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Jonathan Ocko: In Memoriam

Posted on January 23, 2015 3:57 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Jonathan Ocko

Jonathan Ocko

NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences announces with great sadness the sudden and unexpected death of Jonathan Ocko, professor and head of the Department of History, on January 22, 2015. He collapsed at home, and was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to the hospital.

“We mourn Jonathan’s passing, and will miss his intellect, passion, and commitment,” said Dean Jeff Braden. “Although I am confident we will remember fondly his wit, humor, and unflagging good will, I know that today, we mourn the loss of a friend, a colleague, and a leader.”

The dean has appointed Professor David Zonderman to serve as interim head of the department. The Ocko family will plan a memorial service to take place at a future date.

Jonathan Ocko was a highly respected historian of modern China, particularly on the relation of law and society. He earned a Ph.D. from Yale University in Chinese history and taught at Clark University and Wellesley College before coming to NC State as assistant professor in August 1977. He was named a full professor in 1992.

He also served as an adjunct professor of legal history at Duke University’s School of Law, where he taught courses on Chinese legal history and Chinese law and society.

Ocko was instrumental in securing the grant that started Chinese language instruction at NC State University. He also negotiated several institutional affiliations with China. Over the course of his career, he earned prestigious fellowships, including a National Humanities Center fellowship, the Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Grant and the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities.

Ocko was a passionate proponent of the importance of history and the liberal arts as critical to a college education. He developed a keen interest in and advocated strongly for the digital humanities – work that grew out of his consulting work in China on digital rights management as well as on virtual reality and game software.

In addition to his scholarship, Ocko developed and shared his considerable administrative expertise on behalf of his department, the college, the university, and higher education at large. He led the History Department as head for nearly 13 years. His leadership on campus extended to serving on the Administrative Process Review Committee, among numerous other university-wide initiatives.

“Jonathan was above all a kind person,” said Braden. “Those of us who had the privilege to know him can share stories of his generosity, his enormous spirit, his energy and his determination to make things better, whether for an individual in need, or for the world at large. He cannot be replaced. We will miss him terribly, and remember him fondly, with great admiration.”

Jonathan Ocko leaves behind his wife of 47 years, Aggie Ocko, two sons and their wives, four beloved grandchildren, and countless friends and colleagues.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Jonathan Ocko’s memory to the NC State Foundation, earmarked for the History Enhancement Fund. (Campus Box 7016, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7016).

Posted in Faculty, Giving, History 1 Comment

January Student of the Month

Posted on January 22, 2015 6:57 am by dlleeder

student Alyssa FeaMeet Alyssa Fea, Humanities and Social Sciences Student of the Month

Hometown: Lincolnton, NC

Class: Senior

Major: Communication

Minor: Nonprofit Studies

Sample Courses:

  • Public Relations Campaigns
  • Nonprofit Leadership
  • Media Writing


  • Public Relations Intern, American Red Cross of Raleigh, Spring 2015
  • Resident Mentor, STATE Village (Living Learning Village for second year and transfer students), NC State Housing, 2014-15
  • Marketing Coordinator, InSiteful Imagery, Charlotte, NC, May 2014-present
  • Co-authored scholarly article (in press) with Dr. Lynsey Romo: “You Never Know What’s Gonna Happen: An Examination of Communication Strategies used by College Student-Athletes to Manage Uncertainty,” Communication and Sport.
  • Blog manager and member, Public Relations Student Society of America


Lambda Pi Eta, Communication Honors Society

Postgraduate Plans:

I intend to graduate in December 2015, and apply for the Masters in Creative Brand Management at Virginia Commonwealth University.

What do you enjoy most about Humanities and Social Sciences?

I spent three semesters as a Fashion and Textile Management major, and then took a year off from school to work and carefully think through my college experience and career goals. I returned to NC State as a Humanities and Social Sciences student seeking a future in an advertising-related profession. This college not only educates you, but helps you to prepare for the job search, emphasizing networking and creating your “professional self.” It allows you to see where you want to go, whereas students in other colleges can be more narrowly focused on facts, passing classes, and the “here and now.”

