Rebecca Dawson, assistant professor of global health studies and biology at Allegheny College, discussed the coronavirus outbreak in an interview with Erie News Now, which airs on the city’s CBS and NBC affiliates. Dawson is an expert in epidemiology and global health challenges, researching disease risk factors and patterns of disease in human populations. Watch Dawson’s interview below:
News & Updates
The 2018-19 Crawford County Community Health Needs Assessment was developed and
administered by a team of undergraduate research students at Allegheny College under the
supervision of Dr. Becky Smullin Dawson, PhD MPH:
Additionally, the following Allegheny College students were responsible for administering the survey
and digitizing the results:
From a native of Italy who speaks five languages to a motocross enthusiast, Allegheny’s new faculty members bring many unique backgrounds and qualities to the campus classrooms in the fall of 2019. Let’s meet each of them briefly:
Kathryn Bender joins the Economics Department this fall and is helping students discover the economics of natural resources. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Centre College and her master’s and doctorate from the Ohio State University.
“I’m excited to start at Allegheny this fall,” says Bender. “I’m involved in several projects on consumer food-waste behavior and hope to find new avenues to explore at Allegheny around this topic.”
Her dissertation, “Date Labels and Food Waste: A study of the effect of label characteristics on food waste in the United States,” studies the confluence of environmental science, economics, and marketing in the food distribution ecosystem in the United States. She is also interested in exploring the effect of feminine hygiene programs in developing countries on the environment along with women’s empowerment, health, and education.
In her free time, Bender enjoys playing soccer, riding horses, and hanging out with her two dogs, Huck and Nala.
After graduating from Allegheny in 2002, Bradley Burroughs earned his master’s degree from Duke University Divinity School and his Ph.D. from Emory University. His first teaching job was at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. After resigning that position to attend to family needs, he taught for four years at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. “But I am thrilled to be back in Meadville and reconnecting to the Allegheny community,” he says.
His academic interests span a variety of theological and ethical thought. His most recent work has been in two areas. The first is Christian political ethics, which led to his first book, Christianity, Politics, and the Predicament of Evil: A Constructive Theological Ethic of Soulcraft and Statecraft. It has also led to other published pieces that assess practices of contemporary warfare. The second area of his recent work has been in how Christian thinkers have understood the concept of evil, which is the subject of his next book project.
Burroughs enjoys mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, and being outdoors generally, “or at least as much as I can do now with two kids in tow. Although not entirely unusual, one of my more surprising talents is juggling, which I learned from a hallmate in Baldwin during my first year at Allegheny.”
He also is proud that he was the first in his family to graduate from college.
Moira Flanagan is a lifelong morris dancer, a form of traditional English folk/pub dancing. She is also the newest chemistry professor at Allegheny.
She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City and a Ph.D. in biophysical sciences from the University of Chicago. Most recently, she was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Chemistry Department at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Currently, her research combines biochemistry and physical chemistry techniques to understand the physical and photoprotective properties of heterogeneous biological pigments like melanin.
“My interest in the chemistry of biological systems also shapes how I teach,” Flanagan says. “I get excited to bring biological contexts into other fields of chemistry (as often as I can), but also emphasize the physical chemistry concepts (like entropy) in biochemistry topics.
“My teaching is based on the idea that everyone can learn science if they want to and I am here to help. I reject the idea that some people ‘get’ science and math and some people don’t,” Flanagan says. “One doesn’t need to be an expert in chemistry to critically analyze and problem-solve in a new context.”
Besides her affinity for chemistry, teaching and morris dancing, Flanagan enjoys cooking, especially fish and fresh pasta. “I also won a coloring contest in my local paper when I was 4, and actually still consider myself an amateur artist in drawing and cartooning.
Jessica Harris received her bachelor’s in history, master’s in Afro-American Studies, master’s in history, and Ph.D. in history, all from UCLA. She also held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto in the Department of Italian Studies. She taught at Santa Monica College as well as at the University of Toronto during her fellowship.
Her research focus is on the history of the 20th century United States and the World, Modern Italy, and Black Europe, “and I am particularly interested in gender and race, their intersection with material culture, and the subsequent effect on group identities,” Harris says.
Since she studies Italian culture, “I like to watch Italian films and listen to Italian pop music,” says Harris.
Her five minutes of fame occurred as a teenager, Harris says, “when my club soccer team and I appeared on an episode of Bette Midler’s sitcom ‘Bette’.”
Mahita Kadmiel has spent most of her life learning about human diseases, and she enjoys teaching students about how the human body works — or fails to work — in the event of a disease.
Kadmiel taught for two years as a visiting assistant professor at Colgate University. She is trained in biomedical sciences, completing postdoctoral training in molecular endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health. In addition, she holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular physiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master’s degree in biology from Michigan Technological University, and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and biochemistry and medical lab technology from Andhra University in India.
