The Director's BlogThoughts from our Founding Director and other invited contributors.
Welcome to the Director’s Blog
This blog was founded to provide unique insights on the issues more important to the students, faculty, and community at Western Carolina University as well as to give some perspective to the goings-on at CSFE. Enjoy!
-Edward Lopez, Ph.D
The Free Enterprise Speaker Series welcomed Charlie Duke, Apollo 16 astronaut and the youngest person to walk on the moon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 5:30 p.m. in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.
“I was invited to speak to the students and faculty of Western Carolina University this past September. My wife, Dorothy, and I were very blessed on our visit. The students and faculty that we met gave us a wonderfully warm and enthusiastic welcome, as I spoke of my adventures on Apollo 16 and walking on the moon. It was a delight to be on WCU’s beautiful campus in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. For those interested, I have a website, charlieduke.com, where you can learn more about Apollo and also where you can purchase autographed copies of our book, Moonwalker, and autographed photos from Apollo 16.” -Charlie Duke
Amy Fagan, a WCU geosciences assistant professor was invited to come on stage with Mr. Duke and Dr. Lopez to participate in the “Out-of-this-world chat”. Dr. Fagan worked with lunar samples since 2009 and is an Apollo sample principal investigator.
“It was a tremendous opportunity to talk to one of only 12 people to have ever set foot on another planetary object in the history of mankind, particularly just after the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing in July 1969.” – Amy Fagan
Read a blog entry that Dr. Fagan wrote including photos from Apollo 16 Mission and a unique comparison to how far Mr. Duke journeyed while on the moon. Read the blog here: “From the Moon to Cullowhee”
The Center was so appreciative of Dr. Fagan’s time, knowledge and stage presence, she was recently gifted a signed portrait of Charlie Duke.
Before and after the chat, Charlie Duke chatted with students of all ages. Here an elementary aged girl came to see the chat dressed as an astronaut herself. Charlie was happy to meet her and take a photo with her.
“If I can motivate some kids to aim high and study harder, then who knows what their career will bring.” -Charlie Duke
The Asheville local news station was at the event and did a great story of his visit. Please watch the WLOC clip here: WLOS.COM
Want to watch the video of the entire event? Please visit our website to see the recording from “Out-of-this-World Chat with Charlie Duke”. Watch recording here (must have access to facebook).
We occasionally use this blog to catch up with our former students who are now onto great things. In this installment, we are “Catching Up with Alex Kanode”.
Alex is a 2016 graduate of WCU with dual majors in Sociology and International Studies and a minor in Economics. Having been President of the Economics Club and the Sociology Club, he left durable impressions on his peers and professors. After leaving Cullowhee, Alex moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue a M.A. in Economics from George Mason University. He now lives in Conway, Arkansas, where he is a Policy Analyst for the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE).
Q1: Welcome back, Alex! So tell us, what’s been going on since you wrapped up your time at WCU?
Alex: Thank you, Ed! It’s great to be back. Since I left WCU it’s been a whirlwind of stops and stints in places I never thought I’d go. And yet, it all makes sense in retrospect. While I was studying for my masters at George Mason University, I was awarded a research assistantship to work with GMU economics faculty at the Mercatus Center, an on-campus research and public policy think tank. Initially I helped Marginal Revolution University with background research for their library of instructional videos. I was able to snag a summer internship at the Johnson Center at Troy University in Alabama (where coincidentally I worked for former WCU Professor Stephen Miller). The following year, I found my home as a policy analyst at ACRE where I’ve been ever since.
Q2: Wow, that really is a whirlwind. Which policy issues have you been studying?
Alex: If you had told me when I graduated from WCU that I would be a policy analyst in Conway, Arkansas instead of working in international development, I would never have believed you. But it’s true. These days I focus almost entirely on occupational licensing. It turns out that occupational licensing is a very active area of public policy in many different states right now, so I find there is always something to write about. And it’s a continuation as well. As an undergrad, I took a deep interest in questions of poverty across the world. Yet I found myself more and more skeptical that I would be able to discover ways to bring a country out of poverty where I have few connections or local knowledge. Instead I found myself looking closer to home. And because occupational licensing (OL) often has disproportionate effects on low-income populations, I am still following my early interests, only through a different set of policy issues.
Q3: You mentioned your interest in questions of poverty and economic development. How did your time at WCU cultivate those?
Alex: There was a specific semester that comes to mind that really embodies my undergrad experience. All at the same time I took a Globalism and Development Sociology class, Philosophy of Justice and Human Rights class, and Dr. Lopez’s Ethics of Capitalism class. These course presented distinct yet complementary ways of looking at many of the same global issues. Being able to bounce ideas off people with wildly varying viewpoints, and using those discussions to grow and develop a better understanding of the world, was an incredible experience. I came to Western with the idea that I wanted to make a difference and improve peoples’ lives, and during that semester everything crystalized for me.
