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A Positive Outlook

Akanksha Sahni, BioMedical & Pscychology Major on UNI Campus.

Living a happy life is very important to UNI sophomore Akanksha Sahni.  “If you are happy from the inside, you can function the best… This is how you can have a positive outlook on life and will be able to deal with things.  It is very important to work on the self.”  This outlook on life is perfect for Akanksha who is a BioMedical and Psychology major with a  minor in Mental Health.  Her goal is to understand the body,  the mind, and how they work together. UNI Sophomore Akanksha Sahni in a research lab in McCollum Science Hall

Originally from India, Akanksha came to UNI because of the technology and research opportunities available to undergraduates.  Many universities do not offer these experiences to undergrads and she would not be able to find opportunities like this at home. 

As a freshman, Akanksha was a research assistant to Dr. Abebe in the Biology Department.  She  studied drought resistant genes in barley plants.  As a teaching assistant (TA) for  Anatomy and Physiology she helped students with questions and graded papers.   She also tutored for student athletes taking Biology courses.

Akanksha loves her biology courses.  Anatomy and Physiology is one of her favorite courses which is also why she was so excited to become a TA for the course.  UNI’s Syndaver Lab, a laboratory of synthetic human cadavers, is where Akanksha takes labs and expands her knowledge of the human body.  She finds getting to know the human body is really interesting.  Evolution, ecology, cell function, and genetics are also favorite course topics. 

When Ankanksha was in high school, she went through exam anxiety.  Her counselor was able to help her through this.  Because of this experience, she wants to conduct research so that she can help people get out of depression or a place where they do not feel good about themselves.  Her career goal is to help individuals  increase their efficiency and well-performance.  With her undergraduate degrees, Akanksha could pursue a career in psychology or psychiatry.  After graduation, she plans to take her Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and study psychiatry. She also wants to develop her skills through real-world experiences prior to obtaining her PhD. 

Akanksha is a Residence Assistant (RA) in Noehren Hall this year.  She is the RA for one of the Living Learning Communities and her house consists of about 50 students made up of primarily Biology majors, but others as well.  Here she is available to help the students not only with their homework, but with college life. 

She is currently taking 16 credit hours and is a co-executive for the Service and Leadership Council.  This group helps organize leadership and volunteer opportunities for students on campus.  When there is free time, Akanksha works on her self by watching TED talks or other motivational videos or meditating, but someday we may see her skydiving as that is one thing on her bucket list.

Akanksha’s advice to future students is to “Make sure you know what you want to do.  Listen to your heart.  How do you want to help people?”  After you determine this, you can make a decision and once you do, “Never stop.  Keep going on.”


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 10-18-17

Farm Rocks to Moon Rocks -- Alumni Profile

Eve holds a Moon Rock collected from the  Apollo 11 mission.

Science is all around us.  UNI Alumni and Iowa Academy of Science (IAS) Education Coordinator, Eve Halligan, is working hard to bring science into focus for students and adults.  She is the bridge connecting educators to the IAS and students to the Junior Academy of Science.Eve “holds” friendly  Madagascar Hissing  Cockroaches at the  Imaginarium.

         Eve’s path to IAS started when she was young girl on their family farm near Shell Rock.  Always wanting to be outside, and finding fossils and other cool rocks in the rock pile in her yard, she became very familiar with the intense storms that would often pass through.  Rather than letting the fear of these storms cripple her, she challenged her fear and decided she was going to study and understand the weather.  By the time Eve was in Junior High at Waverly-Shell Rock Community Schools, she knew she wanted to go to college to study Atmospheric Science.  Her parents and her physical science teacher, Mr. Verdon, inspired and encouraged her to pursue this dream.

The UNI Math and Science Symposium, a competition for high school students solidified Eve’s path towards UNI.  She won a scholarship in the Earth Science Department.   Dr. Alan Czarnetzki was Eve’s advisor.  She shared that he is a wonderful educator, loves what he does and “represents all the attributes that I would aspire to or would encourage anyone else to.”  In her current position, Eve has been able to work with Dr. Czarnetzki through UNI’s IMPACT Program and is amazed at how much she can still learn from him.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Earth Science and a minor in Meteorology, Eve’s career has been nothing short of amazing but not without its twists and turns.  Her original plan was to work for the National Weather Service, being involved in formulating the daily forecasts.  It was this constant change that Eve sought because she enjoys new challenges and the daily development of her own skills.  To achieve this goal she sought additional coursework in Meterorology and Climatology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Geosciences Department. 

