Selected Recent Grants
- Dalia Rokhsana, Associate Professor of Chemistry, was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant to support her research in computational chemistry. Her research work focuses on investigating the molecular mechanisms of activity of a class of bacterial proteins - molybdenum-based enzymes - that catalyze water-splitting reactions to produce hydrogen gas. Professor Rokhsana and her group are using state-of-the-art computational chemistry and molecular modeling techniques to understand how diverse chemical environments at the protein active site control and tune structure, function, specificity, and catalytic activity. This research has potential applications to the biomimetic design and optimization of synthetic materials for use in large-scale hydrogen gas production, where bacterial proteins cannot be used directly in industrial processes that require high temperatures and pressures. The project is supporting six undergraduate students to engage in advanced bioinorganic and computational chemistry research at Whitman. Problems based on the research are also being integrated with coursework in computational chemistry and biochemistry.
- Alissa Cordner, Assistant Professor of Sociology, was awarded a National Science Foundation grant in collaboration with colleagues at Northeastern University. The project will examine the rapid formation of a national, networked social movement across the United States in response to industrial and military uses of per-and polyfluorinated compounds, a large class of compounds that has adverse health effects. The researchers will work to understand the ways in which the movement is shaping science, chemical policy, and cleanup levels. The project will provide residents and community groups affected by this chemical contamination with a greater awareness of how they can partake in the scientific process, public education, and environmental policy development.
From June 17-July 1, 2018, Whitman hosted 30 Summer Scholars from around the country for a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Summer Institute for College and University Teachers on “The Native American West: A Case Study of the Columbia Plateau.” Under the direction of Project Directors Christopher Liese, Associate Professor of English at Whitman, and Laurie Arnold, Assistant Professor of History and Director of Native American Studies at Gonzaga University, the visiting Scholars explored a variety of perspectives on the Native American West, the Columbia Plateau, and U.S. history.
The Summer Scholars represented 19 states; they came from four-year colleges, two-year colleges (including two from Walla Walla Community College), graduate programs, and museums. Six of the Scholars represented Native American communities.
Scholars received classroom instruction from 12 visiting faculty and took field trips to four key regional sites: Whitman Mission, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. A major goal of the Institute was to enable the Summer Scholars to develop new syllabi and classroom assignments that they could take back and incorporate into their courses; these and other documents are available via a broadly accessible web-based repository of resources at https://nativeamericanwest.org.
- Arielle Cooley, Associate Professor of Biology, received a National Science Foundation grant in collaboration with Joshua Puzey at The College of William & Mary. They are investigating the genetic architecture of a spatially complex flower color pattern that appears in the hybrid offspring of two solid-colored "monkeyflower" (Mimulus) plant species. They hope to understand how interactions between divergent genomes generate novel and complex traits. This summer, the grant supported travel by one of Professor Cooley’s students to William & Mary, to learn genetic mapping and computational biology approaches in Professor Puzey’s lab.
- Michael Coronado, Assistant Professor of Biology, received a National Institutes of Health R00 award. This is the second phase of an NIH Career Development Award, which is designed to transition postdoctoral scientists to an independent tenure-track career. The grant has helped Professor Coronado launch his research program in cardiac physiology, which looks at mechanisms of mitochondrial regulation in the heart. This summer the grant supported three research students in his lab.
- Mark Juhasz, Associate Professor of Chemistry, received a National Science Foundation grant this summer to support his research on boron clusters, molecules that have many potential uses in medicine, chemistry, and physics. The goal of the research is to develop efficient synthetic methods for preparing new boron clusters. The grant will support 10 students over the grant’s three years.
- Michelle Janning, Professor of Sociology, has been accepted into the Humanities Washington Speakers’ Bureau for their 2019-2020 season. Professor Janning will talk about her work on how home spaces and objects tell the story of what’s happening in contemporary families. Over the course of the two years, she will give 5-10 free public presentations in locations across the state. The Humanities Washington Speakers’ Bureau enables communities to hear from cultural experts and scholars who can engage in conversations that deepen people’s understanding and broaden their perspectives on a variety of public humanities topics.
