After receiving Fulbright grants, three West Virginia University professors will be headed abroad this summer, while one will be returning after a year away.
Psychology professor Andy Lattal is nearing the end of his time in France after taking a sabbatical to research with a grant from the Fulbright Program. Physics associate professor James P. Lewis, political science associate professor Philip Michelbach and geology and geography professor Tim Warner will leave this summer for their trips. All are professors are in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.
A total of 64 professors at WVU have earned Fulbright grants since 1968.
The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program and is supported by the people of the United States and partner countries around the world.
Lattal’s first experience in France came nine years ago, and the connections he made during that trip, along with the Fulbright research grant, allowed him to return in September 2012.
For the last eight months, he’s been in France at the University of Lille, on the northern border near Belgium.
Lattal, the Eberly College Centennial Professor of Psychology, has been at WVU since 1972 and was a founding member of the behavior analysis program in the department of psychology. He teaches mainly graduate-level classes in such topics as reinforcement in punishment, behavior theory and philosophy and the history of psychology.
“I’ve had unlimited number of opportunities to teach classes that I like teaching, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to take sabbaticals in interesting places. The University has been unbelievably supportive, and I’m forever grateful to it,” he said.
Experimental analysis of behavior research can be used to deal with business and communication problems and autistic children, among others. Lattal is researching the effects of resurgence, when behavior that was once rewarded is no longer rewarded. By observing college students and autistic children in, he is trying to identify patterns when rewards are cut off and how previous bad behaviors can be minimized when they return.
“I think I’ll bring back a different perspective on the discipline, just because I’ve been exposed to people that don’t see the world as I do,” he said. “Science is the same the world over. I’m always struck by how alike we all are despite our cultural differences.”
His love for this field came in his early college years.
“I took a course in learning, and I remember sitting in the class and the professor explaining what behavioral analysis was and some of the ideas behind it and what we can do with it. I got to thinking, and it made perfect sense to me, then and now,” he said. “I’ve stuck with it over the years, because I like research. It allows me to be creative.”
James P. Lewis
Lewis believes an education without international exposure isn’t a full experience. That’s why he used to lead a study abroad trip to China.
“I’m very much engaged in this idea of the international student experience,” he said. “Science is global. You have to expose them to the idea that there’s a lot of different things going on outside of the U.S. I like to provide those opportunities to students.”
He will travel to the Czech Republic in July for a six-month stay at the Czech Academy of Sciences. The Fulbright grant is research-based, but Lewis will also teach a class called “Sustainable and Renewable Energy for the Future.” He would also like his graduate and undergraduate researchers to visit for the global experience, as well.
His research goal while in the Czech Republic is to find a way to more quickly design materials for solar applications. The process to develop and test these devices can generally take more than 10 years, but Lewis is hoping that designing the materials via computer (as part of the Materials Genome Initiative) can cut that time below five years.
“It could take thousands of years to develop and test hundreds of potential materials for solar application, and we’re trying to cut that down,” he said. “We’re hoping to computationally sample thousands of those as candidates, and then identify the good ones that can be utilized for photo applications and be able to go to other scientists and say ‘this one looks good. Go ahead and make it.’”
To search for candidate materials, Lewis’ utilizes a computational code called FIREBALL, an extremely fast and efficient density-functional theory package, which is a material science tool developed by his group. FIREBALL utilizes parallel programming for studying large and complex materials systems.
Lewis has been at WVU since 2006 as an associate professor in the Department of Physics. He received his Ph.D. from Arizona State University.
Michelbach made his first trip to Germany when he was 17. He’s been back many times, including a one-year stay in his first year of graduate school.
His time in Germany influences his research, as he focuses on German political thought. He uses German daily for his work as an associate professor in political science at WVU.
“I’ve always wanted to go back to live and work. One of the attractions of being an academic is that you can do this kind of thing,” he said.
Michelbach hopes that his 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter have a transformation similar to his when he went to Germany the first time. He hopes they’ll return in July 2014 speaking German well.
“I look back to my first experience that summer when I was 17, and I think it really matured me. It was a big step forward for me, and I expect the same type of thing for my kids. I’d be surprised if they came back as the same people,” he said.
Michelbach will be teaching at the University of Potsdam on a Fulbright Junior Lectureship in American Studies, a one-of-a-kind grant in Germany each year. He will be teaching courses in American politics and culture while conducting research.
He visited Potsdam in 2005 with his son and fell in love with the idea of someday teaching there. While he’ll miss his office in Woodburn Hall, where the department of political science has been for more than 100 years, his office in Potsdam will be in the New Palace – built for Frederick the Great in the 18th century.
He has been at WVU since 2006 and graduated from UC San Diego with a PhD. He holds masters’ degrees in political science from the University of Houston and German from the University of Kansas. He took his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas.
“I loved the intellectual challenge of being a student – loved it so much I knew that I wanted to stay at a university for the rest of my life. I got two master’s degrees, but I think I was done with the first one before I realized that I should be a professor,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in politics, and while I wanted to major in everything when I got to college, I took my first political science class and was good at it. It seemed like a good fit.”
Warner has always been a fan of plane rides – not necessarily the take off or the landing, but the time in the air when you can look out the window and see the land below.
That’s where he really gained his passion for geography. Today, in the ever-changing field of satellite imagery due to improvements in technology, his passion is as strong as ever – and not just for geography but teaching.
“When I first looked for a career, I thought working for NASA was a dream job. But, really, teaching was the best for me, because you have the best of all possible worlds. Working with young people is so rewarding,” he said.
This will be his third sabbatical at WVU and second via a Fulbright grant. He will travel to Chile to teach a class on satellite imagery while researching Chilean geography using a new satellite called Landsat 8.
“In addition to teaching the class and the research on satellite imagery, I want to help the people at the Universidad de Concepcion, in Chile, to any extent that I can in terms of publishing,” said Warner, who was recently appointed the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Remote Sensing.
According to Warner, many strong journal articles from around the world aren’t accepted because the author wasn’t able to effectively communicate in scientific English.
Warner is professor of geology and geography whose research focuses on remote sensing and satellite imagery. Warner grew up in South Africa, earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Cape Town and came to the U.S. for his Ph.D. in remote sensing at Purdue University.
He has been at WVU for 21 years and teaches classes at the freshmen to doctoral level including intro to physical geography and introductory and advance remote sensing classes.
“WVU has a very strong geographic information sciences program, so that’s what really attracted me to the University,” he said. “Now that I’m here, I really love living in West Virginia.”
CONTACT: University Relations/News
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.