3 Questions for Norwich Criminal Justice Scholar Stephanie Maass

Photo: Studio portrait of Stephanie Maass
Norwich University Office of Communications

May 18, 2017

Corrections scholar Stephanie Maass, PhD, teaches in the School of Justice Studies and Sociology at Norwich, where she says she strives to “foster discussions, the sharing of ideas” in the classroom and broaden students’ conceptual frameworks. Her courses range from intro surveys and senior seminars to examinations of juvenile justice and corrections. During her master’s and doctoral studies at George Mason University, Maass honed a research focus on community corrections, substance use and co-occurring disorders, and organizational change. The scholar has trained corrections officers across the country on the use of evidence-based supervision practices. We recently asked Maass about her teaching and scholarship.

1. Why do you teach?

I teach to help students become critical and responsible consumers of information. I strive to challenge their preconceived notions with information they may not be aware of and guide them while they think through the realistic challenges facing our world today.

2. What drives your passion for the field?

The criminal justice system is often bleakly portrayed as a broken system plagued with corruption and high recidivism rates. I look at the system and I see potential, particularly in the corrections field. Community correction, in particular, offers a significant amount of time to work with justice-involved individuals to rehabilitate them, reintegrate them into society, and increase public safety. We only need to pay attention to what approaches work best and how to successfully implement those strategies.

3. What questions do you explore through your scholarship?

Currently in the field of corrections the adoption rate of best practices is about 33%. We know quite a bit about what works to reduce recidivism but quite a bit less about how to implement those effective strategies on a large scale. My research seeks to understand the adoption—or lack of adoption—of best supervision practices among individuals in organizations. What makes one individual or agency more likely to use best practices than another? And which practices are they likely to use over others?

A Norwich-MIT Collaboration to Develop Low Cost Drinking Water Testing

Video still: MIT engineer Susan Murcott and Norwich environmental chemist Seth Frisbie speak in a Norwich chemistry lab

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0vFiw9tAfc&w=560&h=315]

Norwich University Office of Communications

December 1, 2016

Norwich University environmental chemist Prof. Seth Frisbie, PhD, has spent much of his career investigating the presence of arsenic and other toxic metals in drinking water in Bangladesh and other developing countries.

In November, he hosted MIT water and waste-water engineer Susan Murcott to Norwich to give a talk and to continue their work on a number of collaborative projects. One involves the development of a low cost, portable drinking water spectrophotometer for field use in Nepal and other developing countries.

Norwich University electrical and computer engineering professor Michael Prairie, PhD, PE, explains how his design lab students are helping advance the prototype design to build a rugged, easy-to-use unit ready for field use.

9 Objects: The Office of NU Terrorism and Policing Scholar Travis Morris

Norwich University Office of Communications
September 13, 2016

It’s been a busy year for Norwich Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Travis Morris. Recently named the director of the university’s Peace and War Center, Morris organized a NATO-sponsored advanced training course on counter terrorism in Macedonia for South Eastern Europe this past spring. He’s also brought a Canadian Fulbright scholar to campus and co-led a summer trip to Israel and Palestine. The trip enabled students from Norwich and the Royal Military College of Canada to explore the roots of the Middle East conflict. All that while teaching and continuing his wide-ranging scholarship, which explores how ideas have shaped modern terrorism. His book, Dark Ideas: How Violent Jihadi and Neo-Nazi Ideologues Have Shaped Modern Terrorism is slated for publication later this year. Morris shares the backstory of nine objects from his office in Ainsworth Hall.

Great Moments in Aviation History Print
A gift from Morris’s father, a retired Air Force colonel, who taught at the Air Command Staff College at Maxwell AFB. “As a kid, I wanted to be a pilot and fly A-10s. But I didn’t have 20/20 vision, so I had to let that dream go.” Morris says the poster is a nod to his father and “reminds me a little bit of growing up surrounded by aviators.”

Kentucky Colonel Certificate
When Morris was a police officer in Kentucky, his in-laws nominated him as a colonel in Kentucky’s honorary state militia. He received the certificate among his wedding gifts.

