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Northern Today

Northern Today - February 2, 2009

Honors Program encourages ‘Huskie Acts of Kindness’

Honors Program students are spending this month encouraging acts of kindness as the university approaches the one-year memorial of the campus shooting.

In memory of those lost, and in tribute to the generosity of the community that has rallied around the campus, the Honors Program is distributing postcards asking people to do an act of kindness, write what they did on the front of the provided postcard, stamp it and drop it in the mail or in the Honors Office. Postcards are available in the University Honors Program office, Campus Life Building 110, and at select locations around campus.

Two-thousand postcards have already been distributed, and another 2,000 will likely be gone by the beginning of February.

Students in the program have said they came up with the idea because they felt that encouraging thousands of acts of kindness was an uplifting way to mark a solemn anniversary.

If you would like to pick up a stack of postcards for your student or community group, contact the University Honors Program at (815) 753-9505.

The postcards detailing these “Huskie Acts of Kindness” will be displayed in the University Honors Program office and near Ellington’s in the Holmes Student Center during a campus memorial Saturday, Feb. 14.

Excellence in the Middle

NIU launches master’s specialization to raise
effectiveness of middle school math teachers

The way Jim Sheridan sees it, the middle school years might just represent the “last best chance” for some students.

Sheridan teaches eighth-grade mathematics at Rockford Environmental Science Academy (RESA). He sees many adolescents who straddle the boundary between academic success and failure at a time when they need to have a solid grasp of their studies, particularly mathematics, to be successful in high school.

“I see too many kids right on that fence line,” Sheridan says.

“They’re either going to make it and be successful students or they will be at-risk high school students. It could well be our last best chance to reach, motivate and encourage students and to make math special in their lives.”

This past fall, the Department of Mathematical Sciences at NIU launched a unique master’s degree specialization that will provide Sheridan and other teachers with a highly advanced level of expertise as they reach out to students and make important connections between math and the real world.

Believed to be the first of its kind in Illinois, the degree program is open to any qualified teacher but is specially designed for certified teachers who teach, or intend to teach, middle school mathematics.

It was launched as the centerpiece of “Excellence in the Middle,” a $1 million multi-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education through a grant to NIU. Mathematics professors Helen Khoury and Mary Shafer are directing the project.

The grant supports a partnership between NIU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences and the Rockford Public Schools in an effort to increase the effectiveness of the district’s middle school mathematics teachers and ultimately heighten students’ interest and achievement in the subject and improve classroom performance.

An initial cohort of 25 Rockford teachers, representing about half of all Rockford middle school math teachers, is beginning its second semester of work at NIU-Rockford. The teachers will complete the master’s program over three years. For cohort members, the Excellence in the Middle project covers their expenses.

“We need to make mathematics meaningful and relevant to all of our students, and there’s a high need for this type of graduate level specialization, both at the national and the regional levels,” Khoury says. “Middle school mathematics teachers need to become more qualified in mathematics, in mathematics education and in understanding the mathematical reasoning as well as the behavior of the middle school child.”

The Excellence in the Middle project selected teachers in the initial cohort based on their leadership potential. “We’re hoping they evolve as teacher leaders within their classrooms, buildings and district – that’s a major component of our project,” Khoury adds.

Sheridan leapt at the opportunity, even though he already has a master’s degree.

“We don’t devote enough resources specifically to math. For this to be offered is truly unique,” he says, adding that the cohort already has a tight bond. “Everyone has an interest in middle-grade mathematics. This program is exactly the type of training I need to be able to better prepare our students for success in high school.”

Raising students’ performance and interest in mathematics and science is a national priority. At the state level, an NIU Outreach team in recent years conducted extensive studies on the status of science, technology, engineering and math education, identifying critical needs that must be met to keep the state competitive.

Initial teacher certification programs in Illinois certify teachers for either kindergarten through ninth grade, or for the sixth- through 12th-grades. Yet, as any teacher knows, curricula and student needs vary widely at different grade levels, and the middle school years need specialized and qualified teachers.

“This is the first master’s degree specialization program at NIU specifically for middle school math teachers and one of the few in the Midwest,” says Professor Shafer, co-director of the Excellence in the Middle project. “A lot of the research points to middle school as the time we need to tap our students in terms of developing their mathematical skills and reasoning.”

