Dr. Michael Garval has been named the new Director of the Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program in CHASS. Dr. Garval, Associate Professor of French in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, has been associated with the MALS program for a number of years, acting as a member of the advisory board as well as teaching MALS seminars.
“Dr. Garval brings extensive ability and talent to the MALS program,” said Vicki Gallagher, Intrim Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. “His experience will serve the college and program well.”
Dr. Bob Kochersberger, Associate Professor of English, is stepping down as the MALS program director. "Dr. Kochersberger has had a strong and positive influence on the program," said Gallagher. "On behalf of the college, I thank him for his willingness to guide and strengthen the program. His dedication and energy have served the MALS program well."
The Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program is designed for adult, part-time students, most of whom are working while in the program. The program offers students with real world experience the opportunity to design their own field of study and select courses throughout the university specific to their personal interests. The program allows students to work closely with staff and faculty, and is intended for those who seek personal enrichment and wish to expand their awareness of the world in which we live.
On March 21, the NC State University Graduate Student Association held its Sixth Annual Graduate Student Research Symposium.
Over 150 graduate students, nominated by their departments' respective Director of Graduate Programs, gathered in the McKimmon Center to showcase the outstanding quality and diversity of the university's graduate-level research, practice communicating with members outside of their disciplines, and demonstrate the importance of graduate research to state decision-makers.
Congratulations to all of our CHASS winners listed below:
Kathryn Bove* (Foreign Languages & Literatures), 2nd place, and Sarah Merritt (Communication), 3rd place in the category of Humanities & Design
Kathryn Bove* (Foreign Languages & Literatures), 2nd place, and Sarah Merritt (Communication), 3rd place in the category of Humanities & Design
Adrianne Offenbecker (Anthropology), 1st place, and Rebecca Sutphin (Anthropology), 3rd place in the category of Social Sciences
*Photo of Kathryn Bove with her poster on "Complex Questions and Complex Discourse: How to Create Discourse With Meaningful Questions in the Foreign Language Classroom"
By Lindsay Williams, CHASS Communication Intern
NC State's student body president Kelly Hook (Political Science, '11), is back from a whirlwind trip to Russia.
Officially invited by the Russian Federation's Head of International Relations Department, Kelly joined 14 other student body presidents from universities like Princeton, Duke, and Emory on the goodwill tour. The group toured Moscow, met with the CEO of a Russian venture company, participated in a discussion with Presidential Economic Advisor Arkaday Dvorkovich, attended U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's speech at Moscow State University, and traveled to the ancient city of Yaroslavl.
Visit Kelly's blog, Off the Hook, to get the full story.
By Lindsay Williams, CHASS Communication Intern
Associate Professor of Communication Bill Kinsella focuses on how public discussion of technical issues, such as nuclear power, shapes public policy. His work takes on new relevance after the disaster in Japan. The News and Observer has named Kinsella as its Tar Heel of the Week. Kinsella directs the interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Society program.
Instead of stopping piracy, international laws may be abetting it. Research conducted by CHASS political scientists Mark Nance and Michael Struett highlights one of the factors that is contributing to international piracy: the legal system.
Today’s maritime pirates aren’t swashbuckling antiheroes, they are gun-toting kidnappers, extortionists and murderers. And their numbers are swelling, not diminishing. Fifty years ago, piracy was in decline. But by 2009, the world was dealing with an average of more than one pirate attack per day.
How has piracy been able to thrive in an age when national navies and shipping companies have more technology than ever (e.g., satellite imagery, high-end military equipment)?
See the NC State Abstract to understand more.
by Matt Shipman
adpated by Lauren Lopez-Ibanez, Communication Intern
One of the blind spots in forensic science, particularly in identifying unknown remains, is the inability of experts to determine how much an individual weighed based on his or her skeleton. New research co-authored by CHASS anthropologist Dr. Ann Ross moves us closer to solving this problem by giving forensic experts valuable insight into what the shape of the femur can tell us about the weight of an individual.
“This research allows us to determine whether an individual was overweight based solely on the characteristics of a skeleton’s femur, or thigh bone,” says Ross, describing the research. However, Ross notes, this research does not give us the ability to provide an individual’s exact weight based on skeletal remains.
Researchers found that the heavier an individual was, the wider the shaft of that person’s femur. The researchers hypothesize that the femur of an overweight person is more robust because it bears more weight, but also because overweight individuals move and walk differently to compensate for their greater mass.
Read more about this exciting new research. The New York Times featured the research in its science section.
Some 100 people attended this year's History Weekend to discuss the Tea Party in American History. The special guest speaker was Jill Lepore, Harvard professor, writer for The New Yorker, and author of The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History.
Ocko is already lining up History Weekend 2012. Robert Darton, French historian and Director of Libraries at Harvard University, will be on hand for "The Book in History." "We're going to take a close look at the impact of books, what the book has meant, how scholars use the book, and the changing nature of books," Ocko promised. Check back for details!
