View Site Map

Eberly News Blog

29 Jun

The Herbarium at West Virginia University, the largest collection of preserved plant specimens in the state, is participating in a National Science Foundation project to make plant collections from the Southeast United States available online for international study.

The Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program is funding the four-year project, “The Key to the Cabinets: Building and Sustaining a Research Database for a Global Diversity Hotspot.” The $46,222 award will help to purchase new equipment, which includes a digital camera, copy stand and lights, as well as pay for student workers to sort through the specimens and take pictures.

The information gathered from this project will help improve the understanding of human impact on biodiversity. Those working in the field do not currently have a complete inventory of the flora in the Southeastern United States.

“I know exactly how many specimens we have from West Virginia. I know exactly how many specimens we have all together, but we don’t have them itemized by state, so we have no idea,” Donna Ford-Werntz, clinical associate professor of biology and herbarium curator, said. “This is a wonderful process of discovery about our own collection and what we have here.”

WVU’s Herbarium, located in the Department of Biology, will be working with collections from 12 other states.

This region includes the following southeastern states: Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. There will be 106 herbaria participating in the project from these states, and a herbarium from Texas, which has many specimens from the area being studied.

Ford-Werntz is the project director for WVU’s efforts. She will purchase the necessary equipment, as well as supervise students as they sort through and image the specimens. WVU will be partnering directly with Marshall University’s herbarium on the project.

Student workers sort the specimens by folder color: Blue for West Virginia, red for other states and yellow for other countries. After being imaged, the pictures of the specimens will be uploaded to sites such as Notes From Nature, where the label information will be digitally transcribed by citizen scientists. This information will also be uploaded to a national portal, called Integrated Digitized Biocollections, and an international portal called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

Participating organizations will be studying the different species, so that they understand what the plants are, and what their environment is like. The project will also help those in the field understand the biology and life cycles of the different species.

“What we’re doing is pretty simple, but it has far reaching implications,” Ford-Werntz said.

26 Jun

Christopher Plein, professor of public administration in the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy & Politics, has been featured in local news coverage around the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

The Charleston Gazette:

Roughly 26,000 West Virginians will keep nearly $100 million in yearly federal health insurance subsidies, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that states with federally run insurance exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act can keep the premium tax credits offered by the federal government. Read the full article here:

The Beckley Register-Herald:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday the tax subsidies of the Affordable Care Act are legal, a decision allowing roughly 26,000 West Virginians to afford health insurance. Despite two justices appointed by Republican presidents joining the majority decision, the state’s GOP roundly condemned the ruling. The 6-3 decision marked the second time in three years the court has upheld the Affordable Care Act. Read the full article here:

Plein was able to provide context to the Supreme Court’s ruling and the detail of the law.

26 Jun

Research examining the microbiology of a disease carrying African fly has been featured on the science website DigitalJournal.

Rita Rio, associate professor of Biology, recently received more than $1 million to research the microbiotas inside the tsetse fly in an effort to understand how it factors into the spread of Africa’s deadly sleeping sickness disease.

The reduction in cases of “sleeping sickness” has been a global success story. Back in 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that some 60 million people were at risk and around 30,000 were infected, mostly in Africa. By 2010 the cases dropped to below 8,000. Most cases are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For the final push, scientists are looking how the infectious parasite interacts with the tsetse fly (Glossina species) that spreads the disease. The reason for understanding this relationship more fully is because there is no drug available to combat the disease. The main focus is on stopping the disease from spreading.
Check out the full article here [Snippet Error: Invalid ID. Try editing the snippet again.].

22 Jun

When Apple launched its new Watch, the company said it was its most personal device ever. Strapped to the body of its wearer, the Watch was immediately more of an intimate experience with technology than anything experienced with a smartphone. Wearable technology offers a more personal experience, and it’s hard not to notice someone with a wearable, from watches to fitness trackers.

West Virginia University Department of English professors Catherine Gouge and John Jones will address the rise of wearable technology as they co-edit an edition of the Rhetoric Society Quarterly, an academic journal from the Rhetoric Society of America.

