Eight Faculty Members Named 2019 Public Engagement Project Fellows

Kristen DeAngelis
Kristen DeAngelis

Eight faculty members from across eight departments and five colleges have been chosen as 2019 Public Engagement Faculty Fellows by the Public Engagement Project (PEP). The faculty fellows will draw on their substantial research records to impact policy, the work of practitioners and public debates. Faculty fellows receive a stipend and technical training in communicating with non-academic audiences, and will travel to Beacon Hill to share their research with lawmakers. This is the fifth cohort of Public Engagement Faculty Fellows.

“We are excited that PEP Fellows program has a critical  role to play in developing  an interdisciplinary network of publicly engaged faculty at UMass and building relationships to share the high quality research produced at UMass beyond the walls of academia so that journalists, policymakers, practitioners, and others can use it,” said Lisa Troy, co-director of the Public Engagement Project.

The 2019 Public Engagement Faculty Fellows are:

Kristen DeAngelis, associate professor, microbiology. DeAngelis is a microbiologist studying the main living component of soil, microbes. Her research involves how soil microbial communities are resilient to climate stress associated with warming and drying. As a PEP fellow, she will engage with community groups and lawmakers to encourage soil conservation, by planting local, perennial, and diverse plants, composting, and managing land to increase ecosystem resiliency and promote community values. 

Michael A. Knodler, Jr., professor, civil and environmental engineering. Knodler has expertise in the area of transportation engineering, with his main areas of research and teaching being related to transportation safety, traffic operations and roadway design. During the course of his Public Engagement fellowship he will work towards improving the national and regional dialogue on critical issues in transportation.

Kirsten Leng, assistant professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies. Kirsten Leng studies the history of feminism, focusing on two questions: How have gender politics influenced scientific knowledge on sex and sexuality, specifically among feminists in the early twentieth century, and what role has humor played in U.S. feminism? As a PEP fellow, she will write articles for the general public that show how feminists have used science and humor as key resources to affect social change.

Toussaint Lossier, assistant professor, W.E.B Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies. Losier is an expert in 20th-century African American history, social movement politics and criminal justice policy. He has served as vice chairman of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, and is co-author of the book “Rethinking the American Prison Movement.” During his Public Engagement fellowship, he will be preparing a media engagement strategy for discussing the politics of criminal justice reform.

Steven Petsch, associate professor, geosciences. Petsch studies the controls on the composition of the atmosphere over the course of the Earth's long history. As a PEP fellow, he is interested in using climate change as the vehicle to address the politicization of science, the blurring between fact and opinion, and the diminishing value of scientific expertise in public discourse.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Schmidt, professor of practice, public policy. Schmidt specializes in the way individuals and institutions create successful social change. In addition to academic positions at several law schools and universities, she has practiced law, consulted with nonprofits and worked directly for nonprofit organizations in legal and management capacities. During her fellowship, she will develop workshops to help nonprofits be more effective advocates for their causes and find other ways to bring the knowledge she shares in the classroom to a wider audience.

Alicia Timme-Laragy, associate professor, public health and health sciences. Timme-Laragy is a developmental toxicologist with expertise in how early life exposures to pollutants affect health. She uses zebrafish to identify and understand the health risks of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in contaminated drinking water. During her Public Engagement fellowship, she will engage with community action groups and journalists about her research.

Brian Whitcomb, associate professor, biostatistics and epidemiology. Whitcomb’s research focuses on how fertility and pregnancy are impacted by inflammation, as well as the behavioral and lifestyle factors that may trigger inflammatory responses. He is president-elect of the international Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research (SPER). As a Public Engagement fellow, Whitcomb will work to inform clinicians and the general public about the influences on reproductive health, and to help SPER grow its presence and level of engagement beyond the immediate scientific community.

The Public Engagement Project is a faculty-driven initiative building on a collaboration of the Institute for Social Science Research and the Center for Research on Families. The Public Engagement Faculty Fellowship has been made possible by generous funding from the UMass College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, College of Natural Sciences, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Provost’s Office, and University Relations, as well as the collaborating centers.