CLAS Acts May 2009

Amy Russell with bat

Amy Russell with dead bat

May 2009
Volume 2, Issue 9

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  

Want GVSU to receive more funding from big donors? You can help When a high percentage of the faculty and staff contribute to the annual campaign, this tells our big donors that we are supportive of GVSU.  In fact, development officers will tell you that this is the first question donors ask:  "Do the employees support this?"  The percentage matters.  Even a modest donation counts toward the total.  We're at 42% now. Consider giving to the CLAS Fund for Excellence (which supported 7 projects this year), the Library, one of your favorite scholarship funds--or a host of other choices.  It all counts! For information on participating, visit     

A quick test for your departmental website

1)     Who is department chair?

2)     What are Prof. X's office hours?  Research interests?

3)     Have recent promotions, retirements, sabbaticals been noted on faculty pages?

4)     Does this site have a diversity or inclusion statement?  Do the pictures and language reflect the diversity you have?

5)     Where is the office?

6)     What's the most recent great thing achieved by the students or faculty?

7)     Is the curriculum guide (or chose another important document) up to date?

8)     Does the department site appear at the top of a Google search performed from the GVSU homepage?

9)     Do the student organization, alumni, and honor society have some presence?

10)  Has outdate material been removed?     

Internship Creation (Could someone in your family help?) In today's current job market, it's important for Grand Valley students to have a competitive edge. One of the best ways students can stand out is to complete an internship (or better yet, multiple internships!). These experiences allow students to show employers that they not only have a great education, but they know how to put it to use. In an effort to expand internship sites and opportunities, we'd love to have our faculty's partners/spouses companies consider hosting a GVSU intern. For information on what this would entail, Career Services has put together an Employer Tool Kit, which can be found at under the "Employers- Internships & Co-op" tab. Thanks for helping GVSU students get the experience they need to find the careers they want!                        

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

As this newsletter goes out, I will be on my way to the commencement ceremonies in Traverse City.  Afterwards, I will take a day (May 1) off, staying up in TC briefly and hoping it won't snow out my golf game.  I suspect you are also celebrating the close of the year according to your own tradition. But before we get too far into our Next Things, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Karen Libman and Figen Mekik, our two commencement marshals and to report to you on some end-of-the-term matters.  First, I must thank the huge proportion of the faculty that was directly involved in the 39 hires we made this year of tenure track faculty (36 of which were first or second choices) with 2 searches on-going; and 8 affiliate hires completed, 4 at the offer stage and 3 more in progress.  While it is hard work, it also directly addresses our future workload.  We were in the enviable position of being able to hire in a year some universities were not able to replace retiring faculty, much less grow. I'm happy to report that the initial indications from our invitation to our graduating seniors to report their future plans shows success in medical, law, social work, conservatory and other sorts of graduate admissions.  We also have graduates headed for the Peace Corp, Americorps, ad agencies, jobs in journalism (no kidding!), health care, and teaching here and abroad-to name a few.  Quite a number are entering graduate school here at GVSU.  The results are up on our website today under the Alumni tab.   I'd like to thank our Grassroots Inclusion Taskforce (GrIT) for its energetic and inspired work on the CLAS Inclusion Plan.  Work will continue in our office over the summer and the Taskforce will report to you at out Start Up meeting in August.   CLAS did very well in the AP Awards, with Caroline Cascini of the CLAS Academic Advising Center securing the Outstanding Academic Advising & Student Services Award, a large team working with our Regional Math and Science Center on the 25th Anniversary Science Olympiad taking the Outstanding Team Project Award, Jill Hamilton was presented with the Commitment to Students Award, and Janet Vail received the Service to Community Award.  Congratulations on the awards and thank you for achievements that made you so deserving of them.  And let's not forget the supportive colleagues who wrote so persuasively in support of these award winners.   The faculty outdid themselves on grant applications this academic year and signs are that this will continue.  Grants Administration noted to us that in the first three quarters we edged out the number of grant applications made in all of last year.  We hope you are finding the new system of delivering the federal grant announcements helpful and time-saving.    In May, the big chunk of my time will be taken working on faculty and AP salary adjustments.  Meanwhile there are almost inevitably duties that wash up in the wake of the year, grade complaints and so forth.  I'll be working with Mary Schutten to help her get off to a good start as our new Associate Dean, attending a webinar on advisory boards, seeing to a number of individual appointments that faculty have made with me, and trying to bring the budget home in decent shape.    AD Jann Joseph will be following up on facilities requests, planning summer moves, and doing some scholarly writing.  AD Gary Stark will be collecting and categorizing new position requests from departments, monitoring summer enrollments, assisting with the salary adjustment process, and assisting with recruitment of visiting, affiliate, and adjunct faculty for 2009-10. Once he gets to Crakow, Poland, Gary will be leading a study abroad program with 7 GVSU students at Cracow University of Economics and team-teaching a course on Polish history and culture.  AD Mary Schutten will begin the learning process for the job by working with advising center to complete strategic and assessment plans, orientation etc., meeting with interim AD Karen Gipson about curriculum matters and interim AD Paul Stephenson to transition various tasks.  Mary will work on military student needs and issues, will learn more about online learning courses at GVSU by taking a course here in developing those types of courses, and will continue her own research (particularly on an S3 grant related to lack of pedagogists for higher education positions in physical education and data collection for the WII grant with her Movement Science colleagues).   As the Bard said, "Summer's lease hath all too short a date."  And despite that, I wish you a revitalizing season that manages to be long enough.  

