Archives for Publications

Four Trinity College Professors Co-Edit Book Examining American and European Immigration

A book co-edited by four Trinity College professors called The Politics of New Immigrant Destinations was published this month by Temple University Press. Stefanie Chambers, Diana Evans, Anthony M. Messina, and Abigail Fisher Williamson, who all teach in Trinity’s Political Science Department, worked together on compiling the volume, which examines the challenges posed by the proliferation of cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity in new destinations for immigrants in Europe and the United States. The book looks at political responses and successes of integrating immigrants, offering perspectives from both immigrants and natives.

The book’s introduction defines “traditional immigration” as happening in late 19th or early 20th century America, or in post-WWII Europe. Any locales today that were involved during those times would still be considered traditional. “New immigration,” as explained in the book, makes reference to other locations such as Ireland, and to immigrants favoring rural and suburban areas over cities.

Chambers

Evans

Messina

Williamson

The Trinity professors all had some previous experience studying immigrants and decided to organize an event discussing the emerging topic of new immigrant destinations. When Trinity hosted theChallenges and Opportunities of Diversity in New Immigrant Destinations” conference in October 2013, Messina, who is a John R. Reitemeyer Professor of Political Science and a leading scholar in European migration, saw it as a true learning opportunity.

Messina said, “Instead of being an expert on a subject, and then convening a conference of scholars who do work on that subject, I approach it from the opposite end. I am interested in a subject and I’ve historically convened conferences to become more knowledgeable on a particular topic.”

The conference drew scholars from the U.S. and Europe who discussed findings from their respective areas of expertise. The professors brought some of their students along to help mediate and lead the discussions.

After the conference, the professors felt that there was enough material to edit together a volume. The professors helped some of the scholars who presented at the conference in refining their work and also accepted new submissions for the book. The final product includes research subjects ranging from relationships between Hispanics and African-Americans in the South, to Latvian resistance to immigration.

In reviewing material for the book, Chambers, a professor of political science and chair of the department, said that being in the position of an editor – as opposed to a writer – was a new and valuable experience. “Our colleague, Tony Messina, had experience editing several volumes, and that was really valuable for the rest of us, who haven’t done this before. He was able to guide us through the process of how we put a book like this together,” she said. Chambers recently released a book about studying Somali Americans living in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and in Columbus, Ohio.

Evans, a professor of political science and an award-winning author and Latino politics specialist, said that she enjoyed the teamwork aspect of working on the project with three colleagues. “It was a great experience. Everybody sort of took on their share. Different people made strong efforts at different times, but we were all paying attention to it,” she said.

Messina added that the faculty collaboration that went into The Politics of New Immigrant Destinations is one of the things he’s proudest of. “Political scientists do collaborate with each other, but it’s not that common at Trinity for so many faculty members to collaborate on a scholarly project, and it’s probably that much rarer that when they do collaborate, they do it in a way that has some value for their students,” he said.

Williamson, an assistant professor of political science and public policy and law and scholar of domestic migration, is hopeful about the book’s potential impact. “An edited volume can be useful for charting a research agenda in a new area,” said Williamson, who recently signed a new book contract with the University of Chicago Press. “I think this could really start a discussion and hopefully provide an opportunity for learning across the United States and Europe,” she said.

The Politics of New Immigrant Destinations is available in both print and digital copies from Temple University Press.

Written by Matt Grahn

New Book by Stefanie Chambers Offers Timely Policy Suggestions on Somali Immigrant Incorporation

A new book by Trinity College Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science Stefanie Chambers, Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations (Temple University Press, 2017), studies the assimilation of Somali Americans in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and in Columbus, Ohio. Since 2012, Chambers has conducted research into the history of Somalis in the United States to learn more about their path to the Twin Cities and Columbus and their subsequent political, economic, and social incorporation.

Trinity College - Stefanie Chambers Common Hour Lecture - February 23, 2017

Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science Stefanie Chambers presents her research during a lecture at Trinity College. Photos by John Atashian.

