Kaustav Misra knows that economics isn’t called the dismal science for its thrilling course content.
“The moment you start with big words, phenomena, concepts — students will leave the class,” the assistant professor in economics said. “Physically, they’ll be there, but mentally, they’ll have left.”
“Your most important job is to keep them alive in the classroom,” he added. That’s why Misra brings laughter to his lectures. “You have to teach it in a way that students feel connected,” he said.
“Then you start bringing the concepts to the table.”
It’s calculated, Misra said. “We joke around, but at the same time, I convey my message through the jokes. No matter what I’m teaching them, I want to make sure they’re getting it.”
And from his experiences, it seems to be working. “They are alive in that classroom,” Misra said. “They talk. They laugh. They argue, and they work with me.”
When you meet him, it’s clear the Calcutta, India, native and Mississippi State University Ph.D. is straightforward. For instance, he knows he has an accent. That’s why he acknowledges it with students on their first day of class.
“I tell them, ‘The accent, you’ve got to deal with,’” he said. “‘But if you think you can deal with it and get along with me, I’m sure the day you step out of this class, you will have learned something from me.’ And students have liked hearing that.”
Overall, though, that’s what Misra wants for them: to think of themselves as investors. “I preach it to students every time I see them: Whatever you’re spending, time or money, find out what you’re getting out of it. Otherwise, you are spending your time and money, and it’s all going to go to the water.”
In fact, from Misra’s teaching, students take theory outside the classroom. During his first semester at SVSU in winter 2011, Misra was teaching his international economics class about how buying and selling currencies can be incredibly lucrative. So students began doing it themselves, and asked Misra for his input.
Today, students still buy and sell currency even as they take classes. Since then, others have stepped forward, asking Misra for investment advice. (He reminds them that this isn’t his expertise and that the risk is entirely theirs, but he’s happy to offer help with the theory.)
But no matter which way you look at it, economics isn’t an exact science. “It’s between a science and an art,” Misra said. “You need an imagination to understand and see it. That’s why the subject is tricky.”
In the end, the study is all an investment, Misra said, and if you stick around, the return is high.
“You open your tired eye and understand the world in a new way.”
Sure, Kim Lacey is an assistant professor of English. But that hasn’t kept her from dabbling in cognitive psychology.
“I’ve always thought about the sciences and the arts together,” Lacey said. “So I didn’t feel that choosing one meant leaving the other behind.”
That link comes through in some of the courses Lacey teaches: one was called “Memory in Theory and Practice”; another, “The Watchers and the Watched”—a study of the effect of surveillance on human behavior. She even taught a course called “How to Think About Weird Things,” named after a textbook and designed to help students think about the fallacies people stumble over when writing about controversial subjects.
In short, Lacey is fascinated with the way the human mind works. “But what interests me most is how the brain plays tricks on us,” she said. “We rely on it for everything, so we take it for granted. But all of a sudden it can fool us.”
In fact, before joining SVSU in fall 2011, Lacey had just defended a doctorate about the ways technology can manipulate our memories. In one study she likes to cite, researchers used photo editing software to add participants into photos.
“Then, through a series of interviews, they tell them, ‘Don’t you remember when you went on that balloon ride?’ And they say, ‘No. . . . but I’m in (this photo). I must have done it.’ And over a series of conversations, they end up believing it: ‘Oh, that’s right—I remember that shirt; I remember that happening. I remember it being cold that day.’”
Lacey and her fiancé, Jeff, live in Holly with two dogs: a bichon named Barkley and a Brussels griffon named Jerome.
Outside work, Lacey also writes for Guru Magazine, a paper-free science lifestyle magazine—“It’s science without the lab coats,” she said. “Our mission is really to write about the sciences for the everyday reader. It goes back to bridging my passions for the sciences and humanities and seeing how the two disciplines can talk to each other.”
Those passions found a haven at SVSU, Lacey added. “I’m able to do fun things like those crazy courses I’ve designed, and not face any resistance.”
