Featured Faculty Profiles
Middle Tennessee State University’s devotion to student success begins with its acclaimed faculty. Our university’s standing as comprehensive university was built by the hard work, insight and reputation of our faculty, who are the heart and soul of our great institution. With the help of our outstanding faculty, many of whom are the leaders in their fields, our academic programs continue to grow and enjoy regional, national, and in some cases, international recognition. We are proud to feature faculty excellence in coverage by MTSU Magazine and MTSUNews.com. Here is a selection of recent faculty profiles:
In early 2009, MTSU biology professor Ryan Otter stood awestruck on the banks of the Emory River in Roane County. Under his boots, where there should have been vegetation, there was gray sludge. And the water in the alcove was simply gone, displaced by wet fly ash, a thick chemical stew that had spilled into the river when an earthen retention pond ruptured at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant. When analyses of toxin levels in fish proved inconclusive, he turned to a commonly found spider known as long-jawed orb weavers that spin webs to catch mosquitoes, black flies, and other bugs that live in and feed on sediment. When the lab results came in, Otter was as shocked as anyone. The spiders tested negative for every toxin but selenium—levels of which, while concerning, weren’t “off the charts,” he says. While media images of the Kingston site were terrifying, the spiders told a more accurate story.
MTSU professor Meredith Dye researches women serving life sentences in prison, a population that receives little research attention. In 2010, she visited three Georgia prisons and surveyed 214 of the 300 women serving life sentences in the state. As far as she knows, the data represents the largest sample of its kind. Her findings are myth breaking in that they don’t fit most pre-existing perceptions of who women serving life sentences really are. It’s about telling the stories of incarcerated women “nobody seems to care about.”
Connecting the respected canon of literature to a TV show about vampires and a heroine slayer isn’t the typical self-reflection one might expect from a professor of English Literature with a Curriculum Vitae long enough to warrant its own ISBN number. But Dr. David Lavery, Director of Graduate Studies in English at MTSU, isn’t typical, nor are the credits on his CV.
For starters, Lavery is credited with creating the first book devoted to an individual TV series, Twin Peaks.
The ability to monitor hydrogen peroxide on a molecular level has a host of practical applications in fields as diverse as health care (early cancer detection) and food service (spoilage detection). As a result, researchers have developed a variety of nanotech-based sensors. For the most part, those technologies have used sensors dependent on precious metals like gold. In an effort to establish a cheaper bio-sensing material, MTSU professor Dr. Charles C. Chusuei turned to zinc. An earth-rich element, zinc is much more abundant, and therefore cheaper, than the precious set. The cheaper the materials used, the more widespread the possible application of the technology.
At an age when most kids were sitting on the family room floor watching Captain Kangaroo, Andy Brower was running across the green hills of Trinidad, watching his parents collect butterflies. Both were renowned entomologists.
Today, Brower is a renowned entomologist in his own right -- an internationally recognized expert on butterfly evolution.
Years before the National Geographic Channel sent film crews to Middlesboro, Ky., to document the life of preacher Jamie Coots for the show Snake Salvation, MTSU professor Patricia Gaitely was there doing some documentation of her own. Equipped with a simple recorder and camera, a notebook, a Bible, and sometimes a tambourine, she traveled to Coots’s church and other small congregations in the rural Southeast to immerse herself in the culture of snake handling. What she learned changed many of her assumptions about these people, whose lives bear little resemblance to reality TV.
Since becoming director of the Center for Historic Preservation, MTSU’s first Center of Excellence, MTSU professor and Tennessee state historian Dr. Carroll Van West has established a reputation that’s helped make the center and MTSU historic preservation students familiar in places well beyond Tennessee’s borders. It’s all part of CHP’s mission to support and direct student research and experiential learning opportunities. “It’s a great competitive advantage because when our students go on interviews they talk about their projects, and employers know from the get-go that they have real experience.”
