Families are a resource in times of disaster, but last year's
tsunami in Southern Asia shattered thousands of families and
tore a hole in the region's mental health network. In the
wake of the devastation, two family therapy professors traveled
to Jakarta, Indonesia, to educate area mental health workers
on psychosocial interventions. Fred Piercy and Margaret Keeling
teamed up to teach psychologists and social workers at Atma
Jaya University. During an intensive three-day workshop in
February, they fashioned culturally sensitive interventions
for families and children.
The need for mental health support there is great, noted
Irwanto, (who, like many Indonesians, has only one name),
director of the Atma Jaya Research Center, which hosted the
conference. Of the 60 people from Aceh's non-government organizations
who might be expected to provide mental health services, 20
were killed in the tsunami and another 20 are still missing.
"We were very anxious to provide community action support"
in which children and families were the center of attention,
In a culture where family is the defining social structure,
and after a disaster that left so few families intact, Piercy
and Keeling worked on ways to bring communities together and
make use of their strengths. They also helped workers identify
ways to deal with their own "compassion fatigue,"
as many had experienced their own trauma.
"Our participants from Aceh discussed the mass destruction
and chaos that they experienced," says Piercy. "One
participant and her family saved themselves by climbing up
in the rafters of their home. Their 8-year-old son is now
terrified of water, even of holding a glass of water or taking
The Virginia Tech duo planned with local experts to develop
a sustainable program of support for the future, since peoples'
needs will continue to be great in the months ahead. In addition,
the training provided a foundation for future collaborations
between Virginia Tech, Atma Jaya, and mental health practitioners
in the Aceh region and other parts of Indonesia affected by
natural disasters. "We are making plans for a more comprehensive
program of training and research concerning disaster mental
health treatment," says Keeling.
"Dr. Keeling created a closing ceremony that I will
never forget," says Piercy. "In it, each of the
30 participants came forward one-by-one and shared a name
of someone who inspired them - someone to whom they were dedicating
their work. Some mentioned the children of Aceh, the positive
spirit of Indonesia, and those who lost their lives. Others
mentioned personal mentors or family members for whom they
are dedicating their work. As participants came forward, they
took a green piece of paper cut in the shape of a hand and
glued it to the outside of a map of Indonesia. The resulting
Indonesian map, resting in the hands of loving, committed
Indonesian professionals, will take a prominent place within
the department of psychology at Atma Jaya University."
Piercy, chair of the human
development department, has been to Indonesia many times
as part of his work on HIV and drug abuse research and prevention
projects. Keeling lived in a remote, undeveloped province
on Indonesia formerly known as Irian Jaya (now Papua) for
nine years. A first-year faculty member, Keeling says, "When
I was hired, I was expecting to do international work, I just
didn't expect it to do it so soon." Both speak the Indonesian
The two professors were sponsored by a variety of university
and community organizations, including Atma Jaya University,
the Jakarta psychological association (Himpsi), Virginia Tech's
Office of Outreach and International Affairs and Office of
the Vice President for Research, the College of Liberal Arts
and Human Sciences, and Blacksburg Presbyterian Church.
— Jean Elliott, College
of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
Creditors view board structure, represented by composition and size, and audit committees as important indicators of the integrity of a company's financial accounting reports
— and these perceptions are reflected in the firm's cost of
debt financing, a new study by finance Assistant Professor
Sattar Mansi shows.
Mansi's co-authored paper, "Board Characteristics, Accounting
Report Integrity, and the Cost of Debt," was published
in the Journal of Accounting and Economics (Vol. 37, September
2004). The paper examines the relation between a firm's cost
of debt financing and the structure of its board of directors
and board audit committees - specifically, the proportion
of independent (or outside) members and the total number of
members. He and his co-researchers tested their theories by
analyzing 252 industrial firms from the Lehman Brothers fixed-income
database and the S&P 500.
Independent directors, Mansi says, are believed to be superior
monitors of management and more likely to provide credible
financial reports, so he and his co-researchers investigated
whether a firm's cost of debt is inversely linked to the proportion
of independent directors. "We find that board independence
is associated with a lower cost of debt financing. Our analysis
indicates that debt costs are about 17.5 basis points lower
for firms with boards dominated by independent directors (51
percent or more independents) compared to firms with insider-stacked
boards (25 percent or less independents)."
