STEM at UNI Header Image - Logo


2018 UNI STEM Camps under way!

Panther Park Camper designs and prints melted ice cream cone with new gypsum printer.

The summer of 2018 is a time of exploration, design, and creativity for UNI's STEM campers!  

Panther Park - A 3D design, 3D printing, and Virtual Reality Experience is the newest camp to be added to our summer offerings.  This camp is designed to introduce 6th through 9th graders to careers in additive manufacturing through exploration of 3D modeling and printing and the use of robotics and virtual reality in industry.  The University of Northern Iowa Additive Manufacturing Center, at TechWorks, sponsored and hosted 2 sessions of this camp - one open to anyone and one for girls only.  Take a look at some of the camp activities:

Panther Park campers using a hand held 3D scanner to create a 3D model and model skin of themselves.  These models can be imported into 3D printers or used digitally for video games and animations.

Marcy Seavey, UNI STEM Coordinator
Posted: 07-11-18

Voice Research & Technology

Dr. Kopf demonstrating laboratory recording equipment.

The use of phone apps help us in our daily lives, in our businesses, and they entertain us.  We have our phones to help us know how many steps we have taken each day.  We have games on our computers to help us learn new languages, math skills, the list goes on and on.  Dr. Lisa Kopf of the Communication Sciences and Disorders department at the University of Northern Iowa is taking these ideas and applying them to her interests in voice research. 

Voice research includes the physical anatomy and physiology of the vocal folds (cords), disorders, vocal health, therapy, and the physics of sound.  One of the more common disorders is vocal nodules which are calluses formed on vocal folds due to excessive use.  Professions that use their voice extensively are at risk for this.  These careers include teachers, singers, coaches, sales people, and call center workers, just to name a few.

Dr. Kopf’s background in music and gamifying therapy has led her to the research and possible development of an application (app) to be used by people within these professions.  The app would be akin to a pedometer.  It would measure how and how much she uses her voice throughout a given day.

Published research has shown that nearly 1/3 of the workforce is at risk for voice disorders (Roy et al., 2005).  This is the basis for the research and development of an app where the user could monitor his/her voice so as to potentially avoid developing a voice disorder.   

The research begins with the end user as an integral part of the creation.  This approach, called user-centered design, involves multiple iterations (versions) of a design that are tested with potential users before a final design is created.  The goal of this approach is to develop a final product that will be intuitive and supportive of user goals.

Dr. Kopf started her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia (UVA) with the intent of being a Speech Pathologist in a school system.  She was involved in choir and in her third year she had the opportunity to work with and meet professional soloists.  One of the soloists asked what degree she was pursuing.  After learning what her goals were he said that his friend “does that and works with singers.”  This opened up a whole new avenue of study for Dr. Kopf, one she had not thought about—combining her love for music and helping people with voice disorders.  Soon after this conversation, Dr. Kopf connected with Dr. Aliaa Khidr, a UVA faculty who specialized in voice.  Dr. Khidr became Dr. Kopf’s mentor, providing a welcoming environment and opportunities for undergraduate research.  

At the suggestion of her mentor, Dr. Kopf moved to Iowa to complete her masters at the University of Iowa.  The U of I Speech Pathology Department is well known the for its courses in voice disorders and ranked number one in the country (out of 224 schools) by US News and World Report (2016).  She worked as a full-time clinician in a hospital setting for two years before returning to graduate school.  She started her PhD at the University of Florida and finished at Michigan State University.  Because she wanted to see and experience different areas of voice, her PhD advisor, Dr. Rahul Shrivastav, was instrumental in allowing Dr. Kopf to explore multiple areas before deciding to focus on just one area.  She was able to narrow her focus through the relationships she developed with faculty, the gaming community, and the learning more about user centered design.  Today, Dr. Kopf is one of the few experts in voice and gamifying therapy.  She is hoping to inspire others to go in this direction of study as it is an exciting and new.