Gouge and Jones will edit the April 2016 edition, with a focus on “Wearable Rhetorics: Bodies, Cities, Collectives.” The journal is published four times a year in January, April, July and October. The journal’s Editorial Review Committee selects editors for the publication based on applications and content proposals from across the country.

Gouge is an associate professor with interests in science and technology studies and medical communication. Jones is an assistant professor with interests in digital communication, digital literacy and professional writing. The pair will review and edit five articles to be included in the issue.

“This is an exciting opportunity both because of the venue, RSQ, is one of the top journals publishing articles about rhetoric,” Gouge said. “And because of the topic, which is quickly becoming the focus of new work in the field but has yet to be the focus of a special issue in a rhetoric journal.

“One of the reasons we proposed this topic is that this special issue would be the first in our field to theorize and historicize rhetorics produced, enabled, and disclosed by wearable devices such as medical monitoring devices and activity monitors,” Jones said.

Gouge and Jones have worked together on several wearable rhetoric’s projects, including presentations at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication and the 2014 Association of Rhetoric of Science and Technology pre-conference at the National Communication Association Conference as well as multiple grant proposals to study activity monitor wearers and the ways in which “wearing” is a compositional process.

Gouge and Jones are currently preparing an article for publication (“Critical Making: Writing the Body with Wearable Monitoring Technologies”) and are preparing a book project on the role of wearable technologies in communication about the body.

22 Jun

When asked about what attracted her to writing about life in prisons, Katy Ryan, associate professor of English, pointed to people she knows who are in prison and to her distrust of cages. After joining the department of English at West Virginia University and teaching a course on prison studies, Ryan turned an interest into a research passion.

“I needed to understand how the U.S. came to be the biggest jailer in the world,” she said.

Ryan’s new project involves working with archives around the state in order to learn about “Work & Hope,” a prison magazine published at the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville in in the early part of the 20th century.

In particular, she hopes to travel to the southern part of the state and find more information on Maria Parker, who contributed a monthly column to the magazine.

For this research project, she has been awarded a Senate Grant for Research and Scholarship and a West Virginia Humanities Council Fellowship.

A related essay, “Prison, Time, Kairos in Langston Hughes’s Scottsboro Limited” is featured in the current issue of “Modern Drama.” The essay analyzes the history and haunted ending of Langston Hughes’ play “Scottsboro Limited.”

The 1931 play was a response to the convictions of nine African American teenagers in Alabama who were accused of raping two white women. Eight of the defendants were sentenced to death, and one to life. Through mass mobilization and legal resilience, the young lives were spared, yet each of them spent between six and 20 years in Alabama prisons.

Though the events in Scottsboro transpired decades ago, Ryan sees the ongoing relevance.

“White violence and the criminalization of black life have a long history in our country,” Ryan said. “As I was writing this essay on Scottsboro, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Freddie Gray were killed. The same month this essay appeared in print, nine black people were massacred in a church in South Carolina.”

The ability to stand up and write about controversial social injustices is one of the reasons Langston Hughes stood out to her.

“Hughes was dedicated to the truth that black lives matter,” she said.

Ryan will also share her expertise in a chapter in the Cambridge University Press volume, “American Literature in Transition: 1980-1990.”

“My chapter focuses on three works of creative nonfiction that capture this threshold decade in US prison history,” Ryan said.

On top of this, she is continuing her work with the Appalachian Prison Book Project, an organization she founded that sends free books to people in prisons. With two colleagues in the department of English, she facilitates a book club in the women’s prison at Hazelton.

Ryan will also help organize the Fifth Annual Conference on Higher Education in Prison in Pittsburgh this November. Ryan said the conference is “a wonderful opportunity for people who are involved or interested in educational justice to share information and ideas.”

22 Jun

Scott Myers, professor of communication studies at West Virginia University, has been named the Peggy Rardin McConnell Chair in the Department of Communication Studies.