Technician editor: Laura Wilkinson junior, International Studies
Windhover editor: Alanna Howard, sophomore, English
Wolf TV station manager: Paul Blake, freshman, Political Science
Business office manager: Ronilyn Osborne, junior, Communication
"I feel confident all these students will build upon the excellent foundation put forth by this year's top student leaders," said student media advisor Bradley Wilson. "I am looking forward to working with each and every one of them."
Congratulations to Laura, Alanna, Paul, and Ronilyn.
by Megan Moore, adapted by Lauren Lopez-Ibanez, student interns
The Alexander Hamilton Scholars Program - a dual degree partnership between NC State's CHASS International Studies program and Poole College of Management - includes a mentor program that helps to connect students from different cultures and allows them to share experiences.
Each semester, Hamilton Scholars share their time and experience with foreign students who have come to NC State as study abroad students, helping them integrate more naturally into American culture.The Hamilton Scholars served as mentors to 23 international students at NC State in fall 2010 and 13 are serving in spring 2011, said Michelle Koehler, undergraduate academic advisor at the Poole College of Management.
“Students usually come from several different countries,” Koehler said. This spring, there are four students from Australia, three from France, two from Mexico, and one student from each Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Fiji. The students are paired with their Hamilton Scholar mentors based on common majors and interests, she said.
The international students get introduced to their mentors during a “meet and greet” at the start of the each semester. Mentors then are available to their mentees throughout the semester for questions. They also invite their mentees to the Hamilton Scholars’ events. Last fall (’10) Hamilton Scholars hosted a Taste of Carolina – a private tour of selected Raleigh restaurants. Previously, the students attended an NC State baseball game and tailgate.
About 20 Hamilton Scholars are now volunteering to mentor students each semester. Chris Prosser, Hamilton Scholars’ vice president, has participated several times in the program and is currently mentoring Nikolai Senst, a student from Germany.
Koelher said the mentoring program “was such a positive experience they (Hamilton Scholars) are wanting to do it again.”
Read more Hamilton Scholar Experiences Mentorship on Both Sides of the Equation
I recently traveled to a senior center in Milwaukee to hear the Bruce M. Braden Memorial Ethics Lecture. The name of the lecture was no accident; it was named in memory of my father, who was a founding member of the center’s Ethics Committee.
Although I always enjoy visiting the center (among other reasons, it's about the only place where I'm routinely addressed as "young man"), I was especially motivated to make this trip. Many of the committee members with whom my father had served were joining local mental health professionals for the talk, given by a local physician on end-of-life issues and palliative care.
As the lecture approached, I realized that my father’s vigorous (some might have said “rigid”) and unwavering commitment to ethics was no doubt influenced by a strict fundamentalist upbringing and his service as a barely 18-year-old in World War II. Those experiences left my father deeply skeptical of people and institutions making decisions for others by appealing to unquestioned authority, whether it be the church or the state. He could not comprehend how people felt their religious beliefs entitled them to dictate the course of other people’s lives, and he never reconciled how one of the most advanced civilizations in the history of our planet devoted its immense resources to exterminate Jews, Gypsies, the mentally ill—in other words, those on the margins of German society. Those experiences left him with a profound skepticism regarding the ability of institutions to be good ethical stewards. Yet they also instilled in him a passion for social justice that he carried through his professional life as a social worker and until the very end of his life.
My father committed himself to two things: First, those about whom decisions are being made must have a place at the table when those decisions are made. Second, the search for ethics is a task than can never be completed—and can never be put aside. It is a constant struggle for individuals and for institutions—and both must be constantly challenged to hold themselves and others accountable for acting ethically. I’m proud to say my father created patient boards and human subjects review committees that made his life as a hospital’s mental health administrator less comfortable than it could have been, yet he never questioned their necessity.
So, what does all this have to do with being a dean? Plenty. I strive to emulate my father’s example by meeting regularly with students, staff, faculty, alumni, friends, and their families. Sometimes they remind me of things I’d rather forget, such as the fact that budget cuts in our college means losing classes and jobs.
But I also think it works both ways, that those in the community, alumni, leaders, and voters, need to engage with us, to take the time to learn what we do, to understand the value of the scholarship we produce for our economy and our society. In this way they can fully understand the ethical impact of the decisions we must all make in trying times. I hope you will join me in first and foremost learning about the amazing accomplishments and contributions of our students, faculty, and staff by reading this newsletter (or even better, joining us at our events!).
I challenge you to share what you learn about CHASS with your neighbors, friends, and leaders in business and government so that they understand the importance of the humanities and social sciences at North Carolina State—and more importantly, for the state of North Carolina.
Jeff Braden, Dean
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Visiting Young Scholar Graham Gerard Ong-Webb, Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Economics, will give a public talk entitled "Piracy in Maritime Asia: Problems, Politics, and Prospects," on Wednesday, March 23, 6:00-7:30pm in the DH Hill Auditorium (EC2304). NC State students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend the event, which is free and open to the public.
