assistant professor

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Pregnant teenagers are twice as likely to use illegal substances as non-pregnant teenagers, according to research conducted by Christopher Salas-Wright, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. 

Salas-Wright said younger teenagers are putting themselves and their babies at risk because they do not receive adequate information from parents and schools about the risks of substance use during pregnancy.

“We found that pregnant teens were significantly more likely to report using a whole array of drugs and alcohol over the past 12 months,” Salas-Wright said. “We also found that they were more likely to meet the criteria for substance use disorder.” 

Pharmacy associate professor Michela Marinelli, who works at UT’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research, said substance abuse during teenage pregnancy can harm prenatal development.

“It’s very frightening if pregnant teens are taking drugs,” Marinelli said. “Their children will not be normal, and, even though the most drugs they take are during the first trimester, some drugs they are taking are affecting the development of that early stage, like alcohol. The neural tube is still forming, and it will have lots of implications for the offspring later on.” 

Older teenagers, Salas-Wright said, are less likely to use substances such as alcohol and marijuana during pregnancies than younger teenagers are.

“We found that all the adolescents who were pregnant between the ages of 15 and 17 were less likely to use substances during pregnancy, but the younger adolescents — those between the ages of 12 and 14 — were more likely than their non-pregnant peers to report using substances,” Salas-Wright said.

Parental involvement and school engagement seemed to correlate with fewer instances of substance use during teenage pregnancy, according to Salas-Wright.

“We found that kids who report very consistent parental involvement and school engagement were substantially less likely to use substances during pregnancy,” Salas-Wright said. “So that seems to indicate when you’re thinking about prevention, it might make sense to involve parents and teachers in prevention efforts.”  

Pharmacy professor Robert Messing said interventions could help reduce harmful affects from teenage pregnancy, but more research and testing need to be done before establishing the cause of substance use during teenage pregnancies. 

“Intervention programs might help,” Messing said. “Let’s assume it’s true that lack of parenting is causal, is a contributing factor … you could target those youth and prevent pregnancy just by targeting the population at risk for the drug use because you want to get the pregnancy issue nipped in the bud earlier.”

Blake Atwood, Middle Eastern studies assistant professor, talks about UT’s Persian program Wednesday.
Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Persian-language students at UT are typically under-prepared by the time they enter advanced classes, according to Blake Atwood, Middle Eastern studies assistant professor. 

The Persian studies department changed the content of its intermediate Persian language course, 322K, because the intermediate course failed to prepare students for the advanced courses, according to Atwood.

Students in the department require more cultural knowledge in order to succeed in the advanced classes, Atwood said.

According to Atwood, the intermediate course aims to teach the language through the historical context of Iran after the 1979 revolution. Atwood said the intermediate Persian courses fail to prepare students for the advanced Persian courses because of they don’t emphasize Persian culture enough.  

“I can’t teach a course on youth culture in Iran unless students build a better base,” Atwood said.

Atwood, who received his master’s and Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies at UT, said he also experienced difficulty with the advanced classes during his time at the University. 

“It was a shocker to go from two years of poorly taught Persian to reading classical poetry,” Atwood said.

Atwood said an emphasis in the course changes will be placed on media jargon.

“There are about 300 words that the Persian media uses,” Atwood said. “[Students] can pick up a newspaper and know what’s going on.” 

The new course will provide improved vocabulary lists and use videos — some of which he will film himself — to help teach students more about Persian history, according to Atwood.

“In the past, we tried watching YouTube videos [and] online videos, and it was an abysmal failure,” Atwood said.

The use of native speakers will be incorporated into the videos to help students learn different viewpoints on historical Iranian events, according to Sadaf Ahmadbeigi, Atwood’s assistant.

“Native speakers don’t just follow the vocabulary lists in class; they provide a lot of [historical] content for the students,” Ahmadbeigi said.

Atwood said the tests would be restructured to place strategically chosen vocabulary words in historical-content questions. 

One concern about the change to the class is that students will be spending three semesters on course material that students previously completed in four semesters, Atwood said. 

Mona Mostoti, Persian language and literature senior, sees the additions to the course as an advantage that will outweigh the risk of condensing the material into three semesters.