For her book, Chambers argues that despite the comparable characteristics of Columbus and the Twin Cities – such as both being state capitals and having big universities, many low-skilled jobs, and relatively affordable housing – they differ in how their Somali communities have been incorporated. She measured 14 indicators of incorporation in her book. Beyond a range of quantitative measures of incorporation, Chambers also conducted 135 interviews to understand the cultural fabric of the communities. The indicators were categorized into three groups: political, economic, and social. Participation in electoral and governing coalitions and unions were some of the ways Chambers evaluated Somalis’ political incorporation. Household income, employment, and home ownership were a few ways used to measure economic incorporation, while social indicators included Somalis in the media and police force. Chambers’s goal was to provide recommendations for policymakers so that they can improve the incorporation of Somalis and other immigrants in Columbus, the Twin Cities, and beyond.

While interviewing Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Chambers felt she was immediately welcomed into the community. “The reception I received initially in Columbus by Somalis was quite remarkable. People shared so much with me and I believe we established clear lines of trust. They believed me when I said I wanted to help make recommendations to improve policies for Somalis,” said Chambers. Even though Chambers did not know any Somalis prior to her research, she developed friendships and relationships through her work. “My research has always focused on how marginalized populations gain a voice, but I have always done research on minority groups that I’ve considered myself a part of. This was a very different community for me to study and one of which I was not part. I learned a great deal, especially about Islam and the cultural traditional of Somalis,” she said. Chambers’s experience with the Somali communities fueled her desire to follow through on her promise of forming policy recommendations.

Following the release of her book, Chambers has been interviewed by WOSU Public Media and The Columbus Dispatch interviewed Chambers about her recommendation that, like the Twin Cities, Columbus needs Somali police officers to improve their assimilation in the city. Chambers believes the addition of Somali police officers would increase the level of trust between the Somali community and police force and help others better understand Somali culture.

Building upon her research of Somali immigrants in the U.S., Chambers has begun to research the incorporation of the recently increasing population of Somali immigrants in Sweden. Chambers said, “Professors at Trinity are able to do research that we’re passionate about and teach what we’re passionate about.” On February 23, Chambers presented research from her book during a Common Hour lecture that was attended by Trinity alumnus Ahmed Yusuf IDP ’97, who helped introduce Chambers to the Somali community in Minneapolis, where he lives. Both Chambers and Yusuf will take part in a discussion of immigration and politics on April 18 in Minneapolis.

Chambers has been supported by Trinity research assistants including Julianna Maisano ’17, who collected and organized relevant articles, assessed the content of the articles, and edited drafts of chapters. “Professor Chambers’s research is an integral part of highlighting the obstacles refugees face when entering a new country, and she works to ensure that groups are able to effectively merge with society and are treated fairly,” said Maisano.

Caroline Lee ’17, who is supporting Chambers in her research of Somali immigrants in Sweden, said, “As the political climate is becoming less and less inclusive of immigrants and other cultures, especially through the rise of Islamophobia, I have seen Professor Chambers become even more determined to make a change for Somalis everywhere. It is truly inspirational to be able to work with such an esteemed professor who is so focused and concerned about improving the lives of this community of people.”

The Trinity College Faculty Research Committee, the Charles A. Dana Research Professorship, and the American Political Science Association funded Chambers’s research. In the future, her research and book will inform at least three of her courses at Trinity: “Urban Politics,” “American National Government,” and “Gender Politics and Policy.”

Written by Annelise Gilbert ’17

Per Sebastian Skardal and Summer Research Students Co-Author Paper

A research paper co-authored by Trinity College Assistant Professor of Mathematics Per Sebastian Skardal and summer research students Mariam Avagyan ’18 and Shufan Wang ’18 was published recently in the online journal Applied Network Science. Avagyan, who is from Yerevan, Armenia, is pursuing a double major in mathematics and engineering, with a concentration in electrical. Wang, from Zheng Zhou City, He Nan Province, China, is majoring in mathematics.