While he is currently preparing to defend his dissertation on China's nuclear policy, Graham has already established himself as an expert on maritime piracy. He is the editor of one of the few volumes on the subject that existed prior to 2009 and has authored several related chapters and articles, as well. A native of Singapore, he also speaks Mandarin, Malay, and Indonesian, on top of his native English. Graham is a commissioned captain in the Singapore Armed Forces (reserve) and has served as a research associate or lecturer in Kings College London, the US Army War College and Nanyang Technical University.
Graham will also host a student lunch on Wednesday, March 23. Contact Public and International Affairs lecturer Mark Nance (email@example.com) for details.
By: Lindsay Williams, CHASS Communication Intern
by Lauren Lopez-Ibanez, CHASS Communication Intern
With all the fish in the sea, sometimes finding your perfect match can prove to be a challenge. Many singles trying to hook a mate have turned to online dating sites to help them narrow the pool of compatible fish.
CHASS doctoral candidate Dawn Shepherd of the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program has focused her studies--and her dissertation--on the technologies of matching. The Times of London recently interviewed her in an article about the challenges and methods of online dating algorithms.
Shepherd says she studies "the logics that power websites we engage and their relationship to identity. ... In other words, how do the processes of matching me with people to date, books to buys, movies to watch, or websites to visit construct me as a user?"
In some ways, Shepherd says, online dating is "like online shopping. ... Matchmaking systems use collaborative filtering to find commonalities between your actions and those of many others," she explains. "This form of information filtering allows suggestions to be made relative to your actions. Just as clothing websites recommend alternate options in conjunction with purchases, matchmaking sites suggest potential candidate profiles based off those previously viewed."
Although these algorithms are not yet savvy enough to know why there are certain connections between individuals and their choices, they do recognize that there is a connection, and they use that data accordingly.
Fishing for the perfect mate through online sites remains an imperfect science. But Shepherd puts great stock in algorithms. "I think it's definitely possible that one day these algorithms will know us better than we know ourselves," she says.
On February 10, 2011, CHASS Dean Jeff Braden switched places with sophomore Communication major Sarah Hager. He took her classes (and her radio shift at WKNC). She spent the day in meetings with fellow deans, with college administrators and department heads, even with an Advisory Board member. Here are their reflections on the experience.
Dean for a Day Sarah Hager:
7:45am I arrived at Holladay Hall to begin may day as the Dean of College of Humanities and Social Sciences. I was very excited – and nervous – walking in to the Council of Deans' meeting. I introduced myself to the heads of each college in the university, as well as to the Provost. They were all very welcoming. We heard from Dean Pascal Vidal, of the French business school SKEMA, who shared information about the new program on NC State’s campus. Provost Arden kept the meeting going smoothly. Throughout the meeting, the deans raised their concerns and questions. It was refreshing to see that even at that level, disagreements still happen. Everyone remained professional, though.
10:15 Next I met with Betty Byrum, the CHASS assistant dean of finance and business. She explained how the university and the college's finances are run. I learned a lot. I had been under the impression that the majority of the financing came from tuition, which actually only accounts for about 18%.
11:45 After a break, I had lunch with Vicki Gallagher, CHASS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. It was great to sit down one-on-one with someone and share my concerns about my college. We talked about what is effective and ineffective, as well as ideas for the future. I felt my input was valued. We bounced ideas off of each other about how to involve CHASS more campus-wide.
1:00 I attended the “Five Year Leadership and Program Review” that Vice Provost Louis Hunt hosted. It was interesting to see the ways the university recruits students and the academic standards held for the admission process.
3:00 - 5:00 Back-to-back meetings! First I met with Communication Department Head Dr. Ken Zagacki. As a communication major myself, meeting my department head was exciting. We talked about why I came to CHASS and what classes I’ve enjoyed the most so far. Next up was CHASS Advisory Board President Emily Barbour, who explained ways we try to involve alumni with CHASS. The Advisory Board promotes the welfare and development of CHASS through advocacy, fundraising, and service. It got me excited to reach an alumni status in the next few years. All the board members seem to have great careers with lots of Wolfpack love. Last but not least, I met with Associate Dean for Research, Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development (REED) Dr. Tom Birkland. Between Dean Braden’s airbreaks on WKNC (he was taking my shift at the radio station at this point of the afternoon), Dr. Birkland and I talked about the research, extension, engagement, and economic development awards process – and music.
5:15 After a long day, I met (the real) Dean Braden at Mitch’s Tavern – a favorite among students and faculty. We were both exhausted. I’m pretty sure we almost simultaneously said “I don’t know how you do it!” I think in the end that’s what an opportunity like this comes down to – an appreciation for both sides.
Student for a Day Jeff Braden
5:40 am – Alarm goes off; I wake up and begin working out.
