Friday, February 29, 2008

The Places We'll Go!

By Courtney Westlake

On Friday, February 29, UIS took a leap into the 2008 Faculty & Staff Campaign, kicking off a month-long affair with a celebration in the Sangamon Auditorium lobby, complete with food, speeches and activities.

The campaign is an annual event celebrated throughout the month with special events and prizes before culminating in a final celebration. Through the campaign, staff and faculty are able to give a gift to the university, choosing exactly how the money will impact UIS' quality academics or other important programs. Last year, 270 employees made a gift to UIS to assist with scholarships, enhance research, improve programs and much more.

The theme on Friday was Dr. Seuss, and the lobby sported Dr. Seuss decorations for the event.

Chancellor Richard Ringeisen and Vicki Megginson, Associate Chancellor for Development and vice president of the University of Illinois Foundation, spoke to the faculty and staff before the event, taking full advantage of the Dr. Suess theme.

"I know what you know, that you are the person who will decide where we go," Megginson rhymed as she thanked the gathered crowd for their attendance and support. "So talk to your colleagues and visit their tables, and you'll see what you give to really enables!"

During the event, employees were able to speak with representatives from different departments and programs to learn about what they might like to support with their gifts.
Last year, 41.99 percent of faculty and staff at UIS made a gift, and this year's goal is 42.5 percent.

"How is it that we do what do, do and do? We do it through gifts, from such gifters as you!" Ringeisen rhymed. "So let me say this, let me say it real loud: to you I say thanks, and of you we are proud!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Technology Day met with success

By Courtney Westlake

With the theme of "Building iCommunity: Toolsets for Today," the 8th annual Technology Day was held on Wednesday, February 27 from 11:30 to 4:30 in the PAC Concourse and received a great turnout from the campus and local community.

"I thought it went great," said Tulio Llosa, director of Educational Technology at UIS. "We reached out to the entire UIS community; there were faculty, staff, students, and educators and technology coordinators from District 186."

Numerous participants stopped by to visit the various booths of poster sessions set up and take part in the educational and interactive workshops on subjects like online learning and teaching, job search in the digital age, technological resources available at UIS and much more.

Ann Peterson Bishop, professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and community organizer, spoke to a group of campus community members at 12 p.m. about the field of community informatics and using technology in innovative ways.

Community informatics is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses research, practice and policy, Bishop said. It has to do with how knowledge is created and mobilized and how information technologies help and hinder the sharing of knowledge.

"Community informatics kind of looks at one geographic community and looks at that entire community as a unit and asks how all relates together," Bishop said. "It is specifically grounded in community development. We're interested in how technology and knowledge play a role for good and really help communities and community members."

Bishop discussed her work with the Community Informatics Initiative - integrating technology within communities and organizations of all kinds - and showed numerous examples of the ways the initiative collaborates with communities.

"I really liked her presentation," Llosa said. "I like the concept of an iCommunity using technology not only in our work but in our community. It tied in really well with our theme."

Participants of all backgrounds were able to find something that interested them and were able to learn something new, Llosa said. There was a session on eDocs for faculty, one about Cisco communicators and IP Phones for staff, and employers from companies like ADM and State Farm that students were able to speak with about technology skills, he said.

"I'm very happy with the turnout, especially at the presentations," Llosa said. "It really gave us an opportunity to showcase the innovative ways we are using technology here at UIS."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Native speaks about the crisis in Sudan

By Courtney Westlake

Simon Aban Deng, a refugee from Sudan and survivor of child slavery, spoke to the UIS community on Tuesday afternoon, February 26, about his experiences and the troubles in his native country.

Deng was born into a large family, and his village of Tonga was a peaceful farming community, despite frequent raids by the Sudanese army. But when Deng was eight years old, the Sudanese army swept through his village, burning huts and brutally murdering the residents.

"What came in my mind was 'today I am going to die'," he said.

