Faculty Spotlight

Faculty

Faculty Title

Professor

Faculty Department

Political Science and Public Administration

Dr. Robert O. Schneider is a professor of public administration at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He’s a recognized expert in emergency management and climate policy, and has authored two published books: Emergency Management and Sustainability: Defining a Profession and Managing the Climate Crisis: Assessing Our Risks, Options, and Prospects. In this interview, I discussed with him his upcoming third book: When Science and Politics Collide: The Public Interest at Risk, which comes out in March 2018.

The book represents more than 5 years of work, and builds heavily on Dr. Schneider’s previous research and publications. In setting out, he initially sought to answer one main question: why is there a disconnect between science and policy? In his words, he wanted to know “why is there a reluctance on the part of some people to accept what the science is telling us?” in relation to climate change. He says that while “our perceptions of science… have become very political” recently, the relationship has never been ideal, and climate change is hardly the first point of conflict between science and politics – it’s just the most obvious one today.

Ideally, Dr. Schneider says, science would guide policy decisions. Politicians would look at existing research and the conclusions reached, and then use the evidence to inform future laws and resolutions. In reality, however, policy decisions are made long before the decision-makers ever take so much as a glance at the scientific research. Once the decisions are made, existing research is then applied (or ignored) selectively to support whatever conclusion the politicians want. Dr. Schneider argues that this is because “politicians are most interested in winning the argument they need to win today,” the “minutiae of the moment,” rather than the answers to the “profound questions” that scientists are concerned with.

When evaluating how science and politics interact, Dr. Schneider emphasized that there are four different dynamics (cooperation, conflict, resistance, and crisis) at play. The dysfunctionality of the relationship between science and politics is observable in each of the four.

Cooperation is present only when those in power need something from scientists. The example highlighted by Dr. Schneider is the case of the Cold War and national security in the United States. The “space race” was an example of collaboration between politicians and scientists, and an example of the scientific advancement and achievement which can take place when interests are aligned. Of course, those situations rarely last for very long, and once the politicians had achieved their goals, interest in – and consequently, funding for – the space program was severely reduced. In the end, even when cooperation is present, it’s obvious that scientists and politicians have very different end goals.

The second (and most common) form of interaction between science and politics is conflict. This occurs when what the science indicates isn’t what politicians want to hear; this conflict is ultimately “driven by [the] material interests” of the politicians and their supporters, Dr. Schneider says. A good example from history is the “controversy” surrounding the dangers of smoking. Long after scientists knew with certainty that smoking was a serious health hazard, politicians – who were heavily supported by the tobacco industry – still argued that the science was “flawed” or “unsettled”, or that scientists were lying to the public. As we know, politicians eventually acknowledged the science. It took much debate and considerable time, but eventually everyone came to understand the hazards of smoking. We can see almost an exact parallel with how climate change is presented today: even though there is near-unanimous agreement among scientists that climate change is real and human-caused, politicians – who are today heavily supported by coal and petroleum industries, among other heavy polluters – argue that the science is not settled, or use disingenuous and fallacious arguments to “disprove” climate change, such as bringing a snowball onto the senate floor. Dr. Schneider argues that time is of the essence in this case, and the continued denial of the science may push us past the point of crisis with regards to the climate.

The third form of interaction is more to do with public opinion than with political interests: resistance. Dr. Schneider says that this is present when the science contradicts people’s personal beliefs. As opposed to the conflict model, which is a result of competing interests, resistance is more of an emotional reaction to science; it occurs when the consensus disagrees with a person’s fundamental personal beliefs. The clearest examples of this are when evidence conflicts with religious beliefs – for instance, in the case of anti-evolutionists or young-Earth creationists – but it can extend to philosophical objections and anecdotes from unauthoritative sources as well; for example, the relatively recent opposition to vaccines despite the complete lack of scientific evidence that they’re anything but beneficial.

The final form of interaction comes when a crisis occurs. At this point, the power structure is temporarily turned on its head: politicians become dependent on scientists and plead for their assistance and expert opinions in resolving an adverse event. Even this can be seen as highly dysfunctional; politicians are more than willing to ignore repeated warnings from scientists about potential disasters, but once one actually occurs, public opinion and sympathies shift enough to where those in power have to be seen trying to manage the situation. This could be seen as a short-term example of the “cooperation” dynamic, but it is a reactive dynamic when it really needs to be an anticipatory one. The horse is out of the barn before the cooperation begins.

Dr. Schneider’s conclusion is that these situations are all unacceptable, and a more consistent, cooperative dialogue needs to be established between scientists and politicians to ensure true progress. His book highlights both steps that may be taken to resolve the communication problems as well as the dire consequences we may face if science continues to be politicized. We’re on the clock, and time is quickly running out. “A day later,” he concludes, “may be a day too late.”