6:12 am – I realize that I’ve been working out for about 30 minutes while listening to NPR and can’t remember a thing they’ve said. Remind myself that I'm a student today, so I can take extra time to stretch out (and clean the cat's litter box). I smile as I get dressed -- first time I've gone to campus on a weekday wearing jeans since last year's dean for a day!
7:45 am – I leave the house 20 minutes later than normal and realize I'm still ahead of schedule. This is awesome ... until I hit traffic. Not sure if it's so bad because I'm leaving 20 minutes later than normal, or because it's snowing. I hear the report on cacao prices and remember the stuff I was listening to while I worked out. Change the channel to jazz.
8:15 am – Get to campus and decide to take my usual parking space. I'm relieved that Sarah didn't want to use it, as I probably wouldn't have time to find another space. I head into class.
8:30 am – COM 257 class begins with instructor handing back exam and going over the answers. Discussion begins; I start taking notes so Sarah can know what we talked about.
9:45 am – Head to Global Village for coffee, feeling really energized. I just got out of my very first Communication class; if they are all this good, I feel like I should go back to school and major in it! The instructor did a great job of laying out information and then inviting discussion. There was a lot of give-and-take; I'm impressed!
10:15 am – Enter editing class and immediately take a test -- but only after I am guaranteed that Sarah will get the chance to take it, too (the highest of the two scores will count towards her grade). I think I do pretty well inserting the appropriate editing marks, but I'll have to wait to see my results! The discussion is, as it was in my first class, very lively. I'm really impressed with how students are engaged -- as well as how funny and effective the instructor is at sustaining the discussion.
11:35 am – I enter ENG 416 about 10 minutes early to find everybody sitting in a circle having a lively discussion about current events and trying to guess which questions the instructor will ask. A number of students greet me as "Sarah." They even tell me where she usually sits, so that I can be in the right seat. Instructor calls role; I answer for Sarah and instructor says, "Can't fool me." I take a news quiz about the stories the class was assigned to read; needless to say, I don’t do well. The specificity of the quiz surprises me; although I am aware of many of the events, the questions require exact responses rather than general ideas. Lisa Sorg, Editor at the Independent Weekly, then shares her background and some stories of her time as a beat reporter and (later) editor. The discussion is, once again, lively and animated (and once again, I'm impressed!).
12:45 pm – I head over with some of the guys from class to Mitch's for lunch. I realize a photographer from the Technician is there to take pictures of me. We have another lively discussion; I try to push my point about the unwitting bias that's built into reporting on public vs. private entities by the easy access to records via open records laws. My companions and the photographer sort of agree, but it’s clear I'm not gonna feel the love, so we begin to talk about other things. We all agree that the reporting in The Economist is among the best we've seen. I hurry over to Withers with one of my lunch-mates to prepare for my next class, COM 267.
1:30 pm – COM 267 is built around computer workstations; students log in to Moodle and much of the content is online (e.g., our quiz, assignments). All of the students whose monitors I can see are jumping back and forth between the class site and other Internet sites. There is less discussion in this class, which seems to be partly because of the orientation to the workstations, partly because the lecture summarizes the book chapter (the presentation even includes page numbers of each topic), and partly because students jump in and out of engagement. Still, the material is well organized, and clearly presented. Even though I have no background, I can easily follow the class topics and discussion.
2:50 pm – I walk over to Witherspoon in preparation for my shift on WKNC as co-host of an afternoon radio program. I head up to get familiar with the radio station before I go on the air.
3:30 pm – My co-host gives me a great tour of the station, explaining what she and Sarah (better known to WKNC listeners as Sarah-nade) typically do in a shift, and asks me about what I would like my DJ name to be. I ask if I can use “Dr. J” as a way of working my academic background and my love of great basketball (and yes, I still play—not well—over at Carmichael on occasion) into my on-air persona. I also confess to being a Beatles fan, and cringe at the thought of how hopelessly out of touch that sounds. Her response (“Oh, I love classic rock!”) both relieves and disturbs me—I’m relieved she knows the Beatles and likes their music, but I’m disturbed that I’m so old that the cutting-edge music of my youth is now considered “classic.”
4:04 pm – We go live on the air, and I have a ball. I learn to bleat “WKNC, 88.1 FM” in response to her “And you are listening to…” prompt. It only takes me a couple of tries; nice to know that an old dean can learn at least one new trick! The music is great, and it’s fun to have give-and-take on the air. We get a number of callers requesting music, but I’m especially thrilled when one of our college alumni (and former Advisory Board Chair) calls in to say he listens to WKNC all the time. Of course, he’s disappointed with the poor quality of Dr. J and pines for Sarah-nade’s return, but it’s good to get a shout out nonetheless.