“My academic interest has always been in improving our understanding of the molecular basis of human diseases,” Kadmiel says. “Too little or too much of stress hormones (glucocorticoids) and changes in sex hormone levels (estrogen and testosterone) have been linked to vision problems.”
She is investigating the function of these hormones in the cornea and retina using rodent models and cells derived from human eyes. Kadmiel also is interested in studying the role of hormone-mimicking chemicals (more commonly called endocrine-disrupting chemicals) on ocular cells and tissues and how they might influence eye health.
Kadmiel incorporates her interest in various forms of art not only in the biology courses that she teaches, but also in her time outside the classroom and laboratory.
“I enjoy working on art projects and DIY projects along with my two kids,” she says. “This is my trick to get mom-time and hobby time in one shot!”
Douglas Luman joins the Computer Science Department from a background in creative writing and composition. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from Bradley University and his MFA is from George Mason University, where he studied poetry and was the Heritage Student Fellow in 2017. He taught in the University Writing Program at George Washington University.
“So, suffice to say, I am an interesting fit in computer science. The way I usually explain it is that all of my work is computational, even though it is done in a humanities-leaning context,” he says.
His MFA thesis, “Prodigy House,” was a computational investigation of an early literary algorithm (“Travesty”). His other work is all computationally based. “I essentially ‘write’ aided by software that I write and others (like Google Cloud tools — Translate, Speech to Text) that I use in conjunction with writing. During graduate school, I developed a computational constraint platform that I continue to run at www.appliedpoetics.org.
“One might say that my work is less from an academic background and more out of a discipline or practice,” Luman says.
Luman is also interested in approaches to computational pedagogy: that is, what do the humanities, writ-large, have to say about teaching computer science? “Is there some way that we can use humanities-based concepts/data to teach students what it means to be responsible for their code? I wonder if there’s some distinction here to remind both students and ourselves of the perennial lesson that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should,” he says.
He and his partner, the poet Jenni B. Baker, also run a book arts press called Container, where they produce other artists’ work in three-dimensional, novel forms, “which is to say as a gem tray of origami paper gems, etched glass bottles, or as cross-stitch kits, for example,” Luman says.
Rebecca Oliver received her bachelor’s degree from the Université de Montréal and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University. She arrives at Allegheny after teaching most recently at Murray State University in Kentucky and, prior to that, the University of Southern California.
Oliver’s research examines the politics of inequality with respect to labor markets and social policy in Europe. Substantive topics of her work include labor union strategies, collective bargaining institutions, public opinion, childcare policy and territorial inequalities in social policy.
She is currently completing revisions for her book, “Negotiating Differences: The Politics of Egalitarian Bargaining Institutions.” The book examines the following question: Why, in the face of common growing pressures toward greater liberalization and pay dispersion, are egalitarian bargaining institutions sustained or reconfigured in some instances and bluntly dismantled in others? Employing the cases of Italy and Sweden, the book studies developments in egalitarian collective bargaining institutions.
Oliver recently adopted a puppy named Griffin. “My interests of hiking, canoe camping, exploring and getting lost in new cities/towns, making cupcakes, skiing, playing tennis, attending live jazz concerts and visiting art galleries are currently taking a back seat to dog training,” she says.
Kelly Pearce is a graduate of Juniata College, where she majored in wildlife conservation and minored in education. She received her master’s degree in applied ecology and conservation biology from Frostburg State University, and earned her Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory.
She is a wildlife ecologist and conservationist with research interests at the intersection of ecological and social science, including the field of human dimensions of wildlife conservation. “I use quantitative and qualitative approaches to study how environmental, social, and policy factors influence wildlife populations and species distributions. I also strive to better understand approaches that mitigate conflict and encourage coexistence between people and wildlife,” she says. Pearce also serves on the Outreach and Conflict Resolution Task Force as a member of the IUCN Otter Specialist Group.
“My research has taken me to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, where I evaluated the ability of the river otter to serve as an aquatic flagship species for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” she says. “I have also been involved in a variety of wildlife ecology projects focused in western Maryland and West Virginia, including a study on eastern spotted skunks, Allegheny woodrats, and a variety of bat species.”
Pearce enjoys live music and spends much of her free time watching and traveling for shows, she says. Pearce also enjoys motorcycle journeys. “I rode my first motorcycle when I was 3 right into the back of the garage. I still love to ride on my parents’ farm in central Pennsylvania, and this past summer I earned three first-place finishes in a vintage cross-country motorcycle race series.”
Gaia Rancati joins the Economics Department and will teach Principles of Marketing and Business and Managerial Economics during the fall semester.
