E-mail and search functions

  • University of Illinois
  • E-mail
  • A-Z Index

2013-2014 Focal Point Projects

Diversity and Internationalization of Higher Education

Project Organizers:

Anna Stenport – Scandinavian Studies (faculty)
Lorenzo Baber – Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (faculty)
Nicole Lamers – International Education Specialist, LAS (administrator)
Xiuying Cai – Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (graduate student)
Ga Young Chung – Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (graduate student)


The field of international education is “a growing pie” worldwide, with the United States as the leading destination for the increasing population of students studying outside of their original countries. Specifically, according to the annual report by the Institute of International Education, there were 819,644 International Students studying in the U.S during 2012-13 academic year, accounting for 3.9% of its total higher education enrollment. This development has been the focus of intense debate in US higher education during the past decade. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign enrolled 9,407 international students of its 43,398 total enrollment in Fall 2013. According to NAFSA, an estimated economic contribution of $300,351,700 and 5,538 jobs were created or supported due to the influx of international students during the 2012-2013 academic year in Congressional District 13 of the State of Illinois alone, to which the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a major contributor.

In addition to economic value, international students also contribute academic value to U.S. colleges and universities, as well as cultural value to campuses and local communities by serving as cultural bridges and bringing global perspectives.  While the internationalization of higher education is pictured positively either economically, politically, academically, or culturally, there have been growing concerns nationally, about the ways in which domestic diversity and global diversity intersect, diverge and compete with one another in new and complicated ways. Given campus-wide concerns about the increasingly globalized U of I campus, this Focal Point project seeks to bring together a diverse group of faculty members, student and academic affairs administrators, and graduate students who are interested in exploring the tensions and overlaps between movements for campus diversification and internationalization, specifically within the context of the institution’s land-grant mission.



Emerging Issues and Research on Harmful Cyanobacterial Algal Blooms Impact on Populations and Ecosystems

Project Organizers:

Gay Miller – Pathobiology (faculty)
Jeffrey Levengood – Illinois Natural History Survey (faculty)
Sarah Steinmann – Comparative Biosciences (graduate student)
Ian Sprandel – Pathobiology (graduate student)


Toxin-producing cyanobacteria are an increasing problem in bodies of water used by humans and animals.Nutrient-enrichment of water bodies and climate change are driving population explosions, or blooms of these organisms.Consumption or lysing of cyanobacteria can impose substantial health risks on human, domestic animal, wildlife, and aquatic animal health.These harmful algal blooms (HABs) kill fish by depleting oxygen, and also produce toxins (cyanotoxins) that, when consumed, can cause illness and/or death in a variety of species including humans.In humans, symptoms and lesions associated with cyanotoxin intoxication include diarrhea, skin irritation, liver damage, cancers, and rapid death by respiratory failure.The surface scums and mats that form on rivers, lakes, and ponds are visual indicators of HABs and the possibility of intoxication with water ingestion, dermal absorption, or inhalation of aerosolized toxins which can occur, e.g. during recreational water use.Also, there are substantial economic costs associated with HABs including bloom management, veterinary and medical costs, time off work, and loss of recreation revenue.

Understanding of the synthesis and modes of actions of cyanotoxins has increased in recent decades.  However, not every bloom produces toxins, and the environmental triggers of toxin production are not well understood.  New analytical methods have been developed for the detection and quantification of cyanobacterial toxins in water and for removing these toxins from water destined for drinking.  Still many knowledge gaps remain and much research needs to be done in the area of cyanotoxin removal from drinking water.

Our team of faculty and graduate students has identified scientists with expertise and interest in various aspects of HABs to participate in our focal point project and associated seminar.Our objective with this focal point project is to create an interdisciplinary community of STEM-focused scholars (including faculty and graduate students) from several University of Illinois departments and associated facilities on Campus, and also scholars from other institutions who will: interact regularly in a seminar centered on presentations that focus on HABs;develop increased research capacity and human capital on cyanotoxin impacts on animal and ecosystem health, and on water quality and toxins at the University of Illinois;foster long-term institutional engagement on HABs and human, animal, and ecosystem health.Our interdisciplinary group of scientists, coming together regularly to share and discuss animal health and water quality topics related to algal blooms, will markedly improve our ability to understand and link health of a variety of species, water quality, water and land management practices, climate change, and the associated linkages to toxin production.

The CyHABs seminar has a full slate of speakers from across institutions and countries and will meet this fall on Tuesdays, 9-10 am in room 2406 VMBSB, and via the internet using Lync Meeting.