Myers came to WVU in 2001 from Creighton University. He is currently the program coordinator for the Ph.D. program and teaches a variety of courses at the graduate level.

His appointment will begin on August 16.

“We are excited about Dr. Myers’ proposal for the McConnell Chair in speech communication and speech performance,” said Rudolph Almasy, interim dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “He has wonderful ideas on how students will benefit from his projects, and he will be a great representative of the McConnell Chair appointment and of the Eberly College.”

Myers plans to use the chair to conduct further research and promote positive family communication.

“We want to explore how West Virginians engage in positive family communication and ways in which we can encourage West Virginians to engage in positive family communication,” Myers said.

In addition to his research, he also plans to hold several outreach programs including workshops and public speaking opportunities for people throughout the state.

This spring, Myers hopes to hold a positive family communication week in Morgantown to promote this type of communication.

Professor Melanie Booth-Butterfield was the first appointed to the Chair and has held it since the Chair’s inception in 2003. Her focus on outreach inspired Myers.

“She was a great role model to follow in terms of what I should do,” Myers said.

The Chair was created by native West Virginian John McConnell in honor of his wife Peggy, who graduated in 1946 with a degree in speech. Peggy and John were natives of Hancock County and lived in Ohio until their deaths, in 2005 and 2008 respectively. The McConnell Chair comes with financial support in order for the chair to complete activities dealing with the improvement of speech communication.

19 Jun

The defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte 200 years ago by combined British, German and Dutch forces under the leadership of Generals Wellington and Blücher at the Battle of Waterloo remains an iconic moment in modern History. After all, the British insist that had Wellington not defeated Napoleon, we would all be speaking French today. This final battle marked the end of nearly 25 years of European warfare and confirmed the wartime alliance against Bonaparte that united in Vienna to develop a post-war territorial settlement and international system to ensure peace.

Indeed, Waterloo was the last major conflict that engaged all the Great Powers of Europe until August 1914. Despite the far more deadlier and bloodier twentieth century wars, the epic Battle of Waterloo was also bloody enough as modern warfare goes; in roughly 10 hours nearly 200,000 thousand men battled each other in a conflict in which 1 in 4 would die: leading to about 50,000 casualties. After Waterloo, Wellington and Blücher’s armies pursued Napoleon’s army back to Paris, where he abdicated and faced exile on St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

On this bicentennial the Battle of Waterloo is commemorated with less triumphalism and more European unity; it is celebrated as a “European” success over dictatorship, not a British or German victory over the French.

2015 is the first international commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo since Germany occupied the battle site during World War I in 1915 during its centennial.

More than 200,000 tourists expected in Brussels to attend commemoration festivities at Waterloo where over 5,000 re-enactors will perform the battle. Napoleon will lose again.


The British recently unveiled a new British memorial at Hougoumont Farm dedicated to the thousands who died defeating Napoleon; in one British regiment lost 500 of its 747 men.


New Europe is represented in the symbolically joined handshake of the three relatives of the original Waterloo commanders: the 9th Duke of Wellington, Prince Nikolaus von Blücher, and Prince Charles Bonaparte.


Ambivalent about how to commemorate Napoleon (his victories as well as his defeats), the French blocked a new Euro coin commemorating Waterloo—the defiant Belgian mint produced one as a souvenir despite French protests.

Waterloo Coin

The Victoria Gallery in Liverpool is exhibiting “Waterloo teeth,” remnants of thousands of teeth pulled from the dead by scavengers to sell to London dentists for dentures for the wealthy.


The British Museum in London hosts an exhibition “Bonaparte and the British: Prints and Propaganda” featuring satires on Napoleon of which the BM has over 1,400.


