MSU Alumni Magazine — Fall 2011
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An MSU professor and her colleagues are pioneering a new field of research to show just how lakes, streams and wetlands are interconnected to their surroundings.

Patricia Soranno, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife, will use a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant to gauge land use and climate change’s impact on freshwater ecosystems—thus pioneering the research field of landscape limnology.

Soranno is leading a team of researchers from three universities who have been awarded a five-year grant from macrosystem biology. They will use landscape limnology as the foundation of their work, which is the study of bodies of water as they interact with one another as well as with natural and manmade features to learn how all these factors affect freshwater processes.

“Traditionally, bodies of water have been studied as isolated ecosystems,” says Soranno, an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. “Our research uses landscape limnology to study freshwaters as integrated elements in the landscape to improve our understanding and develop approaches needed for multi-ecosystem management.”


The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University has acquired two works by multidisciplinary artist Andrew Kuo.

The works, “Self-Portrait (Rise and Shine),” 2009, and “The More You Know About Me, The More You’ll Think Twice Before Calling/ I’d Be More Tolerable If I Smoked Weed Because...,” 2011, are the first acquisitions for the new contemporary art museum, which will also assume care for the 7,500 object collection of the university’s former Kresge Art Museum. The Broad at MSU is scheduled to open in spring 2012.

The Broad at MSU is the first museum to acquire works by Andrew Kuo, a New York-based artist whose works bring together his experience as a painter, graphic designer, sculptor, musician and student of art history.

“For a university museum with an educational mission, Kuo’s work offers a fascinating point of entry for a discussion of art history, and insight into the multidisciplinary approach of today’s most original and engaging contemporary artists,” says Michael Rush, the museum’s founding director. “Kuo’s deeply personal storytelling will resonate with diverse audiences, and I’m thrilled that the Broad at MSU will be the first museum to include this exciting young artist in its permanent collection.”

Andrew Kuo (American, born 1977)
Self-Portrait (Rise and Shine), 2009
Acrylic on linen, 16 x 12 inches
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University
MSU purchase, funded by the Kathleen D. and Milton E. Muelder
Endowment, 2011.1

What can a college do when student behavior is out of control? In Animal House (1978), the offending Deltas were put on “double secret probation.” But in 1909, MAC did one better. President Jonathon Snyder hired a Pinkerton undercover agent to investigate.

At a time when most of the country was in favor of temperance, some students, Snyder felt, were spending too much time and money drinking in Lansing saloons, gambling and causing mischief on campus. MAC was gaining a reputation for being rowdy and Snyder wanted to identify the biggest trouble makers.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency provided an agent—J.E. Spencer, who enrolled as a special forestry student and took Up residence in Wells Hall. Spencer pretended to be a regular student, attending classes and hanging around the dorm. Within a week, Spencer was invited to card games in the dormitory (against the rules at that time), shown how to sneak alcohol onto campus and told all about Lansing saloons.

Spencer uncovered excessive drinking and gambling by a few students, and also a series of harmful pranks on campus— such as shooting out all the lights in College Hall and stealing food. Spencer asked his boss for more than his $10 per diem. Jonathon Snyder received daily reports from Spencer. In three weeks, Snyder had enough information to expel 11 students, including Spencer. Some of the students wanted to fight the expulsions, some were impressed with how much Snyder knew about their shenanigans, and others were surprised they lasted as long as they had. A few students headed off to the saloons for one last drink before going home.

In flagrante delicto: Students impudently show off their stealing (top), drinking, smoking and gambling, prohibited activities in the residence halls.

MSU Moments

This capsule of MSU history was assembled by Portia Vescio, public services archivist at MSU Archives & Historical Collections.


Why do middle schoolers struggle with the study of genetics? In Science Education, Michelle Williams, MSU assistant professor of education, suggests genetics and heredity lessons should be taught in a visually stimulating manner via computer technologies.

Williams has received a $2.3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop web-based genetics curricula for students starting in fifth grade.

“A lot of genetics happens at the Microscopic level and it’s hard for students to visualize,” Williams says. “The goal is to get the students excited about science and keep that excitement going.”

In the published study, a group of seventh-grade students completed a web-based unit on genetics and were given assessments. Although improvement was shown, the students still struggled to understand cell function and genetic inheritance. But state and national academic standards indicate students should comprehend genetic-related concepts as early as elementary school.


In a head-to-head battle of harvesting the sun’s energy, solar cells beat plants, according to a new paper in Science. But scientists think they can even up the playing field, says MSU researcher David Kramer.

Plants are less efficient at capturing the energy in sunlight than solar cells mostly because they have too much evolutionary baggage. “This is critical since it’s the process that powers all of life in our ecosystem,” says Kramer, a Hannah Distinguished Professor of photosynthesis and bioenergetics. “The efficiency of photosynthesis, and our ability to improve it, is critical to whether the entire biofuels industry is viable.”

