Research at Sewanee


Biology Professor Kristen Cecala Awarded Grant to Research Local Salamander Distributions

Assistant Professor of Biology, Kristen Cecala, was awarded a grant from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  Coupled with internal support, this grant provides funding for Sewanee students to conduct research with Professor Cecala on predictors of salamander distributions on the Cumberland Plateau. Specifically, the research will evaluate variables that limit the distribution of the Cumberland Dusky Salamander, a recently described species only found on the Cumberland Plateau.

By collecting data about salamander abundance, student researchers are evaluating the impacts of climate change and habitat loss on the salamander’s distribution.  Cecala highlighted the importance of this research – “We know that amphibians are already responding to changes in temperature and precipitation, yet we lack an understanding of how climate will interact with a human-shaped landscape to influence amphibians.”  This project will not only provide important ecological knowledge, it will also provide an opportunity for students to develop critical skills in field monitoring for rare species and in the mathematical models necessary to predict how the distribution of this species will change in the future.

“This research is also important to conserving biodiversity on the Cumberland Plateau” said Cecala, “because we predict that as climate becomes warmer, species will move upslope to remain in their preferred climate. Unfortunately on the Cumberland Plateau, species are limited in their ability, so locating habitats for protection that also provide a climate refuge is essential for their long-term persistence in the region.” Last summer, research assistants, Saunders Drukker, Ben McKenzie, and Philip Gould, discovered a new southern locality for the Cumberland Dusky Salamander, but the team fears that the species is already responding to climate change because of its highly limited distribution on the southern Cumberland Plateau.

In addition to becoming familiar with identifying salamanders, the research assistants developed expertise in field surveys by visiting over 50 locations and extracting spatially-explicit information about their study sites. They were able to uncover the importance of evaluating inaccurate detection of a rare species while also having fun completing their studies. Each student is contributing to manuscripts this fall that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal. This project has also stimulated two side projects investigating interspecies interactions among salamanders for which the outcome of competition may change with shifting climates.


Professor Moore Awarded NSF Symposium Funding

Assistant Professor of Biology, Brandon Moore, received National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to organize and chair an eleven-speaker reproductive anatomy symposium and trainee poster session titled “The Morphological Diversity of Intromittent Organs” at the Society of Comparative and Integrative Biologists (SICB) in January 2016, Portland, Oregon. He shared this role with his co-chair, Dr. Diane Kelly of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Together, they led a series of talks focused on functionally understanding the many ways that males transfer sperm during copulation- a function vital to individual fertility and population stability in species that utilize internal fertilization. Speakers addressed the varied influences on the evolution of intromittent organs in both vertebrates and invertebrates, including ecological interactions, competing selective pressures, phenotypic plasticity, sexual conflict, life history, genes and development, and the biomechanics of copulation.

More details about the symposium can be found here.

Read about undergraduate researchers, Nicole Fischer, C’16, and Reeda Shakir, C’17, who traveled with Dr. Moore and presented their findings at the SICB Annual Meeting here.

Two Award-winning Posters at TN Psychological Assoc. Conference

Two research Posters by team members of the Life Paths Appalachian Research Center won awards at the October 30-31, 2015 Tennessee Psychological Association Convention at the Nashville Airport Marriott.  The University of the South, and particularly the Psychology Department, are Institutional Partners with the Center.

Elise Anderson ’16, a psychology major and Undergraduate Intern in the Center, was present to discuss the research;  this poster won second place for a poster with an undergraduate lead author.

Anderson, L. E.;  Blount, Z.;  Hagler, M.;  Grych, J.;  Banyard, V.;  & Hamby, S.  (2015, October).  The development of regulatory strengths from adolescence to middle adulthood.  Presented at the Tennessee Psychological Association Annual Conference, Nashville, TN.

  • Objective:  Self-regulation is the ability to maintain emotional, cognitive, and behavioral control, even during times of stress and adversity. The purpose of this study is to examine the pattern of five regulatory strengths (emotional regulation, emotional awareness, anger management, psychological endurance, and coping) over the lifespan and to explore sex differences among the strengths.
  • Method: 2565 participants (63.9% female) were recruited from rural communities to complete a computer survey. Participants responded to a series of questions about emotional awareness, emotional regulation, psychological endurance, anger management, and coping.
  • Results: Emotional regulation scores slightly declined from early to middle adolescence, but increased in late adolescence and emerging adulthood where it remained steady. Psychological endurance increased from late adolescence to the mid-20s, where it reached a plateau. Anger management showed increases from late adolescence to the mid-20s and from early through middle adulthood. Coping scores increased from middle adolescence to emerging adulthood.
  • Conclusion: Regulatory gains were noted through emerging adulthood and stability during middle adulthood. Regulatory strengths may be a promising target of prevention and intervention for youth and young adults.     View poster.