Trinity College - Summer Science Research Program - July 19, 2016

Mariam Avagyan ’18 and Shufan Wang ’18 present their summer science research in July 2016. Photo by John Atashian.

The research paper, titled “Evolving network structure of academic institutions,” explores and illustrates the complex structures that dictate interactions between the administration, faculty, and student body at Trinity. Skardal, Avagyan, and Wang used the majors and minors of graduating students to track the changing relationships between different academic departments over time. The results, the researchers said in their paper, provide practical insights and applications for Trinity, and also serves as a general framework for colleges and universities to better understand their own structural makeup in order to better inform academic and administrative policy.

The students lived on campus during the summer as they worked with Skardal throughout the research process as part of the Summer Science Research Program, offered through Trinity’s Interdisciplinary Science Center. (Click here for a video about the Summer Science Research Program.) Skardal said, “It really gives the students a chance to use what they have learned in the classroom in a practical setting and learn about some cutting-edge mathematics and science.” Skardal, who came to Trinity in 2015, added that he valued the knowledge of Trinity that Avagyan and Wang brought to the project.

Avagyan first became interested in Skardal’s work with fractals, dynamical systems, synchronization, and networks during one of the Math Department’s colloquiums, where professors talk about their areas of research. An independent study with Skardal for Avagyan and Wang in the spring 2016 semester led to their summer research.

Throughout the summer the group worked together on brand new applied mathematics and techniques. Skardal said one of the best aspects of working with Avagyan and Wang was their drive. “They were incredibly motivated the whole way,” he said. When he was an undergraduate student at Boston College, Skardal had the opportunity to do some research in computer science and described it as a “wonderful experience” that encouraged him to offer the same opportunities to students at Trinity. “It sounds cliché, but teachers learn just as much from their students as students learn from teachers, and this is equally true in the context of research,” said Skardal.

Avagyan and Wang described Skardal as supportive and encouraging. Avagyan’s time working with Skardal has even shaped her future aspirations. “He made me love applied math to the point that I want to continue my post-graduate studies in this area,” she said. “Being credited as an author on a published study with a brilliant person and professor like him is an honor.”

Both Avagyan and Wang expressed appreciation for their experience and excitement for gaining authorship of the published paper. Wang, who is studying this semester at Dartmouth College to do more work in math modeling and machine intelligence as a part of the Twelve-College Exchange Program, said, “It showed me what it is like to work in academia and led me into thinking about becoming a researcher.”

The students recommend summer research work to others at Trinity. Avagyan said, “Working with professors over the past two summers was the best thing I’ve done at Trinity. It gave me a jump start in academic research as a first-year and helped me develop essential skills such as working in a team, solving a problem even though it seems to be impossible, working with established professors in the same lab, and more.”

Skardal also encourages Trinity professors to offer more research opportunities to students. “It is always fun to see our students ‘graduate’ to the point of taking on some really new, interesting problems outside of the typical classroom,” he said.

Written by Annelise Gilbert ’17

Sarah Raskin and Trinity Alumna Publish Paper in ‘Neuropsychology’

Trinity College alumna Marta Zamroziewicz ’13 and Sarah Raskin, Charles A. Dana Research Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, have co-authored a paper titled “Effects of Drinking Patterns on Prospective Memory Performance in College Students,” which was recently published in Neuropsychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

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L-R: Priscilla Kehoe, Marta Zamroziewicz ’13, and Sarah Raskin after Zamroziewicz was recognized at Honors Day in May 2013 with the Priscilla Kehoe Neuroscience Prize, named in honor of Kehoe, former Trinity psychology professor.

As summarized in an abstract of the paper, “Traditional college students are at a critical juncture in the development of prospective memory. Their brains are vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.” The paper details research involving 123 third and fourth year college students who self-reported alcohol effects. The conclusion drawn from the research was that heavy alcohol use in college students may be related to impairments in prospective memory, which essentially means remembering to remember.