5:12 pm – I head over to Mitch’s with two members of the Technician to meet Sarah and debrief after a long day. I’m still giddy with the excitement of the day, and fall all over myself telling Sarah about her classes. We both answer questions the folks from the Technician ask us, and I’m proud to brag on my faculty and my experience as a student for the day. Sarah is equally effusive about her day, although it’s pretty clear I had the better deal. I’m excited about our college, and grateful to have been able to look at it from a student’s point of view. I feel very, very lucky to be able to represent my colleagues, this college, and NC State. Go ‘Pack!
I am pleased to see a feature article in the Technician the following morning! I wince a little bit as I notice they didn’t use the pictures of me from lunch where I ordered a diet cola; instead, they show me sitting next to Sarah drinking a beer. At least it was after hours! A few spelling errors will undoubtedly give Sarah something to discuss in her journalism classes next week. Still, I’m indebted to the Technician for its coverage of the event, and for being so supportive. I also notice that just about every other dean has sent me an email recommending that I continue to send Sarah to future meetings, as she’s a much better spokesperson for the college than the current dean (i.e., me). Not for the last time, I envy Sarah and the life of a student!
by Lauren Lopez-Ibanez, CHASS Communication Intern
On April 12, 1861, the Battle of Fort Sumter triggered the beginning of the American Civil War--a war that would consume our country for four long years and change it forever. As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approaches, the Department of History is holding a symposium to lead the conversation.
On Saturday, March 26, 2011, the History Department will host a day-long symposium from 8:30am - 6:30pm "to facilitate discussions among Civil War interpreters, museum curators, and scholars about how to convey integrated narratives of military, social, and political history," according to Professor of History David Zonderman. "We have an abundance of historical knowledge to educate others and ways to bring history to life and demonstrate its importance."
As the next four years mark several anniversaries of the Civil War, attendance at historical sites will likely rise. With this in mind, the symposium will include discussions ranging from perceptions of Abraham Lincoln to Civil War medicine that will aid attendees in learning "how to step out from behind textbooks and breathe life into events of the past."
Students, faculty, and other interested members of the community are encouraged to attend. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required by Thursday, March 17.
Read more on the symposium
Read more on the symposium
Composer J. Mark Scearce, director of the music department, will visit the University of Connecticut this week to conduct performances of his commissioned work for cello and orchestra.
Scearce won the 2009 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Composition Prize, which included a $20,000 prize and performance and recording opportunities. Orchestra performances are scheduled at the Storrs campus on March 17 and at the Stamford campus on March 19, where Dr. Raymond Sackler will present Scearce with the prize.
Scearce, the winner of six international music competitions, holds advanced degrees in music, philosophy and religion, including a doctorate in composition from Indiana University. His music is commercially available on the Albany, Delos, Warner Bros, Capstone, Centaur and Equilibrium labels, as well as via freestreetquartet.com.
This story originally appeared in the NC State Bulletin.
Evan Garris (Political Science 2011) says he was overcome with emotion recently while watching television reports of the jubilant crowds celebrating Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Smithfield, NC, native described his reaction to his Arabic teacher in the email reprinted below.
Garris had spent the summer of 2010 travelling in the Middle East, dividing his time between Egypt, the UAE, and Lebanon, as he studied with Jodi Khater (Foreign Languages and Literatures) and her husband Dr. Akram Khater (History).
Garris said in the course of his study abroad, he “experienced a critical awakening, or nahda, as it is called in Arabic. … I wanted to know if comparing lofty ideals like human rights and normative behaviors like gender and sexuality could even occur between cultures; if interpretation of these concepts is not impeded altogether by language or the lack thereof.”
While he was full of questions, he was also focused on language acquisition. “It was my most pressing need,” he said. “It determined my ability to move about freely, establish personal connections with people, and even eat. Even after three years of study, the Arabic language poses a unique set of challenges. Its countless dialects, unfamiliar vowels, and nearly impenetrable grammatical structures are enough to drive even the most experienced linguist completely batty.”
With the Khaters’ support, Garris became more fluent, and become better equipped to understand the region’s myriad political, cultural, and intellectual complexities. “My knowledge of Arabic and my understanding of Middle Eastern history have given me a way to to see and understand and interpret the world,” he said. “The Khaters are two of NC State University’s most gifted academics. Without their mentorship and friendship it is quite possible that I never would have opened my eyes to the world around me.”
After graduating in December, Garris plans to continue his education and pursue a PhD in Comparative Literature.
Ahlan wa sahlan!
As you can well imagine, I've been glued to the news all day. Earlier, I caught a segment on CNN in which a correspondent was amidst the jubilant masses in Midan Tahrir. She spoke Arabic fluently, and was interviewing Egyptian men and women and then translating their words for CNN's English-speaking audience. As for me, she could have eschewed the English translation altogether, because I found myself understanding every word spoken.
Anyways, I want to thank you for helping me acquire the skills needed to understand the thoughts and feelings of those interviewees in their native tongue. It was an extremely touching moment for me; like the barrier of the television screen had disappeared and I was standing with everyone in Midan Tahrir. Hearing the sheer joy, elation, and excitement in their voices—and more importantly, their words—brought me to tears.
