Issue 16, October 2019
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Research Spotlight: Carolyn Hoagland & Emily Heid

                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Stephen Priest, C'20

In December of 2018, the University of the South Farm received USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funding via the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for research on North American Elderberry as a potential high-value crop for growers on the South Cumberland Plateau and surrounding areas. As an Americorps VISTA volunteer since 2017 with the South Cumberland Plateau, Emily Heid has been working with farm manager Carolyn Hoagland to explore the potential of specialty crops to promote economic growth, environmental sustainability, and cohesion in local communities. In addition to USDA/Tennessee Department of Agriculture and University support, this project was made possible through support from the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the South Cumberland Community Fund. The grant award funds three years of data collection at six partner sites and outreach programming to be offered to all area farmers and gardeners—not just those in the pilot study. 

According to Heid, the value of this research is at the intersection of environmental sustainability and economic viability. The establishment of elderberries as a specialty crop may be especially valuable on the Plateau because of a history of extractive industries and sandy, acidic, and poor soils. Since elderberry grows wild on the Plateau, it has the potential to serve as a high-value, low-input crop for area farmers. Heid reports that “consumer interest in herbal remedies, including elderberry, has increased dramatically.” 

This first season has been focused primarily on establishment. Heid explains: “There is currently no data about cultivation success of improved elderberry varieties for the Plateau and even the Southeast region (to our knowledge), as most of the research that has been done on North American elderberry cultivation is centered in the Midwest (Missouri), with research just beginning in California.”  At the end of the three-year long research period, a paper with summaries of the data and recommendations will be made available to the public.

“We really don't know where the elderberry market will be in ten years,” says Heid, “but market trends are pointing up. Cultivation in the U.S. is very limited, so if the Plateau could develop as a center for elderberry cultivation in the Southeast, that could be very positive for our local agricultural community, and possibly for the Plateau community as a whole.” While the result of the research may show that commercial elderberry production on the Plateau is not feasible, Heid is hopeful. “If all goes well and elderberry turns out to be a great additional crop for farms on the Plateau, I hope that growers will want to process and market cooperatively, as this would also limit risk. I feel that if this does happen, it will begin with our partner growers who have already shown an interest in working collaboratively.”

Student Spotlight: Brenna Bierman

Brenna Bierman, a senior chemistry major from Spokane, Washington, has made a career of engaging in research during her college years. She began the summer after her first year at Sewanee by working in the lab of Dr. Rob Bachman, F. B. Williams Professor of Chemistry. Brenna did research on dyes for solar cells, trying to bind platinum to dye molecules. This research is ongoing in the Bachman lab, but Brenna moved on the next summer to a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Mississippi. At Ole Miss, Brenna worked with Dr. Jared Delcamp, examining the asymmetric synthesis pathway of dye-sensitized solar cells. The high humidity and occasional electrical blackouts added to the challenge of this work, which was just fine with Brenna. 

This past summer, she participated in an REU at Northwestern University, working in the lab of Dr. Danna Freedman. Although this was a materials research lab, Brenna engaged in chemistry research involving new materials discovery. She attempted to synthesize meta-stable intermetallics by use of microwaves. Although the lab members could not confirm if it was an intermetallic, they know they obtained a product with stoichometry matching that of the metastable intermetallic.

Brenna has found that her research experiences so far have been very formative. She reports that “they have helped me identify research as something that I want to pursue as a career (either partially or fully). Besides that, my time in lab has provided me a deeper understanding and appreciation for chemistry as a subject. Overall, having the opportunity to work alongside such dedicated scientists and being a part of advancements in the field is incredibly rewarding.”

Brenna is currently applying for doctoral programs in chemistry. With the research experience that she has gained while at Sewanee (and her outstanding grades), she will likely have her pick of many programs.

Mentored Creative/Scholarly Activity with Students in the Arts and Humanities

The Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship and the Center for Teaching are sponsoring an event intended to encourage, guide, and inspire arts and humanities faculty to involve students in the creation of original scholarship beyond what is already happening in the classroom. Kati Curts (Religious Studies) and Kerry Ginger (Music) are members of the Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee who will be moderating the panel (as well as participating in it). Kelly Whitmer (History), Jeff Thompson (Art History), Jennifer Matthews (Theatre), and Chris McDonough (Classics) will serve as panelists, sharing their thoughts and experiences on undergraduate scholarly work. This panel will be held on Thursday, November 14 from 12:30-1:45 in the Center for Teaching. Lunch will be provided.  If you wish to attend this event (and we hope that you will), please register here by Nov 11.

NSF proposal systems offline November 8-12, 2019

The National Science Foundation’s FastLane and systems will be unavailable starting at 8 pm EST on November 8 until 6 am EST on November 12, 2019 to allow for a migration of business applications from FastLane to There will be no access to either system during this period. However, previously saved information and uploaded documents will be available once the systems are restored on November 12.

Tennessee Arts Commission Grants

The Tennessee Arts Commission has posted its FY2021 annual grant applications on a newly designed website. The 24 grant programs that the Arts Commission supports are arranged in a tile format and filters are available to identify grant competitions that are open, opportunities that offer operating or project support, and opportunities that are available for individuals or organizations. A few grant programs restrict the number of applications an organization can submit, so please contact Pollyanne Frantz or Tom Sanders if you are interested in developing an application.

ACS Grant Programs 2020

An opportunity remains for Sewanee faculty and staff to apply for Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) grant funding in 2020. The ACS grant program, supported with funding from the Mellon Foundation, is intended to “…advance the professional growth of faculty and staff, foster diversity and inclusion, build partnerships among the 16 member campuses, and improve collective student and institutional success”  ( The ACS has Planning Grants available, which are intended to be used to form collaborative partnerships by supporting face-to-face meetings. Proposed projects should fit into one of these three grant program themes: collaborative curriculum, diversity and inclusion, and innovative instruction. Pre-proposal submission is required in order to submit a full proposal. Deadline dates are as follows: March 2, 2020 for completing the Institutional Approval Form (internal to Sewanee); March 20 for submitting pre-proposals to the ACS; and May 29 for submitting final proposals to the ACS. For additional information, including award amounts for each theme, see or contact Pollyanne Frantz.

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