Zach Blount, formerly an Undergraduate Intern in the Center, is a member of the class of 2016 at Davidson College.

Matt Hagler ’13, formerly an Undergraduate Intern in the Center, majored in psychology at Sewanee.

Anna Segura-Montagut,  a graduate student at the University of Barcelona and a visiting staff member in the Center, was present to discuss the research;  this poster won second place for a poster with a graduate student lead author.

Segura-Montagut, A.;  Hamby, S.;  Grych, J.;  & Banyard, V.  (2015, October).  Meaning-making strengths across the lifespan.  Presented at the Tennessee Psychological Association Annual Conference, Nashville, TN.

  • Objective: To examine the pattern of seven meaning-making strengths (i.e., related to family care, morals standards, other-oriented, self-oriented, optimism, purpose, religious) across age and gender.
  • Method: 2565 participants (63.9% female) from rural Tennessee were recruited to complete a computer-administered survey. Participants responded to a series of questions about meaning-making strengths.
  • Results: Regression analyses showed that the presence of meaning-making strengths changes across the lifespan. In general, females showed greater levels of these strengths than males.
  • Conclusion: When building Resilience Portfolios, adolescents engage more in self-oriented meaning making practices, whereas adults are more likely to garner deeper meaning from their family relationships.     View poster.

Three members of the Life Paths Appalachian Research Center were coauthors of both posters.

Sherry Hamby, Ph.D.;  Principal Investigator.  She is Research Professor of Psychology at Sewanee.

Victoria Banyard, Ph.D.;   Co-investigator.  She is Professor of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

John Grych, Ph.D.;  Co-investigator.   He is Professor of Psychology and Chair, Marquette University.

Biology Professor Thea Edwards awarded grant from Coypu Foundation

Biology Professor Thea Edwards has been awarded a grant from the Coypu Foundation, which was established by John S. McIlhenny in 1988.  The Coypu Foundation sponsors research efforts

in wildlife biology all over the world.  Dr. Edwards’ grant will support her research in Botswana’s remarkable Okavango Delta, where she will be living for 7 months during 2016.  Her work is also supported by a Fulbright Scholarship. 

To understand how rising pollution is affecting wildlife and human health in the Okavango, Dr. Edwards will collect an integrated dataset that includes chemical, environmental, physiological, organismal, and ecological information.  Data collection will center on red breasted tilapia, which are native to the Okavango, and a common and popular eating fish.  Information on tilapia breeding sites, fertility, and heavy metal content will be co-mapped with water quality and land use information.  This will allow the research team to identify spatial and temporal patterns of pollution or negative impacts that can then be targeted for improved management and mitigation. 

Dr. Edwards is collaborating with Sewanee mapping specialist Dr. Chris Van de Ven, Okavango Research Institute biologists Keta Mosepele and Mike Murray-Hudson, and environmental chemist John Brock, from Warren Wilson College.

Professor Rongson Pongdee Accepts Position of Director of Undergraduate Research

Professor Rongson Pongdee has accepted the position of Director of Undergraduate Research. As such, he will oversee all aspects of student involvement in research and work with faculty to make this an engaging an important high impact experience for Sewanee students.

Professor Pongdee will begin his position immediately, and he will be working with Professor Rob Bachman, Sewanee's first Director of Undergraduate Research, to get up to speed. 

In an announcement made Sept. 29, Dean Terry Papillon wrote, "I am grateful to Ron for taking on this responsibility and also to Rob for serving so well for so long to bring undergraduate research to the strong position it is in today. I look forward to Ron's new leadership and the growth of this program."

Professor Pongdee joined the Department of Chemistry in the Fall of 2010. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from Vanderbilt University in 1997, conducting research on linear free energy relationships of riboflavin.  He subsequently obtained his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University (2003), working on the total synthesis of natural products.  He then elected to pursue a postdoctoral research associate position, in mechanistic enzymology at The University of Texas at Austin.  His first faculty appointment was in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Colorado College.  

Dr. Pongdee’s research interests lie in the broad area of natural products chemistry.  He is interested in the development of secondary metabolites, isolated from various natural sources, as potential medicinal agents using both chemical and biological approaches. For more information about the Pongdee Research Group, please see