Getting to know the Fulbright Scholar Program

FSU Fulbright Scholars have been in the news lately. Do those news stories make you wonder why your colleagues want to be a Fulbright Scholar? Are you unsure about the opportunities a Fulbright fellowship brings? Well, if all the cheering around FSU’s designation as a Top Producer of Faculty Fulbrights has got you thinking that you need to learn more about Fulbright, you are in the right place.

The Fulbright Program is a United States Cultural Exchange Program that was founded in 1946 by then- Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The goal of this program is to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy and intercultural competence between the people of United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge and skills. Basically, the program works in two ways: U.S. citizens may receive funding to go to a foreign country (U.S. Student Program, U.S. Scholar Program, Teacher Exchange Program, etc.) and non-U.S. citizens may come to the U.S. (Foreign Student Program, Visiting Scholar Program, Teacher Exchange Program, etc.).

The Fulbright Scholar Program provides American college and university faculty and administrators as well as professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, and independent scholars the opportunity to teach and conduct research in over 125 countries. Scholars benefit from this program in many ways. One of them is the enhanced appreciation of the global impact of their academic specializations as well as a reinvigorated classroom presence. This program not only influences and benefits the participant, but it also creates a “multiplier effect” by infusing cross-cultural perspectives into curricula, revitalizing teaching methods and opening doors for international colleagues and students. Just imagine how big of an impact this program could have over each one of us, our students and the university as a whole.  

The world is a huge place, full of opportunities, learning, experiences, and growth. So, why not explore it while doing what you love? Fulbright offers you a life-changing opportunity of growing inside your field of expertise, getting to know fellow scholars from different parts of the world while also exploring different cultures and places. The program opens the door for a more inclusive and diverse environment at Florida State.

With more nearly 470 Faculty Scholar grants in over 125 countries provided annually, there is a place for you to be a Fulbright scholar and represent Florida State University just like our nine faculty scholars who were awarded Fulbright grants for 2018-2019. These nine faculty scholars not only got to teach and conduct research in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Poland, Malawi, France, Italy, Canada, Denmark and Israel. They also led FSU to be named one of the nation’s top research institutions for producing Fulbright U.S. Scholars by the U.S. State Department as we ranked #2 in the nation. Go Noles!

If you are thinking of applying but don’t really know how or where to start, we’ve got your back! Keep an eye on our social media to see and register for our next Fulbright Scholar Application workshop. Or, contact Peggy Wright-Cleveland: mwrightc@fsu.edu. We hope you will become one of our future Fulbright scholars!

For more information visit: www.cies.org

 

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To Scroll or Not to Scroll: The Question of Electronic Devices in the Classroom and Lecture Hall

 

“During my freshman year of college, I went through entirely using my laptop to take notes in class. I found that this allowed me to keep up with my professors’ pace during lectures as well as stay more organized with my school work. However, I recognize that I learn more when I write my notes down. I’ve balanced this by taking online notes in class, and then transferring those notes onto paper outside of class.”

– FSU Student, Class of 2019

“I spent all of high school and 2 years of college in Latin America, and we were never allowed to use any electronic devices, including laptops. However, when I transfered to Tallahassee, I now have the chance to use my laptop anywhere, which I noticed makes everything easier for me by having everything in one place without having to carry around so many different things. I believe everyone knows whether a laptop works or not works for them, but we should at least have the choice.”

– FSU Student, Class of 2019

 

Today, on college campuses around the world, lecture rooms are illuminated by the soft glow of hundreds of various electronic devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. While some students opt to take notes with the traditional pen and paper, many more choose to conduct their learning with the aid of a laptop. But, instead of typing notes or utilizing learning supplements, students choose to fill fill their screens with other pursuits, like online shopping, video games, and materials for other courses that distract from the topic at hand. According to Professor Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan, “… a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.” (The New York Times)

The majority of research published on note-taking has been executed before the substantial rise of electronics in the classroom, from children in kindergarten to adults in graduate classes. While the research may be explicit- the usage of laptops negatively impacts a student’s ability to learn and perform – it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate students from their electronics. After all, the way in which a student learns material is their own business, and the outcome of their learning habits is their business, as well. But, not only do laptops affect the student using them; it affects their neighbors, too. If a student is researching cruise lines for a Spring Break trip in the middle of a mathematics lecture, the students sitting to the left and right of him may be thinking about Spring Break too, and not the subject being taught.

