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Faculty research grants help professors achieve career goals

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Dr. Wade Worthen

Dr. Wade Worthen

Who knew a pecking order exists among our dragonfly friends? Biology Professor Wade Worthen, Ph.D., knows and will be advancing his understanding through a newly awarded Furman Standard Faculty Research Grant. For Music Professor Omar Carmenates, D.M., another recipient of a Furman Standard award, the grant will fund an ambitious collaboration dubbed “The John Psathas Percussion Project.”

Dr. Omar Carmenates

Dr. Omar Carmenates

Through The Furman Standard, donors may honor one or more faculty members by pledging $25,000 (payable over five years) or by establishing a $100,000 planned gift. Contributions to The Furman Standard are pooled to help provide professors the materials, training, development and other opportunities they need to remain leaders in their fields.

Since its inception in 2010, The Furman Standard program has garnered $2.3 million toward the goal of $3 million. Thirty-six current and former faculty members have been honored by 28 donors.

Says Furman board member and alum Jim Ney ’64, “Having a sound, strong faculty is the heart, soul and backbone of the educational process. Producing good students is the very product with which we are about.” And Ney says the only way to produce well trained, well studied undergraduates is through competent, well trained faculty who are awarded grants to further themselves and their research goals. “The Furman Standard Research Grant is the ideal way in which we can better Furman,” he says.

To that end, Dr. Worthen will use his award to continue research on the effects of competition on biodiversity. Worthen says while competition can result in the elimination of an inferior competitor, competitors can coexist (and thereby preserve diversity) by ‘partitioning’ a resource.

Researching dragonfly species in South Carolina, Worthen has found that species reduce competition for territories by perching at different heights, in a pattern that correlates with body size. Large species use taller perches, relegating smaller species to lower perches. During a Tropical Ecology study away course in Costa Rica, Worthen saw suggestions of this same behavior pattern.

The grant will allow Worthen to replicate his South Carolina experiments in the rainforests of Costa Rica to determine whether the partitioning phenomenon is a general pattern that occurs in tropical as well as in temperate communities.

Worthen says the funding will help him fulfill a “lifelong goal” of researching in Costa Rica. He says since his research isn’t costly, and therefore not suited for support from large funding agencies, the Furman Standard grant is “just right in so many ways.”

For Dr. Carmenates, The Furman Standard award will enable him to work with foremost New Zealand composer John Psathas who is known for his work across multiple genres including orchestral works, film scores, and, most notably, music for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

The collaboration, The John Psathas Percussion Project, involves taking multiple works from Psathas’ catalogue and creating new versions written entirely for percussion instruments. In the first phase of the project, Carmenates will retool nine smaller chamber works by Psathas for a sextet of percussionists. Under Psathas’ guidance, the ensemble, which includes Carmenates, will tour these pieces for two weeks across New Zealand, and record them for a CD release during Carmenates’ sabbatical.

In the second phase of the project, Carmenates will craft a U.S.-based mirror image of the first. The second phase features a much larger ensemble of 10-12 percussionists comprised of area professionals and Furman students. Conducted by Carmenates, the ensemble will perform percussion-only versions of five massive Psathas orchestral works, including his popular piano-percussion double concerto “View from Olympus.”  With Psathas in tow, Carmenates’ ensemble will tour the Eastern United States performing these works, and will record them for a second CD release.

All told, The John Psathas Percussion Project will produce two new CD recordings, two touring performance ensembles, and 12-15 new published works.

Says Carmenates, “This project requires a significant investment of time and resources … I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for this Faculty Research Grant. It is awards like this, as well the colleagues and students who surround me every day, that regularly remind me how special Furman University is and how lucky I am to work here.”

Furman Standard Faculty Grant recipients and donors are recognized by plaques affixed to the pillars at the James B. Duke Library. Shon Herrick, Associate Vice President for Development at Furman, says the placement of the plaques is symbolic. “The plaques at the Library serve as the tangible way to thank donors and honor faculty members who have helped shape a great Furman experience for the donor. The Library is the center of campus and the educational experience much like faculty are the center of learning for students. The pillars are a reminder that a strong faculty is the pillar of a great education.”

Last updated April 1, 2014
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director