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Professors Byrd, Tracy and Lussier receive research grants

By Montserrat Castro

This semester, faculty members Vance Byrd, Andrea Tracy and Danielle Lussier became recipients of a variety of grants and fellowships that support their research and work beyond their teaching responsibilities.

Associate Professor Vance Byrd, German, is the first person at Grinnell College to ever receive the New Mellon Directions Fellowship. This grant, $298,000 in total, is the largest grant that an individual faculty member in the humanities and social studies has received in the history of the College.

Byrd serves currently as the chair of the German department and the director of the Center for the Humanities. As a professor, he teaches seminars as well as beginning to advanced language in German. His teachings and studies focus on 18th and 19th century visual culture, print culture, environmental humanities and memory studies.

With the New Mellon Directions Fellowship, Byrd will spend the next year studying at Northwestern University, taking courses in Art History, African American studies and Civil War History. The grant will pay for his salary during that year and his tuition at the university, as well as fund his experiential learning and research for the two summers in between.

“The wonderful thing about the Mellon New Directions Fellowship is it’s not about the product, it’s about the process,” said Byrd. “It’s about my process of learning over eighteen months, and when I return, my teaching and scholarship should be even more interdisciplinary than it was before.”

Associate Professor Andrea Tracy, psychology, and chair of the neuroscience concentration, received grant funding this past fall from the Rockefeller Foundation in a project she works for in collaboration with the College of Public Health in the University of Iowa. This project, initiated by Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and former Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama, works to impact the issue of obesity in rural communities of Iowa, particularly Newton.

Tracy’s area of research is obesity and food choice, specifically the effects of obesity and high fat diet on psychological processes and changes in the brain. Her work prior to this project has focused solely on rats, but her goal is to extrapolate these studies unto human behavior.

The $198,911 grant funds one year of piloting and planning process around the Newton community. It will help with two different areas of the project: the built environment of the community and its food and nutrition. Students at the University of Iowa, five Grinnell College students and Tracy will be looking at the community’s eating and living patterns and observe how it affects their choices in healthy eating.

“We’ll be looking to apply for further funding for the things that we find are successful, and hopefully sustainable and of interest to the community,” said Tracy. Her hope is that the project will ideally grow to other parts of Iowa and then the country.

Finally, Associate Professor Danielle Lussier, political science, received a book-writing fellowship from the Global Religion Research Initiative at Notre Dame University. Lussier teaches political science classes on comparative politics, and her regional areas of expertise are on Russian politics and Indonesian politics.

Lussier, over the course of the last five years, has done research to explore the question between religious practice and political participation in Indonesia. She has done this research with the help of grants and fellowships such as a previous Global Religion Research Initiative and the Harris Faculty Fellowship Program in Grinnell.

According to Lussier, the most important and substantive part of her research occurred in the 2014-15 academic year, in which she traveled to Indonesia to do participant observation of over 350 activities in 14 Muslim churches. These activities included worship services, educational activities, choir rehearsals and meetings of the parish council, among others.

After this main part of the data collection, Lussier began to give shape to her book project, which has the working title of “Mobilizing the Devout; Mosques, Churches, and Political Participation in Indonesia.” The grant she recently received from the Notre Dame University will cover her salary for a year, releasing her from teaching responsibilities in order for her to focus exclusively on her writing.

Vance Byrd (top) was awarded the New Mellon Directions Fellowship, and Andrea Tracy received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Photos by Sarina Lincoln.
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