While Mirae Kim was a graduate student in Pittsburgh, a conversation with a friend clarified her future research interests. As Kim describes it, her friend said “My mom always makes a donation every year to the Carnegie Museum, though she rarely visits it.” When Kim asked why, her friend answered, “Well, she is a Pittsburgher, and she feels like it’s just ‘our thing.’” Kim realized, “So, as a community member, she feels like she is obliged to make some gift every year; it’s just something that she has to do. And I just got so fascinated: why do people make [these gifts]? Why do they feel they need to do that?” It was a practice she had not seen growing up in South Korea or studying abroad in New Zealand. In the United States, however—particularly Pittsburgh, a city known for charitable giving—Kim was intrigued by patrons making small donations—under $100—to arts organizations. Moreover, arts organizations’ share of revenue from individual donors was huge: “It wasn’t just a small amount,” Kim emphasizes, “but often fifty percent or more of their revenue stream.” She wanted to learn more: why do people make these gifts? What is the role of small gifts? What kind of contribution does the nonprofit sector make to the community?
When we muse about “the arts,” it is often the fine arts that come to mind: famous plays, distinguished sculptures, celebrated paintings, and other aesthetic creations. However, art does not end at museum walls or with the last page of a book—art in many forms is present in ordinary life. For Dr. Lisa Higgins, witnessing the presence of traditional art in Missourians’ lives was an “empowering” experience that, together with her already “pervasive interest” in stories and storytelling, led her to undertake graduate work in folk studies at the University of Missouri. During the early nineties, she interned with the Missouri Folk Arts Program—a joint program of the Missouri Arts Council and MU’s Museum of Art & Archaeology—and gained first-hand experience with public folk art programs working to recognize and support Missouri artists. Working for the Southern Arts Federation (now South Arts) during the late nineties further piqued her interest in public support for the arts, and, with this experience under her belt, she returned in 1999 to her “dream job” as director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program and completed her PhD in Folklore and Rhetoric in 2008.
Nothing will get a labor economist’s mental gears turning like the word “shortage.” At the very utterance of this term, Michael Podgursky’s ears perk up, his eyebrow rises, and he leans over his desk: “What do you mean by shortages?” It’s not that Podgursky isn’t accustomed to hearing the word—quite the contrary, actually. As a professor of Economics at MU, his query results from extensive research on education, a field that has fallen victim on numerous occasions to accusations of “shortages.”
Ever since Enos Inniss came to MU as an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering a short time ago, he has kept remarkably busy on various research projects involving water quality and safety.
When S. David Mitchell leaves for work in the morning, he isn’t sure which hat to wear. Sometimes he is a law professor, and sometimes he is a sociologist. On most days he wears both hats at once—an interdisciplinary approach to research that seems to bode well. As an associate professor in MU’s School of Law, Mitchell’s teaching and research feed off each other, focusing on the intersection of society and the law. While his teaching covers topics ranging from torts and criminal justice administration—from “bail to jail”—the courses he gets most excited about involve his main area of research, including “Law and Society” and “Collateral Consequences of Sentencing.”
So-Yeon Yoon admits that while she has always liked computer games, even as a young child, she has also always enjoyed painting and drawing. Yoon describes her watercolor paintings and how for her the creative process is “very addictive”: “I like colors and creating something beautiful, and creating things on the computer actually gives the same kind of fulfillment.” She is attracted to three-dimensional (3-D) images and experimenting with different textures and colors. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that Yoon found herself drawn to the field of architecture and interior design—“a perfect match” in which her creative desires and her interest in computers could merge. Today, the assistant professor of Architectural Studies focuses her research and teaching on the areas of Human Environmental Psychology and Interior and Architectural Design. Her current research combines information technology with interior design and architecture, a composite field in which she applies technology, particularly virtual reality (VR), to interior design problems.
We began this interview with the intent of focusing, as we usually do, on one person’s research. However, this query soon became—like the collaborative work it highlights—a joint project involving James R. Koller and Karen Weston of the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education, two individuals working together to “think outside the box” by creating the Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in the Schools, now affectionately called “the Center” by its members. “The Center was created in response to the rising number of students in need of mental health services today,” states its homepage. It was initiated “as a paradigm shift that recognizes prevention as a fundamental element in supporting our nation’s youth facing developmental challenges, psycho-social issues, and environmental stressors within the school system and community . . . with the whole thrust being a paradigmatic shift from mental illness to mental health.” Of course, “you’re never going to get away from mental illness,” admits Koller, “but instead of waiting until pathology occurs, the question posed to me was how we can do something different. How can we better prepare consumers at all levels to be better informed so that we can create a positive learning environment for each learner and increase her or his self-concept, while academic learning flourishes?”
Meera Chandrasekhar, Professor of Physics at MU, describes herself as “a condensed matter experimentalist,” that is, a physicist who studies a class of materials called condensed matter systems (formerly known as “solids”). Within this class are three types of materials: insulators (Styrofoam, plastic, and rubber), which do not allow electricity to flow; conductors (metals), which do allow electricity to flow; and semiconductors, which “have conductivities in between that of insulators and conductors.” Chandrasekhar has spent most of her research career seeking to understand the special properties of this “in between” class of materials, and she speaks lovingly about how these semiconductors are unusual by virtue of their limited electrical conductivity and their particular response to light.
