Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series

Leopold Series Poster - An Evening with Terry Tempest Williams

In 2018-2019, hundreds of students, faculty, and members of the community attended lectures focused on our relationship with the natural world. This was the first year of the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series. The success of the series is thanks in large part to the diverse range of faculty and staff that worked on the committee to bring a variety of lecturers from different fields and backgrounds to the University of Northern Iowa.  


One member of the committee is Eric O’Brien, Director of Sustainability at UNI. The position of Director of Sustainability exists at an intersection between campus operations and campus community. For example, while O’Brien does not operate the campus recycling program, he is the touchstone for fielding calls about it and anything else related to the environment. “So I'm the one that is identifying some of these opportunities within our operations so that we're able to change that students, faculty, staff want to see,” he explains.


O’Brien’s job also involves organizing students on sustainability related projects. The Sustainability Office oversees the Green Fund, which is managed by students. A large part of the job involves instilling a culture of sustainability on campus, and the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series is a part of that.


O’Brien explained, “We have speakers coming to campus all the time and there are some themes that can develop through that. But we don't do a very good job of tying them together. One group will bring in one speaker, another group might have something else planned that might overlap, and neither one of them has any idea that the other one is doing that work.”  The series was created to build upon what was already going on across campus and to look at a broad theme of sustainability throughout the year and, if possible provide a connection between efforts.


After that, the idea was to get together a group of different people to expand the reach of the program, and part of O’Brien’s job was to find those people and bring them to the table.


“That's how we ended up with the core planning team. All of us have different roles and skills and strengths that we bring to the table, and that's been one of the real successes of it,” he said.

Lecturers for the 2018-2019 school year included Dr. Jennifer Lowry, Elizabeth Kolbert, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, David Archambault II, Bob Inglis, and Terry Tempest Williams.   Each speaker was supported through multiple diverse partnerships across campus and within the Cedar Valley.  These included The Tallgrass Prairie Center, First-Year Cornerstone, the North American review, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable trust.  Each lecture in the series is documented on the series website with suggested pre– or companion readings so that faculty, students, and the public can extend their experience with each lecturer.


The committee is ready to announce two of the planned speakers for the 2019-2020 school year: Katharine Hayhoe and Justin Brice Guariglia.


Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist who works at Texas Tech University. O’Brien explained that a lot of Hayhoe’s work relates to the way that people talk about climate change. “She's one of our big speakers. Another perspective that she comes from is that she is an evangelical Christian. She does a lot of work talking to faith based communities about why it's important for churches to not necessarily stand on the sideline when it comes to environmental issues. It's an interesting perspective that we haven't had here on campus and I'm really excited to bring that.”


Justin Brice Guariglia is an artist and environmental activist. He is well-known for his public, large-scale projects that attract attention to ecological issues. “This is a really unique perspective that we're talking a about a lot more now. There have been a lot of people that have focused on the science, but his art is all about changing people's perceptions just by those visual displays that he's presenting,” O’Brien says.


O’Brien would like students and faculty to know that the committee is open to accepting suggestions for future lecture series speakers. He would also like to emphasize that these lectures are for students and faculty of all fields of study, not just environmental science. His hope is that the lecture series will continue for many years to come.

Learn more about last year’s lecture series speakers and about future speakers at:

Brooke Weise, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 07-12-19

Fun and Friends

Robotic Campers solve moon missions.

Have you ever built and programmed your own robot?  Strolled through prairie grasses taller than you are and created a puppet to represent your favorite flower or animal?  Designed your own fabric pattern or 3-D statue?  Tested your own DNA?  If the answer is no, then you must not have attended the UNI STEM Camps.  Each camp brings together a small number of campers with similar interests with camp directors and UNI students for 3-days to a week of fun, friendship, and skill building.  

UNI STEM Camps are fun & friends with a side of confidence!

