Up and Coming at Ball State: Junior Faculty in the SPOtlight

The Aspire Internal Grants program, administered by the Sponsored Programs Office, has often been the catalyst for faculty to develop innovative projects. The primary objective of this program is to provide funding for research, scholarly study, and creative endeavors so that faculty may be better positioned to seek further support through external awards. Many faculty featured in this publication over the years began their scholarly career at Ball State supported through the internal grants program. The following faculty members are a sample of 2013 Junior Faculty Aspire awardees and a peek into the future of creativity and inquiry at Ball State.

Christopher Flook

Flook sets up a shot on location.Flook sets up a shot on location as he prepares to photograph the Delaware County courthouse.

As a lifelong Muncie resident, instructor Christopher Flook’s connection with Ball State has taken a variety of forms, from student to an instructor at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities, and, since 2008, a faculty member in the Department of Telecommunications.

Throughout these experiences, Flook’s research interests have always fallen into two primary categories. First, Flook has been involved in numerous public history projects and endeavors. Public history research looks for ways to take academic and scholarly concepts or knowledge about the community and its history and disseminate them to the public.

Flook’s second line of research focuses on community development. Projects, including Your Downtown Muncie, looked for ways to revitalize communities in the Midwest, Indiana in particular. According to Flook, some communities such as New Orleans and New York City have done a great job with this. But Indiana and the majority of the Midwest have not made that jump yet. Flook’s immersive learning projects have incorporated both of these ideas. “We didn’t talk about policy, but we showcased the historic side of the city of Muncie,” said Flook.

“There seems to be renewed interest to see what’s in your community, what’s in a day’s drive, what is where you are,” said Flook. “It helps to bring a synergy between the people in a community and the history and offerings of that community to American life that is often lacking.”

Flook’s project, “The Soul of Indiana: Reasserting the Importance of Iconic Local Identity,” which was the basis of his Aspire Junior Faculty Award, showcases each Indiana county’s courthouse and adjoining square. The project takes a complete photographic inventory of all 92 county courthouses and adjacent squares as iconic reminders of Indiana’s local history, while also providing high resolution media to encourage renewed interest for the economic and cultural redevelopment of these areas. With the assistance of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, a website has been developed to provide the history of each courthouse.

Flook’s image of the Vanderburgh County courthouse.One of Flook’s images of the Vanderburgh County courthouse.

“The idea of centralized urban areas is not a unique thing, but it is something the United States has gotten away from,” said Flook. “When cities were first founded, the courthouse was placed in the center – a very Jeffersonian idea, with the law at the center of our society. As people began to move to the suburbs, they also moved away from this idea. Now as people are moving away from the suburbs, they are also realizing a renewed interest in their communities and their original centers.”

Flook hopes that this project will be the basis of many other grants. He has already begun looking to create a larger immersive learning course which would organize projects to revitalize these city-center areas. Additionally, he’s hoping to develop partnerships with Building Better Communities (BBC) and Ball State history professor Ron Morris to work with these communities across the state, assess their needs and decide how best to get them the necessary resources.

“Sometimes people don’t have the interest, and there’s nothing we can do about that. But sometimes they don’t have the money, and that is something we can try to help them with,” said Flook.

“We’re such a young country, especially the farther you get inland. When you go somewhere overseas, you are so overwhelmingly aware of the history of where you are, but we’re so new and our identity is still, in many ways, being forged. Buildings are a perfect way to do that. It’s not just about being in love with the communities; it’s also about the economic impact that can come with it. We’re always looking for ways to create jobs or stimulate the economy, and this can be one part of the solution.”

Flook attributes much of his success to those he works with. “It really is a university support system. My chair and dean encourage my work, even though it’s not consistent with media communications. Partnerships with BBC and the Center for Historic Preservation have guided my research. Our dedication to immersive learning gets the students involved, and they keep improving the ideas, making the ideas more accessible, etc. It’s nice to see that they have an interest in this, because they will be the ones who have to make these shifts in public discourse and understanding. Additionally, we at Ball State make a point in our strategic plan to focus on projects that will benefit Indiana, and that’s what this research and the campus partnerships are doing. It’s really refreshing to see the impact and reach of these projects.”

Maria Windell

Maria WindellWindell works in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.

“I’ve always been interested in trans-American relations, in part, because of my mother, who is Cuban,” said Maria Windell, who joined the Department of English in 2011. “When I talk about trans-American relations, I mean U.S. relations with the wider Americas, and in particular the way in which the U.S. understands its role as a nation and as an international power through its relationship with other nations of the Americas. My graduate work helped me find a way to link this interest to literary interests. I particularly enjoy looking at where history and literature overlap, looking at when they align and when they don’t.”