Q4: Tell us a little more about your time as a Masters student in Economics. How would you describe it?
Alex: It was nerve-racking at first! I’m going to a school full of incredibly smart people who are very passionate about the field they’re in. It was definitely no longer like undergrad. This made me feel average at first, since I was in that in-between bubble of Masters students. Yet I knew that I just had to recognize that these are all exceptional people and the fact that I’m average here is still great. I started to relax and feel more comfortable after my first year, and being in that environment of excellence was a blessing. Instead of getting hung up on the basics, we got to dive deep into topics like private responses to natural disasters, different solutions to commons problems, stuff like that.
Q5: Now that you’ve been working at ACRE for a while, tell us about that experience. How have you helped us all better understand the effects of occupational licensing and alternatives to it.
Alex: This has been an incredible experience. When I first got to ACRE, I spent a few months diving into the many weird licensing laws in Arkansas, and then provide information to help during the legislative session. Just in this last session Arkansas legislators finally delicensed horse massage therapists. They also passed a law requiring sunset reviews, which examine every license to find ways to reduce burdens for Arkansans. In the future, I’ll be attending every review meeting and providing information for the review committee to use to enact meaningful reform.
Alex Kanode, WCU class of 2016, testifying to the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee of the Arkansas Senate, spring 2019.
EPIC Innovation organized its 5th Annual Fall Pitch Party at Western Carolina University on October 7, 2019 with over 100 people in attendance. EPIC is a student initiative within the College of Business that encourages entrepreneurship through Elevating Potential, Imagination, and Collaboration. The event was sponsored by WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE).
The pitch party offers an opportunity for existing and aspiring student entrepreneurs from all disciplines to present their business ideas for a panel of judges and a live audience. Before the official event, participants work with mentors to research relevant industry information, develop their pitch content, and improve their presentation techniques. At the competition, the participants have five minutes to present their ideas, followed by two minutes for questions and feedback from the judges. Emily Tatum, a student participant in the event, stated that “preparing for and competing in this event helped improve my public speaking skills in a way that I cannot get in the traditional classroom.”
This year, the competition had two tracks. One track was for outdoor-related business ideas in support of the Regional Outdoor Economic Conference being held in Asheville on October 7th. The winner of this track was invited to present their idea to over 300 outdoor-related businesses and professionals attending the conference. The other track was for all other business ideas. The panel of judges determined the top three winners in each track and the audience voted for their favorite business idea to receive the People’s Choice award.
Track 1: Outdoor-Related Ideas
In the outdoor-business track, first place went to Juan Endara for his invention of a camp stove. The Campstove is a lightweight, foldable stove that burns hotter than other stoves currently on the market. It fits easily in a backpack and is great for cooking.
The second place winner was Chase Robinson for his company idea called C.A.R. Custom Fishing Rods. Robinson builds his own rods to satisfy the fishing needs of his customers, and he also repairs rods in less time than this larger competitors. He has brought art and craftmanship into the fishing industry.
Third place went to Jeremy Burgin, who pitched his invention called Camp Cube. It is a multiuse outdoor product that has Bluetooth speakers, USB outlets, lights, and solar charging. It can be used while camping, out on the water, or working on a construction site. This entry also tied for the People’s Choice Award.
Track 2: All Business-related Ideas
The first place winner of the All-Business track was Emily Tatum, the creator of Safe Locate. She pitched Safe Locate, a mobile app that could be used by emergency responders and bystanders in critical mass incidents, such as an active shooting. Tatum also tied for the People’s Choice award.
The second place winner was Brett Lemmons, with his pitch for The “L” Bus Shuttle Company. This shuttle service could be purchased by local bars to transport students to and from campus, helping reduce the possibility of students driving under the influence.
Third place went to Michael Cobb with his idea called Michael’s Bridge. It is a program to support homeless students that may be in need of housing between semesters and during summer break.
The other students competing in the All-Business track were Lauren Mounce, who pitched Our Table, a farm tour app that would organize dinner events for local farmers, restaurants, and chefs to encourage agri-tourism; and Ryan Gillig, who pitched his idea for a product inventory app called Q&E Inventory for small media production companies in our region.
The panel of judges consisted of local business professionals. In no particular order, the judges were Sandra Dennison, the Regional Director of the SBTDC; Pam Frey, a former executive at Wells Fargo and a board member for CSFE; Mariano Garrido-Lopez, an Assistant Professor for WCU College of Business; Arthur Salido, the Executive Director for Community and Economic Engagement and Innovation; and Noah Wilson, the Program Director for Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC and the President of Emergent Opportunities Inc. After the event, Frey commented that she was “very impressed with the students and the level of entrepreneurial ideas.”
