New professors bring extensive expertise to Emory

By Laura Douglas-Brown | Emory Report | Aug. 25, 2016

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Students aren't the only new faces arriving on campus. The new semester also brings dozens of new faculty members, from outstanding young scholars to established experts with substantial experience in research and teaching. Margo Bagley returns to Emory as acting professor in the School of Law. Emory Photo/Video

Students aren't the only new faces arriving on campus for the start of the 2016-17 academic year. The new semester also brings dozens of new professors, from outstanding young scholars in their first faculty appointments to established experts with extensive experience in research and teaching.

They cite diverse interests and academic backgrounds, but give similar reasons for joining the Emory faculty.

"Returning to Emory and Atlanta is the right move for my family, and offers important multidisciplinary opportunities to engage in the kinds of educational, scholarly and advocacy-oriented projects I find most meaningful," explains Margo Bagley, acting professor in Emory School of Law.

"Emory’s university-wide focus on global health is very appealing, as are the opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations with wonderful scholars in other parts of the University and abroad," she says.

Michelle Lynn Wright, who comes to Emory as an assistant professor in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, also notes the University's reputation for interdisciplinarity and collaboration.

"I was drawn to Emory University because of the strong research mission with a commitment to social justice," she says. "Much of the work being done at Emory is groundbreaking and involves interdisciplinary teams that aim to tackle problems and answer questions in new ways."

A twist of fate brought Jason M. Brown to Emory for medical school; after also completing his residency and fellowship here, he is thrilled to join the faculty of Emory School of Medicine as an assistant professor in the Division of Digestive Diseases.

Brown, a native of New Orleans, hoped to return to the city in 2005 for medical school after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia.

"Unfortunately, that was the year Katrina hit, and at that point, I didn’t have a home to go back to, as the house had been destroyed and family and friends were scattered across the country," he reflects. "I took a chance and applied to Emory, and I was so fortunate and thankful to have been offered a seat in the class of 2010. I’ve been here ever since.

"There are a lot of wonderful people here that make Emory feel like family."

Meet a sampling of new professors drawn from across the University, then view the full lists of tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty joining Emory this year.


Margo Bagley

Acting professor, School of Law

Selected background: Hardy Cross Dillard Professor of Law and professor, University of Virginia School of Law; visiting professor, University of Virginia School of Law, Washington & Lee School of Law, Emory University School of Law; taught law courses abroad in China, Cuba, Germany, Israel, and Singapore; currently an Expert Adviser to the Government of Mozambique, World Intellectual Property Organization Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, and Standing Committee on Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications; JD from Emory University School of Law

Focus of scholarship: There are three primary strands to my scholarship. One, a doctrinal strand focusing on key patentability requirements such as patent subject matter eligibility (imposing limits on the kinds of inventions you can patent) in U.S. and foreign patent systems and international treaties; two, a strand focusing on the challenges posed by both new technologies (e.g. synthetic biology and gene-editing) and pharmaceutical pricing policies for the patent system and society more broadly; and three, a strand focusing on how Biblical analogies can be used to inform patent policy discussions and restructure debates to ultimately improve how the patent system works. 

Why it matters: Running through all three strands, and through my work with both governmental and non-governmental organizations, is a concern for, and desire to illuminate the often surprising and under-appreciated interplay between patent policy, morality and justice. Also, much of my work tends to be comparative in nature and also multidisciplinary. I find the different policy and culture-driven approaches that countries often take to the same issue to be fascinating and I seek to bring those differences to light in a way that can help policymakers learn from each other. For similar reasons, I also am a strong believer in the value of multidisciplinary education and approaches to problems. I have found that getting outside of one’s own silo, and seeing the view from another perspective can be incredibly enlightening and energizing, and I believe it significantly enriches my work.


Catherine Bagwell

Professor of psychology, Oxford College

Selected background: professor, Colgate University; professor, associate professor and assistant professor at University of Richmond; PhD from Duke University

Focus of scholarship: My work is at the intersection of developmental psychology and clinical psychology. I study children's social development, especially the significance of children's relationships with peers and friends. Questions I address include: How do friends contribute to children's and adolescents' development and psychosocial adjustment concurrently and over longer periods of time? Are there ways in which friendships can be maladaptive? Can friendships serve a protective function, for example, against negative outcomes associated with depressive symptoms?  

Why it matters: I was drawn to the challenge of studying empirically something that is such an important part of our everyday experiences. Throughout childhood and adolescence, we spend much of our time in the company of peers, and children's social worlds are complicated and fascinating. There is good evidence that friends and friendships can have profound effects not only on social and emotional development but also in domains such as mental health and academic adjustment. Ultimately, a better understanding of the role of peers and friends in children's lives may aid in the development of interventions to help children who are struggling. 