Raskin led Trinity’s participation in the five-year study (2009-2013), the Brain and Alcohol Research with College Students (BARCS) project, which was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The project involved a collaboration of researchers at Trinity, the Institute of Living in Hartford, Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, and Yale University in New Haven. The study’s principal investigator was Godfrey Pearlson, professor of psychiatry and of neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine and a staff member at the Institute of Living’s Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center. The NIAAA provided more than $3 million in funding for the research, which was designed to answer questions of concern to scientists, legislators, college leaders, and students about the effects of heavy drinking by young people during their college years. Read more about the findings of the BARCS study here and here.

“The research experience in Dr. Raskin’s lab was undeniably one of the most valuable opportunities offered to me at Trinity,” said Zamroziewicz. “This work was a major highlight of my graduate applications, and a fantastic kick-start to my graduate career.” Zamroziewicz, a neuroscience major and an Illinois Scholar at Trinity, is pursuing M.D./Ph.D. degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is completing her graduate work in the Decision Neuroscience Lab, where her research interests are in the field of cognitive neuroscience, with an emphasis on the neural and neuropsychological effects of nutrition.

“Starting in my first year [at Trinity], I began to develop the skills that most scientists don’t acquire until their graduate careers – reading scientific literature, interacting with research subjects, analyzing data, attending scientific conferences, presenting my work, and so much more,” said Zamroziewicz.

Offering her advice to students interested in studying science, Zamroziewicz said, “If you’re willing to accept the challenge, Trinity will prepare you for a career in science. The opportunities inside and outside the classroom at Trinity for budding scientists are unmatched elsewhere – dedicated faculty, challenging and transformative courses, and invaluable research and internship opportunities. My advice is to make the most of this precious time, and immerse yourself in these experiences!”

For more information about the Neuroscience Program at Trinity, please click here. Information about additional science majors and minors is available here.

Written by Kathy Andrews

Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael A. Grubb Has Research Published in ‘Nature Communications’

Trinity College Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael A. Grubb is the first author of a paper titled “Neuroanatomy Accounts for Age-Related Changes in Risk Preferences,” which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The senior author on the paper is Ifat Levy of Yale School of Medicine.

Michael GrubbWeb700The research presented in the paper indicates that the preference for the known and familiar, which increases with aging, may be better explained by changes in grey matter in a certain brain area rather than by age. When people make decisions that involve risk, or uncertain outcomes, an area of the brain called the right posterior parietal cortex is active. The amount of grey matter in this area has been shown to correlate with risk preference in young adults. As people age, they tend to make fewer risky decisions, but whether this is due to the wisdom that comes with age or brain structure was unknown.

Grubb and his colleagues asked 52 adults, spanning the ages of 18 to 88 years, to make a choice between a certain option (gain of $5) or an uncertain option (gain ranging from $5-$120 with random probabilities). As expected, they found that older participants preferred the certain option compared to younger participants, and that this preference for the certain option increased with age. When they put these data into a model to determine which variable best predicted this change in preference, they found that it was primarily driven by the amount of grey matter in the brain region, rather than by age. These results suggest that changes in the brain that occur in healthy aging may be responsible for more of our decision-making patterns and preferences than previously thought. The findings have been reported in The Washington Post and other news publications.

The full paper can be read online here. The research was completed by Grubb as part of his postdoctoral work at New York University’s Center for Neural Science. Grubb received his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from NYU. In his Trinity College lab, Grubb utilizes psychophysical and computational approaches to study human perception, from the visual system to the value domain, with a particular focus on attention and spatiotemporal context as critical mediating factors.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18

Professor of Fine Arts Kathleen Curran Publishes New Book

Hartford’s own Wadsworth Atheneum factored into the 13 years of research, writing, and editing that went into a new book by Trinity College Professor of Fine Arts Kathleen Curran. The Invention of the American Art Museum: From Craft to Kulturgeschichte was published recently by Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Curran_MG_3436Web700The book examines the origins of the American art museum in the 19th century. Curran, who is the director of Trinity’s art history program, found that writing the book in Hartford gave her a great advantage. “Any book on the American art museum would have to include Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum,” she said. “It plays an important role in the history of American art museums at a few key moments in time.”