Rancati is an experienced trainer and coach in both sales and customer experience specializing in retail, sales, team building, and management. She earned her Ph.D. in marketing and neuroeconomics as well as a bachelor’s degree in marketing from IULM University, and a master’s of leadership and management from Il Sole 24ORE Business School in Milan, Italy. She is a sought-after researcher and speaker in the field of neuromarketing where she applies the science of neuroeconomics for improving customer experience in the retail field with a focus on service encounters, sales transformation and artificial intelligence.
Lauren Rudolph joins the Biology Department with undergraduate and graduate degrees as double-majors in neuroscience and psychology. She attended Washington and Lee University for her undergraduate education and Indiana University for her Ph.D. She completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in neurobiology and neuroendocrinology, and then taught neuroscience as a visiting professor at Pomona College.
Rudolph’s research is generally focused on steroid hormones and how they act to drive certain behaviors, such as mammalian reproduction. Her wider interests include neuroendocrinology, hormones, reproduction, sex differences, and physiology.
“I am continually impressed with the ever-expanding range of steroid hormone effects,” says Rudolph, “and how hormones can alter behaviors. I study how hormones act in ‘non-traditional’ ways to change the shape and function of cells, tissues, and organisms.”
When traveling on planes, Rudolph says she tends to get into interesting conversations because she is often working on presentations about reproduction. She sees those discussions as part of her “unofficial outreach”: sharing her research with other people.
During her time at Washington and Lee University, Rudolph played volleyball on a team which won conference champions each year, earning a place in the NCAA tournament during her four years as an undergraduate. Besides volleyball, Rudolph also enjoys the outdoors, cheese, sarcasm, making up forced acronyms, animal fun facts, and March Madness.
“I am also skilled at removing the gonads of rodents (for research!),” she adds.
Rosita Scerbo joins the Department of Modern and Classical Languages as a Spanish instructor. Her research interests include Latin American and Chicanx visual autobiography. This includes photography, cinema, paintings, murals, and digital art. She is also a specialist in Digital Humanities and Hispanic digital pedagogy tools.
Scerbo was born in Italy but has spent most of her life studying and working abroad. “I’m a heritage speaker of Spanish, as I learned Spanish in my community as a child before I dedicated my life to the Hispanic language and culture academically in school and in college.”
She taught Spanish and Italian language, literature, and culture at West Virginia University during her pursuit of a master’s degree and at Arizona State University while earning her doctorate. She also has taught Spanish in Sevilla, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, during study abroad and Spanish immersion programs. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Calabria in Italy.
“I speak five languages,” says Scerbo. “I went to dance school for many years, and I’m particularly passionate about Latin dances, including salsa, bachata, and merengue. My two daughters’ names — one is human and one is canine — are Sol and Luna, that is Spanish for sun and moon.”
Sarah Stanger joins Allegheny’s Psychology Department and also plans to provide assessment and treatment services to children and families in Meadville as she works toward clinical licensure. Stanger attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She says her time there “ignited my passion for contributing to a learning community like Allegheny.” Stanger then traveled cross-country to attend the University of Vermont, where she taught undergraduate courses and earned a joint Ph.D. in clinical and developmental psychology.
Most recently, Stanger was in Portland, Oregon, completing her predoctoral clinical internship. While there, she provided assessment, consultation, and treatment services for children and families in a hospital-based setting.
Stanger hopes to observe interactions between families and children in a laboratory setting while at Allegheny. “I am interested in understanding the development of adaptive stress responses — both physiological and behavioral — in children and adolescents,” says Stanger. “This includes examining how parenting and other contextual factors, such as family socioeconomic status, contribute to this development.”
Outside of her professional life, Stanger has competed in horseback riding, enjoys skiing and snowboarding, and has a love for college sports and theater. She anticipates learning to cross-country ski while in Meadville, as well as attending her students’ productions and sporting events.
Asmus Trautsch studied philosophy as a major and German literature (modern and medieval) as a minor at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, and at the University College London in Great Britain. In addition, he studied composition/music theory at the University of the Arts in Berlin. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Humboldt University, spending a term as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City. He has taught philosophy at the University of Dresden and has been a guest lecturer at other universities.
His research interests include contemporary poetry, philosophy of tragedy, philosophy of literature, philosophy of music, ancient Greek philosophy, aesthetics, and ethics.
“My interests lie in the arts, including fine arts, film and dance and in the ways in which the sciences and the arts work together for enabling understanding and new knowledge,” says Trautsch. “Also I’m passionately interested in how philosophy and literature can contribute to educating society and improving politics.”
Trautsch likes to engage in “entertaining dialogues with lots of curious questions,” bake cakes, conduct orchestras and play various musical instruments. He shares a fun fact from his past: “I once won second prize in a competition called ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ in Dresden.”
HEIDI MUELLER ’19 and ALAN CUEVAS VILLAGOMEZ ’19
HEIDI was a biology major and psychology minor pursing the pre-med track, graduating summa cum laude and being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. On campus, she worked for the Athletic Training Department and was a member of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. During her time at Allegheny, she was also involved with the Orchesis Dance Company, volunteered at Meadville Medical Center, and was a chemistry teaching assistant. In the fall, Heidi will be attending Medical School at the University of Buffalo.