And in addition to the freedom, there’s the people.
“There are so many smart, active researchers here, but they’re also wonderful teachers. So it’s been a great community to be a part of and thrive in, and it’s a lot of fun, too. That’s a very rare combination in a university.”
When you ask Becky Toth why she chose pediatrics—the coursework she teaches at SVSU—she’ll tell you it was all about the diapers.
In her senior year of nursing school, Toth worked at a community hospital, where she helped a lot of nursing home patients.
“That’s when I decided: When I became a nurse, I wanted to change diapers by myself,” she said. “With kids, the diapers are smaller. That’s why I applied for pediatrics,” She laughed, “and I’ve loved it every second since.”
Which says a lot, considering she’s been a pediatric nurse for 22 years.
After graduating, Toth traveled to Arizona for a three-month nursing stint, before taking a job at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, where she worked from 1992 to 2012.
While working with nursing students there, one of them told her, “You know, you’re really good at this teaching stuff.” “And two months later, I was enrolled in my master’s program,” she said.
Toth completed her master’s degree in December 2009 at Indiana Wesleyan, still working at Mott and teaching clinicals for the University of Michigan–Flint. In September 2010, she joined SVSU.
“I love it here,” she said. “The students are so great—they’re used to working for what they get. The attitude is so much different.”
A student herself, Toth is completing her doctorate at the University of Michigan–Flint, anticipating graduation in April 2015. (Although SVSU now has a doctorate of nursing practice, “you can’t take your doctorate where you teach,” she said, laughing.
“My fellow faculty would also be my instructors, and that’s not right.”) So, life keeps her busy. Right now, Toth is taking four classes and teaching four more at SVSU. “If it weren’t for my husband, Brian, I couldn’t do all of this,” she said. “He cooks and cleans, does laundry—all that good stuff. He takes good care of me.”
The couple has been married for 20 years, and they have a 14-year old daughter, Dani. And beyond work and her family life, Toth also teaches Sunday school.
So, with a crowded schedule and an hourlong commute to work, Toth loves listening to audiobooks in the car—sometimes with CDs of lectures for a little extra reviewing.
It’s a love for learning that drives her.
“There is nothing better for me—especially in clinicals—when you watch a student trying to figure something out and you see that lightbulb go on, where they can put it all together for their patient.
That’s just the best thing in the world.”
The end of the academic year can be stressful for faculty, as well as students. As a graduate student, James Bowers found running to be an effective outlet, and as he concludes his second year on the criminal justice faculty, he spent the weekend before final exams running an ultra-marathon of 50 kilometers. The race is well-timed for him; this summer, he will be among those teaching fully online courses. His juvenile justice class filled quickly.
“I’ve taught it numerous times in the traditional format, and this is the first time it will be fully online,” Bowers said. “We have great enrollment numbers.”
The course dovetails with research Bowers is conducting with Poonam Kumar, SVSU’s new director of online/hybrid learning.
“Our research question is, ‘Is there a difference between traditional and online teaching presence?’ Each instructor has a presence in the classroom, and so I’m looking at what kind of feedback I get from students in the traditional versus the online.”
During winter semester, Bowers has been teaching an upper-level course examining issues related to criminology and criminal justice.
“The students get to explore their beliefs,” he said, “and I challenge students to explore their beliefs; for example, the death penalty. I don’t care if they support the death penalty or not, what they look at are experts in the field who provide valid arguments for the death penalty and valid arguments against the death penalty. Far too often students will seek out things that only support their viewpoint, and I want them to see both sides.”
Bowers completed his graduate work at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He finds SVSU students to have a much better grip on the careers available in criminal justice.
“Where I came from, almost every student said they were going to be an FBI agent,” he said. “Here, you poll any given classroom and you get a good number of people with realistic expectations. A certain number will say they want to work with probation or parole.
A certain number will say they want to work with Child Protective Services. Usually two in any given classroom will want to pursue becoming a lawyer. These are all very real jobs, and that’s a good thing.”
