Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Researcher studies movement, evolution of Zika virus

Edited by Leanna Pough

Named for the African forest where it was first isolated in 1940, the Zika virus has remained a public interest over the past year. Ongoing outbreaks in Brazil are estimated to have infected more than one and a half million people and have been associated with debilitating birth defects and other serious health concerns.

As the eyes of the world turned to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics, scientists and public health officials across the globe moved quickly to respond to the virus which many experts believe will spread across the Americas in the coming months. Among those responding, Dr. Dan Janies, The Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics at UNC Charlotte sat with Inside UNC Charlotte TV to discuss Zika.

As a researcher studying Genomics and Bioinformatics, what do you do when consider when studying a disease or a virus like Zika?

Epidemiologists typically look at the occurrence of the disease, putting points on a map. In Genomics, we look at the biology of the disease itself, its genetics. In a more functional molecular way, we look at what has occurred to cause the disease. By observing genetic similarity, geneticists connect those dots and see how the disease is moving across the earth. So, we’re looking at both time and geography, as well as comparing samples that have been taken from patients across time and geography. Labs across the world are sequencing the virus and sharing that information over the Internet. We compare all those viruses and compare their Meta data, where they're taken from, and what biological properties they have, what animals or humans they are taken from, and we put all that in context akin to a weather map.

Zika has been known as a relatively mild virus. What's different in current cases that have public health officials concerned and scientists involved?
The disease recently spread from Africa across Asia and the Pacific. In doing so, it's taken on new properties, causing birth defects in children and Guillain-Barre Syndrome in some mature adults. Our work has shown that the virus has picked up novel mutations as it crossed the Pacific into the Americas. Those mutations seem to be allowing it to attack the immune system, causing both birth defects and the Guillain-Barre Syndrome. That's completely new for the virus.

Can those conditions cause long-term debilitating conditions or, in some cases, even death?
Yes, in children it’s microcephaly –the child's head and brain don't fully develop. That's one very obvious phenotype of the disease but there are many others: limb problems, eye problems, hearing problems and developmental problems.  It might not just be microcephaly.  In mature adults, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a paralytic disease; if it’s not treated, it can attack the lungs and then cause death.

How dependent is this kind of science on advances in technology?
Bioinformatics and Genomics in our program is a reflection of a lot of very recent technological advances. One, the ability to share information rapidly over the Internet primarily. Two, the ability to rapidly compute on that shared information. These are big data problems and we have high performance computers to do that. Lastly, the advent of very good sequencing technology so we can observe with precision the building blocks of the viruses.

In the past, you’ve explained these changes to the virus as purposeful. Why is the virus doing this?
As viruses replicate themselves, they make a lot of errors. They don't have a lot of error correction in their replication and that's actually an advantage; their sloppiness is an advantage and some of those variants go on to take on new properties and allow the virus to have new strategies such as crossing the Pacific not on mosquitoes but on human travelers.

What are the next steps moving forward for you in your lab? What are some of the concerns you're looking at from an American and a North American perspective in terms of the spread of this virus?
Since the outbreak in Miami it has become a continental U.S. problem and it looks like these outbreaks are not travel warranted. People who have not traveled to Miami are starting to experience the disease from their local mosquitoes. What we're looking towards now is which species of mosquitoes can be infected and what the range of those mosquitoes is across the continental United States. That will allow us to predict the spread of the virus.

As an Urban Research University, we also look at the student experience and educating students. How does this work relate to what your students are doing and what the Bioinformatics program is doing?
UNC Charlotte has a Department which is unique to the country and around the world in training Master’s and Ph.D. students and undergraduates in technologies used to track pandemic diseases. What they're doing is extremely socially relevant work.

Watch an 8-minute video interview of Janies on YouTube.

Dr. Janies is a national principal investigator in the Tree of Life program of the National Science foundation and is funded by the Defense Applied Research Projects Agency. His work involves empirical studies of organismal diversity and development of software.