ALAN is a first generation, minority student born in California, raised in Mexico and residing in Florida. He specifically chose Allegheny College because of its strong pre-health program and liberal arts education. Allegheny helped him gauge his interest and provided him with the resources to pursue internships and shadowing opportunities that helped make the decision to practice medicine as a physician. Activities Alan was involved with include Delta Tau Delta fraternity and the first vice president of the Minority Association of Pre medical Students (MAPS) established this past year. His future plans include enrolling in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine this fall as an MD candidate.
CONGRATULATIONS to you both!
This year’s winners of the The Robert E. Bugbee Prize are KAYLEE CROSSEN ’19, MEGAN HAZLETT ’19, and KATHARINE HUBERT ’19.
This prize honors the gentleman who served as the chairman of the Biology Department for twenty-seven years and is given to honor students in Biology who have demonstrated the most profound level of scientific achievement as demonstrated by the senior project.
KAYLEE was a biology major and global health minor from Ashland, OH. She served on the honor committee for 3 years and was the chair her senior year. She was also a health coach for the Community Care Network. Last summer, Kaylee was a genetic counseling assistant at Akron Children’s Hospital and plans to attend the University of Cincinnati to pursue a master’s degree in genetic counseling.
MEGAN was a biology and environmental science double major who spent four years studying the fish in small first- and second-order streams in the French Creek watershed. She completed my comp entitled “Identify Potential Brook Trout (Salvelinus Fontinalis) Populations Based on Summer Temperature and Watershed Characteristics” under the supervision of Dr. Scott Wissinger and Chris Shaffer. On campus, she was the Gator Guide supervising intern in the Admissions Office as well as the Historian for Tri-Beta, the biology department honor society. Future plans: Megan will be attending SUNY ESF (State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry) in Syracuse, NY in the fall of 2019 to pursue a master’s degree in the fish and wildlife biology and management program.
KATHARINE was a biology/music double major and psychology minor. In her biology comp, she looked at the multisystemic effects of collagen mutations fruit flies. In her music comp, she created a translational system to convert English to my newly created language, American Music Language. Throughout her time at Allegheny, she was involved in several music ensembles including civic symphony, wind symphony, and percussion ensemble. She also volunteered weekly and worked with cats at the Because You Care animal shelter. In August, Katharine will be moving to Wisconsin to pursue her PhD in genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Don’t be alarmed, but 43 members of the Allegheny College community were diagnosed with measles between March 12 and April 2.
If this were actually the case, there’d likely be a team of investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention swarming the campus. But this was just an epidemiology class exercise developed by Professor Rebecca Dawson to train her students in how real virus hunters track down victims of illness and try to protect those most vulnerable to the disease.
“We imagined what would happen if there was a measles outbreak on campus,” says Dawson. “Ethically, could we pull the student health records to see who was vaccinated? How would we actually go about containing such an outbreak? How do we protect those who are immunocompromised? What would we do if there were more than 40 cases reported on campus?”
Measles is making an alarming comeback in the United States and across the globe. Once thought to be eliminated in the United States, 764 cases of measles were confirmed in 23 states in 2019 as of May 1, including five in the Pittsburgh area in April. More than 34,000 cases were reported in Europe in the first two months of 2019.
“It’s different than it was 40 to 50 years ago when many children got the measles. With vaccinations, the disease was largely eliminated over a couple of generations. So its resurgence has bred a fear of the unknown,” says Dawson, who teaches in the Biology Department and the Global Health Studies Program. “For instance, there’s concern about bioterrorists weaponizing strains of the disease, and how can we prevent blindness and death that can result from the measles? The at-risk population is very different than it was 50 years ago.”
The simulated outbreak investigation aimed to answer the question: Is there an association between diagnosis of the measles and MMR vaccine status?
The class of 13 students in Biology 321 were given the following task: To track down 175 members of the College’s faculty and staff who volunteered to carry index cards that described them as potential measles cases. The cards listed a fictitious person’s demographic, medical and vaccination history, and other information. “Just like a real epidemiologist conducting a real outbreak investigation, they had to locate each individual on the list and collect the data card,” says Dawson.
The student investigators were precluded from contacting the volunteers via phone or email, nor were they allowed to track them down off campus. The student disease hunters had to visit the volunteers in their offices and retrieve the laminated index cards. They only knew that “patient zero,” who first reported the measles, was a 22-year-old male Allegheny student who lived in the North Village 2 residence hall and had sought treatment at Meadville Medical Center.