Language, its power, and my experience living in Cairo have effectively humanized these events for me in a way I could never have imagined possible. So much of what I have come to know is either misrepresented or not represented in Western media and by pundits and politicians. I feel that a critical opportunity is lost in that absence of appropriate context, particularly the chance to construct a narrative that puts a human face on world events and emphasizes the incredible extent to which civilizations are interpenetrated. That absence owes a large part of its existence to the language barrier.
So again: thank you. I owe both you and Akram so much.
Opposites don’t always attract. A study from NC State University's Department of Psychology shows that participants are happier – and perform better – when the electronic helpers used in online training programs resemble the participants themselves.
“It is important that the people who design online training programs understand that one size does not fit all,” says Dr. Lori Foster Thompson, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study. “Efforts to program helper agents that may be tailored to individuals can yield very positive results for the people taking the training.”
Online training students are more engaged and focused when the electronic "helper" is portrayed by an image that matches their race and gender.
Online training programs are becoming increasingly common, and are used for everything from developing work skills in employees to teaching children basic math skills. Many of these programs utilize electronic training agents, or “helpers,” to give feedback to users and help them through the coursework. But the usefulness of these helpers can vary, or even be annoying. Remember Clippy, the animated paper clip, from Microsoft?
NC State researchers set out to determine what characteristics make a training helper more effective. “We know from existing research on human interaction that we like people who are like us,” Foster Thompson says. “We wanted to see whether that held true for these training agents.”
The researchers evaluated the superficial similarities between 257 study participants and helper agents in an online training course, and assessed each participant’s communication style and their similarity to the helper’s communication style. Superficial similarities included the gender and race of the participant. Assessment of each participant’s communication style was determined by asking participants how they would give feedback to others in various situations – such as helping someone with classwork. Researchers also asked participants how similar they felt the helper’s communication style was to their own style.
The researchers found that people reported being more engaged and focused on their training when the helper was portrayed by an image that matched both their race and gender. Furthermore, the researchers found that participants liked the helper more – and learned more from the program – when the helper’s communication style matched their own in regard to a very specific aspect of giving feedback.
Essentially, when giving feedback, some people give individual performance evaluations by comparing the individual to the group (e.g., you are in the top 10 percent), while others compare an individual’s performance only against that individual’s previous record (e.g., you did much better this time). Study participants performed much better when the helper’s feedback style matched their own in this regard.
The study also showed that perception could be more important than reality in participant performance. “We found that people liked the helper more, were more engaged and viewed the program more favorably when they perceived the helper agent as having a feedback style similar to their own – regardless of whether that was actually true,” Foster Thompson says.
The paper, “Similarity Effects in Online Training: Effects with Computerized Trainer Agents,” was co-authored by Foster Thompson and Dr. Tara Behrend, an assistant professor at George Washington University who worked on the study while a Ph.D. student at NC State. The paper is forthcoming from the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
NC State’s Department of Psychology is part of the university’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
By Matt Shipman, NC State News Services
Articles based on this research have been picked up by media outlets including Fast Company and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Note to editors: The study abstract follows.
“Similarity Effects in Online Training: Effects with Computerized Trainer Agents”
Authors: Tara S. Behrend, The George Washington University; Lori Foster Thompson, North Carolina State University
Published: Forthcoming, Computers in Human Behavior
Abstract: In this study, trainees worked with computerized trainer agents that were either similar to them or different regarding appearance or feedback-giving style. Similarity was assessed objectively, based on appearance and feedback style matching, and subjectively, based on participants’ self-reported perceptions of similarity. Appearance similarity had few effects. Objective feedback similarity led to higher scores on a declarative knowledge test and higher liking for the trainer. Subjective feedback similarity was related to reactions, engagement, and liking for the trainer. Overall, results indicated that subjective similarity is more important in predicting training outcomes than objective similarity, and that surface-level similarity is less important than deep-level similarity. These results shed new light on the dynamics between e-learners and trainer agents, and inform the design of agent-based training.
A documentary by Will Lamb (’11), featuring members of the Wolfpack family rallying together in support of NC State’s GLBT students, faculty, staff and alumni, has drawn international attention while helping to shed light on change and acceptance blossoming across campus.
Based on the common stereotypes and controversies surrounding both communities, Lamb – an ROTC scholar who will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army following his May graduation – might seem like the last person who would pour hours into a film highlighting the university’s GLBT and ally community.
* WATCH: It Gets Better (3:59) | Full version (14:12)
* READ: The Chronicle: For Gay Students, More Room on Campuses
But for Lamb, a communication media major and president of NC State’s Union Activities Board, the paradox is one that’s impossible for him to realize.