Faculty Feature

The Point of Intersection-Amy Russell and the Power of Collaboration

by Monica Johnstone, Dir. of CLAS Communications & Advancement 

"Collaborations are really important to my career," Assistant Professor of Biology Amy Russell states matter-of-factly as we begin the interview.  Even a short account of her already impressive road to GVSU demonstrates that this is an accurate assessment. Before starting at GVSU last Fall, Amy was postdoctoral associate working on bats in Mike Hammer's Lab, part of Arizona Research Laboratories at The University of Arizona in Tucson. Before that, Amy was a Gaylord Donnelly Fellow at Yale University, where she had the opportunity to work on primates with Anne Yoder, now the head of the Duke University Primate Center.  Amy's list of published work is already substantial.  On her website, Amy explains that, "My interests lie at the point of intersection of multiple fields: where phylogenetic and population genetic approaches can inform questions of recent speciation, where coalescent approaches can help to discriminate among biogeographic hypotheses, and where molecular ecology and simulation-based analyses can discriminate among demographic scenarios. Organisms of interest in my lab have tended to focus on mammals including bats and primates, but I am open to interesting questions of molecular ecology, phylogeography, population genetics, mating systems, phylogenetics, and molecular evolution in any system." In short, by looking at the distribution in populations of genetic traits, it is possible to deduce a population's structure.  Projections can be made.  We can find out if genetic diversity is declining. If this sounds like a combination of field work, bench work, and computer modeling, you'd be right.  Amy is the first to admit that she doesn't really have a lab per se and that working on vertebrate animals in GVSU's current facilities could present challenges, but Amy has-to borrow a biological pun-found her niche.  "But I do have a computer," she smiles.  Through a series of productive collaborations with colleagues at institutions with high funding levels, the overseas field work becomes possible and Amy has become a sought after cruncher of numbers. Her current students want to participate in the gene sequencing component of her work, but she is working to show them how valuable the data analysis component is, too.  After all, the data collection tends to pull far ahead of the analysis.  What Amy does is acutely needed to bring projects to completion. In fact, these days Amy isn't surprised to be contacted by a researcher in Eastern Europe about crunching the data regarding the area where the European and Mediterranean hedgehogs' habitats overlap.  Though the majority of her work is on bats, the method can be applied to his hedgehogs, too. The method Amy employs can be particularly useful for populations of animals that aren't easy to observe or capture.  Scientists, like everyone else, often choose the low hanging fruit.  Some species are easier to study than others.  But sometimes a distributed, high flying, arboreal, nocturnal species is the one in question.  Sometimes you can't predict its behavior from its cave roosting (and therefore more accessible) cousins. So Amy is working on some of these harder-to-study species: the Red Bats, the Hoary Bats and the Silver Haired Bats.  And sometimes the observed behavior seems to defy common sense.  When a road is built through a forest, of course the bats just fly over-don't they?  Without some sort of canopy, not all species will.  A solution can be as counterintuitive as providing a tunnel under the road. A bat wouldn't fly into a wind turbine the size of a barn-would it?  Unfortunately, some bats are being hit.   And the researchers need to go a step further to understand why for any sort of solution to be effective.  With the planned expansion of the use of such turbines, the urgency increases. Is it that the turbines are white (for the sake of planes) and therefore attract insects?  Is it that when flying so high, bats of a certain species might "turn off" their echo location?  Are they using echo location that can't cope with the speed of the turbines?  Each answer suggests a different potential solution. At a recent CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium, Amy made it hard for those in attendance to avoid caring.  With thermal imaging, it becomes possible to see what goes bump in the night.  Amy indicated an erratic dot against a red thermal sky which, after a few seconds, collides with the vast blade of a wind turbine and drops in a sickeningly straight line toward the bottom of the screen.  It can be a little hard to follow, so Amy plays it again and then one more time. The collaborations that allow Amy to do this important work start in the bat community-- that is, the close-knit community of researchers who study bats.  The annual bat meeting attracts 350 to 400 researchers who get to know one another's work well enough to set the stage for productive collaborations between those with well funded labs and those with expertise like Amy's.  I can't resist prodding her on what the "primate community" is like.  She doesn't want to tell tales out of school, but admits that they are larger and "more competitive" in their relationships with one another.  A bit like the difference between bats and primates, I think. When I hear that her "realistic goals" for the summer include two papers and a grant application (following a year that already involved several grant applications), I find myself convinced that Amy will continue to find ways to progress her research.  She also wants to take two students to the bat meeting in the fall.  She's growing the bat community. Amy's disposition and her desk suggest she has thrown her lot in with the bats rather than the chimps.  She has several bat-themed items on display, such as a bronze bat paperweight and a translucent box like a Chinese take-away container decorated in stylized Halloween bats.  The bat community--though doing serious work--clearly has a sense of humor about itself. In May, Amy is off to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to do some field work, funded by the start up funds of one of her collaborators, Liliana Davalos at Stonybrook. Effective collaborations like this seem a very good survival strategy.