Compiled by Katherine Aaslestad, professor of history at West Virginia University

Recommended reads:

Tim Clayton, Waterloo: Four Days that Changes Europe’s Destiny, Little, Brown, 2014

Bernard Cornwell, Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, Harper Collins, 2015

Alan Forrest, Waterloo, Oxford University Press, 2015

Paul O’Keefe, Waterloo: The Aftermath, Bodley Head, 2014

Brendan Simms, The Longest Afternoon: the 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo, Basic Books, 2015

19 Jun

Shaun Turner, a graduate student in the Department of English at West Virginia University, recently finished writing his first chapbook, “The Lawless River.”

The flash fiction pieces and stories within the collection are set in a fictionalized version of the areas in Kentucky where Turner grew up. The stories follow different characters connected by the Rockcastle River Turner played on as a child. He later discovered that it was originally named the Lawless River.

“I kind of play a little bit with taking things that are almost within the realm of possibility and stretching them a little bit further,” said Turner. “I always want to take things that could exist, and turn them somehow and make them a little more complex.”

Even though he is a fiction writer, Turner said he puts a little bit of himself and his own experiences into everything he writes. He likes to take his own personal experiences and the interactions that he see between other people and make them universal.

“I love people watching,” Turner said. “A lot of my writing comes from watching people?I see something, and it captures me, and I usually want to write about it.

“These stories can hopefully take the readers down a path,” Turner said. “Maybe they will lead them down an emotional journey of their own through this landscape I’ve created.”

“The Lawless River” will be published later this year by Red Bird Chapbooks. Turner’s most recent short stories, “The Men’s League,” “The Vine Dynamic,” and, “Darkness Will Settle Over Louisville,” are forthcoming in HARK Magazine, Flyleaf Journal and Southwest Review, respectively.

Turner is also the Assistant Editor-in-Chief for Cheat River Review, a journal produced by the English Department’s MFA program. He graduates in May 2016.

18 Jun

Vicki Sealey has been named the Russell and Ruth Bolton Eberly College Professor for her innovative linking of communications and active learning environments in the Department of Mathematics at West Virginia University.

The professorship provides resources for a faculty member who mentors students in communications skills, regardless of academic discipline.

Most people, Sealey said, don’t usually connect math and communications, but communicating properly is extremely important in mathematics. Unlike classes where you can debate an answer, math is always a matter of right or wrong and it’s important for students to learn how to effectively communicate their solutions to their peers, to teachers and to future employers and colleagues.

“If I can’t appropriately communicate to you the significance of the math, the accuracy of the math, then I’m really missing the mark on what’s important,” Sealey said. “I want not just the instructors to be able to communicate, but I want the students to gain that power as well.”

Eberly College of Arts and Sciences administrators were impressed by Sealey’s proposal to enhance communication skills in mathematics instruction. The college’s interim dean, Rudolph P. Almasy, worked with the Boltons to establish the award. He said he believes Sealey can make a difference and provide a model for others in the sciences that improves students’ speaking and writing skills.

Studies show that students retain more information and enjoy their classes more when they learn in an environment that incorporates active learning-teaching methods.

“A lot of the teaching that we see in math classes is primarily lecture,” Sealey said. “For this project, I’ll be working with a few graduate teaching assistants who are interested in learning more about teaching methods that are not just lecture-based, specifically ones where students will be actively communicating their ideas and explaining their work.

“That’s hard to do,” Sealey said. “I want to work with these graduate students so that they are equipped and prepared to be able to use these strategies in their classroom.”

Sealey will be selecting four graduate students to create a Professional Learning Community.

The graduate students will be teaching sections of a 100-level math class, where they will incorporate the PACT framework from the Eberly College’s SpeakWrite Initiative to help undergraduate students learn to communicate better in the classroom.

The PACT framework consists of four key components – purpose, audience, conventions and trouble.

Sealey said that students often think that finding the answer is the ultimate goal, or “purpose,” in a math class, but it’s just as important for them to be able to justify their answer to a given “audience.” Sealey especially wants undergraduate students to focus on the “conventions” of math, since mathematics as a discipline has very precise notation and language that needs to be used in certain ways.