The middle school years are particularly challenging for both teachers and students. During adolescence, students are changing physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively. And these changes occur at widely varying rates from one student to the next.

“Adolescents are starting to think about the skills and attributes they have and how they will put these qualities to work in school and eventually in a career,” says NIU Professor M Cecil Smith, an educational psychologist who specializes in the study of cognitive change.

Smith is teaching a course in the master’s program that will help teachers focus on how they can support and sustain their students’ identity formation, a critical task for adolescents.

“Most math teachers only get one lecture on adolescents’ identity formation. In this program, we deliver an entire course because it’s crucial information for middle school teachers. They’re not only teaching math, they’re teaching students. So they must understand students’ psychological and emotional needs. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how much you know about math. You’re not going to connect.”

It’s not only students who need to make connections between mathematics and the real world. So do teachers.

“Students need to understand that mathematics is important to all aspects of life,” Shafer says. “When we’re trying to reach more students, the teachers themselves need to understand how mathematics can be applied in many areas. This helps the teachers learn mathematics in a deeper way.”

Teachers in the master’s program meet at NIU-Rockford for a full day of instruction on two Saturdays of each month. Meanwhile, NIU professors visit the teachers in their classrooms and meet with them during the week to establish support groups and to help them develop as a learning community. The middle school teachers also are required to complete their own mathematics education research-based projects within their classrooms.

NIU boasts one of the largest programs in Illinois for preparing secondary school mathematics teachers.
About a dozen NIU faculty members in mathematical sciences and various other disciplines participated in planning the new master’s degree program.

During the summer, the Rockford teachers will take courses in DeKalb taught by NIU professors in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. By working and studying in the labs of scientists and engineers, teachers will become more aware of the interplay between mathematics and emerging technologies.

“I’ve always been a believer that math and science shouldn’t be pushed so far apart from each other,” says Pam Hilgert, special projects coordinator for Rockford Public Schools. “So many times students look at geometry and algebra and say, ‘When will I ever use this?’ I think this program will enable teachers to help their students see the importance of math and understand how it relates to life.”

You have mentoring …

Management course connects
students with mentors via e-mail

The average e-mail in-box is crammed full of chain letters, fraudulent offers of foreign money and ads for discount pharmaceuticals. But a class of management students in the NIU College of Business got something far more useful last semester: mentoring.

After discovering that most of her students lacked a professional network to help them launch their careers, Professor Wendy Murphy set up an e-mentoring program to connect students and business professionals via e-mail.

“Research indicates that professionals who develop a network of mentors are promoted more quickly, earn more money and are more satisfied with their careers,” said Murphy, whose primary area of research is mentoring relationships. “I consider it important to teach my students how to establish those networks.”

She had heard of other business classes establishing “e-mentor” programs and thought the concept would work well at NIU. “It seemed like a great fit for us since so many of our alumni are local and are fairly involved in the university,” she said.

Chair of Management Sarah Marsh agreed. She liked the idea so much that she worked with Murphy to fast-track it, recruiting more than 30 mentors from the ranks of the department’s alumni in a matter of weeks. Mentors were drawn from a variety of industries and ranged from fairly junior managers to highly placed executives.

The class syllabus required students to contact their mentor four times.

The initial contact was to be an introduction, with subsequent e-mails asking the mentors for examples of how they handle issues that were discussed in class. Murphy offered students suggestions and examples of how to draft introductory e-mails, offered advice on how to put questions into context and coached students on how to conduct professional correspondence. Beyond that, however, the students and mentors were largely on their own.

Students were a bit skeptical at first, Murphy said. They found it difficult to believe that working professionals would have the patience or the inclination to spend much time explaining things to them. But once they made their initial contacts, any such doubts were soon erased.

“It quickly became obvious to everyone involved that the mentors truly cared about helping these students,” Marsh said. “Throughout the semester, every time I met one of the mentors at an event, all they wanted to talk about was how things were going with their student.”

That level of enthusiasm also was evident in the responses mentors sent to student questions. Commenting on topics that included diversity and ethics, communicating with employees and dealing with stress in the workplace, the mentors’ responses often went on for pages and were punctuated with frequent real-world examples to illustrate points.

“That was something that really impressed the students. It made the concepts and theories we discussed more understandable,” Murphy said. “They saw that the problems and solutions that we were studying in class were things that their mentors dealt with on a regular basis. As the semester progressed, the mentors’ responses greatly enhanced our discussions.”

At the conclusion of the semester, both students and mentors gave the program high marks. In fact, the most common frustration expressed by mentors was that they wanted to have more interaction with students. Several suggested that phone conversations or even face-to-face meetings be incorporated into the process.

Some students and mentors likely will keep in touch beyond the class, Murphy said. Two students already used their relationships with mentors to help them pursue internship opportunities.

While others might not benefit as strongly, Murphy said the process was worthwhile.

“It gave students practice in conducting professional correspondence and taught them how to build relationships with people more advanced in their careers, which is a valuable skill to have in the business world,” she said.

Murphy plans to continue the program this semester and extending it to a second class.

Students awarded grants to present their research

Lisa McFadden, a doctoral candidate in the psychology department’s neuroscience and behavior program, and Suhong Yu, a doctoral student in physics, are the first beneficiaries of the new Howard Johnston Award for Graduate Student Travel at NIU.

The Howard Johnston Award encourages excellence in research by providing travel grants of up to $1,500 for students to present their research at national or international conferences. Applicants must be nominated by their research mentor and department. 

“Our graduate students at NIU do some terrific research, and this is one way that we can encourage them more to present their work in national and international venues,” said James Erman, interim vice president for research and graduate studies at NIU.

Psychology Professor Leslie Matuszewich nominated McFadden.

McFadden’s work looks to gain a better understanding of the basic mechanism involved the therapeutic effects of early amphetamine and Ritalin treatments in children with ADHD. She presented her research on the topic last semester at the annual meeting for the Society for Neurosciences in Washington, D.C.

Professor Zhili Xiao nominated Yu for the award.

Yu is carrying out research on the fabrication, properties and applications of nanoscale superconductors. She recently has been able to make superconducting loops with diameters down to a few hundred nanometers and observed novel phenomena. Her results are important for both understanding nanoscale superconductors and their potential applications in nanodevices. Yu also was part of a team that developed new approaches to fabricating superconducting niobium nitride nanowires and nanoribbons. She will present her research at the annual March meeting of the American Physical Society in Pittsburgh.

The Howard Johnston Award for Graduate Student Travel will be given out on a periodic basis. Applications/nominations will be accepted three times each year: Feb. 28, June 30 and October 30.

See for more information.


Ed Kush, assistant store supervisor in the chemistry storeroom for 15 years, died Jan. 26. He was 73. Kush retired in the 1999-2000 academic year.

Jazz Ensemble to perform
afternoon concert Feb. 5

The NIU Jazz Ensemble performs with trumpeter Lew Soloff at 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5. This concert is in the Concert Hall of the Music Building and is free and open to the public.

The concert is part of Jazz Day, a day-long event for high school jazz bands. Fifteen top area bands perform and are critiqued by NIU jazz faculty throughout the day. The students enjoy master classes, concerts and a talk by Soloff.

The NIU Jazz Ensemble is directed by Ron Carter, head of jazz studies at NIU. With a roster that includes students from Miami to Milwaukee, the NIU Jazz Ensemble has long been considered one of the best college jazz bands in the world.

The group has performed all over the United States, as well as in Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands. Among the many well-known jazz artists the group has performed with are Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, Tito Puente and James Moody.

For more information, call (815) 753-1450.

Application deadline approaches
for faculty travel fellowships

The NIU Division of International Programs is accepting applications for Lillian Cobb Faculty Travel Fellowships, supporting faculty members who seek international teaching and public service experiences.

All tenured or tenure-track faculty members at NIU are eligible to apply.

Proposals for travel through Aug. 15 must be submitted to the Division of International Programs by Friday, Feb 6. Applicants will be notified whether they have received an award by March 15.

Each year the specific priorities of the Cobb Faculty Travel Fellowship program may be adjusted to support particular aspects of the strategic plan and mission.

Priority funding consideration this year will be given to proposals that support the creation of new faculty-led study abroad programs by providing travel funds for faculty to visit potential new venues. Grantees will be expected to explore logistic needs and requirements and to firm up any arrangements with local providers, colleagues and/or institutions.

A total of $7,000 is available to be awarded in this cycle. International Programs expects to award four or more grants from the Cobb endowment, with the maximum award to be $2,000. Except for extraordinary circumstances, a match of 20 percent is expected from the faculty member’s department and/or college.