Bowers enjoys life in Michigan—“lots of sunshine here compared to western Pennsylvania.” He settled on SVSU after meeting future colleagues Joe Jaksa and Carol Zimmerman at a job fair.
“I am very, very thankful that I chose SVSU over all of my job offers,” he said. “I have a great group of co-workers. Our department has grown, and the students are great.”
Jay Scott never expected to be at SVSU. The first time. As a high school baseball player in Ontario, he heard from a number of American colleges and universities in the south, but none came forward with a scholarship offer. Eventually, Scott matriculated to SVSU and played center field on the 2001 GLIAC championship team.
“Those are fond memories,” he said.
After graduating, Scott completed a Ph.D. at Queens University in his native Canada and then finished postdoctoral fellowships at the University of New Mexico and the University of Iowa. He hoped his career would bring him back to SVSU.
“From the moment I left, I knew I wanted to come back. I loved it here. I worked in the department as a student lab tech. I developed friendships with faculty that I’ve kept through the years.
”Scott’s expertise and experience with microscopes made him particularly desirable. His areas of scholarly interest are cardiovascular physiology and disease, and toxicology; he continues to do research in those fields, but life as full-time researcher convinced him that he desired something different.
“Going back into teaching was my ultimate goal,” he said. “I knew that having that connection with students was something that I wanted as a career. This place gives me that and gives me the opportunity for research, as well. This is the place where I could have the most impact. It’s kind of a perfect fit.”
Scott does not employ a one-size-fits-all approach to his classes. In a human biology course for non-majors, he tailored course material to students’ interests.
“My approach was to make it about them. Instead of getting bogged down in the complexity of the body, I gave them a questionnaire and asked if there were particular systems of the body or a disease that was important to them. I built the course around them.”
Scott says his SVSU pedigree also has helped him relate to students.
“I was in their shoes,” he said. “I think that resonates with the students. I tell them, ‘I know how to get into any school you would like for grad school or medical school."
Outside of teaching, Scott serves on the honors committee and is developing collaborations with the University of New Mexico to provide additional research opportunities for students.
Reflecting upon his first year on the faculty, Scott considers himself quite fortunate.
“It was an intense first year. I’ve had very little sleep and been very busy; but this whole year, I’ve been pinching myself a little bit. I got the job I wanted, and I don’t think there’s a lot of people who can say that.”
Yu Zou is an expert in energy, and at first the big city China native was unsure what would spark up his interest at a campus surrounded by suburban neighborhoods and rural farmland.
A year into his career as an SVSU assistant professor of electrical & computer engineering, Zou said he’s discovered all the energy he needs to power forward right here in mid-Michigan.
“This is something new to me,” Zou said of his new home and lifestyle. “I think I like this way better.”
Zou—who spent all but five years of his life in the hustle and bustle of Tianjin, not far from Beijing—was concerned that the lifestyle waiting in America’s Midwest wouldn’t suit his interest.
“I was a little bit worried about a boring life with not a lot of people around,” he said.
Instead, after a 5-year stay in Akron and one year living in Saginaw Township, Zou has discovered the relatively quiet surroundings coupled with an engaging campus life has offered him all the inspiration he needs.
“I found it is very good to have this kind of life,” Zou said. “This makes me expect to have a long-term commitment to this area, this school and career.”
Zou said he has felt welcomed at SVSU since arriving in fall 2012.
“Everything is very close, and my request of help can be answered very fast and very productively,” he said.
He said the electrical engineering students are engaged in classrooms and make teaching the topic easy.
Zou said his teaching style emphasizes understanding “how to think” about the subject rather than simply learning the subject matter well enough to score high on exams.
To help students make such a connection, Zou endorses an old school method of teaching—with chalk. He has pieces of the powdery writing utensil stored in a classroom bag, ready to write on the few chalkboards still available in classrooms.