In July 2012, he joined the University of North Carolina at Charlotte as The Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics. Dr. Janies received a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Biology from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Florida.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Profs' Film Earns Emmy Nomination, Explores Impact of Art

By Kendra Sharpe

UNC Charlotte researcher Margaret M. Quinlan and colleagues received a regional Emmy® nomination for Creative Abundance, a film that explores how art can redefine vocational opportunities and expand the lives of people with developmental disabilities.

Quinlan, an associate professor in Communication Studies and core faculty with the Interdisciplinary Health Psychology doctoral program, is a co-producer on the film.

UNC Charlotte's Margaret Quinlan (center) shares the Emmy spotlight
with colleagues Evan Shaw (left) and Lynn Harter.
“It is a huge honor in so many ways,” Quinlan says. “It is an honor that the individuals in the film allowed us to tell their stories. This documentary draws from years of research. Dr. Harter invited me into a research project she was working on in 2003 related to disability and sheltered workshops. My passion for creating these films started with that work over a decade ago.”

Quinlan was nominated by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in the category Documentary – Cultural/Topical, along with lead producer Lynn Harter, professor, Scripps College of Communication, Ohio University; and Evan Shaw, chief videographer/editor, WOUB.

The documentary is part of a series, The Courage of Creativity, which explores the role that artists and creativity can play in people’s well being in health-related contexts. In 2014, the series won a regional Emmy award from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, based on the strength of a promotional trailer.

“Our research and creative activity is inspired and informed by the stories of individuals,” Quinlan says. “Storytelling is a powerful form of experiencing and expressing.”

The most recent film, the second in the three-part series, examines services in place for individuals with developmental disabilities, usually in the form of vocational and rehabilitative workshops that often are sheltered from the public eye and from community interaction.

With this research, Quinlan and colleagues have found that the use of art can help medical and other professionals understand and address the impacts on people’s lives caused by illness or disability.

“Artists do not eliminate the uncertainties surrounding illness,” Quinlan says. “Even so, they answer suffering in ways that go beyond the traditional reach of biomedicine. We hope that Creative Abundance will offer people a glimpse of creative programming that integrates artful encounters in various settings.”

The film also will be shown on PBS affiliates over a four-year period, through a national distribution arrangement with the National Education Association. The schedule for broadcast in North Carolina is not yet set.

The Ohio Valley Regional Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will present the Emmy Awards on August 6 in Lawrenceburg, Ind. The film and various people involved with it also received three additional Emmy award nominations for videography and production.

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Kendra Sharpe is a student communication associate in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fulbright Fellow pens 'The American Workday'

By Leanna Pough

Study, go to class, graduate and land a job — that’s a familiar path to college students searching for the American dream of prosperity.

As part of the process, astute college students seek out mentors or participate in internships to develop career insight. These opportunities can provide valuable tips on what to expect in the future. But what does it really mean to be a member of the American workforce?

Levine Scholar and UNC Charlotte alumnus Austin Halbert sought the answer. The resulting book, “The American Workday: Tales of Life and Work in the United States Today,” published in January 2016, shares stories of America’s workers. It explores how one’s career can affect an individual’s personal life off the clock, along with misconceptions associated with jobs and class.

Horizons Expand with Levine Grant

A native of Shelby, N.C., Halbert attended Crest High School. Growing up in a small town just west of Charlotte, he was exposed to a working-class population and had little understanding of how people lived outside of that lifestyle.

Austin Halbert is completing a year-long Fulbright Fellowship in Sweden
“When I became a Levine Scholar, I was given an opportunity to go to school in a diverse city, to travel and meet people from backgrounds that were foreign to me,” noted Halbert. “This taught me so much about people whose conditions I could have only speculated upon before leaving my hometown. As soon as I heard someone’s story directly from them, I was then able to feel empathy for others facing similar circumstances.”

To gain a better understanding of how society functions, Halbert listened to people’s stories and connected them to larger social trends.
“I believe storytelling is the best way to foster empathy. When I heard discussions in America becoming increasingly divisive — politically, economically and socially — I wanted to find a way to inject a little bit of empathy into the equation. Fortunately, I found many generous people who were willing to share their stories for this purpose,” Halbert said.
During a three-year period, he and fellow Levine Scholars Laura Outlaw and Vrushab Gowda interviewed and photographed 38 diverse workers across occupations. Interviewees ranged from stock clerks to Fortune 500 executives.