Before setting out on the measles hunt, however, the students had to develop a plan for locating each of the suspected cases. “This end-of-the-semester project provided real-life outbreak experience for them,” says Dawson. “They had to find as many of these people as they could. How will you determine the location and availability of each suspected case? How and where will you record this? How will you record when a suspected case is located and card received? How will you record who collected the card? Where will you keep the private health information of each case? When and how will input the data collected?”
Eventually, the students tracked down 130 of the cardholders in the time allotted them. They then had to compile their results and write a fictional report for the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which is a weekly epidemiological digest for the nation. They also had individual tasks of communicating their findings to the campus and Meadville communities as if the outbreak had been real.
For instance, senior Alex Weidenhof wrote a fictional article for The Campus newspaper reporting, in part, “Relying on immunization records gathered from the Winslow Health Center and interviews with students to determine whether or not they have been diagnosed with measles, researchers found that 28 — or two-thirds — of those infected were not vaccinated with the MMR, while records did not clearly state the vaccination status of three other infected patients.”
The class also read “Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service,” a book by Maryn McKenna about the CDC’s detective corps that tracks and tries to prevent disease outbreaks and bioterrorist attacks.
“The exercise hopefully taught them how to be disease detectives,” Dawson says. “It’s important that students interested in epidemiology have hands-on experience with an outbreak investigation.”
Photo Caption: Allegheny College “disease detectives,” from left, are Elise Rangru ’20, David Roach ’21, and Alex Weidenhof ’19.
Allegheny College seniors Brittany Imel and Julia Drozdowsky found strength in community during an internship this past summer at the Western Hawaii Community Health Center, an opportunity provided by an Allegheny alumnus.
The center has four locations throughout Hawaii and describes its mission as “making quality, comprehensive, and integrated health services accessible to all who pass through our doors regardless of their ability to pay.” Its CEO, Richard Taaffe, graduated from Allegheny in 1972 and offered the internship for the first time this year.
“I really liked that Richard Taaffe was an Allegheny grad,” says Drozdowsky, a global health studies major and biology minor. “I knew automatically that how he ran the clinic was probably based on the values he gained at Allegheny, and I think those are heavily based on making sure others are taught as well as contributing to the community, so I knew that I would get a lot out of [the internship].”
The selection process began through the Allegheny Gateway staff, who developed a prospectus for students, asking them to submit a resume and a brief personal statement. More than 20 applicants were interviewed by Taaffe, who then narrowed the field to six candidates.
After a follow-up Skype interview with both Taaffe and a member of the health center’s team, Imel and Drozdowsky were selected.
According to Taaffe, the students’ interests played a key role in determining what their work at the health center was going to look like.
“We tried to tailor the work to the interests of Julia and Brittany, as well as give them a variety of experiences,” he says.
Throughout the internship, the students worked together alongside the health center’s outreach and health education team to find ways to reach out to the Marshallese community in particular. This community had a particularly strong impact on both students.
“The Marshallese women were very accepting of us,” says Imel, a biology major and art history minor. “They are from the Marshall Islands, and aren’t really normally big fans of people from the mainland. … but they accepted Julia and me right away.”
This kind of mutual trust and willingness to learn was, according to Imel and Drozdowski, one key to the success of the health initiatives being implemented. In addition, it allowed them to contribute some of the skills that they’ve acquired during their time at Allegheny. For example, they taught health center employees how to use Excel to track the progress of the activities and people participating in them.
The learning process, however, was mutual, according to Drozdowski.
“We found that if you’re willing to learn and listen, they’ll teach you,” she says. “They want to share, but there are these resorts that are just isolated little inlets and people never leave them. They come to Hawaii for a week and they never actually see Hawaii and the things that people have to offer in the community.”
Ultimately, through the implementation of Zumba classes and other group activities such as a competition resembling “The Biggest Loser,” both students immersed themselves in the community. As Imel nears the end of her undergraduate experience, she says that the value of this experience will likely contribute to her future career in medicine.
“I think the biggest thing, especially for my career in the future, is to listen to people and not assume,” Imel says. “Especially going from a better neighborhood to one that maybe doesn’t have a lot, to not go in there to try to fix it, but to go in there and listen and ask what community members want, what they need from us, and not going in with the answers, not just what we want them to have.”
It’s been less than five years since Trevor and Michelle Colvin proudly wore their caps and gowns at Commencement on Bentley Lawn, but they’ve already been making an impact on the students that followed them at Allegheny College, thanks to a commitment to service and philanthropy they have woven into their lives.
Trevor and Michelle have remained engaged with Allegheny alumni, staff, students and prospective students in a variety of volunteer roles, including keeping in touch with former classmates, appearing on career panels and participating in the Gator Greetings program.
“Allegheny was our home for four years where we made our best friends and memories,” says Michelle. “We chose to keep our relationship strong with Allegheny post-graduation by serving as class agents and by helping to organize our Class of 2014 fifth-year reunion.”