The raid displaced Deng's surviving family and neighbors, who took refuge in the city of Malkal. Then Deng was kidnapped while living there and forced into slavery. He eventually escaped and later went on to work as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and then became a national swimming champion.

Today he is an American citizen, working as a lifeguard on Coney Island and leading the struggle to stop genocide in Sudan. He has addressed audiences across the nation about human rights.

Originally, after he became free from slavery, he vowed to never talk about what he had experienced, he said. But after reading about his fellow Sudanese people being sold for $5 or $10, he knew he had to tell his story.

"To me, it was a turning point. I have to come out and tell the world that when they are talking about buying a human being, yes it is true; I was one," he said. "I have to do the right thing and be the voice for those who have no voice. We are all entitled to the God-given right of freedom."

The crisis in Sudan is not new, Deng said. Murder and slavery have been occurring since 1956, when the country gained its independence from Britain.

"The Sudan you know today became known in 2003 because of what is happening in the western regions of Darfur," he said. "What happens in Sudan is not new to me."

No human being should be subjected to the slavery and violence that is occurring in Sudan, Deng said.

"Slavery still exists, and I am standing before you as living proof of slavery in Sudan. Every pain that they are going through, I know those pains," Deng said. "This is the Sudan you are probably not aware of. This is the Sudan I'm aware of and those who come from Sudan are aware of. Today we are coming together and saying that we are not going to be bystanders."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Technology Day to educate participants

By Courtney Westlake


The 8th annual Technology Day will be held Wednesday, February 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the lower level of the PAC. The theme for the event is "Building iCommunity: Toolsets for Today."

"We chose this theme because we wanted to highlight the ways that technology is used to build community, particularly in education," said Tulio Llosa, director of Educational Technology at UIS. "Technology Day is important to participants because of the wide variety of learning opportunities that it affords. We believe that participants will walk away from Technology Day with at least one new idea or tool to implement in their teaching, learning or work."

Both UIS participants and community members will have no problem finding a presentation or poster session that suits their interests or needs, Llosa said.

"The purpose for Technology Day is to be an outreach not only to UIS community but to local school districts and community members who also might be interested in learning about new technology and how to use that new technology to do the things that make sense in their lives," said Vickie Cook, professor of Educational Leadership who is on the planning committee for the event.

The keynote speaker for the event is Ann Peterson Bishop, associate professor in the graduate school of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-director of the Community Informatics Initiative. She will speak at 12 p.m. about ways that technology is being used at UIUC to build bridges between the university and community, Llosa said.

There will also be a variety of poster sessions and workshops throughout the afternoon on topics like podcasting, E-waste recycling, Photoshop, public social networking, organization in online courses, and much more.

Technology Day organizers hope the workshops and sessions will be utilized by teachers, students and other community members to learn how to access more information using technology, how to create items that might be of interest to them personally and professionally or simply to learn how to communicate effectively, Cook said.

"We're hoping that presenters will able to share with participants they ways they can use different types of technology tools to do the things they might be most interested in," she said.

Everyone who is interested is invited to come share the day, which is free and open to participants, Cook said. Prizes and light refreshments will be provided, and the campus community is encouraged to stop by and take part. For more information, check out the Technology Day Web site.

"We hope to have a good turnout from UIS students, staff and faculty, so they can learn more about the resources available to them," Llosa said. "And we hope to provide each participant with relevant learning experiences and creative, new technology-related ideas."

Graduate student begins novel research with award

By Courtney Westlake

As if balancing graduate level class work, a teaching assistantship and raising her five-year-old daughter isn’t enough, biology graduate student Ryan Roy will soon be putting her knowledge to the test through a novel investigation in microbiology.

Roy was recently named the recipient of a Grants-In-Aid of Research Award from Sigma Xi, a prestigious scientific research society. The Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research program has a highly competitive application process, and only approximately 20 percent of applicants receive any level of funding, said Dr. Mike Lemke, professor of biology at UIS.

