Spotlight on graduate student excellence

Andrea Bazzoli (he/his) is a PhD candidate in the department of psychology. Bazzoli’s area of expertise is occupational health psychology (a branch of organizational psychology). He is a member of the Coalition for Healthy and Equitable Workplaces Lab led by Tahira Probst at WSU Vancouver. Everything they do in the lab is a team effort and working with his team is what Bazzoli enjoys the most about research.

Bazzoli, 2nd from left, has presented his work at many conferences. He values working in collaborative teams that include international researchers. Tahira Probst, far right, is Bazzoli’s advisor at WSU Vancouver

Since 2020, Bazzoli’s research has followed three paths: first, exploration of the nature of economic stressors (e.g., job insecurity and financial stress), their explanatory mechanisms, novel consequences, and individual and contextual moderators; second, the investigation of predictors and correlation of proactive safety behaviors in the workplace, including safety voice and accident underreporting; and third, examination of how advancements in quantitative methodology can be best used to advance empirical and substantive work in organizational psychology.

Bazzoli’s research is getting noticed. Bazzoli was lead author on a 2022 study published in the journal “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” that was one of the top WSU news stories in 2022. The study looked at how workers in the United States are affected by precarity – a persistent insecurity in employment or income. They collected data from 315 employees across 45 states and DC and assessed a range of measures related to precarity such as job insecurity, financial insecurity, prior unemployment, household income and underemployment. They found that employees fit into only two categories; those that were doing well and those that were doing really poorly. This was an unexpected finding; the authors expected some people to fit in-between the “haves and the have-nots.” Particularly concerning is that as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, some workers are being left further and further behind widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. About 25% of the workers surveyed fell into the have-not category.

The have-nots also tended to have worse outcomes across work, health and life domains. Bazzoli’s work suggests that as organizations shift their workforce towards more precarious forms of employment (gig workers or independent contractors, for example), the workforce may become less healthy, less productive, less innovative and less committed. This will spell trouble for employers as well as society in general.  The implication of Bazzoli’s work is clear; finding ways for workers to leave precarity is necessary for a healthy and productive society.  

Bazzoli enjoys traveling and water sports.

Bazzoli was born in Italy and lived there until he was 21 years old. He then moved to the U.S. and earned his bachelor’s degree at Drury University. Afterwards, he moved back to Italy, then to the UK, where he earned his first master’s degree. He earned a second master’s degree at WSU Vancouver in 2021. He plans to defend his PhD dissertation in Spring 2023 and will be joining the Department of Psychology at Baruch College (City University of New York) as a tenure-track assistant professor in Fall 2023.

Best wishes to Bazzoli as he completes his doctoral work in Spring 2023 and embarks on a career as an assistant professor of Psychology at Baruch College
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Researching rapid evolution in fruit flies

Seth Rudman, an assistant professor in WSU Vancouver’s School of Biological Sciences, has research interests centering around rapid evolution, rapid adaption in response to environmental stressors, and whole genome evolutionary change within a changing environment. Rudman received his Ph.D. in evolutionary ecology at the University of British Columbia, studying the interaction between ecology and rapid evolution in stickleback fish. Rudman’s postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania expanded on this research, using bioinformatics to gain a better understanding of genomic and microbiome evolution.

Seth Rudman working in his lab at WSU Vancouver

Rudman’s lab at WSU Vancouver houses fruit flies, or Drosophila. Originally, he had decided never to work with fruit flies. At the University of Rochester, where Rudman received his bachelor’s degree in evolutionary biology, many of the professors worked with fruit flies. Rudman found this research “fundamentally uninteresting,” he said. Instead, he turned to field herpetology, working for the national park system in South Africa.

But Rudman’s own research interests led him to change his mind about fruit fly research. “Slowly but surely, I got more interested in the questions about what influences populations and their ability to survive in challenging environments. And the more interested I got in those questions, the more that I saw systems where I’d be able to answer those questions—until one day, I woke up and found myself running a Drosophila laboratory here at WSU Vancouver,” said Rudman.

He’s become a convert. Fruit flies are plentiful and easy to care for. “Drosophila is a fantastic model system,” he said. “I don’t know of any animal model system that’s easier to take care of. And it’s easy to do large experiments with because they’re very, very happy with minimal effort.” And because fruit fly genetics have been studied for more than 100 years, their genomes are easy to sequence and analyze. Moreover, fruit flies can evolve rapidly, often within a single season.