“I think it will be beneficial; I don’t think it will be a problem at all,” Mostoti said.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

In the midst of exams and final projects, the UT Department of American Studies invites students, faculty and members of the Austin community to take a break and play this Friday. 

The “Practices of Play” is a day-long symposium organized by Harrington Faculty Fellowship recipient, Patrick Jagoda.

Jagoda, assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago, concentrates on new media in video games and television. He runs a gaming lab in Chicago, where he conducts research on the topic of play. During his time at UT, he researches experimental games. 

“There is some massive cultural fascination in games that is taking place right now,” Jagoda said. “I am interested in how the kinds of games we play in 2014 often times preclude play.”

According to Jagoda, American culture is captivated by sensations such as The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft and reality shows. Despite these gaming outlets, Jagoda said playfulness may be diminishing in society. 

“I’m exploring what practices and spaces still encourage experimental play in our culture,” Jagoda said. “My hope is to use the symposium to think together about how play gets used as a method, a practice and an object of study across various disciplines.”

Jagoda has invited experts in various disciplines from UT, but also academics from Pratt, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Chicago to speak Friday. 

The symposium is split into three parts, beginning at 10 a.m. with a section on the playful humanities. Tanya Clement, assistant professor in the School of Information, will speak about her work curating humanities data and evaluating changing resources and technologies.

“I understand play as a situated and social, world-making and world-weary, rule-aware and rule-breaking, real-time act of performing critical interpretation,” Clement wrote on the symposium blog. 

The second section of the symposium is interactive and focuses on education and play. Symposium participants will be prompted to design a game on a board that speaks to different social and political issues in Austin. The third panel is about art and games. 

“The final session will feature two amazing art game creators — Eddo Stern from UCLA and Paolo Pedercini from Carnegie Mellon,” Jagoda said. “Paolo creates anti-capitalist and critical video games. Eddo makes short films and mixed media digital games that involve theatrical and game components.”

Graduate student and doctoral candidate Carrie Anderson is working on a dissertation in American Studies about the cultural impact of drones, including the representation of drone technology in video games. Anderson is most excited for the group discussion at the end of the symposium. 

“I think whenever you get a lot of people in a room who do different things in different fields, the kinds of conversations that can emerge from that interdisciplinary mix are always really, really exciting,” Anderson said. “I’m really excited about that cross-pollination and seeing what emerges from
the conversation.”

Both Anderson and Jagoda encourage attendees from various and diverse academic and cultural backgrounds.  

“There aren’t a whole lot of events that bring together that kind of weird mix of people,” Anderson said. “My experience is going to be so different from someone who is just a real fan of Halo, for example.”

In 2012, History associate professor Alberto Martinez aided in writing a report for the history department which focused on current issues affecting associate professors at UT. Despite having higher rankings than assistant professors and at times working at the university longer, their salaries aren’t necessarily higher. 

Photo Credit: Claire Trammel | Daily Texan Staff

Associate professors may be ranked higher than assistant professors, but that does not mean their salaries are likely to rise as quickly, according to The Daily Texan’s analysis of University data.

Not accounting for inflation, from 2010 to 2013, associate professor salaries in the College of Liberal Arts increased 5.8 percent, while assistant professor salaries increased 10.5 percent. 

Martha Newman, associate professor and department chair of religious studies, said the discrepancy between increases in salaries is partly influenced by the market for new faculty. According to Newman, to ensure the University continues to hire the best scholars, starting salaries must be able to compete against other universities. 

“This is the reason why assistant professor salaries are increasing at a high rate,” Newman said in an email. “In some departments, the salary of a starting professor may be nearly as high as that of an associate professor who has taught at UT for many years.” 

Associate history professor Alberto Martinez said the problem does not only affect faculty but the University’s overall quality as well.

“It seems that some new hires are paid too much for a state university, which in turn leaves less funds for rewarding good work by current employees,” Martinez said in an email. “It pushes many good professors to seek jobs elsewhere.”

Martinez said, although the University gives more funding for research than it did 10 years ago, there are fewer raises for professors who have attained tenure.