The project will have three phases:

The first phase will focus on learning the basics of classroom discourse and active learning. Graduate students will meet with Sealey weekly to learn about the PACT framework and ways to encourage class participation. They will also receive research literature and watch videos of Sealey’s classes to discuss ways to increase the students’ engagement in a classroom.

A portion of their meetings will focus on lesson planning, where the graduate students will look for ways to implement these teaching methods into their own classes.

During phase two students will continue to meet weekly, but will only meet with Sealey twice a month, allowing them to be in charge of the learning community.

“I want them to be able to make it their own,” Sealey said. “So, still having me accessible as needed, but really taking it on as their own and them leading it and them being in charge of developing their own lesson plans and activities that encourage active learning and communication.”

In this phase students will learn to mentor each other. Students will videotape their classes and share the videos with the rest of the learning community, where they will discuss the ways that the instructor used active learning and communication, and identify where participation could have been increased.

Phase three will take place during the spring semester. During this phase students will reflect on their teachings from the previous semester and continue to find ways to incorporate active learning and student communication into their classrooms on a regular basis.

This phase is not yet fully developed, as Sealey plans to tailor the program to the needs of the students.

Funding for the project will be used to give stipends to the participating graduate students as an incentive for the extra work that they will have to do.

The project is guaranteed to last for one year, but can last up to three years if funding continues. Sealey said she hopes to continue the project again next year with new students.

“A lot of this project is really my passion to take these research ideas that we know to be effective and help teachers, specifically graduate students, to be able to implement these research-based practices,” Sealey said.

The Russell and Ruth Bolton Eberly Professorship was established in 2007 by alumni Russell and Ruth Bolton to provide resources for outstanding teaching. Russell Bolton was a 1949 graduate of the WVU College of Law. Ruth Bolton is a 1943 graduate of WVU with a degree in communication studies. She is a resident of Palm Desert, Calif. Over the years, they have made numerous contributions to the University in support of academics, athletics and special projects.

17 Jun

Jeff Yeager, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at West Virginia University will have his essay, “Just Remember that the Things You Put into your Head are There Forever’: The Influence of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on the PlayStation Game ‘The Last of Us’” included in a new collection published by the Cormac McCarthy Society.

The nonprofit organization’s collection, “Carrying the Fire: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Apocalyptic Tradition” is an anthology of essays that contribute to the appreciation of the American novelist’s works.

Released in 2013 to widespread critical acclaim, “The Last of Us” is an action-adventure survival horror game that centers on a man escorting a young orphan across a post-apocalyptic United States.

“I think the ‘Last of Us’ stands out because its narrative expands the boundaries of what we call literature,” Yeager said. Many scholars, he added, have dismissed video games as forms of art because many lack strong narratives and developed characters, or feature too many fantastical elements.

“The Last of Us is special then because it features a fairly realistic post-apocalyptic setting and puts the player on a serious drama reminiscent of books from writers like Cormac McCarthy,” he said.

McCarthy’s 2006 novel, “The Road” is a post-apocalyptic tale of a journey a father and his young son take after an unspecified disaster has destroyed most life on Earth.

Besides both taking place in post-apocalyptic worlds, there are other similarities. The influence the novel had on the game is apparent.

As Yeager writes, “The most important connection (between the book and the game) centers on the dynamic between a father who lived prior to the apocalypse and his interaction with a child who has developed ideological fantasies about what life was like before civilization fell.”

Although the themes are dark, Yeager said both expertly offer hints of optimism through nature.

“That’s where Cormac McCarthy’s genius comes in, said Yeager. “The fact that he can paint such a helpless portrait of humanity, but at the same time, leaves you with something to hold on to. That’s carrying the fire.”

Yeager plans to teach using the novel next semester in his class, English 258: Popular American Culture this fall.

McCarthy, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Road,” has written 10 novels. His novels “All the Pretty Horses, “The Road,” “Child of God,” and “No Country for Old Men” have all been adapted as motion pictures.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author(s) and comments and do not necessarily reflect the views of West Virginia University. Read more about WVU Blog Policies and Guidelines.