Seth Rudman at his fruit fly facility at WSU Vancouver

Rudman recently received a five-year $1.89 million Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institutes of Health to study rapid evolution in fruit flies. By using natural environmental changes to drive evolution, Rudman investigates fruit fly evolution “in the wild.” The reason for this research, said Rudman, is to “understand how variation in the genome influences evolutionary outcomes in more realistic settings. And that can help us predict things like how evolution is actually going to occur in pandemic settings or in tumor/cancer settings or in a disease vector setting.”

To create these natural conditions, Rudman planted an orchard near the campus sports annex and assembled large, tent-like structures over the trees. The fruit fly “tents” combine the convenience of the lab with a realistic outdoor setting, allowing selection pressures like wind, rain and heat to act on the fruit fly populations. As an added selection pressure, Rudman and his team treated their fruit fly populations with the organic pesticide Spinosad from June to October.

Catherine Irene Clare, Seth Rudman and Rene Sahba Shahmohamadloo at the outdoor fruit fly enclosure at WSU Vancouver

Their next step is to analyze the genomes of the fruit flies they sampled throughout this time, but Rudman already expects to learn a lot. For example, early in the experiment, the insecticide nearly killed off the fruit fly populations. “We were nervous about this, and we thought we maybe would stop doing the treatment, but instead we pushed through and what ended up happening was the populations rebounded,” Rudman said. This phenomenon, called evolutionary rescue, has ecological implications for endangered species: “It’s a process that we’re really interested in studying because it’s a potentially important one for the maintenance and preservation of biodiversity,” said Rudman, “I am fascinated with the idea and the notion that evolution can rescue populations from extinction.”

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Humanizing mathematics education

Everyone is capable of making sense of the mathematics around them, says Kristin Lesseig, who works to help teachers encourage mathematical reasoning and confidence in their students.

Try to figure out some everyday calculation, like how inflation has affected the price of cereal. If the person you’re talking to says, “I can’t do math,” it’s no surprise. People say that unapologetically all the time. If, on the other hand, the person says, “I can’t read,” it’s a shock.

Like reading, math is a necessary, everyday skill, and Kristin Lesseig would like to help students feel more confident in their mathematical abilities. A former math teacher who is now associate professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning at WSU Vancouver, Lesseig works toward humanizing mathematics education and supporting teachers to help students make sense of the mathematics around them. As she said, it starts with believing all students are capable.

At a time when numbers, data and algorithms dominate everyday life, contributing to a math-literate society has never been more critical. Lesseig’s research emphasizes mathematical reasoning in K-12 classrooms, which she describes as understanding the “hows” and “whys” behind the formulas and solving math problems through logical thinking—thereby learning skills that will carry into adult life. Lacking those reasoning skills harms society as well as the individual. Without that, “You don’t question, you just believe,” she said. “If you don’t own [that skill], you don’t even see yourself as capable in mathematics; you just memorize and think that’s the only way to do it, and it’s not true.”

Kristin Lesseig, Associate Professor College of Education

For a recent article, she and her co-author surveyed prospective math teachers about their approach to proof. Published in the International Journal of Mathematics Education in Science and Technology, the article is titled “Teaching mathematical proof at secondary school: an exploration of preservice teachers’ situative beliefs.” Students in STEM classes—another of Lesseig’s research areas—must be able to make sense of problems and logically reason through them, and their teachers must help them get there.

“Proof is often associated with a very formalistic procedure that is devoid of understanding, rather than a process through which one can logically reason about the truth or falsehood of a mathematical statement—and in the process develop a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts and conditions,” she said.

She also studies teachers’ attitudes about student thinking, with the hope that teachers will pay attention to how students think and use it to guide instruction. “The eventual goal is to broaden students’ and teachers’ (and the public’s) conceptions of mathematics teaching and learning—beyond just memorizing and mimicking procedures without understanding—and changing perceptions of who is capable of learning and doing mathematics,” she said.

Lesseig’s interest in teacher professional development developed during her 15-year career as a classroom mathematics teacher. In the process of helping colleagues implement more equitable teaching practices, “I got really excited about teacher learning and thought I need to know more about this and make a bigger impact,” she said.

A current project is particularly close to her heart. Lesseig is currently one of three co-investigators on a four year, $112 million National Science Foundation grant to prepare up to 24 Noyce Scholars as mathematics teachers. The project includes Scholars and mentor teachers in both Vancouver and Pullman. Five students formed the first cohort in 2021/22, and 8–10 are expected for the coming school year. “It’s all about supporting mathematics teachers to implement practices that attend to students and student thinking in the classroom,” she said, “and thinking about how to support teachers in doing that work.”

