Research Clusters

  • The Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute sponsors research clusters convened by various faculty across campus.
  • These clusters are open to participants from any and all disciplines and departments.
  • Those interested in participating should contact a convener of the cluster.
  • Clusters will meet a few times each semester to discuss common interests and collaborate in shared activities.

  • Research Clusters for AY 2021-22

    Kelyn Rola, Engineering
    Caitlin Anderson, Applied Physiology and Wellness

    This research cluster will promote an interdisciplinary examination of academic support programs and their relationship to college student retention. Our aim is to explore first and second-year academic initiatives and their retention-related outcomes on underrepresented student populations, with an emphasis on Black and Latinx students, Pell-eligible students, and first-generation college students. Goals of the cluster include four group meetings, a symposium, and the development of research to be used for publication or conference presentations. This research cluster welcomes faculty, staff, and graduate students interested in college student retention across all disciplines.

    Thomas Ritz, Psychology
    Alexander Lippert, Chemistry

    Piyawan Charoensap-Kelly, Communications
    Wookun Kim, Economics
    LaiYee Leong, Political Science

    This research cluster proposes to bring together faculty, staff, and graduate
    students with interests in Asian and Asian American studies. We intend to focus on two major
    and overlapping areas of scholarship and teaching: (1) the intersection of Asian studies and
    Asian American studies, and (2) the experiences and needs of Asian American and Pacific
    Islander community members at SMU and the broader higher-education sector. Our goals are to
    explore new research space and opportunities for collaboration, to advance creative teaching in
    Asian Studies, and to foster a campus environment inclusive of diverse perspectives.

    Ben Voth, Rhetoric and Debate
    Matthew Wilson, Political Science
    Denise DuPont, World Languages

    This cluster will promote and facilitate interdisciplinary exploration of the Christian tradition as inspiration and paradigm for research and teaching. It will bring together scholars from a variety of fields to examine the role and value of Christian epistemology in a largely secular academy.

    Holly Bowen, Psychology
    Philippe Chuard, Philosophy

    To foster a more integrated and interactive research environment and culture amongst specialists in cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience at SMU and in the metroplex through the organization of public talks and research workshops, which will also help enrich and develop the new SMU minors in Cognitive Science and Neuroscience.


    Michael Allred, World Languages and Literatures, Spanish
    Megan Heuer, Central University Libraries

    The purpose of this cluster is to articulate precise critical terms and research methodologies in order to understand the critical literacies needed to address rapidly proliferating genres and evolving contexts in which texts, information, and misinformation are produced, disseminated and received in the digital age. The cluster will focus on literacies most pertinent to education and public discourse, namely information, media, and cross-cultural literacies.


    Stephanie Amsel, English

    Triauna Carey, English

    Jill Kelly, History

    Bruce Levy, English

    Samantha Mabry, English

    The Diversity, Writing, and Reasoning Pedagogy Research Cluster will gather faculty from across the campus who are interested in reading, discussing, and promoting diverse texts involving the study of writing composition and critical reasoning. Our cluster is designed to be in line with SMU’s initiative, as put forth by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, to “implement the principles of cultural intelligence in our daily lives.” This research cluster will also support our pedagogy planning and interactions with students.  

    Andrea Laurent-Simpson, Sociology
    Anna Lovatt, Art History

    This cluster will cover topics including chosen families; human-nonhuman animal relationships; intergenerational caregiving; the intersection of race, gender and family law; family separation; and transgenerational trauma. The cluster will consider the impact of COVID-19 on family relationships and the reconfiguration of kinship by new communication technologies.

    Tim Rosendale, English
    Robert Howell, Philosophy

    This cluster seeks to discuss, cultivate, and promote a culture of vigorously free and respectfully civil speech at SMU by way of discussion, intracampus partnerships and activities, and public events.

    Klaus Desmet, Economics
    Mark McCoy, Anthropology
    Jessie Zarazaga, Engineering

    The research cluster brings together faculty, graduate students and staff (IT & Library) who
    are interested in GIS (Geographic Information Systems, for mapping and spatial analysis). In
    the last two years the interdisciplinary group GIS@SMU has made great strides in (i)
    connecting SMU faculty, graduate and undergraduate students who may be working
    independently in the area of spatial analysis; (ii) setting up a GIS lab in the Fondren library;
    (iii) bringing in leading experts on GIS from top-universities such as Stanford to run
    workshops; and (iv) organizing activities such as a Mapathon to promote the use of GIS to
    undergraduates and the broader community at SMU. GIS@SMU is a true interdisciplinary
    group, bringing together faculty and students from across campus.

