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2012-2013 Focal Point Projects

Growth and Extension of the Graduate Cancer Research Community at Illinois

Organizers: Rohit Bhargava (Bioengineering, faculty), Prasanth Kannanganattu (Cell & Developmental Biology, faculty), Sarah Holton (Bioengineering, student), Erich Lidstone (Bioengineering, student)

The Cancer Research Community at Illinois (CRC) was established during the 2011-2012 academic year, and was initially funded as a Focal Point Project by the Graduate College. With this funding, CRC seminars, journal clubs, and a symposium were initiated, generating over $10,000 in additional support from campus units spanning the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering. The Cancer Community @ Illinois Symposium 2012 had over 200 registered participants from UIUC, UIC-COM Rockford, and UIC as well as Urbana-Champaign patients and advocates, featuring over 80 poster and oral presentations. The continued efforts of the CRC will build upon last year’s activities, striving to increase the depth of clinical and community involvement and to make CRC events more accessible to regional universities. Particular emphasis will be dedicated to the acquisition of clinical partners and to the involvement of additional University of Illinois campuses. These goals will be achieved first through the recruitment of groups of UIUC faculty and guest speakers from surrounding universities to discuss subjects that bridge disciplinary boundaries directly with CRC members. Increasing the existing dialog with Urbana-Champaign patients and patient advocates will enhance graduate and post-graduate education regarding the study of cancer, reinforcing the personal aspects of cancer care and increasing the perspective of students and faculty performing research. To maximize clinical interest and participation, Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit will be offered to CRC activity participants for eligible programming. Through this continuation and expansion of CRC activities, the graduate Cancer Research Community at Illinois will leverage the University’s generous support to enhance graduate education in cancer research, to involve the Urbana-Champaign community in education and programming, and to improve the impact and utility of cancer research activities at the University of Illinois.


Initiative on Aging and Communication Research (I-CARE)

Organizers: Christopher Grindrod (Speech & Hearing Science, faculty), Fatima Husain (Speech & Hearing Science, faculty), Jake Carpenter-Thompson (Neuroscience, student), Sara Schmidt (Neuroscience, student)

The Initiative on Communication and Aging Research (I-CARE) will create a forum to facilitate the study of aging and communication by bringing together an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students. The project is poised to create a new research community and fill the existing gap in collaboration among researchers with interests in aging at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the first time in our history, a large proportion of individuals may continue to pursue an active and healthy lifestyle well into old age. In 2030, the older population is expected to almost double in size to 72 million, representing nearly 20 percent of the total US population. An aging population raises global challenges of access to healthcare with regards to aging-related communication problems. Normal age-related changes in cognition, as well as in sensory and perceptual processes, can bring about changes in communicative competence. Furthermore, communication disorders increase in prevalence across the lifespan, encompassing a wide range of conditions that interfere with an individual’s ability to hear, speak, and/or use language. Such disorders often compromise the social, emotional, educational, and vocational aspects of an individual’s life. This project will address critical issues related to normal aging, pathological aging and interventions designed to overcome aging-related declines in communication abilities. Our forum will bring together students from related fields who are interested in aging research so that they can interact with each other, be trained  in different approaches, and engage in hands-on laboratory experiences to eventually integrate these different research areas. The project will culminate in a symposium where experts who represent the breadth of aging and communication will discuss current research. Other predicted outcomes include submission of a training grant and review papers on the topic.


Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Research Seminar: Methodological Challenges and Opportunities

Organizers: Cris Mayo (Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, faculty), Joseph Robinson (Educational Psychology, faculty), Elizabeth Holman (Human & Community Development, student), Megan Paceley (Social Work, student)

With lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues at the forefront of many political debates today, researchers have an important role in providing empirical data to inform debates and policies. However, researchers face methodological challenges in studying LGBT issues, including specific ethical concerns, sampling and recruitment difficulties, and coding dilemmas when faced with diverse sexual identities. Despite these difficulties, questions regarding sexual orientation are beginning to appear more frequently on national surveys, providing a wealth of information about sexual minorities. With this field of study expanding, researchers now need to be addressing these methodological challenges, embracing study opportunities with this population, and pushing to connect research and practice. While gender and sexuality studies have increased within the humanities, interdisciplinary collaboration between humanities and the education and social sciences is limited. With an interdisciplinary focus, this seminar will trace the difficulties faced at each step in the research process and draw on creative and innovative methodological techniques to address these challenges--from ethical decisions and recruitment techniques to coding schemas and informing best practices. The project’s biweekly discussion reading groups and bi-semester panel presentations will culminate in a research symposium highlighting topics related to LGBT study and the innovative techniques developed and advanced throughout the seminar year. Projected outcomes include scholarly publications, conference presentations, and curriculum development for a graduate-level course in sexuality and research. This seminar is intended to benefit both those researchers studying LGBT populations specifically and also those simply seeking to incorporate more diverse samples into their own fields of study.