The Aspire Junior Faculty Award assisted Windell with her current book project, Transamerican Sentimentalism in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literary History, examining the way the sentimentalism, a genre that depends heavily on emotional appeals, works to build what Windell terms “underground” transnational relations. “Sentimentalism was an incredibly popular genre in the 19th century,” said Windell, “especially in terms of abolitionist literature and other reformist projects, using images such as tearful women, embracing mothers and daughters, and angelic children to appeal to readers. So in investigating the intersection between this and transnational politics, I am interested in how novels use the language and images of sentimentalism to depict and perhaps even try to rethink how the U.S. might interact with other nations in the Americas.”

David Porter posterA copy of David Dixon Porter’s The Naval History of the Civil War, which Windell studied at the University of Michigan’s Clements Library.

Specifically, the award allowed Windell to travel to the Clements Library at the University of Michigan where David Dixon Porter’s papers are kept. Porter was in the Navy for the better part of the 19th century, serving in both the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. What makes him of particular interest to Windell is that he then wrote literarily influenced accounts of his experiences, including Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War and Diary of a Secret Mission to Santo Domingo, which is published only in Spanish and not well explored.

“Porter didn't necessarily change the historic record but saw historical events through literary lenses,” said Windell. “I think this is because storytelling and narrative were very influential in his life, and his life itself was very adventurous. He was raised on stories of his father's capture by Barbary pirates, and he sailed with his father to fight pirates in the West Indies when he was only 12 years old. His father was also close to Washington Irving, who was clearly a strong literary influence on Porter's own writing.” Windell’s research conducted at Clements contributed to a book chapter on Porter, two articles to be submitted for journal publication, and a presentation at the Modern Language Association Conference in Washington DC.

Windell is also planning a second book on how contemporary narratives in film and novels draw on 19th century novels. “For example, I’m thinking of comparing Machete, a 2010 film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, and The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit, a novel from 1854 and written by Yellow Bird, better known as John Rollin Ridge.” Windell has already been awarded an external grant from the Lillian Gary Taylor Fellowship in American Literature at the University of Virginia. This fellowship supported Windell to work at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, which holds several of Porter’s novels and memoirs of the Civil War. Additionally, she has applied for an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, which would allow her to take sabbatical time to research and write her second book project.

Miao Guo

Miao Guo joined the Ball State Department of Telecommunications after receiving her PhD in mass communication from the University of Florida in 2012. “I came to Ball State because I knew the telecommunications program here is very good in terms of my teaching and research areas. I’m a traditional scholar: conduct research, collect data, present findings at conferences, and submit research for publications. It’s nice to be at an institution that allows me to do this.”

The Aspire Junior Faculty Research Award has sponsored Guo to conduct a cross-national comparison study of second screen usage in a global social television-viewing environment. She observed that television audiences are now increasingly having access to television programs via multiple platforms, specifically second screen applications on smartphones and tablets such as iPads.

Ball State student, second-screen useA subject uses a second-screen app while watching several television programs as part of Guo’s research.

“The goal of integrating second screen applications into the provision of a program is typically to increase audience involvement with a program, thus developing better viewing loyalty,” said Guo. “The second screen here is defined as a mobile electronic device that allows a television viewer to interact with television content through multiple applications, which are usually synchronized with the content being viewed on traditional television.”

Her project seeks to understand how theses multiple platforms relate to the “big screen” viewing and why people use them. The countries under examination, China, Japan, and South Korea, were selected because of their high penetration rates and uses of mobile devices. She plans to examine similarities and differences between these Asian countries as well as comparing them to the U.S., in terms of second screen use behavior and its impacts.

The premise of why these second-screen apps are increasingly used is that the new media platforms allow for more two-way communication, both between the program/network and the viewer as well as among viewers. “This represents an active viewing behavior as opposed to traditional passive viewing,” said Guo, “allowing people to be more engaged while watching their favorite television shows.

“The research is actually based on my personal experience of using second screen apps, interacting with other viewers, being involved with television shows. Now I want to know about the general audience.”

Besides the funding from the Aspire Junior Faculty Research Award, Guo has submitted a grant proposal to Japan’s Hoso Bunka Foundation’s Assistance Grant Program to supplement the cost of conducting the cross-national comparison study. Additionally, she has received funding from the Time Warner MediaLab Academic RFP Grant, which is the first stage of her second screen research project. In stage one of the project, the U.S. television audiences were surveyed on how they use the second screen apps, social media, and program/network website to influence their traditional television viewing. The data have already been collected at Time Warner MediaLab in New York in March.

Guo also has planned to submit her work to several major academic conferences, including the Broadcast Education Association (BEA), Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), and International Communication Association (ICA). These research projects are also expected to generate two or three academic publications, with possible venues including the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of New Media & Society, and Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly.