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Research Notes

Star Cluster Project Shines Light On Galaxy
Randy Phelps


Another Side of AIDS
Patricia Clark-Ellis


'Street Smarts' for Computers
Thomas Tien-I Liu


Help Wanting
Craig Kelley


Pesticides Accused In Amphibian Assault
Carlos Davidson


Can You Teach an Old Doll New Tricks?
Virginia Kidd


GREAT EXPECTATIONS - When Schools Don't Fail
Rosemary Papalewis


Grants, Contracts on the Rise


Star Cluster Project Shines Light On Galaxy

Photo of Randy PhelpsOur Milky Way Galaxy’s star clusters could shed light on how the galaxy was formed, its age, where it might be hiding planets and more.

The problem is there are 1,200 clusters. Many have hundreds or even thousands of stars. And what scientists really need is detailed information on every cluster—a sort of cosmic dictionary.

The sheer scope of such a project has deterred many research teams. But after three years Sac State astronomy professor Randy Phelps and his students are about halfway finished. Their numerous observation trips to Southern California and Chile, and countless hours of analysis in the computer lab, have yielded data on almost 600 clusters.

Phelps hopes to have the project completed in the next four years.

“Astronomers are really pretty ignorant about these clusters,” Phelps says. “But with enough information about them, it should be possible to see how the galaxy has evolved. This catalog will be a great service to the astronomical community, because it will be a tool to help people approach many kinds of questions.”

The oldest clusters may have formed about the same time as the galaxy and are often at the galaxy’s outer edge, where they aren’t ripped apart by the gravitational pull of other stars and gas. The youngest clusters are still forming, while some clusters have disrupted and appear as single stars. Our sun shines all alone, although it probably was once part of a cluster.

Phelps came to Sac State three years ago from the Observatories of the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Pasadena, where he was with a team studying the expansion of the universe.

“This is the type of project you can really get undergraduate students involved in, which is one reason I like it,” Phelps says. “Providing opportunities for undergraduates to do meaningful research is an educational advantage of CSUS, and this project exploits that advantage.”


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Another Side of AIDS

Photo of Patricia Clark-EllisSince the early days of the epidemic, HIV/AIDS has been perceived as a disease that targets gay males. That’s no longer the case, particularly among American women for whom HIV infections tripled between 1985 and 1999.

Along with the multiple difficulties that come with having a fatal disease, women with HIV/AIDS face specific legal, psychosocial and health issues, says Patricia Clark-Ellis, a Sac State social work professor and interim associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services. She made her findings while working with a women’s HIV-positive support group.

For example, many women with HIV are single parents. As a result, they must plan for their children’s futures in case they become incapacitated or die.

“If there is no guardianship in place, their children could be placed in foster care or with relatives that the mother would not prefer,” Clark-Ellis says.

In addition to custody concerns, women with HIV/AIDS often are caregivers for an older family member or spouse, and as a result they tend to not take care of their own medical and physical needs. “A diagnosis of HIV infection is a devastating, life-changing experience that forces a woman to deal with a number of issues that she has never had to face,” Clark-Ellis says.

Sources of stress include fears of infecting others, possible ostracism, preparing for loss and the need to redefine familial roles, she says. The women are often confronted with sociocultural issues such as poverty and inadequate health care and social services, and legal issues such as confidentiality and discrimination.

“AIDS carries a stigma, particularly in the African American community, because of the association with intravenous drug use, risky behavior and homosexuality,” she says. The fact is, most of the women Clark-Ellis interviewed contracted HIV through their sole partner or spouse and not through drug use.

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'Street Smarts’ for Computers

Photo of Thomas Tien-I LiuLife is fickle. The car in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes; that great cookie recipe comes out not-so-good.

The same type things happen in manufacturing. A piece comes out too short, plastic molding isn’t just the right shape, a drill suddenly breaks.

People adjust to life’s ups and downs. Machines, typically, have not.

But for a growing number of engineers, including Sac State’s Thomas Tien-I Liu, that isn’t good enough. The mechanical engineering professor has spent his life improving industrial design and production, and in recent years that’s meant making machines act more like humans—hoisting computers out of their black-and-white world and into the real world of gray areas.

To accomplish that, Liu works with human experts in various industries to “coach” the machines. He talks to assembly workers and supervisors about how they would solve problems, and then programs their answers into computers. The computers are then able to work through assembly line challenges and even solve new problems. They become “expert systems,” computer systems which work faster than humans and with far fewer errors.

“We absorb the human knowledge and put it in the software—artificial intelligence,” Liu says. “Once that is in place, the machine can respond to needed changes much more efficiently than humans.”