Mountain Bike
As a PhD student and father in Nebraska, Morris cycled to work to squeeze in a workout. “The problem was the wind.” Today, Morris still bikes to the office, albeit less frequently. “I don’t have time just to go to the gym. So that’s where that fits in.” More often he drives, dropping his kids off at school along the way.

Florida Folksong Book
“My grandfather was a fourth-generation Floridian.” His brother, Alton C. Morris, PhD, was an ethnographer who recorded and preserved folk songs and taught English at the University of Florida. Morris’s grandfather constantly sang Florida folksongs to him as a child. The book speaks to the academic side of his family tree.

Miniature of Point Arena, Calif., Lighthouse
A gift from his father recalling Morris’s early childhood. The family lived on a remote USAF radar base in northern California that scanned the West Coast for the Soviet threat. “There were only several hundred people that lived on this remote mountain top. We had a doctor once a week.”

Scrimshaw Whale Tooth
Another memento from that time. Morris remembers it mostly as kid heaven. “It was like living in some outpost away from the rest of civilization—miles and miles and miles and miles of huge redwoods around us, and wild boars, and the long winding access road that made us car sick almost every time.”

Carnegie Foundation Mug
Part of the grant writing endeavors Morris has taken on as director of the Peace and War Center.

Haifa Photo
Morris spent two years living in Israel with his wife and young daughter while studying Hebrew and doing research for his master’s thesis on the Israel national police. “Believe it or not, that’s looking out our porch. If you turn your head slightly to the right you can see Lebanon.”

Family Photo Taken in Israel
“The girl in the middle is my little daughter, Eden. She was 6 months [old] when we lived there. She happens to be sitting on the Horns of Hattin, which is the site of a historic Crusader battle.” The 12th-century battle marked the turning point of the religious war. There’s no park, just a “small beat up metal sign at the end of a dirt path. You looked down from the battlefield to see the Sea of Galilee.”

Prof. Carole Bandy Explores Mysteries of the Human Brain, Trauma, and Well-being

Photo of Norwich University Dana Professor of Psychology Carol Bandy teaching in a classroom
Norwich University Office of Communication

August 9, 2016

For more than two decades, Norwich University social psychologist Carole Bandy, PhD, has applied her innate curiosity about how the brain works to study real-world problems. Problems like cultural stereotyping and shooting bias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Working with colleagues on campus and around the globe, she has applied eye-tracking and electroencephalogram (EEG) data studies in novel ways. Her research has helped illuminate how the clothes people wear can activate or suppress a stereotype and how Transcendental Meditation can boost resiliency or reverse PTSD.

Bandy’s frequent collaborators include NU neuroscientist Kevin Fleming and Middlebury College clinical psychologist Matt Kimble. Combining their expertise, the researchers connect macro-level social behaviors to physiological processes happening in the brain on a micro scale.

Six years ago, the trio published a major study in the journal Social Neuroscience, which assessed how social perceptions and discrimination affect people’s decisions to shoot a gun in a weapons identification task.

Normally a comparison of how so-called “priming” photos of black and white men influence test subjects’ decisions to “shoot” a gun, Bandy and her colleagues were the first to introduce images of Middle Eastern men to the assessment.

The researchers found that clothing, not ethnicity, primed negative stereotypes. A photo of Middle Eastern man dressed in a traditional tunic and turban prompted a much higher error rate in test subjects. (“Shooting” at a photo of a hair-dryer or cordless drill, rather than another gun, for example.) While a picture of a Middle Eastern man dressed in a western suit did not.

“Clothing was the critical variable in discrimination,” Bandy says. “Stereotyping did not occur without it.” Those findings have now been downloaded countless times from Research Gate.

Since then, Bandy has continued to secure five-figure research grants and publish findings in respected journals, all while carrying a full teaching load. The achievement speaks to her drive to explore fundamental questions, even as retirement draws near. “The nature of research is that once you start down a path, the further you go with it, the more it pulls you,” Bandy says.

