On Campus: Faculty News

French Professor Develops Web Site with Worldwide Following

What’s the most “viewed” page on the Southwestern University Web site?

It’s a set of teaching resources developed by Aaron Prevots, assistant professor of French.

Prevots has created a Web site devoted to teaching and learning French through music. It’s called “French through Songs and Singing,” and can be found at www.southwestern.edu/~prevots/songs/. The site became available to the public in October 2006, and already receives between 25,000 and 30,000 “hits” per month.

Prevots has been singing songs to students with his guitar since 1996, when he was a graduate teaching fellow at Brown University. He says the idea for the Web site came about when he began to reflect on how to incorporate music more in French language, literature and culture classes while also sharing the educational benefits of the experience.

“The original impetus for the site was students, who over the years enjoyed learning language and culture through songs and expressed great interest in this aspect of my courses,” says Prevots, who has been a member of the Southwestern faculty since 2004. “It was not unusual for them to applaud the role of singing as an invaluable activity for improving speaking and comprehension.”

Prevots received a grant to support his project from the Associated Colleges of the South and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He recorded and mixed an initial set of 50 songs to post online, then developed the Web site. “I wanted to ‘virtually’ facilitate the sing-alongs that had been so popular in my courses,” he explains.

Prevots says most of the material on the site draws on traditional forms from France, Louisiana and Canada. “I wanted to explore French and Francophone cultures the way folklorist Alan Lomax did with music generally – by gathering together songs passed down from generation to generation and bringing them together as an archive,” he says.

A few tunes on the site were written by Prevots himself, typically based on the model of folk favorites.

Today, “French through Songs and Singing” is a blossoming multimedia educational tool featuring streaming MP3s;

annotated words; articles on music, culture and pedagogy; and extensive teaching links. For those interested in playing along, it also has downloadable lyrics with chords. A handful of songs are offered with additional slow versions to facilitate learning.

Prevots says he has received feedback on the site from teachers all over the world, including Amsterdam, Dublin and Rome, just to name a few. He says “Blues d’être,” for practicing irregular verb conjugations, is a particular hit.

Prevots plans to further expand the site this summer thanks to a Cullen Faculty Development Grant from Southwestern. This will enable him to add another 50 songs and related research to the site. He also plans to add a second set of contributions from professional recording artists.

Professor Receives Fellowship to Study Terrorism

Political Science Professor Robert Snyder traveled to the Middle East shortly after the spring semester ended to learn more about the threat of terrorism, particularly in Israel.

Snyder was one of 43 professors selected to be a 2007-08 Academic Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. He went to Israel from May 26–June 6 to participate in the program.

The program included lectures by Israeli scholars, as well as field trips to different sites related to terrorism. Snyder says the most interesting trip was to a prison where Palestinian terrorists were held. The group also visited the prime minister’s office.

“The trip gave us a good sense of how difficult Israel’s situation is,” Snyder says.

Faculty Publish Books

Four faculty members had books published recently. Daniel Castro published Another Face of Empire; Michael Cooper published Mendelssohn, Goethe and the Walpurgis Night: The Heathen Muse in European Culture, 1700-1850; Alisa Gaunder published Political Reform in Japan: Leadership Looming Large; and Shannon Winnubst published Reading Bataille Now.

Psychology Professor’s Research is Featured on ‘NOVA’

Southwestern received national attention this spring when the research of Psychology Professor Jesse Purdy was featured on the PBS program “NOVA.”

Purdy was featured in a program titled “Kings of Camouflage.” The program was about cuttlefish, which are a close relative of octopus and squid. These cephalopods have an incredible ability to change their skin color to blend into almost any background. They also have the highest brain-to-body ratio of all invertebrates.

Purdy has been conducting research with cuttlefish since 1992 and is one of only a handful of researchers in the United States studying cognition in these animals. A film crew from Kaufman Productions in Australia came to Southwestern in July 2005 to gather footage of Purdy’s cuttlefish conditioning experiments for a documentary they were producing. “NOVA” purchased the documentary to air on public television stations across the United States. The show also has been picked up by National Geographic International, which will broadcast it around the world.

In addition to Purdy, the program featured Southwestern student Shanon Claudio ’07 and alumni Neil Minocha ’05 and Joshua Neese ’05, who worked in Purdy’s lab while they were at Southwestern.

If you missed the program, you can read about it and order a copy online at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/camo/.

Purdy says the international exposure gained from the piece has already led to a new collaborative effort with a comparative psychologist from Southern Cross University in Australia. The two plan to work together on a project examining motion detection in cuttlefish.

Chemistry Professor, Student to Conduct Research at Middlebury College this Summer

Gulnar Rawji, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received a $25,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct research at Middlebury College in Vermont this summer.

Rawji and one of her students, Jinna Borgstrom, will conduct collaborative research with Professor Sunhee Choi of Middlebury College. The research involves investigating mechanisms by which metal-based compounds of potential medicinal value interact with DNA. Specifically, Rawji and Borgstrom are interested in certain types of compounds of platinum and ruthenium, which are capable of interacting through more than one pathway, thus maximizing their impact and effectiveness as anti-cancer agents.

“As part of the collaboration with Professor Choi, we should be able to conduct certain experiments at Middlebury that we currently cannot at Southwestern,” Rawji says. “In a fruitful collaboration, there is a good exchange of ideas and as a result a lot more progress can be made in the same amount of time.”

Borgstrom, a biochemistry and history major and Brown Scholar, will carry out these experiments. Rawji, whose expertise includes synthesis, will contribute to the research by synthesizing new metal complexes that are of specific interest to Professor Choi.

Rawji says she hopes the collaboration will continue, with Southwestern hosting some students from Middlebury in the future.