Those who think they know reggae music are likely in for an education when they read The Encyclopedia of Reggae: The Golden Age of Roots Reggae. Written by MTSU professor Dr. Mike Alleyne, the encyclopedia provides a colorful, 352-page study of the reggae genre, covering it from A to Z and from the late 1960s up to the mid-1980s.
Alleyne’s book is one of the most recent contributions from a department that is constantly working to further explore and expand its field.
Dr. Leigh Anne Clark, MTSU professor of management, has compared privacy laws in the United States and the European Union, particularly Germany. She and her fellow researchers found that the few restrictions on the books in the U.S. are very lenient, while Germany has perhaps the toughest privacy laws in the EU. In the age of Google and Google mapping, Clark asserts that American private businesses have an “innovation policy vacuum” in dealing with the new technology.
MTSU professor of marketing Dr. Don Roy has been recognized for his insight into the social media world of Twitter.
Roy received an award from MBAPrograms.org, which named his Twitter account among the top 50 for business-school professors. He also ranked 65 out of 100 on Social Media Marketing magazine’s top marketing professors roster.
Dr. Philip Phillips, associate dean of the MTSU Honors College, began teaching at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in 2008 as part of Great Books in Middle Tennessee Prisons—a program that he launched and directs. A partnership between MTSU, the Tennessee Department of Correction, and the Great Books Foundation, the program gives inmates the opportunity to read and discuss literary and philosophical works with MTSU English faculty volunteers.
His research in the field of trauma has earned MTSU professor Dr. Hugh Berryman a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost forensic anthropologists; Berryman received the 2012 award for lifetime achievement in physical anthropology from the American Academy for Forensic Sciences. The T. Dale Stewart Award, given annually to a single recipient, is the highest honor bestowed upon a forensic anthropologist in the United States.
Certainly the glamorization of forensics on television and in fiction has inflamed student interest across the U.S., but at MTSU, Berryman founded MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education (FIRE), which offers extensive training for local law enforcement and has turned forensics into a flagship program that benefits students and community alike.
Dr. Daniel Erenso, professor of physics and astronomy at MTSU, uses an experimental technique that enables him to “grasp” individual cells with a laser beam to study the morphology and elasticity of red blood cells (RBCs) by measuring their responses to linear and rotational deformations. What’s the upside? Abnormalities in RBC shape or flexibility, which are caused by genetic mutation, can result in sickle cell (SC) diseases.
Dr. Tanya Peres, professor of anthropology at MTSU, has conducted important analysis of archeological sites in Nashville, where the flood that submerged downtown Nashville in May 2010 also swept away thousands of years of human history: prehistoric burial sites along the banks of the Cumberland River.
Peres surveyed numerous sites and documented samples from the most endangered. The work has curtailed raids by looters who covet the sites for their black-market potential. It’s just one of several important local archeological projects touched by Peres, who recently launched the Rutherford County Archaeology Research Program, an initiative to explore and record the prehistoric cultures of MTSU’s home county.
MTSU’s director of bands, Dr. Reed Thomas, and students from the MTSU Wind Ensemble visited a high school in Panama in May 2011 to help train band directors and young musicians in a country that has little standardized music education and no tradition of high school bands.
In March, 2015, MTSU agriculture professor and alternative fuels researcher Cliff Ricketts completed a coast-to-coast driving expedition from Key West, Florida to Seattle, Washington using nothing but waste chicken fat and used cooking oil from university dining facilities for fuel. The expedition marked another career milestone for Ricketts, 66, who in 2014 drove coast to coast in vehicles powered exclusively by sun and water.
Chemistry professor Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross grew up in the shadow of the White House in Capitol Heights, Maryland. Once, she was invited to a White House “Champions of Change” event, which saluted those who work to recruit and retain girls and women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Iriarte-Gross was invited in recognition of her role as director of the Girls Raised in Tennessee Science (GRITS) collaborative, a statewide organization.