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2011-2012 Focal Point Projects

Engaging the European Union: Institutions, Networks, and Policies in Transatlantic Relations

Organizers:A. Bryan Endres (Agricultural & Consumer Economics/Director, European Union Center, faculty), Robert Pahre (Political Science, faculty),Alexandru Balas (Political Science, student),Richelle Bernazzoli (Geography, student), Renee Holley (Musicology, student)

Our project aims to nurture a new generation of interdisciplinary scholars looking at the institutions and networks that constitute transatlantic relations, and the ways in which EU and US policy approaches to critical problems of human need are being shaped. The project will consist of a seminar series during the fall 2011 semester, and culminate with an interdisciplinary graduate conference in the spring 2012 semester organized and run by University of Illinois graduate students who work on EU topics. It will lead to several durable outcomes, including the expansion of available curriculum on campus in EU studies; production of new publications and web resources; involvement in innovative research by Illinois graduate students; strengthening of the EU studies community at Illinois, plus enhancement of partnerships with institutions in the US and Europe; and generation of competitive grant proposals to external sponsors in order to leverage still further growth in EU studies at Illinois.


Responding to Immigrants in New Growth Communities Research Seminar

Organizers: Lissette Piedra (Social Work, faculty), Edna Viruell-Fuentes (Latina/Latino Studies, faculty), Deirdre Lanesskog (Social Work, student), Gabriel Rodriguez (Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, student), Moises Orozco (Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, student)

Migration scholars submit that the settlement of Latino immigrants into new regions, cities, and small towns across the United States is “the most significant trend in U.S. population redistribution over the past quarter century” (Lichter & Johnson, 2009, p. 497). Such wide-scale demographic changes have important service implications for both the individual and for receiving communities (Lichter & Johnson, 2009; Sullivan, 2006). We propose a yearlong seminar examining these implications across service sectors such as education, public health, and social work. Our project builds on a Community Informatics Initiative (CII) project entitled Puentes y Estrellas del Mar (Bridges & Starfish) that interviewed 24 service providers in Champaign County who work with Latino immigrants across a variety of service sectors. The interviews highlight institutional challenges service providers encounter as they endeavor to overcome service barriers for immigrant clients. Such analyses, understood in the context of the new growth community, can help to inform solutions to community problems, as well as future research. Because Champaign County has been identified as one of the nation’s 676 fast-growing Latino counties since 2000 (Fry, 2008), this project includes an opportunity to learn from local service providers who work with immigrants by inviting them to lead a number of panels. Outcomes will include an enduring interdisciplinary community of scholars and practitioners, the foundations for a graduate course, publications and future workshops.


Transnational Communications Research: Cultural Flows and Communication Technologies

Organizers: Rayvon Fouché (History, faculty), Kent Ono (Institute of Communications Research, faculty), Jungmin Kwon (Institute of Communications Research, student), Eileen Lagman (English, student), Robert Mejia (Institute of Communications Research, student)

This Focal Point project is twofold in its aim: (1) reorient communications research away from national to transnational understandings of cultural production and consumption; (2) infuse transnational scholarship with a theoretical sensitivity to communication research. Getting communications research and transnational scholarship to speak to one another is necessary as each field is increasingly integral to the other, and through this interdisciplinary collaboration may work to illuminate the other’s intellectual oversights. Collaborating across disciplines will foreground the variations in what it means to be “global” or “transnational” for different people, groups, producers, and institutions, in different places and different times. As discourse on globalization has previously predicated the “homogenization” of cultural forms, interdisciplinary approaches to transnational cultural production will contribute to work examining the important differences in transnational experiences. Outcomes include an enduring interdisciplinary community, graduate course development and a graduate concentration, a foundation for continuing collaborations with industry and international institutions, and scholarly productivity.


“Women and Children First”: Critical Inquiries in Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organizations and the Global Governance of Care

Organizers: Soo Ah Kwon (Human & Community Development/Asian American Studies, faculty), Mimi Nguyen (Gender & Women’s Studies/Asian American Studies, faculty), Sarah Casinelli (English, student), Fay Hodza (Human & Community Development, student)