The travel fellowship was established with an endowment from the estate of Lillian Cobb, the first chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

Geology posts dates for spring colloquia

The Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences has announced the schedule for its Spring 2009 Colloquia.

All talks are held at 4 p.m. Fridays in Davis Hall 308 and are co-sponsored by the Graduate Colloquium Committee of NIU. Call (815) 753-1943 for more information.

  • Friday, Feb. 6: Patricia Beddows, Northwestern University, “Vadose processes”
  • Friday, Feb. 27: Niklas Wagner, NIU, “An ion geochemistry and SR isotope study of the extent of the K/T ejecta blanked in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.”
  • Friday, March 20: Douglas Walker, Illinois State Water Survey, title to be announced
  • Friday, March 27: Stephen Rowland, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “The reception in nineteenth-century America of the new sciences of Geology, Paleontology, and Archaeology – as recorded in the writing of Mark Twain.”
  • Friday, April 17: Luke Trusel, NIU, “Inferences into temperate fjiord deglaciation; evidence from glacial and paraglacial submarine landforms in southeast Alaska.”
  • Friday, April 24: David Vaccaro, NIU, “Alteration reactions in magmatic hydrothermal systems.”

Trip scheduled Friday to Yerkes Observatory

Join NIU in a Friday, Feb. 6, trip to explore the University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory at Williams Bay, Wis. The trip departs from the Normal Road entrance of the Holmes Student Center at 2:45 p.m. and returns around 8 p.m.

The cost is $35, which includes entrance fees, guide, snack and transportation. The snack will be light, so travelers might want to bring snacks and make dinner plans after the return to DeKalb.

Established in 1897, the observatory housed the University of Chicago’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Department. The beautiful, historic building, on the 77-acre, park-like site, houses the world’s biggest lens-type telescope and continues to provide laboratory space and access to telescopes for research and instruction.

Participants will learn about the observatory’s history, important discoveries and ongoing research in astronomy and astrophysics. 

To register, call (815) 753-0277 and reference Event #10121 or register online. For information, call Mark Pietrowski at (815) 753-5200.

Artists to speak at Olson Gallery

More talks about art are scheduled in a series tied to “New and Renew: New Faculty and Sabbatical Biennial,” on view in the Art Building’s Jack Olson Gallery through Feb. 13.

Debbie Smith-Shank will speak from noon to 12:45 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9. Francis Trankina will speak from noon to 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10. 

NIU offers ACT prep

NIU will offer an ACT test prep course in February and March.

The four-week course meets from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 21, Feb. 28, March 14 and March 21, in Room 201 of Reavis Hall.

The program will cover English, math, reading and science reasoning. The final session will cover a sample testing of an actual retired ACT test and scoring.

The fee includes instruction, textbook, CD-ROM and retired ACT tests, but does not include registration to take the actual ACT test.

Registration for this test prep course is available online. For more information, contact Mark Pietrowski at (815) 753-1456 or via e-mail at

Community School sponsors
high school Jazz Combo Day

High school jazz players are invited to audition for Jazz Combo Day, a memorable day of non-stop jazz at NIU.

Jazz Combo Day brings the best area high school jazz players together for an intensive jazz experience. The Friday, March 20, event culminates in a performance of all combos.

Students are formed into combos and work with some of the best NIU jazz faculty in the region, including Ron Carter, Willie Pickens, Kelly Sill, Art Davis, Steve Duke, Fareed Haque, Rodrigo Villanueva and Robert Chappell. This year’s guest artist is famed saxophonist Wes “Warmdaddy” Anderson.

Audition recordings (CD, video or tape) must be postmarked Friday, Feb. 27. The audition is limited to 12 minutes and must feature three contrasting styles, head and improvisation. Send auditions to Ron Carter, NIU School of Music, DeKalb, IL, 60115.

More information is available at or by calling (815) 753-1450.

Graduate student travel award
changes nomination criteria

Nomination criteria for the Howard Johnston Award for Graduate Student Travel have changed in two areas.

Each department is limited to a maximum of two nominations, and nominations must be ranked. A criteria for nomination of a group of students for travel (when group travel is appropriate) also has been added. The group nomination will be considered a single nomination.

The next nomination deadline is Saturday, Feb. 28.