“It helps the students to follow along,” he said. “After class, a lot of students who followed along might realize, ‘I didn’t write down anything to review.’ This gives them the chance.”
So far, the method has earned him positive reviews and appreciation from his pupils, Zou said.
As for his life away from the classroom, Zou is anxious to go hiking soon. He’s heard of attractive outdoor sites in northern Michigan, but has yet to venture outside the comforts of his new mid-Michigan home to look for what all the fuss is about.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to many things.”
Simulation is the best stimulation for students learning health sciences, Rose Lange will tell you.
The associate professor with SVSU’s Crystal M. Lange College of Health & Human Services (no, the two Langes are not related) is making a legacy of her own by implementing programs and exercises that put students in her field as close to real world situations as possible.
The Saginaw native, who started at the university in 2001, has ramped up those efforts since the $28 million Health & Human Services Building opened in 2010. The 90,000-square foot facility, in addition to housing classrooms and cutting edge equipment, also hosts mock hospital rooms, pseudo apartments and occupational therapy space.
Such resources provide Lange and her students a makeshift playground where they can simulate the work of professionals in the health sciences.
“It’s like making a lecture come alive,” said Lange, who was exposed to the same type of training while studying as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.
One of the initiatives she has spearheaded is what she calls “the poverty simulator.” The once-a-semester exercise gives her pupils an idea of what it’s like to live as many health care consumers do—with very little.
“We’re able to provide some more depth to the information we provide in lectures,” said Lange, who is married to Gary Lange, professor of biology. “It connects our clinical to our didactic (studies).”
The poverty simulation takes place in a large room on the first floor of the Health & Human Services Building, where students’ chairs represent their simulated homes. The room substitutes as a neighborhood, complete with surrounding chairs representing resources such as schools, grocery stores, pawn shops and police stations.
Some students are grouped together as families. They are assigned resources and situations typical of people in poverty, and then asked to navigate the pretend neighborhood in an effort to complete tasks. A month’s worth of living is compacted into one day’s class.
“They have to experience long lines, lack of transportation, the inability to have enough money to buy things,” Lange said of the students’ experience. “Sometimes they get evicted from their house. There are a lot of issues that come up.” She said the simulation gives students “a better expectation of what their patients might experience,” Lange said. “We’ve had a lot of positive responses from students. It makes a difference.”
Rajani Muraleedharan was raised in the sizzle of southern India.
Still, her move to America wasn’t met with the typical exasperation experienced by overseas imports more acquainted with temperatures surrounding the earth’s equator than the wintertime weather waiting stateside. Instead of irritation, she adopted that Dean Martin attitude.
Let it snow.
“I was excited and looking forward to it,” the first-year assistant professor said about her relocation across the Atlantic in 2001. “In India, it always was just rain and sun, so I wanted to experience the snow. But, then I realized, I have to shovel this.”
That American adjustment became a labor of love, not unlike the many research endeavors that engaged her brain from those first days as a Ph.D. student in the classrooms of Syracuse University to today, at her office within Pioneer Hall.
Muraleedharan and her former colleagues at New Jersey’s Rowan University are developing a project aimed at mapping human emotions using facial expressions. She hopes the results will lead to many applications, including being able to anticipate harmful conduct by children as well as help autistic individuals better understand social situations.
“We want to use cameras to find out what they feel and predict their behavior,” she said.
A computer engineer from Rowan is designing a video game that Muraleedharan and her former psychology colleagues want to use as part of an initial phase involving autistic people. The simulation would teach the participants how various facial expressions indicate social circumstances. At the same time, the game user would be filmed, allowing researchers to gauge emotional reactions.
“We are hoping this will be a way to understand them better,” she said. She’s attempting to secure grant money for the research via avenues within SVSU as well as the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Muraleedharan also hopes to recruit students from the undergraduate level to help assist the study. “When I had interactions with undergraduates, sometimes they had this (impression) that undergrads don’t do research,” she said, “but I believe in project based learning. I’m hoping they will help with the work.”
As Muraleedharan awaits funding opportunities, she said she remains engaged both in the classroom and at her new home in mid-Michigan. She moved here in August with her husband, Thomas Silveira. They have a 3 year-old daughter, Reyna, who shares her mom’s eagerness for new weather experiences. “Where I came from, there was no snow at all,” Muraleedharan said. “When we told our daughter (about relocating to Michigan), she was so ecstatic. She is looking forward to the snow.”
Charles Weaver is an assistant professor of health sciences. A native of Detroit, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology as well as a second master’s degree (neuroscience) and a Ph.D. in Medicine. Jobs and journeys in his life have included working as a research fellow, traveling the world with a Christian mission group, teaching middle school in the Bronx and returning to Michigan, first to work for Field Neurosciences Institute on Alzheimer’s research and, ultimately, teaching at SVSU.
We spoke with Dr. Weaver about his research and finding a home at an institution that is small enough to have true faculty-student interaction and engagement yet large enough to offer state-of-the-art facilities where students are highly involved in research.
Tell us about your academic journey.
I always knew I wanted to be in the field of science. My dad was a chemist with the city of Detroit and I loved being with him in the lab. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do; I thought about biology and sports medicine and then psychology hit me. I really enjoy listening to people talk; in psychology, you do less talking and more listening. I still wasn’t sure about psychology until studying behavioral neuroscience. I loved learning about the workings of the brain and how that is translated into behavior. That led to wanting to study learning and memory, and disorders that cause deficits. That’s when Alzheimer’s came into the picture …
... which led to your second master’s degree and Ph.D.?
Yes, I wanted to move further into the science of pathogenesis. I sought out renowned scientist Peter Davies, and that’s what led me to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
After your time with mission work and middle school teaching, you came back to Michigan.
[Dr. Gary Dunbar], a friend, mentor and executive director of Field Neurosciences Institute, asked if I was interested in working on an Alzheimer research project, which led me to FNI and back to Michigan. In 2011, the opportunity to join SVSU presented itself. I wanted to be at a small university, one where I could be doing the research I wanted to do. My greatest personal educational experience was someone really teaching me, so SVSU was perfect — I could do research and mostly work with students while maintaining collaboration with FNI.
Talk about your research.
We’re currently examining the role of dental infection as a cause of or exacerbation factor for Alzheimer’s. A 2006 study showed that 45 percent of all Alzheimer patients had no teeth; the earlier that loss, the more susceptible the person was to the disease. Our theory is that a bacteria [enterococcus faecalis], involved in serious dental infections, could be a factor. One of the theories we’re testing is that if we find the bacteria in the human brain, we need to find the entryway to the brain; that could be the upper palate, which is close to the olfactory bulb. One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer patients is a loss of smell, so this could be a promising path to explore. Our plans include collaborating with Rush Presbyterian Medical in Chicago as providers of human tissue for us to do more infection research.
And SVSU students are doing this type of research?
Absolutely, and much of the credit goes to Dr. Jeffrey Smith [The Malcolm & Lois Field Endowed Chair of Health Sciences]. He has made sure our facilities are state-of-the art and has encouraged and mentored students, many of whom are now in doctoral programs around the country. SVSU really supports student research. Many science projects are funded through The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research & Creativity Institute. At the November  conference of the International Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, we had students presenting at a session on traumatic brain injury and recovery.
How would you describe SVSU students?
Most are hardworking and very dedicated to their studies. Our students don’t have a sense of entitlement, so they don’t take things for granted. I have really enjoyed interaction in the classroom; it has been rewarding and insightful and has helped me as an educator. Our [geographic] diversity is so interesting. We have rural students who don’t understand urban students (and vice versa), and getting the differing backgrounds together helps us all better understand things.
Charles Weaver isn’t out to become the man who cured Alzheimer’s. But he wouldn’t mind one day being credited for a better understanding of the disease.
