Allegheny News and Events

Allegheny Welcomes New Faculty for Fall 2020

It’s quite the fusion of talents joining the ranks of Allegheny College’s faculty in the fall of 2020. From scholars in modern Arabic literature and French and Francophone studies to a former economic analyst for a global banking firm, Allegheny’s new faculty members bring unique backgrounds and qualities to the campus classrooms this academic year. Let’s meet each of them briefly:

Sami Alkyam
Assistant Professor of Arabic

With Sami Alkyam, Allegheny is not only welcoming an assistant professor in the Department of World Cultures and Languages, but also a new director of Muslim student life.

Sami Alkyam
Sami Alkyam

Alkyam holds a Ph.D. in Arabic language and literature as well as a doctoral minor in second language acquisition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He will teach Arabic language and culture classes and core classes in international studies at Allegheny. He previously worked at Harvard University from 2012 to 2018.

His research interests include modern Arabic literature and cultural studies; gender and sexuality studies; trauma and the war novel; Arabic dictator novels; film and television studies; Postcolonial and literary theory; Arabic literary translation, and African literature in translation.

“In my current research I explore the manifestations of dictators and dictatorships in contemporary literary genres — the representation of its various configurations and the politics of (re)writing history. Currently, I am working on a manuscript in which I study the aesthetics of death in contemporary Iraqi literature. More than any time in the history of modern Iraq, poetry and fiction have been bound to social and political events in Iraq. Iraqi literature today reflects the trauma of a nation torn between omnipresent war and reminiscence of three decades of dictatorship,” he says.

“As such, I describe Iraqi writers today as ‘bereaved storytellers’ who give voice to the wounds of their nation and people. I will finish the manuscript in the next two years,” Alkyam adds.

His work has appeared in the Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Journal of Literature and Trauma Studies, Journal of Arts and Humanities and Journal of Studies in Literature and Language. He also works on literary translation.

“I am a true believer of diversity; in fact, I am especially drawn to Allegheny given its vibrant and diverse community and the emphasis on internationalism and interculturalism as well as my department’s commitment to teaching languages. In the classroom, I view teaching, not as a career or task, rather as a passion. It is this passion that pushes me to teach Arabic language and literature in the clearest and most effective manner,” he says.

“I believe in making my class a changing experience for my students. Therefore, I see myself as a facilitator of student communication, rather than the center of the classroom. My main goal is to empower my students to engage while providing a classroom environment conducive to productive communication,” says Alkyam.

Away from academia, he is the father of two “beautiful kids: a girl, Uswah, and a boy, Karam, who are the center of my world. I like to play soccer; I like swimming and reading, too.”

Megan Bertholomey
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Megan Bertholomey knows a lot about small liberal arts colleges such as Allegheny. She is a graduate of Knox College, where she was a studio art major and psychology minor. “My medium was clay. Other than the commercial pottery painting classes, there usually aren’t many public resources/studio spaces for ceramicists, so I look forward to making friends in the Art Department and hope to one day collaborate or audit a class with them,” she says.

Megan Bertholomey

Bertholomey also served as both a teaching assistant and an instructor in introductory psychology classes during her Ph.D. training at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. She taught a course called “Drugs and Behavior” at the University of Pittsburgh for three fall semesters during her postdoctoral training. Last year, she was a visiting assistant professor at Chatham University, covering graduate-level introductory neuroscience courses with labs, as well as an undergraduate-level introductory biology class.

Her research interests include understanding the factors contributing to and mechanisms underlying the risk of drug abuse and other conditions like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that tend to co-occur with substance use disorder. “One major and well-known contributing factor is stress, but there is still much we don’t know about how stress affects the brain to lead to or exacerbate these disorders,” she says.”Because of my research experience, I’m very interested in teaching neuroscience and psychology topics related to drug use and abuse, psychopharmacology, neuroendocrinology, sexuality/sexual behavior, learning and memory, research methods and statistics.”

She says that “while most of my artistic talents have gone into making research posters and PowerPoints, I do like to paint and draw when I can. I was also a member of the dance collective when I was in college — mine was called Terpsichore — so a similar Greek naming convention to Orchesis — and love to dance, although I don’t have much formal training.”

She also considers herself “to be a bit of a foodie and a craft beer aficionado, so I love to cook and plan to eventually try my hand at home brewing using one of the many kits that have been gifted to me over the years. I am also a reservoir of random knowledge that comes in very handy for trivia — especially music trivia, as well as pop culture references from the ’90s and ’00s.”

Delia Byrnes
Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Science & Sustainability

Delia Byrnes joins the Allegheny community by way of Canada, where she was raised, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied and eventually taught in the English Department.

Delia Byrnes
Delia Byrnes

“I’m joining the Environmental Science and Sustainability program at Allegheny through a somewhat unusual route: I’m not even a scientist! Rather, my Ph.D. in English and my experiences teaching literature inform the humanities approaches I bring to environmental studies,” says Byrnes. “Over the past four years, I’ve taught courses on oil culture, apocalyptic fiction and film, African American literature, and multi-ethnic environmental culture at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m thrilled to join such a rich interdisciplinary community at Allegheny, and I’m especially excited to collaborate with students on projects that center environmental justice.”

Byrnes earned her bachelor’s degree from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and her master’s and doctorate from the University of Texas.

She focuses her research on contemporary environmental art and storytelling, focusing on how writers, artists and other mediamakers harness their imaginations to produce new knowledge about environmental relations. “I’m especially interested in the ways that fossil fuel shapes our daily lives, and how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color authors illuminate more just and habitable futures,” says Byrnes.

