Tuesday, May 26, 2020

UIS honors Associate Professor Donna Bussell with the Harry and Deborah Berman Sabbatical Award

The University of Illinois Springfield’s Harry and Deborah Berman Sabbatical Award has been presented to Donna Bussell, associate professor of English.

Bussell’s sabbatical plan is to research library archives on the liturgies for Mary Magdalene in medieval England, highlighting religious orders for communities of men and of women. Little research has been done on the figure of the Magdalene during the early and high middle ages, when religious practices were in Latin. Secondarily, she will explore the value of digital humanities methods for tracking multiple manuscripts and different narratives.

While travel is restricted due to COVID-19, Bussell will utilize digital tools and techniques.

“Her work will form the foundation for her next book project, and will also impact her teaching, as she continues to lead the development of a digital humanities curriculum at UIS,” said Keenan Dungey, UIS associate vice chancellor for research and institutional effectiveness.

Faculty who are awarded sabbatical leaves may apply for supplemental funding to assist with sabbatical expenses. Awards are granted through a competitive review and selection process.

The award was made possible thanks to the generosity of Harry and Deborah Berman. Harry served as a gerontology professor, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, provost and interim chancellor. Deborah served in a variety of central administrative positions at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Chris Lowe: Athletic performance on and off the field

University of Illinois Springfield athletes may be at home, but during remote learning they were still actively training with athletics staff and preparing for their next season. UIS Director of Strength and Conditioning Chris Lowe had played a large role in that.

“We’ve been using an online software program, and the athletes have an app on their phone that is really user friendly,” Lowe said. “Normally they would be on campus training with me, and I could make changes. We have had to be extremely creative with at-home workouts. Not every person has the luxury of a weight room and access to weights. Our staff has done a great job developing programs for at-home settings.”

Lowe said athletic staff is concentrating on more than reps and sets, they are focusing on the athlete as a whole. The app allows for connections beyond just physical workouts. It comprises overall wellness including mental, physical and emotional well-being.

Athletes had weekly challenges to learn new skills while at home, such as cooking which is tied directly into nutrition, an important part of being an athlete. Lowe said cooking proved to be motivational.

Zoom has also helped UIS athletes connect with their teammates. “It allows for that face-to-face interaction, which is great to see in coaching, it’s that human interaction you don’t get in text messages,”

Lowe said. He is impressed with the dedication UIS athletes have demonstrated at home. “They take a step every day to be champions, to reach a goal. This has not deterred them, “Lowe said. “That is a testament to them and the coaching staff.”

Lowe also said the virus has opened doors for athletic staff from throughout the Great Lakes Valley Conference to connect and learn from each other. “For the first time ever, we had a Zoom session with all of the coaches in the GLVC to learn from each other, how each one operates and how it differs from school to school. Lowe also recently attended the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association online convention. We all still want to get better in our profession and there is so much more communication than we have had in the past.”

With finals over, Lowe said athletes are on a summer schedule with no mandatory Countable Athletic Related Activity (CARA) hours. He is hopeful the fall semester will resume and with it, fall sports.

“When that comes up, we are being realistic and optimistic,” he said. “We can only control our response and that is a huge mental piece of this puzzle. I remind them of our mission statement which is to be the best version of themselves as a person.”

Monday, May 18, 2020

UIS computer science students among best in The National Cyber League competition

The University of Illinois Springfield Cyber League team named the 404 Society placed in the top two percent in The National Cyber League competition held remotely in April.

The annual cybersecurity competition hosted by Cyber Skyline enables students to prepare and test themselves against practical cybersecurity challenges they will likely face in the workforce, such as identifying hackers from forensic data, penetration testing and audit vulnerable websites and recovering ransomware attacks.

The team was made up of UIS computer science students who hailed from different cities across Illinois. "These teammates didn't know each other before the competition, but they came together fully motivated from the start to be a winning team” said Janis Rose, the team’s faculty advisor and
UIS computer science instructor. “I've never seen a team so totally in support of each other. I stood back in awe as they worked through one challenge after another. They competed with intellect, character and heart. I couldn't be prouder."