Alex Bolton

Assistant professor of political science, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Selected background: Postdoctoral associate, Social Science Research Institute, Duke University; PhD from Princeton University

Focus of scholarship: My research interests are centered on executive branch politics and policymaking the United States. Much of my work is focused on how political actors, such as the president, Congress and interest groups, attempt to influence bureaucratic decision-making. I am also interested in the effects of these efforts on policy outcomes and the ability of agencies to carry out their missions. Other parts of my research agenda examine the historical development of the relationship between Congress and the executive branch.

Why it matters: I am fascinated by the role that bureaucratic power plays in a democracy. Laws passed by Congress and signed by the president are rarely detailed and require bureaucratic actions to take the final form we encounter. In this way, government agencies largely determine the details of policies that affect us in our everyday lives. Bureaucracies impact everything ranging from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the highways we drive on. Understanding how these organizations make decisions and to whom they are responsive is a fundamental question for American democracy.


Jason M. Brown

Assistant professor, Division of Digestive Diseases, School of Medicine

Selected background: Digestive Diseases Fellowship, internal medicine residency, MD all from Emory University

Focus of scholarship: I’m professionally interested in “quality care” and “health systems performance.” Essentially, I want to look at the provider-patient relationship individually and in aggregate and determine what makes it a good one — from an emotional, medical, efficient, and financial perspective. I’m personally interested in trainee development and provider happiness.

Why it matters: It’s at the core of why I pursued medicine. The health care system is constantly reinventing itself, but perhaps no more rapidly and persistently than now. With a lot of cooks in the kitchen, it’s essential that we keep the core of medicine at the actual core of medicine. Many of us — providers and patients — are getting the feeling that perhaps we’ve lost our way in this. Additionally, as the overall system changes, medical training changes, and it’s imperative that we track how this impacts trainee performance, development and happiness.


Christina Crawford

Assistant professor of art history, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Selected background: Teaching fellow, Harvard University Graduate School of Design; lecturer, Northeastern University; registered architect, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; vice consul, American Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia; PhD from Harvard University

Focus of scholarship: My work explores the agency of design in periods of intensive transition — those rich moments when architects and urbanists turn to experimentation to address political, economic and/or social turbulence. My current book project investigates the foundations of Soviet architecture and urbanism through a history of three so-called “socialist settlements” built from 1917-32. These projects, in geographically peripheral but economically vital sites, became living laboratories for socio-spatial innovation. At Emory, I will launch an archival research initiative about the Techwood Homes, designed and built in the early 1930s. This New Deal housing project was the first urban renewal plan in the U.S., and one that sought to utilize design as a means to homogenize the demographics of inner city Atlanta. It’s a cautionary tale.

Why it matters: I am an historian of architecture and urbanism who comes to the humanities via design. As a former practitioner, I seek out seminal moments in architectural history that have something to offer current design and policy discourse. In my recent work on early Soviet city-building, I argue that certain precepts of socialist urbanism can inform the contemporary crisis of urban inequality. Provisions like affordable and equitable housing near the workplace, robust municipal transportation, and evenly distributed social services emerged from early Soviet experiments and have much to teach us about the social-leveling capacity of design.


George S. Georgiev

Assistant professor of law, School of Law

Selected background: Visiting assistant professor, UCLA School of Law; senior associate, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Clifford Chance LLP; JD from Yale Law School

Focus of scholarship: My current projects examine the design and performance of the regulatory framework overseeing the relationship among public companies, their investors, and other societal stakeholders, with a particular focus on the regulation of large firms.

Why it matters: Corporate governance is in a state of tremendous flux as a result of the global financial crisis of 2008-09, persistent corporate accounting scandals, heightened public scrutiny of corporate conduct, and the rise of investor activism. The regulatory debates that are currently taking place will likely determine the future face of American capitalism.


Jill Hamilton

Acting associate professor of nursing, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

Selected background: Associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing; associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; postdoctoral fellowship, Oregon Health & Sciences University; PhD from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Focus of scholarship: My research focus is to understand the ways in which supportive family relationships and a belief in God is used in response to psychological distress experienced among African Americans in their experience with cancer. My recent scholarship has focused on the ways in which religious song is used in the management of anxiety and depression (as a mental health promoting strategy) and the outcomes from using this strategy.

Why it matters: Historically, religious music has been used as a mental-health-promoting strategy in response to oppression and adversity, specifically used to communicate struggles and fears to God and to each other; to encourage or be encouraged during adversity; to maintain a positive sense of self as a child of God; and to express a belief in a life after death free of pain and suffering.