The Noyce program aims to increase the number of math and science teachers, particularly those from historically marginalized groups. The need is great. The Washington Professional Educator Standards Board has listed mathematics education as a shortage area in the state for the last 25 years, and the number of teachers receiving secondary mathematics endorsements has been dropping.Scholars work with mentors, engage in monthly workshops, learn to combat common misconceptions about mathematics and mathematics teaching, and are encouraged to develop collegial relationships with each other and the broader community. They are introduced to the principles of humanizing math education—something Lesseig and the grant’s principal investigator, Tarik Akmal, chair of the Department of Teaching & Learning at WSU Pullman, feel strongly about. “We are passionate about humanizing mathematics education and thinking about how to better prepare teachers to give all students experiences that challenge them intellectually and foster positive mathematical identities,” she said.

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Competitive gossip

Anthropologist Nicole Hess studies the ways and reasons we praise other people or put them down.

Competition for scarce resources—such as food, territory, sex, power—comes naturally to primates, human and non-human alike. But while physical contests, including warfare, are well known as a form of competition, there is a more subtle and more common form as well. Anthropologists like Nicole Hess call it informational warfare, and one of its primary manifestations is gossip.

Scholarly Associate Professor Nicole Hess

Hess has been studying gossip and other forms of informational warfare ever since she was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago. She developed “informational warfare theory” as part of her dissertation, a study of how women use gossip to undo harm to friends’ reputations and bring harm to the reputation of a friend’s accuser or rival, typically someone outside their own group.

Now a scholarly associate professor at WSU Vancouver, Hess recently published a paper titled “Competitive gossip: the impact of domain, resource value, resource scarcity and coalitions.” The paper, coauthored with Ed Hagen, professor of anthropology at WSU Vancouver and Hess’s spouse, appeared in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B in 2021.

Gossip may not batter or kill, but it can do great damage nevertheless. “Those with better reputations often obtain more resources than those with poorer reputations,” Hess writes. “Consequently, gossip might be an evolved strategy to compete for valuable and scarce material and social resources.”

“Competitive gossip” is the most recent of a series of articles Hess has written on gossip as a form of competition. She has studied gossip in humans from small scale hunter-gatherers, to online international populations, to college sororities. Each paper delves a little deeper into her theory. In “Competitive gossip,” she presents findings showing that gossip is specific to the context of the competition (such as within a family or a club); that gossip, particularly negative gossip, is greater when the stakes are higher (e.g., desired resources are more valuable and scarce); and that allies or close friends tend to deter negative gossip about a member of their own coalition, or group. Within one’s group, one is more likely to use gossip than physical aggression, she said, because group members help to keep each other physically safe so they can fulfill their roles within the group. 

Dr. Hess works with Ngandu women in the Central African Republic

The stereotype that women gossip more than men, while men are more likely to use physical force, has interested Hess since the beginning. But men do gossip, she said, and she’d like to understand when and why, and what its evolutionary purpose is. 

Her next project involves an experiment to determine when both men and women use gossip over physical aggression. The questions she wants to address: Is it a sex difference that explains this? Or the difference due to whether the opponent is a member of your community versus another community? Also, she said, “I do think women’s gossip is different from men’s. The bulk of it is figuring out what happened, not spreading it. Men, while bragging, will tell the same story multiple times.”

Hess’s interest dates back to watching her mother and grandmother gossip. “The way they could spin a tale about what the neighbors must be doing was impressive,” she said. Over the last 20 years, however, her research has taken a backseat to the rest of her life. Besides her job at WSU Vancouver, she has been busy raising two daughters, now 12 and 16. But she is looking to the future when she’ll have more time to continue her investigations into the nature and uses of gossip. 

Meanwhile, the validity of her theory about informational warfare is ever more apparent. Consider reality television and social media, for example. “About a year ago I started watching the Real Housewives shows,” she said. “Somebody will say one word [of gossip], and there are episodes and episodes based on that one word.” And people often use social media like Facebook to make themselves look better—arguably a form of gossip designed to be shared. “In that way,” Hess said, “you’re spreading positive information about yourself and your reputation.”

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The evidence for human connections

Amy Salazar’s research provides evidence that meaningful connections are essential to help foster youth achieve independence.

A patchwork of federal, state and county programs spends billions of dollars a year on various aspects of foster care, yet there is little evidence to verify what spending works. Amy Salazar, assistant professor of human development, intends for her research to make a dent in that problem.

