Rajani Muraleedharan was raised in the sizzle of southern India.
Still, her move to America wasn’t met with the typical exasperation experienced by overseas imports more acquainted with temperatures surrounding the earth’s equator than the wintertime weather waiting stateside. Instead of irritation, she adopted that Dean Martin attitude.
Let it snow.
“I was excited and looking forward to it,” the first-year assistant professor said about her relocation across the Atlantic in 2001. “In India, it always was just rain and sun, so I wanted to experience the snow. But, then I realized, I have to shovel this.”
That American adjustment became a labor of love, not unlike the many research endeavors that engaged her brain from those first days as a Ph.D. student in the classrooms of Syracuse University to today, at her office within Pioneer Hall.
Muraleedharan and her former colleagues at New Jersey’s Rowan University are developing a project aimed at mapping human emotions using facial expressions. She hopes the results will lead to many applications, including being able to anticipate harmful conduct by children as well as help autistic individuals better understand social situations.
“We want to use cameras to find out what they feel and predict their behavior,” she said.
A computer engineer from Rowan is designing a video game that Muraleedharan and her former psychology colleagues want to use as part of an initial phase involving autistic people. The simulation would teach the participants how various facial expressions indicate social circumstances. At the same time, the game user would be filmed, allowing researchers to gauge emotional reactions.
“We are hoping this will be a way to understand them better,” she said. She’s attempting to secure grant money for the research via avenues within SVSU as well as the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Muraleedharan also hopes to recruit students from the undergraduate level to help assist the study. “When I had interactions with undergraduates, sometimes they had this (impression) that undergrads don’t do research,” she said, “but I believe in project based learning. I’m hoping they will help with the work.”
As Muraleedharan awaits funding opportunities, she said she remains engaged both in the classroom and at her new home in mid-Michigan. She moved here in August with her husband, Thomas Silveira. They have a 3 year-old daughter, Reyna, who shares her mom’s eagerness for new weather experiences. “Where I came from, there was no snow at all,” Muraleedharan said. “When we told our daughter (about relocating to Michigan), she was so ecstatic. She is looking forward to the snow.”
Charles Weaver is an assistant professor of health sciences. A native of Detroit, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology as well as a second master’s degree (neuroscience) and a Ph.D. in Medicine. Jobs and journeys in his life have included working as a research fellow, traveling the world with a Christian mission group, teaching middle school in the Bronx and returning to Michigan, first to work for Field Neurosciences Institute on Alzheimer’s research and, ultimately, teaching at SVSU.
We spoke with Dr. Weaver about his research and finding a home at an institution that is small enough to have true faculty-student interaction and engagement yet large enough to offer state-of-the-art facilities where students are highly involved in research.
Tell us about your academic journey.
I always knew I wanted to be in the field of science. My dad was a chemist with the city of Detroit and I loved being with him in the lab. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do; I thought about biology and sports medicine and then psychology hit me. I really enjoy listening to people talk; in psychology, you do less talking and more listening. I still wasn’t sure about psychology until studying behavioral neuroscience. I loved learning about the workings of the brain and how that is translated into behavior. That led to wanting to study learning and memory, and disorders that cause deficits. That’s when Alzheimer’s came into the picture …
... which led to your second master’s degree and Ph.D.?
Yes, I wanted to move further into the science of pathogenesis. I sought out renowned scientist Peter Davies, and that’s what led me to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
After your time with mission work and middle school teaching, you came back to Michigan.
[Dr. Gary Dunbar], a friend, mentor and executive director of Field Neurosciences Institute, asked if I was interested in working on an Alzheimer research project, which led me to FNI and back to Michigan. In 2011, the opportunity to join SVSU presented itself. I wanted to be at a small university, one where I could be doing the research I wanted to do. My greatest personal educational experience was someone really teaching me, so SVSU was perfect — I could do research and mostly work with students while maintaining collaboration with FNI.
Talk about your research.
