December 4, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 34°F


Q&A: Ithaca College Dana professors discuss research

Luke Keller, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Abraham Mulugetta, professor in the Department of Finance and International Business, have been named Charles A. Dana professors — the first to receive this distinction since 2008. Through an endowment to the college and educational support from the Dana Foundation, these professors have received the opportunity to pursue research in their fields of study.

Keller, whose primary fields of study are physics and astronomy, will be focusing his research on scientific origins and the formation of stars and planets in the galaxy. In 2011, Keller received the NASA Group Achievement Award for being a member of the group designing instrumentation for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Mulugetta, who studies finance and investment, will be conducting his research on investment education through the Trading Room.

Opinion Editor Celisa Calacal spoke with Keller and Mulugetta about their research, their interests in their areas of study and the intricacies of their projects.

This interview has been edited length and clarity. Calacal interviewed Keller and Mulugetta separately, and their answers have been combined here.

Celisa Calacal: How did you feel when you found out you were chosen?

Luke Keller: It was a real honor — that’s kind of obvious. But the reason for me is because I assumed that lots of really amazing professors applied for this. And I know Abraham is incredible, so to be recognized in that context was really exciting to me because I know a lot of really great work that people do here.

Abraham Mulugetta: I felt so honored. And I’m very happy not only for me, but for also those who helped me reach this stage. … Behind the real reason for this success is the establishment of the trading room, what we call Center for Trading and Analysis of Financial Instruments, in 1995. … To reach that process, there were so many people that helped, internal and external. … What the trading room achieved was really beyond my expectations. When I wrote the proposal in 1993, students who graduated are working for the top investment banks, and some have become CEOs of an investment bank, and some have become CEOs of a multinational corporation. So really, the results you get from what we established in 1993, 1994 and 1995, it’s a culmination of results which is so rewarding for our students who went through the process, and also for the School of Business and Ithaca College. And we have, now, core trading consultants who are alums. And these alums actually are giving back a lot to Ithaca College and to the School of Business. … So in a sense, it is creating a kind of a circle of learning, teaching, and giving and collaborating work.

CC: What is your research about?

LK: In physics, I do astrophysics, so I’m studying the formation of stars and planets. I’m interested in how solar systems form. And we know now that there are thousands of stars other than the sun that have planets around them. And so I’m interested in how that process happens, how it happened for our own solar system — but also how it might happen for others.

AM: It is weaved through the trading room, the establishment of the trading room. … Actually, what led me to the trading room is I had a fascination … about information disclosure. When information is disclosed, if you take … the baseline as theory and look at market institutions, it’s appropriately what new information is coming according to the market efficiency. … Information disclosure is very important. … The trading room is really a manifestation of my own curiosity, and that helps me to teach, that helps me to do research. My research is around that area. … And not only do I use the trading room data to do scholarly work not only with colleagues here; I have done research with colleagues here, with my students here, but also with other colleagues in different universities.

CC: How will the project work? How will you go about studying this?

LK: That’s actually something I’ve already been doing. So for the Dana professors, they asked us … if we had this recognition, which also comes along with a bit of a release from teaching time, … what would you do, what else would you do? … So I’m already doing that with my students, quite a few students, who are doing this research with me. And we’ve been doing it for years. And what I would like to do is communicate what we’re learning with the general public, so that’s the project that I’ll be adding as a Dana professor, is different ways of helping anyone who’s interested in the origins of our solar system, our planet, even life on our planet, to reach out to the general public and help them understand not just what we know, but how we figured all of this out through science. Because I think … you can find lots of really awesome books about all of this sort of stuff — how the universe formed, how our planets and the sun formed — but many of them don’t go into a lot of detail about how we know that and why we should even believe that, and so that’s what I’m interested in doing as an extra thing. And then another thing I’m very interested in is exploring how science and the humanities depend upon one another. So it’s kind of artificial that we separate out those areas when we teach and when we take classes, like you take an English class or a history class or philosophy, and then you come over here to CNS [Center for Natural Sciences] to take astronomy or chemistry or biology. And those things are very related, and the skills that we have to use to study literature are very useful in science and vice versa.

AM: For me at this moment, I will be doing research. Still, information content is very important, but I think my emphasis is going to be on how to present the trading room. And it’s student-centered emphasis on finance education and how the trading room is used for that purpose. I want to … take it to national, international conferences of how student-centered education, experiential learning, can be handled using a model like the trading room. And as I said, I want to expand the outreach for future students. … I want to expand those things, you know, working with the dean, assisting the dean, working with the director. … And also more importantly is I want to expand the alum’s engagement. … We brought them as an investment advisory board, and … they give jobs to our students, create internships, and they come and talk to our students. They give mock interviews, and they help our students to be professional in terms of their presentation, so they mentor them. So I want to expand more on that one. … If you create a situation where the student wants to learn, that is … the utmost success.

CC: What is your ultimate goal for this project?

LK: The most obvious product would be a book — a book that I hope to publish as a generalpublic book. I’ve published a lot, and most professors have in my own very small field for experts in my field, and I’d like to extend that public writing — so magazine articles and ultimately a book.

AM: I want to assist to expand the function of the trading room for finance and investment education. I want to assist the dean and the Department of Finance and International Business for leadership transition in education of finance and investment, but also in the management of the trading room, I want to help our outreach to future students through high school investment competitions.

CC: Where does your interest for this kind of research and subject area come from?

LK: I realized I’ve always been interested in life and origins. And when I was a young child, I knew I wanted to be a scientist, but I thought maybe I would be in the life sciences. And then I learned about astronomy, and I took physics in high school and really loved those things. And then I started studying astronomy, and then I realized I could still study origins by understanding how stars form and how planets form and how all of the chemical elements of the universe formed so that life was possible. So I’m kind of trying to tie those concepts together.

AM: I am a curious person, but I am not a pushy curious person. I am curious with boundaries of civility. You see, to be curious is good, but it’s not to be curious while taking your space, no. I have to respect you, but within that, I am curious. If possible, I want you to be curious too, to be curious with me. … It is always good to work with others, to bring others in your curiosity. So maybe that’s how I came to education. … We created this environment, this trading room, where students can come and be curious, share their creativity for mutual excellence, bound, as I said, with civility.

Celisa Calacal can be reached at or via Twitter: @celisa_mia