Salazar is especially interested in studying how best to help older youth get ready for adulthood. “There are very few evidence-based practices for how to help older youth in foster care prepare for the transition to adulthood,” she said. “Federal support is available in every state, but those programs don’t have good evidence of effectiveness.”

Salazar was instrumental in creating Fostering Higher Education, an intervention program designed to develop ways to support youth with foster experience who wish to go to college. She is the lead author on a study about building financial capability as youth transition from foster care to adulthood. She helped develop a curriculum for foster families to support LGBTQ+ youth in foster care that the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families has made available as online training for foster caregivers. And she has led another study on how older youths in foster care define and achieve permanency—that is, ongoing relationships with caring adults, who may be parents or others who help instill the sense of belonging that is key to the transition to a confident adulthood. 

Aging out

At any given time, Salazar said, more than 50,000 youths age 16 and older are likely to age out of care (meaning they don’t get reunited with their families). There are more who have already aged out, many of whom still need transition support services. And there are still more who want nothing more to do with the foster care system. It’s a large population with a big impact on society.

For those who go to college, there may be support programs on campus. In Washington state, for example, almost every campus has such a program for youth in foster care, Passport to Careers. WSU Vancouver has such a program. Salazar has been helping to get the word out, including adding a session to Preview Day where those with foster care experience or unaccompanied homelessness can learn about funding specifically for them.

A pilot study of the Fostering Higher Education program in Washington state resulted in expansion to two more states—Georgia and Iowa—and research is ongoing as those states implement the program. “The goal is to assess whether Fostering Higher Education really makes a difference,” Salazar said. “If it does, it would be one of the first evidence-based practices for helping older kids in foster care.”

What’s been learned so far, she said, “is for a program to be successful, it comes down to relationships and the intentionality of how you’re delivering information. You have to build trust and good relationships and think about how you’re delivering important and sensitive content.”

Informing policy and funding

Salazar’s research is used by state agencies, governments, colleges, nonprofits and other funders and policymakers. Salazar has been invited to a couple of congressional panel presentations—along with other researchers, practitioners and youth in care—for giving recommendations about new support and reauthorizations, such as the Chafee Act, which gives money to all states to help provide independent living services.

Most recently, she has been on the evaluation team for large projects funded by the Federal Children’s Bureau. One project is to develop a new foster parent training curriculum and evaluate it. She is also on the evaluation team for a $40 million project that involves a huge team of people with the goal of developing evidence-informed practices to help with building engagement in youth permanency. 

 Salazar is committed to continuing to build a base of evidence for practices with foster care—what youth need and what’s working. “It’s hard to help vulnerable populations when you don’t know anything about them,” she said.

At WSU Vancouver, Salazar teaches in the Prevention Science doctoral program as well as undergraduate classes. She was attracted to the opportunity to build on her strengths and help educate the next generation of researchers in her field.

She joined WSU Vancouver in 2016. Before that, she held a research position in the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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Climate extremes in a warming world

Climate change is already here. Deepti Singh is working to help people understand its impacts.

Deepti Singh earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, planning to specialize in aeronautics and astronautics. Today, however, she is an assistant professor in WSU Vancouver’s  School of the Environment and a widely published expert on climate change.

Living in Bombay, India, between 2006 and 2008, Singh saw firsthand how extremely heavy rainfall events brought the city to a standstill. Effects were both immediate (lives lost, destroyed homes and transportation infrastructure) but also long term (waterborne diseases, food shortages). “Living there during that time made me think about how much weather conditions can affect us, particularly the most vulnerable people in our communities,” she said.

Deepti Singh, Assistant Professor in the School of the Environment,
WSU Vancouver

She moved to the U.S. to pursue her master’s degree at Purdue. There, she encountered the work of Noah Diffenbaugh, another influence on her career change. Diffenbaugh, currently a Stanford University professor, was teaching in the earth and atmospheric sciences program at Purdue, which was next door to the Aero-Astro engineering building where Singh spent most of her time. She took the opportunity to learn as much as she could about climate studies by attending seminars, talking to faculty and auditing courses. She was drawn to Diffenbaugh’s pragmatic approach to climate and how it affects society, especially in developing regions. 

By the time she contacted him, he had moved to Stanford. He accepted her into the Ph.D. program there. “I don’t know why he’d accept a student like me with no background in atmospheric or climate sciences,” Singh said. But he was intentionally creating an “interdisciplinary environment, which I think is needed to address the problems of climate change.”

Recent publications

Singh now has more than 40 publications on climate to her credit. In the last few months alone, three publications have featured work from her research group. 