We’re currently examining the role of dental infection as a cause of or exacerbation factor for Alzheimer’s. A 2006 study showed that 45 percent of all Alzheimer patients had no teeth; the earlier that loss, the more susceptible the person was to the disease. Our theory is that a bacteria [enterococcus faecalis], involved in serious dental infections, could be a factor. One of the theories we’re testing is that if we find the bacteria in the human brain, we need to find the entryway to the brain; that could be the upper palate, which is close to the olfactory bulb. One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer patients is a loss of smell, so this could be a promising path to explore. Our plans include collaborating with Rush Presbyterian Medical in Chicago as providers of human tissue for us to do more infection research.
And SVSU students are doing this type of research?
Absolutely, and much of the credit goes to Dr. Jeffrey Smith [The Malcolm & Lois Field Endowed Chair of Health Sciences]. He has made sure our facilities are state-of-the art and has encouraged and mentored students, many of whom are now in doctoral programs around the country. SVSU really supports student research. Many science projects are funded through The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research & Creativity Institute. At the November  conference of the International Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, we had students presenting at a session on traumatic brain injury and recovery.
How would you describe SVSU students?
Most are hardworking and very dedicated to their studies. Our students don’t have a sense of entitlement, so they don’t take things for granted. I have really enjoyed interaction in the classroom; it has been rewarding and insightful and has helped me as an educator. Our [geographic] diversity is so interesting. We have rural students who don’t understand urban students (and vice versa), and getting the differing backgrounds together helps us all better understand things.
Charles Weaver isn’t out to become the man who cured Alzheimer’s. But he wouldn’t mind one day being credited for a better understanding of the disease.
Weaver, assistant professor of health sciences since 2011, is researching the affect dental infections play in the development of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
A study Weaver oversaw in summer 2012 suggests a tooth decay-causing bacteria—Enterococcus faecalis—may be linked to Alzheimer’s. “We grew some brain cells in a petri dish, and once they were thriving, we added the bacteria and looked to see if the neurons would degenerate in the same manner we saw in Alzheimer’s,” Weaver said. “We found that degeneration to be very similar.”
Next, Weaver hopes to analyze different nerve tracts and blood vessels to see if the bacteria spreads through the same routes traveled by Alzheimer’s. He is applying for grant support of about $45,000 for the three-year study.
The findings may do more than shed light on one way Alzheimer’s develops. They may also place additional emphasis on the importance of tooth care, and question the benefits of root canals.
“Despite all the campaigns, we take (dental health) too lightly,” the Detroit native said. “Our diet plays a huge role in our dental health.”
He said Americans, in particular, could stand to cut high acid goods from their diets.
“You look at some cultures around the world that don’t have this diet, and even if they don’t brush often, they have very little, if any, tooth decay,” Weaver said.
He said the research could lead to questions about root canals, the procedure that removes a tooth’s root to eliminate bacteria-based
decay. “The problem is that 80 percent of root canals go bad within five years,” he said. “That’s the only medical procedure I can think of where you’re leaving a piece of dead tissue in the body. There needs to be a serious reevaluation, or find a better way of eradicating bacteria
at the root of the tooth.”
Weaver said he hopes to utilize SVSU students in the research.
“They are really hard working students here,” he said. “They really know how to grind it out. It’s a good match for what I want to do.”
Weaver said the outcome could make their work an important leap in the world’s understanding of a prevalent disease.
“I’m not out to cure Alzheimer’s,” he said. “That’s much bigger than me. The whole field has to put together the pieces; they have to come up with causes and cures, and I want to do my little part.”
Andrew Miller and Rhett Mohler arrived at SVSU within a month of each other in fall 2012, when the duo brought a new push for initiatives using remote sensing and geospatial analysis.
Now, more than a year later, the two are overseeing two projects expected to shed light on trends ranging from crime to the environment.