- Lydia McDermott, Assistant Professor of Composition in General Studies and Director of the Center for Writing and Speaking (COWS), has received the Graves Award in the Humanities. The grant will further her research into the pedagogy of writing for non-native English speakers, with a focus on those from China. Professor McDermott will visit writing centers and English language classrooms in China, attend conferences on second language acquisition, and extend her own Chinese language study in the summers of 2018 and 2019. As part of this work, she will take two Whitman student researchers with her to China, and will also collaborate with the recent Whitman graduates who are teaching English at Yunnan University as part of the Whitman in China program. Professor McDermott hopes that her travel and research in China will enrich her work in the COWS and training of tutors, facilitate improved programming for international students, and enhance her faculty development for professors who work with international students. The Graves Awards are administered by Pomona College under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. The College can nominate one candidate every other year who demonstrates excellent teaching in the humanities.
- Whitman College has received a three-year grant of $800,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help the College infuse diverse perspectives into the curriculum and promote community engagement, with an emphasis on the humanities and humanistic social sciences (the focus of the Mellon Foundation). The program was developed by a group of faculty and staff, with broad consultation with multiple campus constituents. It will be overseen by Provost Alzada Tipton, with faculty management led by Professor of Anthropology & Interdisciplinary Studies Jason Pribilsky (representing Division I), Associate Professor of Studio Art Nicole Pietrantoni (representing Division II), and a faculty advisory committee. Faculty development programs will be overseen by Associate Dean for Faculty Development Lisa Perfetti and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Kazi Joshua, in consultation with faculty.
With this Mellon grant, Whitman will increase its commitment to community engagement as a means to broaden students’ perspectives and provide a variety of high-impact community experiences that are tied to the academic program. In addition, several programs will provide faculty development opportunities in inclusive pedagogy, course revision/development, and community-based learning, in order to build faculty capacity in these areas. Finally, the grant will strengthen the Student Engagement Center so it can provide greater support to faculty in their development of community partnerships and community-based learning courses. Program planning will begin in the spring, with the first initiatives scheduled to launch in the summer.
- Whitman College received a grant of $24,292 from the Port of Walla Walla to create a student coding space in the WCTS building, where budding computer scientists can come together to write code and create new programs. The Whitman Coding Space is modeled after similar “hacker” spaces found in larger tech cities like Seattle and San Francisco. It provides ideal conditions for working both individually and in groups—with monitors, white boards, individual desks, and group workspaces. In addition to Whitman students, the space will be open to students from Walla Walla Community College and Walla Walla University, in order to provide a diverse group of collaborators and to make the opportunity available to as many students as possible in town. The space will also provide new educational and community outreach opportunities for Whitman students. Ultimately, this partnership between Whitman and the Port of Walla Walla will benefit both parties--supplying highly qualified computer scientists for local businesses, providing the means to foster the growth of new start-up ventures, and helping the Port attract new technology companies to Walla Walla.
- Melissa Clearfield, Professor of Psychology, received a second sub-award from Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child to fund her ongoing “Play for Success” intervention study designed to increase executive function (e.g., attention, object exploration, and problem-solving) in low-income children. This sub-award was funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Donor Advised Fund through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the study is a collaboration with Children’s Home Society of Washington. The grant enabled Professor Clearfield and two Whitman students to spend the summer collecting and analyzing data from families in Walla Walla and Seattle. According to Professor Clearfield, the data thus far look promising, as the intervention appears to be effective at improving executive function in the infants tested, and Professor Clearfield looks forward to continuing her collaboration with Harvard in the future.
- Mark Beck, Benjamin H. Brown Professor of Physics, Arielle Cooley, Assistant Professor of Biology, Moira Gresham, Associate Professor of Physics, and Greg Vaughn-Ogin, Assistant Professor of Physics, all received research grants from the National Science Foundation this summer.
Professor Beck’s project will develop new ways of uncovering errors that occur in quantum systems, advancing our understanding of quantum mechanics and helping to influence the development of modern technology.
Professor Cooley’s grant will allow her to continue her research into the genetic mechanisms underlying repeated evolution using the monkeyflower genus Mimulus as a model organism.
Professor Gresham will use her grant to investigate the nature of dark matter, advancing our understanding of fundamental physical laws and the evolution of the cosmos.
Professor Vaughn-Ogin’s award is part of a multi-institutional grant to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration Center for Coatings Research, and will address the problem of thermal noise in the interferometer mirrors of LIGO’s gravitational wave detectors.
These research projects enable several undergraduate students to conduct summer research with their faculty mentors, exposing them to sophisticated scientific research techniques and providing excellent preparation for graduate school or future careers in science. In addition, these grants provide opportunities to broaden the reach of these scientific projects through mentoring and outreach to college and K-12 students who may be underrepresented in science.