"Sigma Xi is something that Dr. Lemke always encourages us to apply for," Roy said. "There are two opportunities a year, and I think the most money you can get is $1,000. It just happened to work for me this time; I was excited."

Though Roy has an undergraduate degree in math, she discovered a new interest in the field of biology while working in a hospital biology lab. After taking a few classes at UIS, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in biology.

Now in her second year as a grad student, Roy is focusing her research on simulating natural chemical (reduction - oxidation) conditions in the laboratory and assessing parts of the microbial community that may be enriched under different redox potential.

The rationale for Ryan's work is based on the fact that many conditions have been used to culture bacteria through simulating natural environment gradients, although cultured bacteria rarely exceeds one percent of the environmental assemblage. Culturing is important to the field of microbiology because it is the basis for the naming of new species, revealing the functional role in the environment and adding definition to unknown DNA sequence in databases, Lemke said.

"You can see (redox potential) in the soil, water and sediment, how it is a gradient and runs from a very positive redox potential to a very negative redox potential," Roy said. "But they don't usually use that as a culturing parameter for bacteria, so I'm just going to take what we know from nature that exists and try to use that to culture more bacteria because we don't have very many culturable bacteria."

By increasing culturability of environmental samples, more studies can follow on the isolation of novel cultured bacteria to name bacterial species and explain the bacterial function within their environments. Roy will begin her work probably within a month or so, she said.

"I’m waiting to get a couple of things in, like a redox probe, and trying to get organized right now," she said. "Hopefully it won't take too long to actually run experiment, and hopefully it will run smoothly. It shouldn't be too expensive of a project to run."

She is excited to know that she doesn’t need to worry about finding the funds to run her project now, though, thanks to the Sigma Xi Grants-In-Aid of Research Award.

"It's a little bit of relief just to know have some money I can use and not worry about ordering something if I need it for my research," she said. "It’s nice for the lab; just to have extra awards under Dr. Lemke's belt is good for him and good for the lab in the future. The more things you win, more things you can get, so hopefully it means something for the lab."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Student Life offers unique experiences to students

By Courtney Westlake

From hosting speakers and showing films to putting on comedy shows and ice cream socials to planning homecoming and involvement expos, there truly is never a dull moment in the Office of Student Life at UIS.

Student and campus participation in Student Life activities has continuously been on an upwards trajectory since the arrival of Director Cynthia Thompson in 2002 and then later Assistant Director Beth Hoag. Through their leadership, the office has grown tremendously in terms of programs, activities and traditions on campus.

Thompson, who was originally a school teacher, decided to started working in career counseling for a change of pace, and she realized she loved being around college students. And because she likes the historical connection of Springfield and the fact that it is fairly close to her hometown in Iowa, Thompson accepted the director of student life position at UIS.

“It’s a great campus with great people who are very down to earth and modest; I love that,” she said. “Everyone is very willing to work together to make things happen. Whenever I've suggested something new, they are supportive and make it happen."

Thompson acknowledges that while academics are certainly important in providing the educational component to students' lives, Student Life provides the “laboratory to carry that out,” she said.

“We can provide opportunities for students to try out the skills and things they are learning in their classes,” Thompson said. “Students learn very important leadership skills and qualities through running organizations, participating in activities, planning the activities. It's an exciting mix; you've got students planning programs while learning from the content of what they're attending. Plus you can't beat the social aspects, the stress relief and the fun that is a necessary part of college.”

Many studies have shown that students who are active on campus, whether through participating in organizations or going to events, are “much more likely to succeed academically,” said Hoag, who has been at UIS for about a year and a half.

“We look at student affairs as developing the student as a whole, to teach them, outside of the classroom, the skills that they really need when they get out into the ‘real world’,” Hoag said.

Thompson, Hoag and the Student Life office, with help from students, have implemented many of the traditions students now take part in on campus.

“We do the Homecoming parade and the Involvement Expo, which was very popular at campus I came from, so we implemented it here,” Thompson said.