Now is the time to register for the 2019 Camp Sessions.  Click here to learn more abut the sessions:

Fashion & STEM: A Perfect Fit
Introduction to Robotics
Panther Park - A 3D Design, 3D Printing, & Virtual Reality Experience
Intermediate Robotics 
Panther Park - A 3D Design, 3D Printing, & Virtual Reality Experience - For Girls!
Telling the Tallgrass Prairie Story through Expressive Arts - NEW
Biotech Camp: Tools of the Trade - NEW

UNI STEM camps offer local youth an opportunity to visit campus and participate in themed science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics activities with peers under the supervision of undergraduate camp counselors and experienced adult mentors.  Campers make friends while gaining new skills and building confidence in STEM areas.  The majority of past campers sign up for our camps in order to learn about a topic/skill of interest to them.  That is correct, they come to camp to LEARN!  And a majority of our campers also leave camp agreeing that the camp experience helped them feel more confident that they can do a STEM career.

Learn more about how UNI STEM Camps impact local youth in the 2018 Report.

Marcy Seavey, UNI STEM Coordinator
Posted: 06-06-19

UNI Junior Wins Goldwater Scholarship

Joseph Tibbs

Congratulations to Joseph Tibbs! Joseph is a UNI junior who is double majoring in physics and biochemistry. This year, he was one of less than 500 students across the United States who were awarded the Goldwater Scholarship in Science and Mathematics. The scholarship is nationally competitive, its purpose is to encourage talented students to pursue careers in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. It is the preeminent scholarship of in these fields.

We interviewed Joseph in 2017, when he was already heavily involved in research and a wide variety of activities on campus. Learn more about him and his experience at UNI in the pdf below.

Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 05-02-19

New Physics Major Emphases

Students problem solving in lab.

It is becoming more and more helpful to take an interdisciplinary course of study in today’s changing world. The Physics Department has a solution! There is some exciting news for students looking to pursue a B.A. in Physics at UNI! And it involves two new possibilities when it comes to their degree’s emphasis. These two new emphases, Data Science and a Custom Emphasis, are remarkably interdisciplinary courses of study.

“We are very excited about the new B.A. Physics program,” Dr. Paul Shand, Physics Department head, said of changes. “It is structured to provide our students with the skills that are needed to flourish in a global economy that is increasingly data-driven and that requires multiple competencies.”

The Data Science emphasis emphasizes the use of statistics, coding, and analytical methods as means of obtaining useful information. Students would not just be learning to use critical thinking skills obtained from studying Physics, but also computer programming and statistics.

Dr. Shand explained, “The Data Science Emphasis is unique in that it combines high-level scientific data analysis with statistical and business analytics in a single program. These are programs that prepare students for a fast-approaching future in which the coin of the realm is data.”

The other emphasis is the Custom Emphasis, which allows students to select courses from a wider variety of STEM-based fields. Students have a very broad selection in this regard, ranging from Computer Science, Mathematics, Technology, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth and Environmental Sciences. If there is something a student takes quite a bit of interest in outside of Physics, this emphasis will make it easier for them to study it. It is an excellent choice for students looking to double major or prepare for jobs in high-demand industries.

Dr. Shand describes the new Custom Emphasis as “a mechanism for supplementing skills learned in another major with the rigorous analytical and computational problem-solving capabilities gained by studying physics.”

Both of these new Physics emphases will be available starting in Fall 2019. If you are a student looking to pursue a Physics-based interdisciplinary course of study, one of these majors might be a great fit for you.


Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 04-25-19

Finding Her Environment

Lily Conrad

Sometimes it takes just one event to change the course of someone’s future. According to Lily Conrad, this was definitely the case when it came to her education. Lily, now a senior and an Environmental Science major, came to the University of Northern Iowa to study Exercise Science.

“I played soccer for most of my life so I was really curious about the whole rehab and injury prevention and physical therapy process when it comes to sports and athletic injuries. I had decided on this when I was a sophomore in high school. I got like 50 hours shadowing in different clinic settings,” she said. “I said that I was not going to be one of those students who comes into college and switches their major. I thought, ‘I know what I’m doing.’”