- Whitman College has received a one-year, $11,900 grant from the Council of Independent Colleges to support a new community service program called, “Men Making Meals.” With the grant, Whitman’s Student Engagement Center will partner with the Walla Walla Senior Center and the United Way to provide cooking classes and companionship to older adults. The CIC’s Intergenerational Connections grant program, which is supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), is designed to enhance connections between college students and older adults. “Men Making Meals” will assist seniors—often men—who may not have learned to cook due to the gender roles of their generation, but whose wives have now passed away or become unable to cook. By teaching the seniors basic cooking skills, student interns will help alleviate concerns related to poor nutrition and significant expense associated with prepared or take-out meals, as well as encourage fellowship and reduce isolation for seniors. For students, the program will provide an opportunity to form positive intergenerational connections and break down some of the stereotypes young people sometimes have about older adults. The “Men Making Meals” program will support eight Whitman student interns during the 2017-2018 academic year.
- Nate Boland, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Greg Ogin, Assistant Professor of Physics, received research grants from the Murdock Trust College Research Program for Natural Sciences.
Professor Boland’s research in environmental chemistry focuses on nutrient and toxic metal bioavailability and mobility in the environment. With this grant, he will investigate the mechanisms of metal ion mobilization and acquisition exploited by plants, microbes and fungi to satisfy their nutritional needs. His grant will support six students over the course of three years.
Professor Ogin studies optics and precision measurement; he is part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group that is studying precision measurement for the purpose of detecting gravitational waves. His grant will support his efforts to develop ways to better measure the thermo-optic properties of thin film materials used in precision high-reflective mirror coatings. This will further our understanding of these materials and the noise sources associated with them, leading to better precision measurements within the gravitational-wave detection field and elsewhere in the wider optics community. Professor Ogin’s grant will enable three students to participate in this work over three years.
- Britney Moss, Assistant Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, Biophysics, & Molecular Biology, is part of a collaborative research team that recently received a $3.6 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program. In addition to Whitman College, the team consists of researchers at the University of Missouri, Rutgers University, and the University of Washington. The researchers will study how the plant hormone auxin controls ear and tassel growth in corn. They will use a combination of genomic, synthetic biology, and bioinformatic approaches to identify the specific combinations of genes expressed in these tissues in response to the hormone. In addition to shedding light on how auxin functions in plants, the research may also provide a way for growers to breed high-yielding varieties of crop plants. The grant will provide opportunities for Whitman students to conduct research with Prof. Moss and her collaborators, travel to present their work at national scientific meetings, and help develop scientific outreach activities.
- Whitman College has received a grant of $4,000 from the Pacific Power Foundation to support its Advanced Studies Enrichment (ASE) program, which provides free tutoring to high school AP math and science students. The ASE program partners Whitman College student tutors with high school students. Tutoring sessions are held in Whitman’s Hall of Science, providing a stimulating study space and exposing high school students to an inspiring college environment while they study. Sessions are designed to give students uninterrupted time to focus on their work, with tutors available to provide help when they get stuck on a topic, as well as to provide general mentoring and interaction. The ASE program, which has been supported by the Pacific Power Foundation since its inception, is one of the most successful examples of Whitman’s partnership with local schools and is a signature program within Whitman’s community outreach efforts.
- Nick Bader, Assistant Professor of Geology, received a research grant through the Murdock College Research Program for Natural Sciences. The grant will support his work in past soils, specifically his project to assemble a record of Quaternary paleoclimate from the Palouse loess in Southeastern Washington. In addition to supporting six research students over three years, the grant will enable the purchase of a piece of equipment (magnetic susceptibility meter) that is necessary to facilitate the research.
- Arielle Cooley has earned a two-year renewal grant from the Murdock College Research Program for Life Sciences to extend her previously-funded Murdock research investigating the genetic mechanisms underlying repeated evolution using Mimulus (monkeyflower) as a model system. In addition, she earned a travel award from the NSF-funded microMORPH project at Harvard that will allow her to travel to the University of Connecticut next year to develop transgenic techniques in Mimulus in collaboration with a colleague at that institution.
- Whitman College earned a $1,000 seminar grant from the AAC&U Bringing Theory to Practice program. Principal Investigator Kazi Joshua, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, developed the seminar to engage in productive dialog those faculty and staff who work with first-generation students, in order to enhance communication, coordinate activities, and develop a cohesive set of initiatives that promote the well-being of these students. The seminar was held on May 25.