    Paola Buckley, World Languages
    Aria Cabot, World Languages

    This research cluster unites faculty from a range of academic and professional disciplines to discuss and define a set of shared goals and best practices to provide students with real-world, global perspectives and transferable skills aligned with skills employers seek in the contemporary workplace. Topics of discussion include curricular innovation, academic and corporate partnerships for internships and field work abroad and at home, and the assessment of and integration with SMU’s Common Curriculum requirements with a focus on the integration of world languages and cultures for professional purposes across the curriculum.

    Leticia T. McDoniel , World Languages
    Jessica Martinez, Cox School of Business

    The purpose of this cluster is to bring together faculty, staff, graduate students and the Dallas business community who are interested in different topics relating to Hispanic leadership, business, language and culture within the workplace. It will examine the complex and innovative ways in which American Corporate Culture is transforming as it integrates Hispanic language, culture and business practices. Moreover, it seeks to make points of contact, stimulate intellectual exchanges and research about the material culture of these two praxes and how they intersect and make a unique workforce.

    Amy Freund, Art History
    Adam Jasienski, Art History

    This research cluster will bring together faculty and graduate students in the humanities and social
    sciences working on the historical period 1300-1800. We will evaluate the state of the field at SMU
    and beyond, identify key research clusters, and develop initiatives for future research, teaching, and
    advising. We propose to use DCII funding to host a workshop with two outside speakers who have
    successfully fostered interdisciplinary research in the field at their home institutions. Our goals are to
    1) foster intellectual community; 2) strengthen on-campus networks benefitting faculty and student
    research; and 3) identity outside funding sources for future large-scale collaborative projects.

    Rick Halperin, Human Rights
    Tony Pederson, Journalism
    Ed Gray, Doctor of Liberal Studies Student

    The Human Rights Research Cluster examines the history of Dallas County since 1850 through the lens of human rights. The cluster's goal is to conduct research that will mark the sites with human rights significance on a digital map; this includes sites associated with upholding human rights as well as those where human rights were violated. 

    Jill DeTemple, Religious Studies
    Mark Fontenot, Computer Science
    Alida Liberman, Philosophy

    This cluster brings together scholars from a variety of disciplines to explore historic, contemporary, and future assessments of “excellence” in university settings. How have those metrics been established, and how do they reflect or inform differing roles universities have, do, and will play as important actors in civic society? How might we think about the role of public scholarship in the digital age where a blog, TED talk, or podcast may receive more, and more varied, attention than an article in a scholarly journal? How have, do, and will universities consider such public engagement as part of their larger mission?

    Minh-Binh Tran, Mathematics
    Alejandro Aceves, Mathematics
    Chul Moon, Statistics

    Multilayer neural networks have been shown to be the most powerful models in machine learning. However, the fundamental reasons for this success remains not well understood and for that it will require mathematical tools and expertise. One of the most important mathematical tools that can be used to study neural networks is Control/Mean Field theory that deals with the behavior of dynamical systems with inputs, and how their behavior is modified by feedback. By this cluster, we would like to create a forum for faculties and researchers at  regional universities and companies working on this important topic.

    Bonnie Wheeler, English
    Shira Lander, Religious Studies

    The “Medieval Matters” Research Cluster plans a year-long initiative to reinvigorate the strong, diverse, and engaged community of medievalists among the faculty and students at SMU and in the metroplex area. As a working group, we will examine fresh methodological approaches to the study of the Middle Ages with the goal of generating opportunities for new collaborative teaching and research across disciplinary boundaries. Among other possibilities, we envision a fully vetted book and digital project (with national and international contributors) that advances current understandings of the uses and limits of transdisciplinary teaching/research in the Middle Ages.

    Nia Parson, Anthropology
    Amy Zanoni, Center for Presidential History

    The “Narratives of COVID-19 in Dallas” interdisciplinary research cluster is a research collaboration among various faculty and graduate students across campus. It is dedicated to conducting first-person narrative interviews of experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic among health care and other essential workers and marginalized populations across Dallas. The narratives will be archived at SMU as a historical resource as well as constituting a database for publications and external grant funding efforts into the future.


    Kacy Hollenback, Anthropology
    Steven Denson, Business
    Michael Adler, Anthropology
    Jennifer Nollkamper, Education

    This research cluster brings together faculty, staff, and graduate students with interests in indigenous studies. The focus will be on traditional and contemporary indigenous forms of culture, language, art, knowledge, economy, ecology, politics, and identity, as well as contemporary issues surrounding sovereignty, tradition, human rights, intellectual property rights, heritage, health, environmental justice, and development. Our year-long goals involve (1) creating and fostering a viable campus community at SMU, (2) identifying areas for collaborative research, and (3) defining existing and future teaching needs. 