-By Jacob Newton

Faculty Spotlight

Faculty

Faculty Title

Professor

Faculty Department

Political Science and Public Administration

Dr. Daniel G. Barbee has worked in emergency management and disaster planning for over 3 decades. His work and accomplishments in the field include authoring procedures for FEMA as well as working with state and municipal governments around the country to implement plans that will prevent tragedy in the wake of a natural disaster.

Maria recently struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane. Two weeks later, more than half of the 3.4 million residents still have no access to fresh water and more than 90% have no electricity. Governor Rosselló has stated that it will likely be months before the island is fully operational again, and rebuilding & recovery estimates are in the tens of billions.

I discussed with Dr. Barbee some of the factors contributing to the severity of this disaster – why recovery efforts are expected to take so long, why the official death toll underestimates the impact of the storm, what challenges Puerto Rico will face in trying to prevent future disasters of this scale, and more. What follows is a summary of our conversation.

The first point of discussion was why the island territory was so badly affected and why relief was taking so long to arrive. Dr. Barbee touched on a few main points. “First of all, the infrastructure was and is badly outdated in many areas,” he said. Puerto Rico has been in mounting levels of debt for “decades”, and infrastructure spending often gets pushed off. That’s one reason why structural damage was so significant even though the immediate loss of life was comparatively low. Additionally, the professor noted, Puerto Rico has a high coastline-to-landmass ratio. “Maria was much worse than [Harvey and Irma were for the mainland] in part because… there was a lot of building along the coast.” Many of the island’s residents lived within the area affected by the storm surge, which led to widespread flooding and structural collapse.

As for why relief is taking so long, Dr. Barbee noted that he didn’t think it was “political” or from a lack of empathy. “FEMA is still cleaning up after the last two disasters,” and volunteers are “tired and spread thin.” Another topic discussed was the Jones Act, a nearly-100-year-old piece of legislation that prevents shipment between U.S. ports by foreign vessels. It took more than two days of deliberation after Hurricane Maria had subsided for the act to be temporarily waived to allow for shipments of oil and other crucial supplies to the territory. Aside from that, Puerto Rico is “obviously an island… that can only be accessed by boat or by air, and the airports really aren’t in good shape right now. So it’s harder to get supplies [than it would be on the mainland].” In addition, prior to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many residents were evacuated and disaster relief was already waiting immediately outside the projected path of the storm; these types of measures weren’t able to be taken prior to Maria.

Another item discussed was the comparatively low death toll for Maria when viewed in the context of other disasters. Dr. Barbee cautions that these numbers are likely to climb in the coming weeks as more deaths are reported and lack of power, water, and medicine takes its toll. “The first priority after a disaster should be getting everyone out [of unsafe situations] and getting them what they need,” but the collapse of all communication systems across the island has made it difficult for rescue workers to identify the communities most heavily impacted and the residents most in need of help. The professor noted that it’ll be a long time before everything gets back to normal, but once the immediate danger has passed, Puerto Rico needs serious help “to rebuild infrastructure in a way that will prevent a disaster on this scale again.”

Regardless of what ends up being the priority, it’s undeniable that – like Texas and Florida – Puerto Rico will need help getting back on its feet. If you’d like to help, consider donating to a disaster-relief charity such as “Save the Children.”

-by Jacob Newton

Amy Kish

Student

Student Degree

B.S.

Student Major

Environmental Science

Student Minor

Certification in GIS

Student Hometown

Akron, Ohio

Biography:

I graduated from high school in 1991.  During my senior year, when everyone was figuring out what they wanted to pursue in college, I was advised of something I’ll never forget. I wanted to do something with science, mainly biology.  However, I was told I should focus on something in the liberal arts, because I just didn’t have the mind for higher level science and/or math. I took that to heart for years. Huge mistake! 

I started college in the early 90’s at The University of Akron, a school of approximately 80,000 students. I also attended Kent State University (during the 90’s), which is another large university. I was originally a Special Education major. I never completed the programs because of several factors. First, the program just didn’t seem to fit what I wanted to do. Second, I was blessed to become a mom. I decided to set my education aside to do the greatest job I could think of, raise my son Spencer. 

I started back to school, many years later, at a small technical school in South Carolina to pursue a nursing degree. I took one microbiology course, and I was hooked. I knew my passion for science had never left. I moved to North Carolina, and after getting settled, I started to look for a school that would allow me to pursue my passion and to finally get a degree in science; that led me to UNC Pembroke. 

Why did you choose to attend UNCP? 

