Jon Shelton

UW-Green Bay Prof. Jon Shelton awarded National Academy of Education fellowship to study how the connection between education and economic opportunity affects political divisions today

Shelton one of 30 selected from more than 200 applicants

If your vision of “living history” is an aging professor prattling on about his early years, you have yet to meet UW-Green Bay Associate Professor, Jon Shelton (Democracy and Justice Studies).

Shelton’s approach to understanding history is to research the thread of an event or concept from its origins, follow the significant developments over time and engage students in discussion about the way it is being lived or applied now. Students learn how lessons from the past might inform decisions today.

His research focuses on the intersection of history and education, an area on which he has built a reputation as a national scholar. He is regularly contacted by reporters (New York Times, TIME, Washington Post, etc.) who are looking for context behind national stories about education and labor relations.

To further his research, Shelton has been awarded a prestigious postdoctoral grant from the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Fellowship Program, which supports “early career scholars working in critical areas of education research,” according to the NAEd website.

“One of the best features of the fellowship,” said Shelton, “is the opportunity to network with other research fellows and members of the National Academy. It gives me the opportunity to think outside of my own discipline, which is also consistent with the interdisciplinary, problem-focused nature of UW-Green Bay.”

Shelton will use the research fellowship to explore the historical connections between education, economic opportunity, and political divisions in America.

“I was trained as a labor historian, but now I also do work in the history of education,” said Shelton. In fact, his dissertation[1] won an award from the Labor and Working-Class History Association and his book[2] won the First Book Award from the International Standing Conference on the History of Education.

“The main reason I became interested in my current topic has to do with my students in Democracy and Justice Studies,” Shelton continued. “It was clear these students believed in the value of education, but a lot of them talked about family members who had college degrees and still could not find jobs. They voiced lower expectations about what a college education would actually do for them. This got me curious about what Americans thought about education and economic opportunity or economic security over time.”

Shelton said the Democratic Party in the ‘60s had bipartisan support for the idea that education was just one part of a host of social democratic policies necessary to alleviate poverty and give all Americans economic security. By the ‘90s, however, many national Democrats increasingly called for investing public funds in education and job re-training as their major policy for increasing economic inequality.

In the decades afterward, Shelton believes, as investments in education failed to provide good jobs to everyone and jobs moved to other countries, a real resentment bubbled up from the grassroots. Successful politicians, he said, have been able to mobilize disaffected, blue-collar groups, especially in the upper Midwest, who express a desire to “discipline these educators who are spending our tax dollars needlessly.”

As a consequence, Shelton posited, in the past few years, there has been both an assault on the political center from the right, and an existential discussion among the Democrats about where they’re going to go, as a few Democratic presidential candidates challenge some Democratic norms.

“What I’m going to do is look at how various people have made the economic argument for education, going back as far as the 19th century, and how that’s changed over time,” said Shelton. “I’m a proponent of public investment in education, obviously, but I think the narrative that education can solve all problems has come at the expense of other things policy-makers should have considered in order to provide full economic citizenship for all Americans. If that had happened, I don’t think we’d be seeing the big levels of resentment we see right now in both parties.

Shelton’s research will take him away from teaching for a full academic year, starting now, spring term 2020. Losing a faculty member from an eight-person department can have a significant impact on remaining faculty, but Shelton said he’s received tremendous support from his peers and from university administration.

“My department chair, Alison Staudinger, and our dean, Chuck Rybak, have been ‘150% supporters’ of this fellowship,” said Shelton. “And my colleagues’ only question has been, “How do we make this work?””

Although Shelton’s research will take him away from UW-Green Bay, he won’t be too far.

“The nature of historical research involves visiting archives,” said Shelton. “I’ll be visiting the National Education Association archives in Washington, D.C., and I’ll visit other sites across the upper Midwest. I’m planning to visit UW-Madison, the state archives of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the Reuther Library in Detroit to see the American Federation of Teachers archives, the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock and the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. I’m still scoping out some of the study plan, so there will probably be more visits like that.”

Shelton is already integrating some of his research findings into his classroom.

“I’m fortunate to work in an academic unit that engages all of us on the faculty in pursuit of a similar question about democracy and social justice, so I don’t see any way that this would not inform our classwork. In fact, a lot of the questions I’m exploring came from classroom discussions.”

The collaborative campus environment is what drew Shelton to Green Bay.

“I came to UW-Green Bay in 2013 because I was attracted by the interdisciplinary, problem-focused nature of the campus,” Shelton said. “It sounds corny, but I am lucky to be in arguably the best academic unit that exists anywhere in the country. We’re small, but we’re devoted to a common project that transcends our disciplines: What makes societies equitable, what makes them change, how they can become more equitable?