Team members include Nolan Bogumill from Palos Hills, Brandon Brant from Dwight, Kenneth Stroup from Chicago, Michael Weinberg from Mokena, Connor Alisson from Bloomington, John Scully from Springfield and Nicholas Ferraz de Oliveira from Champaign.

The UIS team is ranked in the Cyber Power top ten for the central region of the nation and in top 20 nationally. The team also ranked 10th in the nation among the Center of Academic Excellence schools.

UIS’s computer science program is certified by both the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

UIS professors part of a $500,000 USDA grant studying the use of pesticides in urban agricultural communities

Two University of Illinois Springfield professors, in collaboration with professors at Tuskegee University in Alabama, have received a three year $500,000 United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to assess the risk of pesticide use and air dispersion in urban agricultural communities.

UIS Assistant Professor of Public Health Egbe Egiebor and Associate Professor of Public Health Dorine Brand will receive about $168,000 from the overall grant awarded to Tuskegee University.

Due to urban growth, there are greater populations at the edge of agricultural land. The study will evaluate the present methods for monitoring and modeling the atmospheric spread of pesticide pollutants under various weather conditions, identify hotspots and assess the vulnerability of affected communities.

“We are really excited to conduct this study,” Egiebor said. “It is the first time a project like this will be facilitated in two different agro-ecological zones with different production systems. This study will be conducted in two different locations, Alabama and Illinois.”

According to Egiebor, farmlands in the United States have shrunk by 215 million acres since 1954 because of urbanization. Residents living at the proximity of farmlands have reported problems with odors, noise, dust, pesticide sprays as well as health problems associated with agricultural operations.

“In particular, the use of pesticides causes contamination that is transmitted via surface runoff, groundwater and airborne residues,” Egiebor said. “Overwhelming evidence shows that pesticides adversely affect humans and other living organisms as well as the environment.”

Commonly used pesticides have been linked with birth defects, organ damage, developmental issues, psychological issues, different cancers and even death.

According to Brand, the study will explore the links between health effects and pesticides, while educating those communities most impacted by them.

“The project will contribute to sustainable air quality management for health and environment protection in the urban-agriculture interface and will improve long term planning and management of pesticide risk and its impacts on the environment as well as communities,” Brand said.

UIS graduate students will have an opportunity to take part in the research and will be mentored and trained in many aspects of the study.

“Students will gain valuable experiential learning by taking part in a federally-funded research study,” Brand said.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

UIS Graduate Public Service Internship Program honors recent graduate and state agency supervisor

The University of Illinois Springfield Graduate Public Service Internship (GPSI) Program has honored a recent graduate and a state agency supervisor with awards for excellence during the 2019-20 academic year.

Christopher Poetschner of Springfield was awarded the Brian T. Milbrandt Internship Award for academic and professional excellence in public service. Poetschner graduated on May 9, earning a master’s degree in data analytics from UIS. As part of the GPSI Program, he worked at the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) since August 2018.

Poetschner’s nomination sites his contribution to the State Plane Coordinate System of 2022, as IDOT develops statewide recommendation for submissions to the National Geodetic Survey.

“The work Chris has been doing with coordinate systems will result in better quality estimation for roadway plan designers and when combined with other IDOT initiatives, will have a lasting effect on reducing internal expenditures and saving taxpayer money,” said Drew Christopher, Poetschner’s supervisor at IDOT.

James Jennings of Springfield, manager of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Reduction Unit, was honored with the Sagarika Madala Award for Exemplary Leadership as the UIS Graduate Public Service Supervisor of the Year. Based on a nomination submitted by intern Brock Titlow, Jennings was chosen for his exemplary leadership and work in public service. Jennings exposed Titlow to the work of a regulatory agency, while also giving him the opportunity to develop his interest in environmental legislation.

“James combined the right amount of direction and freedom to let me learn, but also explore my own interests,” Titlow said.

Sherrie Elzinga, director of the UIS Office of Graduate Interns Programs, said there were many compelling nominations for both this year’s student and supervisor awards. A video of all of the nominees can be found at go.uis.edu/gpsi.