As a junior undergraduate student here at Florida State University, I decided to conduct a little experiment of my own to see if my attention to a lecture would be bolstered if I were to take notes on pen and paper, instead of using my laptop as I do normally. When I first sat down in class, instead of pulling out my computer, I poured pens and a notebook onto my desk, much unlike the rest of my peers. While the screens glaring out featured as many typed notes as colorful Pinterest and Facebook feeds, I tried to focus on the professor’s lecture to keep up with my writing. By the end of the two hour class, I had participated more than ever before, held a stronger focus on the material, and noticed even more-so how so many of my classmates’ attentions were split between the lecture and social media.

Measuring the impact that laptops have on grade breakdown is difficult, as students who tend to score lower, regardless of electronic usage, may be more inclined to whip out their laptops in class. Another issue in this debate is the responsibility of the professor to their students; if the professor provides the information in a clear and concise manner, then they have fulfilled their end of the student-teacher relationship. However the student chooses to digest that content is the student’s business, and some believe, not the responsibility of the teacher. But, in all universities, professors want their students to succeed, and it seems as though the use of electronics in class may be a barrier to that success.

As a student, I enjoy having the choice to use electronics in my classes. A few questions to ask yourself if you are considering banning laptops from the classroom or lecture hall are:

If laptops are banned, will it inhibit my student’s ability to participate in class?

Do I feel as though my student’s focus has been suffering in the past few years?

Do I walk around the room during a lecture, and notice that computer screens are turned to non-academic pursuits?

Do I assign in-class assignments that utilize electronics?

Do my students actively participate in class, or are their eyes glued to computer screens?

Do I share my presentations online, or are they in-class only? If they are in-class only, do I give my students ample time to write notes by hand?

Is the use of computers related to my subject matter?

And finally…

Does the sound of dozens of students typing give me a headache?

-Zoe Zirlin

Talking Hamilton and Performed Histories with Dr. Osborne

If you’re anything like me, you rarely walk by the Fine Arts building. Nestled in the northeast corner of campus, it’s home to FSU’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Richard G. Fallon theater, and Dr. Elizabeth Osborne’s office. Walking into her office, you’re immediately greeted by the sound of trickling water from a small fountain behind Dr. Osborne’s desk. The homey feel of her office is matched by her bubbly, welcoming personality. As we sat down to talk about her journey to professorship, her face lit up as she recalled her first experience with the theater.

“I was in junior high. My parents took me to see a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. I was so excited when the cats came out at intermission. I was sitting in one of the aisle seats and one of the cats started playing with my shoelaces. I was just so entranced by this actor that was actually touching my shoe and playing with my shoelace—connecting with me, personally—that I knew that theater was something that I just had to be a part of.”

And how does she combine this love of theater with history for her research?

“Well, I love history and I’m always excited to think about how our past continues to influence us today. August Wilson is a playwright of African American theater and one of the themes in his work is that you have to know your past to move into the future. That’s one of the ways that I think about history—that you have to understand who you are and where you come from to understand where you’re going. For me, that’s why history—and theatre history—is so important. It tells us on a very visceral level who we are and where we’re going, as individuals and as a society.

My current research explores this. It’s about how performances of history shift over time and, I argue, can predict social crises. When I started to think about performances of history I was struck by the way they tell us much more about the society that was performing that history than the history itself. The history that is performed often has very little connection to what historians might view as historically accurate—something that historians generally agree on, after sorting through verifiable facts, research or archival data. Nevertheless, these performed histories become an enormous part of cultural history. They are the things that people remember when they think about who are we as people, often far more than the lessons they learn in classrooms or read in textbooks. So this project is about exploring the different roles these performances of history play in forming, supporting, subverting, or manipulating cultural memory and cultural amnesia for us as a people.”

Instantly, my mind went to Hamilton. The hip-hop musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton was inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. It’s been a national phenomenon, with astounding success on and Off-Broadway.

“Hamilton is an amazing show—a phenomenon! I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway and it’s absolutely thrilling in performance. Lin-Manuel Miranda describes Hamilton as “America then told by America now.” It’s famous for its cross-racial casting, rap and hip-hop score, and focus on Alexander Hamilton as a poor immigrant who works his way up to one of the highest and most respected offices in the country through hard work and smarts. It’s the American Dream, only it’s made possible for anyone.