What are some of your favorite Humanities and Social Sciences courses?

Principles of News Article Writing with Professor Dick Reavis taught me how to write well, refine sentence structure – things that will be of great benefit as I continue in public relations. Public Relations Writing with Dean Phillips helped me to think critically. Class assignments covered topics that I came across in my internship, so I could see their usefulness immediately. As an advisor, Sandy Stallings offered me realistic perspectives and made me feel she cared about me as an individual.

How did your research support your academic experiences?

Researching with Dr. Lynsey Romo was wonderful! What impacted me the most from working with her was her leadership style and work ethic. She was always very friendly and approachable, while maintaining clarity and efficiency. She taught me a lot about how to be thorough during the research process. I had a perfect example of a researcher who was incredibly driven and creative within her work.

What advice would you give incoming students?

Know that there is going to be a transition from high school to college. I had to really learn what was important to know in a class, how to study correctly, how to manage test anxiety, and how much effort you have to put in to be successful. When you receive your syllabi at the beginning of the semester, write down every single reading and assignment to be done, and make sure to complete every one. At the end of the semester, you will then feel like you truly understood the course and got a lot out of it.

Swapping Schedules: Dean for a Day Jan 28

Posted on January 20, 2015 12:37 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Social work student Caterina Schenck will be Dean for a Day Jan. 28.

Social work student Caterina Schenck will be Dean for a Day Jan. 28.

Caterina Schenck’s typical Wednesday at NC State features class, studying, and the ever-present struggle of juggling of academic and social life. But on Wednesday, January 28, Schenck will forgo her usual student schedule and step into the College of Humanities and Social Sciences dean’s shoes for the day. Schenck was chosen to participate in the annual Dean for a Day event, during which Dean Jeff Braden and a selected student switch schedules and swap roles for the day.

Schenck is a junior in the Social Work program and a transfer student. After completing her first semester she applied for the “Dean for a Day” event because she believes “the goal of our time at NC State is not only to graduate, but to use every opportunity and relationship we can to find our appropriate places in the world after school.”

The aspiring social worker hopes to hone her communication and organizational skills in the dean’s administrative environment. As standing dean, Schenck will attend meetings and interact with the college’s advisory board president, the department head of social work, and various staff, faculty and alumni leaders. This experience will provide Schenck with a look of what occurs behind the scenes in the college.

At a different place on campus and on the other side of the desk, Braden will be situated in the classroom as a student in the Social Work program. His schedule will take him to two classes: Social Welfare Analysis & Advocacy and Cultural Anthropology.

Make sure to follow coverage of the event, which will feature the pair’s observations, photographs, and a dual view of life within Humanities and Social Sciences. Stay tuned.

By Katie McCreary, Humanities and Social Sciences Communication Intern

The Gorilla in the Room: Inattentional Blindness Isn’t Blindness At All

Posted on January 14, 2015 2:57 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

gorilla blindness research

Allaire Welk with images from inattentional blindness studies.

Imagine being so engrossed in a task that you don’t notice a gorilla entering the room. (This actually happened in a famous psychological experiment.) The phenomenon is known as “inattentional blindness” and occurs when people are so focused on a task that they fail to notice unexpected events. But it turns out that inattentional blindness isn’t blindness at all.

“We know that inattentional blindness exists, but we wanted to know whether it’s really ‘blindness’ – where we don’t take in the information at all – or if we are just not fully processing the information we take in,” says Allaire Welk, a psychology Ph.D. student at NC State who led a study on the subject.

It’s an important subject because inattentional blindness applies to more than just gorillas. For example, driving is a complicated mental task, but drivers need to be prepared to switch their attention to unexpected events at any time – such as changing traffic patterns, road closures or pedestrians crossing the street.