The comparison is useful because it’s leading the exploration of why plants are so inefficient and what can be done to improve their efficiency. Genetic engineering and the more aggressive techniques of synthetic biology—the marriage of biology and engineering to design and construct systems and metabolic pathways not found in nature—could speed things up considerably.

Kramer, who works in the MSU-Dept. Of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, was part of a team of researchers led by Washington University in St. Louis.


One of the classics of Broadway musicals, West Side Story, comes to MSU’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts this fall (Nov. 8-13). It has been called one of “the greatest love stories of all time” and the Bernstein and Sondheim score won the 2010 Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. Other Broadway shows coming this fall include Jersey Boys (Sept. 18-Oct. 16) and Rock of Ages (Dec. 13-18), a love story told through hits by such rock groups as Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar.

Classical music fans await the Eroica Trio performing with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Nov. 6) and the Empire Brass (Dec. 1). Families will enjoy ImaginOcean (Oct. 23), a black-light puppet show involving a treasure hunt. The National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China (Oct. 27) will perform spectacular stunts. Popular music fans will look forward to performances by such stars as Tony Bennett (Oct. 28) and Nellie McKay (Nov. 19).


A repellant for sea lampreys could be the key to better controlling one of the most destructive invasive species in the Great Lakes, says Michael Wagner, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife.

Scientists have noticed that when scents from dead sea lampreys are poured into a tank of live ones, the lampreys’ efforts to escape are dramatic. Wagner Sees this reaction as a potential game changer.

“Sea lampreys are one of the most costly and destructive Great Lakes’ invaders,” says Wagner, whose research appears in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

“The effectiveness of the odor combined with the ease in which it’s obtained suggests that it will prove quite useful in controlling sea lampreys in the Great Lakes.”

Discovering an effective repellant Puts research to control sea lampreys on a new path.

“By blocking certain streams with these chemical dams, sea lampreys can be steered away from environmentally sensitive areas and into waterways where pesticides could be used more effectively to eliminate a larger, more concentrated population of sea lampreys,” says Wagner, whose work is supported by MSU’s Ag-BioResearch and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.


Every semester, MSU faculty, Stff and students garner kudos too numerous to list exhaustively here.

. Lisa D. Cook, assistant professor in the Dept. Of Economics and James Madison College, has Been named to serve one year on the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. She will serve as a senior economist and will advise President Barack Obama on matters of economic policy.

. Gretchen Birbeck, director of MSU’s International Neurologic & Psychiatric Epidemiology Program, has won the 2011 Outreach Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award for her work with epilepsy in Zambia. She led one of four community outreach initiatives honored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.


With another $2 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers are moving closer to human clinical trials for a reformulated drug that can treat two debilitating tropical diseases.

Charles Mackenzie, a professor of veterinary pathology in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and his colleagues are looking to flubendazole, a drug tested first in the 1980s to treat the filarial disease river blindness (onchocerciasis). The disease afflicts about 40 million people worldwide, much of its damage in equatorial Africa.

Another filarial disease, elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), is caused by tiny worms in the vascular system and afflicts millions of people in tropical regions of the world.

“Although flubendazole faces important challenges with regard to safety, the potential benefits that could result relatively quickly from a safe, usable formulation make this a top priority for the filarial world today,” MacKenzie says. “This drug is the only drug candidate on the horizon that has demonstrated positive results.”


MSU researchers will use a $6 million grant to improve the sustainability of egg production in the United States.

The three-year grant, awarded by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES), will be shared with the University of California, Davis. The research is expected to help consumers and producers make objective, science-based decisions as the egg industry evolves in response to consumer needs and desires, says Janice Swanson, MSU director of animal welfare and professor of animal science.

“Our goal is to thoroughly understand the full range of sustainability factors,” she says. “We will examine seasonal shift s, bird lifecycles, bird health and behavior, environmental impacts, human health and other factors affecting the sustainability of the egg-production system.”

CSES seeks to achieve a sustainable supply of eggs while taking a balanced and holistic approach to evaluating egg production systems, says Charlie Arnot, chief executive officer for the Center for Food Integrity.


MSU has enabled a partnership that helped resurrect Michigan’s $444 million sugar beet industry.

In 1996, industry yields hit an all-time low due to pest, disease and other issues. Farmers were switching to more profitable crops. Working with the Michigan Sugar Co., MSU spearheaded the creation of the Michigan Sugar Beet Advancement program, an interdisciplinary team of scientists, industry representatives and farmers. Together, they have helped boost production more than 80 percent in 15 years.

Today, Michigan is the nation’s fourth-leading sugar beet producer, giving the state an indirect Economic boost of $1 billion, says Steve Poindexter, MSU Extension educator.

“Fifteen years ago, the sugar beet industry in Michigan was struggling to survive,” says Poindexter, who works with MSU’s Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center, an MSU AgBioResearch center. “This is a great success story that was definitely a team approach.”

The program’s advancements have allowed Michigan growers to produce 4 million tons of sugar beets, which translates to 1 billion pounds of white sugar. There are now 1,100 farm families raising sugar beets, and 2,300 full- and part-time people working at Michigan Sugar Co.


