Faculty Research: From Microfinance to Puritanism

Sawako Suzuki, Education

Sawako SuzukiEducation professor Sawako Suzuki has been studying the implications of parental self-confidence in the United States and Japan for the past 15 years. “Parents who are confident end up doing good things for their kids,” said Suzuki, who co-developed a parenting self-confidence questionnaire that is now used worldwide. An accurate assessment is crucial, she said, for families whose children are struggling in school, since studies show that an increase in parental self-confidence can improve a child’s quality of life. “Educators and health-care providers can’t change people’s life circumstances, but they can help people increase their parenting self-confidence,” she said.

Suzuki’s research project is long-term, and the current phase focuses on fine-tuning the questionnaire for use in many different cultures. “We want to make sure we’re measuring what we mean to be measuring in each language and culture,” she said. Her faculty research grant has financed travel to Japan during her 2015-16 sabbatical, allowing her to meet in person with research colleagues from Tokyo Gakugei University. But the real game-changer is that she has been able to hire a leading expert in cross-cultural questionnaire development as a research consultant. “That has taken our research to the next level,” said Suzuki. “It’s invaluable.” 

Monica Fitzgerald, Justice, Community, and Leadership

Monica Fitzgerald“This is a wonderful initiative showing institutional support,” said associate history professor Monica Fitzgerald, expressing her delight at receiving a 2014-15 internal faculty research grant. “I’m telling new faculty to apply for it!” 

Like many SMC faculty, Fitzgerald has numerous projects on her plate. Of special interest to the Gael community, she is at work on an article about the history of women at SMC—the outgrowth of her 2011 Jan Term course “The Skirts Are Coming: Saint Mary’s Going Co-Ed.” 

She is also the author of the forthcoming Drunkards and Fornicators on Meeting House Hill: Censures and the Gendering of Puritanism in Early New England. And recently, she teamed up with a colleague at the University of Charleston to write a book on changing ideas of masculinity and femininity in the 17th century as revealed by the family biography of a New England merchant. 

Fitzgerald said her grant will finance a month-long trip with her colleague to review archives at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Radcliffe College. In addition, she plans to hire a student research assistant to transcribe more than 40 oral history interviews that students in the Jan Term class conducted with the first generation of SMC women students. 

Thanks to the faculty research grant, the article will be completed, then submitted to the Journal of Women’s History, on an expedited timeline. And, noted Fitzgerald, who received SMC’s 2014 Early Career Award for scholarship, teaching, and service, the student interviewers will receive research credits. 

“Without the grant I wouldn’t have been able to pay to have [the interviews] transcribed,” said Fitzgerald. “It would have taken hours and hours of time I can now be actually writing and researching. That’s huge!”

Tina Zhang and Yung-Jae Lee, Economics and Business Administration

Tina ZhangProfessors Tina Zhang and Yung-Jae Lee, colleagues in the School of Economics and Business Administration, believe that good bankers can also be good agents for social change. Through a data-driven study based in Manila, Zhang and Lee are investigating how microfinance institutions, which make small loans to those who lack credit history or collateral, can fully benefit their clients while staying financially robust.

Yung-Jae LeeOver the past 30 years, microfinance has become increasingly prevalent in developing countries, but not always to the benefit of the poor (in their grant proposal, Zhang and Lee reference a spate of suicides among Indian microfinance clients who were unable to pay back their loans). “While our study isn’t a panacea to ultimately eliminating poverty, it is likely to contribute in alleviating poverty in the Philippines, a small step forward in changing the world to better serve the poor,” said Zhang.

Their faculty research grant will allow Zhang and Lee to temporarily reduce their teaching loads and prioritize the study, and to hire student research assistants. In addition, they will be able to finance a field study focusing on in-person interviews with Manila microfinance professionals and recipients—an important research tool, said Lee, for collecting data that “we don’t see on paper.”

Meanwhile, thousands of miles from Manila, the grant award is already having an effect. “After the college announced that we are the recipients,” Zhang said, “we have received a number of questions from students who want to know more about microfinance institutions.”

Makiko Imamura, Communication

Maliki ImamuraBorn and raised in Japan, Makiko Imamura spent a month living with a family in Canada when she was in middle school. Later, she lived in England for three weeks, attended the University of San Francisco her junior year of college, and pursued her graduate degrees at the University of Kansas. But that initial home-stay experience, she said, “definitely triggered my interest in intercultural communication,” the subject of her academic research today. 

Imamura, an assistant professor of communication, is the architect of a year-long study of communication between East Asian students and the Americans they interact with most frequently, such as friends or roommates. Participants in the study are currently attending college at SMC, Iowa State University, the University of Missouri, and the University of Kansas. 

“Communication styles are very different” between East Asians and Americans, Imamura said, which increases the possibility of negative encounters—and makes for a more vivid study. 

Imamura said her grant will allow her to pay participants in the study, a key factor in “attracting a specific population.” She also intends to purchase a new software program to analyze data, travel to meet with her co-investigators in the Midwest, and hire a student assistant. 

“This project was my longterm goal,” said Imamura, noting that she is launching her investigation sooner than she had ever anticipated. “You have this moment—‘I received the grant, now I have to do the work!’”