabric changes during liquefaction using a laboratory cyclic simple shear device and advanced imaging techniques. Two sand specimens will be prepared and injected with resin. One specimen will be injected prior to liquefaction and represent initial conditions and the other specimen will be injected following liquefaction in the cyclic simple shear device. Both specimens will be evaluated using several imaging techniques to study changes in soil fabric resulting from liquefaction.

Xun Jiao, PhD

Dr. Xun Jiao

Department of Electrical and Computer
College of Engineering

Project Title: Predicting Semiconductor Chip Timing using AI

The U.S. Congress’s recently passed the historical CHIPS and Science Act, committing a $52.7 billion investment in domestic semiconductor manufacturing to reclaim the global leadership in semiconductor chips design and manufacturing. Unfortunately, as we enter the so-called ``post-Moore's era'', the design and manufacturing of semiconductor chips faces more challenges ever than before. One of the main challenges is to predict the timing, i.e., the operating clock period/frequency, for a given semiconductor chip. In this project, we propose to use AI, in particular graph neural networks (GNNs), to predict chip timing. AI aims to build a model based on sample data, known as training data, in order to make predictions without explicit human input. We argue that GNNs are especially suitable in predicting chip timing because a chip can naturally be represented as a graph, where each component or transistor are interconnected with each other. This project will open a new research direction towards AI-based chip design and lead to timely release of open-source tools and dissemination of the results in top-tier publication venues.


Dr. Julie Klein

Department of Philosophy
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Spinoza on Intuitive Knowing

In this proposal, I am seeking support to write the last major chapter of a book manuscript in progress. The chapter will offer a new interpretation of a famously difficult and exceptionally important aspect of Spinoza's philosophy. By drawing on an expanded notion of Spinoza's context as including medieval and Renaissance Jewish philosophy, and by extension, the Aristotelian tradition associated with the great Muslim commentator Averroes, and by showing how Spinoza uses these sources to respond to, and sometimes to circumvent, more well-known figures in the Latin philosophical canon, my interpretation makes better sense of the texts. A further benefit is a demonstration of the power of rethinking the texts and contexts of early modern European philosophy.


Dr. Elizabeth Kolsky

Department of History
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Femicide and Law in the British Colonial and Post-Colonial World

Femicide is the killing of women because they are women. Every hour, six women are killed by men, most by intimate partners and family members. In 2015, the UN called for the formation of national "femicide watches" to collect data on this global pandemic with the aim of prevention. Yet, the problem persists. This project examines the legally sanctioned killing of women in the British Empire and asks how the legacies of colonial law impact femicide in the post-colonial world. Although the British Empire did not create the problem femicide, the globalization of colonial laws altered the conditions under which murderous gender violence was and is committed with impunity. As part of a larger interdisciplinary, collaborative research project, this proposal seeks funding for preparation of a special-themed journal issue.

James Kriesel, PhD

Dr. James Kriesel

Department of Italian Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: The Marvelous World of Dante's Comedy

Dante’s Comedy is an account of a voyage through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. During his journey, Dante-pilgrim continually wonders at the awe-inducing realities before him.  Despite the import of the marvelous in medieval culture and in the Comedy, there has not yet been a book-length study of the concept in Dante’s poem.  Scholars have noted that Dante recalled the marvelous during the pilgrim’s encounter with the monster Geryon, who is presented as an emblem of the entire text.  Dantists have also explored the role of wonder in passages that deal with acquisition of knowledge and experience of Heaven.  In the Middle Ages, the notion appeared in discussions about topics as varied as ethics, globalism, hermeneutics, illness, nature, and oratory.  My project is an examination of how Dante drew on the marvelous to encourage both personal and communal transformation. 

Xiaoxiao Li, PhD

Dr. Xiaoxiao Li

Department of Economics
Villanova School of Business

Project Title: Major Complexity Index and College Skill Production

We propose an easily computable measure called the Major Complexity Index (MCI) that captures the latent skills taught in different majors. By applying the Method of Reflections to the major-to-occupation network, we construct a scalar measure of the relative complexity of majors. Our measure provides strong explanatory power of major average earnings and employment. Further evidence suggests that the MCI is strongly associated with advanced skills such as quantitative problem-solving, and the use of computing technology. We also provide a two-stage algorithm to partial out selection on observables which opens up possibilities of applying the complexity measure in various contexts.