But the show is also tricky in what it shows, and the history it shows isn’t entirely accurate in some ways that are pretty important. For example, while Hamilton is doing a lot of important work in terms of bringing people of color to the stage in major roles, historically they weren’t “in the room where it happened” as founding fathers. People of color were all over the colonies during the Revolutionary Era, but they weren’t given access to the spaces where the Declaration of Independence was written or positions of power that would enable them to play these roles, and this is history that the nation needs to reckon with rather than forget. It makes me wonder if simply casting people of color as founding fathers is enough. Why not create a show about the lives of people of color during the Revolutionary Era?

Another example is Hercules Mulligan, who is credited as a vital spy for the Patriots in Hamilton. Historically, Hercules Mulligan was a white man who owned the black slave, Cato. Cato was the spy, but the show erases the existence of the historical figure—a black slave—and gives credit for his labor to his white owner, who is then portrayed by a person of color in the production. So Hamilton raises questions about how we interpret and perform our treasured historical narratives and what that says about our society. Of course, Hamilton is about the nation’s mythology. It’s about something that people can grab onto because it’s a story that is embedded in our national identity. Would a show about a lesser-known story have become a phenomenon like this? Performances of history can bring those less-well-known histories into public consciousness, but probably not to the same degree as Hamilton! So there’s different work to be done on both of those.”

We stuck with Hamilton as we talked about the real-world examples of her work. I was particularly curious if the incident with Mike Pence in November of 2016 was an example of how historical performances can show us more about our nation now than the actual history being performed.

“I think that the way that the Hamilton cast interacted with Mike Pence in that historical moment was really important. He had just been elected Vice-President so he hadn’t taken office yet. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the vast majority of that speech in conjunction with the cast members. They focused on vital issues of representation that connected to both the show’s themes and to the contemporary political and social moment in a clear, respectful, and heartfelt way. This combination is the great power that theatre brings to performances of history.”

And as for her journey to FSU?

“I am from the Midwest, and I came to Tallahassee for FSU. I was excited to be a part of a school that had an active production season and a graduate program—we have M.A. and Ph.D. programs here—and I thought that I could do well with an introduction to theater for non-majors class. FSU just seemed like a good fit.”

That introduction to theater for non-majors class she’s talking about now caters to 800 students a year, and Dr. Osborne’s hard work in taking the class online is mostly to thank for that.

“I started my graduate degrees with an MFA in Dramaturgy, which is the literary side of theater practice. Dramaturgs engage in theater outreach, season planning, and figuring out how to help audience members connect with the shows that they see. Since one of the things that I love to do is help “non-theater” people connect with theater, teaching the theater for non-majors course was a natural fit. I’ve been teaching that course now for twelve years and have taught more than 10,000 students.

The class has had three iterations while I’ve been here. When I first came to FSU it was fully in person, and that was really interesting. I taught three classes, each in sections of 180 students. I would lecture to them eight times a week and I had close to 600 students a semester.

The second iteration was the hybrid version, which was my favorite version. It was partially online with recorded lectures and partially in person, in small sections. The students would do performance projects, playwriting, design work, and all kinds of theater practice, and discuss plays in detail. That was my favorite because students could get actively involved in the class and it was a more collaborative and trust-based environment that left more room for risk-taking. Now we’re in the online version which is a totally different animal again. I’m in the process now of revising the course for the online version 2.0 now, which will be bringing more of the theatre practice and collaborative work back into the course again.”

And Dr. Osborne’s favorite part of being faculty here at FSU?

“My favorite class has been my contemporary theater class. It’s one where I assign new plays and we talk about trends in theatre as they’re happening now. It really pushes me and the students to see all of the exciting stuff that is going on around us. I always assign a project called the Treasure Hunt in that class. Students have to find a contemporary theatre “treasure” that I don’t know about, get their topics approved, and then set out on research that is often ground-breaking and requires them to call theatres, interview artists working in the theatre now, and even lay the groundwork for jobs they get after graduation. It is surprising and wonderfully humbling to find out how much I don’t know. This assignment is a great reminder and I always learn so much from all that my amazing students find.”

