Issue 13, March 2019
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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Courtney Thompson

                                                                                   Photo credit: Stephen Priest, C'20                            
Dr. Courtney Thompson’s office is quiet and peaceful. A candle provides soft lighting and elegance; African art provides visual interest. “I want students to find a comfortable place to have discussions. Dialogue is not only an important part of my pedagogy, it is something that I try to promote when I interact with my students outside of the classroom.” Speaking both quietly and deliberately about her scholarly work, she says, “I am interested in the tradition of resistance that is evident when we examine the lives of Black women in the US.” Thompson's research, which considers the relationship between Black women’s progressive politics and democratic reform, has led her to explore “alternative narratives of American democracy that challenge the dominant notion of democracy as a finished system.” She writes, “Although much of the historical rhetoric surrounding democracy has championed its universality relative to its widespread appeal and application, Black women activists struggled to realize its full benefits in their lives.”
With an impressive CV and list of publications, Thompson, who is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies, has several scholarly projects in progress. She is in the middle of a book length manuscript on Black women activists that she hopes to move substantially forward this summer. In We Are Fighting for Democracy, she notes, “In their quest for social justice, political enfranchisement, and economic viability, Black women offered nuanced yet fitting critiques of democracy, and in spite of their systematic marginalization on the basis of race, gender, and class, I argue that Black women activists constructed alternative narratives of US democracy that expand democratic discourse.”
The common thread that seems to connect Thompson’s scholarship is her emphasis on Black women’s agency in the context of societies that are often deemed white supremacist and patriarchal. When asked about an article that is currently under review entitled “Black Women’s Resistance in Hidden Figures,” she explains, “I am particularly interested in how Black women navigate spaces that are hostile and inhospitable. I’m interested in the leadership styles of these women: how they lead from behind, navigate the politics of invisibility and hyper visibility seamlessly, and make a way where there is none.” Thompson's work ranges from a focus on the Black women mathematicians who inspired the movie Hidden Figures and also ensured the safety of Apollo astronauts, to women activists in Kenya and South Africa, to what she describes as “progressive, trailblazing African American women in the 19th and 20th century.” 

In a world of internet trolls, with assertion of special privileges at all levels of society and frightening episodes of violence animated by xenophobia and racism, Thompson’s work sheds light on the mechanics of resistance that could give universal hope. “Resistance is necessarily ongoing; it is constant,” she says.

Student Spotlight: Alexandra Carr

Last month, Alexandra Carr, a senior physics major, presented results from research with a Raman microscopy setup build by Dr. Eugene Donev (physics), who has been a key advisor in Alexandra’s work. Carr says that the purpose of her research is “to detect the chemical components that make up sample materials.” These aren’t just ordinary household materials, however. In fact, sourcing has been a cross-collaboration between Dr. Doug Durig (astronomy and physics), Dr. Katherine Fornash (geology), and Dr. Sarah Sherwood (archaeology and earth and environmental systems), who respectively provided meteorite samples, geological samples of the earth’s mantle, and samples from an archeological site in Serbia from the Vinča culture.

In Alexandra’s work with Raman microscopy, a high-intensity laser is shot at a material in question. As the laser moves through the sample, it collides with different components. In a few cases, about one out of ten million collisions, materials are “inelastically scattered” (which means they become slower). This causes a change in energy reabsorbed by the machine, which alters the perceived wavelength. “Shifts in wavelength depend on the molecular structure of the target sample which gives a unique spectrum,” says Carr.

Using Raman spectroscopy, one can “non-invasively identify unknown materials and identify them by their characteristic spectrum.” When coupling a Raman system with an optical microscope, it is possible to “identify individual microscopic unknowns, ultimately gaining further insight into the composition of a variety of archeological samples, meteorites, geologic samples, and others.” Through her research, Alexandra has identified rare minerals in meteorites and a mineral common in marine environments from the Vinča archeological site, suggesting that the materials used by this community to build homes were not local. While many perceive barriers between disciplines that are seemingly very different, it is clear that physics and anthropology have an important connection.

Prior to conducting this research, Alexandra studied the galactic rotation curve using radio astronomy. Alexandra’s research opportunities have made great contributions to her learning and growth in an independent capacity, as well as the development of a complex perspective on physics and the importance of interdisciplinary work. After graduating this year, Alexandra will attend Washington University in St. Louis for a three-year dual degree program to obtain a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.
                                                                        --Photo and story by Stephen Priest, C'20

Scholarship Sewanee Abstract Submissions

The deadline for students to submit their abstracts for Scholarship Sewanee is at 11:59 pm on Monday, April 1. Students should submit a 350-word abstract for a poster or an oral presentation using this link.

Students who wish to have posters printed by Freida Headrick will need to sign up for a time slot sometime between April 2 and April 24. The instructions for printing signups will be made available shortly after the April 1 deadline. 

Scholarship Sewanee Speakers

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Scholarship Sewanee, our yearly celebration of undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity. In honor of this silver anniversary, we will be having a 25th Anniversary speaker, in addition to the usual McCrady Speaker.                                                                                                                                                                      Photo credit: Denise Applewhite                                 
On Thursday, April 25, at 4:30 pm in Gailor Auditorium, Erika Milam, our 25th anniversary speaker, will discuss "The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America," an examination of the role of violence and war in the human species. Dr. Milam is a professor of history at Princeton who specializes in the history of the modern life sciences, including the ways in which scientists have used animals as models for human behavior. Milam's first book, Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology, explored the history of evolutionary theory and the connections between biological investigations of reproductive and courtship behavior in animals and humans, from Charles Darwin in the mid-19th century to sociobiology in the 1970s. Her much anticipated new book, Creatures of Cain: the Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America, charts the controversy over instinctual aggression in defining human nature in the 1960s and '70s and cultures of masculinity in the sciences. 

The McCrady Speaker will be Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, an associate professor in the UCLA Information Studies and Design Media Arts departments. He is the founder of the UC-wide Digital Cultures Lab, exploring the meaning of technology worldwide as it spreads to the far reaches of our world. He is also the author of two books: Whose Global Village? Rethinking How Technology Impacts Our World and After the Internet (with Adam Fish). Dr. Srinivasan's presentation will be in Blackman Auditorium on the early afternoon of Friday, April 26 (exact time to be determined). He will be speaking on "The Internet of Tomorrow: Stories from Beyond the Valley." This talk will be a sneak preview of some material from Srinivasan's upcoming third book, Beyond the Valley: How Innovators around the World are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow, which is built upon research conducted with leading figures in politics, economics, and culture from across the world.

Both speakers will be participating in book signings, with details to be forthcoming. These are two truly outstanding scholars that you will not want to miss.

Where is That Proposal Development Road Map?
Sewanee faculty and staff have access to an electronic resource for developing compelling grant and fellowship proposals. The resource, New Faculty Guide to Competing for Research Funding by Mike Cronan and Lucy Deckard of Academic Research Funding Strategies, LLC, is chock full of advice about developing research funding strategic plans, finding funding, and the writing process itself. A helpful appendix includes brief articles about the review process (check out “Confessions of a Grumpy Reviewer”) and proposal organization strategies. The publication, which is appropriate for all career stages, is available to download via Sewanee’s DSpace Repository.  
How Do I…?

Develop a budget for grant and fellowship proposals? Understand the mechanics of getting my proposal completed and out the door for an on-time submission? Visualize about funds to support my future sabbatical? Learn about Sewanee’s membership in the Southern Appalachian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit? You’ll find answers to all of the above by attending any of these information sessions scheduled for April.
Event: Proposal Budgets
Time: 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Date: Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Place: Center for Teaching
Register here
Event: Proposal Logistics
Time: 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Date: Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Place: Center for Leadership
Register here
Event: Southern Appalachian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit
Time: 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Place: Center for Teaching
Register here
Event: Proposal Logistics (repeat)
Time: 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Date: Thursday, April 18, 2019
Place: Center for Teaching
Register here
Event: Proposal Budgets (repeat)
Time: noon -1 p.m. 
Date: Friday, April 19
Place: Center for Leadership
Register here


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