The main reason I chose UNCP is the small student-teacher ratio. Having attended very large universities in the past, small class sizes were important to me. I also needed to be able to commute to a campus.

What do you like best about UNCP? 

The thing I like best about UNCP is the accessibility of the faculty to the students. I don’t feel like a number here. I know all my professors and feel comfortable talking to any of them about school or home. I like that I can even approach professors I haven’t even had for classes to talk about their experiences in graduate schools or just bounce ideas off them for possible future plans. The faculty has never treated me differently, being a nontraditional student. 

What are your post-graduation plans? 

I am graduating from UNCP in December 2018. (Remember that advisor I mentioned who told me I didn’t have the mind for science? I’ll be graduating with honors, hopefully Magna Cum Laude!) As of now, I have not solidified my post-graduation plans, but I am leaning towards the PhD program in Marine Biology at UNC Chapel Hill. I will be applying to several other programs as well. I hope whatever my future holds, I will be able to work in the estuary system somewhere along the east coast. I am interested in the interaction of salt and fresh water and the organisms living there. The first thing I have planned immediately after graduation, however, is to prepare for my son to graduate from high school in June 2019. 

Please comment on your research experiences: 

I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to become a RISE Fellow at UNCP this past summer and into the 2017-2018 academic year. I have been working with Dr. John Roe on eastern box turtle research and the relationship prescribed fire plays in the species’ ecology. I presented a research poster at the end-of-summer RISE poster session, and I will be presenting at several conferences in the spring of 2018, including the ASB (Association of Southeastern Biologists) in Myrtle Beach in March, the AAG (American Association of Geographers) National Conference in New Orleans in April, and in multiple other state conferences.

Amy Kish and Hannah Swartz Amy Kish and Kayla Amy Kish Middle photo: Amy Kish in the microbiology lab

 

Hannah Swartz

Student

Student Degree

B.S.

Student Major

Environmental Science

Student Hometown

Ocala, Florida

Biography:

Born and raised in Florida, I met my husband Carleton in our hometown. At the time, he was enlisting in the US Army and I was moving away for school. I attended state college at the beach, and it was there that my love for biology and environmental science began. I volunteered for about a year at a nonprofit zoo, the Brevard Zoo, where I ran kayak tours through the African wildlife exhibit and taught about conservation. From there, I began gearing my associate's degree towards biology and decided that was the dream I wanted to pursue. After marrying my husband, we moved to Ft. Bragg, and I began my education at UNC Pembroke. We have a hyperactive Australian Shepherd named Loki, and all three of us like to spend our free time outdoors at the beach, hiking, or camping. I’m currently very involved on campus and love every minute of it! If I’m not in class, you can find me in my hammock, or in the campus garden, or working on improving our campus’s sustainability.

Why did you choose to attend UNCP?

Before moving to North Carolina, I researched colleges near and around the Fayetteville area. Coincidentally, one of my friends back home had gone to UNC Pembroke and recommended I look into it. So, there it began.  I read through the UNCP biology and environmental science programs and knew that’s where I wanted to study.

What do you like best about UNCP?

The opportunities available at UNC Pembroke are constantly expanding. Throughout the few years I’ve been here, I’ve been involved in the Biology Club, the Greener Coalition, the Office of Sustainability, the RISE program, and now Kids in the Garden (a lot, I know). Not only are these opportunities great for furthering your career, they are also rewarding experiences. Being involved with these organizations has really helped me to inspire students’ involvement on environmental issues. Working for the Office of Sustainability, I feel like I can make a difference on this campus and better our environmental impact and the experience for my fellow students. So that’s what I like the best about UNCP, the opportunities and student involvement that really make our institution stand out from the rest.

What are your post-graduation plans?

The big question is what will I do after my time at UNCP.  Since working as a Summer RISE Fellow and conducting research alongside Dr. Kelly and Grant Wood, I have a new dream to attend graduate school and to continue research. The combination of field and laboratory research with the potential to answer environmental questions has inspired me to continue my education. I’ve also had the opportunity, with the Kids in the Garden program, to teach high school kids how to develop and implement their own scientific research on the health of honey bees. Being able to inspire younger students to study important environmental questions has truly been a rewarding experience, and I hope to continue this work in the future.  

Hannah Swartz and Kids in the Garden Hannah and Carleton Swartz Loki Photo on the far left: Hannah Swartz and Kids in the Garden make pollen slides

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Cora Bright

Student

Student Degree

B.S.