Liu has a low-key way of describing his work that belies a formidable international reputation and publishing record that includes more than 70 technical papers, 12 software copyrights and one patent. He also received the University’s Outstanding Scholarly Achievement Award in 2001, just the most recent of a slew of honors over the last dozen years, including honors from the United Nations and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Liu and teams that include CSUS graduate students have helped clients such as Lockheed Martin, General Motors, the state of California and others.

His guiding principle is “continuous improvement”—save a little more time, reduce a bit more required testing and ultimately make companies more profitable. Expert systems have been just part of the mix. Liu adapts all manner of information technology advances to industrial production. Recently, for instance, he worked on systems that allow engineers at different sites to use the Internet to work together.

“American companies need to be able to compete at a global level. Using information technology is a very important part of that,” Liu says.

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Help Wanting

Photo of Craig KelleyYou’ve become a pathetic cliché, paralyzed by a failed effort to program your new VCR. Red-faced anger is getting you nowhere. So you get online, track down the website for the Fortune 500 company that sold you the thing, and shoot off an e-mail.

Then you wait. And wait some more. Days go by.

But you … never … hear … back.

The sad fact is you would have been lucky just to be able to send that e-mail, according to Craig Kelley, a Sac State professor of management. Kelley spent last summer studying Fortune 500 websites. The results, published in the proceedings of the 2001 Marketing Educator’s Association Conference, should make business executives cringe.

Only about 30 percent of retailers had a “contact us” link on their home-page. And of those, only 50 percent responded to an e-mail. The silver lining: If you’re lucky enough to make it through those hurdles, you’ll get a response rather soon (nine minutes by Home Depot was the fastest).

“The Internet is a sales tool, a customer service tool and a communications tool all wrapped in one,” Kelley says. “It just isn’t fully understood yet, and companies obviously have a way to go.”

Things weren’t much better when all types of company homepages—not just retailers’—were considered. Less than two-thirds had a “contact” link. Most were happy to tell you “about the company” (84.1 percent), but only 33.4 percent had purchasing information. Worse, just one in five had a homepage link to customer service.

Of course, Kelley cautions, the Internet is constantly changing. It’s possible the company websites have been redesigned in the last year and are doing a much better job facilitating customer service.

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Pesticides Accused In Amphibian Assault

Photo of Carlos DavidsonA possible suspect has emerged in “The Case of the Disappearing Frog.” In his search for clues in the staggering population declines of the California red-legged frog, environmental studies professor Carlos Davidson has uncovered important new evidence—the
culprit may be pesticides.

The red-legged frog has disappeared from most of its former range in California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added it to the threatened species list in 1996, and last spring it earned sweeping federal protection from habitat destruction.

In the first-ever study to link a known declining frog species with pesticides, Davidson and colleagues mapped out the disappearance of red-legged frog populations throughout California.

When those geographic patterns were analyzed for possible causes, Davidson says, “We found there is a very strong association between declines of red-legged frogs and the amount of agricultural land use upwind from the site. It strongly suggests that windborne agrochemicals may be contributing to the decline.”

To identify historic concentrations of red-legged frogs, they compared museum records of habitats, dating back to the mid-1800s, with recent survey data.

“From the museum specimens we know where the frogs used to be. Recent survey data tells where they are now,” Davidson says. Of the 237 sites they looked at that once had frog populations, 48 percent no longer do.

Several possible causes of the declines were considered—global warming, ultraviolet radiation, pesticide use and habitat destruction due to urbanization and agriculture—with pesticide and urbanization emerging as important factors.

In fact, in areas where the red-legged frog has disappeared, the percentage of land being used for agriculture upwind of the site was found to be six-and-a-half times greater than in areas where the frogs still exist.

“If it turns out pesticides are the cause, we’ll have to do more than set aside habitats to protect the species, Davidson says. “We’ll have to do something about the types and amounts of pesticides that are used and how they are applied.”

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Can You Teach an Old Doll New Tricks?

Photo of Virginia KiddBarbie, queen of the unrealistic body and frivolous lifestyle, is trying to change her image from fashion model to role model. But even after the makeover Barbie remains plastic, says communication studies professor Virginia Kidd.

Kidd presented her findings at a pair of academic conferences last spring and summer.

“They are trying to make Barbie more acceptable,” Kidd says, pointing to ethnic Barbies and Barbies dressed for careers as a veterinarian or U.S. President. Unfortunately, Kidd suggests, Barbie’s greatest power is not what she stands for, but that she helps to divide the world.

“Barbie Pink is a trademark splashed across the earth proclaiming that a gender is a legitimate division. There are no boys in the Barbie world and Ken is an accessory,” Kidd says.

“Barbie has become a way to isolate girls from the big picture, to train them to imagine themselves in a career, but not help them develop the skills they need to get there.”