Professor David Jonassen humbly sidesteps the grander importance of his research, yet his work would appear to have very serious and broad-reaching implications for educational systems and seems to call out for educational reform. As a professor in the area of educational psychology, Jonassen’s past research has focused on designing constructivist learning environments, cognitive tools for learning (Mindtools), cognitive modeling/task analysis, and systems dynamics/modeling. Most recently, his attention has moved toward issues of problem-solving. To this end, he has begun working in the context of engineering education for obvious reasons—because engineering students are specifically trained (and will be eventually hired) to solve problems. The types of problems engineers encounter on the job, like those people encounter in everyday life, are relatively “ill-structured” ones—that is, they don’t necessarily have a correct solution, a well-defined method for finding a solution, or even well-established criteria for what determines a successful solution.
Dr. Kim gives a few examples of how arts organizations have built community engagement programs.
Dr. Kim describes the interest in the arts field about civic engagement, and discusses her research on arts organizations and community engagement.
Elliott’s local research involves the threat posed to area forests by the Emerald Ash Bore, a predatory insect. Ash trees infected by these insects have a 100% mortality rate. In addition to this work, Elliott is collaborating on a science school at Rock Bridge State Park that will show students how forests change over time.
Dr. Higgins discusses her background in folklore studies and how she came to be director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program.
Dr. Higgins wants “kids [to] understand that they’ve known all their lives,” and talks about several of the Missouri Folk Arts Program’s initiatives to bring the folk arts to the schools.
The results of Dr. vanMarle and her team’s research give us new insight into how we learn math. These insights have important implications for how we teach math in the classroom, and Dr vanMarle is optimistic about the future of her research and improvements in future math education.
Educating the public in the sciences is a crucial part of Dr. King’s mission—here he discusses why that is as well as the “Biophysics and Your Body” program, designed to target middle-school education.
Dr. Kosztin talks about her educational history across different countries and cultures, and how her love for physics developed.
While Podgursky doesn’t believe there is a shortage of qualified teachers, he does want to see more teachers who have extensive training in areas like math and science. He explains that the certification system acts as a barrier for potential applicants skilled in biological and physical sciences.
K-12 education is an important area of concern for the United States. According to Podgursky, the country hasn’t been faring well in terms of international test scores. Research shows that countries with higher levels of scores grow faster, and that students who score higher earn more money than those with lower scores.
As an undergraduate at MU during the Vietnam War, Podgursky studied political science. He found economics courses to be intellectually satisfying and pursued studies in labor economics during graduate school.
When Podgursky returned to MU to teach in 1995, he noticed there wasn’t a course on the economics of education. He immediately created the class and has been teaching it ever since. He also enjoys educating students from all majors on the basics of economics and oversees the Economics Capstone.
Podgursky’s research aims to reform the single-salary schedule that provides salary increments according to a teacher’s years of experience as well as the number of college units and degrees earned. ““The whole compensation package for teachers, educators, and principals needs rethinking and needs to be thought about in a strategic way,” he says. “I think economics can help in thinking about the incentives, the structures, and efficient compensation design.”
Several groups of people are involved in Inniss’ water plant research: the regulatory agency, the treatment facility, the consultants, and MU. “There are several entities responsible for water quality, and for improvements to the water quality," he notes. “We work with them, and we feel like we’re a component in that whole structure.”
As one might expect, Mitchell has opinions about the recently proposed Missouri referendum that would have eliminated preferential hiring in public employment or education. The referendum was defeated because it failed to secure the needed signatures to be placed on the ballot. If there already was a substantial representation of diversity among students, staff, and faculty, he clarifies, then perhaps affirmative action would no longer be needed. “But until that day comes,” he concludes, “affirmative action is still a necessity.”
Education is one area in which virtual reality holds great potential. “Some people don’t have access to the real world, but they can take advantage of this virtual environment, which is generated in 3D,” Yoon explains. That means students can meet in the Louvre Museum in Paris, and walk around the buildings and study the art. Because the program employs a multi-user-based system, students can interact with each other in a virtual world. “So we are exploring the possibility of using that technology to deliver our studio courses,” says Yoon, who someday hopes that students will be able “to create and critique in a virtual environment without actually meeting the person face-to-face.”
Most of Jim Koller’s past research and practice as a licensed psychologist was directed toward pathology, that is, “abnormal behavior.” But he became disillusioned with the then-current state of affairs, realizing that “we have to do something different to stop the escalating incidence of mental illness vis-à-vis mental health problems in the country.” With the cooperation of the Missouri state legislature and the Department of Mental Health, the Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in the Schools was conceived—“with the whole thrust being a paradigmatic shift from mental illness to mental health.”
At the first and only sanctioned online-degree program with a focus on mental health issues in schools in the country, students can take individual courses based on their unique needs through continuing education, and even earn a degree at the Masters or Education Specialist level. Recognized as a national model, the Center’s online program focuses on evidence-based practice and on current, practical application-driven principles and tested theories; people working in the field can take coursework in areas with which they are being confronted professionally.
Gallimore has merged her academic research with social activism. While her background in linguistic theory is useful in understanding certain linguistic phenomena, she acknowledges that “if I go speak about the semiotics of the language of the genocide, that’s something that academicians would understand, but it may not be useful for someone outside of the association.” Realizing this limitation, she founded Step Up! American Association for Rwandan Women, an organization that recognizes the reality that “the needs of the Rwandan women are enormous. Not only are there concerns for practical things such as jobs, food, and school supplies, but the mental health needs have largely remained unaddressed. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety remain as an aftermath of the intense horror of the genocide.” Step Up has developed a number of projects to help redress these problems.
Jonassen describes some practical examples of this model at work: the successful utilization of problem-based learning in the MU medical school and in the department of Religious Studies. He calls for education reform that includes more problem-based learning in other fields.
Brunsma’s follow-up book, Evaluating Public School Uniforms: A Decade of Research (2006), consists of a collection of empirical studies by scholars on the subject.
Brunsma describes the research that led to The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade (2004).