The researchers discovered a similar negative relation between
the cost of debt financing and board size. "We find that
each additional board member is associated with about a 10-
basis-point lower cost of debt financing."
As for audit committees, Mansi says, these subcommittees
of the full board are responsible for overseeing the financial
accounting process: recommending the selection of external
auditors to the board, ensuring the soundness and quality
of internal accounting and control practices, and monitoring
external auditor independence from senior management. "As
such, we anticipate that the composition of audit committees
influences the financial accounting process, and this should
have an impact on corporate debt yields."
The researchers found that firms with fully independent audit
committees had a lower debt cost than firms with insiders
or affiliates on the committee - about 15 basis points lower.
Focusing on size, they found that committees ranged from one
to 12 members, with most having four to five members, and
that each additional member was associated with a 10.6-basis-point
lower debt cost.
Says Mansi: "Our results provide market-based evidence
that boards of directors and their audit committees are viewed
as important elements in the reliability of financial reports."
— Sookhan Ho, Pamplin
College of Business
A new learning/teaching tool, the Web-based Center for Automated
has been created by Stephen
H. Edwards, associate professor of computer science. Web-CAT
is a virtual center that helps students learn to program.
It encourages "refl ection in action" by requiring
students to test their own programs. Students must predict
the behavior of their programs then Web- CAT provides immediate
feedback on student performance with suggestions for improvement.
Students can make unlimited submissions to Web-CAT and check
their progress as often as they choose while developing a
solution. Web-CAT provides these services to students any
time, anywhere at the student's convenience, and requires
only a Web browser to use.
Since being introduced in computer science classes in fall
2003,Web-CAT has been used by more than 1,200 students in
50 undergraduate and graduate course sections, processing
more than 86,000 program submissions. Assessments indicate
that students using Web-CAT write programs with up to 45 percent
fewer bugs and are more likely to turn in work on time.
Based on his research, Edwards has had a journal article
published and presented several conference papers, a workshop
paper, and two tutorials on applying these techniques in the
classroom. His work was well received at the 35th SIGCSE Technical
Symposium on Computer Science Education, with faculty members
from other universities expressing interest in using Web-CAT.
Though not yet ready for full dissemination, one other institution
began using the service remotely in 2004, and two more will
join this fall. With a grant from IBM, Edwards is integrating
Web-CAT with popular course management systems and preparing
it for public release.
Edwards' research was the subject of a 2003 fellowship from
Virginia Tech's Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning.
- Kathleen Pantaleo, Institute
for Distance and Distributed Learning
Biology major Jessica Kross began her days as a cancer research
assistant haphazardly. Following a suggestion from biology
Associate Professor Jill Sible, Kross investigated research
opportunities in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of
Veterinary Medicine and found a position with Professor John
Robertson, who conducts comparative research between cancers
in animal species and similar cancers in humans. Kross dedicated
two years to studying the development of astrocytic brain
tumors in canines.
The goal is to verify that the tumors in dogs can be used
to study human brain tumors, said Kross.
Kross used antibodies to stain cells to determine whether
brain tumors in dogs express the same proteins as tumors found
in humans. The entire process of staining cells can take between
five hours and a day and a half. With many minute variables
that need to be precise, "it's exciting and entertaining
when everything goes right and we get the results we are expecting,"
She used canines for her research because they are the only
species that has naturally occurring brain tumors at the same
rate as humans. Thus canines provide a more realistic model
because the tumors are naturally occurring, rather than implanted
in mice or grown in Petri dishes. The specimens she used were
taken from dogs that had died of brain tumors over the last
20 years. "They were people's pets and there was nothing
clinically that could be done for them," Robertson said.
"People get the same type of aggressive neoplasms and
also die from them."
Kross's research results have so far shown that astrocytic
brain tumors in dogs express the same proteins as those found
For those suffering from cancer, this research is essential.
The proteins that Kross is hoping to find are being used as
targets for specific drugs to help fight this still very mysterious
and developing disease. Researchers are hoping to identify
which proteins are being under expressed and which are being
over expressed so that they can develop better treatments.
Such findings would allow doctors to treat patients more effectively
without damaging as many normal cells as do such current treatments
as chemotherapy and radiation.
"This tumor is almost 100 percent fatal within two years,"
said Robertson. "The results of Jess's work may move
us one step closer to finding out how to arrest and treat
these tumors in dogs and people."
Kross plans to attend medical school in the fall. She is
interested in family practice, and now also in oncology.