Oct 8th, 2019
Story by Geoff Cantrell from WCU
Town hall on opioid and addiction crisis opens doors to potential solutions
“The town hall, with panel discussions, speakers and a breakout session, was a partnership between WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise and the Jackson County Community Foundation, which launched a monthlong opioid and addiction awareness campaign in September leading up to the forum. More than 200 people attended, including WCU faculty, staff and students, government officials, health professionals and health care advocates, law enforcement, journalists and community members.”
Read more here:
Oct 2, 2019
Op-Ed in Smoky Mountain News by Beth Young
WCU Social Work
We must be honest about adolescent addiction
“Adolescent substance use is on the rise across the country. Access to drugs (including opioids) and alcohol has increased exponentially, and the risks associated with substance use continue to grow in this vulnerable population. Again, the argument can be made that this is typical for a teenager to experiment with alcohol or other drugs, but I challenge that thinking, as it doesn’t have to be the case. The Centers for Disease Control have identified significant long-term impacts of adolescent substance use, which include impacts to physical growth and brain development, health and wellbeing problems, and increased engagement in behaviors that are deemed risky.”
Read more here:
Oct 1, 2019
op-ed in the (Waynesville) Mountaineer
WCU’s Lane Perry and Pathways Center Mandy Haithcox
‘Releasing the Shame’: A story about opioids’ impact on individuals and communities
“Over the years, the impact of the opioid crisis has been felt across our communities, and organizations such as Pathways are there to meet the need at both the personal and community levels. While opioid addiction erodes foundations, Pathways focuses on building foundations.”
Read more here:
Sept 30, 2019
Story by Lilly Knoepp from Blue Ridge Public Radio
How Substance Abuse Issues Have Changed In WNC
“Prescription opioid abuse has been in the national spotlight this summer as new data about the numbers of prescriptions per county has been released. North Carolina is also part of national lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma for their role in the crisis. In Western North Carolina, the policies around opioids and substance abuse issues are shifting as local politicians and experts look for a solution to the epidemic.”
Read more here
Sept 25, 2019
Story by Cory Vaillancourt from Smoky Mountain News
Western Carolina University event ‘walks the walk’ on opioid crisis
“It’s been said time and time again after forums, panels and public meetings held in communities across the country over the past dozen-odd years: if we could talk our way out of the nation’s opioid crisis, it would have been over a decade ago. “
Read more here:
Sept 25, 2019
Op-Ed in Smoky Mountain News by Kae Livsey
More than medicine needed to address opioid epidemic
“The profession of nursing is the most broadly educationally prepared group of health care professionals that can contribute a holistic perspective to address the complex needs of individuals, families and communities working to overcome this current crisis. For this to happen, the general public, medical providers and policymakers need to acknowledge that there are other ways to support health and wellness beyond traditional medical treatments. Medical providers, in particular, need to do a better job understanding what other health care professionals can bring to the table.”
Read more here:
Sept 18, 2019
Op Ed in Smoky Mountain News by Albert Kopak
To reduce overdose deaths, start in the local jail
“The criminal justice system operates on the principle that individual will is the sole determinant of behavior. If the defendant wants to stay out of jail, avoid a probation violation or make it to the next court date, then he’ll make it happen. This approach seems to suffice, until the gaps in the system prove otherwise.”
Read more here:
Part of our mission here at the Center is to support work that helps better understand the determinants of human flourishing. This is why we held our recent awareness campaign and town hall on the opioid & addiction crises, and why we are expanding our efforts in these areas. This is also why we are pleased to be one of the co-sponsors an upcoming campus talk about suicide, featuring Dr. Thomas E. Joiner, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and one of the world’s leading experts on suicide. Our own Dr. David McCord, WCU Professor of Psychology and member of the Center’s Advisory Board, is the force behind this event. We sat down with David and asked for his thoughts on this important event.
Q1: Why is it important for WCU to address the topic of suicide?
David: Suicide is a leading cause of death, with over 1,000,000 cases annually worldwide. It is inextricably linked to other pernicious socio-cultural phenomena including opioid and other addictions, availability of guns, and violence in media and life. As WCU graduates are being prepared for citizenship in an array of important domains, including healthcare, education, and public policy, it is essential that they have the most current scientific perspectives on this devastating issue.
Q2: Our guest speaker is Dr. Thomas Joiner, a renowned psychologist and leading expert on suicide. Can you tell us a little about him?