    Bonnie Wheeler, English
    Crista DeLuzio, History
    Susanne Scholz, Theology
    Martha Satz, English
    Joci Caldwell-Ryan, Women's Studies
    Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Theology

    Feminism has once again become a culturally approved term, but the connection between feminist scholarship and social change has thinned in the past decade. A group of eighteen SMU faculty and graduate students came together on May 5 with philanthropist/feminist scholar Helen LaKelly Hunt and long-time activist Vivian Castleberry to talk about Hunt’s new book on the religious roots of American feminism in the abolitionist movement. During that conversation, we realized that SMU’s feminist community could itself benefit from revitalization. As scholars and teachers, we use the tools of feminist analysis but we remain uncertain about “correct” relations between our scholarly and reformist agendas.

    We’d like to think through this question, among others, in a cluster next year that would have six notable speakers and several small discussion sections. We would also engage the Women and Gender Studies Program in this project. Our goal is to produce an edited set of essays that poses questions about the place of feminist visibility in the academy. We want to develop the field of feminist thought further as we engage in both an embodiment of and conscious reflection upon feminist discourse. Can we see feminist theory in the service of social change?

    Andrea Barreiro, Mathematics
    Matthew Lockard, Philosophy
    Scott Norris, Mathematics

    In recent years, the study of political decision‐making has received increasing attention from
    mathematicians. This interest is driven by several factors, including the availability of
    computational resources that have enabled new algorithms for sampling high‐dimensional
    probability spaces, as well as a broadly felt urgency to contribute to civic life among members
    of a discipline that has historically viewed itself as apolitical. These factors align with SMU’s
    strategic interests in high‐performance computing and interdisciplinary research. We propose
    to organize a research cluster in Political Decision‐Making with three focus areas: the
    mathematics of redistricting, social choice theory, and mathematical modeling of polarization.

    Visit their project website here.

    Stephen Arrowsmith, Earth Sciences
    Burke Jam, Creative Computation
    Sarah Nance, Art
    Matthew Siegler, Earth Sciences

    The Proposals for an Expanding Earth research cluster adopts the premise of a
    conceptually and physically expanded Earth, evidenced by advancements in space
    colonization and humans as a global geologic force. These rapid developments in human
    reach and impact have prompted shifts in research across disciplines, raising the question:
    What is the artist’s, geologist’s, etc. role in prefiguring new ways of being in this expanding
    world? Cluster leaders will integrate their diverse interests in seismology, sonics, and the
    ethics of space exploration. The cluster’s activities will include faculty panels, guest
    lectures, creative publication, and course development; identifying future exhibition,
    publication, and/or granting opportunities.

    Kenneth Daley, Philosophy
    Robert Howell, Philosophy
    Sukumaran Nair, Computer Science and Engineering

    The DCII “Technology, Society and Value” Research Cluster provides a forum for interdisciplinary collaboration on ethical issues raised by emerging technologies.  The past several years have made it painfully clear that new technologies—from social media to artificial intelligence—will change the way we interact as a society and will raise new ethical issues in the process.  This research cluster will provide an opportunity for scholars and industry professionals across various domains to connect and learn from each other’s perspective on these issues, with a goal of determining some of the more promising avenues for future research.

    Joshua Dodds, Graduate Liberal Studies Student
    Meghan Lowrey, Anthropology Graduate Student

    The Future of Narrative: Virtual Reality and What it Means to be Human will bring together SMU faculty, staff and students, the public and industry professionals, as well as other area students and educators to examine how the emergent storytelling medium of virtual reality can help us learn more about what it means to be human. In a series of short public lectures, academics and industry professionals will discuss existing and potential virtual reality experiences that shed new light on old questions about human experience and identity. What is the difference between human consciousness and other animal minds? What was it like to be a human being in the distant past? What will our collective human future be like? Virtual reality provides us with new ways to answer these questions and offers us new ways to study ourselves, our past and our future. This conference will further develop SMU as a leader in the bourgeoning field of digital humanities and its interdisciplinary nature will advance the cause of the DCII.

    Lynne Stokes, Statistics
    Nicos Makris, Civil Engineering

    As technology has developed, new data types for research have become available. Examples of these are location data from cellphones, light data from satellites, and social media data from everyone! Though these sources produce voluminous data, it requires expertise, and sometimes money, to retrieve and use it. One purpose of this research cluster is to build capacity among researchers here at SMU in how to retrieve and make use of these data. A second goal is to identify applications and teams that will use these data sources to pursue new research avenues not previously available.