Eve takes a moment to take a photo with a Mars Meteorite  at the  Lunar and Planetary Institute in  Houston, Texas.An opportunity to work for the Bluedorn Imaginarium as a Science Educator brought Eve and her family back to the Cedar Falls-Waterloo area.  Here, she interacted with people of all ages.  She had to be comfortable with the creepy-crawlies such as the snakes, tarantulas and cockroaches as the creature demonstrations were always very popular with visitors.  She learned how to grab the attention of her audience as she presented the interactive science demonstrations.  Her goal was to get the audience pulled into the experiments so that they would get curious, involved and ask questions.  It was rewarding for Eve to see the excitement and enthusiasm of visitors.  Her favorite part of the job was combustion experiments because she got to “blow stuff up.”

Moving to Houston, Texas to become the Education and Public Outreach coordinator at the non-profit Lunar Planetary Institute (LPI) was next on Eve’s career path.  Originally formed to educate people about NASA, LPI is now primarily a research organization.  Working alongside research scientists, one of Eve’s tasks was to develop education materials connected to NASA’s Planetary Science Missions.   For example, Explore, one of the professional development programs, was geared for librarians to have hands-on materials and modules of activities to share with the public.

Explore took Eve and about 40 librarians from across the country, and as far away as Alaska, to Florida for a week-long training event.  The librarians were given VIP tours of the Kennedy Space Center, met scientists to learn and understand current missions, viewed the space shuttle Endeavor (see photo) as it was being decommissioned and to top it off, they were able to watch a rocket launch from VIP seating.  Having completed numerous missions in the past 10 to 15 years, NASA’s mission, here on earth, is to educate and share with the public what is going on “up there.”  Eve was tasked to be the bridge between the science of our world and outer-space and the public, sharing “information in a way that the public can digest.”

         In the late summer of 2014, Eve joined the Iowa Academy of Science as the Education Coordinator.  She stated “It’s a small world and you learn this more the older you get.”  Eve job shadowed former KWWL Chief Meteorologist Craig Johnson, one stormy day when she was in high school.  Mr. Johnson is the currently the Executive Director of the IAS and Eve said “it’s an honor to be able to work alongside him now.” 

The coordination of two large science initiatives in Iowa has been part of Eve’s focus at her position with IAS:  Project WET and the GLOBE Program.  Water Education for Teachers (WET) is an international, interdisciplinary, water science and education program for formal and non-formal educators of K-12 students (  The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program is an international science and education program that provides students and the public worldwide with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process, and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the Earth system and global environment (  For example, anyone could have downloaded a Citizen Science App and submitted data and observations to GLOBE during the recent Eclipse.  The aim of these programs is to enable people to learn science by actually doing science.  Students and adults are then able to ask their own scientific questions and pursue their own investigations.  Other tasks you may find Eve doing involve connecting students to mentors, applying for education grants and other funding, providing training and curriculum guides, going to schools to teach educators about the resources IAS can provide and encouraging students to join the Junior Academy of Science.  Eve loves to visit schools, often sharing the moon rocks, and see kids and teachers get excited wanting to know more about the IAS and about science in general.Alumni, Eve Halligan, with the Space Shuttle Endeavor as  it is decommissioned at the Kennedy Space Center.

Eve’s advice to others is “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  It is one of the best skills that can be developed, like a muscle you have to work and get stronger.  You have to ask questions so that you can learn to ask the deep and meaningful questions.”  She goes on to say that people need to quit being afraid of being wrong or failing.  Some of the greatest achievements have been from a failure of some kind and that is ok.  Keep asking questions and pushing to know more.  There is education beyond the classroom and the IAS is there to educate and help educators be the best that they can be.


Additional Websites to visit:

Story by Ginger L’Heureux,  UNI STEM Graduate Assistant,
Posted: 10-10-17

Changing Teachers Changing the World

In 2014, twenty-four secondary science teachers began a path of personal growth through the Integrating Crosscutting Concepts in Iowa Science Classrooms (ICCISC) project.  A three-year grant awarded to UNI Science Education faculty from the Iowa Department of Education Title IIB Mathematics and Science Partnership funded the ICCISC project.  The purpose of the program was to help teachers meet science standards.  This was to be done using research-based instruction and helping students prepare for STEM-related fields.   

 Small Group DiscussionsIn the first year 24 teacher-students (teachers) focused on improving science education in their own classrooms and classrooms across the state. More teachers were added to the program in the second year and the program had 47 teachers at its peak.  The teachers learned from, inspired, and collaborated with each other. They changed the way they taught, implemented changes their respective classrooms, and redesigned activities and units to best teach the material.  A special bond was created amongst the teachers and they continue to inspire and collaborate with each other when needed.  