Student Major

Biology with a Molecular Biology Track

Student Hometown

Ellenboro, NC

Hello! My name is Cora Bright, and I am a senior here at UNC Pembroke.  I work in Dr. Maria Santisteban’s lab in the RISE Program, researching a yeast histone called Htz. I have been in RISE and working with Dr. Santisteban since my sophomore year. I am also the Vice-Chair of the Student Honors Council and have been on the council since my freshman year. Before enrolling at UNCP, I attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), which is where I started doing research and where I first decided that a career in the sciences was right for me. I had always wanted to be a teacher but had never considered being a research professor until I took my first class and was able to run my own experiment on planaria, which are small flatworms. Since then I have been pursuing research opportunities because I feel that the lab is the place where I belong.  During my freshman year at UNCP, I worked in Dr. Ben Bahr’s lab, studying Alzheimer's Disease, and I quickly learned that working with a mouse model was not for me. This was mainly because, to study Alzheimer's Disease -- a disease of the brain --you need to harvest the brains of little mice, and this was something I found a little hard to stomach. This is why during sophomore year when I entered RISE, I found a place in Dr. Santisteban’s lab working with yeast, which is much easier to perform experiments on. 

Why did you choose to attend UNCP?

 I chose to attend UNCP for two main reasons. The first is its geographical location. Pembroke is a small town; no one is arguing about that, but after attending high school in Durham, a big city, I really wanted to get back to my small town roots. I like the big city just fine and am even applying to grad schools back in Durham.  However, after such a rigorous high school experience, I really wanted to spend some time away from all the hustle and bustle, and Pembroke was the perfect place for that. The second reason I chose UNCP was the cost. I had applied to seven different schools and was accepted into all of them, but they offered no financial aid, making them all out of reach anyways. So I made the decision I thought was smart and came to UNCP where I could receive the same quality education as somewhere like NC State University or UNC Chapel Hill, but not drown in student loan debt. 

What do you like best about UNCP?

I really like that at Pembroke, because the school is so small, it's very easy to make connections with your professors. A large part of getting into graduate school is your three letters of recommendation, and I honestly feel that if I had gone to a bigger school where I was just a number, I wouldn't have as close connections with my professors to ask for those recommendations. I also probably wouldn't have been able to join a lab my freshman year or get as much research time, simply because unlike at a large school, the faculty at Pembroke is so connected to their students. 

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am applying to graduate school in the hopes of getting a doctorate in genetics. I would love to work in a plant biology lab studying, at the molecular level, how to make food better for others and easier to grow in the environment. My main passion is the reduction of pesticide use through better genetically modified food. 

Please comment on your research experiences:

As previously mentioned, I started research at NCSSM, working with planaria.  During my freshman year at UNCP, I worked on mice in Dr. Bahr's lab, and during my sophomore year, I joined Dr. Santisteban in her quest to solve what Htz functions occur in yeast. However, what I have not mentioned is the research I did in a plant molecular biology lab this summer. I worked in Riverside, California, in Dr. Venu Reddy's lab, studying plant growth in relation to the WUSCHEL-CLAVATA3 feedback loop. Feedback between two plant proteins controls plant shoot growth, and over this summer I was given an opportunity to study this feedback by creating a forced dimer version of WUSCHEL to see how the plant would grow when the protein was forced to bind to DNA as a dimer. It was a wonderful experience, and I found that working with plants just might be my true calling after all. 

 Cora Bright Cora Bright and RISE students at ABRCMS conference Cora Bright

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Amelia C. Brown

Student

Student Degree

B.S.

Student Major

Chemistry

Student Hometown

Dunn, NC

Biography:

Surprisingly, I haven’t always loved science. As a child, I actually struggled in the subject but could typically manage to get a “B” in class. My mom always made me write “super sentences” with my spelling words. While in math I caught on very quickly. So, those subjects were never an issue. I remember one instance specifically. I brought home a progress report, and my grade in science was a “C.” My dad gave me this look and said “I know you can do better than this, this isn’t you.” And instead of yelling at me, he helped me. By the time report cards came out, I had an “A.” As time went on my uncles helped me complete a few science projects, which made me more interested in what science was all about. However, I first truly fell in love with science when I enrolled in Physical Science with Mrs. Dupree. I was always excited to go to class and learn everything and anything she could teach me. Many people told me that some of the topics covered in this class would be continued in chemistry classes. So I signed up for Honors Chemistry with Genia Morris. Students spoke highly of her at my high school. When I got in that classroom, something happened. I can’t explain it, but as time went on I felt like I belonged there, as if I had found what I was supposed to do. The only thing I hated was that I was a senior when I took this class. If I could go back in time, I would take the class sooner, so that I could have taken AP Chemistry (a more in-depth course) before graduating. It was because of this class that I applied for colleges knowing what I wanted to study.