Chengyu Li, PhD

Dr. Chengyu Li

Department of Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering

Project Title: Tuning the Unsteady Aerodynamics of Swept Wings with Adaptive Lifting Surfaces

Unsteady flow fields are commonly encountered in aeronautic navigation, such as during a maneuver or in response to a gust, and during cooperative flying in a swarm. In such environments, station keeping or performing any other dynamic maneuvers becomes extremely difficult for traditional fixed-wing autonomous aerial vehicles since they are designed with rigid control surfaces for a fixed operational envelope. On the contrary, soaring birds can aptly morph their wings and tails to control unsteady forces and moments. With such capabilities, they can achieve higher aerodynamic efficiency than present-day aircrafts, and they also have superior maneuverability in unstructured flow environments. However, the flow physics underlying biological wings is still unclear due to their complex wing morphology and the sophisticated fluid-structure interaction. To address this challenge, the proposed project aims to discover the non-linear fluid-structure interaction of large, controlled, dynamic deformation of lifting surfaces during extreme unsteady flows characterized by large fluctuations in unsteady loading, and explore scaling laws of avian wings for designing bio-inspired swept wings with high efficiency and high maneuverability. In this project, the PI aims to establish a physics-driven understanding of the biological soaring wings in nature and unravel how birds balance aerodynamic efficiency with high maneuverability.

Patrick Markey, PhD

Dr. Patrick Markey

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Detecting Deception in 911 Homicide Calls: The COPS Scale vs. The 911Q

The public, law enforcement, and attorneys often securitize the behavior of 911 homicide callers when speculating about a caller's deception during a call. However, individuals tend to detect the deception of 911 callers accurately only 53% of the time (with 50% being chance; Markey et al. 2023). To aid in the assessment of deception during 911 homicide calls, the Considering Offender Probability Statements (COPS) scale (Harpster & Adams, 2017) and the 911 Q-sort (911Q; Markey et al., 2022) were created. Unfortunately, limited research has examined the validity of these methodologies using a large, independent sample of 911 homicide calls. The proposed research will address this issue by examining the ability of the COPS scale and the 911Q to detect deception accurately in callers reporting homicides to 911.

Timothy McCall, PhD

Dr. Timothy McCall

Department of History
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Vibrant Banners: The Material Culture of Battle Standards in Renaissance Europe

Vibrant Banners traces the rich history of flags in Renaissance Europe to interpret their function and meaning over centuries and across cultures. This book (co-authored with John Gagné, University of Sydney) sustains a critical analysis of the cultural, ideological, material, and artistic history of these complex and ubiquitous objects. We attend closely to the materiality of these scintillating objects that were activated both by their flickering movement and by the visual effects of silk and gold. We excavate, from multiple perspectives, the dynamic cultural work that Renaissance flags and banners performed in arenas of war on both sides of the Alps. Banners animated and not only adorned battle; energized and not only embellished armies; constructed and not only celebrated victory. They directed eyes, and they directed bodies. Though flags are often investigated as the fixed ground of signs and symbols to be deciphered – as heraldic code revealing identity – these were vibrant and charismatic textiles whose mutability, movement, and multivalency constituted their appeal and salience. Crucially, we insist that meanings enacted by banners are hardly exhausted by the symbolic. Banners, flags, and standards propelled their viewers not only to decipher or identify, but to act.

Jared Paul (pictured) Scott Kassel (not pictured)

Dr. Jared Paul and
Dr. Scott Kassel

Department of Chemistry
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Ruthenium-Copper Bimetallic Complexes with Application to pH-tunable Catalysis

Chemical catalysis impacts every facet of our lives. Many of the most highly coveted reactions of interest require metal-based catalysts. The Kassel and Paul laboratories are complementary and well suited to tackle these challenges in catalysis in meaningful ways. PI Kassel’s expertise in synthetic methodology will provide the necessary materials for advanced study. PI Paul’s expertise in spectroscopy and electrochemistry are necessary techniques to study the influence of the unique ligand architecture (a compound bound to the metal that affects the physical properties and reactivity) for tuning catalysis in a controlled way. Our goal is to prepare new ruthenium-copper hetero-bimetallic complexes with a pH-tunable ligand system. These complexes will lead to gaining fundamental insight into the development of catalytic molecular switches, where catalysis can be turned on and off by simple changes in the catalyst environment (such as altering the pH). The primary outcome of the proposed work will be to gather enough preliminary data to write a competitive proposal to the National Science Foundation. In addition, several undergraduate students will be trained in cutting edge chemical synthesis, spectroscopy, and electrochemical techniques.

Allison Payne, PhD

Dr. Allison Payne

Department of Sociology and Criminology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: School Climate: Two Projects Addressing Important Gaps

Although schools should be spaces safe from crime and victimization, that is unfortunately not the case. Despite declines in serious violent crime and overall school crime during the past three decades, crime and disorder in schools are still a cause for concern. Fortunately, research has highlighted a variety of school-related factors that could be manipulated in efforts to reduce school crime and disorder, including school climate. It has become clear that a positive and communal school climate – one characterized by supportive and collaborative relationships among school community members and a common sense of goals and norms – can improve a school’s safety and foster a school’s success. Unfortunately, several holes in school climate work remain. First, there is a translation gap between the empirical research findings surrounding the benefits of school climate and the policies and practices aimed at school climate improvement. Second, research on school climate's impact on interpersonal and cyber bullying perpetration and victimization is lacking. I propose two projects that address these important gaps.