“Maybe researchers now produce more, but the net effect [of using funds for research] is that achievement is hardly rewarded, which is discouraging,” Martinez said. 

David Ochsner, College of Liberal Arts spokesman, said in an email that there are no simple solutions to solving the inequities among faculty salary raises. 

“We are not only looking at professors in different stages of their careers,” Ochsner said. “We also need to consider variables between the disciplines themselves, for example, opportunities for sociology vs. classics faculty.” 

According to Martinez, job advertisements for professors do not list salaries, so universities may end up overpaying new faculty because salary negotiations do not begin until after candidates have been hired.

“If instead we cap and list specific salaries, then we’d save funds that can be used for raises to fix inequities,” Martinez said. “You can get a great professor for a $120,000 salary, but you can get one equally good for much less.”

This story was originally written on March 18, 2014.

Lying hidden under the world’s oceans and permafrost may be the world’s next best bet for a source of natural gas, stowed away in the form of frozen crystal lattices of water and methane called methane hydrates. Researchers at UT are currently examining the resource in an attempt to ultimately figure out how best to extract it.

Methane is a natural gas that is already widely used today but only from sources other than methane hydrates. There is currently not a viable strategy for extracting methane from these methane hydrate reservoirs. Researchers at UT hope to make a first step in changing that.

Hugh Daigle, assistant professor in petroleum and geosystems engineering, and graduate student Michael Nole, along with other collaborators, were given a $1.7 million grant on March 14 from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore where these methane structures originate, how long it takes for them to form and the conditions that will be necessary for large-scale acquisition of the gas.

“We can make some estimates of where the methane is coming from,” Daigle said. “But specifically figuring out what the migration pathways are and what dictates the best reservoirs for these things is still a pretty open question.”

Daigle said the team will be developing a 3-D model, formed using data that has already been acquired by other sources, to represent the Walker Ridge area in the Gulf Coast of Mexico, where methane hydrate deposits lie.

Nole, under the supervision of Daigle, has been developing the 3-D model that will be the focus of the research. He has been working on the model for two months and will eventually utilize more advanced computing resources at UT.

“We will compare the results from the model to data [that has been acquired],” Nole said. “This will allow us to understand the importance of various mechanisms by which we believe methane hydrates are being formed,” Nole said.

They will be looking at two theories to help explain where the methane hydrates come from, termed short and long migration. Ann Cook, assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University, has been a pioneering voice in developing these theories. Cook said she will be creating a separate model to form data that will be added to Nole and Daigle’s 3-D model.

“In long migration, that’s analogous to how normal oil and gas reservoirs are charged,” Cook said. “In short migration, we’re talking about diffusion of methane from a really local source. The gas is made right there. … It moves literally several meters instead of kilometers.”

The unintended messages portrayed by the media play a larger role in an audience member’s memory than the intended ones, according to a Cornell University assistant professor.

The Department of Radio-Television-Film Colloquium Series presented a discussion Thursday led by Cornell University assistant professor Sahara Byrne called “The Boomerang Effect.” Byrne’s research shows that people resist persuasive arguments that intend to change attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. She focuses on the way messages are perceived based on the conditions under which they are presented.

Byrne said her first recognition of the boomerang effect was during a lecture when she was in middle school. She said the lecture focused on a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Vanessa who had been addicted to heroin. After leaving the talk, Byrne said despite Vanessa’s addiction to heroin, her friends were attracted to her physical appearance and wanted to be like her.

“I started to wonder what kinds of effects did sexual messages have on society and what kind of psychological effects would the way women are seen over time have on individuals,” Byrne said. “So I decided to get a Ph.D. to answer some of these questions.”

Byrne’s study on the boomerang effect began with an experiment aiming to prevent negative effects of violent media on children by conducting an intervention to help children use less aggression after watching violent films, she said. Byrne said she concluded that the only children able to avoid aggression were children with a high cognitive ability who also received a media lesson helping to instill morals. Byrne said the children at risk are those with a low cognitive ability, and steps need to be taken to help these children avoid the boomerang effect.

“We need to think about how to help people focus on resisting the negative effects of advertising,” Byrne said.

