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Understanding How We Live: Emerging Social Science Researchers

Why do we do what we do as human beings? Social scientists across a broad field of disciplines pose this and other questions aimed at understanding the ways individuals live in relation to their surroundings.

At UT, the social sciences are spread across five departments—anthropology, geography, political science, psychology, and sociology—in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest and most diverse of UT’s colleges.

Students engage with the social sciences to learn how to collect and evaluate knowledge, as well to better understand the complex individual, political, and social dynamics of the world around them.

Below are emerging researchers in each of the social science disciplines at UT:

Christopher Ojeda, assistant professor of political science

Christopher OjedaOjeda is a political scientist who researches political behavior, public opinion, and political socialization. His research considers how social and economic inequalities, such as poverty and poor mental health, shape how citizens engage with politics. He conducts research on the political consequences of depression, why welfare policies fail to alleviate poverty in the United States, and how everyday stresses affect civic engagement. His work has been featured by the Chicago Tribune, U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, and Vox. In 2018, he was a research fellow at the Universities of Mainz and Munster.

“My research investigates how the whisper of the poor gets drowned out of the public discourse by the roar of the rich. Political inequality and poverty are especially large problems in Tennessee, so my hope is to illuminate the ways in which low-income Tennesseans can participate and have an equal say in our democratic processes.”

Aaron Buss, assistant professor of psychology

Aaron BussBuss oversees the Attention, Brain, and Cognition Lab, where he studies executive function in early childhood and adulthood. His research explores how children learn to follow rules and regulate behavior. Buss’s state-of-the-art research suite features integrated motion-tracking, eye-tracking, and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health. Buss works with a team of graduate and undergraduate students to examine how the types of games children play at home impact developmental outcomes.

“The goal of my research is to understand how children’s experiences shape brain function. We design games to challenge children’s ability to follow rules or problem-solve and measure their brain activity as they play. By examining how children’s skills in these domains develop, we can work toward designing programs that will facilitate children’s development. My lab provides opportunities for undergraduates to become involved in research by working closely with my six graduate students to collect and analyze data. These students have the opportunity to present research at different venues on campus as well as at national and international conferences.”

Anneke Janzen, assistant professor of anthropology

Anneke JanzenJanzen is a specialist in zooarchaeology, stable isotope analysis, and zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS). She recently completed a postdoctoral appointment at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Janzen researches ancient human and animal migrations and the origins of pastoralism in Kenya, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. She manages the Zooarchaeology Laboratory and Collections and is developing a laboratory for sampling and processing archaeological materials for stable isotope and ZooMS analyses.

“While I will continue my work in eastern Africa, I am excited to expand my research to include local projects in the southeastern United States. I especially look forward to working with students at all levels on archaeofaunal collections and engaging the public in our research on foodways and past human–animal interactions in this incredibly biodiverse region.”

Hannah Herrero, assistant professor of geography

Hannah HerreroHerrero is a geographer who studies human–environment interactions using geospatial technologies. Herrero specializes in remote sensing, vegetation dynamics, land-change science, and management of protected areas. Her focus is on southern African savannas. Her research is highly interdisciplinary. She regularly collaborates with economists, ecologists, engineers, and climatologists.

“My research using remote sensing to evaluate environmental change is globally applicable. This research feeds into the suite of courses I instruct, both technical and theoretical, so that University of Tennessee students can take this knowledge and bring it back into their communities. It also helps bridge the pathway between researchers and practitioners to inspire a healthier world for tomorrow.”

Tyler Wall, assistant professor of sociology

Tyler WallWall is an interdisciplinary scholar who studies state violence and security politics. His research specifically examines the role police violence and power play in community race relations. In 2018, Wall published his first coauthored book, Police: A Field Guide. He is working on his second book. Wall has published his work in leading journals of political geography, critical criminology, and American studies. He is an editorial board member of the international journal Critical Criminology.

“My research focuses on the ways that police power plays a significant role in the production and reproduction of racialized inequality in the United States. I hope my research is valuable to students and the general public to help engage in discourse about politicized conceptions of order, disorder, and state authority.”


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