The teachers participated in a two-week ICCISC summer institute (photos left).       Students Skype with a Mt. Vernon Farmer to discuss Erosion Control.

They interacted with faculty and Area Education Agency consultants to learn about crosscutting concepts that span across subjects.  Two teachers who took part in the ICCISC, Dr. DeEtta Andersen and John Paulson, were willing to share their take-aways from the project as well as some insight into their paths to become science educators here in Iowa.

Dr. DeEtta Andersen, a high school science teacher at Center Point Urbana High School, has wanted to teach since the 5th grade when she realized that she could teach math as well as her own teacher.  But it was the enthusiasm for learning and making discoveries of her 9th grade science teacher that directed her toward a biology degree at Iowa State University and later degrees from The University Of Iowa and Walden University.  This enthusiasm has spilled over into her teaching career.   Cuddles, Dr. Andersen's Russian Box Turtle, Roams freely in the classroom.Not only does she take her students to a local quarry to learn about Earth Science, but she has Skyped with a local farmer to discuss erosion control (photo right) and has two free range Russian box turtles (photo right) in her classroom.   The first two activities were a result of her work at ICCISC but all three give students hands-on experiences and opportunities for her students to ask questions to better understand the world and natural phenomenons.

According to Dr. Andersen, some of her favorite take-aways from the project included meeting and learning new activities and approaches from other teachers.  She has also become more familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and left the program with new curricula, methods of instruction, and methods of assessment.  Dr. Andersen’s classroom material is now more aligned to the standards.  Her experiences with the project have led to opportunities beyond her classroom.  She has made connections with state level science education leadership and is currently working on a variety of state projects in science education as well as being asked by national companies to write for them due to her being a part of the ICCISC project. ICCISC Teachers Working Together

John Paulson teaches physics, anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology at Hudson High School and holds a B.S. in Biology from Iowa State University and a Masters of Education from Kaplan University.  He has a passion for people, education, and learning  This is in part due to the fact that his parents were also teachers.

Mr. Paulson’s ICCISC colleagues and leaders have inspired his teaching career.  He was one of several teachers who decided to continue an extra year in the project, even though the three-year grant had expired.  He said that the ICCISC project created a close-knit group of inspired and self-driven teachers who “supported each other and were driven to understand and perfect their art” were encouraged to “continue thinking even when answers were just out of reach.”  The project completely changed his assessment practices as well as providing inspiration, professional management, and growth in his teaching content.  He went on to say that the ICCISC “helped give me the gumption to follow my gut on my teaching pedagogy.”

There are multiple reasons that both John and DeEtta encourage students to pursue degrees from UNI.  DeEtta said UNI has a “great science education program” while John said that UNI provides opportunities to go “deep into content in the STEM areas.”  Both agreed that the project impacted their teaching, for the better, provided personal growth, and an opportunity to inspire fellow teachers across the state.

The ICCISC project was a collaborative program that allowed teachers to learn from each other and develop new and improved curricula alongside UNI faculty that was more relevant and streamlined towards students.  John and DeEtta had a positive experience with the UNI in Science Education faculty and shared that they were “passionate and thought provoking” and a “joy to work with.”

Posted: 10-02-17

Challenged and Having Fun -- A Student Profile

Alexis Steinlage is ready to have some fun at UNI's Dance Marathon!

Alexis Steinlage is a Math Education student.With aspirations of making math fun and easy to kids in low income areas, Alexis Steinlage came to UNI in the Fall of 2016 ready to be challenged and have some fun.  Her dreams of becoming a teacher started in 7th grade when she was inspired by her Algebra I teacher, Ms. Kuene, and wanted to bring math to others in the same way. Being from Decorah, Alexis was enthusiastic to be a part of UNI not only because it was close to home but because it has a great education program and it is easy to navigate the campus.   This is a good thing as her route takes her to classes,  work at the Piazza Dining Center, and back to her dormitory, Noehren Hall. 

Alexis has dived into her coursework at UNI.  She is enjoying her classes.   She says that when she goes to class she challenges her brain to “learn something new and broaden my horizons.  Every time that I feel I am struggling, there are classmates and professors there to help.”  Her favorite class, Discrete and Argumentative Math with Professor Stanley, is extremely interactive and fun to attend.  She feels that she is learning more about mathematic proofs than she has in  previous courses. 

