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Faculty Awarded Nearly $58,000 from John C. Baker Fund
Ohio Ag Connection - 06/07/2019

Five Ohio University faculty members have been awarded a total of $57,968 from the John C. Baker Fund during the 2019 spring semester for research and scholarly work that embodies the commitment to excellence embraced by both the fund's namesake and the alumni who created it.

Each fall and spring, the John C. Baker Fund provides competitive awards of up to $12,000 to support faculty and staff research, scholarship and creative activity, with preference given to projects that are near completion and can be brought to completion with the funding.

Named in honor of Ohio University's 14th president whose priorities included faculty support and the University's research efforts, the John C. Baker Fund was endowed in 1961 by OHIO alumni Edwin L., AB '26, HON '65, and Ruth Kennedy, BSED '30.

In a January 1961 letter to Ohio University Trustee Emeritus Fred H. Johnson, Edwin L. Kennedy wrote: "It seems probable that the outcome of the Cold War will be determined not so much by military action as by the ability of our educational system effectively to influence and form our character, our attitudes and our national purpose in the decades that may pass before the Cold War is concluded. If this be so, then it must follow that never before in the history of this nation has it been so urgent as now that units of our system strive for excellence."

Kennedy emphasized the importance of providing continuous incentives for quality, noting Baker's commitment to advancing standards of excellence, and proposed that the John C. Baker Fund be used to "create incentives to the achievement of excellence at Ohio University."

The Baker Fund committee received 13 proposals, requesting a total of $138,193, for the spring 2019 funding cycle. The following five proposals received funding based on their scholarly, technical or artistic merit:

Genetic Dissection and Functional Characterization of the Hydroxyproline-Galactosyltransferase Gene Family in Arabidopsis Thaliana

Allan Showalter, professor and chair of the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, was awarded $12,000 to continue a biological experiment that examines a class of plant cell wall proteins known as arabinogalactan-proteins (AGPs).

Composed of 90 percent sugar, AGPs are critical to plant development. Dr. Showalter's research will study the sugar gene family that controls AGP sugar function, known as hydroxyproline-galactosyltransferase (GALT). By studying how GALT influences APG sugar addition and function, researchers hope to better understand how AGPs influence plant growth and function at the molecular and cellular level. More broadly, the research could be useful in designing AGP-based bioproducts and engineering plants with improved wall properties to meet industrial needs, including biomass and bioenergy production.

These research efforts will include four OHIO students -- two graduate students and two undergraduates. The results are expected to be presented at international, national, regional and local scientific meetings and conferences; to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals; and to be used to secure future research funding from the National Science Foundation.

Cell-to-Cell Transmission of Alpha-Syn Aggregates in Parkinson's Disease

Daewoo Lee, professor of biological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, received $11,905 to further his research on the abundant neuronal protein a-synuclein (a-Syn), which is responsible for the abnormal production of Lewy bodies, resulting in several neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson's disease.

Using fruit flies due to their genomic similarities to humans, Dr. Lee's research aims to better understand how a-Syn spreads between neurons and what molecular factors influence the transmission of the protein. If scientists can better understand these properties of a-Syn, then they can understand how it spreads and progresses disease -- knowledge that may help in developing treatments that slow the disease or eliminate it altogether.

An OHIO graduate student researcher and an undergraduate research assistant will help Dr. Lee with his research, which he intends to use to secure National Institutes of Health funding.

Cortney Rodet, assistant professor of economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded $10,800 to complete a study using economic experiments to understand firms' investment into research and development (R?D) in response to macroeconomic fluctuations.

Experts indicate that times of economic downturn present an ideal opportunity for firms to invest in R?D -- new technology and innovative ideas that drive the economy forward -- because input costs, such as materials and scientist salaries, are often lower. Research, however, has found that firms behave in the opposite manner and tend to invest more in R?D during periods of economic growth.

This last stage in this ongoing study will expand upon previous methods in several ways, including an increase in the number of firms studied within a laboratory marketing setting and inclusion of different calibers of R?D. Ohio University students will also be recruited to participate in this study.

Melissa Haviland, professor of printmaking in the College of Fine Arts' School of Art + Design, received $11,992 to create a series of pattern designs, in the form of wallpaper and/or fabric yardage, that will be showcased in larger artworks.

The funding will be used for art materials and equipment, as well as student assistance. It will also fund visiting artist Janet Ballweg, a well-known artist in the printmaking field, who will collaborate with Haviland on the project and share her expertise with OHIO art students.

An opportunity for Haviland to hone her skills in designing, registering repeat printed layers, and screen printing, the goal of this project is to display the final artworks in three to four art exhibitions in the coming year, including at the Clamp Light Gallery in San Antonio, Texas, and the Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tales from Albarado: Pyramid Firms and Ponzi Logics of Accumulation in Postsocialist Albania

Smoki Musaraj, assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded $11,271 to complete her book, "Tales from Albarado: Ponzi Logics of Accumulation in Postsocialist Albania."

The book is a historical analysis of the pyramid schemes prevalent in Albania during the 1990s when 1.5 million individuals invested money in these firms. When the pyramid schemes collapsed in 1997, Albania fell into anarchy and was on the verge of civil war.

In her book, Dr. Musaraj takes readers back to that period and explores how people from various socio-economic backgrounds and various demographics came to invest in such high-risk financial entities, putting their personal economies in jeopardy to pursue their dreams and aspirations.

The funding will allow Dr. Musaraj to revisit archives for research and to obtain high-resolution copies of images needed for publication, which requires traveling to New York and to Tirana, Albania. The book is under contract with the Cornell University Press.

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