Illinois-Njala Global Health Partnership

Project Organizers:

Paul McNamara – Agricultural and Consumer Economics (faculty)
Hillary Klonoff-Cohen – Kinesiology and Community Health (faculty)
Gay Miller – Pathobiology (faculty)
Elise Duwe – Sociology (MD/PhD student)
Gregory Damhorst – (MD/PhD student)
Kenneth Long – (MD/PhD student)


The University of Illinois displays breadth and depth in disciplines relevant to multifaceted global health challenges, from the One Health of humans, animals, and environment to the development and implementation of technologies which address clean water accessibility to the business of agricultural production in developing economies. Njala University in Sierra Leone was established in 1964 by faculty from the University of Illinois with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since that time, Sierra Leone has been devastated by a civil war lasting from roughly 1991 through 2002. In particular the war took a tremendous toll on the Njala University system, including loss of facilities, staff, and students. As it emerges from a phase of post-war rebuilding and embarks on a phase of growth in the international scene, the relationship between Njala University and the University of Illinois has been strengthened through extensive engagement with a number of faculty and students facilitated by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

The Illinois-Njala Global Health Partnership seeks to grow this relationship with Njala University by advancing a cohesive program which utilizes global health as a common thread to demonstrate our capacity for interdisciplinarity as the norm in research, education and outreach. The project will facilitate the formation of interdisciplinary activities, new course offerings, campus seminars, and dialogue across disciplines around global health. The impact on graduate education across campus will be in the developing of programs which prepare the global health leaders of tomorrow with sensitivity to globalization, experience with international partnership, and a mindset of interdisciplinary collaboration.



More than Words: Engaging in a Collective Training and Application of Social Justice

Project Organizers:

Ruth Nicole Brown – Education Policy, Organization and Leadership and Gender and Women’s Studies (faculty)
Soo Ah Kwon – Human and Community Development and Asian American Studies (faculty)
Tiffany Harris – Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (graduate student)
Lisa Ortiz – Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (graduate student)


What does it mean to voice and enact social justice within the realms of teaching, research, and/or activism? For current UIUC graduate students interested in doing social justice research, where do they receive systematic interdisciplinary training? How would a model of social justice education for the training of graduate students look at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign? This focal point initiative serves as an initial step toward creating a legitimate and formal training for students interested in writing and researching in ways that raise awareness of social issues, facilitated understanding of politics, and who insist on praxis as a means of conducting research. More specifically, the More than Words project aims at provoking critical self-reflections in a space that collectively and critically disrupts notions of social justice through adamant engagement.

The organizers of this project acknowledge the important work that is being done through programs run by the Diversity and Social Justice Education Office, the Office of Public Engagement, and the various programs like Education Justice Project who do social justice work. More than Words seeks to fill the gap for graduate students who want to expand their understanding of social justice.

The primary objective of this focal point initiative is to provide the necessary mechanisms in which graduate students can receive the social justice training they deserve coupled with the opportunity to put such knowledge into action. In addition, other foreseen outcomes that may positively impact graduate education stem from interdisciplinary collaboration among graduate students, faculty, staff, and community members; symposium presentations; as well as potential publication and coursework opportunities. But most importantly, the organizers of More than Words hope for genuine participation and transformative experiences.



A Multidisciplinary Approach to Addressing Health Care Disparity in Local and Global Communities

Project Organizers:

Katherine Magerko – Human and Community Development (MD/PhD student)
Paven Aujla – Neuroscience (MD/PhD student)
Samuel Logan – College of Nursing (MSN, FNP student)
Margarita Teran-Garcia – Food Science and Human Nutrition (faculty)
Irfan Ahmad – Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology and Agricultural and Biological Engineering (director and faculty)
Angela Wiley – Human and Community Development (faculty)


The U.S. spends twice as much as any other country in the world on health care and yet our population health indicators lag painfully behind other countries. Health care disparities are considered one of the likely major contributing causes. With the recent implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), collaboration across multiple services is becoming a necessity. Our Focal Point award will allow for collaborative discussion as well as action regarding challenges that face underserved populations in local and global communities. We plan to create an interactive discussion forum of important health care issues between a multidisciplinary group of graduate students within the schools of medicine, nursing, public health, nutrition, health research, social work, biotechnology, kinesiology and related disciplines. In order to ensure that our discussion is relevant and current to issues that concern the local and global community, we will invite local and global community organizations to facilitate interactive discussions between these student groups. We see the need not only to unite graduate educational programs on campus that have similar goals regarding health care issues and practice, but also to inform the academic discussion with real-life challenges from community leaders in health care practice. The goal of this multidisciplinary forum will be to discuss issues pertinent to local and global health and to then to test our newly formed collective knowledge and teamwork skills by working together on health care outreach projects in the community. In addition, we will establish an international collaboration around these issues by inviting students from the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosi, Mexico (UASLP) to join in our interactive discussion sessions. We will also host a culminating conference event in April 2015 to reflect on our interactive discussion forums, outreach activities as well as global collaboration with UASLP.



Rethinking Transnationalism in the Age of Mediatized Social Uprisings

A Focal Point Breakthrough Grant

Project Organizers:

Antoinette Burton – History (faculty)
Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi – History and Sociology (faculty)
Ezgi Guner – Anthropology (graduate student)
Utathya Chattopadhyaya – History (graduate student)


The topic of this Focal Point project is the transnational network(s) of solidarity as sought out, actualized and maintained by activists, educators, organizations, public intellectuals and seemingly ‘anonymous’ protesters. We seek to not only rethink the global connections between geographically separate protests, but also map it on the ground in connection with the local, as a way of examining our relation to them as scholars, researchers, and implicated subjects living in East Central Illinois. We believe this will open up newer possibilities of realizing and engaging with the complex and deep nature of transnationalism as theory, practice and pedagogy in the future. Instead of assuming a priori a deracinated and simplistic interpretive globality at work today, our Focal Point will study what the nature of globality in these movements is and on what terms and at what costs it is realized.



Training the 21st Century Scientist at the University of Illinois

Project Organizers:

Kathryn Clancy – Anthropology (faculty)
Jessica Hekman – Animal Sciences (graduate student)
Daniel Simons – Psychology (faculty)
Daniel Urban – Animal Biology (graduate student)


Public engagement should be one of the core missions of a 21st century scientist. As science sections of newspapers disappear and science cable channels turn their attention to reality television, the public face of science is shrinking. The University of Illinois exceeds its peers in the many local engagement activities it hosts. But what is the overall narrative for these activities, and do they utilize best practices research to maximize effectiveness? Are these activities used as training opportunities for students? And to what extent does the university promote or incentivize public engagement? Our project resists the notion that effective and successful scientists are siloed in ivory towers, working ever-greater hours with fewer payoffs. We contend that a public R1 university should incentivize rebudgeting some of that time towards improving public understanding of science, and that they should also use engagement as an opportunity for recruitment, retention, and advancement of underrepresented scientists.

Thus, we have developed the 21st Century Scientist Working Group with three goals. First, provide opportunities for the campus community to expand its knowledge of science communication through a monthly journal club and regular seminars with outside experts. Second, develop a conference to encourage engagement with the latest science communication research, including a practicum. Third, develop a graduate minor in science communication that draws on current and new coursework to help students learn how to understand and negotiate controversy, work with diverse populations, and learn interpersonal and communication skills that best engage the public at local and global levels.



U-COuNT: Uganda Community-based Partnership to Improve Nutrition among School Children

Project Organizers:

Mary Christoph – Kinesiology and Community Health (graduate student)
Richard Bukenya – Nutritional Sciences (graduate student)
Diana Grigsby-Toussaint – Kinesiology and Community Health (faculty)
Juan Andrade – Food Science and Community Health (faculty)


Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing an epidemiologic transition characterized by demographic, social, and economic changes, and the attendant dual burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.  Consequently, resource-constrained health care systems are challenged with developing effective responses to this remarkable 21st century public health problem. The United Nations, World Health Organization, and other international bodies focused on health and nutrition are currently engaged in efforts to formulate comprehensive, multifaceted solutions. An interdisciplinary team of scholars in community and public health, food science and human nutrition in the US, along with collaborators at Makerere University, seeks to address adverse health outcomes associated with malnutrition (i.e., under- and overnutrition) in Uganda. Our focal point project aims at: (1) improving the national capacity for quality research examining health outcomes, including improved surveillance data; and (2) laying the groundwork for developing primary prevention programs that include adequate nutrition. The following are specific outcomes from our research partnership: 1) train community health workers and students at UIUC and Makerere University in biological, anthropometric, and survey data collection and analysis; 2) establish long-term collaborations with primary schools and Makerere University, 3) produce scholarly publications and presentations on our research on the correlates of malnutrition in school children; 4) co-host a conference and build a website to create interest in improving nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa; and, 5) develop proposals for extramural funding to explore international health and nutrition issues further. Our project will impact current graduate programs at the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin- Madison, and Makerere University, while also sparking international partnerships that enrich the experience and research capacity of future graduate students in global health.



Urban Environmental Equity

Project Organizers:

Bethany Cutts – Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (faculty)
Andrew Greenlee – Urban and Regional Planning (faculty)
Betsy Breyer – Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (graduate student)
Juliana Wilhoit – Urban and Regional Planning (graduate student)
Shakil Kashem – Urban and Regional Planning (graduate student)


The Urban Environmental Equity Focal Point considers the problem of training graduate students in social science to contribute to addressing environmental equity as a component of urban sustainability. What new knowledge can we, as a community of scholars across the social sciences, contribute in service to urban environmental equity?

Through the efforts associated with this The Urban Environmental Equity Focal Point, we will explore four questions:

  1. What is the educational value of training students to integrate knowledge across social science disciplines?
  2. How does learning through collaborative research improve the abilities of students to communicate the value of their research to others?
  3. How do research-focused training opportunities affect the confidence and skill set of graduate students?  Does the opportunity differ from other courses in related to recruitment of students from traditionally underrepresented groups? Does the opportunity provide different outcomes to students from traditionally underrepresented groups?
  4. What are the pressing concerns related to urban environmental equity in the Great Lakes region and what new knowledge can we, as a community of scholars across the social sciences, contribute in service to workable solutions?

Through (a) a fall reading group (NRES 512 / UP 597) and (b) experimental course offering in the spring, we aim to train students in the scholarship and practice of collaborative research, focusing on urban environmental equity.  Students will contribute new knowledge in support of interdisciplinary understandings of urban environmental equity.  Funding will be used to support professional development (project management, method and analysis training), equipment, software, and travel needs directly associated with the research proposed by students enrolled in the Urban Environmental Equity workshop in the spring of 2015.  Funds will support travel expenses associated with conducting research and professional presentations of our education approach and/or research results.