When she’s not in her Carr Hall office, Byrnes says she is a movie and television fan “and will find any opportunity to teach my favorites, from the FX series ‘Atlanta’ to Janelle Monáe’s Afrofuturist epic, ‘Dirty Computer.’ When I’m not reading or watching something, I love wandering around town on foot or on my bike, and as a Canadian, I am beyond excited to experience the four seasons in Meadville!”

The most consistent part of her time in Meadville so far: “My weekly visits to Hank’s Frozen Custard.”

Priyanka Chakraborty
Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics

It has been quite a year for Priyanka Chakraborty. She graduated from Southern Methodist University with her Ph.D., won the Melody Rice Memorial Award for her dissertation “Essays on Issues in Management and Gender” and “was truly excited to travel cross country from Texas to Pennsylvania and join the Allegheny family!”

Priyanka Chakraborty
Priyanka Chakraborty

It has been quite an academic journey for Chakraborty. Reading Keynes in college had a powerful impact on her and shaped the course of her passion for and career in economics. “I grew up in India and attained a college education through scholarships based on academic achievement,” she says. “I majored in economics at Presidency College and won the Gold Medal from Calcutta University. I explored New Delhi, jazz and micro and macroeconomics during my master’s at Jawaharlal Nehru University and read obsessively on game theory and behavioral economics, which I still do.”

She worked closely with counterparts from Great Britain for HSBC Bank as an economic analyst for a couple of years before traveling to Texas to attend the doctoral program at Southern Methodist University. “I taught classes independently, worked extensively as a teaching assistant and as a tutor and student counselor. The experiences during my academic and professional career gave me an immense appreciation of cross-cultural understanding and helped hone my teaching pedagogy which is geared toward creating an inclusive class environment and facilitating learning through discussion,” she says.

As an applied economist, she uses laboratory and field experiments, as well as survey data, to answer questions in behavioral and labor economics, with a focus on gender, education, management, leadership and mentoring. “My mantra is: ‘When it comes to understanding and changing human behavior, we can do better.’ My research broadly focuses on the economics of discrimination and disparities in the labor market with an overarching goal of understanding and mitigating gender and racial gaps. I am interested in finding policy interventions that promote healthy, efficient and more inclusive workplaces,” she says.

She has traveled extensively, exploring new cities and local cultures, food, films and music. “My favorite cities in the world so far are Jaipur, Boulder, Ann Arbor, Mexico City, Antigua, Kuala Lumpur and Alexandria,” says Chakraborty. “I love finding new coffee shops, record stores, bookshops and theatres. I am a cinephile, adore the works of Satyajit Ray, Wes Anderson and Alejandro Jodorowsky, and have enjoyed working with the South Asian Film Festival and Oak Cliff Film Festival in Texas. Being an epicure, I love creating fusion food and bakes with Asian and American influences.”

While she has been classically trained in Hindustani music, “I enjoy listening to Ella Fitzgerald as much as Ravi Shankar, and among my most-prized possessions are autographed Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar vinyl records straight from the ’60s!”

Emma Chebinou
Visiting Assistant Professor of French

Emma Chebinou is welcomed into the World Languages and Cultures Department as a well-traveled scholar and is thrilled to collaborate with new faculty and students. Her education began in France, where she received her bachelor’s degree from the Université Paris XII- Créteil, and then her first master’s degree from the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. Chebinou then came to the United States, where she earned her second master’s degree from the University of South Florida and then her Ph.D. from Florida State University.

As a new faculty member of the Diversity Teaching Fellowship, Chebinou is dedicated to sharing her diverse and multi-layered experience through the curriculum. She hopes that by teaching diversity-related topics, students will be in a position to be aware of their identities as well as others’ differences, which leads to not only their achievements but also to the expansion of their horizons. This approach will lead them to acquire cultural competency to interpret the world and its sophisticated facets.

“I see the classroom as a safe space to exchange knowledge,” says Chebinou. “Besides the fact of seeing excitement on the students’ faces when they understand concepts, I look forward to learning from them, which informs my research and personal life. This couldn’t be done without our students’ insightful ideas.”

During this current pandemic, Chebinou’s main goal is to maintain the human dimension in her classes.

“I want to turn the new COVID adjustments in class into a positive asset rather than obstacles to teaching and learning,” says Chebinou. “Technology has always made the classroom more appealing, and the Zoom implementation is beneficial in helping me create and explore a new teaching approach.”

Chebinou’s academic interests are wide-ranging, from societal issues such as urban problems, violence, discrimination and freedom and civil rights, to hip-hop and stand-up comedy, to African (North and Sub-Saharan) and Caribbean literature. She also has research interests in French national ethnic, gender and religious identity; second- and third-generation of immigrants and diaspora in literature; 20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone studies; Postcolonial studies and African-American studies.

Her hobbies are as varied as her academic pursuits. Chebinou enjoys singing old and contemporary rhythm and blues and Gospel songs, and she has sung in gospel choirs. Her talents extend into the culinary world, as she likes to cook African and French food and is especially good at making crepes. “Coming from France, I love designer fashion,” shares Chebinou. “I am such a shoe collector that I would need an entire room to fit them all! I also like discussions about astrology and Feng Shui.”

Dara Coleby Delgado
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Dara Coleby Delgado joins Allegheny’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies as an asset for fostering global perspectives in the classroom.

Dara Coleby Delgado

“My objective as a teacher is to foster a student-focused learning environment that both challenges and motivates students to develop their own learning interests and critical thinking skills,” says Delgado. “Specifically, through trusting student-teacher relationships and safe learning-centered classrooms, I see myself as partnering with my students as they develop into independent globally minded scholars. Ultimately, the goal is to explore how religion challenges us to think critically about the human experience, with particular attention to the Christian traditions and their impact on history and culture.”

