Sociology Professor Links Resegregation and Enrollment Trends

David Swanson, professor of sociology, discussed how his analysis of enrollment trends prevented the re-segregation of public schools in Memphis, Tenn., in a lecture at UC Irvine’s Center for Demographic and Social Analysis in November.

Swanson, a demographer who has advised the U.S. Census Bureau on survey methodologies, appeared as an expert witness in a U.S. District Court trial regarding the creation of new municipal school districts and school boards. The sociologist presented “Forensic Demography in a Red State: How Expert Testimony Helped Stop Re-Segregation of the Public Schools” as part of the UCI center’s Fall 2013 Colloquium Series.

The merger of the largely black Memphis School District with the suburban Shelby County School District stood to change the racial composition in the suburban district substantially, Swanson explained.  A law passed by the Tennessee legislature in 2012 would have allowed the suburban schools to pull out of the merger, but only if the new law did not violate the state constitution, which prohibits laws affecting only one county.

Swanson’s projections showed that no other county had the potential to meet the enrollment requirements that allowed the Shelby County schools to form a separate district.  A federal judge cited Swanson’s population forecasts and testimony in ruling last year against the state law that permitted the creation of new municipal school districts.

UCR Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant For Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

Yanping Chen

Yanping Chen

UCR is a Grand Challenges winner an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yanping Chen, a computer science Ph.D. student at UCR, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Using Sensors to Understand Insect-Vectored Diseases and Plan Effective Interventions.”

Chen, who is working in the lab of Professor Eamonn Keogh in the Bourns College of Engineering, will use the $100,000 to create sensors to count and classify insect vectors, producing real-time information that can be used to plan intervention/suppression programs to combat problems such as malaria.

She will be assisted by Adena Why, a Ph.D. student in entomology, and Moses Oben Tataw, who recently earned his Ph.D. under Keogh. The goal is to produce a software system that leverages information from sensors, and can produce real-time counts of the target insects and summarize them in an intuitive and actionable manner.

Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol Disrupts Brain Circuitry

Kelly Huffman

Kelly Huffman

According to a team of UCR neuroscientists and Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology, prenatal exposure to alcohol severely disrupts major features of brain development that potentially lead to increased anxiety and poor motor function, conditions typical in humans with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

The team discovered that prenatal exposure to alcohol significantly altered the gene expression and the development of a network of connections in the neocortex–the part of he brain responsible for high-level though and cognition, vision, hearing, touch, balance, motor skills, language, and emotion. Prenatal exposure caused wrong areas of the brain to be connected with each other.

These findings contradict the popular belief that consuming alcohol during pregnancy does no harm. So women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant should abstain from drinking alcohol.

The study appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Study co-authors are UCR Ph.D. students Hani El Shawa and Charles Abbott.

School Climate Key to Preventing Bullying

Cixin Wang

Cixin Wang

Cixin Wang, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education, found that to effectively prevent bullying, schools need to understand positive school climate, use reliable measures to evaluate school climate and use effective prevention and intervention programs to improve the climate.

Wang co-authored the article, “The Critical Role of School Climate in Effective Bullying Preention,” with Brandi Berry and Susan M. Swearer, both of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was published in the journal Theory Into Practice.

“With this research, we’re really trying to provide school personnel with some proven steps to address the problem,” Wang said.

Ph.D. Student to Participate in Carnegie Hall Workshop

Damjan Rakonjac, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Music, was selected to participate in the prestigious Carnegie Hall Weill Institute of Music Arts Journalism Workshop in New York City in November.

Rakonjac was one of four arts journalism students chosen in the national competition that also brought young composers and performers together for mentoring in the process of creating, collaborating on, promoting, and premiering new works commissioned for the occasion by Carnegie Hall.

“Damjan is a brilliant, insightful graduate student who writes a blog featuring music criticism of the highest order,” said Byron Adams, professor of music and Rakonjac’s faculty advisor. “His accomplishments in this area have resulted in the signal honor of participation in the Carnegie Hall Weill Institute workshop.”

Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed mentored the arts journalism students in the weeklong workshop whose leaders also included Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, International Contemporary Ensemble founder Claire Chase and members of the ensemble.

The workshop aims to promote dialogue between and among composers, performers and writers, and to explore the different but intersecting means through which each group communicates about music and their artistic work, Rakonjac explained.

“The application process was highly selective,” he said. “Making the case that I was a graduate student in the UCR musicology program was instrumental in my obtaining this unique opportunity. One of the most exciting aspects of the program was the chance to collaborate with some of the most active composers, performers, and music critics in the world of new classical music.”

The program culminated in a concert of newly commissioned works at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 20.

Rakonjac expects to complete his M.A. in 2014 and his Ph.D. in 2018. His research specialty is the emergence of musical modernism in Paris from about 1880 through the 1920s.

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