As tonight’s Faculty Research Symposium drew near, we chatted with several Trevecca Nazarene University faculty and staff members who’ll be presenting their research at the event at 7 p.m. tonight in Benson Auditorium.
Faculty and staff members presenting research tonight range from history professors to social justice researchers, scientists and business leaders. Get to know more about a few of them in this Q&A with Dr. Laura Hohman, assistant professor of world history; Dr. Steve Hoskins, associate professor of religion; Dr. Ewa Kowal, assistant professor of chemistry; Dr. Rick Mann, director of graduate and professional studies; and Terri Neville and Curtis Elliott, research analysts for The Salvation Army.
Tell us a little about the research you’ll be presenting in tonight’s faculty research symposium.
Hohman: I’m presenting on part of my dissertation, which is on Carolingian sermons and educational strategies in the 9th century in Europe. The Carolingians took over continental Europe, which is now France and Germany. They set up a Christian empire. They wrote a ton of texts and really started renaissance and reform well before the 15th or 16th century Renaissance reform we often think about. I tried to analyze it from the grassroots level: What was actually being taught to the pastors on the local level? I think the key to that are the sermons.
Hoskins: My paper that I’m presenting is about Charles Wesley’s experience as a missionary in Savannah, Ga., an experience that took in learning about nature in America, getting to know early settlers and how that affected his own spirituality and his own development in the ministry the rest of his life.
Kowal: My research is focused on structural studies of artificial DNA and RNA polymers. We are working on it to discover new folding of those molecules in order to act as drugs and drug technology for drug discovery.
Mann: I interact with a group called the Christian Leadership Alliance. It’s a large national conference each year in Dallas. There was a discussion about doing some research related to their CEO forum. They bring in 100 CEOs each year from different Christian organizations. I was the facilitator for that day, so three other faculty members from other Christian universities and I … put our heads together and developed a research model to [investigate] the success they’ve had, the employees they’re hiring and what attributes these employees have. We did a survey of the people there, collected that data, analyzed that data and were able to find some interesting insights.
Elliott: Our approach is to present all the things we’ve been working on. The first is a mini-pilot study in West Virginia. We were contacted by The Salvation Army leadership in that state to request some help in their social services. … We also did a program review of a national program of The Salvation Army to do intentional case management. The goal of this program, Pathway of Hope, is to end the cycle of intergenerational poverty. …We felt that one of the ways we could supplement some of the measuring tools and one of those was a spiritual transformation matrix, a way to measure peoples’ spiritual growth along the Pathway of Hope, not just their self-sufficiency and economic independence. …The final thing we’re going to introduce is a local project that would seek to give a voice to the voiceless in Nashville, which is primarily the refugee population. This would look at the impact of resettlement on refugee lives.
What first interested or intrigued you about this topic?
Hohman: In tracing the sermons, I ended up finding that a lot of them are in these weird compilations with a bunch of other text surrounding them, and I started getting interested in that. Are these put together for a reason and if so, what do we do with all this other text around the sermons? Do they complement them? Do they add to them?
Hoskins: The first thing that caught my eye when I started doing research was just how much of an effect this had on the rest of his life. He suffered a lot in America. He was sick here; he learned about ministering to difficult people, teaching them about the suffering and salvation of Jesus and these themes show up throughout his hymns that he writes literally until he dies. The themes show up again and again. It wasn’t an easy time in his life, but it was a time that was very formative.
Kowal: When I started my research, I originally started with modified DNA adducts that are created in our body when we are exposed to different toxins. We slowly progressed with new, recent discoveries that when you actually do some more modifications to the DNA or RNA, you create new molecules that have a better possibility to fold to different shapes and act as a new drug. We just started with small modifications to the structures and from that led to working molecules.
Mann: It’s always fun to be on a collaborative research project, so there were four of us from universities from coast to coast, those who taught at the undergraduate level, the doctorate level and master’s level. IT was a diverse team of men and women who I thought were really skilled. … We were also able to have unique access to this population of Christian leaders and able to get some insight on what their perspective on what led to their success and what they’re looking for as they employ people as leaders in their organizations.
Neville: Every thing we touch upon with biblical social justice is giving a voice to the voiceless. Whether it’s the refugees, the children and women in human trafficking, the people in poverty and oppression—they don’t have a voice. Our biblical mandate is that God has a heart for these people and they do need to speak. … I feel that if we can take the data and put the faces in the story, everyone can see that these aren’t just numbers or statistics, these aren’t just other people. They are our neighbors; they are children of God who have value, who have dignity, who have dreams.
What do you hope comes from this research?
Hohman: I would love to turn it into a larger study on pastors in the 9th century and understanding the grassroots of reform, but I think it needs another element to it. … I really want to look at a text that was used in a monastery because there is a growing amount of scholarship that at this time there were educational facilities growing in monastery environments.
Hoskins: I hope that our students will gain greater interest in the ways that Wesleyan theology has been formative for Trevecca and for the work of the Church of the Nazarene. I’m also having the article published in the Charles Wesley Society Journal that’s coming out in February.
Kowal: We’re hoping we can get a stable artificial DNA or RNA-like molecule and use it as a different disease-resistant molecule that will act as a drug combined with proteins. So we’re hoping to come up with a better drug that’s not available right now on the market.
Mann: I think what we realized that today’s leaders in business or nonprofits really need to be pretty sophisticated, pretty well-versed and pretty skilled in a variety of areas. So sometimes we say, “If I can get an A in accounting, then I must be ready to go out there in the business world,” but really the skill set is more complex than that, it’s more holistic than that. I think it fits well our Trevecca ethos of whole person education and understanding that who you are as a person—the integrity you bring, the leadership that you bring, the skills that you bring—go beyond just the classroom book activity. So we do want to see students do well in the classroom, but we want to see that integrated together with who they are as a person.
Neville: With the Pathway to Hope project, something I would like to see is that we’re not the first in the game to try to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through a strengths-based case management initiative. But we are different in that we’re not just faith-based in our program; we’re faith-bathed. We don’t take federal funding so we can be unapologetically forthcoming in putting Christ first in our program. I’m hoping with this spiritual matrix we can show that faith matters.
Elliott: In regard to the West Virginia project, I think my hope is that through research we can target a response that is relevant, it meets needs and it gains momentum so that people really do have life-change and they’re really brought out of the situations that are keeping them oppressed.You can learn more about these research projects and more at tonight’s Faculty Research Symposium in Benson Auditorium and various classrooms in the McClurkan Building. The symposium begins at 7 p.m.