CLAS Acts August 2009

Azizur Molla

August 2009
Volume 2, Issue 12
Our Mission: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.  

CLAS College Office Monthly Newsletter for Faculty  

New Faculty Social by invitation only Wed., Aug 19, 6:00pm RSVP by Aug. 12    

START UP: CLAS Faculty & Staff Meeting
Thursday, August 27 Louis Armstrong Theatre, PAC Coffee & Conversation 10:00am Faculty/Staff Meeting 10:30am Lunch Under the Tent 12:00pm Homecoming 2009
Saturday, October 17 CLAS will hold a silent auction of art and photography in Alumni House from 2:00-6:00pm

Fall Arts Celebration Distinguished Academic Lecturer
Rashid Khalidi The Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University "The Great Powers and the Middle East: Yesterday and Today" Leading expert on the Middle East discusses how this region has been affected by external intervention over the past century and the region's role in world events. Tues., September 22, 7 pm L.V. Eberhard Center, 2nd floor Pew (Grand Rapids) Campus    

West Michigan Undergraduate Science Research Conference Date: Saturday, October 31 (costumes optional) Time: about 9am to 3pm What: A conference for all undergraduate science research. Students will present posters in one of two sessions. There will also be oral presentations by local faculty scientists and a national key-note speaker. This is a great venue for our students to present their research and for other scientists and academics in West Michigan to see the good work of our students. Cost: Free (including lunch and coffee) Location: Van Andel Institute, Grand Rapids Registration: Mandatory free online registration. Details will be coming.

Frederick J. Antczak, Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

The English winter-ending in July,
To recommence in August.                                            


The cool weather to the contrary, August is a good time for new beginnings.  It's time to officially congratulate both the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) and Cell & Molecular Biology on becoming academic departments on August 6.  Anyone who has ever worked on new departmental status or even adding a minor knows that a great deal of planning and work goes into this transformation.    Please join me in congratulating the members of these two new academic units. As you have probably heard, the University Trustees met on July 20, and made decisions ranging from our two newest emeriti (Dennis Devlin and  Anthony Travis, both of History) to faculty and staff raises to an increase in tuition ($217 per semester) accompanied by more student aid (about 7%).    A letter from me should have already arrived to provide salary details, but just let me say how pleased I am that these salary increases have been successfully championed  by the senior management team.    Please join me in keeping your eyes peeled for scholarship, job, networking, and internship opportunities for our students; in a difficult year economically, we need to provide whatever boosts, support and flexibility we can.         

Speaking of new things, this fall Blackboard NG (stands for "next generation") will provide both some new functionality and inevitably some challenges for the faculty and students.  Also, our students are now all on Gmail; this should help us avoid the old problem of e-mail addresses in the system which the students rarely used.  In addition to these technical changes, our colleagues at the Office of Graduate  Studies and Grants Administration are now conveniently located all together on the 3rd floor of Devos (they used to be spread out) and they have undergone some personnel changes, too.  Priscilla Kimboko, formerly dean of Graduate Studies and Grants Administration, has stepped away from those duties to expand the university's initiatives in gerontology.  John Stevenson, associate dean of Graduate Studies, has assumed the role of Interim Dean of graduate studies; Christine Chamberlain has assumed the interim role of director of Grants Development and Administration while a national search for both positions is conducted this coming year.  For me, August holds the majority of goal setting meetings with unit heads, visits to some individual school districts that have hired our students, new faculty orientation, the Unit Head Retreat, the FTLC Conference, New Graduate Student Orientation and, of course, the CLAS College Startup Meeting on August 27.  I continue to have the goal of making my remarks shorter every year, but your many accomplishments make it difficult; there are many people who have over the past year earned a moment in the spotlight. AD Mary Schutten will continue collaboration on the Student Summer Scholar's Project, work on a manuscript development (for body mass index, fitness, SES), participate in an academic achievement project with Kent Intermediate School District and Spectrum Health, attend several start up events at GVSU, meet with CCC chair in preparation for the academic year, continue work on Task Force for New Units and New Programs, expedite grade reports, grade changes and other end of semester tasks, and continue to learn about her tasks as associate dean in CLAS.  Gary Stark will monitor Fall course enrollments, approve course change requests, assist units with last-minute staffing issues, and plan orientation for new unit heads.  Jann Joseph is running our new faculty orientation, and seeing to the general administrative duties consistent with the beginning of the academic year. I hope your summer is affording you some time for great conversations, wonderful books, stimulating travel, and all the adventures that get you recharged and ready to go back to the classroom for another great year.  I realize that there are many materials to prepare and that some of you are even in the midst of moving your office.  But another attribute of August is that our new faculty arrive; please keep an eye out for our new colleagues and give them a characteristically warm welcome.  I look forward to seeing you all at 10:00am on Thursday August 27 in Louis Armstrong Theatre in the Performing Arts Center (PAC), if not sooner.

