Matthew Becker, Ph.D., professor of theology, and Alex Capaldi, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and statistics, are recipients of 2018–2019 Wheat Ridge Ministries–O.P. Kretzmann Fund grants for Research in the Healing Arts and Sciences. The grants, $10,000 each, will afford Professors Becker and Capaldi the opportunity to conduct advanced, innovative research and significantly contribute to the health care industry.

Using agent-based modeling, Professor Capaldi seeks to decrease the incidence of vector-borne illnesses in the United States. A significant challenge to public health, vector-borne illnesses account for more than 17 percent of all infectious diseases and cause more than 700,000 deaths annually according to the World Health Organization.

Professor Capaldi will build and analyze an agent-based model of the endangered giant air plant of Florida (T. utriculata) and its invasive predator, the “evil weevil” (M. callizona), with the aim to conserve the endangered species T. utriculata and reduce the presence of A. aegypti (an invasive disease vector), thus decreasing the prevalence of vector-borne illnesses in the United States.

One of two faculty members in the mathematics and statistics department with an expertise in mathematical biology and epidemiology, Professor Capaldi has led 10 undergraduate research projects since his arrival at Valpo in fall 2010, all of which were models of population dynamics with students from the mathematics and statistics department as well as the biology department.

“I strongly believe in research as an educational tool and the impact of real-world application,” Professor Capaldi says. “I fully intend to continue leading undergraduate research projects in mathematical biology, and any further work in that field, such as this project, improves my ability to advise undergraduates in research at the interface of mathematics and biology.”

According to Professor Capaldi, this research has powerful implications for public health and conservation biology — as well as practical application to problems of physical health — and will support interdisciplinary collaboration as called for in the University’s Strategic Plan. Increased understanding of modeling vector-borne diseases and agent-based models by Professor Capaldi could enhance research opportunities for students in both mathematics and biology and also strengthen current courses with additional content.

Professor Becker, who has served the University since 2004, will be editing, translating, and annotating the second volume in a six-volume critical edition of Edmund Schlink’s writings, published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, the top German academic publisher. In this second volume, “Ecumenical Dogmatics,” Schlink creatively relates the Christian gospel of Jesus Christ to matters of spiritual and mental health and healing. “Ecumenical Dogmatics” directly addresses basic spiritual problems from a Lutheran theological perspective and also offers a way forward for healing the divisions among the main Christian groups today.

“Since English is the prevailing language of theology today, it is important to make Schlink’s theological writings available to English-speaking pastors, teachers, and theologians,” says Professor Becker. “Theology students will now be able to conduct original research on Schlink’s theology by studying English versions of his original work.”

At Valparaiso University, Professor Becker is the only instructor who teaches courses on 20th-century German Protestant theology, in which he devotes some attention to Schlink’s life and ecumenical work. Professor Becker began studying the writings of Schlink when he was an undergraduate and continued in seminary and graduate school, learning German and beginning to read these works in their original language.

“I am convinced that my edition of this important work will bring spiritual healing and insights to those who study it,” Professor Becker says. “It is a great honor to be chosen to receive this significant grant. I am very grateful.”

The Wheat Ridge Ministries–O.P. Kretzmann Memorial Fund for Research in the Healing Arts and Sciences supports research that has practical applicability to physical, spiritual, and mental health issues. Thus, to be eligible for this grant, research proposals must focus on the analysis, diagnosis, and/or cure of physical, spiritual, and mental health problems.