MSU researchers have shown why precision-tinted lenses reduce headaches for migraine sufferers.

MSU Radiologist Jie Huang used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to reveal how precision-tinted lenses normalize brain activity in patients with migraine headaches, thus preventing such attacks.

Huang’s research appears in Cephalalgia (May 2011), published by SAGE. Until now, the science behind the effects was unclear. The team led by Huang showed how colored glasses—tuned specifically to each migraine suff erer—work by normalizing the activity in the brain’s visual cortex.

“The specific characteristics of activation we recorded could provide a potential biomarker for identifying those migraine patients suff ering visual cortical hyper-activation,” says Huang. “This biomarker could prove useful not only for further evaluation of tinted lenses but also for studying the effectiveness of drugs to prevent migraine headaches.”

Huang worked with colleagues from the University of Michigan and the University of Essex in England.


The MSU Libraries, together with the Jewish Studies Program in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters, have received a major gift : the Irwin T. and Shirley Holtzman Collection of Israeli Literature.

Notable for both its breadth and depth, the collection covers Israeli literature from the earliest days of statehood in 1948 up to the present. Many of the volumes of fiction, poetry and drama are inscribed by the author. Literary journals and literary criticism were also collected.

“The Holtzman Collection will be a tremendous asset to teaching and research at Michigan State,” says Marc Bernstein, professor of Hebrew. “Many of the literary works were printed in small quantities and are no longer available. And the correspondence and manuscript materials are absolutely unique and will be an important resource for scholars.”

The Holtzman Collection represents many years of passionate work by Irwin Holtzman, a Detroit-area builder and business owner.

“The MSU Libraries are extremely pleased to receive this wonderful gift of Israeli literature and we look forward to making it available to the MSU community,” said Peter Berg, head of special collections.


Researchers from MSU’s College of Human Medicine, Van Andel Research Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute are investigating a drug that has the potential to not only alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms but also halt the disease’s progression.

The research project will be funded by a $400,000 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Researchers are focusing on the drug Fasudil, which is currently approved in Japan to improve blood flow to the brain in stroke victims and has shown similar positive outcomes in U.S. clinical trials.

“The potential of this drug is exciting not only because it could halt disease progression where other treatments only provide symptomatic relief, but also because of how quickly it could be made available to patients,” says Jeff rey P. MacKeigan, head of Van Andel’s Laboratory of Systems Biology and co-investigator on the project with Caryl E. Sortwell of MSU’s College of Human Medicine.

“This collaboration highlights the strength of strategically aligning teams from two research organizations with different skill Sets,” says Sortwell, a professor in the Division of Translational Science and Molecular Medicine.


The MSU HealthTeam and Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital have opened a state-of-the-art unit to monitor epileptic patients via video and brain monitoring.

The unit is the only one of its kind in mid-Michigan. It allows caregivers to observe patients who are not responding to medication and to better pinpoint the cause and type of their epilepsy.

“The epilepsy monitoring unit is going to become very handy, knowing that one out of 100 people have epilepsy and one-third of those people are not cured by any single medicine,” says Mounzer Kassab, an associate professor in the MSU Dept. of Neurology and a Sparrow neurologist.


By Scott Westerman, III, ’78
MSUAA Executive Director

By any metric, Michigan State University is extraordinary. The numbers you’ll peruse in this issue of the MSU Alumni Magazine will surprise and delight you, especially if you haven’t focused on our vital statistics in awhile. This has been a particularly gratifying year at MSUAA. We now boast over 40,000 members. In percentage terms, that represents a double digit growth over this time last year. Life memberships are at an all time high, too.

For all of us who live to serve you at the MSU Alumni Association, there is really only one metric: Your satisfaction.

We ask two questions, “Where does it hurt?” and “How can we help?” Our ongoing game plan is totally based on your answers. With MSU’s worldwide resources, including our half a million alumni and friends, we aim to help you get from wherever you are to wherever you want to be.

That’s where the notion of “The Net Promoter Score” comes in. In Fred Reicheld’s book, The Ultimate Question, he posits a satisfaction Scale from 1 to 10. Th e gold mine exists among those who rate you between 8-10. These are your Promoters. At MSUAA, everything we do finishes up with a 10 Second Survey where we ask you the ultimate question, “Would you recommend MSUAA to others?” We disseminate our Net Promoter Score broadly, so that the team can get a sense for how we are doing.

Yes, growing our membership is an important metric, but we believe that your financial support is a direct consequence of how well we can serve the needs you have right now.

I like to say that, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” so keep it coming. We enjoy hearing about it when we’ve done things right, but we truly grow when someone gives us the gift of feedback on how we can improve.

Continuous improvement, or Kaizen, as the Japanese call it, is the hallmark of a successful, sustainable organization. It’s one of the secrets behind MSU’s amazing success story. And it’s the path we intend to take to make your MSU Alumni Association a world-class customer service operation.