“Students come to study with us because they are excited about that question,” he said. “Many go on to grad school or law school or become labor organizers across the country.”

Shelton is also preparing a second book, which will explore what his research has revealed about history’s influence on contemporary politics. He hopes it will resonate with the general reader and national policy makers.

“One of my goals is to explain how we got to this point,” said Shelton. “The other goal is to look at the arguments people have made to connect education, economics and politics, and to learn where those arguments were helpful and where they were not.

“I hope people will read the book and talk about how we have come to think about politics today,” he concluded. “I also hope this will inform political debates about education and economic policy for the future.”

And that brings history to life.

[1] “Against the Public: Teacher Strikes and the Decline of Liberalism, 1968-1981,” University of Maryland, 2013. Advisor: Julie Greene

[2] “Teacher Strike! Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order,” University of Illinois Press/Working Class in American History series, 2017.

Reminder: Summer Research Scholar Program proposals are due Jan. 27

The UW-Green Bay Research Council is currently accepting proposals for the 2020 Summer Research Scholar Program. Faculty having applied for the Summer Research Scholar Program in the past will want to note that this program has undergone significant changes in recent years. The Summer Research Scholar Program is designed to provide stipend support during the summer for the purpose of developing or continuing a significant research project (beyond the unit expectations for scholarship). All Summer Research Scholar Program proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020. For more information, please visit https://www.uwgb.edu/research-council/. Contact Research Council Chairperson Jason Cowell at cowellj@uwgb.edu with questions.

Deceptively simple fruit fly may provide life-saving lessons according to UW-Green Bay researchers

The deceptively simple Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) may have life-saving lessons to share with the significantly more complex Homo sapiens, lessons that could lead to future changes in treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Douglas Brusich Fruit Fly Research-4According to a peer-reviewed research paper published recently in the journal Fly[1],  results from studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay suggest three significant findings with potential implications for humans:

  • First, repetitive, moderate blows to the head at short intervals have potential for serious injury. There appears to be a cumulative effect from a series of moderate blows within a short time frame, which can be as harmful as a single significant blow.
  • Second, the time frame for increased harm caused by repeated injuries can operate at shorter timescales than has been previously appreciated. The research suggests that consideration must be paid to repetitive injuries that occur closely together.
  • Finally, TBI caused an initial impairment of motor coordination, temporary recovery, and then a second, delayed impairment before full recovery was achieved. Single severe injuries caused the same impairment as repetitive moderate blows. Thus, if only using coordination measures, there is a risk for improperly determining an individual has recovered from a TBI event, whether severe or moderate, at an early time-point, when in fact they are still in the process of fully recovering.

By now you’re probably asking, “All of this from a fruit fly?”

“That’s a question I get a lot,” smiles Doug Brusich, assistant professor of Human Biology and leader of the research team. “People wonder why we use fruit flies and how results from those studies can have any relevance to humans.”

Brusich recited the reasons with the ease of someone who has answered this question many times before:

“Fruit fly genes mirror human genes very closely,” said Brusich, “so while findings may not be completely analogous, they usually point us to something that might be worthy of further study in mammals, including humans.

“Their genes are also easier to work with than mammal genes,” he continued. “For example, where mammals might have nine genes that govern sodium channels, fruit flies have one. If you make a change in that sodium channel and observe a result, you have a potential indication of a similar importance in mammals.

“Fruit flies also breed quickly, from larvae to adults in 10 days, and have 80-day life cycles,” said Brusich, “so we can develop hundreds of flies for study in a relatively short time. And we can use flies at varying stages of  their lives to see if age has any impact on the results.

“We also have to consider the financial and ethical aspects of our research,” he added. “Fruit flies are very inexpensive to maintain in the lab, especially compared to the cost of other potential subject animals like mice. And the ethical questions that arise when inflicting brain damage on flies are much less complex.

“It’s also important that the ways we produce injuries on flies in the lab is as similar to the ways humans experience TBIs,” Brusich concluded, “The results from fruit fly research come from impact and rotational forces that closely resemble forces humans might experience.”

Douglas Brusich Fruit Fly Research-3

Expanding the research to new levels

Brusich and his team at UW-Green Bay—former undergraduate student Lauren Putnam (2018), and current undergraduates Nathaniel Disher, Brooke Kalata and Ashley Willes—knew the literature contained well documented fruit fly studies of TBI based on single, high-impact strikes. They wondered, though, whether the methods in those studies could be used to study milder injuries, which are more common but less understood.