Curran argues that museums in this country have their own trajectory that is different from European art museums. European museums have origins in their aristocratic collections, she said, while American museums are rooted in the 1870s craft museum. At the turn of the 20th century, American planners grew enthusiastic about a new type of museum that was developed in Northern Europe. These Kulturgeschichte (German for “cultural history”) museums offered a variety of transformational options in planning museums, classifying and displaying objects, and broadening collecting categories, including American art and the decorative arts. Curran’s book looks at the development of the American art museum, from the beginning of craft style to the eventual development of Kulturgeschichte museums.

In her book, Curran addresses the 1910 addition to the Wadsworth Atheneum that was paid for by J.P. Morgan, who was born in Hartford. The addition to the Wadsworth Atheneum was later used to test the size of the Morgan wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Curran began the process of writing her book by researching a completely different topic. However, through research and constant museum visits, the topic evolved to a consideration of the American art museum, resulting in the publication by a scholarly press. Curran said, “Eighty percent of the research is archival – that is, I had to visit museum archives and look at original documents to write the book. When you start a book project, you never know what you are going to find, and that was the case here.”

Curran is bringing her museum expertise to the classroom during the next academic year, when she will once again teach a seminar dealing with the history of art museums.

The Invention of the American Art Museum: From Craft to Kulturgeschichte is Curran’s second published book. Her first book, The Romanesque Revival: Religion, Politics, and Transnational Exchange (Penn State Press, 2003), won the Henry-Russell Hitchcock Award given by The Victorian Society in America.

Written by Catie Currie ’17

Associate Professor of Physics Brett Barwick Published in ‘Nature Communications’

Research by Trinity College Associate Professor of Physics Brett Barwick contributed to a breakthrough in the field of imaging nanoscale optical fields that was published in the journal Nature Communications earlier this month.

Trinity_3017Web700The project was led by Fabrizio Carbone, a researcher at the Swiss research institute and university Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and exemplified international collaboration. Scientists made contributions from institutions around the world, including the University of Glasgow, EPFL’s Interdisciplinary Center for Electron Microscopy, Boston University, the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, and the Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avancats. The project was funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the Swiss National Science Foundation (NCCR-MUST), Trinity College, the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, and El Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (Spain).

Barwick and the team of researchers developed a new technique that can track light and electrons through a nanostructured – very tiny, very thin – surface. The silicon nitride membrane array used in the project was only 50 nanometers thick (one nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter) and was covered with an even thinner layer of silver. When light couples with electrons, they move together as a single wave guided by the shape of the surface itself. These waves of light and electrons are called “surface plasmons” and could potentially be useful in the future of telecommunications and computing, where data can be moved across processors using light instead of electricity. Before this breakthrough, there was no way of tracking the guided light, or plasmons, as they move across the surface buried under the thin silver layer. Now, there is a way of seeing and tracking these buried plasmons, which move at speeds close to speed of light.

The scientists working on this project created a tiny antenna array that would allow the plasmons (light and electrons) to travel across the buried surface. They then punched microscopic nano-holes into the array, which would act as the antennas, or hotspots for the plasmons. Using the ultrafast technique they developed, the researchers were not only able to see the propagation of the guided light, but they were also able to film it – even when it is bound to a buried interface.

This breakthrough and subsequent research paper pave the way for designing and controlling confined fields of plasmons in multi-layered structures where interfaces might be buried underneath one another. This is important for creating future devices that combine light and electronics, commonly referred to as the field of optoelectronics.

Lead researcher Carbone explained the project using an analogy. “Trying to see plasmons in these interfaces between layers is a bit like trying to film people in a house from the outside,” Carbone said. “A regular camera won’t show you anything; but if you use microwave or a similar energy-tracking imaging, you can see right through the walls.”