David: Dr. Thomas E. Joiner is by most indicators the world’s leading suicidologist. He completed his undergraduate degree at Princeton and his Ph.D.in clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the faculty of Florida State University in 1997, by which time he had already gained prominence in suicide research. He is the primary author of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide, the leading scientific perspective on this issue. His risk-assessment framework is very widely used. He has published widely on methods of intervention and case management. In all of these areas Dr. Joiner’s work has redefined the state of knowledge and added important discoveries. He lists more than 540 scientific publications, including journal articles, chapters, and books. His most cited publication is his book, Why People Die by Suicide, Harvard University Press, with more than 3,000 citations. His research at Florida State is currently supported by more than 70 million dollars in external grant funding.
Q3: What are the main issues that Dr. Joiner will address in his talk?
David: Dr. Joiner is very comfortable talking to top-tier scientific groups, and equally comfortable talking to general audiences. He will explain in clear language the main components of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide. Much of his research has been on risk assessment, and he will certainly discuss myths about suicide as well as genuine warning signs. He will provide some ideas as to how we as friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers can be helpful to someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, and he is likely to have some thoughts about public policy issues as well.
Q4: Suicide is a difficult subject to talk about. Through Dr. Joiner’s research and his talk here on November 6, how does he provide a measure of hope?
David: This is an interesting question. Dr. Joiner is not into doom-and-gloom scenarios. In contrast, he has gained through scientific research a much better understanding of suicidality than we had previously. Much of his energy has been devoted to developing more accurate screening and assessment techniques, and, most importantly, intervention approaches that actually work. The audience should leave this presentation with a much better grasp of the disturbing and difficult issue of suicide, and they should be able to talk about it with others more comfortably and openly. They should be able to recognize signs earlier, be more willing to face them squarely, and to respond more appropriately and helpfully to others in need.
Editor’s Note: CSFE helped send Ally Bevers, a senior math and econ major, to the Claremont Graduate University Empirical Workshop held June 10th through the 13th, 2019. Ally is planning to enter a doctoral program in finance or economics next fall, so she is already putting to work the research skills that she learned at the workshop. Hope you enjoy her short reflection on the experience.
The Claremont Graduate University Empirical Workshop was an amazing experience and I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to attend. It was located in beautiful Claremont, California and the attendees were from all over the country. Well over 200 students applied and I was lucky enough to be one of only three undergraduates who attended. Along with learning about empirical theory and methods, I got to make friends and hear about their graduate school experiences in a crucial time where I am preparing to make decisions about graduate school myself.
The workshop covered a wide variety of topics during the week. We heard from many different professors on the topics of workflow, randomization and randomization inference, causal inference, regression discontinuity, instrumental variables, difference-in-differences, synthetic controls, hidden curriculum, machine learning, and web scraping. If it seems like a lot to fit into a week, trust me, it was! We worked from 9 am – 12 pm, got an hour break for lunch, and worked from 1 pm – 5 pm. Each day was very content-heavy, and we moved quickly through the material. The workshop was designed for 2nd– and 3rd-year graduate students, so there were times I found myself lost because I was not familiar with the content. However, this challenged me to make the best of my situation and take a moment to breathe and reorient myself so I didn’t get frustrated. This experience was important for my personal development, as generally in my undergraduate courses I am on top of the content and don’t tend to get lost. Challenging myself in this way helped me grow as a student and person.
The content I found most useful was workflow, hidden curriculum, and difference-in-differences. I am currently doing the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Western Carolina University and my research project uses difference-in-differences. Going back through the history, mathematical theory, and code in Stata was extremely beneficial and I took notes to help me with my research. The hidden curriculum was everything we needed to know in order to run productive regressions that we wouldn’t have learned in econometrics. We learned how to avoid mistakes in workflow so we didn’t make major errors in our programming. This can be done by having organized subdirectories, automating the creation of charts and graphs, having a common naming convention, controlling versions of your work, and annotating your code so you will remember what you did and why when you go back and look at them. I was so inspired by the workflow talk we heard that I went through my laptop folders and reorganized and renamed my files in the airport before I came home.
The most interesting content was the coding. I loved learning about machine learning and web scraping in R and I took notes on different resources to look into so that I could learn how to code better. It was so intriguing to see what was possible with just a few lines of code. I got excited about applying the code to real-world examples, and along with the advice I had received from people throughout the week, it helped me become closer to making a decision about my future plans.
Overall, the Claremont Graduate University Empirical Workshop was integral in shaping my decision about the future. It provided me with the insight I needed about what economics PhD programs are like through hearing real experiences of others and seeing the level of content taught in an economics PhD program. I got to receive unbiased third-party opinions from professors whom I hadn’t met before but plan on keeping in contact with. It was truly a wonderful experience and I am so thankful for the opportunity to attend.
This entry comes in the form of a letter from Sean Duffy to Angela Dills, who is the project director on the North Carolina Data Dashboard. Sean has contributed as one of four student workers on the Dashboard. He has a great story, only a small slice of which is captured in his endearing letter below. Enjoy.
Dear Dr. Dills,
I wanted to reach out and pass along a thank you letter. I recently moved to Madison, WI, following a dream job for Trek Bicycles Corporation as a full-time Business Intelligence(BI) Analyst.
I want to thank the College of Business at WCU and more importantly, the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise for helping to pave the way to a stellar career. Looking back I realize just how critical my experience from the NC Data Dashboard was in making me an eligible candidate for a mid-senior level position at the world’s largest bicycle company. The minimum requirement for this position was three years in an IT Business Analysis Role with at least two years of hands-on experience working with SQL Server BI tools. I feel confident to say that if it weren’t for the NC Data Dashboard that I wouldn’t of even come close to landing the initial interview. Upon three promising phone screenings, I was scheduled to fly up for an interview and had received a salary offer within 24 hours!
Throughout my interview, I was able to speak clearly and passionately about my work on the NC Data Dashboard and the CIS curriculum. The experiential learning opportunity I gained from my work on the NC Data Dashboard is invaluable and ultimately was the ticket to landing a job of this caliber. Feedback from the interviewers suggested that it was unique to see a recent college graduate with real business level experience using the same softwares/tools that their company uses. I was able to speak about real business experiences and troubleshooting technical issues rather than a topic or theory learned in a classroom. The CIS curriculum built the necessary foundation for me, but it was the NC Data Dashboard and knowledge gained in the early days of the project from Brad Bergh that shaped me into the perfect candidate.
Lastly, I wanted to thank WCU and CSFE for allowing Daniel Hartness and myself to travel to the World Wide Data Vault Conference to deliver a presentation this past May. This conference brought everything that I have learned and applied over the past four years into a complete circle. I wanted to give a truly heartfelt thank you to everything you all do to make these projects and opportunities possible for students. It’s an honor to of been a part of such a great program and hope to hear of many more success stories from students alike.
I hope you all had a great summer and are ready for another semester!
Computer Information Systems
Class of 2019
Think of the last book you read. Was there a dedication? Most likely it was to the author’s mother, spouse, child, friend, mentor, or colleague. At the very least it is very likely that the book was dedicated to someone known to the author personally, right? The same thing goes for dissertations, with many being dedicated to parents. Mine, however, was different. My 6-year-in-the-making tome was dedicated to three men that I have never met, but without whom my research would have been impossible. Those men are John Young, Ken Mattingly, and Charles “Charlie” Duke Jr.—the Apollo 16 astronauts who returned 211lbs of rocks from the lunar surface in 1972, just shy of 11 years after President John F Kennedy challenged the US to send an American to the Moon and return him safely before the end of the 1960’s.
This was an amazing accomplishment and remains one of the most incredible feathers in the American hat.
Twelve in All of Civilization
Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969 and was followed by 5 more successful manned landings between 1969 and 1972 before the Apollo program was cancelled due to funding. Three men were on each mission, but only 2 walked on the surface while one stayed in the orbiting spacecraft (in the case of Apollo 16, this was Ken Mattingly). That means that in the entire history of humanity, only 12 people have set foot on another planetary surface. Twelve people in thousands of years of human history! And one of them is coming to our little slice of heaven in Cullowhee, NC—Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot and the 10th man on the Moon, Charlie Duke.
We’ve Only Scratched the Surface. Literally.
Although we have sent humans to the Moon several times, we have hardly begun to explore it. All of the Apollo missions landed on the nearside of the Moon (i.e., the side that is always facing Earth due to tidal forces) relatively close to the equator.
Prior to the Apollo program, the NASA robotic Surveyor missions landed in similar locations on the nearside—Apollo 12 astronauts landed so close to Surveyor 3 that they walked over, took a piece of the lander, and returned it to Earth to study the effects of space weathering and micro-meteorite impacts. The Soviets also sent robotic landers (and rovers) to the Moon with Luna and Lunokhod, respectively, and had several successful sample return missions (1970-1976) using these instruments; these also landed on the nearside, but a little farther spread than the US missions. Fast forward to 2013 and the Chinese became the third nation to touch down on the lunar surface with a robotic lander. Want to guess where it landed? Yep. The nearside.
Why so many to the nearside? Communication. Because the Moon is tidally locked with Earth such that one side is perpetually facing us, we cannot see the farside (NOT the “darkside”) of the Moon from Earth, which makes communicating with humans or a spacecraft difficult. It wasn’t until December 2018 that a lander was successfully sent to the lunar farside by the Chinese—a tremendous feat to explore an area no lander or human had visited before (although we do have high-resolution imagery).
Even if we look at just the Apollo 16 mission, where Duke and Young drove a rover approximately 7 miles, they still did not cover much of the lunar surface. For comparison, take a look at the image below of Cullowhee overlaid by the paths taken by the Apollo 16 astronauts (this image is at the same scale!).
Imagine that you are an alien species visiting Earth and this is your species’ 5th landing, but first time to land in this location. Follow that path and let me know what you learned about Cullowhee, WCU, North Carolina, the USA, or Earth It might just be easier to ask it the other way…what did you miss? Deserts, glaciers, volcanoes, oceans, lions, tigers, bears (oh my! Actually you might see a bear). The point is that even with 6 manned missions to the Moon, we have not explored much of the surface and therefore the rocks that have been returned are not entirely representative of the Moon.
Just a Big Gray Rock?
Big deal…the Moon is all just a grey rock anyways, right? Wrong! We know that there are many different types of rocks on the Moon composed of the same minerals that we have here on Earth. (That is not surprising when you learn that the Moon coalesced from impact debris of a Mars-sized object hitting Earth over 4 billion years ago.) When you look up at the night sky, you will see light grey (the highlands where Apollo 16 landed) composed of a rock called anorthosite and black composed of a volcanic rock called basalt. These dominate the surface, but there are certainly more types, each that give geologists more information of how the Moon formed, cooled, and evolved over the past 4.5 billion years. In fact, the materials on the lunar surface are not all grey or black either—Apollo missions returned glass beads that were green and orange and formed from processes associated with large asteroid impact events and volcanic eruptions, respectively. We know all of this (and more) because the Apollo missions brought back samples.
Old Rocks, New Discoveries
Despite humans barely scratching the surface of the Moon, geologists have made many discoveries about the Moon that have completely changed our understanding of the Moon’s origin, the presence of water in and on the Moon, and the timing and composition of asteroids hitting the Moon (and Earth) over billions of years. The Apollo astronauts returned rocks that geologists (myself included) continue to study with better instrumentation that give us higher resolution information each year. These rocks keep providing clues to questions we didn’t even know we should have back in the 1960s.
This is why it is spectacular to have Charlie Duke, one of only 12 men to have walked on the Moon, visit WCU. The samples returned by the Apollo missions are the gift that keeps on giving to science and humanity. The astronauts risked everything to reach another planetary surface, and for millennia to come we will treasure these samples as they continue to open our eyes and minds to the secrets of the solar system. Thank you to those men for the greatest gift.
About the Author
Dr. Amy L. Fagan is the Operations Chair of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, an Assistant Professor in Geosciences and Natural Resources at Western Carolina University with an expertise in lunar geology, and a complete Lunatic.
First of all, it’s great to have the opportunity to contribute to the Center’s blog. I wanted to tell the story of me being one of four student workers on the North Carolina Data Dashboard, and how that has led to amazing opportunities in data science and CIS curriculum.
One of my student co-workers on the Dashboard, Sean Duffy, and I recently were the first and only students ever to make a full presentation at the World-Wide Data Vault Consortium (WWDVC). The WWDVC is an international data science conference aimed at helping improve data processes and other business intelligence functions. Our goal at the conference was to explain how we used the Data Vault 2.0 methodology to build and operate the North Carolina Data Dashboard Project (NCDD). We could not have anticipated the enormous response we received from conference attendees.
After giving our presentation, we became the biggest hit of the conference. A crowd of people came up afterward to ask us questions and encourage our innovative application of the Data Vault 2.0 method. We ended up interacting and talking at length with the founders and pioneers in the field. Everyone wanted to talk to us and were curious about the great things that we are doing at our university. It was an incredibly valuable experience that was only possible due to the support of Professor Dills and the Center.
Data Vault and the NCDD:
In case you didn’t know, Data Vault 2.0 is the most efficient way to structure, build, maintain, and work with data and data warehouses. In short, as more and more organizations reach the point of having to manage big data, just as we did with the NC Data Dashboard, it becomes harder for them to scale effectively.
One temporary, but expensive solution that is commonly used is restructuring and buying more storage. However, this solution only works for so long, as it eventually becomes infeasible. Data Vault 2.0 allows for natural scalability, no matter the data size, without having to restructure each time data needs to be added. It also incorporates Agile and Six Sigma methodologies.
These factors, along with many others solidify it as the future of the data warehousing industry. This annual conference acts as a gathering of the most brilliant minds in the industry to reflect and showcase new innovations with Data Vault 2.0 and what the industry looks like going forward.
Bringing Home Ideas
There are several reasons why this conference was so beneficial, the first of which was the numerous vendors that attended. Among these were Snowflake and WhereScape. These specific ones demonstrated some of the most cutting-edge pieces of software available. Before attending, I didn’t know technology like this was even available. The conference setting served as an easy way to speak to each of the individuals representing these companies on a personal level.
Each of the groups were eager to learn about our position as students relative to our project and to discuss the possibility of using these tools to enhance the NCDD Project. That opportunity would be incredible. WhereScape is a metadata-driven automation and code generation tool used to model and build the data warehouse and all ingest processes. Using it as a data-modeling tool would shorten our development processes immensely, increasing our efficiency by a factor of 3 – 5. This means the NCDD could add between 3 and 5 new data series in the time it currently takes to add one data series. On the same token, Snowflake would decrease the time it takes to structure our data due to their more efficient innovation on SQL: SnowSQL. Furthermore, Snowflake is a cloud-based service. That means both storage and the updating of that storage wouldn’t be a concern for the NCDD team. That would cut costs, freeing up funds for further expansion of the project. Even more importantly, this technology could be used by WCU for all of the same reasons, just on a more massive scale.
The idea of not having to continuously purchase expensive storage space as well as moving important systems to the cloud could be revolutionary for the university. As far as expenses are concerned, Snowflake charges per second per node (computer) of use, giving it a competitive edge on many other technologies. Combining this with Data Vault 2.0 could put WCU in an even better position compared to most of the other colleges in the country and exponentially increase efficiency overall.
Connecting with Founders and Pioneers:
Another key piece of the conference was the relationships Sean and I built with other attendees. The first is Dan Linstedt, the creator of Data Vault. He gave Sean and I the chance to be the first and only student presenters to attend the conference and share our story. He created Data Vault when he was working for Lockheed-Martin in the 90s. Lockheed-Martin was in a unique position. It was dealing with some of the largest datasets in the world at that time. A rough estimate of the size of the data was around 15 terabytes, which was unheard of. 15 terabytes is small potatoes in today’s world, but it was expensive to buy more storage and nearly impossible to restructure in the event of introducing new, large amounts of data. Dan was tasked with finding a way to fix this problem and Data Vault was the answer. More and more organizations are now reaching this point and turning to Data Vault. Dan shared this history with us and helped us understand why Data Vault is the future. Dan found a solution to the problem so many companies are facing today, twenty years ago. What was even more amazing was that he vowed to help us going forward in sharing the importance of this.
Another individual we met was Bill Inmon, who is known as the “Father of Data Warehousing” and was a keynote speaker for the conference. Where Dan created the superior way to house data, Bill created the entire industry. It was daunting when we realized this, and he wanted to spend some time getting to know us. He talked to us in the hour before our presentation about everything other than data. He just wanted to sit and get to know us. He offered us advice for our paths going forward in data and encouraged us to just go and enjoy our presentation, not to be nervous. Bill also explained to us that in early August of last year, he was in a fairly rough accident, where his lungs were damaged. A few problems resulted from this including sporadic coughing and chronic pain. Because of the pain, Bill would typically leave after his presentations, (his keynote being presented the morning of ours), greeting a few folks, but leaving the same day to go home and rest. After meeting us however, he not only waited to see our presentation, but extended his stay into the next afternoon in order bid us farewell. This was a true honor and was incredibly meaningful. His actions, along with the slough of praise given by the other attendees, let Sean and I know we were truly in a unique position.
In conglomeration with meeting Dan, we had the privilege of having dinner with a number of other genius individuals such as Cindi Meyersohn, President of Data Rebels, Kent Graziano, Chief Technical Evangelist at Snowflake, Data Vault Master Sanjay Pande and others. Talking with these folks at length brought me true inspiration for the future of Data Vault and the potential future WCU could have using it and getting involved more in Data Analytics directly through the CIS Program.
Lessons for the Curriculum:
This is what I believe to be something with incredible potential for WCU. Currently, our CIS program doesn’t specialize in any specific aspect, but includes crash courses in many subjects like networking, SQL, and Web Development. I’d like to propose that we move to specialize in Data Analytics as well as business modeling. The benefits that would result from this are objectively huge. The first of which, is the preparation of our students for the real world and business. Part of being a successful CIS major is acquiring and tempering the ability to be a communicative bridge between the Information Technology and the administrative sides of a business. This is of course the reason we take several business core classes, but we are missing more technical skills. Currently, we learn a bit of what data is and how to query it, but the meaning behind our queries and manipulation of the data is lost. In order to analyze data correctly, we have to be able to understand several things about the business/client that is requesting it: What is the information flow in the business, what do they care about most, what are their goals, and what are the questions the business needs to answer? This is where Business Modeling would come into play very naturally, because of our situation in the College of Business. We could incorporate some of the latest tools like Snowflake and WhereScape for experience in both modeling and warehousing. Along with this, we could create more opportunities for students to have Experiential Learning by using our upper level classes to maybe both model a business and its data as well as use analytics to help it grow. This would pair well with MGT 404 and widen the scope of the CIS capstone. Additionally, more project opportunities like the NCDD project could result from this focus, giving students more business experience as well. This would help to continually fulfill WCU’s mission for student Experiential Learning. If we teach the core principals of Data Management/Analytics as the key enablers of business strategy execution, our students will be capable of making immediate significant business contributions upon graduation.
To this end, Dan Linstedt and Sanjay Pande have offered to advise the CoB in establishing a Data Vault 2.0 focused Experiential Learning curriculum in a Data Management/Analytic context. Chris Stewart, WhereScape GM and VP for U.S. Operations, has offered similar support and licensing to WhereScape as part of a Data Vault 2.0 focused Data Management/Analytics curriculum. Kent Graziano has offered advice and access to SnowFlake for students and faculty also in conjunction with a Data Vault 2.0 focused Data Management/Analytics curriculum. Brad Bergh, a 30+ year veteran of Data Warehousing and Decision Analytics, has offered to work with CoB faculty to define a Data Management/Analytics Experiential Learning curriculum incorporating Data Vault 2.0, WhereScape, and SnowFlake.
This conference was completely eye-opening for the future of data. Sean and I received a degree’s worth of education from our week there and I’m eager to help bring it back for the benefit of WCU and it students. We would prepare our students to be shining stars in the industry upon graduation if we specialize our CIS program in Data Management/Analytics and give them many opportunities for Experiential Learning. So many people are ready and willing to help us succeed and propel our college forward. All we have to do is ask.
I could have never imagined all that I could accomplish in a year and the doors that would open due to the experiences allowed to me because of the funding and mentorship of the CSFE Pre Doctoral program. I started my journey with a trip to the Green Sport Alliance Summit at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA in June of 2018. This was my first experience at a mixed conference (academics and practitioners) and allowed me to experience this new world I was entering.
My second conference was to the Sport & Entertainment Venue of Tomorrow (SEVT) at the University of South Carolina in November of 2018. This afforded me the opportunity to present research that I had conducted with Dr. Brian McCullough. Our paper was nominated as a “Best Paper Finalist.”
Throughout the entire fellowship, I was working with Dr. Charles Parrish and Dr. Brian McCullough from Seattle University on research for potential publications. I am pleased to announce that in May of 2019, my first paper as lead author was published. This publication turned my experience of working with WCU’s sustainability and athletic department in conjunction with the College of Business into a functional case study that teachers can use in the classroom to help promote critical thinking to implement sustainable initiatives on a college campus. I also have 2-3 other research projects that were started during this time that are in various stages of the publication process.
One of the highlights of the was being able to present at the 15th Annual International Sustainability Conference in Vancouver, Canada. I was asked to join the research and present with lead, Madeline Orr. It was at this conference that I developed an immediate report and mutual respect with Madeline and was honored and privileged to be asked to be part of a new project she was working on. I am happy to announce that I am an original member of the Sport Ecology Group. This group and website were officially launched on Earth Day and has received tremendous feedback and press for the mission of the group.
My final conference that I will be attending is the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM) in New Orleans in June 2019. I will be presenting a poster and talking at the Teaching & Learning Fair. This is a huge honor to have research accepted at this event. This is one of the largest and most prestigious conferences for sport management. A total of 589 abstracts were submitted with 379 accepted for presentation at the conference (64.3%). All abstracts were subjected to a triple blind review.
Pelcher, J. A., & McCullough, B. P. (2019, June). Getting athletics into the sustainability game: A self-ethnographic reflection of the fruits and experience of experiential learning. Poster presentation at North American Society for Sport Management conference, New Orleans, LA.
Last but not least, the main purpose of the Fellowship is to prepare for a doctoral program. I applied to both the University of Tennessee and the University of South Carolina. I was accepted to both programs with fully funded offers. I ultimately chose to accept the offer from University of Tennessee and will begin the doctoral program in August 2019.
I would like to say a huge “Thank You” to Dr. Lopez and all members and staff of CSFE. Without the support of this program I would not be were I am today!
Jamee Pelcher, CSFE Pre Doctoral recipient 2018-2019
Jamee Pelcher is a WCU Graduate and a Post-Baccalaureate (now called the Pre-Doctoral) Fellow with the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at WCU. She was recently accepted into the PhD Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sport Managment program at University of Tennessee.