People

Global Strategist Joins E. Gordon Gee at West Virginia U.

September 11, 2016

Intrigued by a Song

Brian Persinger, West Virginia U.
William I. Brustein
William I. Brustein likes to joke that his path to West Virginia University began in an Irish bar in Washington. It was 1970, and Mr. Brustein was bartending and waiting tables to help defray the costs of attending the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. The songwriters Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert visited the bar to try out their new ballad, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," which was soon to be made famous by John Denver — and became the fourth official state song of West Virginia.

But that’s the scenic version. The more direct route to West Virginia University started with a phone call from E. Gordon Gee, the institution’s president since 2014. The two had worked together when Mr. Gee led Ohio State University, where Mr. Brustein was until last month a vice provost in charge of international programs.

Mr. Brustein, who became vice president for global strategies and international affairs at West Virginia on August 31, says he intends to "figure out the landscape" before embarking on any major plans. But he has a lengthy record of achievements at Ohio State from which to draw.

For example, he developed a "global option," which gives students the opportunity to obtain international competencies tailored to their colleges and academic goals. He also set up "global gateway" offices in Mumbai, São Paulo, and Shanghai, intended to strengthen relationships with foreign universities, recruit international students, and cultivate ties to alumni overseas.

Nearly 8 percent of West Virginia’s students are foreign. A logical place to start recruiting more international students would be the Middle East, Mr. Brustein says. The university is already known there because of its petroleum- and mining-engineering departments. He will also look to China.

Economic unease in those places will add to his challenges. But Mr. Brustein says the university can gain an edge by focusing on integrating foreign students on campus, giving them personal attention, and helping connect them with jobs as they near graduation. Too many universities view foreign students primarily as a revenue stream, he says, and put more emphasis on recruitment than on the quality of their campus experience once they enroll.

Mr. Brustein, a sociologist whose academic writing focused on Nazism and anti-Semitism, says he wants to make sure "that each and every one of those international students get such a first-rate education here that when they graduate, they become the best ambassadors we could ever wish for." — Caroline Preston

Puncturing Myths

Megan K. Traffanstedt and her master’s- thesis supervisor, Steven G. LoBello, have read what journalists had to say. Now they are waiting to see how psychologists will weigh in on their unexpected research finding about depression.

Their moment in the media glow came after they published a journal article in January that said they had found no evidence that season or reduced sunlight was associated with major depression.

Ms. Traffanstedt, who graduated from the psychology master’s program at Auburn University before the publication appeared, recalls the moment her work’s implications emerged: "Dr. LoBello just looked over at me and said, ‘Megan, there’s no correlation.’ "

The random sample they analyzed was large: 34,294 American adults who in 2006 completed the Patient Health Questionnaire — 8 Depression Scale, which asked about signs of current depression. Ms. Traffanstedt and Mr. LoBello, a professor of psychology, cross-referenced the dates on which subjects responded and their locations with U.S. Naval Observatory records of daylight and weather conditions.

They and a colleague, Sheila Mehta, published their results in Clinical Psychological Science, noting that they had looked for a correspondence of seasons, length of prevailing daylight, and latitude to major depression, not to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

That choice, they explained, was made because the standard handbook of psychiatric disorders, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, does not recognize SAD as a distinct disorder, though it does include "seasonal variation" as a diagnostic modifier of major depression.

Of course, many people believe that seasonal affective disorder — characterized by the "winter blues" and sometimes even "summertime blues" — does exist, and many psychologists and psychiatrists do, too. So the article by Ms. Traffanstedt and her colleagues provoked scores of print and electronic media outlets, from as far afield as Russia and India, to report the finding — or, rather, journalists’ own interpretation of it. More often than not, they reported that "seasonal affective disorder" does not exist.

Mr. LoBello says his and his colleagues’ finding was more nuanced. It did not exclude the possibility that major depression with seasonal variation exists, but at a low base rate.

The researchers’ results at first surprised Mr. LoBello but then seemed plausible, because the questionnaire asked about current mood instead of past episodes, and earlier studies have shown that people recall poorly when and in what circumstances they have suffered episodes of major depression.

Ms. Traffanstedt, who hopes to find work developing psychological tests for a school district, says she was taken aback at the hasty media response: "Journalists took what they needed out of it, to fit their needs," she concludes. "Professor LoBello and I spoke about it and he said, ‘I don’t even think they read it.’ " — Peter Monaghan

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