To encourage excellence in research and scholarly activity, the Howard Johnston Award for Graduate Student Travel will provide travel grants for outstanding NIU students to present their research projects at national or international conferences in their discipline or to participate in other scholarly activities.

Travel grants of up to $1,500 will be awarded on a competitive basis. It is anticipated that about $8,000 in total funding will be available each year.

Alumni Association plans
trips to Peru, South Africa

Visit some of the world’s most exotic places with the NIU Alumni Association.

One of the top archaeological sites on the planet awaits visitors at Machu Picchu, Peru. In South Africa, travelers will experience one of Africa's top safari destinations in Kruger National Park. This tour also includes visits to Cape Town, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Hazy View and more.

For more information about these trips, visit

Children’s Choir schedules
first spring rehearsal Feb. 4

The NIU Community School of the Arts children’s choir welcomes all interested children ages 8 to 13 to the first spring rehearsal Wednesday, Feb. 4. The rehearsal begins at 4:30 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m. The group meets at this time each week in Room 171 of the Music Building.

The open rehearsal Feb. 4 is an ideal chance for children and parents to experience the choir without making a commitment. The group will play music games, sing and enjoy treats.

Mary Lynn Doherty, director of the choir, is a faculty member of the NIU School of Music. Assisting and accompanying is Travis Erikson, choir director for the DeKalb High School. 

The mission of the CSA Children’s Choir is to develop the musical skills and understandings of children in the greater DeKalb area through the study and performance of high quality choral music of different genres. Through the choral music experience, students will build important musical and life skills.

For more information, call Renee Page at (815) 753-1450 or visit

Geography posts dates for spring colloquia

The Department of Geography has announced the schedule for its Spring 2009 Colloquia.

All talks are held at 3 p.m. Fridays in Davis Hall 121 and are co-sponsored by the Graduate Colloquium Committee of NIU. Call (815) 753-0631 for more information.

  • Feb. 6: Stephen C. Laffey, Illinois Commerce Commission, “Geographic Perspective of Railroad Safety in Illinois”
  • Feb. 20: Graduate student research presentations. (More graduate student research presentations are scheduled for Monday, April 27, and Wednesday, April 29.)
  • Feb. 27: George Malanson, University of Iowa, “Computer Simulation Responses to Global Change at the Alpine Treeline”
  • March 6: Graduate Student Research Presentations
  • March 20: Mohamed Sultan Western Michigan University, “Water Resources and Environmental Issues”
  • April 3: Donald A. Hanson, Argonne National Laboratory, “Climate-Economic Models and Uncertainties”
  • April 10: William Currie, University of Michigan, “Woody Vegetation Change, Carbon Storage, and Climate Change Mitigation”
  • April 17: Scott Isard, Penn State University, “Modeling Seasonal Spread of Soybean Rust in North America”
  • April 24: Joy Nystrom Mast, Carthage College, “The Biogeography of Forest Change: Crown Fire, Insect Epidemics, and Drought in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the American Southwest”

NIU’s FIT program to host
a ‘Biggest Loser’ competition

Inspired by the hit TV show, NIU’s FIT Program is creating a “Biggest Loser” competition.

At stake is a free fall 2009 FIT membership to both the woman and man who lose the most weight, and also a free fall 2009 membership to the team whose members who lose the most weight. Participants can sign up in teams of four or individually for placement on teams of four.

Measurements of girth (arms, waist, hips, thighs) and pounds lost will take place every two weeks, and the competition will conclude the week of April 20. Exercise physiology students will be available to train individuals and teams.

For more information, call (815) 753-0335.

Ally Program registration
opens for spring workshops

The Ally Program is a campus-wide program designed to foster a welcoming and supportive campus environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff by creating a visible network of allies.

NIU employees and students interested in volunteering for the Ally Program can learn more and register online. The online form provides the specific workshop dates and times and allows registrants to indicate first, second and third choices.

Training is divided into two two-hour workshops (Part I and Part II). Volunteers must attend both Part I and Part II. Space is limited, and advance registration is required. Multiple dates are available.

Part I:
Wednesday, Feb. 4: 2 to 4 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 9: 9 to 11 a.m.

Part II:
Tuesday, Feb. 17: 2 to 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 25: 2 to 4 p.m.
Monday, March 2: 9 to 11 a.m.

The Ally Program is sponsored by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, Division of Student Affairs.