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2013-2014 Focal Point Projects

Access to Success: Developing Recruitment and Retention Strategies for Domestic Minorities in Online Graduate Education

(co-sponsored with The Collaborative for Research on Educational Innovation and Technology)

Organizers: Randi Congleton (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, graduate student), Denice Hood (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, faculty), Faye Lesht (Online and Continuing Education, interim director), Adam Rusch (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, graduate student), Linda Smith (Library and Information Scienc, (faculty and associate dean)

According to the SLOAN Consortium,"The 2012 Survey of Online Learning reveals that the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed 6.7 million" ( While the Urbana campus offers 23 online graduate programs and has been engaged in online graduate education since 1996, little related research has been conducted. The ultimate goal of this cross­ campus team of faculty, staff, and especially graduate students will be to identify key features of online programs that aid in recruitment and retention of domestic minorities. It will also provide  insights that can be used to further strengthen online graduate programs in identifying effective structural considerations and program completion strategies for all students.  We also seek to determine how well the university has been engaging domestic  minority populations in online graduate programs and at what rate these students successfully complete  their programs.

Topics that are of particular interest include:  Factors that influence recruitment and retention of minority students in online graduate programs. Also, program completion rates of domestic minority students in online graduate programs compared to the general graduate-level student body. The interdisciplinary project is a "test-bed" for strategies that can be applied to students in online as well as on-campus programs. Team members will have the opportunity to submit research from the project to conferences and journals, discuss findings with campus leaders including those involved with the Illinois EDGE Initiative (Enhancing Diversity, Guiding Excellence), and recommend innovations in support  of effective practices for recruitment and retention of domestic minority students. This project is made possible by a Focal Point Grant from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Graduate College. It is an initiative of the Collaborative for Research on Educational Innovation and Technology (CREDIT) at Illinois.


Bilingualism:  Cognition, Culture, Computation

Organizers: Rakesh Bhatt (Linguistics, faculty), Amit Das (Electrical and Computer Engineering, graduate student), Pamela Hadley (Speech and Hearing Science, faculty), Mark Hasegawa-Johnson (Electrical and Computer Engineering, faculty), Ning Hsu (Speech and Hearing Science, graduate student), Silvina Montrul (panish, Italian, and Portuguese / Linguistics, faculty) Itxaso Rodriguez (Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, graduate student), Kevin Stillwell  (Linguistics, graduate student)

The study of language has been well-investigated in monolingual individuals, as indicated by current advances in the language sciences. With the majority of the world's population being bilingual or multilingual, knowing and using more than one language is considered an advantage both for an individual and for the society, especially now with the ever-increasing intensity and complexity of global communication. However, in the language sciences and in the humanities we are yet to come to grips with an integrated understanding of bilingualism-particularly its cultural, cognitive, and computational dimensions. The most visible/(audible) diacritic of bilingual behavior is the phenomenon of code-switching: the alternating use of two or more languages within a constituent, sentence or discourse. Code-switching is both a culturally determined and cognitively governed, mode of communication that emerges naturally in children exposed to two languages from birth. Current areas of expertise on campus examine the formal and cultural/political dimensions of the phenomenon.

This Focal Point project will allow us to build a synergistic model of bilingualism that integrates the cross-disciplinary dimensions of code-switching: cultural, cognitive, and computational. Our activities will bring together faculty and graduate students across campus to engage in a more multidisciplinary way with the complex nature of the bilingual mind, bilingual behavior, and bilingual societies. Unique and innovative cross-disciplinary training of graduate students will take place through a year-long sequence of organized bi-weekly meetings and discussions culminating in a symposium. The results of these collaborative engagements will allow the group to advance new research methods and paradigms for the study of bilingualism, new assessment tools, and new technologies to be applied to health and education, US national security, global communication, and economic development. The expected outcome of this project is the submission of a graduate education and innovation IGERT grant proposal to the National Science Foundation.