Many decades into that research journey, those questions have only grown more compelling. Among a raft of ongoing research projects, Bandy remains intently curious about Transcendental Meditation (TM), a practice she first encountered in graduate school over 45 years ago. She is particularly interested in TM’s demonstrated ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve critical thinking and mental resilience.

For Bandy, the driving question is why the regular practice of restful awareness works. “Not whether it works. That much is clear,” she says. “But how? What is going in in the brain?”

In 2011, Bandy initiated a multi-year Transcendental Meditation study at Norwich using random assignment—the research gold standard—among first-year military cadets. Twenty-eight students were taught Transcendental Meditation from day one. While a control group of the same size began their meditation training six months later.

Using self-report questionnaires, behavioral and eye-tracking tasks, and EEG data, Bandy and her colleagues assessed how individuals in both groups responded to threat. Early adopters of meditation showed lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and better critical thinking and mental resilience. These measures improved over time as cadets continued their meditation training, results confirmed in a second study of 60 cadets the following year.

Bandy has shared this research with members of the U.S. military, which has expressed interest in TM’s potential to reduce PTSD in troops entering or returning from combat.

More recently, Bandy has collaborated in two studies with colleagues in Iowa, Rwanda, and South Africa, including the University of South Africa, to measure the effectiveness of TM to treat PTSD in Congo refugees and South African college students. Endemic violence in both countries causes high incidences of PTSD in both groups.

Among students who started TM training, “there were significant drops in PTSD in as little as two weeks,” she says. Bandy notes that by 100 days, nearly all study participants practicing meditation showed sub-threshold measures for PTSD.

Bandy theorizes that transcendental meditation works for a very simple reason. It helps people with PTSD rebalance or optimize the relationship between two areas of the brain: the cognitive frontal area and the more primal limbic system, where our strongest emotional responses, such as extreme anger and extreme fear, originate.

In the future, Bandy plans to start a longitudinal study of Transcendental Meditation at Norwich.

Susan Limberg, a Class of 2015 graduate who commissioned last May into the U.S. Air Force as second lieutenant, was among the Norwich cadets who learned meditation in Bandy’s study. She describes it one of the highlights of her Norwich experience.

“[Carole] has consistently used her experiences as a scholar to informally mentor her Norwich colleagues and to formally mentor a multitude of psychology students,” says David Westerman, a Dana Professor of Geology and Associate Vice President for Research at Norwich.

Raised in Tennessee, Bandy earned her master’s degree from the University of Memphis and her PhD in social psychology from George Washington University. She joined the Norwich faculty in 1995 after serving as principal investigator on a $250,000 grant awarded to the Norwich University Applied Research Institutes to evaluate the effectiveness of a new gunnery training system for the National Guard.

Bandy remains deeply invested in undergraduate research at Norwich, where she was hired to teach junior and senior-year thesis seminars, classes she continues to teach 20 years later. “We are probably the only department in the country that requires [a senior research thesis] of all undergraduates.”

Doing so means students “have to literally be a researcher themselves and that’s the essence of the discipline,” Bandy says.

In recognition of her innovative scholarship and teaching, Bandy was recently named Norwich University’s newest Charles A. Dana Professor by university President Richard M. Schneider. “It’s a wonderful honor,” Bandy says. “It’s the highest honor, really, that a faculty member can get here at Norwich.”

Norwich University Announces Dana Professor, Faculty Awards

NORWICH UNIVERSITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS

May 19, 2016

Recognizing outstanding scholarship and teaching, Norwich University faculty have named Mathematics Professor Daniel McQuillan a Charles A. Dana Professor. The prestigious award carries a $10,000 annual stipend.

McQuillan (pictured above) has taught 17 different mathematics courses since arriving at Norwich University in 2002, teaching most often: Discrete Mathematics; Calculus; Mathematics: A Liberal Art; and the Mathematics capstone (senior seminar) course.