Despite being busy in their educational pursuits and careers, the Colvins have put serious thought into their philanthropic priorities. “We make decisions based on life experiences,” says Trevor. “We give to organizations that we feel have helped us become who we are as well as organizations that are doing good in our community.”
The former Michelle Holcomb is in her fifth year of graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing a doctorate in cognitive psychology, studying how aspects of a reading context influence language comprehension. Trevor is a senior analyst at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His work focuses on the integrations of newly acquired hospitals and physician groups, as well as the executive reporting of key revenue cycle analytics.
They met in their first year at Allegheny, married in 2016, and currently live in Pittsburgh with their “fur children,” Dolly (a calico cat) and Nala (a German Shepherd dog). While at Allegheny, Trevor played football and was a managerial economics major and a religious studies minor. Michelle played soccer and was a psychology and biology double major.
“We were both four-year athletes at Allegheny so a lot of our focus is dedicated to athletics,” Michelle says. “We also got involved with alumni during our senior year as part of the senior class gift committee. From there, we saw the opportunity to continue serving Allegheny.
“We hope to get others excited about supporting the College soon after they graduate,” she says. “There is often a misconception that valued donors are only those who give the highest amounts. But we’ve learned that serving is a process, and it starts by getting involved as soon as possible.”
The Colvins say their current philanthropic priorities are Allegheny College, their church and the United Way of Pittsburgh. “Start small. Any form of help serves a cause,” Trevor says. “It’s not just monetary help; time is a big donation. Identify causes that align with your beliefs and make positive impacts on society. The habit becomes a fulfilling lifestyle.”
Now that they are cultivating success in their community, the Colvins say they are believers in a liberal arts education. “Our classes and degrees from Allegheny didn’t teach us everything,” says Michelle, “but they helped prepare us to learn anything.”
From a former resident of nearby Townville to a fantasy football player to a dedicated amateur chef, Allegheny’s new faculty members bring many unique backgrounds and qualities to the teaching table in the fall of 2018. Let’s meet each of them briefly:
Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics
As a visiting assistant professor of economics, Catherine Allgeier comes to Allegheny with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
After graduation, she taught at a business college and then worked in the corporate world as a chief financial officer and a human resources director. “I realized that I missed the interaction with students and started teaching part-time in addition to my CFO role. I now have been teaching full-time for eight years (most recently at her alma mater) and use my corporate background to provide real-world accounting examples and experiences to my students,” says Allgeier.
“I am interested in information systems and communication, as they relate to costs and effectiveness in health-care diagnoses, such as using Watson as a diagnostic tool and the implications in not only a more timely diagnosis but also more cost effective,” she says.
She also has a green thumb. “My ‘other’ career would be in landscape and interior design,” says Allgeier. “I quit counting at 40 houseplants.”
Assistant Professor of Economics
Timothy Bianco joins Allegheny as assistant professor of economics, having taught previously at Bowling Green State University, where he also earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He also obtained a master’s degree and his doctorate from the University of Kentucky. He also has worked as an analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland for five years.
“I enjoy teaching economics and researching cutting-edge financial and monetary economics, focusing on corporate credit,” says Bianco.
Bianco and his wife, Victoria, grew up in northeast Ohio “so moving to northwest Pennsylvania has been a smooth transition. I am a Cleveland sports fanatic and I enjoy traveling to Cleveland to catch a game from time to time.
“An unusual combination is that I have been known to apply cutting-edge econometric techniques to playing fantasy football,” he says.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History
Paula Burleigh joins the Allegheny community as visiting assistant professor of art history and director of the Penelec, Bowman, Meghan Art Gallery. She earned her Ph.D. in art history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
She earlier earned a master’s degree at Case Western Reserve University and a bachelor’s degree at Emory University.
“I’ve taught undergraduate courses at City University of New York Baruch College, Bard High School Early College, and at Bard College, and I’ve taught adult education courses at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where I was a teaching fellow for several years before coming to Allegheny,” says Burleigh.
Burleigh specializes in art history and visual culture of Europe and the United States, from 1945 to the present. Her research interests include visionary architecture, feminism and gender as they relate to art, and utopian/dystopian themes in art and popular visual culture.
“I love to cook, and I didn’t let a decade of tiny New York City kitchen life stop me from elaborate culinary experiments — some failed, many succeeded, all were eaten at least an hour later than I intended,” she says.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology
Kimberly Caldwell joins the college as a visiting assistant professor of psychology. She earned her Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience at the University at Buffalo, “so my background is a blend of psychology and neuroscience.”
She has taught introductory psychology and biopsychology, “and I am excited to be teaching a new course this semester that I developed called ‘Ingestive Behavior,’ which will explore the neuroscience behind eating and drinking. My research interests are broadly focused on how the brain controls eating and drinking, thus the inspiration for my new class. I am particularly interested in a peptide system called ghrelin that is capable of influencing both behaviors.