I only applied to UNC Pembroke and Campbell University. Both schools had great chemistry departments, but I chose UNCP. I was able to apply to and get into the Esther G. Maynor Honors College during the summer before freshman year. Ever since I stepped onto this campus, amazing things have happened to me. I am a part of the Lambda Sigma Honor Society, COMPASS Scholarship Program, Gamma Sigma Epsilon Chemistry Honors Society, and this year I was also fortunate to be selected as a Glaxo Women in Science Scholar. This university has helped me become more successful than I had ever dreamed I would be.

Why did I choose UNCP?

I chose UNCP for many reasons. The University was an hour from my hometown, whereas Campbell was only 20 minutes from my house. I wanted to get the full college experience, and I couldn’t get that by staying at home and attending Campbell. I wanted a distance where I wouldn’t feel homesick. I also heard amazing things about the school and surrounding areas. Being accepted into the honors college also played a factor into my decision. Overall, Pembroke checked more boxes off my list than did Campbell. Surprisingly, the first time I actually saw the campus was during my freshman orientation weekend. Once the weekend ended, I knew I had made the right choice.

What do I like most about UNCP?

 One of the most comforting things about UNCP is that professors will remember you. At larger institutions some professors may not know any of their students on a personal level. Here at UNCP the professors make every effort to get to know you and help you succeed. I don’t think I could’ve accomplished as many things as I have if I would’ve attended a different university.

What are my post-graduation plans?

I will be graduating UNCP in the spring of 2018. During the spring semester I will be applying to postbaccalaureate programs. After attending a postbac program, I would like to attend graduate school. I am unsure of what I would like to study in graduate school, but the possibilities are endless.

What research experiences have I had?

This summer I had the opportunity of conducting research through UNC Chapel Hill’s SPIRE Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. I was mentored by Dr. Dan Brown in the lab of Dr. Jiandong Liu. My lab partner and I worked on two projects together.

  • Project1: Neuregulin1-III is critical for cardiac trabecular maturation and innervation in zebrafish.

In the first project we studied the Neuregulin-1 (Nrg1) ErbB2/ErbB4 pathway in zebrafish. This pathway plays a critical role in cardiac development, function, and homeostasis. The loss of all three isoforms of Nrg1 or ErbB2/4 was developmentally lethal in rodent models. Previous studies have demonstrated that the loss of Neuregulin-1 isoforms I and II did not cause lethality or have an impact on cardiac development in zebrafish. Interestingly, the complete loss of Nrg1 (pan knockout) was not lethal in zebrafish, but did cause structural and functional defects in juvenile and young adult zebrafish. Therefore, we sought to describe the cardiac outcomes following the loss of Nrg1-III. We specifically focused on how the loss would affect trabecular density and cardiomyocyte cell count. We crossed Nrg1-III mutants in transgenic backgrounds that label nuclei and cardiomyocytes. Unfortunately, we were not able to go any further with this project because of time limitations. However, once the fish reach SL-10-20 they will be sectioned via cryostat and then examined using fluorescent confocal microscopy. If zebrafish lacking Nrg1-III have comparable trabecular density and cardiomyocyte reductions when compared to the pan-Nrg1 knockout, it will suggest that Nrg1-III is critical for cardiac trabecular maturation and innervation of the zebrafish ventricle.

  • Project 2: Developmental polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure reduces cardiac sarcomere size and cell morphology in zebrafish.

In the second project, we studied how developmental exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) would impact cardiac morphology on a cellular level. Studies have shown that high concentrations of certain PAHs will cause defects in cardiac morphology as fish develop. The cardiac defect is misalignment of the atrium and ventricle in the fish. Until now that was as far in detail as studies had gone. Therefore, we sought to understand what was happening on a cellular level. In our study, transgenic zebrafish labeled with cmlc2:Cypher GFP and cmlc2:Mkate caxx were crossed to mark cardiac sarcomeres and cardiomyocyte cell borders. Embryos in the 4-8 cell stage were then exposed to varying dilutions of a complex PAH mixture derived from sediments collected at the Elizabeth River Superfund Site. Larval hearts were then imaged and assessed at 120 hours post fertilization (hpf) via fluorescent confocal microscopy and image J, respectively. Our findings suggest that developmental PAH exposure resulting in atrium and ventricle misalignment was accompanied by sarcomere shortening and decreased cell size. While this study strengthens our basic understanding of how PAHs specifically impact cardiomyocyte and cell morphology, we cannot ultimately say which precedes the other.

Amelia Brown at summer poster presentation Amelia Brown Amelia BrownPhoto to the far left: Amelia Brown at summer research poster presentation

 

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