In addition to the teaching of standard courses, McQuillan’s work has included summer research mentoring, leading to the publication of four professional peer-reviewed papers with Norwich University student coauthors. He also organizes Norwich’s involvement in the Putnam Mathematics competition, which can involve weekly meetings with interested students in which connections between different areas of mathematics are explored by solving unusual problems.

“A Charles A. Dana Professorship is a tremendous honor and an even greater responsibility,” McQuillan said. “I will take it as an enormous, daily challenge to live up to the expectations that we should all have of Dana Professors—I will try! I am extremely grateful to Norwich University—and in particular to my wonderful colleagues—for providing an environment where it is possible to do great things.

“Our best work is still ahead of us.”

A committee of current Norwich University Dana professors selected McQuillan for the award, which was announced during Commencement ceremonies on May 14.

The university’s Dana program works to recruit and retain an outstanding full-time faculty recognized for their scholarship and teaching excellence. Tenured full professors from all academic disciplines are eligible.

In 1974, the Charles A. Dana Foundation, a philanthropic foundation that funds research nationwide, presented Norwich University with an endowment designed to supplement salaries of full-time senior faculty members. Since the first nominations in 1975, Norwich has named 23 Charles A. Dana Professors.

Board of Fellows Faculty Development Prize

The Norwich University Faculty Development Committee announced today that Joe Latulippe, Associate Professor, Dept. of Mathematics, will receive this year’s $8,000 stipend for the Board of Fellows (BOF) Faculty Development Prize for “Modeling the Effects of Synaptic Plasticity on the Firing Patterns of Neurons.”

The BOF Faculty Development Prize is funded annually by the BOF in its role of stimulating and rewarding the University Faculty for creative and pragmatic research efforts.

Other Faculty Awards

Norwich University officials announced the recipients of Independent Study Leave (ISL) awards; Charles A. Dana Research Fellowships; Curriculum Development Fellowships; and Charles A. Dana Category I Grants for the 2016-17 academic year.

Independent Study Leave

  • Brett Cox, Professor, Dept. of English and Communications, to work on several pieces of short fiction.
  • Eleanor D’Aponte, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture + Art, for “The Tapestry of Concrete: Design Research and Casting of Prototypical Concrete Wall Panels Using Fabric-Formwork.”
  • Lauren Howard, Professor, Dept. of Biology and Physical Education, for “Howard’s Handbook: A Guide to Native, Naturalized and Commonly Cultivated Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in the Northeast.”
  • Carl Martin, Associate Professor, Dept. of English and Communications, for “Domesticating Henry V: Hoccleve’s ‘To Henry V and the Company of the Garter.’”
  • Penny Shtull, Professor, School of Justice Studies and Sociology, for “Stalking on Campus: Awareness for College Mental Health Counselors.”

Charles A. Dana Research Fellowships

 Megan Doczi, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biology and Physical Education, for “Localization of the Insulin-sensitive Kv1.3 Ion Channel During Brain Development.”

  • Elizabeth Gurian, Assistant Professor, School of Justice Studies and Sociology, for “Reframing Mass Murder Within Empirical Research.”
  • Yangmo Ku, Assistant Professor, Dept. of History and Political Science, for “The Politics of Economic Reform in Communist States: North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam in Comparative Perspective.”
  • Tim Parker, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture + Art, for “Art and Architecture of Religious Pluralism: Historiography and Theoretical Framework.”
  • Tolya Stonorov, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Art, for The Design-Build Studio: Crafting Meaningful Work in Architecture Education.
  • Moses Tefe, Assistant Professor, David Crawford School of Engineering, for “A Strategy for Identifying High Pedestrian Crash Zones in Accra-Ghana.”

Curriculum Development Fellowships 

  • Gina Sherriff, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Modern Languages, for “Language Leadership Modules for the Spanish Program.”
  • Darlene Olsen, Associate Professor, Dept. of Mathematics, for “A Case Study Approach to Teaching Statistics to Health Science Majors.”