 

Talking About Student Resilience with Karen Oehme

If you’ve been walking around campus a lot lately, you’ve probably noticed the #ResilientNole stickers, buttons, and tee-shirts that students and faculty are sporting. The Student Resilience Project was created by the Institute for Family Violence Studies at the FSU College of Social Work with a campus-wide team to help inform students about the effects of trauma, strengthen student coping and stress management skills, and increase students’ sense of belonging at FSU. The site has proven to be very popular both on campus and around the United States, with over 12,000 people from all 50 states visiting the site since the fall. The director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies, Karen Oehme, sat down with me ahead of her Faculty Luncheon Series to talk about the project.

“The Student Resilience Project isn’t just an online website; the whole idea is that it’s a campus campaign. The first dose was called What I Wish I Knew: that’s the peer-to-peer student videos. We released those videos in the summer to make sure that the new freshman would encounter them before or just as they got to FSU. The videos represent the most common problems that people talk about – things that get them frustrated or upset. We wanted to  put those out there and say “you’re not alone, other people have experienced this, and FSU has great resources for you.” She added, “The stories are called restorative narratives, and the idea is as old as Greek mythology – learning through stories. We want students to see other students who have struggled and then triumphed. And not just that: we give students action steps that they can take. So we’re using a restorative narrative and we find it really compelling that students are so receptive to those narratives. Then we have student ambassadors who help promote the Project around campus — they keep the conversation going.

Our expertise at the Institute of Family Violence Studies is developing online training, so when President Thrasher came to our Dean and said that he wanted something helpful for all students, we immediately started to think about our audience. Generation Z is utterly amazing; they live online, they’re fearless about technology, and they are very accepting of a changing world. We wanted to do something a little different, and it had to be accessible 24/7 and not look like a traditional university website. It needed to look edgy and be authentic because students can spot marketing from a mile away. If they think they’re being preached to they aren’t going to listen. The testing we’ve done has been an integral part in making sure that students would use the project.”

The Institute of Family Violence has done a lot of research about the implementation of the website as well as the information they’ve put into it.

“We know from two decades of research that when you remind people of their strengths, they accept health messaging better. So there’s a lot of theory and design that goes into this to try to figure out what students will accept. We’d never done a campus project before, so we knew for this to work we needed a lot of student input. For example, last night was the campus involvement fair so we had our student ambassadors, led by Richard Brito, out there, talking to hundreds of students. Our goal is to teach students that there are a lot of ways to be healthy and they can learn new skills for coping and stress management. They already have the resources on this incredible campus. But sometimes students don’t know where resources are located. Our data shows that since the project launched students have found the site believable, authentic, potentially helpful, and when they go into it they don’t feel like it’s a university class.”

Ms. Oehme largely credits the success of the project to the students and faculty that have participated in the development of the project and those who have embraced the project with open arms.

“The idea really is that we wanted something for everybody. FSU faculty and staff really care about students and the student-centric design, and you’ll see it in the implementation and dissemination of this project. We also wanted to make sure that our LBGTQ+ students felt at home here too, and that our students of color are acknowledged and supported. We need to be honest with people and acknowledge their strengths and their values and then at that point, I think they’re more willing to listen. The feedback that we’ve gotten from our Student Ambassadors, the peer to peer contact, has been the best components of the campaign.

One thing that really surprised me is the librarians. I’ve been here for 20 years and I never fully appreciated the incredible impact that librarians can have on the students. They were so supportive of this project because they see these stressed students all the time at Strozier and the other libraries. They pass out the project cards, buttons, stickers, and even put The Resilience Project slides up. I am so indebted and so grateful to the librarians because they embraced the ideas we were promoting right away. Of course, it makes sense because they are meeting the students where they are when they need these resources the most.”

And as for the future of the program, and how Ms. Oehme and the Institute of Family Violence envision its growth?

 

“Growing and maturing is a process  And we want students to come back to the project again and again. So we are adding new content, for both undergrads and graduate students. And we are creating a customizable website to license to other colleges too because the project has been so successful.”

The last part of our discussion focused on the implementation of the project website, particularly after the several events over the Fall 2018 semester that affected the student population negatively. For example, the mass shooting at a Synagogue in Pittsburg, Hurricane Michael, and the Tallahassee shooting that resulted in the loss of Nancy Van Vassem and Maura Binkley.