Barwick travels yearly to work with Carbone and his group members in Lausanne, Switzerland, to complete collaborative experiments. This particular project started during Barwick’s sabbatical there in spring 2014. Barwick said, “Future optoelectronic devices based on these very tiny and sensitive nanostructures will likely need to have protective layers coated on them.  The technique that we have developed allows us to see through those layers and capture the circuit’s dynamics, which would otherwise be invisible.”

Barwick joined the Trinity physics faculty in 2010 and his research interests include experimental studies of fundamental quantum mechanics using ultrashort packets of electrons and probing interactions between photons and electrons on the nanoscale. He teaches both upper level and introductory level courses in the Physics Department and has published numerous scientific articles, some with Trinity students as co-authors, in publications such as Review of Scientific Instruments, Nature Communications, and Optics Express.

Written by Molly Thoms ’17 and Eleanor Worsley ’17

Royal Society Publishes Paper Co-Authored by Professor of Biology Kent Dunlap and Student

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Michael Ragazzi ’16 and Professor of Biology Kent Dunlap in the research lab in Jacobs Life Sciences Center.

Research by Trinity College Professor of Biology Kent Dunlap and his student Michael Ragazzi ’16 was published this month in one of the world’s oldest scientific journals, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, based in London, England. The paper, which Dunlap and Ragazzi co-authored with researchers from Canada’s McGill University and Cape Breton University, reports that predators inhibit brain cell production in natural populations of electric fish.

A truly international collaboration, the project began with a trip to Central America by Dunlap and Canadian researchers during the spring of 2014. Dunlap’s mission: to capture electric fish, Brachyhypopomus occidentalis, from six field sites, to study how stress from predators affects the brains of those fish in their natural habitat. Electric fish in these streams are exposed to varying levels of predation by catfish.

“I came back from Panama with over 80 fish brains,” said Dunlap, explaining how the brains needed to be painstakingly preserved on dry ice even while doing fieldwork in the tropical heat. Upon arrival on campus, the frozen fish brains became Ragazzi’s challenge. His focus: how best to assay, or examine for analysis, cell birth in the fish brains – a procedure starting with the use of a cryostat to shave extremely thin brain slices. “Through trial and error, Michael optimized the process for detecting newborn [recently produced] brain cells,” said Dunlap, adding that it would be impossible to describe the project without bragging about Ragazzi’s contributions. A biology major now in his senior year, Ragazzi has worked in Dunlap’s research lab since his sophomore year, and this is the second research paper they have co-authored.

According to Ragazzi, the basic question posed by this project is, “How does the natural environment affect brain structure and function?” The use of fish brains was especially intriguing, he explained, due to the fact that “electric fish can produce new brain cells at a rate 10 to 100 times greater than mammals, including humans.” However, they found that environmental stressors can have a large impact on the brain: fish living among a lot of predators produced brain cells at about half the rate as those living among few predators.

Although many studies have examined the effect of stress on the brain in laboratory animals, this study is “the first demonstration of predator-induced alteration of brain cell proliferation in a free-living vertebrate,” according to the paper co-authored by Dunlap and Ragazzi. Their work was funded in part by a grant from the Trinity College Faculty Research Committee.

Ragazzi said the opportunity to work on such an elaborate scientific project was of great value as he considers the possibility of medical school in his future. “I appreciate how the experimental questions we explored integrated different scientific disciplines,” said Ragazzi. “Our work required us to read and incorporate aspects of ecology, neuroscience, biochemistry, and psychology.”

Asked what advice he might offer to other Trinity students who are considering majoring in biology, Ragazzi said, “I would advise them to consider the skills that the biology major can offer. Upper-level classes require you to integrate the basics of biology to understand how larger biological systems function, and they foster your critical thinking skills. Consider doing research with a biology professor; it allows you to sharpen the skills you learn in classes, and it gives you a deeper understanding of scientific research.”