Robert S. Kelley

Assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics, School of Medicine

Selected background: OB/GYN chief resident, resident and intern, Danbury Hospital / University of Vermont School of Medicine; female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery fellow, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; DO from Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine

Focus of scholarship: My interests lie in developing a novel way to diagnose and treat overactive bladder (OAB) by adapting the approach of the cardiologist. OAB is a common urinary problem defined by frequent trips to the bathroom and, often times, incontinence.

Why it matters: Today some 33 million Americans suffer from OAB with an annual cost of over $12 billion. Where the heart comes into the picture is in its similarities to the bladder. They are essentially both hollow muscular organs that expand and contract to move fluid. The heart functions by a coordinated electrical signal. This signal originates in the pacemaker cells and drives the heartbeats. When the heart is overactive and beats too fast, cardiologists can map the electrical pathways and slow them down with a procedure called ablation. There is compelling evidence of pacemaker-type cells and electrical activity in the bladder. My goal is to explore the possibility of adapting these cardiac technologies in order to help those with a bladder that beats too fast.


Kelli Komro

Professor and director of graduate studies, behavioral sciences and health education; jointly appointed in epidemiology; Rollins School of Public Health

Selected background: Professor and associate professor, University of Florida College of Medicine; associate director, Institute for Child Health Policy, University of Florida; associate professor, University of Minnesota School of Public Health; postdoctoral fellow, Prevention Research Center, University of Illinois at Chicago; PhD from University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Focus of scholarship: The focus of my scholarship has been the development, implementation and evaluation of multi-level (i.e., family, school and community) public health interventions to promote and protect children’s health and wellbeing. Given my experiences with populations experiencing health inequities, I am interested in exploring new community and policy initiatives to address economic and social determinants of health.

Why it matters: Throughout my academic career, I have been enriched both personally and intellectually with the experience of partnering with various communities and people. I have also been deeply disturbed by the conditions of many schools and communities — the context in which many children in the U.S. live, learn and grow. Each year I become more motivated and inspired to keep moving “upstream” to address more fundamental determinants of health. I have, therefore, recently embarked on a new line of research to examine the effects of family economic security policies on child health, recently funded by National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. This new area of research has extended my collaborations outside of public health to include legal scholars and economists — stretching my area of expertise to new areas, but always with the common theme of child health promotion. My interest has never been to simply explain health disparities, but to be engaged in the science of community-level change.


Demetrius Lewis

Assistant professor of organization and management, Goizueta Business School

Selected background: Graduate researcher, Stanford Graduate School of Business; PhD, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Focus of scholarship: My research focus is at the intersection of organization theory and social networks analysis, with a focus on entrepreneurship. I am interested in answering questions exploring how social networks shape the strategies and performance of burgeoning commercial and sociopolitical organizations. More specifically, my current research investigates the interplay between venture capital firms’ co-investment networks and these networks’ effect on venture capital firms’ investment strategies, performance and the performance of the startup companies they invest in. In this work, I build a rich longitudinal dataset of venture capital firms’ networks and complete qualitative interviews to develop a theory of the network determinant of firm strategy and performance.

Why it matters: I see this research tying into a larger body of research that seeks to answer the question, "Where do innovative ideas come from?" Often, our network theories are structured, "more of some network variable x equals some better outcome y." In this sense, these network theories are usually structured around advantage. Instead, however, creativity often comes from unexpected places. I want to understand how people who are resource constrained are able to come up with critical and unforeseen innovations.


Rohan Palmer

Assistant professor of psychology and director of Behavior Genetics of Addiction Laboratory, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Selected background: Assistant professor, Alpert Medical School of Brown University; adjunct professor, William Paterson University; PhD, University of Colorado at Boulder

Focus of scholarship: I am primarily interested in identifying portions of our DNA that influence our relationship with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other substances of abuse. I am also interested in understanding how our environment and clinical psychopathologies influence drug-related behaviors.

Why it matters: I was drawn to study substance addiction because it is a developmentally and etiologically complex disease. I believe it is important for us to study addiction to alcohol, tobacco and other illicit substances using a number of different approaches (e.g., preclinical and cell culture models) in order to identify biological and environmental mechanisms of the disease.


David Resha

Assistant professor of film and media studies, Oxford College

Selected background: Assistant professor, Birmingham-Southern College; PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Focus of scholarship: My scholarship focuses on ways documentary film connects with current events, history and the television industry.

Why it matters: Documentary film is particularly appealing to me because it allows for a surprising amount of stylistic and narrative innovation and variation. Understanding how nonfiction films work and how they have changed over time is, in part, understanding how people for over a century now have learned about the world around them.