The Singh lab group (including future scientists)

In October, Geophysical Research Letters published the results of a study by Singh and her postdoctoral research associate, Cassandra Rogers, demonstrating that the world is not only getting hotter but also more humid, and that people living in areas where humid-heat extremes are already a significant hazard are bearing the brunt of the impact. 

In November, the Journal of Climate published another study by Rogers and Singh showing that large heatwaves affecting multiple regions in the northern hemisphere simultaneously have become nearly six times more frequent since the 1980s. Such concurrent events threaten various interconnected social systems, including global food chains, emergency response systems and reinsurance industries. The authors conclude that identifying regions at high risk of concurrent heatwaves and understanding what drives them is important for evaluating projected climate risks and fostering regional preparedness. 

And in January, Science Advances released a study, coauthored with WSU Vancouver graduate student Dmitri Kalashnikov and others, that is particularly relevant to the western United States. It explores how large wildfires, rising extreme summer heat and changing weather patterns are driving increases in the number and spatial extent of harmful air quality episodes such as those in September and August 2020 that simultaneously affect millions of people. Such recurring and persistent episodes burden the healthcare system and disaster management. Singh is currently examining how extreme temperatures, such as heat waves and cold waves, affect the U.S. energy structure. 

Satellite image of wildfire smoke from numerous large fires burning across California spreading across the western U.S. on August 21, 2020, which contributed to 46 million people being simultaneously exposed to high concentrations of multiple harmful air pollutants. Our research shows that wildfires and changing weather patterns are making such widespread harmful air quality episodes larger and more frequent, posing major health risks to the western U.S. population

Singh uses a wide array of research tools include publicly available weather and climate data collected over the decades from ground-based observations, satellite and reanalyses to study historical climate conditions and extreme weather events. She also uses climate model simulations to diagnose the influence of human-activities on climate changes and extremes. 

Managing change

Singh’s goal is to help people prepare for and manage climate change. To that end, she talks to people who can help her understand the impact of climate change on everyday life. “What I’ve tried to do is understand what matters to people—just go and have conversations,” she said. “I don’t want to be a scientist who sits in their bubble and comes up with papers nobody reads.” For example, in studying the ever-heavier monsoons in India, she talked to nearly 2,000 farmers to learn how they had been affected and what they were doing to adapt. 

She is quick to say that scientists don’t have all the answers. While increasing heat waves are the most clearly observed impact of climate change, natural climate variability is also a factor. For example, she said, “There is some potential evidence that climate change is driving extreme winter cold snaps as well but we still don’t understand to what extent that is happening.” 

She hopes to fill in some of the gaps. “What I hope to do with my research is to inform vulnerable communities about the types of climate risks they will experience and help them understand how societies can better prepare for those.”

Singh earned her bachelor’s degree at Pune University in India, a master’s degree in engineering at Purdue, and a Ph.D. in environmental earth system science at Stanford. She worked as a postdoctoral research fellow for three years at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in New York before joining WSU Vancouver in June 2018. Among several awards, she was named the Kavli Frontiers of Science fellow by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2015.

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Exploring how the past informs the future

Colin Grier’s archeological studies explore how indigenous societies adapted to social and ecological change.

For thousands of years, numerous small-scale societies, mostly coastal hunting, gathering and fishing peoples, populated the Pacific Northwest. What remains of these small-scale societies, and what we can learn from them as they transformed from more mobile, small groups to larger, more complex societies—specifically, how they have adapted and survived—form the basis of Colin Grier’s life’s work.

Grier is professor of archeology in the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University Vancouver. His primary field work has been investigating the archeological record of the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

Colin Grier and his students working on the coast of British Columbia

Grier, a Canadian who earned his bachelor’s degree at McGill University and his master’s and Ph.D. at Arizona State University, joined WSU in 2007. He was based in Pullman for about 12 years before moving to the Vancouver campus to be closer to the coastal areas where he works. He also does field research on other similarly-scaled societies around the world, such as those of ancient Korea and Japan, looking for commonalities.

Grier’s research is extraordinarily timely. His interdisciplinary approach embraces questions of social complexity, sustainability, climate change and ecological restoration. He works through collaborative relationships and partnerships with the indigenous people whose history he studies. He argues that a lot can be drawn from studying the ways people in the past adapted to environmental and social change. The job of archeologists is to uncover those successful strategies and translate how they can be applied today.