“It’s a skill that’s been needed in this area,” Miller said of the highly-detailed data mining that considers—among many elements —location and time. “What these projects do is give students theoretical and practical knowledge while organizing with groups to do something beneficial for the community.
”Miller is helping map violent trends in Saginaw while Mohler is investigating the environmental history of a swampy stretch of the northern Kawkawlin River. Both employ the help of students to collect and interpret the data. “There are so many applications for this kind of analysis,” Mohler said.
Miller is working with the Saginaw County Crime Prevention Council and the Saginaw Police Department to chart shootings and homicides from 2005 to 2013 in Saginaw, pegged by the FBI as one of the nation’s most violent cities of its size.
The geospatial data will help analysts consider information from a number of angles, and could reveal seasonal trends and conditions that suggest violence that is retaliatory in nature.
Miller said his students—Kevin Erb and Emily Gennrich—are still collecting data. When the task is finished and the information is analyzed, the students plan to present at the Association of American Geographers conference in Tampa, Fla.
Mohler’s student assistant, Nick Ross, will present findings on the Kawkawlin River study at the same event.
Mohler and Ross are working on the project as part of the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute, a group featuring collaborating organizations and agencies including SVSU. Mohler said he hopes both contemporary and historical data point to whether the river stretch’s swampy conditions are caused by natural or human elements.
“We’re looking back as far as the 1840s and trying to pin down a date when this started,” he said. Mohler and his student in part will examine 19th century surveyor notes and aerial photography from as early as 1938 to determine causation.
Miller and Mohler credit each other for the development of the remote sensing and geospatial analysis push, an initiative that has involved networking with community groups and applying for financial support.
“What we have done has truly been a partnership,” Miller said. “We couldn’t have made these many in-roads with this many groups without each other.”
Meghan Baruth has a lot cooking — both in the proverbial oven and a literal one.
The assistant professor of health sciences hasn’t been a member of SVSU’s campus more than six months and already she’s gained a reputation with the men’s basketball team — which her husband coaches — as a flesh-and-blood Mrs. Fields, capable of baking up to 100 “monster cookies” at a time for the roster’s consumption.
But sweets admirers shouldn’t be fooled by the gluttonous amounts of chocolate chips, M&Ms, peanut butter and oatmeal in each bite. Baruth is a health advocate.
In her proverbial oven is ongoing research into the dietary and physical activity practices of adults 50 and older, along with efforts to change those practices for a healthier lifestyle.
“It’s very behavior-based,” Baruth said of the sort of studies she began as a faculty member at the University of South Carolina.
She has applied for grant money to continue her research studies here with colleague Rebecca Schlaff, assistant professor of kinesiology. Baruth also plans to enlist student help in the initiative, which she hopes to begin in the summer or fall.
In the meantime, she plans to enjoy her new surroundings, both at work and home.
She joined the university about a year after her husband, Randy, began coaching the basketball team. Since her arrival, she said she’s considered SVSU “a diamond in the rough.”
“Recruits are shocked at what we have to offer,” Meghan Baruth said of SVSU. “My undergrad (institution) was similar in size but so different in terms of research and how nice the campus is. I’m really happy here.”
Even the intensely cold winter hasn’t fazed this newfound affection. While her previous residence was in the sunny South, Baruth is a native of Minnesota, growing up in a small town north of Minneapolis. She later earned her master’s degree from infamously icy Fargo’s North Dakota State University.
Baruth relates to her new friends in Michigan in other ways. The avid sports fan is loyal to the Minnesota Vikings, an NFL team whose history of win-lessness she likens to the Detroit Lions’ losing legacy. “We’re in the same boat,” she said.
Her other interests include staying active and remaining fit. It’s a state she accomplishes in part by following up her other hobby — cooking — by swiftly sending the food elsewhere.
“I like to bake and then get it out of the house,” Baruth said. “The basketball players take care of that."
Betsy Pierce is versed in a variety of topics. Genetics. Accounting. Chronic lung disease. Battlefield 4.