Maira Reimao, PhD

Dr. Maira Reimao

Department of Economics
Villanova School of Business

Project Title: Demand for Private School in Brazil: how much does public school quality matter?

This research project, carried out with two coauthors, looks into a puzzle in parents’ choices between private and public school in Brazil: Although Brazil’s public expenditure on education as a share of GDP is higher than in most Latin American and Middle-Income countries (6% of GDP), demand for private school in Brazil is nonetheless high for its GDP per capita and steadily increasing over the last two decades. The goal of our study is to understand why parents, even those in poor households, opt for private schools in Brazil, sometimes in ways that appear to be impervious to increased investment and improvements in the public school system. This question is especially relevant in a developing country context, where poverty levels are relatively high (though decreasing), and the national government has been increasing public expenditures in education as a way to improve human development outcomes. In our study, we will also measure the extent to which public school test scores would have to improve in order to meaningfully increase enrollment in public schools. The University Summer Grant (USG) will enable me to travel to Brazil and access and analyze data that is only available through secure terminals in the Brazilian Statistical Agency’s (IBGE) office.


Dr. Gabriel Rockhill

Department of Philosophy
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Revolutionizing Aesthetics & Decolonizing Art

I applied for the University Summer Grant to make significant progress toward completing a book for Columbia University Press that is currently under contract. Entitled Revolutionizing Aesthetics: Composing a World beyond Art, this is a work that I am writing, as a co-equal principal author, with Jennifer Ponce de León (Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania). Since Dr. Ponce de León is a specialist in Latin American art and politics, whereas most of my research has focused on the European and U.S. context, this is a collaborative project that takes my work in a new direction. The USG would thus help lead to the very significant outcome of a published book in Columbia University Press’s prestigious series “New Directions in Critical Theory,” whose featured authors include the likes of prominent intellectuals such as Judith Butler, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser, Jacques Rancière, and Wendy Brown.

Barry Selinsky, PhD

Dr. Barry Selinsky

Department of Chemistry
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: In Search of a Bacterial Ancestor to Mammalian Prostaglandin Synthase

The enzyme prostaglandin synthase (COX) contributes to the synthesis of prostanoids, which are important in the pain and inflammatory response in mammals. COX catalyzes two distinct reactions, unusual for an enzyme. This proposal describes ongoing efforts to understand the evolutionary development of mammalian COX proteins from bacterial ancestors. Using a collection of spectrophotometric and chromatographic enzyme assays, four potential bacterial homologs of COX have been examined, one which appears to catalyze two reactions similar to the mammalian enzyme. Funds are requested to complete the analysis of this enzyme, the first recorded example of a bacterial COX protein, and to begin studies on two new bacterial proteins. Results obtained during these experiments will be used to prepare one journal article and a proposal for external funding support.

Surti Singh, PhD

Dr. Surti Singh

Department of Philosophy
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: On the Feminine Character in Adorno

In the 1930s, Adorno formulated his view of the bourgeois ‘feminine character’ as a patriarchal and capitalist formation, one that exerted the ideological function of preserving the status quo. In opposition to the prevalent tendency to view women as closer to nature and therefore less subject to the logic of capital, Adorno advanced the converse view: the ‘feminine character’ exemplified women’s thoroughly commoditized character, one that was colonized by the logic of capital to a greater extent than that of men. Rather than acting as symbols of freedom, Adorno argued that bourgeois women functioned as the agency of the commodity. In this paper, I revisit Adorno’s view of the ‘feminine character,’ which is both maligned by critics for stereotypically reducing women to irrational and infantile consumers, and celebrated for disclosing a certain naturalization of femininity that reflects concerns about gender avant la lettre. As an intervention into these debates, this paper situates Adorno’s view of the ‘feminine character’ within his broader methodological concern about the commodity-form: how does the commodity shape the unconscious and conscious dispositions of human beings under capitalism? That is, how does economic fetishism turn into psychological fetishism? This paper argues that Adorno’s approach to the ‘feminine character’ is rooted in the attempt to lay bare this translation by showing, for example, how the economic relationship between use-value and exchange value comes to embody a certain psychic disposition in women. By examining Adorno’s deployment of classical Freudian theory, through which he articulates the psychic dimension of economic categories, this paper will evaluate the efficacy of the 'feminine character' in Adorno’s gendered critique of capitalism.  