“Along with behavioral neuroscience, I have always enjoyed the arts and took several art classes through high school and even a couple here at Allegheny as a member of the Gifted Program — I don’t know if they still call it that, it’s been a while since I was in high school — at Maplewood,” she says.
“This brings me to my fun fact, I grew up locally in nearby Townville and took classes at Allegheny in art and dance while in high school.”
Assistant Professor of Economics
Michael Michaelides joins the Economics Department as an assistant professor. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from the University of Essex, a master’s degree in accounting and finance from the London School of Economics, a master’s degree in economics from Virginia Tech, and a doctorate in economics from Virginia Tech.
Prior to attending Allegheny, Michaelides spent one year as a visiting assistant professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. His research interests include: Financial econometrics, empirical asset pricing, time series econometrics, applied econometrics, behavioral finance, volatility modeling, and financial risk forecasting.
“My research has focused on exploring the behavioral biases of investing through the quantitative application of statistical and mathematical models. Yet, my research has been so strongly influenced by the philosophy of science literature,” says Michaelides.
When not in the classroom or on a research mission, Michaelides is a Liverpool Football Club supporter.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Right out of college, Matthew Mitchell traveled to Japan and taught English as a foreign language for six years. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, with a minor in chemistry, from Illinois Wesleyan University. As an undergraduate, he also found time to sing in the university choir and teach rock climbing.
Mitchell later completed an M.A. in Asian religions from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a Ph.D. from Duke University’s Graduate Program in Religion. “I spent a lot more time in my office writing than on the beach,” he said of his two years in Hawaii.
Mitchell’s teaching experience includes posts at the University of Hawaii, Duke University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Creighton University. And he worked at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, helping to bring Chinese students and scholars to the institution for short-term and degree programs.
Mitchell’s research interests include Asian religions — especially Japanese Buddhism, social history, and women and gender in religion. This year in the Religious Studies Department, he will be teaching a number of courses across traditions from Asian religions to Islam. He is currently studying the social, financial and legal activities of a group of Buddhist nuns in Japan’s 17th–20th centuries. “One of the biggest surprises people have is the diversity of the nuns’ activities,” he says. “Most people tend to think of nuns as cloistered, not active, and certainly not involved in gambling or lawsuits.”
Along with Japan’s importance to Mitchell’s research, the nation holds other special meaning for him: it’s where he met his wife and it’s the birthplace of his oldest daughter.
Assistant Professor of Global Health Studies
Pamela Runestad likes to know how things work.
“I found I could fold all of my interests — infectious disease, nutrition, culture, Japan, writing and narrative, and film — together through becoming a medical anthropologist,” she says. “These combinations will be at the heart of my courses in global health studies here at Allegheny.”
Runestad holds a B.A. in biology and English — with a minor in psychology — from Augustana College (now University) in South Dakota and an M.A. in Japanese language and society from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. She also earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in medical anthropology with a focus on Japan at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu.
Her doctoral research focused on socio-cultural responses to HIV/AIDS in Japan and how those have an impact on health. Her current research project explores institutional food for pregnant and postpartum mothers in Japan.
Runestad’s life and work experiences outside of the continental U.S. give her unique perspective. “I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and I lived in Nagano, Japan, for 10 years,” she says. “So at this point, I’ve only lived about one-quarter of my life in the ‘lower 48’ — Alaska-speak — or the ‘mainland’ — Hawaii-speak. That time was spent in South Dakota, Nebraska and North Carolina.”
Yee Mon Thu
Assistant Professor of Biology
Yee Mon Thu describes herself as “a scientist who likes to learn how the natural world works — and an amateur artist who likes to use imagination.”
Before arriving at Allegheny, Thu taught biology at her undergraduate alma mater, Grinnell College. She earned a B.A. in biology with a concentration in global development studies there before completing a Ph.D. in cancer biology at Vanderbilt University.
“I am interested in how cells maintain genome stability in the face of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that can cause DNA damage,” Thu says of her research. “I am also fascinated by the involvement of these pathways in cancer.”
When away from the classroom and laboratory, Thu enjoys visiting national parks.
Max Kade Writer in Residence
As a graphic novelist, Birgit Weyhe uses both her writing and drawing to explore historical and political incidents. She’s primarily interested in migration and the definition of home and identity. In addition to authoring several books, Weyhe has a monthly page in a Berlin newspaper where she draws the “lifeline” of a person who has changed places of residence often.
Weyhe was raised in Uganda and Kenya and came back to Germany at the age of 19. “I consider all three countries as my home,” she says. After returning to Germany, she earned a master’s degree in German literature and history from the University of Hamburg and a Diplom in illustration from the University of Applied Sciences, also in Hamburg.