Faculty Feature

A Pedagogy of Application-the Pursuit of Lightning and Radon with Azizur Molla

By Monica Johnstone, PhD, Dir. of CLAS Communications & Advancement

Azizur Molla joined the Anthropology Department just last year, but gives the impression that he's already quite well established.  The tour begins with a look at his radon testing lab.   Azizur opens the door to a small office lined with neatly arranged and labeled plastic bottles, a few small pieces of equipment that could easily be mistaken for debit card readers, and a couple boxes of vials ready for testing radon in water.  He assures me that Aaron Perry, our Director of Laboratory Support, has reviewed his set up.  He's also grateful to FTLC, PIC and R&D for grants and for the guidance of Bob Smart in the Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence.  Next he shows me another compact piece of testing equipment, funded through an end-of-year top up to CLAS equipment funds, which will facilitate the field work he is doing with his students.  It's hard to imagine that this modest looking equipment has helped to enable such an enormous project involving hundreds of West Michigan households. Azizur's explanation of his work displays his characteristic orderliness.  To explain his project, he begins with his teaching philosophy.  He came to GVSU because his training in medical anthropology could be applied with social service in mind.  He likes that Anthropology has an ongoing commitment to its summer field school.  He brings a similar sensibility to courses such as "Culture and Disease" that might not have included applied field work in the past.  He also likes the fact that GVSU is only 50 years old, dynamic, and stresses teaching while allocating some time for research.  This recipe, he tells me, "is good for me."  As Azizur describes his love of teaching, he explains that it gives him several channels to make a contribution; through his research, providing students with real life exposure to field work, and making a connection of the research to our society.  For Azizur, scholarship, teaching, and service are a seamless whole. He designs his syllabus along these same lines.  It's hard to imagine any student slipping through the cracks in his courses because his tutorial style of teaching and commitment to four written progress reports per student per term are tracked on a spreadsheet.  He believes that even the weakest student can be nudged toward improvement ("everyone can make progress") and admits with a smile that his real goal is "lightning" by the end of the course.  He sees teaching as two-way communication intent on maximizing learning, and is overt with his students about the fact that they are teaching him, too. Critical thinking is patterned through coursework that emphasizes analysis and making recommendations.  For instance, he uses scenarios in which his students are consultants to the State Department.  Group findings are presented and consensus is built (or not).  In every case, student involvement is emphasized. This sounds like excellent preparation for his fieldwork which involves testing the radon levels in the basements of 94 houses this summer for a total of 252 so far.  Another 284 have been enlisted for fall and spring.  An extension of the program into next summer has been granted.  As he explains the effects of radon, a tasteless, invisible and odorless radioactive (and therefore carcinogenic) gas that leeches out of the soil into basements where it can concentrate, it's easy to see Azizur's passion to save the lining of our lungs through the more widespread use of testing and remediation of hot spots.  A reading of less than 4 pCi/L is desirable.  He worries very much about the woman in his study who exercises and makes extensive use of a home office in her basement where readings are at 10 pCi/L.  "And some basements have children's bedrooms," he notes. The Surgeon General suggests annual radon testing of homes.  Azizur likens the situation to having diabetes-regular measures must be taken to ensure health.  Given soil dynamics and the fact that cracks can occur even in a previously sound foundation, a yearly test is needed. In Michigan, one state employee has responsibility for radon testing, and she currently has no travel budget whatsoever.  It's little wonder that awareness of radon is relatively low here.  But Sue Hendershott is so excited about the contribution that Azizur and his students are making that she's coming to visit his class.     Azizur hopes, through an EPA grant and collaborations with groups such as the Healthy Homes Coalition, that he will be able to train students to assist families that can't afford the remediation which can involve the sealing of cracks in slabs, sealing of earthen basement floors, and venting.  He also sees GVSU as the eventual site of a center for such training.  There are currently very few mitigation specialists in our area. To get a low cost test, Azizur recommends contacting the County Health Department. Kent: Home test kits for radon gas. Available at the Kent County Health Department, Environmental health Division, 700 Fuller N.E. Cost: $5.00. Call (616) 632-6900 for more information. Muskegon: The Environmental Health program provides a limited supply of radon test kits at no charge. Call (231) 724-6208 to check availability. Radon test kits can also be purchased online at   For more information, call (231) 724-6208. Ottawa: Home test kits for radon gas and subsequent counseling is available if necessary. Call (616) 393-5645 for more information.    Azizur is also happy to enlist additional test sites, but warns that the backlog will cause delay. With many related projects simmering and an accepted book proposal on radon, his work in this area will continue into the foreseeable future.  His larger plan is to move his work to his original passion.  "I'm a water guy," Azizur says.  "I'm keeping the water part of every study and would like to concentrate on this area."  His background includes a study resulting in a book on the medical anthropology of sewage in Bangladesh.  He can easily imagine collaborations with colleagues at AWRI.  As the advisor to the Anthropology Club and a Captain of the United Way campaign, it would seem that this water guy has jumped right in and is swimming well, buoyed by his irrepressible love of service to our health.