Harrison Faculty Development Grant Winners 2023

May 08, 2023
Submitted By: Ann Brown

Five faculty members have been awarded President Emeritus Walter Harrison Faculty Development Grants for AY2023-24: Adam Silver; Kristin Comeforo; Katherine Owens; Dan Liu; and Ingrid Russell.

Adam Silver, Associate Professor of Biology in the College of Arts & Sciences, will examine the impact of Global Climate Change, microplastics, and Vibrio parahaemolyticus on Crassostrea virginica (Eastern oyster). Global Climate Change (GCC) alters a multitude of environmental factors that drastically impact the homeostasis of estuarine (where rivers meet the sea) organisms. GCC leads to alterations in oceanic pH (increased acidity), increased temperature, decreased salinity (due to the melting of ice caps), and a decrease in dissolved oxygen within water. With his collaborator, Dr. Laura Enzor, Dr. Silver is examining the impact of these perturbations on the model organism Crassostrea virginica (Eastern oyster). C. virginica are economically and ecologically important to estuarine environments. Recognized as a highly valued commercial fishery and aquaculture species, over 30 million pounds of oysters were harvested in 2018 for human consumption, netting over $250 million. As a keystone species, oysters serve as “ecosystem engineers” within the estuary. Oyster reefs provide a habitat for numerous species of shrimp, fish, and crab, and also provide protection from coastal erosion. Additionally, these bivalves rapidly filter their surrounding water to improve water quality and clarity. Oysters can filter particulates out of the water column with nearly 100% efficiency and have therefore been recognized as a valuable indicator species for aquatic pollution and environmental contamination. By decreasing pH and dissolved oxygen in the tanks housing the oysters, Dr. Silver and Dr. Enzor expect to gain an in-depth picture of the microbiota within the oysters throughout the duration of the experiment. These data will provide novel insight into how a focal aquaculture species might fare in the face of GCC, as well as how pathogenic bacteria might increase infection of oysters, directly influencing both the estuarine environment and the economy. Five undergraduate researchers will be included in this work. Grant funds will provide Dr. Silver with one lab-course release and supplies for the project.

Kristin Comeforo, Associate Professor of Communication in the College of Arts & Sciences, proposes “Pod Save the Programs: Exploring Podcasts for Teaching and Learning and Program Promotion,” which will explore how podcasts can serve “double duty” both as innovative, experiential teaching and learning tools within communication classrooms, and as important promotional pieces that will raise the profile of The University of Hartford and these programs. Building on their already successful Keep it Integrated podcast series, Dr. Comeforo will employ more innovative styles of storytelling, and engage more deeply with the MARCOM industry to develop a new podcast, Media’s Lit, which will elevate the University and School of Communication as a thought leader around critical media theory/critical media studies. This balance of the professional/application focus of Keep it Integrated and the critical/theory focus of Media’s Lit, also solidifies Dr. Comeforo’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and work as Guest Editor for the journal Feminist Pedagogy’s special issue, “Honoring the Immeasurable: bell hooks’ Feminist Pedagogy in Teaching;” Editor of the forthcoming bell hooks’ Engaged Pedagogy for the 21st Century Classroom: Radical Spaces of Possibility (Lexington Books); and their various panels on inclusive teaching. The project opens the opportunity to publish work around the uses of podcasts as deep branding tools, in journals such as Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Grant funds will be used for one course release, podcasting equipment, the hiring of a student production assistant, and travel.

Katherine Owens, Professor of Politics in the College of Arts & Sciences, will use her award to further her ongoing project, Entangled and Ingested, which produces life-sized portraits of animals harmed by plastic pollution by sewing unrecyclable film plastic onto canvas. They are not meant to be ‘pretty’ images of likable animals. Instead, these portraits tell a complex story about how we frame the problem of plastic pollution. The goals of Dr. Owens project are to inform the public about the issue of plastic pollution, use an interdisciplinary art-science approach to engage with a broad audience about this issue, and better understand the way public arts projects might influence behavior, particularly around policy advocacy. Dr. Owens will host a series of workshops with the public to co-create a life-sized humpback whale portrait and conduct surveys to understand the impact of the Entangled and Ingested project on individuals’ future advocacy on the topic of plastic pollution by comparing reported past behavior to participants’ intention to advocate in the future. Since 2021, Dr. Owens has conducted outreach through exhibits, lectures, and sewing workshops with approximately 5000 members of the general public, ranging in age from elementary school students to residents of elderly communities. The project has also been covered in the press ( With grant funding for this project, Dr. Owens will engage students as interns and research assistants, take one course release, and purchase supplies.

Dan Liu, Associate Professor of Physics in the College of Arts & Sciences, proposes a project to support further development of interactive simulations of the human body to incorporate innovative integration of Augmented Reality (AR) technology. Building on previous work, AR will bring a much more interactive user experience through simulations that can detect the user and scale the model to their body dimensions with an alignment tool. Following the movements of the user, the simulations will provide real-time quantitative measurement and analysis for the forces on muscle and joints in real environment settings. The calculation behind of the simulations is based on the concept of equilibrium in undergraduate physics. The simulations in this project focus on upper body and they will be programmed in Python. The work benefits a broad audience, especially the educators who teach interdisciplinary undergraduate physics and biomechanics courses and the students majoring in Physical Therapy and Health Sciences, through refinements to PHY101 Mechanics, Heat and the Body, a prerequisite course of Kinesiology and Biomechanics for students majoring in Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation and Health Sciences. This interdisciplinary course and its lab content were designed and developed with many applications of physics to the human body, especially applications of the physics concepts of torque and equilibrium. However, the projection of daily life problems to physics models and geometry-heavy calculations in the applications become barriers for students to reach their learning goals. The proposed project for the interactive simulations of the human body is analogous to actual situations in life. The development of the simulations along with related teaching materials is designed to enhance students’ understanding and emphasis on the essential skill of applying physics knowledge. The simulations will effectively scaffold students to explore new biomechanics projects and benefit their future studies and career practice. Grant funds will be used to support research mentorship stipends for two undergraduates and one course release for Dr. Liu.

Ingrid Russell, Professor of Computing Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences, will engage in a project titled, “A Contextualized Project-Based Approach to Teaching Computing Concepts to Non-Majors Using Data Analytics.” Dr. Russell plans to develop and assess a curricular model for teaching programming concepts to non-majors (CS 111) in the context of data analytics through the design and implementation of several modules that include hands-on laboratory exercises using the Python programming language and associated data analytics libraries. Each module will address a real-world data analytics problem in a specific application area. Instructor supplemental material will also be included in each module. The proposed curricular modules incorporate data analytics elements to the programming projects and provide a motivating environment for improving the student learning process. Students will be engaged in a contextualized project-based learning experience and introduced to fundamental computing concepts in the context of the data analytics projects. The contents of each of the proposed data analytics modules will include collecting, understanding, analyzing, modeling, and interpreting the results as well as problem-solving with the Python programming language. Dr. Russell plans to submit an NSF proposal to further the development, implementation, and assessment of additional modules in other application areas, and the Harrison Grant will serve as the basis for seed funding for the NSF grant. Funding will be used to provide two course releases to Dr. Russell.

The President Emeritus Walter Harrison Faculty Development Grants, given annually, are internal grant awards intended to support the needs of mid to late-career faculty and the University of Hartford by supporting significant scholarly efforts. These grants are made possible by a generous gift from a group of donors to honor past University of Hartford President, Walter Harrison.