New professors offer a rich array of experiences, scholarship

New faculty members bring with them a wealth of experiences.

Melissa Hage, Oxford assistant professor of environmental science, is one of several new Emory faculty members who bring with them a wealth of experiences in a sweeping range of intellectual disciplines.

They were drawn to Emory because of its global vision, its reputation for community engagement and academic excellence, for groundbreaking research discoveries and the promise of interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Emory is a one-of-a-kind institution, filled with collegial and creative people, making it a truly magical place to engage in intellectual pursuits,” says John Lindo, an assistant professor in Emory College's Department of Anthropology, among the dozens of new faculty members to arrive on campus for the new academic year.

As new students stream to campus this month, eager to experience all the university has to offer, they are joined by an array of new faculty members, who bring with them a wealth of experiences in a sweeping range of intellectual disciplines.

From mathematicians, environmental scientists and chemists to scholars who study organizational behaviors, ancient DNA, the formation of Latin America, and health care disparities, many see their relationship with Emory as symbiotic.

Even as they bring with them experiences from the classroom, laboratory and global fieldwork, so they are seeking the resources, peer collaboration and community engagement available at a top liberal arts research university.

“Emory provides an outstanding environment for my lab’s interdisciplinary research and my education and outreach activities,” says Jen Heemstra, a new acting associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in Emory College.

“With world-class researchers and facilities, and a forward-thinking approach to innovation and education, I knew that this would be place where I could thrive and contribute in all aspects of scholarship.”

For Karen Sedatole, a new professor of accounting at the Goizueta Business School, beyond the “outstanding accounting faculty and vision of excellence of the school’s leadership team,” she was drawn here by Goizueta’s strong partnerships with the Atlanta business community.

Sedatole hopes to build upon those bonds to help further her research into the use of accounting information within organizations. “I look forward to making connections with local business professionals, both through my teaching and through my research,” she says.

Meet a sampling of new professors drawn from across the university:

Dorian Arnold

Associate professor, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Emory College of Arts & Sciences

Selected background: associate professor, Department of Computer Science, University of New Mexico; assistant professor, Department of Computer Science, University of New Mexico; summer faculty, Department of Scalable System Software, Sandia National Laboratories; visiting scientist and technical Scholar, Center for Applied Scientific Computing, Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Scholarship focus: Extremely large (high-end or high-performance) computing systems have become critical instruments in addressing many of the world’s grandest challenges in science and engineering. While these systems are built, designed and managed by computer scientists and engineers, their principal clients are experts from other domains. My scholarship focuses on the theory, design and development of system software and tools that make large, complex computer systems efficiently and reliably accessible to computer systems non-experts.

Why it matters: I am equally passionate about solving interesting, complex conceptual problems as I am about engineering real systems. My work allows me to satisfy both passions: we find an interesting problem, theorize about solution spaces and build implementations to validate and evaluate our proposed solutions. Our research is important because as it helps to expand our computing capacities and capabilities, it also fosters scientific and engineering discoveries far beyond the field of computer science.

Lydia Fort

Assistant professor of theater studies, Emory College

Selected background: assistant professor at the City College of New York-CUNY; freelance theatre director and artistic director

Scholarship focus: Current interests include the intersection of theatre, social justice, climate change, non-Western worldviews and community cultural development. My creative work focuses on new play development, African-American plays and works by playwrights typically not included in mainstream American theatre.

Why it matters: My mission is to challenge audiences through theatre as a catalyst for social change, creating space for underrepresented voices to be heard, and building bridges between diverse groups. I create and produce socially relevant and transformative work, and believe strongly in supporting a new generation of playwrights, designers and other theatre artists to powerfully tell the stories of the world in which we live. I believe it is my great privilege to help cultivate the human spirit, nurture true creativity and inspire social transformation through the power of theatre.

Melissa Hage

Assistant professor of environmental science, Oxford College

Selected background: assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County; visiting lecturer, Willamette University

Scholarship focus: In the past, my interdisciplinary-based research primarily centered on examining geology, chemistry and biology to answer questions about the types of feedback between different Earth systems and the relative roles of these systems in the evolution of early Earth. Specifically, I used rare-earth element and iron chemistry of ancient sedimentary rocks (> 2 billion years old) to investigate the ocean chemistry of Earth. I am looking forward to applying my knowledge of iron chemistry and geochemistry to regionally important environmental issues, such as acid mine drainage.

Why it matters: Acid mine drainage (AMD) is one of mining's most serious threats to water. AMD can devastate water quality in rivers and streams, kill aquatic organisms and make receiving waters unsuitable for domestic and industrial use for hundreds to thousands of years. The creation of AMD is most commonly associated with the oxidation of pyrite, an iron-sulfide mineral, so having an understanding of iron chemistry and geochemistry is essential for addressing AMD remediation. 