The GPSI program provides graduate students with an opportunity to work in state, federal or local government and not-for-profit organizations, while simultaneously pursuing a graduate degrees in one of many graduate programs offered at UIS. Students receive a tuition waiver and stipend for their work and two years of professional experience.

UIS has a long history of partnering with the state of Illinois to train public service professionals and the GPSI program continues to offer training and mentoring for students who want to pursue a public service career.

“There has never been a more urgent need for well-trained public service professionals to protect the welfare and health of our citizens,” Elzinga said. “UIS is prepared to meet that need and is committed to producing a new generation of public service professionals.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

UIS Public Affairs Reporting Program alum Trif Alatzas leads his team to a Pulitzer Prize win

Trif Alatzas, a 1989 graduate of the University of Illinois Springfield’s Public Affairs Reporting Program (PAR), has led his team to a 2020 Pulitzer Prize win as editor-in-chief of Baltimore Sun Media.

The Baltimore Sun was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s ‘Healthy Holly’ book scandal. She was sentenced to three years in federal prison in February after being found guilty of fraud, tax and conspiracy charges.

In a May 4 story published in The Sun, Alatzas calls the award an “all-out effort,” adding he is “just glad to be a part of it.”

This is the second time the Pulitzer Board has recognized a publication led by Alatzas. In 2019, the Pulitzer Board awarded The Capital Gazette a special citation for their work in covering the June 2019 attack on their Annapolis offices that killed five employees.

Alatzas was inducted into the Bill Miller Public Affairs Reporting Hall of Fame at the University of Illinois Springfield in 2019.

The UIS Public Affairs Reporting Program now boasts three Pulitzer Prize-winning alumni, including Alatzas. Other PAR alumni who have won the prize include Kathy Best, former executive editor and managing editor for digital news at the Seattle Times, who led her staff to two Pulitzer Prizes, and Deborah Singer Peterson, a retired reporter, columnist and editorial board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

UIS English Department alumnus Mitch Pugh also led his newsroom at The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina to win a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2015.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Marie Watson; Stepping out of the box

When she couldn’t meet students face-to-face, UIS Associate Director of Student Life Marie Watson stepped out of her comfort zone and into the social media spotlight.

She has been a regular face on weekly Student Life Instagram Live chats.

“That’s a positive thing about all of this, I have opened myself up to new opportunities and different ways of engaging with students,” said Watson, who admits she is more comfortable with small groups and one-on-one communication. “I’ve been putting myself out there on social media, and I’ve grown both personally and professionally.”

Each week, Watson has hosted the Student Life Instagram Live chats, which have featured a guest from the UIS campus. She said the engagement and energy with students has been high.

“As soon as we went to remote learning we had to think creatively. Student life is so tied into student success. It impacts how they live and what they experience.” Watson said she did not realize how underutilized technology was prior to remote learning.

Zoom has been instrumental in helping Student Life staff stay con
nected to students with face-to-face interaction. It is used for weekly trivia nights and Student Activities Committee planning sessions. And Watson credits Microsoft Teams for helping staff communicate and work remotely together.

She admits she is missing spring on campus. “I miss my students, I miss the smell of the food from the Food Studio,” she said “I miss the nice weather on campus, walking across the campus, seeing the flowers and trees. Our campus is so beautiful. I miss seeing the students out in their fashions. The mood is light and fun.”

She also said missing Springfest was difficult. “The SAC Traditions Coordinator and Springfest committee had all worked so hard to plan out Springfest,” she said. “Everything was looking beautiful, but next spring it will be 10 times better. It will build anticipation and that will be huge.”

Watson encourages graduating seniors to return to campus for Springfest 2021 and participate as alumni. “They can come back and rejoin the family, participate in Springfest and get their full experience of their last year.”

Watson wants all UIS students to know the Office of Student Life is committed to their success.
Planning has already begun on Welcome Week activities for the fall, with the hope that students will be able to return to campus.

Despite connecting remotely, Watson remains committed to helping UIS students have the best possible college experience. “I’ve come to understand that there are great days and challenging days. But it is important to be able to connect with my students through email, Facetime, Group Me, texting me, Zoom, whatever it takes. I want to know what they’re doing because I care, because of that relationship and connection I have with them.”