Through our University’s commitment to top faculty and innovative research, SMU in Dallas is addressing important challenges with unbridled thinking. Learn more below about some of the SMU faculty members whose original, groundbreaking and thought-provoking work is shaping our future.
As a young person in segregated Mississippi during the 1960s, the Perkins School’s Evelyn Parker joined her church and community to protest injustice peacefully by taking part in boycotts, picket lines and marches. She saw firsthand what activists galvanized by religious faith could accomplish. These days, however, Parker finds hope consistently lacking among African-American youth, who say they don’t expect to see change in the world and don’t see themselves as agents of change. In response, Parker has developed and written about the concept of “emancipatory hope” as a framework for ministering to young African-Americans. She also puts her ideas into action through partnerships with churches that are historically African-American. “People who work with black teenagers and are interested in nurturing their spirits need to think seriously about hope – the expectation that God will change hopeless situations and that African-American young people can participate in God’s vision of transformation,” she says.
Why would major companies such as Toyota, Sun Microsystems and Wells Fargo Bank invest lots of money to create parallel universes? The answer is that synthetic or virtual worlds are bringing together a host of interesting groups and stimulating research on a fascinating range of issues with direct applications to business. In their research, the Cox School’s Ulrike Schultze and co-author Julie Rennecker explore game environments and virtual worlds to better understand the social processes involved in the way organizations use and create information as well as how the communications models of virtual environments can be transferred to the real world. Using anthropological research and examples of entrepreneurs making a real living from the sales of virtual goods and services in these synthetic worlds, Schultze is out to “debunk the mythical divide between technologies of work and technologies of play.”
Growing numbers of Americans with health problems are turning to “medical tourism” and traveling overseas for medical care. Health insurance companies and employers also are taking a hard look at covering medical procedures in foreign countries to cut health care costs. But law professor Nathan Cortez sees a danger in this new trend. Patients take on additional risk when they sign waivers of liability or receive treatment in countries without stringent malpractice laws, and they should be compensated accordingly, he argues. And one consequence of medical tourism may be that patients who insist on getting treatment in the United States end up paying more for the privilege. “We see this all the time with other industries,” Cortez says. “Health care has been notoriously a local industry, and now it’s succumbing to globalization as other industries have.”
The United States lags far behind much of the world in producing engineering graduates. Delores Etter, the director of the new Caruth Institute, is on a mission to excite young people about engineering and increase the numbers of women and minorities who pursue careers as engineers. Among the Institute initiatives she supervises is a program to educate teachers about ways to make advanced math and science courses relevant and exciting for high school students. “The world after 9/11 is one in which national security and global security have new threats that require different technological solutions,” says Etter. “Today we need to encourage all young people to consider engineering and take on new challenges.” Etter previously served as both assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition and as deputy undersecretary of defense for science and technology.
Appreciating a great painting usually involves looking at what’s on a work’s surface. In a recent exhibition at the Meadows, director Mark Roglán took viewers on a journey beneath a painting's surface–as well as back in time. Roglán led a team of experts who revealed and analyzed the original “underdrawings” below the painted surface of 26 surviving panels from a monumental 15th-century Spanish altarpiece. The experts painstakingly coaxed out the sketch work using a technology called infrared reflectography to provide new information about artists working half a millennium ago. The results also laid the groundwork for a major re-evaluation of the reputation of at least one of the painters who worked on the altarpiece. “The scientific analysis performed on the panels allowed us to step back 500 years,” Roglán says. “Seeing those underdrawings was like looking into the minds of the artists.”
Nearly 40 percent of America’s children struggle with reading. The Simmons School’s Patricia Mathes has spent a career researching ways to shrink that number. While it’s widely understood that half of all reading problems stem from genetic causes, Mathes believes almost all children can learn to read if they receive the proper training. Mathes is pioneering the concept of comprehensive reading intervention, which emphasizes early treatment, proper pacing and patience. Mathes also is researching whether the right strategies can teach reading to children with mental retardation. “We know that instruction matters,” she says. “I take no excuses. It’s time to get past blaming the child or family and start working on the part we can control.”
Like an architect or engineer, chemistry professor Brent Sumerlin is a builder. But rather than creating skyscrapers or houses, he builds molecules. Employing recently developed techniques, Sumerlin makes molecules that have well-defined, complex structures and are intended for a variety of applications. His molecules have been used to create controlled drug delivery processes, prevent surface corrosion in a range of materials and make new catalytic nanoparticles that allow more efficient chemical reactions. He is at work on the preparation of nanometer-scale containers of insulin that can be induced to release their contents when they sense concentrations of glucose, potentially eliminating the need for diabetics to inject insulin. “Our research is broadly aimed at impacting society through innovations and scientific enterprise,” says Sumerlin. “But the underlying goal is to equip the next generation of scientists to provide innovative solutions to the biggest problems we face.”