“That’s a very good question. Our team struggled too. But we knew that students needed information. So we put up information and advice for after a mass shooting and after a hurricane on the site within 24 hours of each event. We wanted students to have a way to talk about these issues because we need each other, and we need to know that others are struggling too. We need a common language of grief and coping. We certainly didn’t anticipate that it was going to be such a rough semester, but we were very grateful to have the Project to offer students. We know that one of the worst things to do when you’re in a crisis is to isolate yourself. I was very impressed with the support that the administration provided. Our President and Provost, and Vice Presidents and Deans are amazing, dedicated people. The Student Resilience Project would not exist without them.

To learn more about the Student Resilience Project, which has been awarded The 2019 John Blackburn award from the American Association of University Administrators, visit the website at https://strong.fsu.edu/

 

Thankful for our Faculty on Thanksgiving

The time of year has come when Florida State University students travel home to spend time with their families, giving thanks for the opportunities that they are granted. The Florida State community has much to be thankful for this year: the safety of our Panama City Campus students and faculty; our recent jump in the College News Rankings to 26th best public university in the country; welcoming a brand new Football coach; the outstanding commitment to research and pedagogical excellence that Florida State faculty have exhibited during these past few months.

Here are a few of the many faculty members that the FSU community is thankful for.

Okwui Okpokwasili, a two-time choreographic fellow of Florida State University’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), was named a recipient of the 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, for her innovation in performance pieces highlighting the stories of African and African-American women. Born and raised in the Bronx, Okpokwasili’s highly experimental art is celebrated throughout the country. Thank you for sharing your expertise with our students during your fellowships at FSU.

Michael Holmes, FSU’s Jim Moran Associate Professor of Strategic Management, and Gang Wang, Assistant Professor of Management, conducted widely-celebrated research about the disadvantages that women face in the world of business. The findings were published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Dr. Wang and Dr. Holmes outline the issues that women battle in the workplace, and note that only 5.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs in 2017. Thank you for shining a light on the inequities that we face daily.

Heather Flynn, FSU College of Medicine professor and Vice Chair for Research, along with the FSU College of Medicine, partnered with the Florida Department of Health to receive a $3.25 million dollar grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to improve care for pregnant women battling depression and other pregnancy-related effects. Dr. Flynn focuses on developing sustainable screening and treatment models to protect maternal health. Thank you for your unwavering persistence in protecting women from hidden illnesses.

Tarek Abichou, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, dedicated his summer break to Tunisia-AID, a not-for-profit aiding an elementary school library in a small town in Southern Tunisia. Dr. Abichou’s dedication to education is expressed through his community service work in regions where children may have fewer opportunities for educational resources. Thank you for your commitment to aiding those in need.

Robert Spencer, an associate professor in EOAS, directed a study with a team of scientists from FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science (EOAS) about why Wakulla Springs water is turning brown and the effect this change has on the surrounding community. The paper was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, along with the help of Former FSU postdoctoral researcher Francois Guillemette and current FSU postdoctoral researcher Anne Kellerman. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida. Thank you for your dedication to saving our natural resources.

We are thankful for the hard work, thoughtful questioning, and outstanding creativity that informs FSU faculty teaching and research. As leaders on and off campus, we appreciate your mentorship, and sharing your life’s work with us.

The Office of Faculty Development and Advancement wishes everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

-Zoe Zirlin

Studying Rhetoric During the Civil Rights: An Interview with Dr. Davis Houck

Walking into Dr. Davis Houck’s office is like walking into your favorite coffee shop. There’s a couch on the left wall that you sink into as you sit down, framed images scattered across all the walls of the office, and books littering every possible inch of space. The hallway it sits in is a large U, and because it sits in the corner of the U, the office has two large windows that let in plenty of light no matter what time of day it is. As I sat down with Dr. Houck, he explained the significance of the images hanging on his wall. The photo was donated to Dr. Houck by the Sims family after some of his students created an award-winning documentary in 2016 called 641 Muriel Court.  The family donated that picture so that Dr. Houck and the students involved so that they could know the faces and names of the people that they did the documentary on. But woven into the family’s story is a rather surprising person who Dr. Houck told me a little more about.