Nonprofit and Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are called upon as solutions to an ever-widening array of social problems, including world poverty, economic development, sexual health “crises,” environmental degradation, and even criminal activities such as human trafficking. These organizations produce often-consequential rhetorics and pursue decisive actions in promoting social justice and otherwise rectifying social inequalities. As such, these organizations often target what are considered the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in need of care – women and children. Situated outside of formal political governments as the instruments of a global civil society, nonprofits and NGOs are often cast as independent of and sometimes in opposition to state governance. Yet a growing body of literature points to the ways in which nonprofits and NGOs serve as ostensible surrogates for serving -and funding- social welfare for neoliberal states and intergovernmental organizations, facilitating neoliberal aims of economic liberalization and privatization of public resources, even while propagating seemingly universal principles of self-empowerment and participation. Embedded in these endeavors are discourses and practices targeting women and children for their particular potential as moldable, especially because they are vulnerable, liberal (and Western) democratic subjects of a global governance of care. We will examine the nature of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations and their relations to states and a global civil society, the positioning of civil society and its institutions in promoting a more democratic world, and the interface of civil society with the academy as a topic of scholarship and collaboration. Such analytical investigations will provoke new, exciting ideas and emerging scholars and practitioners capable of understanding the complex networks of globalization and diversity (especially focused here on women and youth) as categories for pursuing critical inquiry and producing academic studies. Other outcomes will include publications and a new interdisciplinary graduate seminar.


Establishment of a Cancer Research Community at Illinois

Organizers: Rohit Bhargava (Bioengineering, faculty), Benita Katzenellenbogen (Molecular & Cellular Biology, faculty), Sarah Holton (Bioengineering, student), Erich Lidstone (Bioengineering, student)

Cancer is a complex and multifaceted superfamily of diseases, collectively affecting over 1.5 million people in the United States alone directly (American Cancer Society, 2010). This elevated disease prevalence has galvanized both the scientific community and the public at large against cancer in its many independent forms, facilitating research spanning epidemiology, environmental toxicology, early diagnosis and prevention, and – perhaps most directly – effective treatment strategies. While this immense research effort has granted much in the way of understanding with regard to cancer pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention, there remains a critical disconnect between the cancer researchers and the patients they seek to help (Hiatt and Breen 2008, McCormick et al. 2009, Prendergast 2011). Through the creation of an organization of graduate and post-doctoral researchers at the University of Illinois and nearby research institutions, we aim to bridge this disconnect.

We propose the creation of the Illinois Cancer Consortium (ICC) – an organization of graduate and post-doctoral researchers on the University of Illinois campus that bridges the areas of social science, basic science, engineering, and medicine as they relate to cancer. Furthermore, we will engage a patient community through use of the nascent social and support efforts of the Mills Breast Cancer Institute, Carle Hospital, and regional Clinical Collaborators.

The Consortium established in this proposal seeks to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and understanding that transcends established departmental affiliations to foster an increased understanding of the social and environmental factors affecting patients, as well as the unique vantage points afforded by interactive dialogue between and among the various cancer research disciplines.

The project intends to educate participants as to the social aspects and consequences of cancer, forge interdisciplinary collaborations between basic science research with engineers and physicians to translate clinical problems, and facilitate inter-institutional collaboration between UIUC and clinical institutions.


Illinois Global Health Initiative

Organizers: Rashid Bashir (Electrical & Computer Engineering/Bioengineering, faculty), Andiara Schwingel (Kinesiology & Community Health, faculty), Gregory Damhorst (Bioengineering, student), Lily Mahapatra (Molecular & Integrative Physiology, student)

The health of populations is influenced by many factors, such as the availability of technology, environmental and cultural influences, and economic conditions. We propose the implementation of an interdisciplinary Global Health Initiative.

The World Health Organization reports preventable diseases such as respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and HIV/AIDS to be among the leading causes of death in low income countries. Africa alone, which represents approximately 15% of the world’s total population, contains an estimated 60% of people with HIV/AIDS, 90% of malaria cases, and 24% of all notified cases of tuberculosis worldwide. Meanwhile, many low-resource countries lack the funds and purchasing power to address health needs with medical technology, and many devices are not designed for the local context of these nations, contributing to the disparity between high and low income countries. But technology availability is only the beginning of issues faced in health around the world. More than ten million children – including three million under age 5 – die every year from environment-related conditions. Climate change worsens the effects of major diseases and malnutrition, and weak health infrastructure is ill-prepared to respond. Life-threatening conditions from contaminated food and drinking water are prevalent in resource-poor regions, while air pollution contributes to nearly 3% of the global burden of disease. Interventions into global health problems range from vaccine distribution to patient education to social entrepreneurship, and each requires expansive and detailed knowledge of a population, from culture to climate to economy. As highlighted by the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, health concerns are at the forefront of human need and require not just interdisciplinary, but also global partnerships. Today’s graduate students are the future tenants of those partnerships.

