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Baker Report: Catching up on new knowledge

April 3, 2015
Ross Powell and fellow NIU geologist Scherer recovered sediment from a subglacial Antarctic lake bed.

Ross Powell and Reed Scherer in the Antarctic in 2013.

Members of the NIU leadership team and three exemplary students joined me in Springfield last week to testify in front of the House Appropriations Committee. We were able to tell stories of the amazing accomplishments of our faculty, students and staff at the hearing and in the legislators’ offices.

As the legislative and executive branches struggle with difficult budget challenges, we felt it was important for them to hear the powerful impact of what we do at Northern Illinois University with the state investment in our work.

One of the most impressive illustrations of a university’s worth is the new knowledge it continuously creates through scholarship and creative activities. Thanks to the bright minds at work on our campuses – not only faculty members but also our brilliant students and staff at all levels who are involved in asking questions and searching for answers – I am never short of examples.

Neither are the news media, which have reported some of our work to readers, viewers and listeners around the world.

  • NIU geologists Ross Powell and Reed Scherer and colleagues on their National Science Foundation-funded science team sampled the “grounding zone” along the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctic ice, land and sea all converge. In opening a window into a previously unseen and otherworldly environment, they were stunned to discover fish and other marine animals living beneath a half-mile of ice in perpetual cold and darkness.
  • Psychology professors Larissa Barber and Alecia Santuzzi coined a new term – “telepressure” – to describe our modern urge to respond quickly to emails, texts and voicemails regardless of whatever else is happening or whether we’re even “at work.” Employees who feel high levels of telepressure are more likely to report burnout, a feeling of being unfocused, health-related absenteeism and diminished sleep quality.
  • Educational psychologists Jennifer Schmidt and Lee Shumow continue to seek the best ways to motivate high school students to learn and love science. They’re now focused on after-school and summer projects that enroll underserved and underrepresented youth in the hope that their work will attract a greater diversity of students into the academic pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Barrie Bode, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, recently spoke before a packed STEM Café on his research into cancer. Barrie has spent the last two decades working to develop highly targeted therapies to slow the uptake of glutamine and other nutrients that feed cancer. His research group currently includes three NIU Ph.D. students, one student working on a master’s degree and four undergraduates.
  • Psychologist Brad Sagarin, among his department’s many bloggers on the Psychology Today website, generated plenty of headlines with his February post on BDSM.

Just this week, staff in our Division of Research & Innovation Partnerships began to review 15 submissions that met Monday’s deadline for consideration in the second annual Innovation Certificate of Recognition program.

Anne Britt

Anne Britt

Nominated projects include a non-invasive diagnostic tool for early detection of diabetes; a physics experiment that will probe fundamental properties of matter and space; nano-engineered paper that provides sophisticated yet inexpensive microfluidic sensors and diagnostic devices; and a novel way of combining science, technology and art in the teaching of time arts.

Ten days from now – Monday, April 13 – we will salute the recipients of this year’s faculty awards. Among those honorees that afternoon are the newest Presidential Research Professors: Sanjib Basu, Anne Britt and Aaron Fogleman.

  • Sanjib, from the Department of Statistics, counts principal research interests in Bayesian statistics, biostatistical methodologies and applications, and reliability theory.
  • Anne, from the Department of Psychology, examines discourse processes, cognitive sciences and the learning science, including how students select, understand and evaluate information.
  • Aaron, from the Department of History, is a prize-winning author who studies Atlantic history and transatlantic migration from 1492 into the early 19th century.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, NIU students enjoy myriad opportunities to conduct research.

  • Alex Haberlie, a Ph.D. student in geography, recently published his study findings that “urbanization has led to more thunderstorm initiation events in Atlanta than would have occurred over natural vegetation.”
  • Kathleen McCraw, a doctoral candidate in NIU’s Ph.D. program in clinical psychology, has developed a unique measurement of fear that could open new lines of phobia research and prove useful to practicing mental health professionals.
  • Qinglong Jiang, a Ph.D. student working in Tao Xu’s chemistry and biochemistry lab, served as first author on two of Xu’s recent publications on solar cells.

Our creative minds in the College of Visual and Performing Arts are equally busy.

In recent months, NIU School of Music associate professor Thomas Bough earned a Grammy nomination for “Concertos for Brass,” the full-length CD recording of his compositions.

 Mike Rea’s “A Prosthetic Suit For Stephen Hawking With Japanese Steel,” 2007

Mike Rea’s “A Prosthetic Suit For Stephen Hawking With Japanese Steel,” 2007

Mike Rea, assistant professor of sculpture in the NIU School of Art and Design, celebrated the publication of several photographs of his work in the Beautiful/Decay visual arts magazine. Colleague Michael Barnes, professor of printmaking, is one of 75 artists featured in Schiffer Publishing’s “Contemporary American Printmakers.”

Local theater audiences were treated last month to the premier of “The Porno Factory,” a play written by NIU writing instructor Loren Hecht and produced by the student-initiated Third Onion. Hecht and NIU BFA in acting candidate T.C. Fair starred in the show, which was directed by Christine Fuchs, an MFA in acting candidate.

Meanwhile, audiences overseas in Turkey were treated to NIU School of Theatre and Dance performances last weekend thanks to sponsorship from the Turkish National Theater and the U.S. Department of State. Faculty members Stanton Davis and Sahin Sahinoglu, along with students and alumni, mounted a production at the 18th annual Adana International Theatre Festival. They also conducted workshops for festival attendees.

Finally, the sixth annual Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.

I urge everyone to walk through the ballroom that day. The brilliance on display will amaze you and confirm your faith in our future: Young minds from all walks of study asked questions, dreamed dreams and, mentored by faculty, found answers and transformed ideas into creative expressions.

Truly, it’s why we’re all here. These students embody the eight learning outcomes delineated by our PLUS (Progressive Learning in Undergraduate Studies) Task Force, two of which call for quantitative and qualitative reasoning skills along with the ability to synthesize knowledge and skills for innovative application.

Please join me this month in celebrating excellence by acknowledging NIU’s creation and discovery of new knowledge. Come see the proof that tomorrow begins with us.

Together Forward,