“If you stand up, I’ll show it to you. That picture on the wall right there, that family, that is the Sims family. Three of them were murdered shortly after that picture was taken, and the first suspect was C.A. Roberts.”

Roberts was a pastor in Tallahassee at the First Baptist Church, and how Dr. Houck came to find out about Roberts is an interesting story.

“When I was doing research in archives around the country, one of the archives I went to was the Southern Baptist Archive in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a huge archive, and sure enough, they had a folder on civil rights.  So I’m going through it and behold there’s this sermon from Tallahassee. I just grabbed it even though I had no idea who the pastor was or any idea about it. It turned out that it was a sermon by C.A. Roberts Jr., the minister at First Baptist Church here in Tallahassee. He gave a really interesting speech on the split in his church over integration. It was an all-white church of about 4,000 members. He ended up doing the right thing at one point, but this sermon is this long story about the integration of First Baptist Church.”

The importance of rhetoric in the civil rights movement is something that Dr. Houck has been passionate about since his first years in college.

IMG_1176“When I was a first-semester freshman at the College of Wooster and was looking to fill out my schedule, a friend recommended that I take Dr. Yvonne Williams’ Introduction to Black Studies course.  I’m so glad I did as that course opened my eyes to an entirely new world of American history—a history that I’d grown up in but had never been taught.  From those small seeds that Dr. Williams planted in 1985 grew an interest in a subject that hardly seemed real at times, such were the countless injustices visited upon black children, women, and men in our country. I got to say a long-delayed “thank you” to Dr. Williams in 2009, dedicating my book on women and the civil rights movement to her.

Much of my initial interest derived from the fact of the constant injustices that were never addressed or addressed so many years later.  Of course, as a rhetorician, I was also fascinated by the amazing oratory that propelled the movement.  We’ve all heard Dr. King and Malcolm X at the dais, but there were countless activists doing the hard rhetorical work of the movement in communities across the country, not just the Deep South.”

After doing so much research for his books, you would think that Dr. Houck might have had enough of the stories of injustices that plague the civil rights movement and those that fought for freedom, but to him, it’s quite the opposite. Finding and telling those little-known stories are in fact what keeps him interested in a topic he’s been focused on for quite some time now.

“Professionally, finding those speeches by local activists has been a major passion of mine for the past 10 years, searching in archives, libraries, newspapers, and out-of-print publications that fill out our very incomplete understanding of how the movement really moved.  I’m involved just now in telling the story of Fannie Lou Hamer to public school teachers in Mississippi in order to make her part of the K-12 school curriculum.  Our team is also working on an hour-long documentary, funded principally by the Kellogg Foundation, in which Mrs. Hamer tells her story entirely in her own words.  So much of our civil rights history disappeared upon utterance decades ago simply because many activists didn’t have local or national media following them; as such, reconstructing what they said is really difficult.

Personally, I’ve been involved with our local Boys and Girls Clubs of the Big Bend and know what difference volunteering makes.  Watching a young child flourish, gain confidence, learn their local history, and become a citizen is so important—and so rewarding.  My personal and professional lives are beginning to merge with the Fannie Lou Hamer project in ways I’d never given much thought to teaching often disadvantaged children about a person in their own community from whom they can draw great strength and courage has been a real joy, and one that we’ll continue in 2019 and beyond.  Check us out at fannielouhamerdocumentary.com”

I did just that after our initial interview and found a captivating video celebrating what would have been Ms. Hamer’s 100th birthday. The message is moving, but if you look closely enough you’ll notice both past and present images intertwined to tell a visual story to accompany the speech Ms. Hamer is giving in the background.

“[Fannie Lou Hamer] spoke as a prophetic voice in the 60’s, and you can kind of overlay her voice with a lot of the stuff that’s going on today. Just in terms of the generalities though, not the specifics. She’s talking to a very specific issue in the 60s, but her whole thing was that until she got her freedom nobody else was going to have theirs. In other words, either we rise altogether or we don’t rise at all. She would probably look at us today and say we’re really fracturing and losing too much of what we have in common.”

Along with the documentary of Ms. Hamer, Dr. Houck has published several books about the stories of other individuals during the civil rights period. One of these books is about Emmett Till, a young man who was tragically murdered at the age of 14 after being accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store. Published in 2008, “Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press” analyzes the media’s reaction to the lynching of young Till.