As he wrote in a 2017 article titled “Looking to the past to shape the future,” in the journal Regional Environmental Change, “Humans have made decisions and implemented new practices in the past in ways that may appear dissimilar to our modern context, but which can inform policy and meet our own sustainability challenges.”

What can we learn? “How people engage their environments in different ways than we have. Settled village life means people are staying put and can have significant impacts on their environment. Northwest Coast people were sustainable in these places for thousands of years. What were they doing differently than we are now? We have a lot to learn about ways we might manage ecologies, not only environmentally but socially,” Grier said.

A good example of this on a practical level can be found close to home. Grier is a member of the Science Panel for the Puget Sound Partnership, a Washington state agency tasked with restoring Puget Sound. He was a lead author on the Science Panel’s statement in the “State of the Sound 2021” report on how we need to go forward ecologically. The report cites a number of accomplishments in a long-term effort to clean up the Sound. As the Science Panel statement notes: “Puget Sound recovery does not mean returning to a Sound that existed in 1950, in 1850, or 10,000 years ago.” Rather, it is about making decisions that are “guided by history but not attempting to recreate the past.”

Ground-penetrating radar: An important archeological tool

A more recent theme in Grier’s work is the use of GPR—ground-penetrating radar. He has used it in his work for about a decade and has a National Science Foundation grant to explore its possibilities in locating and surveying households and villages. 

GPR, a tool commonly used by builders and surveyors that deploys electromagnetic waves to penetrate the ground in search of hidden objects, can also help map village locations. “I focus on village locations because to me that is the nexus through which Indigenous peoples have engaged their environment,” Grier said. “If we can map changing households and communities, we can better understand how they were organized to confront ecological challenges.”

Colin Grier using the GPR

GPR made headlines last summer for its use in uncovering unmarked human burial sites at Indian residential schools across Canada. Grier had worked as an archival historian for the Canadian government before joining WSU, documenting the history of the residential schools and helping to process tribal claims. Recent examples of GPR being used at residential schools are bringing his current NSF-funded work and past research together once again. Archaeologists with knowledge of the technology and school histories can help facilitate the hard work that will advance reconciliation and healing.

There were 367 such schools in the United States. including 13 in Washington and 9 in Oregon. “A national conversation is needed,” Grier said. “Archeologists have expertise. We work collaboratively with communities generally.”

In the Vancouver area, Grier and his students are also using GPR as part of a longstanding collaboration with the National Park Service and Portland State University at Fort Vancouver. GPR can reveal ancient and more recent community organization without extensive excavation, allowing us to reframe questions about the site. “People think of it as a colonial fort,” he said, “but it’s also a long-standing indigenous place. I like to think broadly about the fort locale and how it represents a deeper indigenous connection to this landscape.” 

Colin Grier and his students making discoveries in the field

Consider that indigenous people navigated this landscape for 14,000 years. “Fort Vancouver represents a transition point,” he said, “when indigenous living transformed rapidly.”For Grier, contributing to contemporary decisions is the overarching purpose of archeology. “We need to look in many places for ideas of how to do things differently,” Grier said. “Looking to people who’ve been here 14,000 years is an important part of the conversation.”

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Expanding understanding of pigmentation diseases

With a new NIH grant, Cynthia Cooper is probing some “unexpected effects” related to diseases of pigmentation.

Cynthia Cooper has spent  18 years studying the relationship of pigmentation to human diseases, notably melanoma and albinism, using zebrafish as a model. Zebrafish are an ideal model because their pigment cells are easily viewed through their transparent skin, and their eggs can be collected in high numbers year round.

Dr. Cynthia Cooper in her zebrafish facility at WSU Vancouver

Cooper, associate professor of molecular bioscience at WSU Vancouver, has now received a two-year, $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to further her research into other potentially pigment-related diseases, such as deficiencies in sensory or neural system development and embryonic death. The grant is especially gratifying to her because it is the first she has received from NIH for her research. (She received an earlier NIH grant as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle.)

Traits like white hair, red eyes and variations in skin tone are familiar in albinism, but there are other common traits—Cooper calls them “unexpected effects” or “pleiotropic effects”—that are less well known and understudied, and those are the focus of Cooper’s research. For example, people with albinism may have issues with processing visual input, so that images may be distorted because of a lack of pigment in the eye. Anther unexpected problem is that some people with albinism, or another hypopigmentation disease called Waardenburg syndrome, have optic neuron defects. 

Many of Dr. Cooper’s experiments involve microscopy.

“It has nothing to do with the neuron having pigment,” Cooper said. “It’s more like a nerve in the back of the eyeball does not develop correctly or does not connect to the processing center in the brain correctly.”