Byrne derived an experiment using a mobile device to test the boomerang effect. She said she distributed cell phones to a group of younger students, who used the phone to take pictures of their breakfasts each morning. The pictures were sent to virtual pets who would either approve or disapprove of the meal based on nutritional value, Bryne said. She said there are major advantages of using the mobile study, because it allowed her to tailor the experiment by giving the students a device to connect to the study.

Communications studies graduate student Ashley Muddiman said she thinks the boomerang effect applies to everyday life because of the prevalence of advertising.

“The boomerang effect is important because advertisements are everywhere,” Muddiman said. “I question if I resist something being advertised because of the messages being thrown at me.”

Radio-television-film graduate student Rui Wu said she has experienced an urge to buy something regardless of the negative advertisements presented.

“I have seen the boomerang effect in action many times,” Wu said. “I have been out with my boyfriend, and he will see an advertisement that warns the public about the negative effects of smoking and then he will proceed to buy a pack of cigarettes.”

A new UT study has found teens to be taking communication to another more sexual level, commonly referred to as “sexting.”

Researchers at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston reports nearly 30 percent of teenagers are engaging in sexting, the practice of sending nude pictures or explicit content via email or text. The study was led by assistant professor and women’s health expert Jeff Temple and published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The research found that teenage girls who engage in sexting are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as having multiple partners or drinking before sex. In a statement, Temple said he hopes these findings encourage teen health care providers promote safe behaviors during sex.

“Pediatricians, policy makers, schools and parents have been handicapped by insufficient information about the nature and importance of teen sexting,” Temple said in the statement. “These findings shed new light on the public health importance of this increasingly common behavior, and we hope that the data contributes to improved adolescent health care.”

Temple also said existing laws punishing teens for engaging in sexting minimizes the severity and seriousness of sexual assault against minors.

Bill Albert, chief program officer with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said the reason youth are more likely to engage in these sexual activities is because of uncertainty between what is public and what is private.

“For a generation that has essentially grown up with texting, IMs and social media, the line between public and private behavior seems to be an increasingly blurry one,” Albert said. “What appears either [public or private] may seem like a gateway to real world behavior.”

In 2008, a survey commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and reported results similar to the UTMB study, finding that 20 percent of teens overall have posted or received sexually suggestive emails or pictures electronically.

In addition, data from the national campaign finds that “sexting” among teens can now be seen as a doorway into palpable sexual acts. According to this study, 29 percent of teens believe exchanging sexually suggestive messages creates the obligation to “hook up,” or participate in sex.

Exercise science junior Elizabeth Diaz said the reason for this is the campus environment in addition to societal factors.

“I think we as students in a new environment are open to new opportunities and therefore open to more sexual acts,” Diaz said. “People are more sexual than they were back in the day, sexuality has kind of evolved.”

While young adults sending sexually suggestive content is frowned upon, Albert said teens sending sexually suggestive content was a crime until recently. Along with a felony conviction, Texas teens caught sexting would have had to register as sex offenders until they were 43.

The Texas Legislature recognized this form of punishment as severe in August 2011 and created a new policy meant to educate rather than punish those caught sending sexually explicit content. Beginning this year, teens caught sexting and their parents are required to attend a sexting education class meant to discourage sending sexually suggestive messages and inform them about the dangers of sexting.

Debbie Ratcliffe, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman said the implementation of this policy is up to the individual Texas school districts and will be integrated into already existing programs, if applicable.

“More than likely it will join the health class and possibly the technology classes to discuss the issues surrounding it,” Ratcliffe said. “There wouldn’t be a separate class just on this topic, it would become a part of an existing class.”

Chief Program Officer Albert said although the campaign is not a legal organization or an expert on legal affairs, education is better than a harsh punishment and parents should be the ones concerned about indiscrete behavior.

“Those who are concerned about too-early pregnancy and parenthood and STDs — parents, in particular — should be concerned about sexting and whether it is, in fact, a gateway to cause more hook-ups and sex,” Albert said. “The line between public and private is more grey than black and one of the 21st century challenges for parents is to help young people understand the difference between the two.”