Thompson and Hoag agreed that they would like to expand on the programming that the Office of Student Life is currently doing.

“I’ve really seen programming board develop; we’ve come from doing a couple of events a semester to an event almost every week,” Hoag said. “And that's obviously helped Student Life on this campus really grow.”

A Student Organization Center is the most recent project for the Office of Student Life, which will give student organizations the ability to have their own space as well as have more opportunity for various event planning experiences.

"The Student Organization Center is the focus of this semester and next, and we want to bump up the number of activities and events we have on campus and empower our student organizations more," Hoag said. “I’m not as concerned as much with quantity of organizations as with quality and being able to support them better and help them to achieve their goals and motivate them to do what they want to do on campus.”

“There is a lot of flexibility and room to grow,” she added. “It’s really exciting how we’re a young campus and there are lots of different ways we can go.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

Professor notes importance of women in history

By Courtney Westlake

Though there weren't many women in the field, Deborah McGregor decided that she would get her Ph.D. in history when she was 12 years old.

She managed to finish everything but her dissertation when she realized she needed a change, so she got married and started a family. The move, though delaying her degree, ended up benefiting her, however, because when she returned to school to obtain her Ph.D., a focus on women's history began to surface from the overall field of history.

"At that time, women's history started to emerge, so I had that option for my emphasis. So I was actually fortunate," McGregor said. "It was not until the 1970s that people became aware of women's rights as an issue."

McGregor, who has been teaching at UIS since 1986, developed a strong interest in several topics within women's history, including health and healing, the history of medicine and the history of childbirth.

"In a very immediate sense, I have an interest in childbirth because it was part of what happened in my life," she said. "It was really interesting to think about the history of childbirth, and I had never really read about it. Childbirth was not really a topic in women's history for a while. But it was a connection for me between real life and scholarship; I'm glad I made that choice."

McGregor has written several publications about the history of childbirth in the 19th century, as well as the history of gynecology and obstetrics. She is also the author of the book, "From Midwives to Medicine."

McGregor, whose husband Robert McGregor is also professor in the history department at UIS, teaches a broad range of classes since she came to UIS with joint appointment in general history and women's history. Topics she has taught include 19th century history, history of the family, U.S. women's history, and minority women, as well as several general education classes and seminars for graduate students in history.

And though she has studied and researched women's history in depth, McGregor acknowledges that she is always learning more. While she was teaching the course "Who Am I?" for a class of Capital Scholars, she realized how closely related identity and history are, she said.

"History is about identity; I believe that more and more. We come out of our past -our family past but also social past, political past and economic past," she said. "Without women being in history, we'd have a hard time understanding who they were."

McGregor said throughout the years, she has noticed an increasing interest from students in women's history and related topics, especially this academic year, and she hopes it will continue.

"This semester, I feel so much interest, which is exciting. The feeling I get from my classes is very positive," she said.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Prairie Star takes over the radio

By Courtney Westlake

The brightly shining Prairie Star became radio-active today.

With support from the UIS Communication Department, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Division of Student Affairs, a new Internet radio station, called the Prairie Star, began broadcasting 24 hours a day today, February 14, from the UIS campus.

WUIS, a popular campus radio station and NPR affiliate, will continue its award-winning music and information programming, but the Prairie Star was created to provide a learning venue and creative outlet for UIS students, said Dr. Jim Grubbs, associate professor of communication at UIS. Last fall, the necessary funding was met to start the station with the proper equipment, music and programming.
"The Prairie Star is an idea that has been in process for about a year and a half," Grubbs said. "We were looking for something that could serve as a working laboratory for students, where they could get hands-on experience."

During business hours, the Prairie Star will play a broad, eclectic mix of favorites from the 1970s through today’s "lighter" hits along with full-length news and information features at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that will come from several station partners, Grubbs said. There will also be mini-features every hour on the half hour.