The assistant professor of accounting’s interest in the latter subject, a futuristic war-time video game, doesn’t involve her picking up an Xbox controller, though. Instead, Pierce over the last year has studied the flawed development plan that nearly derailed the video game’s worldwide release in October.
Recently, Pierce and a colleague — Dawna Drum from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire — submitted a case study paper based on the incident to The Accounting Information Systems Educator, an annual publication dedicated to accounting-based education. The paper challenges students to consider their own business strategy when developing and releasing a videogame. Specifically, students are both asked how they would choose an Internet cloud storage client and to consider an exit strategy should that client prove unreliable.
Battlefield 4’s developer, Electronic Arts, experienced such a scenario in the fall when its cloud storage company, Nirvanix, filed for bankruptcy and gave its clients two weeks to remove data from its Internet storage space. The company was able to secure a 2-week extension to the storage deadline, and that relief likely prevented Battlefield 4 developers from losing critical files that could have delayed the game’s multimillion dollar-netting release, Pierce said.
One of Pierce’s many research interests is the growing trend toward firms using cloud storage.
“I’m an old-time accountant, and I lived through the whole automation process, when (companies) had to convince people to use desktop computers,” said Pierce, a practicing accountant until 2000.
She said now members of the American Institute of CPAs are pushing for more firms to use cloud technology.
“It’s interesting to me, and scary,” she said.
It wasn’t so long ago when Pierce’s interests lay in a very different field. The Midland native with a Ph.D. in immunology was a postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics before arriving at SVSU last summer. She was one of a half-dozen people in the world with a focus on studying chronic lung disease in patients who underwent bone marrow transplants.
Before that, she taught courses at the college level on subjects such as genetics and accounting. The experience stuck with her through the years, and when an opportunity opened up at SVSU to educate undergraduates, she applied.
“I love being in the classroom,” she said.
These days, she teaches Financial and Managerial Accounting and is helping revamp the Accounting Information Systems course at SVSU. She recently participated in a study abroad trip in India.
“I’m having a blast,” Pierce said of her SVSU experience.
A few of the past posts in the ITS Newsroom have talked about physical security and making sure that confidential information is kept that way – confidential. Don't leave important papers out in the open unattended. Password protect your devices. We've told you about these and other things you can do. This week for National Cyber Security Awareness Month we want to tell you about the easiest thing you can do to protect yourself: lock your computer.
Q: When do I need to lock my computer?
A: Whenever you leave your computer unattended and plan on coming back to use it.
Going to the printer to pick-up a document? Lock your computer. Leaving the office for a meeting? Lock your computer. Going to the restroom? Lock your computer. Stepping out for a break? Lock your computer. Helping a friend at another computer in a lab? Lock your computer.
On a Windows computer,
On a Mac,
When you return to your computer, you can unlock it by logging back in with your username and password.
As a reminder, mark your calendars! We have an FBI specialist coming to campus on Tuesday, October 28 from 1-2pm presenting on cyber security in the Ott Auditorium. The entire campus community is invited to attend.
Several musicians in the Saginaw Valley State University community will perform in a virtual pipe organ recital Tuesday, Oct. 21 in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall. The 7:30 p.m. recital will feature SVSU's new Hauptwerk virtual pipe organ; it is free and open to the public.
Performers include Carl Angelo, Anna Leppert-Largent, Gregory Largent, Jason Maurer, Nicholas Schmelter and Kevin Simons.
The program includes music by German composer J.S. Bach, English composer Percy Whitlock and American composer Dudley Buck.
A virtual pipe organ uses high-quality pipe recordings along with Hauptwerk computer software. The recorded sounds are replayed as the organist plays.
Angelo, artist in piano and organ at SVSU, is the winner of the 1987 American Guild of Organists Young Artists Competition in Indianapolis. He has worked as a soloist and collaborative musician across the United States and as the organist at First Presbyterian Church of Flint.