An AAUW 2018-2019 American Dissertation Fellow, Delgado’s research interests include the history and theology of American Christianity (Pentecostalism), as well as the role of race, gender and popular culture in American religion during the modern era. These interests culminated in her dissertation, “Life, Liberty, and the Practicality of Holiness: A Social Historical Examination of the Life and Work of Ida Bell Robinson.”

Before joining the faculty at Allegheny, Delgado completed a bachelor’s degree at Niagara University in history, a master’s at Northeastern Seminary, a Master of Theological Studies at Tyndale University College & Seminary, and a Ph.D. at the University of Dayton in theology. At the University of Dayton, she taught traditional undergraduate students in the Department of Religious Studies and then taught New Testament and Ethics in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York.

“When I am not teaching and writing, I am enjoying the company of friends and family, volunteering, and attending concerts and shows,” says Delgado.

Guadalupe Lupita Gonzalez
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Guadalupe Lupita Gonzalez brings experience in cognitive neuroscience with her to Allegheny. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and business administration from Bethel College and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She also has instructional experience from leading psychology labs at Bethel.

Guadalupe Lupita Gonzalez

Gonzalez has a passion for social justice and increasing diversity in higher education which has driven her research into the effects of social contexts on racial biases in socio-cognitive processes (for eaxmple, attention, interaction intentions).

“I use electroencephalography (EEG/ERPs) and eye-tracking to answer questions such as ‘How does the social context influence the perception of racial outgroups?’ and ‘How is the perception of racial outgroups associated with racially biased behavior?’” says Gonzalez. “My current research uses eye-tracking to investigate how competitive social contexts influence attention and memory for racial in-group and out-group members, as well as one’s willingness to interact with racial out-groups. I’m also interested in racial health disparities.”

In addition to her research, Gonzalez has been involved in different organizations and programs that aim to increase the number of minoritized individuals in higher education.

“I also love to read, cook (especially Mexican food) and travel to Mexico,” she says. “Spanish was also my first language so I can fluently speak, read and write in Spanish.”

Gonzales is musically gifted as well — she used to play the violin and also played in a mariachi during middle school and high school.

Chris Normile
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Chris Normile is joining the ranks of first-generation faculty members at Allegheny. He completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Bloomsburg University, master’s degree in experimental psychology at Towson University, and Ph.D. in applied experimental psychology at Central Michigan University.

Chris Normile

“My research focuses on the intersection of psychology and law,” Normile says. “More specifically I have studied police interrogations, false confessions and jury decision-making. My most recent work investigates people’s perceptions of wrongfully convicted exonerees. Pedagogically speaking, I’m interested in statistical learning in college students.”

Although Normile thoroughly enjoys research and teaching, he has a variety of other interests outside of the classroom.

“I’m a big fan of playing board games of all kinds, from silly party games to more complex Eurogames,” says Normile. “As an undergraduate I played club Ultimate Frisbee, which is a hobby I still enjoy today.”

Jesse Swann-Quinn
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability

Jesse Swann-Quinn grew up in an Allegheny Gator family — his mom and uncle both graduated from the College. Now, after earning a Ph.D. in geography from Syracuse University, Swann-Quinn has joined the Allegheny community as a faculty member in the Department of Environmental Science and Sustainability.

Jesse Swann-Quinn

Before entering graduate school, Swann-Quinn spent five years producing wildlife documentaries for National Geographic Television, and he served as a Public Humanities Fellow with the New York Council for the Humanities. Swann-Quinn says he draws on these transdisciplinary experiences in both his research and teaching.

Swann-Quinn taught at Syracuse as a graduate student and adjunct faculty member. His teaching focuses on the social science of global environmental politics, economics and culture, but it also incorporates elements of the digital and environmental humanities.

Swann-Quinn’s interests as a geographer center on environmental politics of natural resources, how humans struggle over and govern the environments around them, and a variety of other related topics in the environmental social sciences. “My research specifically examines the political and environmental effects of resource extraction, primarily focused on the former Soviet Union and South Caucasus,” Swann-Quinn says. He also has ongoing interests in urban environments, environmental justice, resource nationalism, animal studies, territorial conflict and media studies.

“When I’m not in the classroom or doing research, I like to be outside as much as possible, hiking and running when the weather’s warm and cross-country skiing when it isn’t,” Swann-Quinn says. He says he also enjoys “getting lost in old atlases” and following technology trends.

“My wife and I also just had our first child last winter,” Swann-Quinn says, “which has kept us extra busy these past few months (and made quarantine life that much more interesting).”

PJ Torres
Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology

While new to the Allegheny community, PJ Torres brings experience teaching at another Great Lakes Colleges Association institution, Denison University.

PJ Torres

At Denison, Torres served as a Consortium for Faculty Diversity fellow in 2015 and then as a visiting biology faculty member until spring 2018. His career has also included faculty positions in the biology departments at Queens University of Charlotte and, most recently, Colgate University. Torres holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Puerto Rico (Rio Piedras campus) and a Ph.D. in ecology from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.

Torres’ research focuses on understanding the structure and function of freshwater ecosystems with emphasis on tropical headwater streams. His dissertation and current research is based on Puerto Rico, assessing the landscape-scale effects of large dams on headwater stream ecosystem processes.

“I’ve also worked with students in Costa Rica, Georgia and Ohio looking at how animal consumers influence whole-ecosystem processes such as decomposition, primary production and nutrient cycling. The current plan for my lab here at Allegheny is to continue this work both in Puerto Rico and locally using new study sites in Northwest Pennsylvania.”

Torres also plans to incorporate microorganisms and time into current and new projects. “In particular, we will be looking at synergies between aquatic fungi and animal decomposers, how their relationship determines the rate of organic matter breakdown, how the decomposition mechanisms change over time and how these respond to natural disturbance and seasonal variation.”