Since 2012, Weyhe has taught at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel and Düsseldorf in Germany and at the National Art School in Maputo, Mozambique. She also has led workshops at the German Cultural Center (Goethe Institut) in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Finland, France and Canada.
Wehye said that she is a passionate reader. On a three-month trip to Patagonia last year, she and her husband read 15 novels to each other. “We praised the invention of eBooks,” she says. “Otherwise our backpacks would have been very heavy.”
Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science
Tarah Williams uses survey and experimental methods to understand how social identities —partisan identities, racial identities and many more — shape individual political behavior, for better or worse. Her current research explores whether and when individuals will confront prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives.
“As a shy person, I often struggled to speak up as a student,” she says. “My job now requires me to help students find ways to participate in class, and because I needed to work to find my voice, I have become committed to helping others find theirs. Similarly, my research is concerned with how we can encourage people to speak up to confront prejudice.”
Williams earned her B.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois. Before pursuing graduate school, she worked in state government as a researcher for the Illinois Legislature. She has taught courses in politics and policy at Washington University in St. Louis, Miami University in Ohio and the University of Illinois.
Along with her teaching and research, Williams enjoys walking, cooking, musical theatre and — since arriving at Allegheny — exploring Meadville.
Like many areas in the nation, Crawford County is reckoning with the ongoing opioid crisis, which is silencing the voices of young people, wreaking havoc on families, and eating away at the social fabric of many communities at an alarming rate.
Rebecca Dawson, assistant professor of biology and global health studies at Allegheny College, and student researchers are attempting to shed some light on the crisis locally and offer government officials statistical data and insights on where the problem exists specifically and how they might address it.
Through this community-based project, Dawson and the students are combining maps of data with narratives to create an interactive platform that shows where government officials might focus their efforts in defusing the crisis.
The research team’s primary tool is Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology.
“In its most basic use, GIS answers the question, ‘Where?’ Questions such as ‘Where are people living?’ and ‘Where are pockets of overdose calls?’” says Dawson, who graduated from Allegheny in 2000. “One analysis technique is referred to as ‘finding hot spots,’ and it visualizes data in aggregate form by using warm colors to show areas with high rates of incidents.
“We have pulled data from 911 calls, the coroner’s office, the courthouse, and from hospitals, among other sources,” Dawson says. “We are trying to find the hot spots for overdoses and create a map of Crawford County that shows officials the specific areas of concern. How should they target their services? What areas of care need to be addressed? How should they align with schools and service programs? Where exactly is the problem? What is the opioid story here?”
The project, which is being done in conjunction with Crawford County Human Services, started two years ago and has just finished the second summer of gathering data, Dawson says. Seven students have worked on the project thus far, she adds. Dawson and students Emily Forner ’19, Mary Kerner ’19, Valerie Hurst ’18, and Jenny Tompkins ’18 will present their methodologies and findings at the American Statistical Association’s Women in Data Science Conference in Cincinnati in October 2018.
“What struck me the most was just how many ways the data could be used to help better understand what’s going on in the county,” Forner says. “From looking more broadly at trends for the county as a whole, to comparing smaller areas like Titusville and Meadville, analyzing these issues from a spatial standpoint can really help to identify areas where resources should be targeted.”
“As a researcher the most beneficial part of the project was the connections I made with community stakeholders as well as learning new information about a topic I had never studied before,” says Kerner. “As someone who was attempting to tell the narrative side of the story, I was faced with researching why communities are being affected in the way that they are as well as the different strategies being implemented to hopefully alleviate the burden on affected community members.
“This led me to delve much deeper into the histories of each community, what is happening now that may be contributing to the problem, and what programs are community activists trying that may be successful in the future. This gave me a much broader perspective than I had originally had and will give me the tools to conduct further research in topics I am not immediately familiar with.”
Here is what the research team is finding so far.
Located in a relatively rural setting, Crawford County is at high risk for overdose deaths — 45 per 100,000 people as compared to the national average of 20 per 100,000. The project is mapping where overdose deaths have occurred, where overdose calls originated, where drug-possession calls came from, what areas of the county don’t have ambulance service, and where hospitals and licensed health clinics are located. The data they collect results in a GIS map sprinkled with multi-colored dots representing all of those data points collected from 2015 to 2018.
That map should show where clusters of overdoses are occurring, so social services can be targeted in those areas. “Ultimately, our goal is to improve community wellness and prevent trauma and to assist policy- and decision-makers with the allocation of resources and services,” says Dawson.
Still to be finalized are a summary of statistics based on demographics and a presentation of the findings to the community stakeholders. “We are trying to be careful not to stigmatize neighborhoods. These are difficult conversations,” she says.
Photo Credit: Derek Li
Photo Caption: Rebecca Dawson, assistant professor of biology and global health studies, left, and students Emily Forner, center, and Mary Kerner are mapping areas of drug overdoses in order to help Crawford County officials understand and address the problem.