Illinois Health & Nutrition - Building Healthy Communities

Organizers: Nora Few (College of Medicine, executive assistant dean), Gregory Freund (Nutritional Sciences, faculty), Miri Kim (Neuroscience and Medical Scholars Program, graduate student), Morgan Moon (Nutritional Sciences and Medical Scholars Program, graduate student)

Obesity and obesity related problems are among the most rapidly growing health care ailments across the US and increasing throughout the world. In the US alone, over 30% of the adult population is categorized as obese (BMI>30). With obesity comes increased risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems, which also affect the cost of health care in the US. With the growing availability of processed foods and "fast food" services, general nutrition is an aspect of health that is often neglected. This becomes a greater health issue in low income households due to the affordability and prevalence of fast foods in addition to lack of education in healthful eating. Because of all these issues ranging from personal health, education and economics, health and nutrition is a very complex metabolic and social issue.

Illinois Health and Nutrition is an active campus-wide effort to bring together the basic sciences, humanities, medicine, and the community to educate parents, children, and academic professionals and create a community of health and wellness.  We seek to raise awareness within the academic community about the importance of nutrition across all aspects of life, and bring together a broad range of people who can work together to help foster partnership and dialogue across many disciplines. The initiative establishes a variety of activities including a yearlong  seminar  series  covering  topics  relevant  to  metabolism  and  disease  processes, pediatric nutrition, adult nutrition, and personal nutrition.  In addition to providing an academic seminar series, we are developing interactive and engaging panel discussions, book clubs, and movie nights as well as outreach activities to help feed and educate members in the community. The final capstone event of IHN will be a community health fair (Campana de Salud) which serves as a platform to educate under-served and non-English speaking populations in the area. This health fair also doubles as a service opportunity for students and faculty, allowing the academic community to reach out and build relations within the community. By bringing together community, academics,  and health professionals, we hope to stimulate an interactive conversation to better understand the needs of the community and also educate each other about the complexity of nutrition from both a basic science and community health perspective.


Incarceration in America:  Family and Community Impacts

Organizers: Chung Ga-Young (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, graduate student), Rebecca Ginsburg (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership and Landscape Architecture, faculty), Anke Pinkert (Germanic Languages and Literatures, faculty), Sheri-Lynn Kurisu (Sociology, graduate student)

Our Focal Point group will study the social impacts of incarceration upon free individuals and neighborhoods, and consider how to mitigate them. Our team comes together under the auspices of the Education Justice Project (EJP), an interdisciplinary group of graduate students, faculty members, undergraduates, and community members engaged in higher learning at Danville prison. EJP has a program called FACE (Family and Community Engagement) through which we engage with the family members of our incarcerated Danville students, most of whom live in Chicago. We host gatherings in that city twice yearly for them and engage with scholars and community organizations in support of those events. We have come to understand that we are in an ideal position to generate scholarship about what some call the collateral impacts of incarceration. This is an important issue in urgent need of thoughtful attention.

The specific subjects we expect to address include impacts of incarceration upon family members, communities, and neighborhoods (historically, today, and comparatively); impacts of prison education upon family members, communities, and neighborhoods; re-entry of formerly incarcerated adults; best practices in neighborhood-based programs and institutions of higher education. Anticipated outcomes include scholarly publications, a graduate seminar, grant proposals, and a national conference on the impacts of incarceration. Graduate student members of the Focal Point group will engage in a model, integrated program that includes teaching (at the prison), conducting research, engaging in outreach to family and community members, and producing scholarship in a variety of forms that bridges those endeavors and nourishes participants’ classroom, engagement, and research agendas.