Beretta E. Smith-Shomade

Director of graduate studies and acting associate professor of film and media studies, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Selected background: Associate professor, Tulane University; associate professor, University of Arizona; Fulbright Fellow, Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria; visiting assistant professor, Spelman College; PhD from University of California, Los Angeles

Focus of scholarship: My primary research interrogates representations of race, gender, class and sexuality in U.S. television and film with a concentration on television and new media. These interests are expressed through published criticism primarily and video production. They are connected to three goals: 1) To encourage critical thinking about the world, the world’s operating systems, and the construction of world history as exemplified within television, film and new media; 2) To expose often willful disparities that exist between people based on race and gender as demonstrated in both visual and popular culture, and; 3) To link aesthetic appreciation, critical insights and industrial knowledge of television, film and new media with concrete and tangible action. These goals are the foundation of my completed work and continue to cultivate my thinking about current and future projects.

Why it matters: Media stands as one of the most central elements of 21st century existence. Understanding, working within and exploring it are paramount. Its importance to our world cannot be understated. Media has always been a part of my life in various manifestations — as audience member and fan, as a worker in the industry and as an academic. Studying and teaching media allows me to touch lives and consciousness in a very salient and timely way.


Morgan Kraft Ward

Assistant professor of marketing, Goizueta Business School

Selected background: Assistant professor, Southern Methodist University; PhD, University of Texas at Austin

Focus of scholarship: I look at how people make purchases of and display products in ways that allow them to express who they are or would like to be.

Why it matters: I am interested in how the items we own and desire enable us to signal important messages to others. I'm also interested in how feelings of personal threat influence our subsequent purchases.


Michelle Lynn Wright

Assistant professor, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

Selected background: Postdoctoral associate at Yale University; postdoctoral scholar at Virginia Commonwealth University; nursing instructor at Keiser University and Oakland Community College; groundwater remediation scientist at URS Corporation; neonatal intensive care unit registered nurse at Henry Ford Hospital; PhD from University of North Dakota

Focus of scholarship: The goal of my research is to discover new ways to promote health and prevent illness across the lifespan by using multi-omic approaches to evaluate genomic and environmental interactions that contribute to disease susceptibility and health disparities. Specifically, I am interested conducting interdisciplinary, clinically relevant research that will ultimately improve health outcomes in pregnant women and their offspring by: 1) improving health outcomes by informing personalized and mechanistically-targeted nursing interventions; and 2) identifying early life environmental exposures that predispose individuals to poor health outcomes to inform the development of protective health policy initiatives.

Why it matters: In order to better prevent disease and promote health, we need to identify and understand how microbes and the environment interact with our genes to influence health outcomes. I’m specifically interested in looking at these interactions among pregnant women and children. An estimated 70-90 percent of chronic diseases are associated with environmental exposures and the extent to which maternal environmental exposures contribute to poor pregnancy outcomes (e.g., low birth weight) and offspring’s subsequent predisposition to disease later in life (e.g., obesity) is unclear. Not only do environmental exposures comprise a significant fraction of disease risk, new evidence suggests that the timing, duration and pattern of environmental exposures are equally important. Historically, pregnant women and children were excluded from medical research. Because of the previous lack of inclusion and advances in -omic methods that improve our understanding of how our genes are influenced by environmental exposures, we still have much to learn to in order promote and protect health for these populations.


Bin Xu

Assistant professor of sociology, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Background: Assistant professor at Florida International University; post-doctoral fellow at Yale University; PhD from Northwestern University

Focus of scholarship: I'm finishing a book titled "The Politics of Moral Sentiments: Civil Society and the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in China," examining how ordinary Chinese citizens participated in the rescue and relief efforts after the Sichuan earthquake, how they interpreted the meanings of their act of compassion, and how the political context shaped their actions and meanings. I'm also researching collective memory, which means how people perceive their past and what social factors affect their memories of the past. I am currently writing a book and a few related articles on the collective memory of China’s “educated youth” (zhiqing) generation — the 17 million Chinese youth sent down to the countryside in the 1960s and 1970s — exploring how members of this important generation interpret meanings of their past difficulties and suffering in the countryside.

Why it matters: The earthquake project is important because the earthquake sheds light on some less discernible aspects of Chinese citizens' grassroots civic engagement. The earthquake dramatized some political and ethical dilemmas that many engaged volunteers encounter in an authoritarian political context. The "educated youth" project brings "class" back into the field of collective memory by showing that our narratives of the past express and justify our present class status. In this sense, like many other things in our society, our memories are also unequal. It also depicts a collective portrait of an important generation, China's equivalent to "baby boomers." Some of China's current leaders were from this generation, therefore examining their memory of their difficult past helps us understand their mentality, dispositions and their influence on China's present and future.