It’s hard to overestimate Barbie’s influence. Every second, 2.5 Barbie dolls are sold around the world. And, Kidd says, the message isn’t being sent by just the Barbie doll, but by Mattel’s Barbie.com website and its Barbie-brand personal computer.

“Barbie was recruited to bring little girls to the computer,” she says. “But when they get there, they’re designing clothes.”

For example, the Barbie PC and the Hot Wheels PC came out about the same time, yet the Barbie computer had about half the educational software found on the Hot Wheels computer. And many of the games it included were narrowly fashion-focused.

Barbie.com doesn’t fare much better, Kidd says. “For all its possibilities for introducing young females to the computer age, Barbie.com is overwhelmingly stereotypical,” she says. “Certainly Mattel’s goal is to sell, but surely they could sell science lesson packets as well as ball gowns.”

“What’s missing from Barbie’s world is a meaning for life that can’t be found at the mall and a vision of beauty other than Barbie. Whatever else she may represent, Barbie is a consumer,” Kidd says.

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When Schools Don’t Fail

Photo of Rosemary PapalewisWhen faced with similar challenges, why do some schools soar while others struggle? The first step may be refusing to allow an “acceptable” number of students to fail.

“Kids don’t drop out in elementary school but it can set the stage for them to drop out later,” says Rosemary Papalewis, a Sac State professor of educational administration and policy studies.

Papalewis and Rex Fortune, superintendent of the Center Unified School District, recently completed a study of high-performing California schools with large populations of low-income Latino and African American students, and found unexpected similarities among the institutions. The results are the subject of a book, Leadership on Purpose: Promising Methods for Educating African American and Latino Students, which will be released in early 2002.

“We found a surprising number of practices that were being done at each site,” Papalewis says. Two stood out: manipulating the length of the school day and school year to allow more time for students who need it, and having structured high expectations for every student.

These schools didn’t view breaks in the school year as vacation, she says. They found ways to keep learning going. They sent home packets of work, and teachers, principals and vice principals volunteered to hold special classes during the breaks for students at risk of falling behind.

And the results made the extra effort worthwhile. “There was no learning loss. Students stayed fresh and focused,” Papalewis says.

Another unexpected universal practice was individualized placement of students, instead of automatic admission based on age. The principals of these high-achieving schools conduct basic diagnostic testing, with the student’s parents present, for every child that enters their elementary school. “It was one thing to see it in one school,” Papalewis says. “Then we saw it in another and by the third we figured there was something to it.”

These weren’t schools with lots of resources. These were large, primarily inner-city schools where from the looks of the outside, you would not expect much learning to occur inside, Papalewis says.

But perhaps the most important common denominator they saw was the commitment from all parties at the school not to let any student fall through the cracks. There was a sense of responsibility—not just among the principals, teachers, students and parents—but the groundskeepers, the maintenance workers and the secretarial staff.

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Grants, Contracts on the Rise

The amount of faculty grants and contracts continues to grow at Sac State, reaching $23.6 million in the last academic year. That’s up from just $8.7 million a decade ago.

“We’re getting a bigger share of what’s available,” says Ric Brown, associate vice president for academic affairs in charge. “We have an active group of faculty who are interested in sponsored research, and the CSUS Foundation and the administration have worked hard to develop the climate and infrastructure to make it possible.”

Ultimately, every grant helps promote additional research on campus. A large portion of the indirect costs recovered by the University is funneled back to the Colleges in the form of research support.

Recent Grants on Campus Include:


Scott Farrand
, a Sac State math professor, has a grant for about $250,000 to help schoolteachers improve math instruction.

Chemistry professor Linda Roberts, and biology professors Susanne Lindgren and Ruth Ballard, have a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant will support development of a shared molecular facility, as well as individual student research projects and research experiences for middle school students.

Chemistry professor Mary McCarthy Hinz has a three-year, $60,000 grant from the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program to provide undergraduate research experiences that emphasize the relationship between chemistry and biology.

Maggie DeLeon of the Cross Cultural Resource Center has a grant for about $100,000 to help high school social studies teachers add an international perspective to their classes.

Hydrogeology professor Dave Evans is managing a $400,000 grant from the Keck Foundation. It will help expand field facilities, purchase advanced geophysics equipment and build a new groundwater modeling lab.

Marilyn Hopkins, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, is overseeing an AmeriCorps grant of approximately $100,000. Through it, students from mainly the nursing and social work program provide tutoring, referral and other services for students in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

Three teacher education professors have a three-year, $1.5 million AmeriCorps grant through the Governor’s Office and the state Department of Education for a remedial tutoring program in the North Sacramento School District. It will allow 80 Sac State students to provide tutoring at all the district’s schools. The professors are Noreen Kellough, Pamela O’Kane and Jennifer Rodden. Child development professor Karen Horobin helped write the grant.

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