Although she has only been on the UNI campus since August of 2017, Dr. Kopf has found that she has amazing faculty and staff support which has helped her get settled.  She feels like she has an open line of communication with everyone so that she can ask anyone anything and they would be willing to help. 

Work-life balance is also important to the department.  She was able to come into an environment where she was able to structure her research and teaching to what works best for her allowing her to be a better researcher and instructor.  Her research is off and running with a lab with both graduate assistants and undergraduate support in collecting data.

She enjoys working with students and her favorite part of working with undergraduates and graduate students is their enthusiasm.  All the students she works with have been helpful, try their best, and work hard.  They have a willingness to learn and are very engaged in what they are doing. 

Dr. Kopf is interested in trying new things in the classroom and doing her best as an instructor to enhance her students’ learning.  She tries new and different activities.  She is continuously asking for feedback from students to learn what worked, how it worked, what things could make the class better in the future.

“Speech Pathology is such a broad field.  There is something here for everyone,” Dr. Kopf stated.  Speech Pathology is constantly changing as new discoveries are being made and more research being conducted.  The profession can lead a student to working in schools with children, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and rehabilitation clinics.   Professionals may work with those who have suffered from a stroke or brain injury, with those who may have a voice disorder, swallowing challenges or even people who stutter.  “There are so many avenues you can take in this profession.  I believe this is what makes it so cool.” 

Citation: Roy, N., Merrill, R. M., Gray, S. D., & Smith, E. M. (2005). Voice disorders in the general population: prevalence, risk factors, and occupational impact. The Laryngoscope, 115(11), 1988-1995.


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 05-05-18

Ocean Adventurer

Emma Shipley Hiking Seven Sister near Dover, UK

Emma Shipley Hiking Seven Sisters near Dover, UKEmma Shipley, a senior Biochemistry major, is near the end of her education at the University of Northern Iowa.  She has had many challenges and adventures at UNI and will soon be on a new adventure.  The question of what do you want to be when you grow up is one of the most common questions asked.  The answer to this question impacts the decision of where a student wants to go to college.   Emma made the decision to come to UNI because she wanted to be a social studies/history teacher.

Emma decided to change her major after three semesters because her dream job, she decided, would need to allow her to travel and to collect samples or analyze data outside or someplace other than behind a desk.  She had always thought “science was really cool.” Once she realized that she really enjoyed science and wanted to do more, she made the leap to pursue an education in Biochemistry.

Challenges, adventure, excitement, and opportunities have all been a part of her experience at UNI.  Emma has always liked a challenge as it gives “you the opportunity to stretch yourself to see how much you can learn.”  Physical chemistry, biochemistry, and organic chemistry have all been courses that have challenged her but she has found them to be valuable to her education.   Through taking these courses, she was able to find out which ones she clicked with and what area of science she truly enjoys. Some of the best courses she has taken at UNI have taught her how to problem solve.

Another course that challenged Emma was Evolution, Ecology, and the Nature of Science taught by Dr. O’Kane in the Biology Department.  This course was outside Emma’s comfort zone as it was based on class discussion of topics.  This had Emma terrified. She does not like to speak publically and really does not like being wrong, especially in front of others!  Dr. O’Kane helped Emma change her perspective and approach to failure. Unexpected answers are important too. Dr. O’Kane gives high-fives for wrong answers because that shows the student is trying.  In science, wrong answers teach the researcher more about the right answer. Bad results or data are also ok because this is part of the learning process. Success is ruling out wrong answers and discovering what will not work, lead to new ideas and discoveries.  Emma now appreciates when she is wrong and see this as one step closer to being right.

Adventure and excitement were rolled into one when Emma made the decision to spend a semester abroad.  This is something that she had wanted to do since Kindergarten, when someone came to her classroom and told of her own adventures in another country.  Emma’s mother encouraged her to wait until college to pursue this 6-year-old’s dream so that she did not miss out on any of her childhood .  Her mother also reasoned that it would be easier because many college students do this.  

In the fall of her junior year, Emma boarded a plane and headed to the southern coast of the United Kingdom to the town of Chichester.  During this semester she traveled and made new friends, in addition to her studies. Inside the classroom, Emma went back to studying history.  It is often difficult to study science abroad due to the different order and the way concepts are taught.  Each class was held once a week, so she only went to 4 classes a week.  Students are expected to do more outside of class.

Studying was not the only thing Emma did outside the classroom.  She traveled  as much as she could.  She is thankful for the weekly blog assignment she had to complete for her honors course because she can go back, read, and relive her adventures and funny stories.  Her favorite day in the UK was hiking the white cliffs of Seven Sisters near Dover. She had perfect weather for a perfect day on the southern coast.  Emma felt that this was a very valuable experience learning about herself and obtaining a deeper understanding of her own culture as well as other cultures, places, people, etc.

Emma Shipley Presenting her Undergraduate ResearchBack on the UNI campus, Emma had to buckle down with her coursework and got involved with some undergraduate research on campus.  She had the opportunity to work on the BioGeoChecmical Evolution of the Atmosphere (BETA) project. The three mentors on the project are Dr. Sebree of the Chemistry & Biochemistry department, Dr. Sedlacek and Dr. Shen, both of the Earth and Environmental Sciences department.  Together they are researching what compounds and elements were in the atmosphere at different time periods; early earth (4 billion years ago), the Devonian period (400 million years ago) and the present day. Other questions include: What kind of compounds could have been food for early life? What kind of plants were available? The method in which they are using to answer these questions has never been done used before, which made the research that much more exciting for Emma to be a part.  

Emma’s undergraduate honors thesis branched off the BETA Project and was titled Pre-Biotic Potential of Aerosols.  Another research project in which Emma was involved looked at the lead content in a Mastodon Tusk found in Iowa. She found that lead was present, however, the source was unable to be determined.  She said “that may be a project for a future student.”

Conducting research will continue after she graduates in May because Emma is headed for Connecticut.  She will be joining the PhD program at the University of Connecticut Avery Point Oceanography Department. She is very excited to be near the ocean and to learn and do research about something she loves.  She believes that important and small contributions are made to science everyday, impacting all of us, even if we do not realize it. She is looking forward to being apart of the scientific world and making her own contributions.


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 05-03-18

Continuous Improvement of Education

Dr. Hylton helping a student in the Academic Learning Center

Key IdeasThinking of how to improve the future of higher education institutions and the future of our society is what Dr. Latricia Hylton does on a daily basis.  Dr. Hylton is a mathematics educator and the Mathematics Coordinator at the Academic Learning Center at the University of Northern Iowa.  

Dr. Hylton began her post-secondary education as a McNair scholar at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee.  She graduated with her undergraduate degree and decided to attend graduate school.  At this point her plans changed from becoming a teacher in the K-12 system to teaching at the collegiate level. After obtaining her Master of Arts in Mathematics at UNI she taught mathematics at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo.  Though content in her position, helping students get excited about Math, Dr. Hylton returned to the UNI campus 5 years later to become the Director of the Upward Bound Math & Science Program.  Later, she moved to her current position as Mathematics Coordinator at the Academic Learning Center and sought her Doctorate of Industrial Technology (DIT) from the Technology Department.  One of the reasons for pursuing the DIT was that she wanted a program where she could apply her mathematics background and continue to help students learn.

Dr. Hylton presenting her  Doctoral Dissertation Research.Dr. Hylton structured her DIT electives around the idea of Six-Sigma to get a better understanding of this process.  Being able to choose her electives to focus on her research interest gave her the opportunity to build her own degree.  This is what she feels many people are looking for in a graduate program, the flexibility to focus on their interests.  She expressed her appreciation for all the faculty of the Technology Department saying, “A strength of the department is that no matter your path or focus, all the faculty work together to help you succeed.  They keep track of their students.  They want you to be successful.”