As an active member of the Society for Freshwater Science, Torres serves as an early career delegate on the board of directors and helps to coordinate the INSTARS program. INSTARS is a mentoring program during the Society for Freshwater Science annual meeting that provides help to undergraduate students from underrepresented groups who are interested in the study of freshwaters.

In his spare time, Torres enjoys fixing (“or breaking,” he says) stuff around the house, and he cooks most of his food over fire or charcoal. Torres also has played drums in three bands and can be found road-trip-chasing locally owned BBQ spots, limited-release beers and new baseball stadiums.

“I’m a big fan of advanced metrics and statistics in baseball,” says Torres, “and do a bit of work as a volunteer data analyst for CS:GO and Valorant eSports teams.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Alumnus Fields Jackson, Jr. to Speak on Diversity in the World of Commerce

Allegheny College’s Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics (CBE) will welcome Fields Jackson, Jr. ’80, chief executive officer of Racing Toward Diversity magazine, to address students in an online forum at 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday, September 8. Jackson will present his talk, “Making the Business Case for Diversity,” via Zoom.

Fields Jackson, Jr.

“This year, the Center for Business and Economics has a theme of ‘Seeking Justice in a Divided Nation,’ so inviting a speaker like Fields to discuss diversity in business makes sense,” said Assistant Professor of Economics Timothy Bianco, who is co-chair of the CBE. “Promoting diversity and inclusion in business and economics is among our highest priorities at the CBE. In inviting speakers like Fields to speak to our students and faculty, this will highlight ways that we can change the environment in which we live for the better.”

Jackson is the founder and “chief cheerleader” of Racing Toward Diversity magazine, which is based in Cary, North Carolina. The magazine showcases the best current diversity efforts and initiatives being undertaken globally. It is written with business and education audiences in mind. Its stories highlight messages from influential leaders and their organizations. “With our concentration on driving strong relevant content through global social media platforms our quarterly magazine, daily newspaper and blog reach over 3.5 million readers, via Twitter (@fleejack and @race2diversity), Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn,” says the magazine’s website.

Jackson is also president of the College Diversity Network and executive director of the HBCU Business Deans Roundtable.

He has been recognized by the organization Diversity Best Practices as one of the “Top Diversity Thought Leaders” on Twitter. Jackson “keeps followers engaged with tweets focused on diversity at large as well as its impact on the workplace. Not only is there a large pull for diversity information but also access to the job postings regularly shared with his followers,” according to the website.

Jackson has been identified by Onalytica in London, England — an organization that helps run influencer programs for some of the largest brands in the world — as number 13 in the Top 100 global influencers focusing on gender, equality and diversity.

Hive Learning, a collaborative learning platform, in 2019 recognized Jackson as one of the Most Influential Diversity and Inclusion Leaders. According to Hive Learning, “Jackson is an influential diversity and inclusion advocate and expert. … He advocates that job seekers conduct their due diligence in finding diverse workplace opportunities through research, networking and asking the right questions.”

Jackson received his bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy from Allegheny and his master’s in business administration from Northern Illinois University.

For information about Jackson’s presentation, contact Beth Ryan at

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Graduate Greg Merz Helps Track Down Coronavirus Therapies

Dr. Greg Merz is hot on the trail of a killer. He spends most of his workday watching proteins interact with one another, usually eavesdropping on this give-and-take on his computer screen with the help of a cryo-electron microscope.

Merz, a 2010 Allegheny College graduate, conducts his observations and research at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), and the killer he’s trying to put under wraps is the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Greg Merz, a 2010 Allegheny graduate, conducts coronavirus research at the University of California at San Francisco.
Dr. Greg Merz, a 2010 Allegheny graduate, conducts coronavirus research at the University of California at San Francisco.

Merz originally headed west after completing his Ph.D. at Cornell University. He wanted to get involved in research to develop therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. That was until this past March when he was called in to help develop medicines to curtail COVID-19. He is now a member of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute Coronavirus Research Group, which is a task force led by more than 20 faculty members and their research groups at UCSF. It includes experts in virology, cell biology, structural biology, computational biology and drug discovery.

“As a whole, we are focused on finding therapeutics for COVID-19, specifically by disrupting the replication cycle of the virus,” says Merz.

A virus replicates by forcing its genetic material into a host (human) cell, which is followed by the synthesis of viral proteins, Merz explains. Viral proteins interact with human proteins, and these interactions allow the virus to hijack host cells, which in turn allows the virus to replicate and spread. So far, the research group has mapped over 300 of these viral/human protein interactions.

“One main goal of the group is to design and develop compounds which disrupt key viral-host protein interactions, thereby prohibiting the virus from replicating and eliminating COVID from the body,” says Merz, who was a double major in chemistry and economics at Allegheny.

The group’s work was featured in an April 30 article in the San Francisco Chronicle that focused on the team’s valuable discoveries related to COVID-19 therapies.

“My specific research is in the Structural Biology Consortium or the structural biology subgroup. Our aim is two-fold: First, we want to understand in detail the structures of the viral and human proteins and how they interact at the atomic level — that is, which parts of each protein are interacting, and how are the individual atoms arranged in these interactions,” Merz explains. “Once we understand how these proteins interact structurally, we can design potential drugs to break those interactions and thus disrupt the life cycle of the virus. The second aim is to structurally characterize already developed potential drugs, in order to understand how they bind to their targets. This information is very useful for those designing and optimizing therapeutics, and can lead to greatly increased potency for already promising drug candidates.”

Merz is a member of one of the teams expressing proteins (protein expression refers to the way in which proteins are synthesized, modified and regulated in living organisms), and he also is on a group that oversees the collection and data processing for cryo-electron microscopy. “So I’m able to contribute at the beginning of the process and then again at the end,” he says.

Says Merz, who is originally from Rochester, New York: “On a very basic level, I wouldn’t be working on COVID research today if it wasn’t for my experiences at Allegheny. I developed my passion for lab work while doing summer research and then my comp under Dr. Marty Serra, and this set me on my way toward graduate school and ultimately my current post-doctoral position. One of the many insights that Dr. Serra taught me during my time in his lab was that it’s important to be able to communicate to a wide range of audiences. He was always adamant that we not only present to scientific audiences, but to the general public as well, and I really think this has served me well during the pandemic. (Watch Merz talk about how his Allegheny education has aided in his research by clicking here.)

“On a very basic level, I wouldn’t be working on COVID research today if it wasn’t for my experiences at Allegheny,
“On a very basic level, I wouldn’t be working on COVID research today if it wasn’t for my experiences at Allegheny,” says Greg Merz.

“Being a double major also helped me to understand the non-medical factors surrounding the pandemic,” says Merz. “People aren’t only suffering because they are sick or know someone who is sick. Many have lost their jobs or are fearful about losing their job, are worried about paying the rent or providing for their families. Having a background in economics gives me a good platform to analyze the non-medical impacts COVID has had on our world, and analyze the balancing act of social distancing and keeping things shut down against getting folks back to work and the economy up and running again.”

Merz says that on most days he goes to work at the UCSF laboratory. “Obviously going to work is less safe than working remotely, but with lab work this is not an option,” he says.

Each person has to complete a daily health screen before coming to work on the UCSF campus, he says. “For transportation to work, we are not allowed to take any form of transportation where we might come into close contact with people outside of our own homes, such as public transportation, rideshare or carpooling. I have been biking to work, others drive themselves, and those who live close by walk,” says Merz. “I also think that maintaining mental health during this time is just as important as maintaining physical health, so I’ve been mindful of that as well. I’ve really been focusing on trying to get enough sleep and exercising on the days when I’m not biking to work.”

Merz says perhaps his toughest challenge is being able to “shut off my brain,” to stop focusing on work. “There is so much exciting research to be done, so many interesting ideas to follow up on, that you really want to be involved in all of it, when that’s not really possible. And there are so many talented scientists, from areas that I don’t know too much about, who push me by asking questions about my areas of expertise, or challenge me to learn new concepts, that I feel that I need to do a lot of learning to keep up. Not that I need any more of a push to work, but every day I’m trying to keep up with current events, and it’s been dominated by COVID coverage.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Zingale Big Idea Competition Expands to Include Track for Area Residents Seeking Business Funding

The Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics at Allegheny College has introduced a new opportunity for area residents to compete for $10,000 in cash prizes by presenting their ideas for a business or nonprofit based in Crawford County.

The college’s Zingale Big Idea Competition will expand this year to include a track for non-student residents of Crawford County. This funding-request presentation contest emulates the experiences seen on the popular ABC and CNBC broadcast “Shark Tank.” As in prior years, the competition will also be open to Allegheny students and visiting college students. The competition is scheduled for April 24–25, 2020.

“When Allegheny President Hilary Link suggested that we expand the Zingale Big Idea Competition this year to include Crawford County residents, I was immediately excited by the idea and its potential for both the college and the community,” said Chris Allison, entrepreneur in residence in the Allegheny Department of Economics. “We think of the competition as ‘Shark Tank’ with a heart. Our judges not only evaluate competitors’ business plans but also provide them with constructive feedback, coaching and encouragement.”

Advance registration is required for the Zingale Big Idea Competition, and three workshops are scheduled to help participants prepare for the competition. The workshops are open to Allegheny students and community members interested in participating in the Crawford County community track.

The workshops are scheduled for 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. in the college’s Quigley Hall on:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 4, Workshop No. 1:  Developing Your Big Idea (register by Feb. 3)
  • Thursday, Feb. 20, Workshop No. 2:  Financial & Marketing Plans (register by Feb. 19)
  • Tuesday, March 24, Workshop No. 3: Pitching Your Idea (register by March 23)

To register for the workshops or to receive more information, contact Sarah Holt, event co-coordinator, at Individuals who are unable to participate in the workshops should contact Holt for more information about participating in the competition.

The Zingale Big Idea Competition is supported by Lance Zingale, a 1977 Allegheny graduate, and Burton D. Morgan Foundation.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Professor Helps Explore the Economics of Nutrition

Everyone thinks like an economist about food. They just don’t necessarily know it, says Amelia Finaret, assistant professor of global health studies at Allegheny College.

The economics of nutrition is not just about how much consumers spend on certain types of food, she adds. “It’s a lot broader than people think. It’s not only about finances, although that certainly is one aspect. It also involves how people make decisions about allocating scarce resources such as time, energy and land.

“The economics of nutrition combines nutrition science with the social science of nutrition — how people make tough decisions about what they’re going to eat and when and how it affects their bodies,” says Finaret.

In 2019, Finaret published an article, “Beyond Calories: The New Economics of Nutrition,” in the Annual Review of Resource Economics with co-author William A. Masters, Ph.D., of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Department of Economics at Tufts University. The article is a review of the scholarly literature that explores fundamental aspects of human well-being and sustainable development.

Amelia Finaret at the supermarket
“The challenge is now to make a high-quality diet available to all,” says Allegheny College Professor Amelia Finaret. (Photos by Ed Mailliard)

The professors have gone through publicly available data and literature in nutrition economics to consider their implications for food policy around the world. “This is a new field,” says Finaret, “trying to help solve intractable nutrition problems in our world. There is plenty of food in the world. The issues, though, include quality of diet, avoiding contaminants and keeping the food supply safe from food-borne diseases. The challenge is now to make a high-quality diet available to all. Poor quality diets disproportionately affect the poor, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

One of the keys to improved nutrition for all will be loosening some of the constraints, including time and income, on individuals and families as they make choices about what they’re going to eat, says Finaret. There is “no one right way” to eat, she says, “because people’s preferences matter. People are doing the best they can given their circumstances. Economics is very non-judgmental. There has to be acknowledgment that there are many constraints on people’s eating decisions.”

The “Beyond Calories” article draws three main conclusions:

* Nutrition research can benefit from economic explanations of individual behavior and societal outcomes, just as economics research can benefit from nutrition science to understand the causes and consequences of dietary intake.

* That for most of history, food economics was concerned mainly with feeding people, given widespread hunger and poverty. That focus has now shifted to exploring how excess consumption is impacting health, leading to a rise in obesity and diet-related metabolic conditions, and what can be done to educate people about their diets and keeping agriculture and food production sustainable and safe.

* There is great potential for future collaboration among economists and nutritionists to make these improvements using new data and new methods to solve a wide range of diet-related problems around the world.

The factors that impact the way people make food choices are complicated and hard to measure, Finaret says.

Poor diet quality has long been the greatest avoidable cause of death and disability, first through infectious diseases, especially in childhood, and more recently with diets contributing to more adult issues with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and coronary artery disease, the article states. “A second set of concerns about human nutrition is environmental, given that food production is the largest single contributor to natural resource use, pollution and especially carbon emissions. Climate change and other environmental factors affect food supplies, through long-term trends and more frequent extremes such as droughts and floods,” according to the article.

How much or how little people know about their nutritional needs can affect how they eat, but other practical factors also figure in those decisions, says Finaret. For instance, people may choose more unhealthy foods because they simply taste better or are quicker to consume. Or the social groups we associate with may impact our food selections. Or a lack of time to prepare meals. Then there is always the giant hand of corporate food marketing stirring up dietary preferences.

The professors’ research shows that in the United States, “healthier dietary patterns have been estimated to cost approximately $1.50 per day more than less-healthy dietary patterns.”

Through all this, the economics of nutrition tries to be nonjudgmental, says Finaret. “People can and should do what they want; it just comes down to how best to loosen the constraints that people face in making food decisions,” she says.

Finaret’s simple advice for choosing the food you consume is to 1) enjoy eating so that the first bite and the last bite (whether it is the 50th or 100th bite) is pleasurable. In other words, when what you’re eating starts to lose some of its appealing taste, it’s time to put down the fork or close the bag of pretzels; 2) develop a routine so that you don’t have to make decisions all the time, such as weekly or monthly meal plans, optimizing your time available to shop and prepare meals, and how much money you’re able to spend at the grocery store; and 3) avoid extremes — “eat a diverse diet in line with your energy needs.”

Editor’s Note
This year, Finaret and Masters will be writing a textbook, “Food Economics: From Agriculture to Nutrition and Health.” The textbook will be accessible to anyone interested in understanding the economics of food, and understanding the book will not require previous training in economics. The book is geared in particular toward pre-health and pre-nutrition professionals, who would be able to incorporate economic thinking into their professional and research lives.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Students Compete at College’s Inaugural Financial Literacy Challenge

The Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics at Allegheny College hosted its inaugural Financial Literacy Challenge on Saturday, Dec. 7, with 16 teams of Allegheny students presenting personal financial budgets and investing plans. The winning teams, which together will receive $5,000 in prizes and trophies, were:

First Place (three-way tie)
• Pass/Go, Collect 200 Dollars (Sharlyne Cabral, Nicolas Marrero, Rachael Hensel and Hailey Shull)
• Just Throw it in the Bag (Daniella Clarke)
• JLZ-Fund (Jerfenson Cerda Mejia, Liam Wilby and Zachary Zoll)

Second Place (tie)
• Risky Business (Samantha Medaglia, Jacob Simmons, Bree Garcia and Ariana Villavicencio)
• The Smart Savers (Kayla McCandless, Rebecca Montgomery and Kamryn Randall)

Third Place (tie)
• Forward Thinking (Adam Cook and Devin Ho)
• Sustainable Development Goals (Maura McCampbell)

The 2019 Financial Literacy Challenge judges, from left: Donald Belt, Janine Sickafuse, Toni Frisina, Devone McLeod, Susan Wycoff and Sean Ward.

The students shared their plans with a panel of six judges, each with extensive experience in the financial industry. The judges evaluated the plans according to the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA®) criteria for excellence in financial planning and provided feedback to students on how they could refine and improve their plans. The judges for this year’s competition were:

  • Donald M. Belt, a 1993 Allegheny graduate and president at Hefren-Tillotson, Inc.
  • Toni Frisina, senior vice president and regional manager at Northwest Advisors (Northwest Bank)
  • Devone McLeod, a 2013 Allegheny graduate and certified financial planner at Reby Advisors
  • Janine Sickafuse, retired Allegheny accounting/economics professor
  • Sean Ward, a 1989 Allegheny graduate and partner at Blue Point Capital Partners, a global private equity firm
  • Susan Wycoff, a 1974 Allegheny graduate and retired vice president and relationship strategist at PNC Wealth Management

The prizes for the Financial Literacy Challenge were provided through a gift from an anonymous longtime supporter of the Center for Business and Economics.

For more information about the Financial Literacy Challenge, visit the Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics website.

