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Dec. 20, 2023

The year in review: MSU experts and top headlines

Wars, strikes, Barbie, politics and planets dominated the news in 2023, and Michigan State University faculty experts were on hand to add research-based science and scholarship to many of the top statewide, national and global stories of the year.

As a leading research university, our faculty often take time out from teaching and research to engage media with the goal of helping the public make better informed personal, policy and funding decisions. It’s important that the public hear from faculty experts who present information based on science, research and facts.

Here’s a look at some of our top experts, stories and media placements from 2023.

Our planet plus a new one

As the world navigates the “hottest year on record,” Spartan researchers have continued to focus on providing context around climate change and searching out solutions to ease the increasing impacts of it. From wildfires and hurricanes to floods, extreme heat and biodiversity loss, there have been researchers across several disciplines addressing various angles.

David Roy, professor of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences, led a NASA-funded project that used AI to help map the Maui Wildfires, providing the highest resolution aerial photos to date. Scott Stark, assistant professor of Forest-Atmosphere Interactions, also published research on how wildfires have threatened environmental gains in the Amazon. And many other experts chimed in when wildfires in Canada affected the air quality here in Michigan.

In addition to launching the Water Alliance, professors like Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Endowed Chair in Water Research Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, who is leading the effort, have talked to media at length about the impacts of increased flooding because of climate change, especially in the wake of ongoing storms.

Sue Rhee, director of Plant Resilience Institute, is creating solutions to address food scarcity and productivity. Their team have discovered ways to grow plants with low phosphorous levels. And Federica Brandizzi, MSU Distinguished Professor and MSU Research Foundation Professor in the Department of Plant Biology, is working to breed more climate resilient crops and also sent seeds into space!

When it comes to biodiversity, Mariah Meekan associate professor in integrative biology, and Sara Saundersa postdoctoral research associate in the department, are providing insight into how we can reach domestic and international conservation goals in the face of climate change, and Elise Zipkinan associate professor in integrative biology, is working with her team to track biodiversity using a ‘robin hood’ approach.

Speaking of planets, Joey Rodriguez, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was part of the NASA team that found a new one about 100 light years away. Rodriguez told Discover magazine that even with more than 5,000 exoplanets discovered to date, TOI-700 e, the name of the planet, is a key example that we have a lot more to learn.

Artificial intelligence has breakout year

Artificial intelligence, or AI, dominated the news cycle as the introduction of ChatGPT prompted societal discussions about the benefits and concerns of its use. Several MSU faculty members weighed in on implications across several fields, including art, design, health, education, communication, agriculture and more. Bill Hart-Davidson, associate dean in the College of Arts and Letters, discussed navigating ChatGPT in education with outlets including the Associated Press, Fortune, The Detroit News and WKAR, among many others.

Other top AI experts were Kui Xie, chairperson of the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education in MSU’s College of Education, who published an article on how teachers can use AI to help students learn, and Anjana Susarla, Omura-Saxena Professor in Responsible AI in the Broad College of Business, provided insight on federal regulation and policy aspects concerning AI. She penned several articles in The Conversation and was quoted in several outlets.

The sting of inflation continued

High prices due to inflation presented a financial challenge for many Americans throughout the past year. Supply chain delays resulted in longer waiting times for goods and higher prices, and grocery bills went up, due to rising prices of household staples like eggs, meats and oils.

Not only did David Ortega, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, testify before Congress this year, but he also spoke with numerous national publications about topics ranging from pasta and egg prices to China’s agricultural strategy to rising grocery and restaurant bills to the growing pinch that local food pantries are feeling.

Christina Bodea discussed how federal rate hikes heighten risks of financial crises for lower-income nations. Antonio Doblas-Madrid, associate professor of economics in MSU’s College of Social Science, pondered whether minimum wage would keep up with inflation. And Stanley Lim, assistant professor of supply chain management in the Broad College of Business, commented on how inflation put a damper on Halloween this year.  

Acts of mass violence

Gun violence and mass shootings continued to plague the U.S., with 632 documented in 2023 so far, including one on our very own campus on Feb. 13. In the wake of the violence our campus experienced, several MSU faculty members advocated through research and launched projects that seek to address this concerning trend.

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, MSU College of Human Medicine’s associate dean for public health and nationally renowned child welfare crusader, delivered a call to action through an emotional and urgent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press. “We failed our kids, again. But it is worse than a failure. It’s no exaggeration to say we are waging war on our children. A war with many fronts.”

In May, the MSU Department of Psychiatry launched the Prevent 2 Protect project with a goal of preventing mass violence by addressing mental health through community support. Funded by a $15 million appropriation from the Michigan Department of Education, Prevent 2 Protect is led by co-directors Alyse Folino Ley, an MSU child and adolescent psychiatrist with clinical expertise in trauma-related disorders who serves as the associate chair of education and research in the Department of Psychiatry, and Frank Straub, senior director of violence prevention research and programs at Safe and Sound Schools, the project’s partner.

In addition to speaking with media about the project, Ley and Straub have made several public appearances to share their research-based approach of providing mental health and community resources to high-risk adolescents in order to prevent incidents of mass violence. They were invited by the U.S. Secret Service to present at the Threat Assessment and Management Conference as well as at the Detroit Chamber of Commerce’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

Another project, led by John Carlson, professor of school psychology in the College of Education, created specialized courses designed for school resource officers and other school officials to use to promote school safety and address mental health. As part of a partnership with the Michigan State Police Office of School Safety, together they developed a series of six courses to improve school safety.

US Supreme Court delivers life-altering decisions

A recent change in the makeup of the Supreme Court of the United States made for a historic 2023 season. The court ruled on a variety of topics, including the Biden administration’s student loan plan, religious accommodations for workers, free speech and gay rights, the validity of the Clean Water Act, state legislatures and federal elections, and more.