If you are heading to the Piazza Dining Center, be sure to try out her favorite — “anything from the Wok”.  Many people stay away from the fabulous stir-fry area because they may not understand how to order, but Alexis says “risk it, because it may be the most delicious thing you have ever eaten.”

Taking a break from the fun for a picture at UNI's Dance Marathon.

Alexis’s volunteer work includes the Noehren Hall Senate Executive Board, where she is the secretary,  Noehren Hall is known for its Haunted House, generally the weekend before Halloween, which raises money for the local food bank.  To keep apprised of when it is this year, follow their Facebook page Hall decorated with Spider Webs and Caskets for the Annual Haunted House Fundraiser.

UNI’s Dance Marathon (DM) gives Alexis a reason to sport fun attire such as a tutu and get her hair cut so that it could be  donated to Pantene Beautiful Lengths.  A student run organization, UNI DM raises money for the Children’s Hospital in Iowa City as well as the Children’s Miracle Network.

Outside of her classes, work, and volunteer efforts you may find Alexis at TEAM2, Navigators, watching some Netflix, or with a book.  Or she may be with some friends making frequent Target runs.  Alexis’s advise to students thinking about pursuing a STEM education is “understanding it is hard… you must persevere, because after you have beat that challenge, the feeling is glorious.”


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 09-21-17

Bringing Engineering to a Preschool Near You

Location of Educators across Iowa who received Ramps & Pathways training to  bring engineering to their classrooms.

Force and motion, spatial thinking, light and shadow, chemistry,  and physics give  you the idea of a high tech laboratory, when in reality, this could be a preschool classroom just down the street from where you live .

         Dr. Beth Van Meeteren, Director for the Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education, has been taking on the challenge of bringing these concepts to the PreK-2nd grade classrooms through the Ramps and Pathways (R&P) program.   R&P was recently awarded one of nine STEM Scale-Up Awards  from the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council for the 2017-2018 academic year. This award will go toward pulling R&P into Iowa’s early childhood classrooms.  R&P was originally funded by the National Science Foundation.  The program is designed to be developmentally-appropriate and classroom-tested approach to integrative STEM that engages young children.   With Ramps and Pathways, the Regents’ Center has been able to reach about 300 teachers across the state of Iowa, who are able to receive course credit for the professional development and then receive materials to implement the program in their classrooms. 

Wooden ramps cut and ready to use for the Ramps and Pathways Program.Up until recently, students have been taught the traditional  Engineering Design Process  which is easy to teach and prescriptive, providing step by step instructions as to how to create and test something. However, after interviewing several engineers, Beth found that this process is not how engineers really solve problems.  This disconnect sparked the development of the Ramps and Pathways program which takes a different approach to teaching engineering.  The National Academy of Engineering believes that the most important thing to grow engineers is instilling Engineering Habits of the Mind which involve systems thinking, creativity, optimism, collaboration, communication and attention to ethical consideration and Beth agrees. Beth also consults with Yvonne Ng, a mechanical engineer in Minneapolis who respects the importance of early engineering experiences that are authentic and meaningful to children.  These experiences allow time for play and practice  figuring out how things work and to understand why they work.  Her website, Engineers Playground, was developed  to “provide resources... to make STEM – particularly engineering and technology – accessible and fun”.  This website encourages a more organic approach to early education by allowing children to figure things out on their own. Cherokee area teachers are the first to begin receiving Ramps & Pathways materials for their classroom and UNI graduate credit for professional learning.

Within Ramps and Pathways, the Engineering Habits of the Mind have been translated to be appropriate for early childhood education.   Children are already doing engineering from a very young age without even thinking about it.  They build with blocks, stack cans, and move sand in the sandbox, all of which are engineering design.  The engineering at this stage makes sense to the child and it is from this existing point that educators, such as Beth, want to start supporting the thought and design process and expand on it.

The Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education has National Recognition from the National Science Teacher’s Association and educators for its developmentally appropriate methods and materials.  Educators across the nation are seeing the Regents’ Center as a leader in early STEM education and consequently fill rooms at national conferences to learn what the Center is doing and how they are doing it.  This recognition has led to other institutions asking the Center to be consultants with writing grants for their own projects, being invited to the STEM Symposium at the White House and giving inspiration for other conferences such as one directed by Susan Wood at the Child Center at Cal-Tech in Anaheim, California.  For the 2017 Iowa Scale-Up Schools, Ramps & Pathways will make a difference in these classrooms this year and for years to come.

For more information, please visit these sites:

Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education:

Engineer's Playground:

Ramps & Pathways:

Governor’s STEM Advisory Council:



Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 09-12-17


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