A member of the Trinity College faculty since 1998, Dunlap holds a B.A. from Macalester College and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Seattle. In his research, Dunlap pursues questions at the cellular, physiological, behavioral, and evolutionary levels. While his current research is on fish, he has conducted research on lizards, frogs, and rodents in the past.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B is the Royal Society’s flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the fast publication and worldwide dissemination of high-quality research. The criteria for publication selection are: work of outstanding importance, scientific excellence, originality, and interest to a wide spectrum of biologists.

Read the full paper co-authored by Dunlap and Ragazzi in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B here.

Written by Kathy Andrews

With New Novel ‘The Ramadi Affair,’ Judge Barry Schaller Goes From Fact to Fiction

The Honorable Barry Schaller – a visiting lecturer in public policy and law at Trinity College – has done a lot of writing in his career. He has penned opinions as an associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, from which he has retired, and continues to serve as a judge trial referee for the Connecticut Appellate Court. Schaller has written three books about law and contributes articles to publications including the Connecticut Law Tribune. But these days, his writing is taking him in a very different direction as he explores a new passion for creating literary fiction.

BRSfront Web450Schaller’s first novel, The Ramadi Affair, was published in January by Quid Pro Books in paperback, hardcover, and in electronic form. He sees the novel as a fictional continuation of the themes explored in his 2012 nonfiction book, Veterans on Trial: The Coming Court Battles over PTSD (Potomac Books), addressing the consequences of war in the lives of veterans. The story in The Ramadi Affair follows the post-Iraq life of Justice David Lawson, who may soon be the top candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In some ways it is a culmination of all the writing I’ve done,” Schaller said of his novel. “After I finished writing Veterans on Trial and then giving talks about it, I felt that I hadn’t really completed the subject. I needed to write more fully about the consequences of war, and I had always wanted to write a novel or two, but always postponed it for something else.”

To further explore the topics in which he was interested – like moral decision-making and post-traumatic stress disorder – Schaller decided to create fictional characters to heighten the issues and make them more intense. “That’s what literature does,” he said. “It takes real-life situations and makes them more engaging, more interesting.”

Schaller was a literature major at Yale University – where he earned his B.A. and J.D. – and he said his favorite novels include The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace. “I’ve loved literature all my life,” he said, “especially literature that deals with characters in a very intense, precise way, but in a big landscape.”

The plot of The Ramadi Affair began to take shape in the summer of 2013 and Schaller wrapped up the writing in spring of 2015, with large breaks in between when work and teaching took up most of his time. “I would keep writing whenever I had a few minutes and felt like it,” he said. “I was very determined.”

The process of writing fiction was something that came naturally to Schaller, even though he had never done it before. “I have had mostly a left-brain career, and I really wanted to let my right brain run loose,” he said. “When I sat down, I did not want to write the way you write a nonfiction book. I would just let the words flow in an intuitive way.”

He found this method freeing, but it did require a lot of editing. “The hard part was the rewriting and editing. Worst of all was the proof-reading,” Schaller said. “I didn’t show it to anybody until I had a draft that satisfied me. A friend who was a combat veteran vetted it, to make sure I got technical details like ranks and military terms right.”

Schaller so enjoyed writing fiction that he began work on a second novel as soon as he sent the first one to his publisher. The plot of the next novel is inspired, in part, by a course on public health issues that Schaller taught at Trinity last spring. “I spent a section of the course on public health problems of people who are living in conflict or are displaced,” he said. “That inspired me to get extremely interested in the problem of refugees. It’s probably the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

The protagonist in Schaller’s second novel is working with refugees and also is undergoing medical treatment for an illness. Schaller knows firsthand about the latter subject, having been diagnosed with leukemia in 2015. “I wanted to incorporate my thoughts about what it’s like to be told suddenly you have an illness, and have to deal with treatment, hospitals, and doctors,” he said. “I’m still working on that draft, but I’ve probably got 225 pages or so.”