Pictured Above
First-place winners of the inaugural Financial Literacy Challenge, from left: Nicolas Marrero, Sharlyne Cabral, Hailey Shull, Daniella Clarke, Liam Wilby and Jerfenson Cerda Mejia. Not pictured: Rachael Hensel and Zachary Zoll.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny College to Host Inaugural Financial Literacy Challenge

Financial Literacy ChallengeForty-six Allegheny College students will participate in the college’s inaugural Financial Literacy Challenge on Saturday, Dec. 7, presenting a personal financial budget and investing plan appropriate for a recent college graduate. The event, which will award $5,000 in trophies and prizes, is sponsored by the Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics at Allegheny.

The students, representing 20 teams, will share their plans with a panel of six judges, each with extensive experience in the financial industry. The judges will evaluate the plans according to the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA®) criteria for excellence in financial planning and will offer feedback to students on how they can refine and improve their plans. The competition’s awards ceremony is open to the public and will take place at 2 p.m. in Henderson Auditorium in Quigley Hall on the Allegheny campus.

Chris Allison, entrepreneur in residence in the Economics Department, said the Financial Literacy Challenge supports a strategic goal of the Center for Business and Economics: to provide extracurricular activities to help students prepare for life beyond Allegheny. The competition also addresses a growing need to educate students about making sound financial decisions, Allison said.

“There has been a lot of media coverage recently about the importance of financial management for recent college graduates,” said Allison, who is coordinating the competition with Sarah Holt from the Economics Department. “It’s an urgent national need, and from the outset, we had a high level of student interest in the Financial Literacy Challenge.”

The Financial Literacy Challenge has attracted Allegheny students with majors in a variety of fields, including economics, English, environmental science, history, international studies, psychology and studio art. Approximately half of the participants are enrolled this semester in a financial literacy course taught by Allison, and the other participants entered the competition as an extracurricular activity.

Allison said the student teams each spent upwards of 20 hours developing their plans for the competition. In their plans, teams outline their financial goals and the steps to achieve them, including:

  • A monthly budget
  • A brief discussion of the impact of the current state of the economy
  • An investment strategy that shows an understanding of the return characteristics of different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds
  • An asset allocation, which is the mix of stocks and bonds that fits the student’s age as well as investment objectives

Allison said he emphasizes the importance of recent graduates investing at least 10 percent of their take-home pay from the beginning of their careers.

“It’s really immaterial what they invest in, just as long as they start,” he said. “We place a pretty big emphasis on index funds, which provide the widest level of diversification. You can’t beat the market so just buy the market.”

Allison added that the Financial Literacy Challenge also benefits students by providing them with exposure to successful Allegheny alumni who are serving as its judges. The competition also presents students with an opportunity to prepare for the CFA Institute Research Challenge in Pittsburgh in February 2020, Allison said.

The prizes for the Financial Literacy Challenge were provided through a gift from an anonymous longtime supporter of the Center for Business and Economics.

For more information about the Financial Literacy Challenge, visit the Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics website.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Marketing Professor Uses Football as a Teaching Metaphor

Gaia Rancati, an assistant professor of marketing and neuromarketing who hails from Italy, attended her first-ever American-style football game at Allegheny College in September 2019 and was intrigued by the amount of strategy and hierarchical organization she saw playing out on the field.

“I was surprised by the number of players and assistant coaches, and I thought to myself, the head coach must have to be a good manager just like in a successful business,” she said. “I could also see that there was a lot of strategic planning going into the game.”

Allegheny Professor Gaia Rancati relates the strategies of football to the business world for students in her Economics 240 class.
Allegheny Professor Gaia Rancati relates the strategies of football to the business world for students in her Economics 240 class. Photo Credits: Top Photo: Liam Michel; Photo above and below: Sydney Emerson

A week later, Rancati called Allegheny Head Football Coach Rich Nagy to see if he was interested in sharing his expertise with her Introduction to Managerial Economics class.

Nagy, in his first year as head coach of the Gators, was more than happy to oblige and agreed to speak to Rancati’s Economics 240 students about his decision-making processes as they pertain to recruitment, on-field strategy and personnel management.

“Football really functions as a business model. A head football coach’s job is to run the organization,” said Nagy. “And when you think of it, recruiting players is all about sales and marketing. When we talked about it, it was amazing how much crossover there is” between competitive athletics and overseeing a business, he said.

“In football, we are in the people business,” said Nagy. “There is a chain of command, just like in any successful company. There are different managerial styles, and there’s a sales model for recruitment. The product side comes out on the field.”

Said Rancati: “In class, we discuss how companies recruit people, about their competitive strategies, and about how they motivate employees. It’s basically the same model. In business, we call it employer branding.”

That especially applies to Allegheny’s recruitment strategy since the College has a quality brand for student-athletes, Nagy said. “I talked to the class about recruiting athletes. We’re looking for talented people who will fit in at Allegheny, people we think we can develop as students and as athletes,” he said.

In the business world, recruitment is known as the “war of talents,” where companies try to lure the best and brightest critical thinkers and industrious workers to join them, Rancati said.

And like major companies, football coaches try to bring to the team players with sound character, added Nagy. “I’ve learned you can recruit your own problems,” he said. For instance, he carefully watches family interactions when he’s on recruiting visits, Nagy said. “If they’re showing disrespect for their mother or father, they’re probably going to be doing the same thing to me,” he said.

Allegheny Head Football Coach Rich Nagy explains some football nuances to visiting economics students.
Allegheny Head Football Coach Rich Nagy explains some football nuances to visiting economics students.

Added Rancati: “In football and in business, recruiters are trying to match the values of the person to the values of the school or the company.”

It’s also true that in football and the business world, managers and coaches have to groom front-line players, Rancati said. “You have stars in football and you have stars in business, and every year, you lose some of them, so you are continually developing talent,” she said.

Trust also is crucial on the playing field and in corporate offices, Rancati said. “Trust is the keyword,” she said. “You can’t play well in a game if you don’t have trust in the coaches and other players. The same applies to co-workers in the business world.”

