CLAS Acts Feb2014

February 2014 Vol. 7, issue 7

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.


Frederick J. Antczak, Dean

Well, we've had a month that included consideration of the plural of "vortex" (it is of courses "vortices," not to be confused with vortigons or vortigaunts).  And yet, what stands out most to me is the aplomb with which job candidates from all over the country came here to interview and found us warm and inviting colleagues no matter the temperature outside. Thank you to everyone who has been finding ways to keep the students first in our thoughts, our colleagues safe, and the work moving forward with a few adjustments (I feel for the Monday night and Tuesday lab teachers!) and some minor delays.  I keenly appreciate your adaptability. And I appreciate the perseverance of so many colleagues who have built GVSU over so many years.  In the most recent Unit Head and Faculty Weekly Mailing, we ran the list of faculty celebrating employment milestones and those who have had university awards bestowed upon them.  Congratulations to you all.  And hats off  to Doriana Gould, office coordinator of Modern Languages and Literatures, who celebrated 40 years at GVSU-which we believe is a first for COTs in CLAS. February is a short month but packed with events.  The Tony Award winning musical Urinetown takes to the GVSU stage early this month.  Registration is open for Grandparents/Grandkids/Grand Valley (G3) Camp.  We also have these events on the calendar: Math in Action --Strategies for Student Success Ancient Macedonians & southern Greeks: The literary & epigraphic evidence Vietnam Veterans Share Their Stories--Odd Job Men CLAS Research Colloquium Craft Talk & Reading/ Musical Perf. by Caroline Maun & and Frank Koscielski 2nd Annual Superior Awards (Advertising and PR) And if you'd like to contemplate a much warmer time of year, registration is now open for the June 18 CLAS on the Green golf outing.  If you've wondered why CLAS runs a golf day and whether this is effective fundraising, wonder no more.  With the help of our great sponsors, we are hopeful that we will reach the endowment level of our CLAS Scholarship Fund this year--a full three years faster than anticipated.  Masters and hackers are all welcome, and non-golfers can volunteer to help us on the day. Between now and then, CLAS will continue to work on this year's big project, dubbed Spring Cleaning, in the many forms that initiative is taking.  Thanks to the Staff Advisory Committee, a roundtable event will be held for staff to work together to streamline some processes and share solutions across the college.  Meanwhile, the Faculty Council is working on ways to clarify and strengthen our election process.  AD Mary Schutten is making great headway on the improvements to the Incomplete grade system.  That's just a taste of what is underway. From my office, I can see the steel girders starting to create the framing of our new science building.  The hard work will be worth it.  Similarly, the preparatory work we are doing this year to make our existing work more streamlined and sensible will clear the deck for some new aspirations to take place in the upcoming strategic planning year (in fact, AD Shaily Menon is already in the thick of the preparations for that).  Scrubbing the decks isn't glamorous work, but it is wise and timely given the strategic planning that will come to the University next year.  I applaud the efforts the departments are making in their own preparations for what is to come. With faith that spring does come, I wish you all the best for the middle of the term.    


CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium Schedule

The CLAS Faculty Research Colloquia will take place from 2:30 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. in 308 PAD: Thursday, February 20th Thursday, March 20th                      


A Boy Called Bowie and the 99%  

 "It never crossed my mind to be a professor," insists James Dunn, professor of Biology.  "I got into this field out of a love of nature." It must have been love that led a working class boy from Detroit to seek out a ten acre remnant woods to collect snakes, rats, and insects.  It even earned him the family and then neighborhood nickname of Bowie (as in the knife) for the bows and traps he employed in his collecting within sight of the smokestacks of manufacturing plants.  He wasn't even on a college track in the alternative school in which he had been placed, and when his teachers spotted his aptitude they were not initially successful in motivating James to consider college.  He started on the Ford assembly line and had to be prodded to try a community college course before discovering that he really liked it. He is keenly aware that people don't always like what they would expect.  He points out that psychological research on phobias has shown that even many biology professors are phobic about insects, while he's made them a specialty.  "When I work on butterflies, I get a lot more attention from family and colleagues than when I'm working on less attractive species," he smiles.  "99% of insects are not pests, you know." Happily, his attraction to the field of insect ecology was strong enough to take him from his initial community college courses through a transfer to the University of Michigan and onward into graduate school at the University of Kentucky.  He didn't teach as a graduate student and at first worked as a scientist for the Forestry Service in a stressful full-time research role with high expectations in a place far from his family.  So he made a change and despite no teaching experience in graduate school, landed a job at the University of Northern Iowa.  In his first 15 minutes of his first class, he made the unanticipated discovery that he loved to teach.  In the fall of 1998 he started at GVSU. "Don't write anything off until you try it," he tells his students.  At least a couple students a year catch the bug and accompany James on his research trips to a rare grassland ecosystem found in the Upper Peninsula on Drummond Island.  Called alvar, this ecosystem is endangered primarily from development and has become degraded by all terrain vehicles (ATVs) because alvar has the characteristics of being pretty and flat.  These limestone plains are covered with little or no soil.  "They look a little like an overgrown parking lot with plants growing out of the cracks," James explains.  The plants there are an interesting combination of arctic and temperate species.  There are examples of alvars in the Baltic region, but here near the Great Lakes the alvar known as Maxton Plains is perhaps the best example in the world.  So with 2 or 3 students he visits this alvar a few times each summer for 4-5 days at a stretch so that assessment of the biodiversity of insects and plants will allow them to assess the impact of ATVs.  The project allows the students to have significant impact while containing costs and fitting into the academic schedule.  The alvar is on land owned by the Department of Natural Resources and a portion is owned by the Nature Conservancy as a preserve.  If you call James an entomologist, he wrinkles his nose and expresses his disquiet with labels calling them "crazy".  Like the nature he loves, he doesn't want to be hemmed in and expresses a love of plants that rivals his love of insects.  His work in ecology allows him an intersection between the two.  While not claiming to be "a great scientist," he points out that the best scientists tend toward interdisciplinary interests.