“There were two reasons we pursued this path,” explained Brusich. “First, mild head trauma is quite common and affects human health. Roughly 70-90% of the greater than 1.5 million annual TBI events resulting in hospital visits in the United States are classified as mild, however, just as many mild injuries are estimated to go unreported. Additionally, we have evidence that mild head injuries which fail to even meet classic criteria for a concussion result in changes in brain health.

“Second,” he continued, “mild injuries have so far been poorly studied or modeled by mammalian or fly models of TBI. This is in part because mild injuries don’t always generate noticeable outcomes. As a result, we have little information about mild TBI.

“Expanding our studies to reduced levels of severity opens the possibility of investigating similarities and/or differences in predisposition and consequences in response to severe versus mild TBI,” he concluded.

Douglas Brusich Fruit Fly Research-2

Is it dead or just sleeping?

Anyone who has swatted a house fly has seen the immediate effect of a (lucky) strike. The fly is temporarily stunned and may sit motionless for a short time before recovering and flying off to annoy you again.

It turns out the temporary disorientation we casually observe is one of the behaviors researchers look for after striking flies in the lab. They also have other behavioral clues to watch for and record.

But those clues are subtle and you can’t have a lab full of researchers swatting willy-nilly at a room full of flies that are smaller than a house fly’s wing. For one thing, the lab is only the size of a galley kitchen. For another, how would you observe and record any of the fruit flies’ behavior in such an environment? How do you set up a study that provides predictable levels of “swat” energy and enables recording of the results?

Brusich and his team arrived at a MacGyver-like solution by adapting a compression spring-powered device developed by researchers at UW-Madison specifically for fruit fly research. The original device produced a strike (a “swat”) by attaching a vial of 20 to 60 flies to the end of the 10-inch-long coil spring, affixing the spring horizontally to a padded surface, pulling the spring upward to a 90-degree deflection from the table, then releasing the spring to return to its horizontal position, stunning the flies in the vial.

This method has become known as the High-Impact Trauma (HIT) method and has been widely adopted in fly research.

For his team’s purpose, Brusich modified the device so it could reliably and accurately produce single or multiple strikes at 60-, 70-, 80- and 90-degree deflections. This enabled the team to examine the results of repetitive HIT events to about 34,000 fruit flies across varying levels of severity, from mild to severe.

The team also combined low-tech and high-tech solutions to study the fruit flies’ ability to walk (geotaxis) after TBI events. They used a plywood frame and elastic bands to hold several vials upright, then dropped the frame three times from a set height, forcing the flies to the bottom of the vial.

They then used a Logitech webcam to watch as the flies reacted: some scrambled to the top, some remained confused and some stayed at the bottom. Using screen shots and statistical modeling software, the flies’ actions were catalogued, timed and plotted.

The results of the study confirmed other researchers’ findings for severe TBI effects (strikes at 90-degree deflections) and produced the three novel results described above (arising from repetitive strikes at varying intervals that produce less severe, but cumulative, TBI effects).

“We were happy that our study produced results so consistent with what others had found,” said Brusich. “And we think the findings that resulted from expanding the methodology to less severe levels of TBI have potential implications for further study in fruit flies and mammals. Future findings could change the way we assess and treat TBI.”

From TBI to epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease

Brusich is already taking information from his TBI research into others areas of exploration.

“I initially got into studying epilepsy from experiments I conducted as part of my graduate thesis,” said Brusich. “I started using TBI in part to model post-traumatic epilepsy, which my lab is now studying. More broadly, TBI findings are relevant to aging and neurodegeneration, such as from dementias like Alzheimer’s, and so the more we learn from this model the better. TBI is also a trending topic in research, so the additional perks are that it is garnering more funding and becoming an attractive and enjoyable area of research for prospective students.

“I have long wanted my role to be a split research-teaching one at a primarily undergraduate school like UW-Green Bay,” he continued, “and the simple, low-cost set up of my lab is appropriate for undergraduate involvement. The supportive environment created by my dean and by the school in general has enabled us to carve out this niche for ourselves versus the research functions at some of the larger schools.”

Aspiring researchers welcome

Brusich hopes other students who share his passion for fundamental research will consider joining him.

“I always mention my research interests in the courses I teach and ask students to chat with me if they think they might be interested in research,” said Brusich.

“I compile a list of these students and others who have heard about the opportunity, then invite students from the list to interviews held once or twice a year. Students are always welcome to contact me (email is best) if they are interested in research.”