“The Reveal”: Making Room for Mental Health and Wellness Among Black Women

Organizers: Angela Black (Kinesiology & Community Health, faculty), Carla Hunter (Psychology, faculty), Renique Kersh (Community Health, student), Ashley Walls (Urban planning, student), Natalie Watson (Psychology, student)

The Reveal is a project that aims to explore issues that influence Black women’s mental health and wellness, generally, and their health-seeking behaviors, specifically. In addition to systemic and clinical barriers, like the lack of insurance coverage and cultural mistrust of mental health services, research suggests that personal barriers, like fear of social stigma and culturally-prescribed coping behaviors, may prevent Black women from accessing mental health services.  For example, Black women are encouraged to exhibit psychological hardiness and emotional invulnerability, which may promote self-silencing and block help-seeking behaviors among Black women. Through The Reveal Focal Point, we aim to provide a space where Black women’s stories, human vulnerability, and healing can emerge.

The Reveal Focal Point aims to promote Black women’s health and wellness by conducting the following: (1) “growing” a collective of scholars and community members interested in issues of mental health and wellness among Black women, (2) hosting workshops and conferences in the Champaign-Urbana (C-U) community on various topics related to Black women’s mental and emotional wellness, (3) interviewing Black women from these workshops about their self-care and emotional health practices, and (4) hosting a social action theater performance informed by these interviews, which will be presented to the broader University and Champaign-Urbana community. These efforts will serve as preliminary interventions in de-stigmatizing mental health concerns and promoting health behaviors, like emotional expression, among the larger University and C-U community of Black women.

This project aims to advance the overall mission of graduate education by cultivating research skills among those with a special interest in service to the community. Thus, the desire of this project is to provide graduate students with an outlet to apply their intellectual skills to a practical project that contributes to the overall University and C-U community.


Social Interaction and Communicative Competence: Highlighting the Role of Technology

Organizers: Laura DeThorne (Speech & Hearing Science, faculty), Julie Hengst (Speech & Hearing Science, faculty), Mariana Aparicio Betancourt (Neuroscience and Speech & Hearing Science, student), Ai Leen Choo (Speech & Hearing Science, student)

This Phase II project extends our 2009-10 Focal Point Project Social interaction and communicative competence: Integrating theory and clinical practice, and redirects it to highlight the role of technology.  Dramatic advances in computerized technologies have impacted almost all walks of life—as seen in the explosion of cell phone use in developing countries, the routine availability of the internet through laptops or smart phones, and the immense global popularity of online videogames and social media. Technological advances have brought computerized assistive devices to clinical practice for individuals with communication disorders. For example, compact computer systems have supported development of dedicated augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices with speech generating (SG) software that provide a “voice” for individuals with significant disruptions in their speech or language due to such conditions as motor speech disorders or aphasia. In addition, relatively rapid yet asynchronous online communication systems (e.g., email, text messaging, social networking) as well as online gaming platforms are providing alternate means of supporting and experiencing social interaction for individuals with cognitive-communicative or social disabilities (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, ASD; traumatic brain injury, TBI). Despite such promise, individuals with communication disorders and their communication partners face many barriers to accessing and successfully using both dedicated and non-dedicated computerized technologies. It is estimated that only 5% of individuals who could benefit from AAC devices are using them. Perhaps an even greater barrier are professionals who have yet to imagine how such technologies can extend learning, communication, and social interaction. Too often, AAC-SG devices and other assistive technologies for communication are seen as optional, not integral, for social interaction; and computerized social sites and gaming platforms are seen as recreational, not as critical learning environments.

This project focuses on the needs of diverse communicators by exploring ways to enhance people's communicative competence and social participation both through, and in the context of, computerized technologies. Grounded in theories of distributed cognition, multimodal communicative practice, and activity-based theories of social interaction, we will examine research on how computerized technologies alter our interactions with the world, shape our learning, and address specialized needs. We will also conduct qualitative case studies of individuals using assistive technologies and draw on those studies to support critical discussion and integration of research and practice. The project will conclude with a capstone conference that brings researchers and practitioners together to discuss these issues.