Cooper is interested in the idea that pigment can somehow help promote the development of bodily systems that are important for seeing, hearing and other sensory experiences. “It’s intriguing to me that melanin, something we only think of as important to skin color and tanning, may also be important for development of these other systems,” she said.

Cooper joined WSU Vancouver in 2008 after studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Washington and conducting her dissertation research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. She credits her post-doc advisor, David Raible, for inspiring her zebrafish work.

Cooper’s first substantial funding came from the Melanoma Research Foundation in 2011. Over the years, other support has come from WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, WSU Vancouver’s faculty mini-grant program and the Pan American Society of Pigment Cell Researchers. Some of the grants were enough to cover salaries for technicians and students, both graduate and undergraduate, and the NIH grant will do the same. That will help accelerate the research.

Dr. Cooper mentors numerous undergraduate students in her lab, providing them with excellent hands-on research experiences.

Cooper has a storied reputation as a generous mentor, and the proof is that when funding has run out, many students have stayed in her lab as volunteers, sometimes even after finding full-time jobs. She brings them food, takes them to dinner, works beside them even on menial tasks, gives them co-authorship on published papers, serves as a reference for jobs or graduate school, and generally supports them “however I can,” she said. Cooper has been able to collect some preliminary data for the new grant already. Her next grant application will build on her current research, asking, for example: “What proteins are important for melanin dependence? How might it be impacting the development of a neuron or a cell that doesn’t make melanin? Those general questions are where we are now, and I hope with the next grant we can further test the role of pigment cell proteins in pigmented and non-pigmented (initially sensory) systems.”

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Autism and juvenile justice

Laurie Drapela’s book examines how autism research can improve juvenile justice policies in the United States and Canada.

Laurie Drapela has been studying inequities in the justice system for more than 20 years. Drapela, an associate professor of criminal justice at WSU Vancouver, has long been interested in the outcomes for juveniles after they are incarcerated. She is troubled by how society often resorts to punishment in a correctional institution rather than offering therapeutic interventions that could help the child grow up to become a happy and productive member of society.

Associate Professor Laurie Drapela

Young people with autism are at particular risk of getting caught up in the juvenile justice system. Drapela, who has a child with autism, asks: “What happens if my child, who can be  talkative and have a little bit of attitude, has an encounter with a police officer and doesn’t understand what’s at stake?” Unfortunately, it is all too likely that the police officer doesn’t understand either.

To examine the issue, Drapela has co-authored a book, “Law and Neurodiversity: Youth with Autism and the Juvenile Justice Systems in Canada and the United States,” published by the University of British Columbia Press. Her co-authors are Dana Lee Baker of California State University (formerly at WSU Vancouver) and Whitney Littlefield, a juvenile probation counselor at the Cowlitz County Youth Services Center in Longview, Wash. 

One in 54 persons in the U.S. population is on the autism spectrum. “If you’re a juvenile probation counselor with a rotating caseload of 40 to 50 kids, you’re likely to encounter at least one kid with autism over the course of a work year,” Drapela said. Many will not be detained and will be diverted back into society, but others, especially repeat offenders, may well end up in juvenile prison (known as detention). People of color with autism are particularly vulnerable to misunderstandings and harsh penalties.

Drapela’s Book Cover

The authors decided to study the Canadian and U.S. systems because they have a comparable prevalence of autism (Canada’s is 1 in 66) and a common history in English common law, but decidedly different ways of engaging juvenile offenders. Canada is more likely to implement social programs for youth with autism and connect them with the community and social service agencies. The United States is more likely to take a punitive approach.

“The U.S. still uses confinement more than anyone else in the developed world,” Drapela said. “What do people working with these kids know about autism?” 

The book argues that they need to know much more than they do now. “We make some recommendations for policies that will be driven exclusively by restorative justice,” Drapela said. “People need to be trained in neurodiversity—the idea that persons with autism possess differences that are strengths rather than weaknesses. Different juveniles require different approaches.” 

Autism is expressed in myriad ways, from the stereotypical savant as shown in the movie “Rain Man” to verbal insults and “acting out.” Moreover, bright lights, loud noises, handcuffs and other realities of policing can trigger strong reactions in autistic people and exacerbate the situation.

To their credit, people working in the juvenile justice system want to know more about autism, Drapela said. But there is a lot of work to do to equip them to work with youth with autism. A “best practices” literature on the subject that can be used to design treatments is difficult to find. The book offers guidance on how autism research can inform and improve juvenile justice policies in both countries. It starts with looking at the offender as an individual.