Workers Have Similar Motivations

“Most of the workers interviewed were from the Charlotte area, and if they are any indication, the people of Charlotte are an incredibly resilient, compassionate and hard-working bunch,” Halbert said. “I found that each person I spoke to had fundamentally similar motivations: to provide for the people who depended on them, to find pride and dignity through their work and to find balance between working hard and leading a fulfilled life.”

A member of the Class of 2015, Halbert completed a bachelor’s degree in management with a concentration in organizational management. He also earned a minor in economics.

“The American Workday” was funded through a grant from the Levine Scholars Program, which enabled Halbert to complete the work. The book is endorsed by the Global Engagement Summit and the Clinton Global Initiative University. Proceeds from the book, available at in hardcover and e-book formats, benefit Charlotte Works and Hired Heroes, organizations working to end unemployment by matching jobless citizens with workforce-training opportunities.  

In September 2015, Halbert began a yearlong Fulbright graduate research fellowship at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg School of Business, Economics and Law. He is studying sustainable development through an assessment of public-private partnerships. Additionally, he is interviewing government and business officials in the capital of Stockholm.

Sustainability Across Sectors

“My mission is to find out how institutions approach social, economic and environmental sustainability across sectors and to determine what can be done to further efforts,” explained Halbert. “Sweden is a world leader in sustainability and innovation, so hopefully these insights can serve as a lesson for institutions around the world on how to meet the needs of society while growing strong businesses.”

Interviewees have included ministers and ambassadors for the Swedish government, as well as top executives at global companies such as Ericsson, Electrolux, Ikea and H&M.

The Fulbright program is one of the largest and most prestigious international exchange programs in the world today. Its main objective is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the citizenry of other nations through the sharing of ideas, knowledge, skills and individual experiences.

Recently, Halbert was appointed to the Youth Working Group for the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. The 12 American leaders who make up the group endeavor to engage youth and share UNESCO’s mission of international peace and universal respect.

“As a new member of the Youth Working Group, I am leading the creation of the UNESCO Action Coalition, which will pair young activists and social entrepreneurs with experienced mentors in their fields. The mission is to connect new and experienced generations of change-makers, while providing guidance to high-impact projects focused on sustainable development,” Halbert explained.

With the help of two co-founders he has met while conducting research in Sweden, Halbert is also planning the launch of a social enterprise he calls “ImpactEd,” which will empower universities to bring real-world problem solving into the classroom.

Leanna Pough is communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Alumnus’s project reimagines historic Brooklyn neighborhood

By Melba Newsome

Although Lindsey McApline (‘90) was pursuing a double major in Business and Psychology at UNC Charlotte, he always knew real estate development would play an outsized role in his professional future. “I was actively working in real estate and anxious to go out in the business world,” he recalls. “I started my first development company between my junior and senior year in college.”

Lindsey McAlpine
Fast forward a quarter-century and the former UNC Charlotte alumni president has made his mark in the development world. Yet, McAlpine feels his biggest and most personal project is just around the corner. As the managing partner of Citisculpt, an urban mixed-use developer working exclusively in the Carolinas, McAlpine is now one of three developers vying to revive and redevelop the Second Ward community once known as Brooklyn. The Mecklenburg County Commission will make the selection.

“This is the most impactful project in Charlotte in my generation,” says the Charlotte native. “It’s an opportunity to rebuild a historic legacy and to build nearly the whole quadrant of the Second Ward.”

Second Ward is currently dominated by the city’s government quarter, the courthouse, the no-longer used Board of Education offices and the rarely-used Marshall Park. Fifty years ago, the area was home to about 1,000 African-American families. The community was razed as part of the kind of urban renewal plans that swept through the country during the 1960s and 70s. Residents, who had no say in the matter, were supposed to be relocated to federally-funded public housing that never materialized. The families, largely left to their own devices to find housing, were dispersed to the city’s poorer neighborhoods surrounding the city center. The treatment left deep scars with those who lost their homes, neighborhood and community. 