“My dad is in the Army, so we moved around a lot, as you can imagine,” Lamb said. “Through the years, my parents have always commented on the fact that I’ve had the most incredibly diverse group of friends.
“Gay friends, straight friends, it’s no different to me,” he said. “I was raised to judge people not on their orientation, skin color or anything else – but on their character alone.”
Following October’s “Ally Rally,” Justine Hollingshead, director of NC State’s GLBT Center, reached out to Lamb to discuss joining the national It Gets Better movement, helping to bring a message of hope to those who needed it most in our community.
According to statistics, 9 out of 10 GLBT students have experienced harassment at school. In addition, GLBT teens are bullied 2 to 3 times as much as straight teens, and more than a third have attempted suicide.
“Will, based on stereotypes, is probably not someone you’d pick out of a crowd to be a supportive ally but, having spent time with him in his role in UAB, I knew that to be false,” Hollingshead said. “Given his background in film, theatre and the arts, he had the perfect blend of someone that understands people, is supportive, and just gets it.
“It speaks volumes when you have a member of the ‘straight’ heterosexual ally community putting together a piece to support the GLBT community,” she said. “To have someone like him on your side and standing up for equality goes a long way.”
Hollingshead showed Lamb an It Gets Better video produced at another university, in hopes of gauging his response while sparking their combined creative interests.
Lamb began his film career while still in high school, putting together a series of documentaries for his cross-country team.
“It was well done and the people had good stories, but it felt very stilted and didn’t feel quite as authentic,” Lamb said. “They shot at a studio instead of on location, so it felt really detached from the people who were interviewed for what was a very important story.
“In talking with Justine, we knew we had to ground this thing in reality and on our campus – it’s about NC State students, staff, and faculty past and present, so it had to be real.”
Hollingshead quickly went to work, coordinating the schedules of 39 members of the NC State community in hopes of getting them to not only share their story, but to put it on the “permanent record,” so to speak.
“I wanted something that would last forever and that people would be able to see at any time,” she said. “It was also important that it be from NC State, and not just the GLBT Center or members of the community itself.
“I did not want the message to be coming from the GLBT community, but rather all of NC State,” Hollingshead said. “When the idea was pitched to the Chancellor and Provost, they were immediately supportive and never hesitated, which meant a great deal.”
The resulting 14-minute film allows viewers to get to know – and positively identify with – a diverse sampling of NC State students, faculty, staff and alumni. As of this writing, viewers have watched the YouTube version of the video more than 10,000 times.
“We have received hundreds of emails and notes about the positive impact,” Hollingshead said. “Recently I had the opportunity to talk with an administrator at a school in Tennessee.
“She had seen the video and made comment at how it elevated her perception of NC State,” she said. “It spoke volumes to her that our whole university community – faculty, staff, students, allies, alums, the Provost, and the Chancellor – all came together for a united message, that we do not tolerate discrimination of any sort, everyone is welcome, and this is a great place to be.”
As Lamb prepares to leave campus for active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army Signal Corps (which provides and manages communications and information systems support for the command and control of combined arms forces) he’s proud of what he’s accomplished both in and outside of the classroom during his time at NC State.
“I’ve come so far in four years, as far as how I’ve been able to develop my talents, my leadership skills, and my thinking as a person,” he said. “To do something with our GLBT Center was a no-brainer.
“I had no fear of repercussions from the Army,” Lamb said. “It’s not our place to comment on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but I have absolutely no problem with people who are different than I am.
“At the end, people are people, and there’s nothing about anybody’s skin color, gender, or orientation that is off-putting to me,” he said. “There’s nobody I can’t get along with.”
Indeed, a documentary can only shed a limited amount of light on its subject matter, so Hollingshead – who has served as director of the GLBT Center since its creation in 2008 – hopes NC State alums; students, faculty and staff currently on campus, as well as future members of the Wolfpack family will experience the changes for themselves.
“It is better, and continues to get better every day,” she said. “We are intentional about our efforts and work together to solve problems.
“This is the place to be, and we are doing the work to make sure all people feel welcome here.”
Editor’s Note: In addition to the abridged version of NC State’s It Gets Better documentary (below), a full-length (14:12) version can be found on YouTube. Will Lamb’s photo by Jon Gamble.
By Dave Pond, University Communications. This article originally appeared at ncsu.edu.
Psychologist Mary Haskett has been doing research on childhood development for over 20 years, and her experiences in that field ultimately highlighted a real and growing mental-health crisis facing homeless children around the country. Now she’s calling on her research expertise to do something about it.
News Channel 14 recently ran a story about Project CATCH.
Haskett, a professor in NC State's Psychology Department, is working with eight homeless shelters in central North Carolina to develop a system that will provide mental-health services to children in homeless families. The system should provide new data on effective strategies for addressing mental-health concerns in homeless kids – and may serve as a model for similar efforts nationally. Dubbed Project CATCH (Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless), the initiative is funded by the John Rex Endowment and will be overseen by the Salvation Army.
“The circumstances that lead to homelessness, such as substance abuse and domestic violence, also put kids at risk of mental-health problems – including depression and anxiety,” Haskett says. “And there are myriad challenges in recognizing and providing treatment for homeless children with mental-health problems: the families are moving frequently, they don’t have health insurance, there’s often a lack of transportation. Hopefully, Project CATCH can help these kids from slipping through the cracks.”
This is not an insignificant problem. In 2005-06, it was estimated that 1 in 50 U.S. children was homeless.
Haskett explains that providing mental-health treatment is particularly problematic for children under the age of five. Federal law provides some resources that support the mental health of homeless children once those children are enrolled in school, but younger kids aren’t covered by the law.
This leaves those younger kids at higher risk for long-term mental-health problems, because research indicates that the first five years of life are a critical period for social and emotional development.
Project CATCH incorporates a number of steps designed to help address this problem. The initiative will include system-wide training for shelter staff to increase awareness of children’s mental health. The project will identify mental-health professionals in the community who will prioritize treatment for homeless children, and provide transportation so that the kids can attend treatment sessions. Parents will be offered in-shelter support to help them foster safe, stable and nurturing relationships with their children.
The project will also create a computerized network that will allow the participating shelters to share information on the children’s specific needs and treatment plans, so there will be continuity of care for these kids as they move from shelter to shelter and into transitional housing.
Ultimately, the project will also generate data to help our understanding of how best to meet the mental-health needs of homeless children. “We will be evaluating outcomes in terms of improved mental-health functioning in the children,” Haskett says, “as well as evaluating stress levels in parents and improvements in parenting skills.”
Ideally, the project will also serve as a blueprint that can be replicated elsewhere. Project CATCH is already working with the National Center for Family Homelessness (NCFH), which will help the project with shelter staff training and program evaluation. If the project is successful, NCFH can help share the program with communities nationwide.
by Matt Shipman, NC State News Services. This article originally appeared in NC State's Abstract.
Caldwell Fellow Alex Martin, who's double majoring in international studies and business administration, is leading a team of students in a volunteer effort to open up new markets for fair trade merchandise. As the campus Bulletin tells it, he and his teammates from colleges across campus are creating and maintaining an e-Bay store for artists in 15 countries. The online store is being created in cooperation with NC State textile professor Philip Dail's fair trade store in Raleigh, Beleza.
The university community congratulates Dr. Charlie Coe, professor of Public Administration, for his selection as the 2011 recipient of the Charles H. Levine Memorial Award for Excellence in Public Administration.
As stated on ASPA's web page, "This award, presented by ASPA and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), recognizes a public administration faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in three major areas of the field of teaching, research and service to the wider community." Dr. Coe joins a list of distinguished Public Administration scholars from universities such as Rutgers, American, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Rockefeller College, who have been honored with the Levine Award.
by Lindsay Williams, CHASS Communication Intern Ever wonder where media outlets like Discovery News find their experts?
For a topic like viral Internet culture, the source of expertise can be found right here in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NC State. Doctoral student Matt Morain (Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media, '12) was recently quoted on the Discovery News web site in an article on Internet "memes," or viral marketing campaigns.
Check out the article for Morain's take on communication culture, the value of interconnectivity, and more!
by Lindsay Williams, CHASS Communication Intern Dr. Minnijean Brown Trickey visited NC State University on Thursday, February 24. Her public lecture, "The Price of Education in Little Rock," was hosted by NC State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Minnijean Brown Trickey was 16 when she became involved in a pivotal act of the American civil rights movement. As one of the “Little Rock Nine,” Trickey and eight other Black American teenagers defied death threats, hostile white demonstrators, and even the Arkansas National Guard to attend the all-white Little Rock Central High in 1957.
When the nine Black students enrolled in Central High School, it was one the nation’s premier schools. Although racial segregation had been declared illegal two years earlier by the Supreme Court in the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision of 1954, Central High School, along with other schools in the South, remained segregated. To enforce this illegal segregation, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus instructed the Arkansas National Guard to surround the school and turn the nine students away. President Eisenhower intervened and sent in Army troops to escort the Black students into the school.
Trickey has remained a social justice advocate throughout her adult life. She served in the Clinton Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Workforce Diversity at the Department of the Interior. She has consulted nationally and internationally around issues of anti-racism, diversity, feminist research, cross-cultural communications, and organizational change.
Today, she continues to promote the theory and practice of nonviolence as a path toward social change as a teacher, writer, and lecturer. The documentary Journey to Little Rock: The Untold Story of Minnijean Brown follows her life of social activism and recognizes a woman who has moved history forward.
Trickey is the recipient of numerous awards for her community work for social justice. With the Little Rock Nine, she received the NAACP Spingarn Medal and the Congressional Gold Medal.
(biographical information source: the National Women's History Project )
Read more on Dr. Trickey-Brown's NC State visit