Charles A. Dana Category I Grants 

  • Natalia Blank, Associate Professor, Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Danner Friend, Associate Professor, David Crawford School of Engineering
  • Emily Gray, Associate Professor, Dept. of History and Political Science
  • Llynne Kiernan, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing
  • Rob Knapik, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Physics
  • Yangmo Ku, Assistant Professor, Dept. of History and Political Science
  • Emily Meyer, Assistant Professor, School of Justice Studies and Sociology
  • Judith Stallings-Ward, Associate Professor, Dept. of Modern Languages

About Norwich University˜

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).www.norwich.edu 

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Norwich University will celebrate its bicentennial in 2019. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Transformation” here: bicentennial.norwich.edu.    

Media Contact:
Daphne Larkin
Assistant Director of Communications
Office Tel: (802) 485-2886
Mobile: (802) 595-3613
dlarkin@norwich.edu

Norwich Commencement | The Graduates: Kenneth Sikora ’16

Photo: Kenneth Sikora poses in white lab coat before chalkboard

[content_band inner_container=”true” border=”all” padding_top=”4px” padding_bottom=”14px” bg_color=”” ]

Kenneth Sikora ’16

Hometown: Calais, Vt.
Major: Biochemistry
Minor: Biology
Student Path: Commuter
Activities:

  • Academic Honors Program
  • Norwich University Fencing Club
  • Chameleon Literary Journal
  • Summer Research Internship
  • Undergraduate Research Program Ambassador
  • Published research in The Oswald Review + the International Journal of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics

[/content_band]

[content_band inner_container=”true” border=”all” padding_top=”4px” padding_bottom=”14px” bg_color=”” ]

What Norwich Taught Me

“[Norwich] taught me all the basics of performing research—formulating a research question [and/or] hypothesis, writing a proposal, troubleshooting, failing, and communicating results with an audience comprised of individuals who are not familiar with my field’s lingo.”
[/content_band]

“I am deeply grateful to all the professors who taught me,” says graduating senior Kenneth Sikora. “Without venturing into hyperbole, the least I can say is essentially every one of them was a generous, kind, patient, and knowledgeable teacher.”

Sikora plans to attend medical school in the future, where he hopes to train as a general practitioner. During three intense years at Norwich, he solidified his love for language and chemistry, he says, and led the fencing club while completing NU’s academically rigorous honors track.

Inspired during a world literature course with writing professor Sean Prentiss, Sikora became interested in the translation of medieval Chinese poetry. He began work on Lady Su Hui’s Star Gauge, written in A.D. 360, and plans to continue the project after graduation. He also published a refereed journal paper on Beowulf and edited the campus literary journal, the Chameleon.

In the lab, Sikora studied bioinformatics among other topics, examining the differential expression of genes behind certain types of cancers as part of a research project. He developed a protocol to express the H.pylori enzyme NDGluRS in E.coli bacteria with Assistant Professor of Biochemistry & Chemistry Ethan Guth. He also worked with Associate Professor of Chemistry Seth Frisbie to test the fit of calibration curves, which are often used to convert electrical signals to chemical concentrations.

Asked to comment on a highlight of his time at Norwich, he says, “My experience was that the whole time was a highlight, with only one or two dim spots. Perhaps my introduction to the field of research was brighter than the rest. But my first organic chemistry class was equally thrilling at the time.”

Ideas @ Work: #17 Two-Stage Trigger

33 ideas big and small from Norwich students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are transforming campus and the world.

The Norwich Record

Spring 2016

Applying new science to an old idea, Norwich psychology faculty and students have spent the past year developing an early prototype of a two-stage firearm trigger. Faculty members Matt Thomas, Kevin Fleming, and Carole Bandy, and students John Dulmage, Heather Powell, and Muhammad Ali Shahidy believe the project may help prevent wrongful shootings. Their work is based on findings at Norwich that reveal how the human brain processes shooting scenarios. While it takes our brains just 100 milliseconds to deliver instructions to squeeze a trigger, it takes our brains 320 milliseconds to visually process a target. Did the suspect pull a gun or a cell phone? The two-stage trigger project aims to give our brains a brief moment of pause to ask, Are you sure?

