20 professors honored with Plumeri Award
Written by Meilan Solly|
April 23, 2015
This year, 20 professors at the College of William and Mary have received the Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence, which recognizes outstanding achievements in teaching, research and service. The Plumeri Award was established in 2009 with a donation from Joseph J. Plumeri II ’66 D.P.S. ’11. Recognized professors receive $10,000 for research, summer salaries or related scholastic work.
Associate professor of law Jeffrey Bellin focuses his research on criminal procedure and evidence. “I am interested in improving our criminal justice system, a system whose imperfections I witnessed firsthand as a prosecutor,” he said in an email. Bellin said that one of the most interesting discoveries he has made through his research is the wide variation between the jurisdictions and localities that make up the American criminal justice system.
Associate professor of history Frederick Corney studies Soviet revolutionary history and how individuals’ memories of these events become part of Russia’s cultural narrative. He said that one of the most unique discoveries he has made focuses on how the October Revolution is remembered as a momentous event, as opposed to the standard, less far-reaching historical explanation. “Just as England uses the myth of war to sustain itself in the twentieth century, so Russia tried to create this revolutionary epic at its foundation,” Corney said.
Evan J. Criddle
Tazewell Taylor Research Professor of Law Evan J. Criddle examines how international law protects people during conflicts, environmental catastrophes and times when they are targeted by their own governments. “I was a lawyer in practice before I started teaching, and I represented political refugees who were seeking asylum in the U.S.,” he said. “What I saw over and over was that people were playing situations where the root cause of their insecurity … was poor governance at home, so while I’m interested in that refugee adjudication here in the U.S., I’m also interested in figuring out how the international community collectively can come together to address the root causes of human insecurity.” Recently, Criddle has looked at international financial sanctions and how countries such as Cuba and Myanmar impose sanctions without considering the views of their people, an action that goes against principles of self-determination under international law.
Kelly Professor of Teaching Excellence Adam Gershowitz studies the Fourth Amendment and how its role has shifted in the face of widespread technology. “You usually think you want the smartest people possible on the Supreme Court, but sometimes when you have much older judges who are cut off from all the stuff you know about, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook [and] all of that stuff, it makes it much harder for them to make good decisions because they’re not really equipped for the world we live in now, with such wide-ranging technology,” he said. Gershowitz plans to use the Plumeri funds to travel to courthouses around the country and study warrants for searching individuals’ phones as part of arrests.
Class of 1938 Professor of History Cindy Hahamovitch studies the history of human trafficking and labor over the past 200 years. While working as an expert witness in a case involving Peruvian sheepherders living in Colorado, Hahamovitch discovered that the herders listed the same exact complaints as an earlier group she had studied, the “Coolies” — indentured workers from India in nineteenth century British Guiana. “The key difference would be that if the ‘Coolies’ got into conflict with their employer, they would most likely be flogged or imprisoned, while modern workers are deported or threatened with deportation,” Hahamovitch said. “The punishments are different, but the stories are very similar.”
M. Brennan Harris
Associate professor of kinesiology and health sciences M. Brennan Harris has two main fields of study — blood vessel response to exercise and the relationship between health and pilgrimage. “In a particular pilgrimage in Spain, people walk for hours a day, day after day, and that’s a little bit unusual,” he said. “The intensity isn’t very high, but the duration and frequency of the activity is high, and people are volunteering to do it. We have trouble getting people to exercise, and here’s a type of exercise where people are saying, ‘Hey, we want to go do this,’ so we’re looking at does this change their attitude towards exercise, does it make them want to exercise more [and] does it improve their health?”
Professor of chemistry Robert Hinkle studies reactive intermediaries, cascade sequences and bismuth compounds as catalysts for chemical reactions. One of his most unique discoveries was finding a powerful cascade sequence by accidentally including more alcohol than originally allotted. “[My work is] a mixture of intellectual and physical activities,” Hinkle said. “Being in the lab is the physical part, obviously, but then trying to adapt the results to new reactions or thinking about things in a new way, really the best way to do that is constantly [being] involved in the process of learning reactions and observing when things go wrong. That can be as important as when things don’t go wrong. The biggest discoveries can be found from a mistake.”
Associate professor of sociology Kathleen Jenkins studies the intersection between religion, therapeutic culture and family. Her second book, “Sacred Divorce: Religion, Therapeutic Culture and Ending Life Partnerships,” focuses on how religions as varied as Judaism and evangelical Christianity make divorce into a similar sacred experience. “Those similarities were very much about therapeutic culture and how pervasive it is in religious belief systems and practices,” Jenkins said. “[There are] very similar processes — going on journeys, [finding] self-awareness and building a better self through relationships.” Jenkins plans on using the Plumeri funds to study pilgrimages in northwest Spain and what they mean to parents and adult children who experience them.
