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The O'Shea Report: February 2004

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, Dean of Faculty Donal O'Shea presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from his report for February 2004.

Thanks to all of you for collaborating so well with the communications office on the Web faculty profiles project. The profiles look terrific and are a big draw. The index page has received more than 14,000 hits. Thanks too to the communications folks who really did a bang-up job.


Charles Flachs, associate professor and chair of dance, has released a new CD entitled Master Class! Music for the Intermediate/Advanced Ballet Class. The pianist is Susanne Anderson, formerly a Five College Dance Department pianist. The recording is intended for use "when a live musician is not available." The original purpose may have for been accompanying ballet, but I like listening to it for its own sake. It contains single piano arrangements of many well-known musical pieces and is an absolute delight. The range of music is enormous and Susanne has done three of the arrangements herself. The recording was done in Pratt Hall (and I must confess that I did not realize that it was possible to make such high-quality recordings there). The CD is a part of the stealth campaign that Charles and his wife and dancing partner, associate professor of dance Rose Marie Flachs, have been conducting to develop the teaching and performance of ballet in colleges and universities nationwide. You can get the CD at The cover has a great picture of Charles and Rose, which is worth the price all by itself.


Assistant professor of psychology and education Becky Packard's CAREER proposal Educational Trajectories of Low-Income Urban Youth in Science and Technology has been recommended for funding by the National Science Foundation. The five-year award is for $441,530 and will allow Becky and her students to carry out an ambitious longitudinal study to determine how low-income youths' science and technology aspirations develop over time and in different social contexts, the nature of effective mentoring strategies, and whether learning in community organizations extends, reinforces, or conflicts with learning at home or in schools. Becky will recruit youths from community organizations in Holyoke and Springfield, initially building on relations with two organizations with which she has already established strong relations. Each of the study's goals uses (different!) cutting-edge conceptual frameworks and the latest research findings. The reviewers were ecstatic, all four rating the proposal excellent. They hail the choice of a topic tragically neglected and the innovative and impressive techniques proposed. They enthuse about the potential impact of the study and the potential benefits it carries for society. They praise Becky's prior work and her abilities, reaching for superlatives seldom found in anonymous peer review. She is "extremely capable," the proposal is "outstanding," the potential benefit to society is "tremendous," and the integration of research and education activities is "exemplary." The summary review prepared by the program officer actually commends Becky for "presenting an outstanding proposal with high intellectual merit and significant broader impacts."


1) This brings the total number of National Science Foundation CAREER awards to our science faculty to five (Jill Bubier, assistant professor of environmental studies; Craig Woodard, associate professor of biological sciences; Janice Hudgings, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Physics; and Sean Decatur, associate professor and chair of chemistry, are the others). This is surely some sort of record.

2) In addition to Jill and Becky's awards that were recommended this month, Margaret Robinson, professor of mathematics and chair of mathematics and statistics, and Giuliana Davidoff, professor of mathematics, have heard informally that the research experiences for undergraduates award for which they applied on behalf of the mathematics department was recommended for funding (about $250,000 for five years). More about this when the award is formal. The calendar year has just started, and we have already heard that we have received more than $1,200,000 in awards from the National Science Foundation in 2004. Here is how we did last year, sorted first by number of grants, then by total amount received.

Institution Total Awards (thousands) Number of Awards Research Education
      $K # $K #
Mount Holyoke College $1,813 12 $1,642 11 $171 1
Williams College $1,138 12 $1,138 12 $0 0
Wesleyan University $1,249 10 $1,249 10 $0 0
Bowdoin College $989 8 $813 8 $176 0
Harvey Mudd College $981 8 $981 8 $0 0
Smith College $912 8 $912 8 $0 0
Barnard College $835 7 $835 7 $0 0
Amherst College $770 7 $770 7 $0 0
Haverford College $645 7 $645 7 $0 0
Colby College $583 7 $425 7 $159 0
Colgate University $546 7 $304 5 $242 2
Bryn Mawr College $522 7 $522 7 $0 0
Bucknell University $487 7 $461 6 $26 1
Vassar College $915 6 $840 5 $75 1
Swarthmore College $804 6 $804 6 $0 0
Middlebury College $768 6 $631 6 $137 0
Connecticut College $700 6 $625 5 $75 1
Bates College $480 6 $405 5 $75 1
Hamilton College $570 5 $362 4 $208 1
Wellesley College $553 5 $481 4 $72 1
Davidson College $544 5 $480 4 $63 1
Washington and Lee Univ. $511 5 $511 5 $0 0
Trinity College $429 5 $429 5 $0 0
Pomona College $493 4 $493 4 $0 0
Colorado College $251 4 $194 3 $57 1
Holy Cross College $668 3 $542 2 $126 1
Oberlin College $215 3 $215 3 $0 0

To get some sense of absolute magnitude here, Harvard had $44 million in NSF grants, Yale $24 million, Dartmouth $8 million, and Emory $4 million during FY 03. All grants at liberal arts colleges go to faculty members and directly benefit undergraduate students.


I have received lots of really interesting papers. A couple of especially notable ones were the following.

Mary Lyon Professor of the Humanities and professor of politics Penny Gill's paper "Mastering Globalization: State Building and Sovereignty in the EU" has finally appeared in the collection Rethinking the State in the Age of Globalisation, edited by H-G. Justenhoven and J. Turner (LIT-Verlag Münster 2003). It is distributed by Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick (USA) and London (UK), but you can get it more easily through Amazon's German store. It is terrific to have this available in print; if you are interested in globalization or the EU or politics, you've got to read this--it is like talking to Penny: full of grace and audacious ideas. To quote from what I said about the draft form, Penny discusses several phenomena that are often collectively referred to as globalization: global market, homogenization of cultural and social practices, and democratization, and asks whether they are facets of the same process or whether they are different. She talks about the EU on the one hand as a reaction to globalization, on the other as a cause of globalization. She introduces the notion that sovereignty is divisible: states cede parts of their sovereignty to the EU, which legitimates other parts of their sovereignty and reinforces the political and policy-making effectiveness of a state.

Sean Decatur, associate professor and chair of chemistry, and his lab have been steadily turning out a number of papers on various aspects of protein folding. In a recent paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (125 2003 13674-13675), Sean and his colleagues (R. Gangani, D. Silva, W. Barber-Armstrong) begin to study some of the misfolding of proteins that seem to be heavily implicated in Alzheimer's and Creutzfeldt-Jacob diseases. In particular, they study how certain constituents of protein form up into soluble sheets around which other molecules can aggregate and form fibrils that ultimately choke neurons. They use a technique called Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to study the actual alignment of peptides in the sheet and the transformations that the sheet can undergo. They study a particular peptide and conjecture that only a particular part of the peptide is involved in the formation of the sheet, with other parts dangling. They find that the position that is most aligned in all strands corresponds to a position in a human prion protein where a mutation causes a rare human prion disease.

Margaret Robinson, professor of mathematics and chair of mathematics and statistics, received a grant of $5,000 from the National Science Foundation through the Mathematical Association of America to host a mathematics conference for undergraduates at schools in the northeast. The conference will take place in Kendade Hall on April 3 and will include research presentations by students as well as a career panel. About 150 students will attend and all will give talks. There will also be a number of guest lectures and faculty talks.

--The December 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The October 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The September 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The May 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The April 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The November 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The October 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The September 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The May 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The April 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The March 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2001 O'Shea Report more>
--The November 2001 O'Shea Report more>

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