In large part, the kind of urban renewal projects that displaced urban, minority communities and wiped out a city’s character and history have largely been discredited. Now, development and gentrification tend to focus on, if not preserving the past, at least giving a nod to it. Redeveloping the Second Ward is no doubt a tricky project since it contains so many moving parts, including reimagining Marshall Park.

One concept for Brooklyn Village presented by CitiSculpt.
McApline has worked to keep all these elements in mind throughout every step of his design process. The group researched the area’s history and the stories of people who had lived there in order to understand the best way create a positive and inclusive legacy. He believes CitiSculpt’s community outreach sets it apart from the other two competitors. “We are absolutely committed to hearing what all the stakeholders want in this design and it’s extremely important to hear the community’s input about this design.”

CitiSculpt has put together a team with the kind of unique experience necessary to bring its vision-- up to 1,378 residential units along with hotels, retail space and offices -- to fruition. Prominent architect and former mayor Harvey Gantt essentially came out of retirement to lend his insight and vision to this project.

“There’s a lot of pain associated with the removal of that community,” says Gantt. “That is why this development has to be done well and realized. It sends a serious message to the African-American community that we wanted so badly to restore the community that we chose the right company to deliver the completion of this project.”

If McAlpine is selected, he will be very, very busy for the next 4-5 years. That’s how long he estimates creating the new Brooklyn will take.
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In the video available through the link below, Lindsey McAlpine and Harvey Gantt discuss the possible future of Brooklyn Village.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Theatre professor publishes new young adult thriller

By Phillip Brown

Andrew Hartley, Robinson Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare in the Department of Theatre, has written a new fantasy-adventure-mystery for young adult readers. “Steeplejack: A Novel” will be released by Tor Teen on June 14.

Set in 19th-century South Africa, the book has received glowing reviews, particularly for its young female protagonist. The monthly book review publication BookPage named it the “Top Teen Pick” for June 2016. Steeplejack is the first book in a series of three.

Hartley, who writes fiction under the name A.J. Hartley, has published numerous novels of fantasy, mystery and historical fiction for adults and young adults, including novelizations of two Shakespeare tragedies, “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” (written with David Hewson). He recently collaborated with platinum-selling musician Tom Delonge to write “Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows,” the first of three volumes that was released by Simon & Schuster in April.

Among his scholarly publications are two books published in 2014: “Julius Caesar (Shakespeare in Performance),” published by Manchester University Press, and “Shakespeare on the University Stage,” published by Cambridge University Press.

Phillip Brown is assistant director for internal communication.

Young alums, inspired by Obama's My Brother's Keeper, endow scholarship

By Paul Nowell

When Zacch Estrada-Petersen attended UNC Charlotte, his academic focus was not a technology-based curriculum. Graduating in 2005 with a degree in accounting, he also explored Spanish, journalism and music.
Alumni Kevin Jackson (left) and Zacch Estrada-Petersen

When he graduated, he set his sights on an entirely different sphere.

“I became increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity in the technology field,” Estrada-Petersen said. “I reached out to my friend, Kevin Jackson, who is in the IT field and also an alumnus of UNC Charlotte.”

Jackson and Estrada-Petersen were inspired by President Obama's initiative, My Brother's Keeper. They decided to start an endowment to provide a scholarship in a STEM field, specifically for students from underrepresented populations.

It was a remarkable and daunting challenge for the two young men.

“We are both still early in our careers - I am 31, and he is 36,” Estrada-Petersen said. “We each donate a little more than $200 per month, and our endowment will be fully funded within five years.”

In September 2014, President Obama issued a challenge to cities, towns, counties and tribes across the country “to implement a coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy for improving the life outcomes of all young people to ensure that they can reach their full potential, regardless of who they are, where they come from or the circumstances into which they are born.”

Of concern to the two were the rising cost of higher education and the number of students at schools like UNC Charlotte who needed financial assistance. After they did their research, they learned the average student debt at graduation was $26,000.

“I know from personal experience how a scholarship like this can change your life,” Estrada-Petersen said. “I was fortunate to get some scholarships, but I still had to borrow a lot of money to finish my degree.”