Margaret Hamilton Professor of English Simon P. Joyce plans on using the Plumeri award funds to conduct archival research in Great Britain for his latest book, “Learning About Sex From the Victorians.” “[There’s this] idea that the last thing we think we can ever learn about from the Victorians is sex, that they are the worst people to think about sex that you could possibly imagine,” he said. “[I’m] trying to go back to some of the lesser explored works in sexuality in the nineteenth century [and look at] the way they think about the relationship between biological sex, gender and sexual orientation.”
Allison Orr Larsen
Associate professor of law Allison Orr Larsen ’99 examines the institutional and informational dynamics of judicial decision making. In recent research about amicus briefs, she discovered that in many instances where courts relied on briefs for statements of fact, the sources the briefs were relying on had questionable levels of reliability. Larsen spoke on “The Colbert Report” about her work with amicus briefs. For her next project, she hopes to look at judicial decision making on a global scale. “I’ve always had a curiosity about the international component, like how you would compare judicial decision making across different judicial systems,” Larsen said. “This award would definitely enable me to do research in that area, and I probably wouldn’t be able to do that without this award.”
Associate Professor of Geology Rowan Lockwood studies how biodiversity through time has responded to death and destruction in terms of mass extinctions, climate change and fossil records. “One of the things I’m most proud of is a science paper … focusing specifically on how we can use extinction in the fossil record to predict what parts of the ocean and what parts of the marine ecosystem are at risk today,” she said. Lockwood plans on using the Plumeri funds to work on collaborative research in the coming year at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.
Professor of English and linguistics Jack Martin studies three native languages found in the American South — Creek, Miccosukee and Koasati. He has published two dozen articles and is currently working on his fifth book.
Associate professor of classical studies Vassiliki Panoussi recently completed a book on the religious experiences of women in Ancient Rome and how they affected gender dynamics. “Women in Roman texts are very powerful, and they are used by Roman authors to express concerns with political, social and ideological issues,” she said. “My research shows that women, despite what the historical record suggests, had means of exercising power.” Panoussi will use the Plumeri funds to travel to Greece and examine how Herodotus combined elements of oral poetry with written text.
Professor Jeffrey Shields looks at diseases and health issues that affect crabs and lobsters in order to see how they impact fisheries and the species’ population dynamics. “I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan and played with crayfish and found them rather fascinating,” he said. “I guess when I moved to California and had a marine environment, it just took off from there. I’ve always liked invertebrates and diseases, and I guess the two are just where I’m at.” According to Shields, one of his most unique discoveries was the realization that healthy Caribbean spiny lobsters can detect and avoid diseased lobsters.
Professor of education Megan Tschannen-Moran studies the relationship between trust in schools and, more particularly, between teachers and students. While prior research has cited socioeconomic status as the best predictor of student achievement, Tschannen-Moran says that trust plays a larger role in predicting success. “Trust is the Holy Grail of educational research,” she said. “For 50 years, [we’ve] been searching, and now [we] have this variable that is more powerful than SES. Even when we take SES into account, trust also still viable.”
Associate professor of mathematics Christopher R. Vinroot studies representation theory, which he describes as the correspondence between geometric symmetry and algebra. In a recent research project completed with two undergraduate students, Vinroot examined partitions — a way of adding up positive numbers to get another number. A partition of four, for example, is two, one, one because two plus one plus one equals four. “One of the students I was working with compared this to the puzzle of Sudoku, where the rules are you put numbers in these boxes and have to put them in certain orders,” he said, “so one of the questions is if I say here’s the shape in which these boxes sit, and here is the weight that is the number of ones you have to put in … How many ways you can do it? How many ways can you put these numbers in these boxes so that they follow these rules?”
Professor of marine science Harry Wang studies physical oceanography and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. He plans on using the Plumeri funds to travel to Italy for a discussion on predicting storm surges. This technology was used during Hurricane Sandy to predict the impact of flooding in New York City. “It has a tremendous societal impact,” Wang said. “In New York City, we could see water rushing through the streets and pinpoint which subway stations were potentially dangerous during the event.”
Professor of English Kim Wheatley specializes in early nineteenth-century British literature, particularly Romantic poetry, because it allows her to study themes such as the quest for transcendence, the interaction of the human mind with nature and the power of memory. She has written two books on Romanticism, but her newest project focuses on twentieth-century novelist John Cowper Powys. “[This project] takes me into a different century, but I’m not leaving romanticism behind because this new project is about the influence of romanticism on Powys,” Wheatley said. “I became interested in him when I realize he’s a latter day Romantic rewriting central tenets into words to live by for a twentieth-century audience.”
Associate professor of mathematics Gexin Yu specializes in the field of graph theory. “Facebook, for example, or social media and any network you can think of are all graph theory,” Yu said. “I study foundations and properties and all of these structures in graphs [and] provide theoretical foundation for all of these subjects. It’s beautiful and useful, the two most [important] criteria for us to study.”
Associate professor of computer science Gang Zhou’s recent research focuses on extending battery life in smartphones — he has filed several intellectual patents and is working on creating a startup to push his work into markets. “I just love the research challenge inside [computing devices] and also the great potential to change the world we live in,” Zhou said. “[It’s] not just pure research, but also impacting everyday lives.”