However, a few weeks before her first semester, Lily started working at the Panther Plot, UNI’s student-run garden. Through that job, she was able to attend a sustainability conference in Minneapolis. She spoke with both students and professionals who worked fields like in sustainability, environmental science, and biology. This changed all of her plans.

“It was really powerful . . . I changed my major because the conference opened up my mind to the meaning behind this work and not just doing something because it’s what you’ve been planning on doing. In high school you don’t know what you’re going to do,” she explained.

Since then, Lily has been extremely active and involved at UNI. During her freshman year, she helped organize a recycled art showcase in Rod Library for Earth Month. She also got a better compost bin for the Panther Plot. Last year, with Green Project, the Earth Science Honors Society, AmeriCorps, and the UNI rugby team, she ran a kite flying event to promote awareness for the outdoor trails around UNI’s campus. 

“We were out by the wetland by the WRC parking lot, and the humane society brought dogs for people to walk. I was there with Green Project and some other people and we had kites for people to fly. It ended up being like the least windy day ever in Iowa, conveniently, but it was still a lot of fun,” she said of the event.

More recently, Lily and the Earth Science Honors Society acquired funding from the Green Fund to replace all of the fluorescent hallway lights in Latham with LEDs. The Green Fund is a fund recently set up by NISG through which students can apply for funding for various projects ranging from sustainable-progressive projects to educational programs and activities that promote sustainability.

Because she participated in the National Student Exchange program, she spent her sophomore year in Oregon, making her junior year her first complete year as an Environmental Science major at UNI.

“I’m glad I didn’t transfer because this program is really amazing. The department is small, but the support is overwhelming. There are so many opportunities! I’ve had research opportunities and teaching assistant opportunities and leadership opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities in the department that have really helped me grow into my major and find the part of Environmental Science I’m really passionate about.”

Sedimentary geology was one of her favorite courses she has taken at UNI. “There were a lot of fieldtrips and Dr. Sedlacek is very knowledgeable. I do well with her teaching style, so it was really enjoyable,” she said. Another course she enjoyed was Hydrology, in large part because she wants to work in that field. Hydrology is the study of the properties of Earth’s water. “That class tends to get mixed reviews because it’s really intense, but it’s one of my favorite ones.”

Lily has had quite a few research opportunities at UNI, and she has taken advantage of them. She has done some research with Dr. Mark Myers involving pollinator habitat restoration and flower quality analysis, and she thought it was a lot of fun, but her current research is more related to the field she wants to go into after graduation: Hydrology.

“My main research that I do right now is that I’m a part of a long term water quality monitoring project of the Cedar River and Dry Run Creek . . . I also manage the hydrology lab from the environmental science department,” she said. Dr. Mohammed Iqbal is her adviser for this project. As part of the project, she has taken samples from 15 different sites ranging from Janesville to Waterloo. She does some field tests when she collects the samples, then takes them back to the lab for an analysis process that lasts around 5 days. The data from the long term project is available of UNI’s Hydrology website:

“I was able to present the data I collected at the Geological Society of America’s conference last fall. It was a temporal and spatial analysis of the water quality in the Cedar River. . . and comparing it to the West Okoboji Lake,” she explained. “I had an internship at Lakeside lab last summer so I was able to take some samples there while I was working. So I could compare the two and see the difference between a moving body of water and a standing body of water. It’s been a great experience since I want to go to graduate school for Hydrology.”

Lily has also been working on independent research with a professor from Colorado State University. His study focuses on modeling, which Lily wanted to gain more experience in because it is not something anyone specializes in when it comes to Hydrology at UNI. She said her work with him has supplemented the research she has done at UNI because it has added the modeling component and given her a new way to work with data.

Lily would like to encourage current and future STEM students to look for interesting opportunities. “Don’t be afraid to be inquisitive when it comes to opportunities that extend beyond the classroom setting,” she said. “I feel like when I talk to a lot of people about internships or research, they just don’t ask about it, so they miss all of these opportunities. It’s pretty easy to ask someone to help you find a direction and keep asking until it works. That’s what I did, and now I feel more confident and qualified for applying to graduate school and other things in the future.”


Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 04-18-19


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