Planning Week presentations showcase faculty research

Planning Week marks the start of the academic year and provides an opportunity for faculty receiving funding from the Faculty Research and Development Committee to present their work.  

Four Elon faculty members from across a range of disciplines on Thursday presented the results of research conducted during the past year with the support of the Faculty Research and Development Committee. 

The presentations were part of Planning Week, a week that marks the start of each academic year with a variety of events and workshops for faculty and staff. The week precedes the arrival of students on campus for the start of classes. 

The Faculty Research and Development Committee allocates funds for sabbaticals, summer fellowships, release time fellowships, research, development and advanced study. 

Presenting this year were: 

Vanessa Bravo, associate professor of strategic communications

Vanessa Bravo, associate professor of strategic communications in the School of Communications
“The Role of Diaspora Communities in Public Relations and Public Diplomacy”

Diasporas are communities of immigrants who live in a host country but who often keep multiple ties to the homeland. Diasporas are (or should be) key publics for a diverse array of organizations, including national and international NGOs, private companies and, of course, for both host and home-country governments.

Members from a country’s diaspora can play many roles both at home and abroad: informal ambassadors, political influencers, oppositional activists, investors, remittance-senders, tourists, dual citizens, voters, candidates for office, facilitators of technology transfer, senders or receivers of goods and services, media producers, opinion leaders, and more.

Bravo’s research investigates how governments from Latin America are establishing a broad variety of efforts to engage their U.S.-based diaspora communities as targets and/or partners for their public diplomacy efforts, or their “diaspora diplomacy.”

Dave Gammon, professor of biology

Dave Gammon, professor of biology in Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences
“Recorded Human History Through an Evolutionary Lens”

How history is framed plays a major role in which historical patterns emerge and achieve prominence. Viewing human history through an evolutionary lens has at least two advantages: First, an evolutionary framework is inclusive; we all evolved as one Homo sapiens species, regardless of our identities, values, and beliefs. Second, an evolutionary framework incorporates very long time scales, prompting us to evaluate the significance of historical events not just over centuries, but over millions of years.

During my talk, we will first confront the question of what life is like for most animal species and how that compares with ancient and modern humans. We will then use data from a variety of disciplines to examine what I see as the two most prominent patterns of recorded human history. We will end by considering the future of humanity and how we might resolve our biggest challenges as a species.

Steve Bednar, associate professor of economics

Steve Bednar, associate professor of economics in the Love School of Business
“How Taking Breaks and Physical Activity Impact Human Capital Formation”

According to a recent Shape of the Nation Report (2016) report, nearly 32 percent of children are overweight or obese and most do not get enough exercise or physical education (PE) time in school.  Growing concerns over the amount of time devoted to PE is predicated on the assumption that PE programs provide children with vigorous physical activity that is imperative to their health and ability to learn (CDC 2018). 

We utilize a new data set that follows children throughout elementary school and allows us to compare results after the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) to prior studies, where children were not exposed to the legislation until the spring of their third grade.  Similar to previous studies, we find no evidence that the amount of time spent in PE per week impacts BMI or indicators of academic performance for elementary school students. To further investigate these results, we turn to middle school students and use the randomness in student schedules to study whether the timing of PE relative to their math class affects their score on an end of year exam. 

We find that having PE before a math class later in the school day allows students to rebound from cognitive fatigue, but having PE before a math class early in the school day disrupts student learning.  This helps explain the null average effect in elementary schools, as PE can help or hinder student learning depending on when it occurs.

Rissa Trachman, professor of anthropology

Rissa Trachman, professor of anthropology in Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences
"Ongoing Research at the Ancient Maya City of Dos Hombres, Belize: Re-constructing Everyday Life"

In her research centered around reconstructing ancient lifeways at the Maya site of Dos Hombres, Trachman created a research design that necessarily included both architectural and non-architectural excavations. These excavations, the resulting material culture, and other post-excavation analyses have provided insight into some of the economic, ritual, and socio-political underpinnings of this ancient city.

The unexpected discovery of a Late Classic tomb during the 2019 field season has great potential to further elucidate the role of ancient Maya ritual and religion in the Dos Hombres economy.