More Ideas@Work:

[columnize][recent_posts count=”33″ category=”ideas@work” no_image=”true” orientation=”vertical”][/columnize]

Astrophysicist Tabetha Hole on Supernovas, Teaching, and the Universe

Norwich University Office of Communications

March 25, 2016

K. Tabetha Hole joined the Norwich physics faculty last fall as an assistant professor. The daughter of an American doctor, she was born in Nigeria and earned her PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Using computer models and Chandra X-Ray Telescope data, her ongoing research studies the structure of supernovas and massive star winds. This spring, she teaches Intro to Astronomy, the capstone Senior Seminar II, and an independent study while supervising a senior research project. In a recent interview, Hole reflected upon the beauty and mystery of the universe and teaching.

Pop quiz: In 60 seconds or less, explain dark matter.

Dark matter is a name for our ignorance. If we look at the structure of galaxies, how fast the sun is going around the center of our galaxy should tell us how much mass there is in the galaxy. When we look at that, the amount of gravitational mass is way more than we can account for by actually looking at the stuff that’s there.

Ninety percent of the mass of the universe does not correspond to anything we know about on Earth. We’ve tried to account for it. But [we] just can’t. There’s missing mass. We know its effect. But we don’t know what it is, and that’s what we call “dark matter.” It’s “dark,” because it doesn’t glow. It doesn’t interact with light. It’s some completely different kind of matter that we’ve never been able to touch or detect directly. Obviously, we’ve been trying to. But we still don’t know what it is, and we’ve been looking for decades.

What do you call yourself?

Astronomer, astrophysicist, and, of course, physics professor. I spend most of my time being a physics professor. It is my focus, because I really enjoy teaching. Generating new knowledge is wonderful. But as is true in pretty much every academic discipline, if I discover something new about stars, only a few people in the world will ever read about that. Whereas, working with students, teaching introductory physics, I am able to share with them something beautiful and amazing about the universe.

You published a research paper titled, “Can We Detect Clumpiness in Supernova Ejecta?” Well, can we?

Yes.

Why should we care about supernovas?

When a star explodes, it turns out that that explosion makes most of the heavier elements in the universe. The iron in your blood had to be made in a supernova—there’s no other way to make iron—and probably more than one. So the iron in your blood came from multiple stars exploding. We can see supernovas across the universe. They affect the stars around them. They start star formation. They end star formation. They are responsible for changing the chemical makeup of the universe over time. They are responsible for making us. They are a test for our understanding of physics in extreme conditions that we just can’t do on Earth. If you want to study how the universe changes over billions of years or how galaxies change, you have to understand what happens in [supernovas].

Does your brain ever hurt thinking about these things?

Not so much. I think maybe the bigger puzzle is how to get students to understand. Because especially in physics, you first have to remove the misconception and then you can bring in the real fun. And that’s something no one knows how to do perfectly. I mean people ask, If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we feed the hungry? The reason we can’t is because of people. We can harness the power of a couple thousand people who want to work together to go to the moon. [But] you can’t put people in a box and poke them until they do what you want. All in all, I would definitely rather feed the hungry. Humans in some ways are a much harder puzzle than the universe. Helping people learn more about themselves and learn more about the world, that is actually in some ways a bigger challenge.

You say your interest in physics was sparked, in part, while studying astronomy in high school. You mention things like studying the phases of the moon. The moment when you visualized that relationship from space, rather than the surface of the Earth, and how that suddenly provided clarity. Can you talk about that?

By changing your perspective, something that was incredibly complicated becomes incredibly simple and elegant. That’s a larger part of what I find so amazing about the universe. You take things that are on surface incredibly complicated and you peel back the layers to find the incredibly simple rules that the universe operates by. Then you can build back up to the complication, piece by piece, and understand each one. And then the universe is not this weird unpredictable mess. It’s actually beautiful and elegant underneath, even if it’s not what we would ever have expected.