[1] Lauren J Putnam, Ashley M Willes, Brooke E Kalata, Nathaniel D Disher & Douglas J Brusich (2019): Expansion of a fly TBI model to four levels of injury severity reveals synergistic effects of repetitive injury for moderate injury conditions, Fly, DOI: 10.1080/19336934.2019.1664363.

Story by freelance writer Jim Streed ’05, photos by Dan Moore, UW-Green Bay photographer and videographer

Winter 2020 Grants in Aid of Research proposals due Jan. 27

The UW-Green Bay Research Council is currently accepting proposals for Winter 2020 Grants in Aid of Research. Faculty having applied for GIAR funding in the past will want to note that revisions have been made to the GIAR call. The Research Council invites members of the UW-Green Bay faculty to submit proposals for Grants in Aid of Research. The funds must be used in support of faculty research. All GIAR proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. on January 27, 2020. For more information, please visit https://www.uwgb.edu/research-council/. Please contact Research Council Chairperson Jason Cowell at cowellj@uwgb.edu with questions.

Summer Research Scholar Program proposals are due Jan. 27

The UW-Green Bay Research Council is currently accepting proposals for the 2020 Summer Research Scholar Program. Faculty having applied for the Summer Research Scholar Program in the past will want to note that this program has undergone significant changes in recent years. The Summer Research Scholar Program is designed to provide stipend support during the summer for the purpose of developing or continuing a significant research project (beyond the unit expectations for scholarship). All Summer Research Scholar Program proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020. For more information, please visit https://www.uwgb.edu/research-council/. Contact Research Council Chairperson Jason Cowell at cowellj@uwgb.edu with questions.

Research in the Rotunda application deadline, Monday, Dec. 2

The 17th Annual Research in the Rotunda will take place Wednesday, March 11, 2020 in the State Capitol’s Rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin. This all-day event is intended to highlight the quality and value of undergraduate research, including their involvement in faculty-guided research projects. Outstanding undergraduate student researchers from across the state will present their research together with their faculty advisors to state legislators, state leaders, UW alumni and other supporters.

The final application deadline is Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 at 4 p.m. Applicants must complete the Qualitrics survey in order to be considered as a presenter for this event. Please help us demonstrate the exceptional quality of research conducted throughout all of the UW-Green Bay campuses by encouraging your students to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For more information, please visit the Grants & Research Office website.

Faculty note: Prof. Bansal and Noah Redearn to present research, you can join in on webinar

UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Gaurav Bansal (Business Administration) and undergraduate student Noah Redfearn will be presenting their research entitled “Trust Violation and Rebuilding After a Data Breach: Role of Environmental Stewardship and Underlying Motives” at the Midwest Association for Information Systems chapter webinar on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Noon.Their research was recently published in the Journal of Midwest Association for Information Systems (AIS). You can join the webinar here. RSVP here to be contacted in case of changes.

Fall 2019 Grants in Aid of Research proposals due Sept. 22, 2019

The Research Council is accepting applications for the Fall 2019 Grants in Aid of Research. Faculty having applied for GIAR funding in the past will want to note that revisions have been made to the GIAR call. The funds for Grants in Aid of Research are to be used in support of faculty research (from any of the four campuses). All GIAR proposals are due by 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2019. Learn more. Please contact Research Council Interim Chairperson Jason Cowell at cowellj@uwgb.edu with questions.

 

Psychology faculty Jason Cowell and Sawa Senzaki study the pilots' brain activity.

Little Pilots, Big Study

There’s a jet plane in Mary Ann Cofrin Hall—in the psychology lab, to be exact. It’s colorful, about three feet tall and crafted of high-density plastic body foam with a padded seat. The “pilot” is about three years old, wearing a “helmet” of blinking LEDs with lots of protruding wires. He’s busy studying a computer screen and obviously enjoying himself. Nearby, an undergraduate student monitors the pilot’s brain activity. Mom is watching nearby through a two-way mirror.

Child research subject wearing EEG cap.The space that’s being explored is between his ears. Technically what’s being recorded is a neurophysiological reading of brain activity through an electroencephalographic (EEG) “hat.”
The whole experience is completely painless and takes about 45 minutes— about the same as a haircut.

This isn’t just a solo flight. (He’s approximately pilot number 300 and counting). It’s all part of a multi-cultural research project developed by UW-Green Bay psychology and human development professors Sawa Senzaki and Jason Cowell.  The title is impressive: The Role of Parental Socialization in the Neurophysical Development of Moral Evaluation Across Cultures.
And what’s really enabled this project to take off is a $365,500 grant from The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s a prestigious grant with an award rate of about seven percent (comparable to being accepted to Yale or MIT).