Jen Heemstra

Acting associate professor, Department of Chemistry, Emory College 

Selected background: associate professor, University of Utah; senior research scientist, Obiter Research

Scholarship focus: Biomolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids are exquisitely functional, having evolved over billions of years to support the needs of living systems. In our lab, we seek to harness these capabilities and utilize these molecules for tasks that are outside of their canonical biological roles. One area of our research involves nucleic acid sequences called aptamers, which are able to bind selectively to drugs or other small molecules. We are currently working to utilize these sequences for a variety of applications including clinical diagnostics, water purification and the synthesis of therapeutics.

Why it matters: Our lab is fascinated by how molecules interact, and we want to invent new technologies that can benefit society. Our research enables us to work at the intersection of these two areas, as we can delve into the fundamental science behind nucleic acid interactions, and generate discoveries that advance environmental protection or human health.

Ozgecan Kocak

Associate professor, organization and management, Goizueta Business School

Selected background: assistant professor, Columbia Business School; assistant and associate professor, Sabanci School of Management, Istanbul, Turkey

Scholarship focus: I do research in the fields of economic sociology, organization theory and strategy. I study how behaviors of organizations and individuals in markets are shaped by social norms, structures and meaning systems. In current projects, I ask two questions: “How do shared meaning systems (e.g. organizational identities and categorization systems) affect organizational behavior and outcomes? How do such shared understandings emerge in small groups and diffuse through complex systems?

Why it matters: Behaviors that we might think of as being purely economically motivated and squarely in the domain of market transactions are supported by various social institutions as well as by informal social structures or meaning systems. We cannot conduct exchange in markets or coordinate our behaviors in organizations unless we share a common communication code, various conventions that make behavior predictable, or norms of conduct. Many of these social devices emerge bottom-up, through interactions. They account for why some organizations and markets are more effective than others. They may also have some perverse effects, due to emergence of sub-cultures, stereotyping and prejudice.

John Lindo

Assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, Emory College

Selected background: University of Chicago Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar

Scholarship focus: My lab specializes in both the molecular and computational aspects of ancient DNA research. By utilizing an integrative approach, including ancient whole genomes, statistical modeling and functional methods, my lab examines genetic fluctuations that have occurred in different environments over time, thereby pointing to genetic traits that can inform more fine-grained hypotheses of adaptation. Current research is focused on identifying how humans have adapted to agriculture, local pathogens, high altitude and environmental changes caused by colonization. 

Why it matters: My fascination with this topic started with “Jurassic Park.” Although I don’t plan on resurrecting dinosaurs, the idea of utilizing ancient DNA to examine evolution truly captures my imagination. 

Patricia Moreland

Assistant clinical professor, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

Selected background: assistant professor of nursing, Western Connecticut State University; assistant professor of nursing, Hunter College of Nursing-CUNY; nurse educator, the Kabgayi School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Human Resources for Health Program, University of Rwanda.

Scholarship focus: I’ve spent the past five years teaching nursing students at the University of Rwanda through the Human Resources for Health (HRH) Program. HRH, a seven-year initiative, is an academic collaboration between the Rwanda Ministry of HealthMO and 23 USI teaching institutions in that  and 26 U.S. teaching institutions. The goal is to increase the quantity as well as the rigor and diversity of training of health care professionals. The long-term goals of the HRH program are to strengthen health service delivery and to achieve health equity for the poor while prioritizing local ownership and sustainability. I lived in both rural and urban areas, partnering with Rwandan colleagues in a wide range of settings to improve the quality of education and clinical skills for nurses.

Why it matters: Malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all deaths in children under five years of age in Africa and other low and middle-income countries. Chronic malnutrition has been found to be associated with increased morbidity and mortality in children, elevated risk of infection, decreased brain development, irreversible cognitive deficits, low school enrollment, and loss of economic productivity as an adult. While in Rwanda, I saw the devastating impact of malnutrition on children. Many factors causing malnutrition in children are preventable. 

Pablo Palomino

Assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Mellon Fellow Faculty, Division of Humanities, Oxford College

Selected background: postdoctoral lecturer, University of Chicago, Center for Latin American Studies and History Department; visiting lecturer, University of California, Berkeley, History Department.

Scholarship focus: I research the formation of Latin America as a region in the 20th century. In my current book project, I focus on the creation of the category “Latin American music.” My second, incipient project is a history of the experience of “progress” in the region and the ways to measure it.

Why it matters: I have always been fascinated by the connections among the region’s different countries, and by its deep engagement with globalization — people, things, ideas and institutions were shaped in interaction with the rest of the world, including the United States. Musical practices are fundamental to the making, through those global and transnational interactions, of a uniquely modern and democratic culture in the region, in turn part of a larger quest for social progress.  

Shivani Patel

Assistant professor, Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health

Selected background: research assistant professor, Rollins School of Public Health

Scholarship focus: I am an epidemiologist and my focus is the study of morbidity, disability and mortality associated with cardio-metabolic diseases — such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes — in low and middle-income countries. I am especially interested in understanding disparities in cardio-metabolic disease outcomes, and much of my work takes place in South Asia.

Why it matters: In addition to being of South Asian descent, I worked in India for several years before entering epidemiology. India and other countries in the region are experiencing rapid socio-economic development that is driving the rise of chronic diseases to unprecedented levels. Therefore, there is an urgent need to better understand how to address cardio-metabolic disease in the local context. In addition, these populations appear to have a unique predisposition to diabetes despite being relatively thin, making them a scientifically rewarding group to investigate.  

Karen Sedatole

Professor of accounting, Goizueta Business School

Selected background: assistant professor, University of Texas at Austin; associate professor and professor, Michigan State University; Russell E. Palmer Endowed Professor of Accounting, Michigan State University

Scholarship focus: Management accounting research is not about how to “design a better spreadsheet.” Rather, it is a social science, which means the focus is on how individuals within organizations interact with accounting information systems. My work, broadly speaking, examines how managers use accounting information to make decisions — that is, what kinds of information are more/less useful, how well individuals process that information, and whether and how accounting information can facilitate performance of individuals and business units and/or promote cooperation between transacting parties.

Why it matters: Accounting is often referred to as the “language of business” and, as such, is the foundation for the financial reports prepared for an organization’s external constituents (e.g. investors, lenders and other market participants). However, the internal use of accounting information by managers within the firm plays a key role in the organization’s performance. It is that internal use of accounting information for managing performance that I find interesting, in part because the human element emerges in a very fascinating and pronounced way.

Fred Smith

Associate professor, Emory Law

Selected background: assistant professor of law, Berkeley Law School; clerked for Judge Myron Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama, Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr. of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Supreme Court.  

Scholarship focus: I write about lawsuits against states, cities and government officials that violate the Constitution. In particular, I write about ways to expand access to courts in those suits, while taking seriously constraints on governments' budgets and autonomy. 

Why it matters: I think it is vitally important that people who care about equality also care about ensuring access to justice in fora such as courts. 

Lisa Thompson

Associate professor, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and an affiliated appointment with Department of Environmental Health, Rollins School of Public Health

Selected background: Assistant/associate professor in the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco; spent 18 years as a family nurse practitioner at La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland, California, providing primary care to Spanish-speaking low-income patients. 

Scholarship focus: I focus on environmental factors that contribute to adverse infant outcomes, specifically the impact of air pollution that mothers are exposed to during pregnancy and the effect on their newborns and young children. I focus on communities that experience disparities in health because of poverty, discrimination and lack of access to health care. I work specifically on developing and disseminating interventions to reduce exposures to household air pollution from cooking fires in low-resource countries. For the past 15 years, my research has been focused in Guatemala, the epicenter for household air pollution research since the first randomized stove intervention trial was conducted in 2002.

Why it matters: Globally, 3 billion people are exposed to high levels of household air pollution, leading to over 4 million deaths a year from pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke and ischemic heart disease. Infants born to poor mothers in many parts of the world are born at home, and without adequate access to health care, leading to deaths from prematurity or untreated neonatal/infant pneumonia. These conditions are associated with household air pollution, but we need to build the evidence that a clean cookstove can reduce these two important causes of infant mortality.

Daniel Wechsler, MD

Acting professor and director of pediatric oncology 

Selected background: director of pediatric oncology, acting professor and Thomas R. Giddens Chair, Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University Department of Pediatrics

Scholarship focus: Our basic science research laboratory is focused on understanding how leukemias develop in infants. We identified a new genetic abnormality in the leukemia cells of a 3-month-old baby who unfortunately died of her cancer, and we have been studying how that particular genetic change caused her leukemia. We have identified new and unexpected molecular pathways that make bone marrow cells grow out of control and become cancerous and that are active in other infant and childhood leukemias. We are working with a new compound that inhibits these pathways and causes leukemia cells to die. We are performing preclinical studies on mouse leukemias with the hope that these will be translated to patients in the future.

Why it matters: While cure rates for many pediatric cancers have increased dramatically, there are still some childhood malignancies — like infant leukemias — which are very difficult to treat and for which new therapeutic approaches are sorely needed. I have been practicing pediatric oncology for more than 25 years, and have unfortunately seen a fair number of patients succumb to their cancers — infants with leukemia are cured only 30 to 40 percent of the time. The patient whose leukemia led to our current research motivated me to try to understand why her leukemia was so aggressive, and to develop new approaches that could treat other patients with similar leukemias. It has been particularly gratifying that in spite of their loss 15 years ago, the parents of this infant have stayed in touch and remain interested in our research, with the hope that better understanding their baby’s illness might be able to help other children. We are especially excited that the compound that we use in our research has shown some promise in clinical trials and may ultimately be used to help other pediatric leukemia patients. We need to continue to study pediatric cancers so that we can get to the day when we have effective treatments for every single child who is diagnosed with cancer.

Michelle Wright

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet Professor of English

Selected background: Professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literary Studies, Northwestern University

Research Focus: My scholarship focuses on the problem of identity in the literature and philosophy of the Black and African Diasporas.

Why it matters: My parents are an interracial American couple and I grew up attending private English-speaking schools in Europe where I encountered a broad range of students from all over the African diaspora, so I have always been intrigued by all the different ways in which one can be Black. I like to pursue this question through both fiction and non-fiction because the answers that you find are often unexpected and require yet deeper and more flexible thinking on issues like race, gender, sexuality and class. 

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