Allaire-Welk-SIDEBAR“There are a lot of practical applications for inattentional blindness research,” Welk says. “For example, if we can understand this phenomenon, then we may be able to manipulate road signs to make them more noticeable to drivers.”

To explore this issue, Welk and two other NC State researchers devised a visual game in which there were 10 black circles and 10 white circles. A red dot was placed in one of the 20 circles and a green dot was place in another. Study participants were asked to count how many times one of the colored dots was transferred to different circles in the display over a 20-second time period.

After each trial, participants were asked how many times the relevant colored dot moved, and how confident they were of their answer. Participants were also asked whether anything unexpected had happened during the trial, and how confident they were of that answer. There were 21 participants in the study, and each participant “played” 72 trials.

In half of the trials, an unexpected event occurred. If the player was tracking the green dot, this unexpected event would be for the red dot to turn green, black or white. If they were tracking the red dot, the green dot would turn red, black or white.

“If people were tracking the green dot, we found that they were more likely to notice the red dot becoming green than they were to notice it becoming black or white,” Welk says. “We believe this is because the color green was associated with what they were doing – tracking the green dot. It was task relevant.”

Overall, in sessions that included unexpected events, participants noticed “task relevant” events 80 percent of the time, but only noticed 67 percent of “non-task relevant” events.

“The term ‘blindness’ is a misnomer,” Welk says. “Inattentional blindness is not blindness at all – we’re taking in the information. We propose changing the name to ‘attentional acuity,’ since the phenomenon is really linked to how our brains selectively filter information.

“We’re now experimenting with different scenarios to learn more about how we mentally process unexpected events,” Welk says.

By Matt Shipman, NC State News Services.

A paper describing the work, “I Was Blind But Now I See: A Manipulation of Task Relevance on Inattentional Blindness,” is published in Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 58th Annual Meeting. Welk is the lead author. Co-authors are James Creager, a Ph.D. student at NC State, and Dr. Douglas Gillan, professor and chair of NC State’s Department of Psychology.

Take a Virtual Front Pew Seat to Hear MLK's "Fill Up the Jails"

Posted on January 9, 2015 6:14 am by Lauren Kirkpatrick

virtual MLK imageOn February 16, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his first public endorsement of non-violent direct action as a means to achieve civil and human rights. Fifty years later, NC State University’s Virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Project has launched a website that includes a digital audio re-creation that puts listeners in the pews to hear the widely influential "Fill Up the Jails" speech.

King’s speech, “A Creative Protest,” encouraged young people to “fill up the jails” in acts of civil disobedience in solidarity with the Woolworth sit-ins that began two weeks earlier in Greensboro. It was the first time King openly encouraged activists to disrupt and break the law through non-violent confrontation. “If the officials threaten to arrest us for standing up for our rights, we must answer by saying that we are willing and prepared to fill up the jails of the South. Maybe it will take this willingness to stay in jail to arouse the dozing conscience of our nation,” King said.

"North Carolina has been the location of many historic moments that impacted the country, including the sit-ins in Greensboro, the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee (SNCC), and more recent political action such as the Moral Monday protests," says Victoria Gallagher, NC State professor of communication and principal investigator of the research project. "The digital audio re-creation is a timely demonstration of social action where the community can experience the eloquence and force of King’s oratory and its enduring applicability for creative action through civil disobedience."

Nationally recognized voice actor Marvin Blanks, known as the “orator of the century,” re-enacted the speech earlier this year at White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, NC, the original location of the speech. He performed the speech before an audience of more than 200 people. Project developers used he recording to create an immersive audio experience that places audiences in the pews. In addition to an audio model of the catalytic speech, the virtual MLK website offers the public a multimedia archive and resources for students and educators. The project’s larger effort is to develop a 3-D immersive, architectural model of the speech environment and an online environment for studying and experiencing the speech.