Interactions Design and Engineering of Adaptive Systems (IDEAS)

(co-sponsored with the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership)

Organizers: Tim Bretl (Aerospace Engineering, faculty), Scott Carney (Electrical and Computer Engineering, faculty), Ben Childester (Electrical and Computer Engineering, graduate student), Florin Dolcos (Psychology, faculty), Erik Johnson (Electrical and Computer Engineering, graduate student), Doug L. Jones (Electrical and Computer Engineering, faculty), David Jun (Electrical Engineering, graduate student), Jamie Norton (Neuroscience, graduate student), Cliff Shin (Industrial Design, faculty), Woonhong Yeo (Materials Science, graduate student)

At the University of Illinois, researchers in a variety of disciplines are actively developing mobile computing and sensing technologies with the ultimate goal of building new human-computer interfaces and brain-machine interfaces. These systems all involve a human user, an artificial system, sensing of the user intent, and feedback to the user of the artificial system's state. Designing robust, usable prototypes in this space of applications will require the collaboration of cognitive scientists, engineers, and industrial designers. In this Focal Point project, graduate student project teams will work to develop prototypes of novel human-computer interfaces or brain-machine interfaces. Teams will include engineering students, computer science students, cognitive science students, and industrial design students. These teams will develop prototypes, plan cognitive science experiments, conduct market research for potential products, and develop proposals for external funding.

This Focal Point project will bring together the student project teams and like-minded faculty to create an interdisciplinary community of researchers. Students participating in project teams will participate in an independent study course including lectures on topics such as intellectual property and proposal writing. This Focal Point project will provide participating students with course credit, lectures from experts, access to prototyping facilities, and financial resources. At the end of the year, there will be a day-long workshop demonstrating the progress of the projects, teaching cutting-edge technologies, and showcasing the progress on the projects. Student teams will be encouraged to develop proposals to submit for external funding at the end of the 2014 school year. For participating graduate students, this Focal Point project will provide an exciting opportunity to collaborate with new disciplines, learn new design process, and participate in the proposal writing process.


Integration of Biological, Mathematical and Engineering Approaches to the Management of Mosquito-Borne Disease:  An Interdisciplinary Global Challenge

Organizers: Carla Caceres (Animal Biology and Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, faculty), Allie Gardner (Entomology, graduate student), Phong Le (Civil and Environmental Engineering, graduate student), Marilyn O'Hara (Pathobiology  and Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, faculty)

The management of water resources to reduce the public health burden of environmentally-transmitted diseases is considered an historical success story resulting from collaborations between biologists, public health personnel and engineers. Extensive gains were made in reducing the human health burden of water-borne diseases (e.g. cholera), particularly in developed nations.  Meanwhile, mosquito-borne pathogens, such as dengue virus, West Nile virus and malaria have expanded or maintained their range and remain significant public health threats. When mosquitoes carry pathogens, their emergence and persistence are intimately tied to aquatic systems, because mosquitoes require water for larval development. These dynamic interactions between vectors and their aquatic habitats are expected to change with continued anthropogenic influences, including climate change. Our ability to link water management decisions and practices to mosquito production is limited by the lack of interaction among hydrologists, epidemiologists, mathematicians and biologists.

Our Focal Point project provides an interdisciplinary approach to gain a better understanding of how hydrological modeling and water management methods can affect the distribution of mosquitoes and thus reduce prevalence of infectious diseases that they vector. We are developing a new year-long multidisciplinary seminar course, "Interdisciplinary training in hydrology, vectors and infectious diseases", which consists of a series of training modules. Students will also be assigned to interdisciplinary teams for a year-long group project, on which they will present, once at the end of the fall semester and again at the end of the year in a campus-wide workshop. Our efforts will culminate in a research symposium. Our training model captures the strengths of individual departments and will enhance cross­ discipline interactions. Our year-long Focal Point project will be restricted to a few diseases that are vectored by mosquitoes. Our long-term goal is to develop a nationally-recognized, interdisciplinary research and educational program focusing on multiple vector-borne infectious diseases and how they interact with their hosts and their managed aquatic environment to influence human health globally.