“There are all kinds of ways you can work with justice-involved people,” Drapela said, “but you’ve got to assess what they need”—for example, anger management, education, constructive social activities. “We need to develop diverse ways of reaching people, so once we know what they need, we know how to deliver it to them in ways that will resonate with their hearts and minds.”This fall, Drapela will begin a sabbatical year looking at youth of color in the juvenile justice system. “Juvenile detention rates are higher for kids of color,” she said. “If detention staff aren’t trained in identifying issues such as autism, these kids don’t get assistance and the juvenile justice system is just warehousing these youth when it could be helping them.” As she digs into the archives of juvenile probation counselors, she plans to pay particular attention to opportunities for expanding neurodiversity in juvenile justice practice.

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The Future of Ethics Training for Business

A new book, co-edited by Professor Emeritus Jerry Goodstein and visionary Mary Gentile, heralds limitless potential for a widely used curriculum on values.

The responsibility of educating ethical corporate leaders and employees falls on business schools across the country. They strive to train people to abide by the social contract, act according to their values, and instill the desire in their employees to do the right thing. The challenge often is not getting people to distinguish right from wrong but empowering them to speak up and to act on their values.

Giving Voice to Values, a research-based curriculum that has been part of WSU Vancouver’s Carson College of Business for nearly 15 years, does just that. Jerry Goodstein, now professor emeritus of business at WSU Vancouver, brought it into his business ethics class shortly after its creation in 2007, and it is part of required ethics courses for all business majors. Claire Kamm Latham, associate professor of accounting, incorporates Giving Voice to Values in her junior- and senior-level accounting courses. WSU Vancouver was one of the pioneering schools to adopt Giving Voice to Values, or GVV.

GVV is used not only by business schools nationwide but also by more than 1,000 companies and nonprofits. Lockheed Martin was a pioneer, instilling the framework into its ethics awareness training. The CFA Institute offers it as an optional training for investment professionals. Latham and Jane Cote, professor emeritus of business, contributed a chapter to the book that discusses their efforts to lead GVV workshops for accounting professionals in the Vancouver/Portland area.

At Lockheed Martin, for example, the intent “was to shift the emphasis in ethics training … from ‘what’s wrong’ to ‘focusing on what can you as an individual do about it,’” Goodstein writes in a chapter in the book.

Gentile, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, developed Giving Voice to Values. The curriculum has expanded and matured to the point that Gentile and Goodstein agreed it is time for a comprehensive look at where the framework might go in the future. That led to a book, co-edited by Goodstein and Gentile, called “Giving Voice to Values: An Innovation and Impact Agenda,” to be published in July by Routledge. It is the most recent in a series of five books on GVV.

Giving Voice to Values “is very much action oriented,” Goodstein said. It isn’t a muckraking agenda to root out corruption. In a way, it might help head off corruption. It is about ordinary, decent people empowering each other to follow their best instincts. “Giving Voice to Values makes the assumption that the majority of people do want to do the right thing,” Goodstein said. “The question is how can you do that.”

Jerry Goodstein

GVV uses case studies of ethical challenges that might be faced in the workplace—witnessing sexual harassment, for example, dealing with a disruptive employee, or resisting the temptation to manipulate market research data when introducing a new product. Individuals are encouraged to consider how they want to respond, what they want to say and to whom, possible counterarguments, and to develop and rehearse “scripts” to help them take action.

The book is made up of essays from practitioners and leading experts in business ethics and the professions on the possibilities for sustaining its growth and success. These include the creation of new teaching materials, ways to reach different audiences worldwide, and ways GVV can act as a catalyst for organizational and societal change.

“The potential for GVV is tremendous,” Goodstein said, listing reasons why more universities and corporations might want to connect with GVV. One essay looks at the potential role digital tools and technologies could play in significantly increasing GVV’s future global reach and impact. There are possibilities for expansion into government, legal and healthcare settings, among others. 

And there is another step that could be emphasized to make GVV as effective as possible in maintaining an ethical workplace. In an essay about the listener’s perspective, Goodstein writes that more attention needs to be paid to listening to the message. There are two parties in a values conversation—the voicer, who delivers the message that something is wrong, and the listener, who receives it and, ideally, will act on it. That might be, for instance, a manager, a co-worker or an HR officer. GVV training might also emphasize how to adopt an open-minded listener’s perspective and develop good listening skills, pay attention to the issues being voiced, and learn how to respond in a way that safeguards the organization’s ethical culture.

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