JCC professor invited to serve as Syracuse University visiting scholar

JCC professor Joel F. LaLone will return to his alma mater of Syracuse University to serve as a visiting scholar for his spring 2021 sabbatical. Provided photo

WATERTOWN — Joel F. LaLone, a Jefferson Community College professor, will return to his alma mater of Syracuse University on Tuesday to serve as a visiting scholar alongside the university’s associate professor of public health, David Larsen, PhD, MPH. He will be contributing to data collection and research of Dr. Larsen’s newly developed wastewater surveillance and detection system to detect coronavirus.

The two were introduced by a mutual friend and sports analyst, and a friendship and professional relationship blossomed.

The two spoke about the possibility of working together over a year ago, with Mr. LaLone then going to JCC to ask for a sabbatical and Dr. Larsen going to the powers that be at Syracuse to apply for Mr. LaLone to join him on campus as a visiting scholar in December 2019 — well before COVID-19 was on everyone’s mind. The proposals were approved in March for his sabbatical over the spring 2021 semester.

“The idea of me going and studying COVID, I’m happy to do it,” Mr. LaLone said. “That’ll be a cool and a relevant topic, but my real goal with it was the same whether there was a pandemic or not.”

“There are two things that I in theory am going to provide and teach them, and then I have a list of things that I hope to gain from it,” he said. “And really it just happens to be that a project that I may be working on has to do with COVID-19. The things that I hope to acquire from this could be a project studying any concept in the world, whether I’m studying COVID-19 or studying the relationship between screen time and misbehavior among 5-year-olds.”

Mr. LaLone said by going to Syracuse he hopes to learn spatial statistics and GIS methods for data visualization in the hopes of coming back with methods of machine learning, data visualization and data mining using the most current software. His main goal is to come back with two things: the ability to integrate that into coursework at JCC, and use that in the studies continuing at JCC’s Center for Community Studies.

In turn, he will give some seminars to Syracuse’s public health faculty who teach research method classes and tell them best practices for teaching. Secondly, and more importantly, according to Mr. LaLone, what they’re really intrigued about is JCC’s Center for Community Studies — the idea of how to get undergraduate students involved in human research, when at most universities like Syracuse it’s reserved for the graduate students. So he will essentially train them on the pros, cons, processes and the methods.

“There’s no financial anything that happens; the visiting scholar is a non-paid position and I am on sabbatical from the college, which remains paid,” he said. “This is why they offer sabbaticals, to encourage faculty members to go and expand their horizons and bring back things that improve the community, the college, the faculty, the student experience and all that.”

For more than 30 years, Mr. LaLone, distinguished professor and research director of JCC’s Center for Community Studies, has taught mathematics at the college and has served as research coordinator and director of the center for the past 15 years, overseeing the applied hands-on learning research activities of more than 400 students.

“I could go down and next Tuesday David and I could decide that there’s a more cool study that’s come up that I work on,” Mr. LaLone said. “I will still provide the benefits they want and I will still gain, as long as there’s data, then there is the ability to learn all of these spatial techniques and data mining techniques.”

Dr. Larsen is an environmental epidemiologist with expertise in large data analysis, multi-level modeling, spatial statistics, geographic information systems and study design. He is leading a team of scientists in discovery of an early warning system to detect the novel coronavirus and help communities prepare for potential outbreaks.

Mr. LaLone is one of the first JCC faculty members to be honored with the title of distinguished professor conferred by the State University of New York, according to JCC. Under his supervision and guidance, JCC students at all levels of statistics have the opportunity to participate in research-design studies, formulation of questions, data collection, data cleansing and analysis, interpretation, compilation and presentation of data to the community at large.

Mr. LaLone is the recipient of two SUNY Chancellor’s Awards — Excellence in Teaching in 1991 and Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2010. Additionally, he was bestowed a Jeffersonian Award in 2010 by the JCC Alumni Association. He holds an associate’s degree from JCC, a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Potsdam and a master’s degree from Syracuse University from when he attended in the 1980s. He noted that going back to the university in this new capacity is really cool.

“I’ve had multiple capacities over the years. I’m a season ticket holder for basketball, I had a child who also went there, but the idea to go down and have an office now and be a professor there, there’s a part of me that says this is kind of full circle,” he said. “And who knows how long the relationship might continue, because it’s not uncommon at all, faculty at different universities still collaborate on research, so I could see David and I continuing.”

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