Mojtaba Vaezi, PhD

Dr. Madora Soutter

Department of Education and Counseling
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Titles: Teacher Professional Learning Communities for Contextualized Social and Emotional Learning Implementation

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical for student success, but far less research has focused on how to prepare teachers in this area. Even though a growing number of comprehensive resources exist for educators to draw upon, many questions remain surrounding best practices for teacher preparation, especially given the complex contextualized realities of individual classrooms, schools, and communities. The present study supported educators in small monthly Professional Learning Communities to identify and collaborate on teacher-identified SEL goals and to explore the extent to which these communities influenced teachers’ conceptualization and implementation of SEL.

Kelly Welch, PhD

Dr. Kelly Welch

Department of Sociology and Criminology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Minority Threat and School Suspension: Diffuse and Targeted Effects of Static and Dynamic Racial and Ethnic Composition

Schools have adopted punitive approaches to student behavior that share similarities with the treatment of offenders in criminal justice contexts. Namely, they use increasingly oppressive security measures that contribute to punitive exclusionary discipline, such as suspension and expulsion, that have harmful short- and long-term consequences for students, in what has been termed the “school-to-prison pipeline.” But these negative outcomes are not experienced equally. As with the punishment of offenders in the criminal justice system, one of the most consistent predictors of school punishment is student race and ethnicity. At the school level, racial and ethnic composition of the student body also affects the use of exclusionary discipline, in support of Minority Threat Theory. However, no prior tests of Minority Threat Theory have examined the effects of both static and dynamic racial/ethnic composition on punishment or the possibility that Black and Latinx students are disproportionately targeted by harsh discipline when they attend schools with proportionally more students of their same race/ethnicity. My proposed summer research project will do both. My findings will have significant implications for how Minority Threat Theory is conceptualized within the social science discipline of criminology. And ultimately, the results could contribute to reduced use of destructive school sanctions that disproportionately disadvantage students of color.

Ryan Weldzius, PhD

Dr. Ryan Weldzius

Department of Political Science
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Project Title: Currrency Wars in Retreat: Global Production and Exchange Rate Politics

As the most important price in a domestic economy, the exchange rate is an essential tool for politicians seeking the support of economic interest groups. An undervalued exchange rate supports domestic exporters of goods and services, as well as those who compete with foreign imports. Over the last 50 years, many countries maintained an undervalued exchange rate as a key factor in their development strategy (e.g., China, Japan, and South Korea, among others). This strategy, however, drew the ire of rich country governments who argued that this currency manipulation puts their domestic industries at a competitive disadvantage. Despite the success of this strategy for export-led growth and the lack of an international mechanism to punish currency manipulators, currency manipulation among manufacturing exporters receded after its 2013 peak (almost disappearing entirely in 2019), but reversed course during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project provides a novel explanation for why governments might end their strategy of currency manipulation and what factors might spark a reversal. I argue that the globalization of production over the last two decades, where firms increasingly rely on imported inputs to produce their final goods, has changed the conventional benefits of an undervalued exchange rate for manufacturing exporters. Quantitative analyses support my theory. I propose to conduct elite interviews in Sweden (former manipulator) and Israel (continuing manipulator) with central bank policymakers as well as supply chain managers at large manufacturing firms to isolate the causal mechanism of this relationship between global production networks and exchange rate politics.

Wenqing Xu, PhD

Dr. Wenqing Xu

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
College of Engineering

Project Title: Assess the impact of wildfires on drinking water quality under a changing climate

The provision of access to clean water is one of the grand challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering. Approximately one-third of the United States population receives drinking water from forest watersheds. Yet, these water sources are increasingly under threat from wildfires. With the changing climate and increased human activities in the forest environment, the frequency, extent, and severity of wildfires have skyrocketed globally–a trend predicted to continue. In addition to consuming significant amounts of forest biomass, wildfires also transform a portion of biomass into chars, which subsequently release a heterogeneous mixture of diverse (macro)molecules into the aquatic environment, herein referred to as pyrogenic dissolved organic matter (pyDOM). Past studies suggest that pyDOM is redox-active and highly mobile, accounting for approximately 10% of dissolved organic carbon in the riverine flux globally. However, a major knowledge gap exists regarding the impact of pyDOM on water quality when these watersheds are used as drinking water sources.

This project aims to provide preliminary evidence to demonstrate the impact of wildfires on water quality. Specifically, we will focus on the formation of disinfection byproducts (DBPs), a suite of toxic chemicals formed during water disinfection in wildfire-impacted water sources. We hypothesize that pyDOM released from wildfires represents a new source of DBP precursors in water. The unique chemical composition of pyDOM (e.g., low molecular weight, high aromatic nitrogen content) might favor the formation of highly toxic DBPs that are not currently regulated. This work may have important implications for the DBP monitoring and mitigation programs in wildfire-impacted areas. The knowledge generated by this proposal is urgently needed and can guide vulnerable communities and water utilities in developing effective adaptation and mitigation strategies during post fire recovery.