"Then when we get to 3:00 in the afternoon, we send all the adults home and let the students take over," Grubbs laughed. "We're really going for an alternative rock format at that point. Part of the vision I see for us is to truly become a college station and to really be something you don't find anywhere else."

The weekends will bring a mix of specialty programs including music genres of root, folk, classical, traditional and classic and modern jazz.

Future goals for the station include moving into an expanded production facility, where students can come in and produce shows, Grubbs said.

"What we're really going for is a sense of community. Yes, primarily for students; that's why we're here," he said. "We want it to be fun, and we're looking for people to become involved who want that. For our students exploring career goals, we want to serve them too."

To listen to the Prairie Star station, go here. Click on the image of Radio Star, which is the station’s mascot, and you can then choose either the MP3 or Windows Media Internet stream. Only an Internet connection and your favorite media player is required to tune in. For further information, visit or e-mail

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cox Children's Center stands out

By Courtney Westlake

On a recent Wednesday at the Cox Children’s Center, members of the three-year-old class carefully spread tomato sauce on small circles of dough before placing handfuls of cheese on top.

“They’ve been really interested in pizza and eating pizza, so we’re doing projects about pizza and how it’s made,” explained center director Stacey Hembrough.

Hembrough, who first worked as a consultant and supervisor at the center before stepping into the director position, where she has been for four and a half years, has been working with children for 20 years and obtained her bachelor’s and master’s in early childhood education. Serving in administration was a personal goal as well, she said.

“I like the involvement with other directors in the community; I like the involvement with all of the children and all of the families,” Hembrough said. “When you’re a teacher, you are kind of isolated in your own classroom, whereas this way, I get to have a relationship with everyone.”

The Cox Children’s Center, located on UIS’ campus, accepts infants through school-age children, who are present in the summer only. When school is in session, there is a class for babies ages 6 weeks to 15 months and a class for toddlers ages 15 months to 24 months, as well as classes for two-year-olds, three-year-olds and pre-kindergarten children, Hembrough said.

While the environments in each of the classrooms may differ because of the ages, the same philosophies stand. The center has an interest-driven curriculum that is focused on engaging students in hands-on projects and providing them with quality interaction, Hembrough said, such as the case of the children making pizzas. The center strives to utilize an educational philosophy called the Reggio Emilia approach, which views children as very capable and strong, Hembrough said.

“A lot of Americans tend to view children as needy, and we believe a little differently,” she said. “We set up an environment to challenge them, provoke them and to make them discover things and wonder.”

Due to the strong curriculum as well as the diligence of its staff, the center recently became one of the first early childhood programs in the country to earn accreditation through a new system of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the leading organization of early childhood professionals. The process is voluntary, and reaccreditation must be achieved every five years.

“It was a year-long self-study and was very intensive,” Hembrough said. “We spent almost two years challenging each other to take risks and not be afraid of change. We found out in November that we received it.”

The accreditation, philosophy and many other aspects set the Cox Children’s Center apart from other childcare centers in the area, Hembrough said.

The staff expectations in regards to education, experience and training hours are very high, and there is very little turnover among staff members. The ratio of children per adult in the classroom is small in order to promote interaction, Hembrough said, and the center provides the only accredited infant center in Central Illinois.

“We also have an open door policy and encourage lot of parent involvement,” she said. “I think parents are starting to realize importance of quality and starting to become aware of what to look for when they're looking for early childhood care, so those things stand out.”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Science continues to fascinate professor

By Courtney Westlake

Dr. John Martin jokes that, like most children, he became fascinated with outer space when he was four years old, except that he has been "stuck" in that stage ever since.

"I've always been interested in astronomy; it's my first love," he said. "I had really educated parents who told me that 'you need to do the math, you need to do the science.' A lot more people start out in science than make it to the end. You've really got to love it."

Martin, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics, has been teaching at UIS since fall of 2006. He said picking the niche of astrophysics - "that a lot of people don't find as interesting as I do" - worked to his advantage when UIS was looking to hire an astrophysicist.