What excites you about the field today?

Oh, there’s so much. One big [thing] is that we now have a new way of looking at the universe: gravitational waves. It’s like opening your eyes. When we’re in astronomy, all we can do is study what the universe sends us. Most of the information it sends us is in light, radio waves, x-rays. Gravity comes from mass. So we now have a tool for looking at things that don’t even necessarily produce light. It’s going to give us more information that we could’ve gotten in the next hundred years using regular telescopes. So that is the most exciting thing right now. That we have a fundamental new way of knowing about the universe.

5 Questions for … Norwich Neuroscience Professor Megan Doczi

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 9, 2015

Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi, PhD, arrived at Norwich in 2011, shortly after receiving her PhD from the University of Vermont. She directs the neuroscience program at NU and teaches neuroscience and anatomy and physiology classes in the Department of Biology. Her research into the developmental regulation of potassium ion channels in avian hypothalamus neurons is funded by the Vermont Genetics Network. Outgoing, energetic and very busy, Doczi spent the summer writing research papers, supervising lab work, planning courses, and mentoring two undergraduate research fellows. We spoke to her recently in her second-floor office in Bartoletto Hall, amid the odd piece of lab equipment and quirky science art.

What sparked your interest in neuroscience?

The easiest and most heart-felt answer is high school psychology, I took this psych course with a few friends of mine as an elective. The instructor was a practicing psychologist and really, really interested in her discipline. Chapter two of our textbook was the neuron, and I just got stuck on that second chapter. I was like, “Wow, these neurons are amazing. I didn’t even realize how complicated these cells were. They’re so different than any other cells in the human body and I want to learn all I can about them.” So that was it. High school. I’ve been on the neuroscience track ever since.

What excites you about the field today?

The speed at which the technology is developing. We now have technology that we didn’t have ten or even five years ago, which is so much better at attacking the questions: How is consciousness even a phenomenon? How can neural networks communicate with each other? How are individual neurons able to metabolize different nutrient sources like glucose as a readout of their activity? We now have the capability of asking a patient a question and seeing what part of their brain lights up. The technology is just phenomenal and beyond what we could have imagined in the field decades before.

What questions do you explore in your research?

Personally I’m interested in ion channels, the small little proteins in the membranes of neurons that allow ions to flow through at different rates. They control the way neurons communicate with each other. So you can imagine if you have more or less of these channels, it will affect the function of the neuron itself.

The set of neurons that we’re interested in looking at are part of feeding behaviors and the circuitry for food intake and energy expenditure in animals. So the main question of the lab is, If the expression and function of these individual ion channels changes in that population of neurons, will it actually change the behavior downstream of the animal? We’re looking at developmental time points. The model system we use in the lab is the embryonic chicken, which is really nice. Because what we can do is study early, mid and late gestational time points and see if the channels are changing. There’s a lot of evidence in the literature today that what happens during development impacts what happens as an adult. So if these organisms are exposed to high levels of hormones or metabolic factors, they might actually develop the neuronal circuitry in a different way that could even result in disease in adulthood.

What’s your pitch to students? Why study neuroscience?

There’s a lot known about most systems in the human body. We’re pretty comfortable explaining how the cardiovascular system works and developing pharmaceuticals to change blood pressure, etc. You can use that analogy for other similar systems. But we still don’t understand what actually happens in the nervous system to create things like consciousness or to instill survival skills in today’s society, for example. What makes someone more resilient than someone else? Or personality characteristics? All those things are still unknown. You can’t just give a pill and fix the nervous system like you might be able to with other systems of the human body.

I think that unknown component of the nervous system and the brain, in particular, is kind of what draws me to the discipline. And I hope I communicate that enthusiasm to my students as well. I just love when they ask questions that I can’t answer. Because nobody can answer some of the questions that they’re asking, and those are the questions that need to be asked.

Any parting thoughts?