Leppert-Largent, an adjunct instructor in music at SVSU, is the director of music ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Bay City. She has been with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra for 11 years where she is production manager and director of education.
Largent, an adjunct instructor at SVSU, is the director of music ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Saginaw. He is organist and choirmaster for the church and oversees the acclaimed Concerts at First Presbyterian Saginaw series.
Maurer, a staff accompanist at SVSU, accompanies vocal music majors for their studio lessons, recitals and juries. He is an organist and pianist at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Saginaw and Christ Lutheran Church in Reese.
Schmelter serves as minister of music at First Congregational Church in Saginaw. He is the dean of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Simons is an assistant professor of music at SVSU and conducts the Cardinal Singers and Concert Choir. He is the director of music and an organist at St. John's Episcopal Church in Saginaw.
Kyle Cissell’s chemistry with teaching chemistry was a late reaction.
The SVSU assistant professor of chemistry joined the academic world three years ago after beginning his professional career working for a molecular diagnostics company in Tampa. It was there — working with high school and college interns — where he decided his future should involve teaching.
“That’s really when the switch happened,” Cissell said. “I was looking for a tenure-track position, and wanted to work with undergraduates in the Midwest.
”Since joining the higher education ranks, though, Cissell hasn’t abandoned research in favor of the classroom. The Newburgh, Ind., native is a regular in SVSU’s laboratories, where he hopes his research in chemical and biochemical sensor development will enhance scientific processes such as water quality analysis and the early detection of certain human diseases.
Cissell is one of several faculty and students involved in studies for the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute, a community research-based initiative housed at SVSU. This summer, Cissell is helping develop proper quality control measures — basically, ensuring accurate results in testing — as the institute studies nearby water systems including the Kawkawlin, Pigeon and Pinnebog rivers.
Those efforts now are heightened thanks to the recent acquisition of high-tech instruments including two spectrophotometers, which measure the amount of light absorbed by material and can determine the concentration of various nutrients in that material.
“It’s a significant upgrade,” he said. The spectrophotometers and other recent technological purchases in the lab come courtesy of several grants SVSU earned as part of its SBESI initiative.
Cissell said he’s enjoyed his young career at SVSU so far.“I like the collaborative nature of the research in the school,” he said. “We have biochemists, chemists, geographers, engineers and biologists all working on projects together. It’s neat to be able to collaborate with faculty from so many disciplines.”
Cissell, who earned his Ph.D. from Purdue-Indianapolis campus, said other undergraduate universities he's familiar with typically feature students who graduate with chemistry degree prior to pursuing a professional degree, with few entering industry. "Here, a lot of students move from SVSU into industry positions and have successful careers," Cissell said, pointing out the relations between nearby companies such as The Dow Chemical Company and Dow Corning Corp.
Cissell said he's managed to balance work with another element of his life: family. He is married to Sonja, and the couple is raisign two daughters: 18 moth old Ainsley and Laura, born May 6.
"Family is very important to me," he said.
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control voted to grant emeritus status to Tai-Chi Lee, who recently retired from SVSU after 26 years of service, during the Board’s regular meeting Monday, Oct. 13.
A professor of computer science and information systems, Lee received the Earl L. Warrick Award for Excellence in Research in April, SVSU’s highest honor bestowed for faculty scholarship. Since 1976, he has had 51 scholarly papers published on subjects such as electronic payments, NASA mission software, and algorithms. Lee also authored three books that center on learning computer operating systems such as Microsoft Windows.
In other business, the Board:
• passed a resolution to commend faculty, staff and administrators for their respective efforts to achieve continued accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission.
• approved confirmation of board members for previously authorized charter schools.
• received and accepted the annual financial audit and federal awards audit for the 2014 fiscal year. The audit was conducted by the Saginaw accounting firm Andrews Hooper Pavlik.
• approved a capital projects funding plan and SVSU’s 2016 capital outlay request to the Michigan Legislature.