While he still plans to pen articles for law publications, Schaller said that he sees himself continuing to focus on writing novels in the future. “I think another nonfiction book is too big an investment of time,” he said. “And fiction is too darn much fun.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Molly Helt Co-Authors Activity Book for Early Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders

A new book co-authored by Trinity College Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Molly Helt is designed to make early intervention treatment even earlier than ever for infants at risk of developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk: How to Use Everyday Routines to Build Social and Communication Skills (The Guilford Press, 2016) shows families – in easy-to-understand terms – how to support their child’s development by incorporating scientific principles into their day-to-day lives, even before receiving an official ASD diagnosis.

MollyHelt DSC_4341 use Web450“I’m the parent of a child with autism, and parents are told to give their children up to 40 hours of intervention a week,” Helt said of her own experience with her oldest child. “So what I found myself doing was adapting a lot of applied behavioral analysis programs to daily routines like bathing, changing, feeding, or going to the playground.”

Concern for her second child led Helt to look into early intervention techniques for children who are considered “at risk.” She knew that children who have an older sibling with autism have a roughly 20 percent chance of developing autism, but she could not find much information about parenting at-risk children. “Autism is something we can’t diagnose until 18 months at the earliest, and I couldn’t just sit around for 18 months and do nothing,” Helt said.

In reality, a child may be significantly older than 18 months before any treatment begins, Helt said. “The average wait time once a parent identifies that they have a child with a problem, to get an appointment [for diagnosis], is nine months nationally,” Helt said. “Here in Connecticut, once you have a diagnosis, you then have to wait an additional three months on average for early intervention to start – and Connecticut is better than a lot of places in the United States. These are crucial months in which a child’s brain is the most plastic and developing the most quickly.”

Inspired both by her own children and by her professional experiences working with parents who are frustrated by having to wait so long for diagnosis and treatment, Helt researched typical development and ASD treatment programs. She and her co-authors adapted those concepts for families with young children who may have ASD – or who may be at risk – to use anytime, anyplace. “It’s basically all about getting autism therapy into your day-to-day life,” Helt said.

The book’s introduction, says, in part, “From the moment your child wakes up to the time she goes to bed, you have many opportunities to build language, social skills, imitation, and pretend play. This book contains games to play while you dress your child, rhymes and songs to use during mealtimes and chores, ways to enrich development and learning during play and errands, and more.”

“I hope this book serves as a ‘how-to’ on how to do early intervention yourself,” Helt said. “We know from autism research that autistic children will do things for their parents they won’t do for anyone else. I really want to inspire parents, to say, ‘You can do this.’ Even if you have a job, you have to eat with your kid and bathe them, and so you can be part of this plan. A lot of these activities are embedded in games, and we want it to be fun and manageable. It doesn’t have to be something that takes away from living your life.”

Helt plans to test this program as part of her ongoing research at Trinity. “In the field of autism, we’ve made very little progress in genetics and underlying biological mechanics of autism over the last 20 years,” she said. “However, we’ve made huge strides in our ability to diagnose earlier, and outcomes have drastically improved. Where we’re making the gains is in early identification and early intervention, and so that’s where I want to go with my research, and that’s where I see the real way to make progress.”

The book’s co-authors are Helt’s mentor Deborah Fein, Ph.D., a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Connecticut; Lynn Brennan, BCBA-D, a board-certified applied behavior analyst based in Massachusetts who has worked with children with autism spectrum disorders for more than 20 years; and Marianne Barton, Ph.D., a clinical professor and director of clinical training in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Connecticut, where she is also director of the Psychological Services Clinic.

Helt holds a dual Ph.D. in clinical psychology and developmental psychology. She currently teaches developmental psychopathology, developmental neuroscience, clinical psychology, and a senior seminar called “The Social Self” at Trinity College. The Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk is her first book. The publisher is already translating the book into Korean and Turkish and has plans to translate it into more languages.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

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