By Robert W. Dalton

Lead levels in playground soil, climate stories, abandoned or condemned buildings near campus, the temperature of cardiac tissue, mental health… these were just a few of the topics discussed over lunch in Burwell by students and faculty who were on campus this summer conducting research. Undergraduate research opportunities continue to expand on campus and around the globe for Wofford students. Join the conversation by reading five of the research stories from Summer 2022.



Growing up in Charleston, S.C., Sarah Owens ’23 and Noel Tufts ’23 got a firsthand look at the effects of climate change every time a king tide sent water rushing into the downtown streets.

As part of a team directed by Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden, professor of Spanish, and Dr. Christine Sorrell Dinkins, Kenan Professor of Philosophy, they spent the summer asking others about their own experiences with climate change. The project was inspired by a similar one conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The main purpose of this project is giving people a space to voice how they have been impacted by climate change and how they see it in their own communities,” says Tufts, a biology and Spanish double major. “It’s been interesting to see the different perspectives.”

Dinkins says one goal was to get conversations started. The team collected the stories of more than two dozen people. They focused on the effects and stayed away from a debate about the causes.

“Normalizing and empowering climate conversations is its own good,” Dinkins says.

One of those interviewed was an athlete who had to change their practice schedule and take more hydration breaks. Another was a member of a farming family who talked about the impact to crop yields.

Barbas Rhoden says some of the responses were powerful. Some of those surveyed were angry about a perceived lack of action.

“We heard a lot of emotion words and stories about how the changing weather patterns that are part of climate change shape peoples’ daily routines, shape their holiday traditions and shape their experience of being in a place,” she says.

As the summer progressed, so did the team members’ interview techniques.

“As our student researchers were having these conversations, it struck me how much they were learning alongside those they were speaking with, not so much about the content but how they were able to adapt,” Dinkins says.



When textiles were booming, Una, Saxon and Arcadia were flourishing communities. But the demise of the industry devastated the three neighborhoods northwest of Spartanburg, and today they contain the greatest density of condemned properties in the county.

Led by Dr. Alysa Handelsman, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, and Dr. Jennifer Bradham, assistant professor of environmental studies, nine Wofford students spent the summer identifying and mapping those properties. They found 48 condemned properties — nearly 11% of the 431 condemned properties in the county — in a four-mile radius.

They also discovered a large number of abandoned properties, but those are not included in their data because they haven’t been documented by city or county officials.

“Abandoned properties are subject to a person’s interpretation, while condemned properties have been investigated,” says Drew Wilson ’23, an environmental studies major from Sandersville, Ga., who mapped the condemned properties. “Our qualitative team has discussed the impact of abandoned houses with residents because the words are synonymous.”

Students also knocked on 500 doors and held focus groups to talk to residents about their concerns about the community.

“A lot of people are concerned for their safety because of prostitution, drugs and a perceived increase in homelessness,” says Sarah Buckmaster ’24, a sociology and anthropology major from Simpsonville, S.C. “Spartanburg has an abundance of health care and after school resources that these neighborhoods are not connected to. A lot of residents say it seems that Una, Saxon and Arcadia are always missing from the conversation.”

Paola Cruz ’23, a Spanish and sociology and anthropology double major from Charlotte, N.C., says many residents were reluctant to speak out because they feared being evicted if the property owner found out. Some were also skeptical of the students’ motives.

“Being present is really important, and I think people started seeing us around a lot,” Handelsman says. “We’re not going door-to-door and then disappearing.”

Handelsman says the group has slowly gained the trust of more and more residents.



A lot of people dance around the issue of mental health.

Wofford professor Maya Michele Fein is leading an ongoing research project to build an entire production around the subject.

Two performances of “The Tangle” were held in July in the Sallenger Sisters Black Box Theatre. The 20-minute dance production is an expansion of the eight-minute version that debuted in 2021.

“Mental health issues are connected to us all in some way,” says Fein, assistant professor of theatre. “We want to destigmatize and bring awareness to the vast challengeas of the human journey by bridging the arts and mental health education. Each experience with mental challenges is unique to the individual. By exploring this subject through dance, a language that transcends words, it allows for clear storytelling that also offers a personal interpretation.”

Fein’s team this summer consisted of six current students, one incoming student and one recent graduate. It also included Robin Levine — a New York City-based former Broadway performer who currently directs and choreographs nationally — as creator, writer, director and choreographer. The original score was created by award-winning NYC-based composer Jevares Myrick, who has performed on Broadway and in national tours.

The process started with a survey conducted by Fein, Chantel Aguirre ’23, a Chinese major from Spartanburg, and Kerrington Johnson ’23, a finance major from Anderson, S.C. The research contributed to the creation of the story, characters, dance movements and lobby display.

Aguirre says a common thread from the surveys returned was that respondents expressed concern about multiple mental health issues.

“Once we started to look across a wide variety of issues, we began to see similarities,” Aguirre says. “We want to point out those similarities and create a feeling of community and help people realize that they aren’t weird and shouldn’t be ostracized.”

Johnson says she wanted to be a part of the project because of her own experience.

“I didn’t really think a lot about mental health until I got here and had my own struggles,” she says. “People are showing a lot of vulnerability in the surveys. My favorite parts are the positives in the lessons they learned in going through their situations.”

Messiah Moring ’25, a biology major from Boiling Springs, S.C., served as the dance captain. Moring says she signed on because the project provided the opportunity to dance and to raise awareness about mental health.

“As a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I think it’s important to learn more about people like me and how they cope,” she says.