Psychology faculty Sawa Senzaki fitting subject with EEG cap
Sawa Senzaki fitting subject with EEG cap

“I came here in 2013; my research is about cultural psychology,” Senzaki says. “I’m interested in looking at how parenting is shaped in different cultural ways.” She’s currently an associate professor and has worked to expand psychological research to more diverse cultures. “Only 12 percent of the world’s population (primarily the U.S., Canada and Western Europe) represents 96 percent of all psychological research data.”

As a leading researcher in cultural psychology, Senzaki also focuses on both the changes and similarities that occur in children as they age and how those changes can be impacted by cultural and social influences. “What I am interested in personally is how parenting shapes these different cultural ways childhood development is impacted.”

Psychology faculty Jason Cowell studys child's brain activity
Jason Cowell with participant

Cowell, currently an assistant professor, arrived on campus in 2015 with an interest in developmental neuroscience—a new field that “looked” at the brains of children as they’re starting to learn skills like moral decision making. What brought them together was the classic area of psychological theory, “nature vs. nurture” and the intersection of their mutual interest in child development.

So how does one measure neurophysical development in three-to five-year-olds?

“We show them cartoons,” Cowell explains, displaying the screen our pilot was viewing. We’re looking at how children’s brains react to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ acts in cartoons.”

Cowell also credits UW-Green Bay as being a great fit for nurturing an academic’s professional goals. “Why this is a cool thing is that Sawa and I have done a lot of research in our past, so when we came here, we wanted to continue. The best way to keep research going is to bring in external funding. So, we spent a couple of years applying for several grants and finally received a really good one. This is a unique opportunity for the University.”

Another positive aspect of this particular grant is its focus on undergraduates as paid assistants.

The undergraduate assistants play with the kids and get them used to the lab. “It’s the really cool part because the undergrads do all of this and they really do a good job.”

UW-Green Bay junior psychology major Kate Sorebo took advantage of this rare opportunity. “I was browsing through the Psychology program want ads and came across Prof. Senzaki’s ad for a research assistant. I got in contact with her, had an interview and the rest is history!”

Sorebo appreciates the effort it takes just to put little “pilots” in the plane. “The kids that come in are such intelligent and energetic participants, it’s always a good time.” Plus, this experience is shaping her future plans to go to graduate school and focus on educational psychology with an emphasis on how children with special needs learn and grow as individuals.

And as far as the University goes, Senzaki envisions their research as the launching pad to even greater things. “It’s a three-year grant so we’ll be doing several different variances of this project, including international collaborations in Japan.”

Senzaki also sees the project enhancing regional and national awareness of UW-Green Bay’s research capabilities. “Part of the benefit of the grant is to expose students to opportunities that are on par with some of the most prestigious universities in the country.” With more than 800 psychology and human development majors and minors currently on campus, this is one little pilot program that’s really taking off.

Marinette Campus presents ‘Best of the Bay’ research event, April 30-May 2

For three days, the UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus will feature the extensive work of students’ research in the public event, Best of the Bay. All presentations will take place in the cafeteria from Noon to 1 p.m., Main Building, 750 W. Bay Shore St. in Marinette.

Tuesday, April 30, the Student Spotlight will showcase five student presentations in the campus cafeteria over the noon hour. The following students will present their research findings on various topics:

· Technology Use and the Elderly by Katie Thai
· Women in Law Enforcement by Autumn Washuleski
· Should Government Spy on People’s Wi-Fi? by Sophia Dao
· Upsize to Plus Size: The Limitations of the Clothing Industry by Beth Paul
· Panel Discussion: Student Perspectives on Climate Change moderated by Cat Kramer & Cassidy McArthur

On Wednesday, May 1, the Marinette Campus invites members of the community to “Posters by the Bay.” More than 40 students from different classes will display and discuss posters they created based on independent research projects. Students have been working outside of class to deepen their understanding of topics related to courses in Geography, Biology, Spanish, and Gender Studies. Topics for posters will include “Images of Wisconsin and The UP,” “Community Gardens,” “Variations of Spanish Spoken in the United States,” and “Women and STEM Education.” The event will be held at noon in the Main Building hallway and classrooms.

Thursday, May 2, the the Marinette Campus will hold a public reading to celebrate the release of the Spring 2019 edition of Northern Lights, the campus literary and arts journal. Spearheaded by the Marinette campus Creative Writing Club, Northern Lights features poems, essays, photos, and artwork by students and faculty/staff. The event will feature contributors reading from or discussing their work. Attendees will receive a free copy of the journal. The event will be held at noon in the campus cafeteria.