Weaver, assistant professor of health sciences since 2011, is researching the affect dental infections play in the development of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
A study Weaver oversaw in summer 2012 suggests a tooth decay-causing bacteria—Enterococcus faecalis—may be linked to Alzheimer’s. “We grew some brain cells in a petri dish, and once they were thriving, we added the bacteria and looked to see if the neurons would degenerate in the same manner we saw in Alzheimer’s,” Weaver said. “We found that degeneration to be very similar.”
Next, Weaver hopes to analyze different nerve tracts and blood vessels to see if the bacteria spreads through the same routes traveled by Alzheimer’s. He is applying for grant support of about $45,000 for the three-year study.
The findings may do more than shed light on one way Alzheimer’s develops. They may also place additional emphasis on the importance of tooth care, and question the benefits of root canals.
“Despite all the campaigns, we take (dental health) too lightly,” the Detroit native said. “Our diet plays a huge role in our dental health.”
He said Americans, in particular, could stand to cut high acid goods from their diets.
“You look at some cultures around the world that don’t have this diet, and even if they don’t brush often, they have very little, if any, tooth decay,” Weaver said.
He said the research could lead to questions about root canals, the procedure that removes a tooth’s root to eliminate bacteria-based
decay. “The problem is that 80 percent of root canals go bad within five years,” he said. “That’s the only medical procedure I can think of where you’re leaving a piece of dead tissue in the body. There needs to be a serious reevaluation, or find a better way of eradicating bacteria
at the root of the tooth.”
Weaver said he hopes to utilize SVSU students in the research.
“They are really hard working students here,” he said. “They really know how to grind it out. It’s a good match for what I want to do.”
Weaver said the outcome could make their work an important leap in the world’s understanding of a prevalent disease.
“I’m not out to cure Alzheimer’s,” he said. “That’s much bigger than me. The whole field has to put together the pieces; they have to come up with causes and cures, and I want to do my little part.”
Andrew Miller and Rhett Mohler arrived at SVSU within a month of each other in fall 2012, when the duo brought a new push for initiatives using remote sensing and geospatial analysis.
Now, more than a year later, the two are overseeing two projects expected to shed light on trends ranging from crime to the environment.
“It’s a skill that’s been needed in this area,” Miller said of the highly-detailed data mining that considers—among many elements —location and time. “What these projects do is give students theoretical and practical knowledge while organizing with groups to do something beneficial for the community.
”Miller is helping map violent trends in Saginaw while Mohler is investigating the environmental history of a swampy stretch of the northern Kawkawlin River. Both employ the help of students to collect and interpret the data. “There are so many applications for this kind of analysis,” Mohler said.
Miller is working with the Saginaw County Crime Prevention Council and the Saginaw Police Department to chart shootings and homicides from 2005 to 2013 in Saginaw, pegged by the FBI as one of the nation’s most violent cities of its size.
The geospatial data will help analysts consider information from a number of angles, and could reveal seasonal trends and conditions that suggest violence that is retaliatory in nature.
Miller said his students—Kevin Erb and Emily Gennrich—are still collecting data. When the task is finished and the information is analyzed, the students plan to present at the Association of American Geographers conference in Tampa, Fla.
Mohler’s student assistant, Nick Ross, will present findings on the Kawkawlin River study at the same event.
Mohler and Ross are working on the project as part of the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute, a group featuring collaborating organizations and agencies including SVSU. Mohler said he hopes both contemporary and historical data point to whether the river stretch’s swampy conditions are caused by natural or human elements.
“We’re looking back as far as the 1840s and trying to pin down a date when this started,” he said. Mohler and his student in part will examine 19th century surveyor notes and aerial photography from as early as 1938 to determine causation.
Miller and Mohler credit each other for the development of the remote sensing and geospatial analysis push, an initiative that has involved networking with community groups and applying for financial support.
“What we have done has truly been a partnership,” Miller said. “We couldn’t have made these many in-roads with this many groups without each other.”