Audrey Buffington ’24, a theatre major from Greenville, S.C.; Marc Rivera ’25 a chemistry major from Spartanburg; Anneka Brannon, a first-year student from Spartanburg; and Joanna Burgess ’22, a physics and theatre major from Clinton, S.C., who also served as the technical director, also were members of the dance team. Yasmin Lee ’23, a studio art major from Columbia, S.C., is creating a documentary on the evolution of the production and videoed the performance.

Levine says last year’s version looked at anxiety, depression and mood disorders. This year they included post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder, among others.

Rivera performed a dance that highlights narcissism. Several people had to hand sew dozens of mirror shards onto Rivera’s costume to represent his character’s journey.

“This person is broken but thinks he’s a star,” says Rivera. “Being a part of this project has shown me that many people have issues, and it’s taught me to be more aware of what others might be going through.”

Fein and Levine hope to expand the production again next year. Their goal is to eventually have a full-length production that they can take on tour.

“The next step is to continue the journey of the characters,” Levine says. “From here, there are a variety of mental health issues that we can dive into. The reason we are using the language of dance is that it is open to interpretation. People experiencing different disorders will experience them in different ways. We want people to see they are not alone.”

Buffington says helping people understand that they don’t have to struggle alone is what drew her to “The Tangle.”

“You can say things with your body that you can’t say with words,” she says. “To be able to say that I can feel you and I can understand you in a way that maybe no one has ever heard before can change someone’s life. That’s the best part about this project.”



Helen DuPré Moseley was a prolific writer, filling thousands of diary and journal pages. She wrote about her family, the weather and the things going on around town.

But she rarely wrote about her art.

That’s one of the things Lizzie Richards ’23 learned over the summer while researching the life of Moseley, an artist known for her paintings of surreal figures. As part of her project, Richards, a history and art history major from Columbia, S.C., is now selecting some of Moseley’s works for an exhibit scheduled to open in February 2023.

“Art was only a hobby for her,” says Richards. “When I look at her artwork, it’s so childlike in a way. It’s so creative, and it’s work that should be seen.”

Moseley’s father was a member of the Wofford faculty, and she grew up on the campus. She took over her husband’s insurance business after his death in 1927. In 1934, she was named Spartanburg’s first female postmaster by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dr. Karen Goodchild, Chapman Family Professor of Humanities and Interim coordinator, is Richards’ faculty collaborator and mentor on the project. Goodchild says it was important for Richards to learn the ins and outs of archival research.

“She is working on an artist about whom a number of scholars have said the same things repeatedly, but Lizzie felt there was more to her story,” Goodchild says. “Lizzie is finding what that more is by poring over diaries, newspaper articles, records of the Spartanburg Artists’ Guild and others. But she also is finding out that you can’t guarantee what you will discover with historical research, and you have to be agile in your thinking in order to keep following your subject.”

Richards became acquainted with Moseley a year ago, when she participated in a project to catalog and restore works in Wofford’s permanent collection. That’s when she began contemplating an exhibit of Moseley’s work.

“Moseley's last child (Cynthia Elizabeth Moseley) died this past fall,” Richards says. “Helen’s family line is done. I’m grateful to be able to bring her back to light in Spartanburg. Her works command a room of their own.”

Goodchild says Richards’ exhibit will reveal new facets of Moseley’s career.

“She will show how and why Moseley stepped — and drew — outside the lines of the ordinary,” Goodchild says. “Understanding this, viewers may also understand Spartanburg a bit better. I hope visitors will develop a greater appreciation of the medium in which Moseley was a true master: brush drawing. Many know Moseley as a painter in oils, but our curator (Dr. Youmi Efurd) had the insight to collect and preserve a great number of Moseley’s brush drawings in ink, works that decades later astound us with their quirky, confident, freshness.”



A group of Wofford students spent the summer looking for something they hoped they wouldn’t find. They got their wish, and that’s good news for Spartanburg children who frequent the playgrounds at 18 parks in the city.

Led by Dr. Grace Schwartz, assistant professor of chemistry, the group worked to assess lead concentrations in soil in Spartanburg city parks. Chronic exposure to lead in soil can cause a variety of health and developmental issues in children.

“This is the first time I worked on a project and hoped I wouldn’t find anything,” says Megan Santos ’23, a biology and studio art major from Concord, N.C. “Some parks had higher content, but the concentration was not high enough to be of concern based on EPA standards.”

The project is a follow up to a 2021 study by another Wofford team that looked at the quantity and quality of parks in Spartanburg County. The team wanted to measure levels of lead because it’s a common urban pollutant that was formerly used in gasoline and paint as well as in industrial areas.

Students collected five samples from four areas inside each playground and the same number from the surrounding area.

“The composite sample gives us a good idea of the area and the lead concentration,” says Carson Archie ’24, an environmental studies major with a data science concentration from Charleston, S.C. “On our maps you can see where the levels are higher inside or outside of the playground and what would be areas of concern at individual parks.”

After being collected, the soil samples had to be thoroughly dried and extracted in concentrated acid before the lead content could be measured. The process took at least eight hours.

“It was a waiting game to put the samples through the process,” says Kleo Young ’25, a chemistry major from Jonesville, S.C. “My goal was to get more experience in the lab, so going through the steps was satisfying.”

According to EPA guidelines, lead content in residential soil should be below 400 parts per million (ppm). Willow Oaks Park had the highest lead content inside the playground at 18 ppm. Duncan and Priscilla Rumley parks had the lowest at 1 ppm.