“I found Emmett Till’s story early in my academic career.  I’d heard his name whispered enough, with knowing looks, that my curiosity was piqued.  As a white American growing up in Reagan’s America, you simply didn’t know Till’s name or his story.  And so I knew nothing of his awful story for far too long.  Once I did learn a bit of it, of course, I was left with more questions than answers: what happened to the men who murdered and kidnapped him?  Why weren’t they convicted? What happened to Emmett’s mom, Mamie Till?  What became of the people and places instrumental to his story?  Once I began taking my students there, and meeting men and women in the Mississippi Delta involved in the case, at that point I was hooked—my students, too!”

Dr. Houck even created an app around Till’s story, a sort of treasure map of over 50 different locations that all have some sort of relation to Till’s story.

Image-1

“We wanted to reach the next generation of school kids—through the medium that they are most familiar with, in a word, their phones.  I’d seen on Facebook, of all places, that Google had a “field trip” app and it looked like the Till story would be a perfect home for it.  We reached out, they said yes, and off we went.  The challenge was finding 50 locations in the Delta related to the story—that took a bit of creativity, and some major sleuthing—since Google, later Niantic Labs, needed exact GPS coordinates for all the locations.  One of our major finds during the research was a 1955 phone book from Greenwood, MS!  We hope that when the major motion picture on Till drops in 2019, tourists will use our app to help make sense of the Delta landscape.”

So how did Dr. Houck, a young man from Ohio who got his B.A. at the College of Wooster, his M.A. at the University of California in Rhetoric and Communication, and then his Ph.D. at Penn State University in Speech Communication, land himself in Tallahassee? Well, his journey to teaching itself was largely by accident, if you ask him.

“I come from a family of engineers and artists, not teachers and professors.  But I had a very influential professor as an undergraduate at the College of Wooster (in Wooster, Ohio) who showed me the big wide world of rhetoric and convinced me that I had some talent for the subject.  Once I was in graduate school at U.C. Davis, and had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, that experience in the classroom was really exhilarating and showed me the next steps.

I started my career at FAU in 1996, after finishing my Ph.D. at Penn State.  As much as I liked that first job and really loved the students in South Florida, living on top of people wasn’t my thing, long-term.  So when a job came open at FSU, I was fortunate to get the offer and immediately took to the area.  While it’s not Ohio, its rhythms and space are much more in keeping with what I grew up with and what I like.

I should also say how important Mark Zeigler and Marilyn Young were to my interview in April of 1999; they were great hosts and wonderful proponents for being a Seminole!”

And Dr. Houck’s favorite part of teaching at FSU?

“Teaching students is always the best part of my job, sharing my world with them, but also learning their stories, too.  A good teacher listens to a student’s story and folds it back into the subject under discussion. That’s challenging because it’s happening in real time, but so rewarding for everyone in that class.  Those experiences also encourage other students to share their stories, creating an electric teaching environment where we learn from each other—rather than from some dopey and inert PowerPoint slide.

Another favorite part of my job is getting to know so many other parts of the university, away from my home “silo” in the School of Communication.  I’ve been fortunate to work with our talented library staff in creating the Emmett Till Archive as well as the brand new Civil Rights Institute; with the team that evaluates our incredible undergraduates applying for the Truman Scholarship; I am even doing some work in media relations with the men’s basketball team—each of these experiences, and many others, makes my job so interesting and rewarding.”

 

 

 