Transnational Communications Research Methods and Practice: Mapping Technologies and Futures

Organizers: Anita Say Chan (Institute of Communications Research, faculty), Markus Schulz (Sociology, faculty), Ergin Bulut (Institute of Communications Research, student), Soo Mee Kim (Sociology, student), Eileen Lagman (English, student)

While Phase I of our project was focused on establishing interdisciplinary collaboration in order to address an existing theoretical gap between transnational studies and communication and media studies, Phase II will focus on 1.) identifying interdisciplinary methods for conducting transnational research and 2.) exploring communication technologies in practice among particular communities and industries. In order to do this, we have taken up the guiding frameworks of “myths” and “futures”—two themes which pervade the discourse on global technologies—and intend to examine the material implications of these themes as they unfold “on the ground” in community groups and industries. Our project will include research workshops led by participating UIUC faculty, writing workshops for graduate student research, lectures from industry professionals and community organizers, and collaborative projects with international organizations. Our project will culminate in an end-of-the-year research symposium and final book project.

Recognizing that new media and information technologies are spreading across the globe at an accelerated pace, our project continues to bring together graduate students and faculty in interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration in order to identify the scope of transnational communications research methods and inquiry. Our project will facilitate innovative research by graduate students and theorize the bounds of transnational communications research for a graduate curriculum. Finally, our project will facilitate discussion between the UIUC community and industry professionals and community activists, ultimately strengthening networks between the UIUC campus and international organizations from different parts of the world.


Transnational Research on a Local Currency Movement and its Implementation in the Urbana-Champaign Area

Organizers: Benjamin James Lough (Social Work, faculty), Chi-Fang Wu (Social Work, faculty), Seonhee Jeong (Business Administration, visiting assistant professor), Jeonghwan Choi (Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, student), Seon-Mi Kim (Social Work, student)

The rise of national chains combined with the recent world economic recession has weakened the prosperity of locally owned stores throughout the nation. Research on the impacts of locally owned business found that locally owned businesses create more local jobs, local wages, and increase a money returning rate to the local economy (Civic Economics, 2007, 2008).

A local currency movement provides a concrete tool to protect and support the local economy by boosting locally owned businesses. A local currency movement is a collaborative initiative by the non-profit sector to generate and circulate local currency within a prescribed community so that profit remains in the local economy.

The main goal of this project is the establishment of a local currency system in Champaign- Urbana. However, lack of a comprehensive understanding of a local currency system prevents us from building innovative strategies for establishing a local currency system in Urbana-Champaign. Overcoming this gap in our knowledge requires an interdisciplinary collaboration among scholars in business, social work, and human development. Therefore, we propose several learning streams to investigate the models of the BerkShare in the U.S., Lewes Pound in the U.K and Toronto Dollars in Canada since they are oldest and most successful local currency cases in the world.

Since each local currency system has different models, contexts, and operating process, we then plan to compare these diverse models to develop a model for the Urbana-Champaign area based on variables of local economy. A better understanding of local currency systems will allow us to integrate innovative strategies to establish a local currency system in Urbana-Champaign. An interdisciplinary collaboration among scholars in business, social work, and human development and international collaboration with local currency systems in and outside of the Unite States will provide valuable insights to implement the local currency system in Urbana-Champaign area.


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

Organizers: Armand Beaudoin (Mechanical Science & Engineering, faculty), Philip Johnston (Dance, lecturer), Bruno Azeredo (Mechanical Science & Engineering, student), Markita Landry (Chemical Physics, 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 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 dynamics of rigid-bodies, dance, and biomechanics at the undergraduate and graduate level. Dancers are intuitive examples of several mechanical concepts such as center of mass and volume, inertia, stability and conservation laws (energy, linear and angular momentum). We envision that students can grasp these concepts more intuitively through illustrative problems in dance and develop an appreciation for the field of biomechanics. 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 via inverse kinetic (see example in Figure 1) software to decipher elements of balance, energy, stability, and inertia that dancers experience. Finally, dance videos and analyzed data are compiled into lectures, homework assignments, and final project problems that exemplify dance elements both qualitatively and quantitatively.