Team captain and economics student Zachary Wilson, a senior from Mars, Pennsylvania, talked about the insight he has gained from the class: “I never really made a connection with football and business strategy until Dr. Rancati showed me that they basically have the same ideology. Looking at the bigger picture of business and football, it is important to understand that every level of the business needs to do their part in order for the firm to be successful. This relates directly to football because each person out of the 11 on the field needs to do their individual job for the desired outcome.”

Rancati said 11 of her 25 students in Economics 240 are student-athletes, including four football players and two students who work as a trainer and an equipment manager for the football team. “I was able to see these students from a different perspective,” Rancati said. “It’s important that teachers see students in their athletic roles and for coaches to see students in their academic settings — the message being that we care about you as a person.”

“I tell my coaches that if you’re going to be involved, you have to be all in,” said Nagy. “I know I have to be involved in academics. It’s important for coaches to attend student presentations on campus. I tell the players, you are going to Allegheny College for a reason, and it’s not just football.”

Two weeks after the coach addressed the economics class, Rancati took the group to the Gators practice field to observe and participate in football drills, even running some plays as a unit on both sides of the ball. “Business and economics are more than book learning. You have to experience it in your daily interactions,” said Rancati, who has been named an honorary “faculty captain” for the 2019 season.

Rancati and Nagy said they plan to continue the collaboration for future classes.

“Using football as a teaching metaphor works. The game of football and the marketing and business arenas have a lot in common,” said Rancati. “It’s important to look outside of the box to gain that competitive advantage.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Wall Street Lawyer and Author to Speak at Allegheny College

Author, lawyer and Allegheny College trustee Michael R. Young will visit the college to share experiences from his legal career in a talk titled, “What Were They Thinking? How Honest People Go Bad … A Little at a Time,” from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, October 17, in Quigley Auditorium.

This event is hosted by the Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business & Economics in partnership with the Law & Policy Program. Lunch will be provided.

Michael R. Young
Michael R. Young

Young, who has spent 38 years as a Wall Street attorney investigating corporate wrongdoing, also will visit some economics classes while on campus. His Lunchtime Learning talk will examine how decent, honorable individuals end up breaking the law, often without realizing it.

Young, a 1978 Allegheny graduate, is a litigation partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City where he chairs the firm’s securities litigation practice. He advises and defends boards of directors, audit committees, accounting firms, public companies, and company officers on issues of corporate governance and financial reporting. He was named by Accounting Today as one of the “Top 100 most influential people in accounting.”

He has served as a member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council, as chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Financial Reporting Committee, and as counsel to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Center for Audit Quality.

A prolific author on the subjects of financial reporting, audit committee effectiveness and the role and responsibilities of the independent auditor, his books include “The Financial Reporting Handbook” (Wolters Kluwer 2003), “Accounting Irregularities and Financial Fraud” (Harcourt 2000) and, most recently, “Financial Fraud Prevention and Detection: Governance and Effective Practices” (Wiley 2014).

Young is a speaker and commentator on financial reporting issues, and he has been regularly quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, The Washington Post and The National Law Journal. He has also appeared as an invited guest on Fox Business News, CNBC, MSNBC and CNN.

He is also a graduate of the Duke University School of Law, where he was research and managing editor of the Duke Law Journal.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny College to Host 2019 Executive in Residence Diane Sutter

Allegheny College’s Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics welcomes Diane Sutter, an alumna and leader in the broadcasting industry, as the 2019 Executive in Residence. Sutter will be on campus from Monday, September 30, through Wednesday, October 2, and will deliver two public talks.

Sutter is a 1972 Allegheny graduate who lives in California. She is the president and chief executive officer of ShootingStar Inc., a consulting company that provides operational and consulting services to radio and television broadcasters, media companies, and financial institutions. She has owned and/or managed several broadcast stations in both radio and TV.

Diane Sutter is the 2019 Executive in Residence at Allegheny College.
Diane Sutter is the 2019 Executive in Residence at Allegheny College.

“We are very excited to welcome Diane Sutter as our 2019 Executive in Residence,” said Tomas Nonnenmacher, co-director of the Bruce R. Thompson Center for Business and Economics. “She has tremendous experience in politics, management and consulting. Among other accomplishments, she has worked in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill and has served as the chair of the Federal Communications Commission Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment.”

While on campus, Sutter will hold two public events, participate in this year’s economics short course in executive leadership, and meet with Allegheny students, faculty and staff. She will give an address titled, “So You Want to Own a TV Station? The Path from Allegheny to Capitol Hill to Broadcasting,” at 12:15 p.m. Monday, September 30, in Henderson Auditorium in Quigley Hall. She will talk about “Management, Leadership and Teams” on Tuesday, October 1, at 12:15 p.m., also in Quigley Auditorium. Both events are open to the public, and lunch will be provided.

Sutter’s radio broadcasting career began in Pittsburgh, where she held various positions in radio, rising from newsroom producer through sales to sales manager, station manager, and general manager. She joined Shamrock Broadcasting and served as vice president and general manager of Shamrock’s AM/FM stations in Pittsburgh.

Radio Ink magazine named Sutter one of the Most Influential Women in Radio in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She was also named one of the 20 Top Leaders in Radio by Radio Ink magazine. Radio and Television Business magazine has named Sutter as one of the top television executives. The Broadcasters Foundation of America honored her as a 2017 Ward Quall Leadership Award recipient in recognition of her career contributions to the broadcast industry and for her civic leadership.

Allegheny’s Executive in Residence program allows students to meet with experts in their fields to learn more about an industry, get insights into management and leadership styles, have conversations about their career goals, and expand their professional networks.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research