Crime and Justice, a Sit-Down with Dr. Daniel P. Mears

downloadThe College of Criminology’s modern interior comes as a surprise to visitors; the building in which it resides, Eppes Hall, is an original landmark to Florida State’s campus. Climbing the stairs to Dr. Daniel P. Mears’ office was a workout in itself, but the group of offices at the top of the landing has a welcoming and scholarly ambiance, much like Dr. Mears himself. His spacious office is well organized, and the professor checks a large book of his appointments as we sit down for the interview. Dr. Mears, who hails from the East Coast, received his Bachelor’s from Haverford College, and went on to attain a Master’s and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin. Recently named a 2018 Fellow of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), Dr. Mears takes a look back at what drew him to the study of criminology and Florida State’s nationally acclaimed College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“I’m originally from New Hampshire. After high school, I went to Haverford College and received a degree in sociology, then bounced around a bit. I served in the Peace Corps in Micronesia, then worked at a residential center with children who were delinquent and, at the same time, had significant histories of abuse. Eventually, I applied to several doctoral programs in sociology, and ultimately decided on the University of Texas at Austin. I met my wife, Emily, there. After she completed her Ph.D. and I wrapped up a post-doctoral fellowship, we transitioned to Washington, D.C. I worked at a nonpartisan “think tank,” the Urban Institute, and she worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). I continued my focus on applying and testing theory while also evaluating crime and justice programs and policies. Much of my work focused on juvenile justice reforms, prisoner reentry, and supermax prisons. After our son, Eli, was born, the opportunity to work at Florida State University arose and, at the same time, my wife had a chance to work at the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), Florida’s counterpart to the GAO.”

When asked about his decision to become a faculty member at FSU, he noted his peers and Dean of the College. Florida State University’s College of Criminology is recognized as one of the best in the nation. The College is comprised of acclaimed professors from around the country. To read more about their research, please click here.

“I interviewed at several places. Some were primarily interested in theory-driven research, not policy-focused work. The College’s Dean and the faculty, however, embraced a multidisciplinary and multi-method approach to research, including research with a strong theoretical and empirical foundation that could also be policy-focused. So, it was a natural fit.”

Dr. Mears recalls that his undergraduate journey was similar to those who struggle to find their path as young adults.

“I floundered as an undergraduate. When I arrived at graduate school, I realized that I needed to take charge of figuring out what interested me and that, whatever it was, that it would have ‘real-world’ implications. When I was in graduate school, violent crime rates were escalating. The country was coming off of over a decade of historically unprecedented growth in corrections. We had states like California and Texas that witnessed a tripling or quadrupling of their prison populations. In Texas, you had this weird phenomenon happening that made crime and justice really interesting; you had a Democrat running against a Republican on a tough-on-crime platform, which was not a traditional Democratic platform. It was in my backyard. And, nationally, there were parallels, including a tough-on-crime policy mindset. Crime was on the rise. Public opinion was shifting. For researchers, it created lots of interesting possibilities for exploring what drove these changes and identifying their consequences. On a related front, I had worked at the residential center with delinquent children, so I had an appreciation for some of the factors that go into delinquency. It helped shape my understanding of crime and how to respond to it. I saw that the kids were more than the crimes that they had committed. They had backgrounds of severe abuse and neglect. Some had been prostituted and separated from siblings. They all had experienced trauma. Yet, they also had done terrible things. So, on the one hand, you are extraordinarily sympathetic. On the other hand, they’ve broken laws and hurt people. How do you respond? How do you deal with someone who has experienced so much dysfunction? That experience and those questions came back to me when I was in graduate school and have stayed with me since when studying crime and justice.”

On November 14th in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Mears will be honored as a 2018 Fellow of the American Society of Criminology (ASC). The ASC, an organization that includes researchers whose contributions to the scholarly and scientific study of criminology merit international recognition, is honoring Dr. Mears for his work in policy research and the study of criminal systems. I asked him about why he believes he was honored.

“I believe that in part it is because of my work in a number of substantive areas, including the causes of crime, what shapes public opinion, the impacts of mass incarceration and reentry, and the effects of solitary confinement. At the same time, a lot of my work has cross-cutting themes, such as a focus on systems, theory and policy, and use of quantitative and qualitative data to answer questions. These themes inform most of what I’ve done, and are likely what help my work have relevance both for social science and for policy.”

Dr. Mears maintains that his favorite part about teaching here at Florida State University is his interaction with colleagues and the students. He teaches courses on criminological and criminal justice theory, juvenile justice, reentry, and corrections.

“I find teaching very challenging and very enjoyable. Part of the challenge is to tease out students’ interests. My job is to try to give them different tools to assess what they know and what they do not know. Just as importantly, it is to help them appreciate what kind of research is credible and allows for greater insight into crime and justice. Ultimately, I hope to instill a researcher sensibility that they can use to think about the world around them.”

Dr. Daniel Mears is the Mark C. Stafford Professor of Criminology at Florida State University. To learn more about his work, please click here.

 

Written by Zoe Zirlin, FSU Class of 2020