One case had higher education institutions across the nation on edge as the Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision addressing the legality of race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions programs. Kristine Bowman, jointly appointed professor of law and professor of education policy at MSU, and her colleagues penned an article in The Conversation on the ramifications of the court’s decision, which was picked up by many other media outlets as well.

Another case had very specific ties to MSU and the years-long work of MSU faculty to preserve the rights of North American Indigenous and Native Peoples. On June 15, the high court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law enacted 45 years ago to remedy decades of past government abuse. Kathryn Fort, director of MSU’s Indian Law Clinic, represented Native tribes in Haaland v. Brackeen. This unexpected and monumental decision had Fort not only working on the case, but talking with media across the country, including NPR and ProPublica, to explain the importance of maintaining North American Indigenous families and culture.

The year of employee empowerment

If you followed the news, you likely heard about workers on the picket lines across many sectors, from Hollywood and health care, to shipping and manufacturing. Fueled by skyrocketing corporate profits and decades of stagnant wages and rising inflation, there were several strikes that lasted weeks and some that lasted months. When the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, decided to strike in the summer, Jeff Wray, professor of film studies in the Department of English in the College of Arts and Letters, was ready to comment and provide insight.   

And when United Parcel Service, or UPS, workers went on strike, Jason Miller, interim chair and professor of the School of Supply Chain Management in the Broad College of Business, discussed supply chain effects with NPR, USA Today and Vox, among others.

The United Auto Workers marked the biggest strike, with professors from the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations in the College of Social Science quoted daily from August to December. Peter Berg, the director of MSU’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, published and provided comments on labor issues with The New York Times, The Atlantic and the Associated Press, just to name a few. Michelle Kaminski, an associate professor, also was interviewed extensively, appearing in Marketplace, Detroit Free Press and many other statewide outlets.

“Barbie” breaks the box office

Not all top stories in 2023 were heavy and difficult. “Barbie,” one of the most anticipated movies of the year, added levity to our summer with her bright pink attitude. The movie ignited conversations about the doll’s influence on culture and helped numerous brands show their humanity. Ayalla Ruvio, associate professor of marketing in the Broad College of Business, spoke with media about how the movie keeps the Barbie brand relevant by connecting it to current cultural and societal values, while still maintaining its nostalgic elements. And, Ed Timke, assistant professor of advertising and public relations in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, spoke about Barbie’s complex relationship with Ken.

Mobility drove nationwide conversations

For more than a century, the state of Michigan has been leading the auto industry, so it’s not surprising that our great state is driving the next innovative phase — the future of mobility. By 2030, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that there will be between 18.7 and 26.4 million electric vehicles, or EVs, on U.S. roads. MSU is helping to fuel this movement through research and educating and training students in the latest EV technology so they can become the skilled workforce manufacturers need.

Leo Kempel, Dean of MSU’s College of Engineering, spoke with Crain’s Detroit Business about how MSU is leading the state in EV student training. MSU is also leading by example. Two new fast-charging EV stations were unveiled this year on campus with the help of MSU Mobility Director Judd Herzer and College of Engineering Associate Professor Mehrnaz Ghamami, whose work includes creating the blueprint for the state’s electric vehicle charging stations.

Mega musical events return

After two years of canceled or postponed tours and concerts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live shows came back strong this year. Headliners included Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Madonna, John Mayer, Blink-182, Jonas Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks to name a few. Kinitra Brooks, professor of English in the College of Arts and Letters shared her thoughts on how Taylor Swift and Rick Ross are engaging a new generation of students. Her popular course on Beyonce’s hit album “Lemonade” was brought to the forefront again amidst the excitement over the singer’s Renaissance tour.

The year also brought on new discussions surrounding the cultural and musical movement of hip-hop, which celebrated its 50th anniversary. Emery Petchauer, a professor in the MSU Department of English, and Ruth Nicole Brown, an MSU Research Foundation Professor and the inaugural chair of MSU’s Department of African American and African Studies, shared their expertise with media.

The Israel-Hamas War

On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas, a terrorist militant group, launched one of the deadliest attacks in Israel’s history, including taking hostages to Gaza, with many still held captive or killed. As a result, Israel’s military declared war and invaded Gaza to defeat Hamas, leaving many Palestinians displaced, injured or killed. Russell Lucas, a professor in James Madison College, and Yael Aronoff, director of the Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and a professor of international relations in James Madison College, discussed national security issues as well as some history of the conflict. Mohammad Khalil, professor and director of the Muslim Studies Program in the College of Arts and Letters, and Aronoff, discussed the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia with Voice of America.

And of course, politics and politicking

Despite 2023 being an off-year election, there were plenty of headlines that offered a glimpse into what we will see in next year’s presidential election. The slim Republican U.S. House majority caused chaos this fall when Republicans ousted their former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, and Jordan Cash, a professor in James Madison College, discussed the speaker struggle with various outlets and provided insight on the general election to The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and Fox News, among countless other outlets. Grossmann’s colleague Corwin Smidt, chair of the Department of Political Science in the College of Social Science, was also busy making sense of the events with several journalists throughout the year as well.


This year also saw former President Trump face 91 felony counts after four indictments during his 2024 run for the presidency. Brian Kalt, a professor in the College of Law, discussed Trump’s legal issues in an article for The Conversation and provided comments to the Associate Press and Rolling Stone, among others. The 2024 political season is sure to be eventful.

Best wishes this season!

MSU Public Relations Team

By: Kim Ward, Jack Harrison, Sydney Hawkins and Deon Foster

Media Contacts