Reimagining Education:  Integrating Youth Culture Across Educational Contexts for Black and Latino Youth

Organizers: Eduardo Coronel (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, graduate student), Anne Haas Dyson (Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, faculty), Emily Gates (Educational Psychology, graduate student), Megan-Brette Hamilton (Speech and Hearing Science, graduate student), Bryce Henson (Institute of Communications Research, graduate student), Kyle Mays (History, graduate student), Gabriel Rodriguez (Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership, graduate student), Gilberto Rosas (Anthropology and Latina/Latino Studies, faculty)

How might we understand the complex lives of contemporary Black and Latino youth? During a time of so-called colorblindness and mass incarceration-what Michelle Alexander (2010) has aptly called the "new Jim Crow" - what are the best teaching practices and programs for youth whose in-school education oftentimes has little salience for their everyday lives? These young people suffer under what sociologist Victor Rios (2011) has called a ''youth control complex." This "control complex" manifests in material and symbolic ways. Although understanding the policing of Black and Latino youth is important, it ignores myriad ways in which youth resist and persist - through their engagement with and production of cultural texts. We hope to raise awareness and address some of these issues.

This Focal Point project brings together a diverse group of faculty and students in order to study contemporary Black and Latino youth experiences across educational contexts. Our study group readings will center on broad categories including: adolescent development; language and literacy; youth bodies in urban spaces; youth culture and activism; and gender and sexuality. Throughout the year we will hold workshops and panel discussions with educators, students, and faculty to discuss the aforementioned topics. Our project will culminate with a two-day workshop for educators, which explores the best teaching practices for incorporating youth culture into educational spaces. We have invited internationally known scholars Drs. Geneva Smitherman, Ana Celia Zentella, H. Samy Alim, and David E. Kirkland to help facilitate our workshop.

This project will impact graduate education at the University of Illinois by allowing students to participate in public engagement activities with educators and youth from Champaign-Urbana and Chicago, extending the University's outreach footprint. Graduate students will also be afforded the opportunity to network with internationally known scholars along with teaching graduate students the value of interdisciplinary collaboration for intellectual development and community programming.



Visualization and Quantification of Dance Mechanics for Alternate Approaches to STEM Education

Organizers: Bruno Azeredo (Mechanical Science and Engineering, graduate student), Armand Beaudoin (Mechanical Science and Engineering, faculty), Kirstie Simson (Dance, faculty), Jenny Angelica Angulo Soledad (Dance, graduate student)

The opportunities to merge science with art are few and far between. The separation between what many view as opposite fields of study - engineering and dance - is prevalent. The manner in which each of these fields are taught unfortunately leave little room for overlap. While dance instruction focuses on body movements, artistic expression, and musicality, mechanical engineering instruction teaches movement of rigid bodies based on a fundamental set of mathematical and theoretical description. However, both fields of study overlap in their use and study of rigid body motion, each with fundamentally different approaches to the topic. This Focal Point project proposes a course that will introduce dance to scientists in a framework with which they are familiar, while teaching dancers about body motion from a mechanical point of view. As a result, two commonly disjoint university departments will come together as a proof-of­ principle that such approaches to instruction are both possible and beneficial to the University of Illinois academic infrastructure.

We aim to develop a set of lectures and exercises to serve classes in dance, music composition, biophysics, and biomechanics at the undergraduate and graduate level. Improvisational dancers are intuitive examples of several mechanical and biophysical concepts such as angular momentum and conformation of a molecule, respectively. We envision that students can grasp these concepts more intuitively through illustrative problems in dance and develop an appreciation for these fields. This effort relies on the use of innovative technologies such as the latest motion capture techniques to record dance movements.  Captured movements are then analyzed to decipher elements of stability, energy, inertia, conformational changes, cause & effect that dancers experience. In a performance setting, some of these elements are computed in real-time and mapped onto a music synthesizer giving the overall feeling that dancers participate as musical instruments. Finally, dance videos and analyzed data are compiled into lectures, homework assignments, and final project problems that exemplify dance elements both qualitatively and quantitatively.