And the impact of student loan debt is felt years after graduation. For him, it means waiting a few more years before launching his own business venture.

“I think of the bright student who might be the next great innovator but is limited in what he or she can do because of debt,” he said. “It really changes how you can move ahead with some of your dreams.”

During his time at UNC Charlotte, Estrada-Petersen worked at University Times, the student-run newspaper. As a senior, he founded the Voices of Eden Gospel Choir, a student organization with which he still very active.

Since 2008, he has worked as a senior accountant for the Charlotte office of a New York-based multinational diversified-media company. In addition to serving as a member on the UNC Charlotte Alumni Association board of directors, he is co-marketing chair on the board for the Charlotte chapter of Habitat Young Professionals and the social media chair for the Charlotte chapter of 100 Black Men of America.

Jackson is a 2007 graduate of UNC Charlotte with a degree in software and information systems. Prior to enrolling at the University, he served in the U.S. Army for five years. He currently works as a middleware engineer for a Charlotte financial services company.

Both Estrada-Petersen and Jackson know that what they are doing is unique.

“This idea may seem a little crazy to some people, and I can tell you neither one of us is independently wealthy,” said Estrada-Petersen. “We had to take the long route to fund this endowment, paying about $2,500 each per year for five years.”

It’s tough to be patient and wait to see the fruits of their hard work and sacrifice.

“We hope to do a couple of other small things in the interim,” said Estrada-Petersen. “We will feel a lot better when we get to see the impact of this scholarship.

Paul Nowell is senior communications manager at UNC Charlotte.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

UNC Charlotte participates in National Water Dance

By Leanna Pough

Water has been an ongoing topic this year with the recent crisis in Flint, Mich., and the drought in California.
In an article published in the Charlotte Observer last January, UNC Charlotte public health professor Gary Silverman said, nationwide, bad water kills millions each year.
Silverman, who researches environmental health and water quality goes on to explain that most disease outbreaks come not from public water systems, but from private wells. Nearly 15 percent of Mecklenburg County residents rely on groundwater.
In an effort to protect and monitor well water supplies, UNC Charlotte and Gaston County recently began a five-year program funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students participate in the campus's National Water Dance performance.
The “Healthy Wells” program will establish a public digital database of the county’s wells and promote the protection of private well water supplies. As a result, the Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services will receive nearly $670,000. The project will also strengthen UNC Charlotte’s existing expertise in spatial epidemiology and will apply CyberGIS and space-time GIS, which are contemporary research themes.
In March 2015, UNC Charlotte kept watch on water in its second year of the KEEPING WATCH initiative. “KEEPING WATCH on WATER: City of Creeks” connected community partners and projects to raise awareness surrounding water quality and urban streams.
Continuing the University’s commitment to improving water quality, UNC Charlotte students from the Department of Dance, under the direction of Professor of Dance Sybil Huskey, participated in the National Water Dance, Saturday, April 16.
The National Water Dance is an annual event that builds a “movement choir” of dancers who join together to draw attention to global water issues.
The concept was first introduced by European modern dance pioneer Rudolph von Laban. A “movement choir” is a community of people dancing together for a common purpose.
During a period of several months, more than 1,000 dancers in institutions in more than 30 states shared ideas and gestures via the Internet, developing a common core movement phrase that served as the foundation of more than 80 choreographed works.
Dancers across the country performed these pieces together, joined through technology. The collective performances streamed live, via Google Hangout.
Three North Carolina institutions participated in the 2016 National Water Dance: UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro and Bradley Middle School in Huntersville.
The UNC Charlotte contribution, “Got H20? Some People Don’t” was choreographed by Huskey and the students of the “Choreography I” class.
In the work, the dancers, all female, embody both how water feels and the water itself. The lake fountain and rain sticks, played by the dancers provided the soundscape for the performance.
The National Water Dance believes our environment is the most urgent issue of this generation and that artists need to take the lead in addressing it.
Watch the UNC Charlotte Dance Department’s National Water Dance performance on youtube.

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Leanna Pough is communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations.