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Anthropologist, chemist named emerging scholars

Sept. 9, 2010

KALAMAZOO--An anthropologist known for her ethnographic field research on Kenya and a chemist involved in hardcore theoretical development will be recognized as emerging faculty scholars by Western Michigan University on Thursday, Sept. 16, during a campuswide ceremony.

Dr. Bilinda Straight, associate professor of anthropology, and Dr. Yirong Mo, associate professor of chemistry, will be presented the Emerging Faculty Scholar Award during WMU's Academic Convocation ceremonies beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the WMU Dalton Center. Convocation activities also will include WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address and the presentation of several other faculty, teaching and service awards.

Photo of Dr. Bilinda Straight and Dr. Yirong Mo.

The Emerging Scholar Award program was launched late in 2006 to acknowledge the accomplishments of WMU faculty members who are among the rising stars in U.S. higher education. It is designed to celebrate the contributions of faculty who are in the first decade of their careers at WMU and who, by virtue of their contributions to scholarship or creative activity, have achieved national recognition and demonstrated outstanding promise to achieve renown in their continuing work. The award goes to scholars nominated for consideration through a campuswide selection process and carries a $2,000 cash prize for each recipient.

Dr. Bilinda Straight

Straight joined the WMU faculty in 2000, and her work over the past 15 years, especially since her arrival, has centered on her ethnographic field research in Kenya and attracted international professional recognition. A prolific writer, her work has appeared in the top journals in the field of anthropology, and her book, "Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya," has received high praise.

A review in American Anthropologist compared the work to that of accomplished anthropologist Paul Stoller and said it makes an important contribution to the field. American Ethnologist said it "is one of the most original, compelling and thoughtful ethnographies in years."

"Dr. Straight's anthropological research is deeply philosophical and theoretical," writes a colleague at the University of York. "While she has explored diverse subject material--ranging from religious beliefs to material culture and the health consequences of various social conditions--her work has a unifying theme of engaged research about the human condition and concerns some of the core fundamentals of human existence."

A colleague at Emory University writes that Straight "has always impressed me as a determined researcher with a clear idea of important research problems and a broad and systematic methodological approach. At the same time, she has the openness to adapt to what she encounters on the ground, redefining approaches as needed."

Straight received her doctoral degree in anthropology and graduate certificate in women's studies from the University of Michigan in 1997 and master's in anthropology from the U of M in 1990. She earned a bachelor's degree in women's studies and English literature from Lake Erie College in 1987.

Dr. Yirong Mo

Mo joined the WMU Department of Chemistry in 2002. As an adept and highly experienced computational chemist, he wasted no time launching independent research by assembling a cluster of computers and recruiting graduate students.

Mo has developed two very successful lines of research involving hardcore theoretical development, mostly in electron transfer theory, and computational biochemistry, a bourgeoning interdisciplinary field. During the past seven years, he has excelled in both areas and has been well recognized by colleagues. He received coveted invitations to speak at the 2005 and 2008 Congress of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists, and the Sixth Congress of the International Society for Theoretical Chemical Physics, both held every three years.

Since 2003, he has published more than 50 papers in top peer-reviewed chemistry journals, one of which was selected as a "Hot Paper" in 2004 by Angewandte Chemie, while two others were recognized as "Most Accessed" and "Most Cited" by the Journal of Physical Chemistry and Accounts of Chemical Research.

"Dr. Mo is a hardworking and productive scholar," writes a colleague from the Philipps-Universitat Marburg in Marburg, Germany. "In 2009 alone, he published 13 papers in highly regarded chemistry journals, including two in the Journal of Computational Chemistry."

An associate at the University of Georgia cited Mo's influence in the resurgence of valence bond (VB) theory.

"During the past two decades, advances in computer technology have led to a renaissance of VB theory," he writes. "Dr. Mo's contribution to this development has been considerable. He and his collaborators at Xiamen University of China have developed a highly efficient and more practicable XMVB code, which is now employed by many groups worldwide."

Mo received doctoral, master's and bachelor's degrees in physical chemistry from Xiamen University in China in 1992, 1989 and 1986, respectively. He also has been a research associate at the University of Minnesota and State University of New York at Buffalo and a research fellow at Bonn University and visiting fellow at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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