Martin's primary research interest within the field of astrophysics is studying what stars are made of. He admits that stellar astronomy isn't as popular as other topics in the field, but there are still many problems left unsolved in astrophysics because they're difficult.

"I was interested in more challenging problems, and this field presented me with those challenging problems," he said. "I'm basically a chemist that works with stars."

However, it wasn't the research that brought him to UIS, Martin said. It was the teaching, which he found he loves.

Martin is currently teaching two introductory physics classes, and he is essentially the only physics program faculty. He also teaches an astronomy course every semester; this semester, the course is called "Survey of the Universe", which is open not only to UIS students, but community members as well.

"A great thing about UIS is that it has this public affairs and public education mission," Martin said. "When Professor Emeritus Charles Schweighauser started the class, he contacted conference services and said he would be teaching the class and if they wanted to sign people up for non-credit, that's fine. We've just continued that; I think it's a great idea. Some of these non-traditional students bring experience into the classroom that a lot of our traditional students really seem to benefit from."

Martin said he sees the basic level astronomy class as a good course to reach numerous students "who might not otherwise have good thoughts about science". The class is geared toward students who might not have a science background but are interested in learning some of the basics.

"I really think it's important that we have a citizenry in this country that is educated about science," Martin said.

Students in Martin's physics classes are usually part of a pre-professional curriculum, such as pre-med or pre-dental, he said.

"For those students, I want to get through the course with the problem-solving mindset of physics," he said. "Med schools want students coming in to have exposure to that. What I want most for them is to do great on the physics part of the MCAT."

To further these students' studies in physics and sciences in general, Martin said he hopes that the astronomy and physics departments will expand.

"When I look at peer institutions, all of them have at least a physics minor and many have a physics major," he said. "Down the road, I see maybe an expansion in astronomy-physics, so we need to add some faculty and hopefully adding, down the road, a physics minor. It would be nice to be able to offer that instead of just a concentration through liberal studies."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Professor completes challenging book project

By Courtney Westlake

Though Dr. Kent Redfield is a seasoned author, he said he found his latest publishing project much more challenging that it may appear to be to others.

"It's really an enjoyable project, but it is a lot of work," said Redfield, a professor of political science at UIS. "It's always a huge organizational task to get everybody's materials in, to revise them, to try to get a common structure and also for people to tell the story in their own states. And then to write the chapter I wrote in it is a different task; that is an effort."

The book, called "Democratic Renewal: A Call to Action from America's Heartland," was just released this month and contains profiles on the issues involving democratic institutions in the five Midwest states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota that are involved in the Joyce Foundation, which has a number of grantees in various states that work on democratic reform projects, Redfield said.

Redfield's essay in the book includes a discussion on what threats are present to American democracy in terms of lack of participation, lack of engagement, political corruption, election concerns and more. These are some things that cumulatively have an negative impact on public views of the political system, he said.

"It was an interesting project," he said. "It's an opportunity to take the research I do and then apply it, and work with groups that are trying to institute what I think are very positive changes."

Redfield's background in political science involves serving as the interim director for the Institute for Legislative Studies, which is part of the Center for State Policy and Leadership at UIS. He has been with UIS since 1979, teaching classes on Illinois politics, legislative politics, political campaigns, lobbying and more.

Redfield has also been involved in extensive research on the financing of political campaigns in Illinois and political ethics, and many of his findings have been presented in numerous research reports, a series of articles in Illinois Issues, a book on financing legislative elections in Illinois called "Cash Clout" and a book on the role of money in Illinois politics entitled "Money Counts."

Redfield said he has always been a political scientist involved with teaching and basic and applied research but has become increasingly more active in advocacy and reform activities in recent years.

"I've been really fortunate in terms of having the position here at UIS where I can do teaching, which I really enjoy, I can do grant-funded research, and I can find ways to apply that and make a difference with what's going on in the world," he said.