It’s important for students to be scholars and lifelong learners. It’s important to our society to have curious thinkers, free thinkers who don’t take information at face value but know how to critically analyze that information, fact-check that information. And that goes beyond neuroscience. That’s just making an informed citizen. There are so many hot topics today. Climate change is one of them. Vaccination is another. If we can just basically graduate students who know how to think about information, challenge information, and even create new information based off of researching topics, then we’ve done our job, regardless of discipline.

So when you graduate from Norwich, I don’t care if you’re a neuroscientist, a chemist, a literary scholar, or a historian, as long as you know how to really analyze information, ask the right question and move society in a positive direction, I think that’s really what I’m interested in as a professor and what a lot of other faculty members are interested in here.

Undergraduate Summer Research: Museums, Brains, Proteins and Murder

Norwich University undergraduates are hard at work this summer investigating diverse research topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Their competitive, six- and ten-week paid summer research fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
By David Westerman, PhD
Norwich University Office of Academic Research

 
June 30, 2015

Editor’s note: Charles A. Dana Professor of Geology and Associate Vice President for Research David Westerman is blogging about Norwich undergraduate student research projects underway this summer in field sites, labs and libraries on campus and around the globe.

This week’s lunchtime research presentations on campus featured Undergraduate Research Fellows and faculty from multiple disciplines, inviting lively discussion on museum design, chicken brains, pilot response times, proteins, and serial murder.

Fellow Sarah Bedard ‘17 (Architecture) kicked off Tuesday’s discussion, explaining the code of ethics for adding architectural additions onto an existing art museum. This summer, she will evaluate two museums in Toronto and one in Massachusetts built by well-known architects. She plans to assess the circulation paths, overlapping spaces, and private vs. public usages. She will present her work as a series of case studies and a final poster.

Stacia Melick (Biology) described her work on voltage-gated potassium ion channel expression in the embryonic chicken hypothalamus. She is testing the hypothesis that the specific Kv1.3 gene is expressed in a similar fashion as the Insulin Receptor gene, due to a known interaction of these proteins elsewhere in the nervous system. The interaction of the Kv1.3 and Insulin Receptor proteins has been known to alter neuronal excitability in the olfactory bulb, and she is testing the hypothesis that this interaction may also play a role in the hypothalamic regulation of food intake and energy homeostasis.

Next up was Tim Smeddal (Mechanical Engineering), who is investigating how pilots are able to perceive and interact with aircraft instruments. For this project, Tim will survey approximately 100 aircraft pilots to determine which gauge is more accurate for certain altitudes by testing them on fixed points as well as trends in altitude. He is currently working out of Burlington International Airport, but also hopes to incorporate military pilots into his survey.

Thursday’s Brown Bag discussion featured Fellow Devon Lindner (Molecular Biology) and faculty member Assistant Professor Elizabeth Gurian (Criminal Justice). Devon is investigating a novel protein binding relationship between Fyn, a Src family kinase, and MCM6, a protein involved in cell division. To test the hypothesis that there is a relationship between Fyn and MCM6, Devon is conducting literature reviews and running laboratory experiments under the mentorship of Associate Professor Karen Hinkle (Biology) to understand their interactions. Devon hopes that her findings can eventually lead to contributions in cancer research.

Finally, Prof. Elizabeth Gurian provided a glimpse into her ongoing work on serial murder. She explained how the lack of scientific papers on female perpetrated homicide and serial murder is attributable, in part, to the rarity of these incidents, which does not permit ordinary research methods to be easily employed. The examination of these offenses is further limited due to definitional issues, complex rationales for committing criminal homicide, and gendered perceptions of homicide and serial murder, or inclusion under generalized findings on male homicide offenders. Prof. Gurian talked about her methods and approach to her project and explained that by dispelling stereotypes and gendered perceptions we may achieve a better understanding of female homicide offending.

About the Author: David S. Westerman, PhD, is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Geology at Norwich University and the Associate Vice President for Research in the university’s Office of Academic Research.

Photograph by Keith Stipe