The Illinois Global Health Initiative (IGHI) aims to foster international partnerships, innovate graduate education through first-hand experience and interdisciplinary dialogue, and build capacity for a continued discussion on global health at the University of Illinois. The IGHI will catalyze the interaction of faculty and graduate students with similar interests in global health and foster future inter-disciplinary programs and collaborations. A possible future program resulting from this work is an interdisciplinary global health center at the University of Illinois. A Registered Student Organization will also be formed as a part of the IGHI. This will serve as a focal point for student interest in global health research and as a vehicle for recruiting student participation in the organization of future programs. The IGHI will also foster new partnerships between the UIUC research community and local, domestic, and international organizations. In addition, an immersion experience will be crafted to take place during the winter break between fall and spring semesters, consisting of graduate students and faculty from diverse fields to directly interact with NGOs and international institutions addressing the health needs of populations in the developing world. Publications and future grant proposals are expected.


Interdisciplinary Research Development in Algae Biomass, Biofuels, and Bioproducts

Organizers: Angela Kent (Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, faculty), Lance Schideman (Agricultural & Biological Engineering, faculty), Daniel Johnson (Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, student), Yan Zhou (Agricultural & Biological Engineering, student)

Among biomass alternatives, algae represent a promising new source of biofuel feedstocks with decisive advantages over current alternatives (corn ethanol, soy biodiesel) and second generation cellulosic feedstocks. In particular, many algae species have much higher productivity than any terrestrial crop. Additionally, they can be grown in the ocean, or in degraded water sources, and can even be grown in wastewater purification processes and CO2 sequestration systems. Algae stand at the nexus of water, air, energy, and food offering the potential to simultaneously address several of the most critical resource challenges facing humanity. Algae can provide renewable energy with much less competition for arable land, and thus less impact on food supplies. Algae can be used to improve the quality of water resources, whereas most biofuel paradigms increase the competition for scarce fresh water resources. Finally, algal biomass can be a rich source of many useful food, feed, and biochemical products.

This project seeks to stimulate and inspire the development of more cross-cutting algal research activities and promote new educational capabilities in this area. Development of this interdisciplinary platform as proposed herein will help establish the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a leading institution for generating new knowledge and synergistic solutions to the vexing problems of environment and energy that will define our generation. Additionally, this project seeks to prepare new resources for graduate education in the area of algal biofuels and bioproducts.

In 2009, the Campus Student Sustainability Committee sponsored a small pilot project that demonstrated the potential to use algae for capturing carbon dioxide from the campus power plant flue gas. As a result of this project, a working group of students and faculty formed to support operation of the pilot and to develop an educational outreach website on various topics related to the use of algae in biofuels, carbon capture, and wastewater treatment systems ( The Illini Algae Group has continued to engage the campus community on the potential for environment-enhancing energy with algae. With this Focal Point project, we plan to build on the momentum of the Illini Algae Group to build a broader network of faculty and graduate students and elevate the activities to the next level by including initiation of a campus seminar series, development of international graduate research collaborations, and new graduate education course materials.


International Collaborative Research Experience in Neuroengineering (ICREN)

Organizers: Douglas Jones (Electrical & Computer Engineering, faculty), Brad Sutton (Bioengineering, faculty), Jon Patrick Grenda (Neuroengineering, Program Coordinator), Erik Johnson (Electrical & Computer Engineering, student), Jamie Norton (Molecular & Cellular Biology, student), Sarah Robinson (Electrical & Computer Engineering, student)

This proposed Focal Point Project, International Collaborative Research Experience in Neuroengineering (ICREN), adds a critical new element to the training of neuroengineering graduate students at UIUC: an in-depth, interdisciplinary, international research experience. The program is designed to improve participating graduate students’ collaborative, leadership, communication, and research skills. The ICREN Focal Point should appeal to students in a broad range of departments including Aerospace Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neuroscience, Speech and Hearing Science, and Psychology.

In the proposed ICREN Focal Point, students will participate in a year-long series of seminars, laboratory tours, and journal discussions designed to introduce students to potential research topics and collaborators. In the first semester, students will participate in a sequence of workshops to identify potential collaborations and develop project proposals. In the second semester, with Focal Point travel support, students will travel to domestic or international institutions to execute the proposed projects. The Focal Point will culminate in a student-led, two-day symposium in June 2012 to showcase the work of ICREN Focal Point students as well as the work of the broader UIUC neuroengineering community.

Ultimately, the proposed Focal Point will result in a new, cross-institutional neuroengineering international research program, scholarly publications in leading journals, student applications to external international research fellowships, and dissemination of knowledge via the symposium and virtual seminars. By establishing a workshop series, improving faculty ties to international institutions and encouraging student applications to external funding sources, the ICREN Focal Point can be sustained beyond the 2011-2012 academic year. The ICREN Focal Point should become an integral part of the emerging UIUC neuroengineering community, further fostering the development of neuroengineering graduate education at UIUC. Perhaps most importantly, the proposed ICREN Focal Point will broaden participating graduate students’ research horizons beyond their traditional disciplines and beyond the confines of UIUC, preparing them for future careers as leaders in industry, academia, and medicine.