- Nicole Pietrantoni, Assistant Professor of Studio Art, received the Graves Award in the Humanities, a competitive grant available to early-career faculty from liberal arts colleges in Washington, Oregon, and California who demonstrate outstanding teaching and scholarly work and who are nominated by their College’s President. The grant will facilitate a new body of artwork that explores humans’ complex relationship to nature and enables the development of Whitman College’s first Environmental Studies-Art course titled “Art in the Anthropocene.” With this funding, Pietrantoni will conduct archival research at the Center for Art and the Environment at the Nevada Art Museum, travel to historic land art sites in the American West, and participate in “The Practice of Art in the Anthropocene” conference at the University of California-Los Angeles during her sabbatical in Spring 2017.
- Arielle Cooley, Assistant Professor of Biology, received an American Philosophical Society Franklin Research grant to support her ongoing research on the monkeyflower genus Mimulus. This grant will support the purchase of supplies for experiments that will help determine the molecular mechanisms responsible for the evolution of flower color diversity in Mimulus.
- Tim Parker, Associate Professor of Biology, received conference grants from the National Science Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to organize an international workshop called “Improving Inference in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology” in November 2015 at the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, VA. This workshop grew out of Parker's research and his ongoing interests in teaching biology students to critically evaluate the scope of scientific inferences. The goal of the workshop is to develop and promote the adoption of incentive structures, especially editorial policies for academic journals, that will reduce the rate of publication of false positives, promote replication of research, and facilitate synthesis of results across studies. The attendees will include scientists interested in improving scientific inference along with editors-in-chief of many prominent journals in evolutionary biology and ecology. By changing institutions in ways that should reduce publication bias and promote more rigorous evaluation of hypotheses, the organizers hope to improve empirical progress in these fields.
- Doug Juers, Associate Professor of Physics, was awarded a grant of $316,455 from the National Institutes of Health for his research on the thermal behavior macromolecular crystals. His project will improve the quality of three-dimensional structures of macromolecules, structures that are key for understanding the molecular basis of disease. His grant will provide research opportunities for several students over three years.
- Marion Götz, Associate Professor of Chemistry, was awarded a grant of $260,647 from the National Institutes of Health for her research on proteasome inhibitors. Her project investigates the development of a new and improved class of proteasome inhibitors that may lead to more effective therapeutic agents for cancer. Her grant will provide research opportunities for 9 students over three years.
- Tim Machonkin, Associate Professor of Chemistry, was awarded a grant of $385,400 from the National Science Foundation. His research examines the mechanisms of a specific class of bacterial enzymes that can be used for bioremediation or other applications. This work, which involves a collaboration with Yale University, will provide research opportunities for 8-12 Whitman students, and send some of them to spend the summer doing research at Yale.
- Alissa Cordner, Assistant Professor of Sociology, is the co-principle investigator with collaborators at Northeastern University on a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation entitled "Perfluorinated Chemicals: The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants." The goals of the research are to track the social and scientific discovery of perfluorinated chemicals, hazardous chemicals that are widely used in industrial production. This project will investigate the emergence of lay awareness, scientific research, government involvement, media coverage, litigation, and advocacy around this class of chemicals. Cordner will analyze regulatory documents and public testimony about voluntary and regulatory action related to perfluorinated chemicals and will conduct interviews with affiliated individuals. The project will lead to a better understanding of chemical risks and environmental health controversies and will contribute to research on alternatives assessment, chemical substitution, and environmental regulation.
- Melissa Clearfield, Professor of Psychology, was awarded a grant sub-award from the Hemera Foundation. She and Whitman College are part of a larger grant to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child to launch innovative research focusing on at-risk children from prenatal to three years of age and their caregivers. At Whitman, Clearfield and students in her Whitman Infant Learning and Development (WILD) lab created a simple Play for Success intervention for low-income infants to boost object exploration and, eventually, executive function. They will partner with the Children’s Home Society of Washington to test this intervention through the Early Head Start program. This intervention will eventually lead to better problem-solving skills in this at-risk population.
- Whitman College received a planning grant of $90,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support its efforts to foster practices of diversity, inclusion, and equity on campus. The planning grant builds upon work the College has done over the past three years, including creating a diversity council and hiring a Chief Diversity Officer. Funding from the planning grant will enable the College to bring together members of the Whitman community for a series of focused discussions with faculty, staff, and students. In addition, the college will bring in external facilitators (University of Michigan Program on Intergroup Dialogue) and a nationally-known consultant (Dr. Damon Williams) to provide training and guidance to campus groups. These efforts will lead to the creation of a set of implementation strategies that will ultimately contribute to the development of Whitman College’s strategic plan for diversity.