- Jessica Cooper, marketing management student
While doing research for her new book, marketing Associate
Professor Eloise Coupey was struck by how some companies seemed
spellbound by the Internet and its promise of revolutionizing
"In many cases, companies were racing into digital territory,
blithely ignoring time-tested tenets of solid business practice.
Many of those companies failed during the dot-com collapse
at the turn of the century," she says.
Coupey, whose textbook, Digital Business: Concepts and
Strategies (Prentice Hall, 2004), is designed to be a
practical guide to doing business online, says the reasons
for failure vary by case, but she has identified some common
— No real need or demand for an Internet-available product.
("Just because you can build a website," she says,
"doesn't mean you should.")
— Poor forecasting of demand, resulting in inability to meet
it (the experience of eToys during the 1999 holiday season,
— Failure to understand the target market. (The bankruptcy
of online grocer Webvan suggests "people weren't ready
to buy broccoli online.")
— Inability to manage the website — the communication interface
with the customer — effectively ("poor design, functionality,
None of these problems, Coupey says, is unique to the Internet.
"The point is that sound business strategy should meld
the old with the new, keeping the best parts of both to develop
and implement new theories and techniques for effective business
Coupey says she wrote the book to meet a need: none had existed
that provided students or business owners or managers "a
framework for leveraging the Internet to achieve strategic
objectives." Trade press books, she says, "tended
to be ad hoc collections of cases, based on consulting activity.
The first two textbooks in this area focused on how to market
products and services on the Internet, rather than how to
use the Internet to facilitate online and off-line activities."
Her book discusses developing business intelligence with
online research, building online business models, and implementing
business strategy. It addresses the influence of technology
on the interactions among consumers, marketers, and policymakers
and the role of the Internet on business-to-business exchanges.
The Internet, Coupey says, has changed virtually every aspect
of exchange relationships - between businesses and consumers
and between businesses and other businesses. "It has
far greater business potential than merely serving as an alternative
outlet to a bricks-and-mortar presence."
- Sookhan Ho, Pamplin
College of Business
What started out as a simple training mission for the Virginia
Management Institute (CMI) has turned into a project that
is establishing the early cultural history of a part of Southside
"This area of Virginia has seen little in the way of
archeological survey for prehistoric or historic sites, and
even less in terms of the excavation of known archeological
sites," says Wayne Boyko, CMI research associate.
In early 2003, CMI began a cultural resources project at
Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Va., to train the Virginia Army
National Guard at the Maneuver Training Center to comply with
the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, and
other federal and state cultural resource protection legislation.
The NHPA requires that land-alteration activities by the federal
government don't destroy cultural resources eligible for listing
on the National Register for Historic Places.
Cultural resources run the gamut from historic buildings
and landscapes to cemeteries and, in the case of Fort Pickett,
archeological sites. The CMI archeological staff used an approach
grounded in research themes identified by the Council of Virginia
Archeologists as being critical in understanding the state's
human history. Thus, the Fort Picket project, under the direction
of CMI Military Lands Division Coordinator Verl Emrick, has
contributed to the field of archeology in general, and to
the archeology of Southside Virginia in particular.
Based on the surveys already completed, the CMI archeologists
have begun to establish the cultural history of the region.
The oldest site found so far is 10,000 years old, based on
spear and dart points.
"We are also beginning to document the functioning of
prehistoric exchange networks through the excavation of known
archeological sites," says Boyko. The archeologists found
jasper from Pennsylvania and metavolcanic stone from the Uwharrie
Mountains in North Carolina used to make projectile points,
as well as steatite, or soapstone, which they think may come
from Maryland and was used to make stone bowls before the
use of ceramic technology.
While most of the archeology being done in Virginia is small
in spatial terms and often isolated, Fort Pickett involves
more than 40,000 acres. "It provides a great laboratory
to examine several research themes," says Boyko. "For
instance, we have the opportunity to look at establishing
the culture history of Southside Virginia, settlement-subsistence
studies, the functioning of prehistoric exchange networks,
a consideration of population dynamics in the region, and
the nature of early historic settlement in the area.
"The dynamic human history of the region presents a
great and fascinating challenge," says Boyko. "Because
this will be a long-term project, we expect to find many more
pieces to the puzzle. We are providing a needed service to
our sponsor while contributing academically and intellectually
towards the discipline of archeology."