It was through the process of obtaining her doctorate that she became more focused on teaching and learning mathematics.  Because of the diversity of the DIT program, she was able to collaborate with people from various fields and backgrounds.  She believes UNI’s DIT program makes better graduates by encouraging them to interact with students in other departments.  Real-world problem solving requires people to work with professionals in other fields of study and collaborate with them.  These kind of partnerships help open everyone’s mind, rethink problems and develop better solutions.

Dr. Hylton’s interest in process improvement (making things better) led her to focus her dissertation on the Six-Sigma methodology.  Six-Sigma is a tool used to evaluate the effectiveness of a process.  This is done by giving employees opportunities to provide input and develop solutions, in turn creating a sense of ownership, buy-in, and trust for all those involved.  Six-Sigma is normally used in the industrial sector.  Many within education feel that tools used in industry should not be used in education.  Dr. Hylton wanted to see how this tool would apply to education.  She sees a connection between industry and education.   She wanted to show these improvement efforts are necessary for the viability of educational institutions and the students they serve. 

Six-Sigma ideas have been implemented on a small scale with the tutors Dr. Hylton supervises at the Academic Learning Center.  For UNI tutoring, Dr. Hylton asks the staff to share ideas and take ownership.  The process to help students become better learners is constantly being improved with new ideas being implemented.

Dr. Hylton helping a student in the Academic Learning Center.Dr. Hylton’s other passion is helping students learn and understand mathematics, not just memorize theorems.  She believes that any student can learn.  It is a matter of how the student approaches the course and the information.  Once a student shifts his/her approach from learning by memorization to understanding why and how concepts are connected, then true learning can begin.

This approach to learning is passed along to the tutors at the Academic Learning Center.  Dr. Hylton is changing the way students and tutors work together and think about learning.  All students learn differently and at different speeds.  This is key to understanding how tutors help students become better learners.  Tutors must try to find what is preventing the student from learning the subject and develop a relationship with the student.  In the end, the students come away from the experience with the tools and knowledge they need to continue to learn effectively.   Tutors find this experience rewarding as well.

Dr. Hylton is a passionate educator on the UNI campus.  She is here to help students.  She  strives to make UNI a better higher learning institution and the students better learners through change and continuous improvement.


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 04-24-18

The Heart of the Athletic Training Program

UNI Athletic Training Students

Hydroworx AreaFew know about the south area the University of Northern Iowa’s Wellness and Recreation Center (WRC), close to the landmark UNI-Dome.  This area is home to UNI’s Athletic Training Program.  This space is unique from other Athletic Training programs.  The facilities athletes use are also where the students learn, have classes and clinical experiences.   The aquatic therapy area boasts a Hydroworx underwater treadmill complete with underwater cameras so that a patient’s gait and walking patterns can be viewed and analyzed.  Jets can be turned on to increase the resistance underwater as well.  Other pools in the room include a cold plunge and hot plunge which are mainly used by athletes post workout.

From the first day of entering the Athletic Training program, students are learning through hands-on experiences in the classroom, labs, and clinical assignments.  This is completed under the supervision of faculty and preceptors. Preceptors are professionals who provide teach and evaluate students in the clinical setting using an actual patient base.  There are many opportunities within the Cedar Valley for students to gain experiences such as working with athletic trainers in various settings along with physical therapists, medical physicians, and occupational therapists.   Throughout the program, students engage in patient care, figuring out diagnosis, and ultimately providing treatments.  These opportunities and experiences set UNI apart from other programs.  

Athletic Training Students Cassandra, Courtney, Eric and Payton (clockwise).Payton Stock came to UNI as an Athletic Training student.  He said, “UNI felt right.  It’s not really something you can explain.”   Cassandra Adamson and Eric Pimentel transferred into the Athletic Training program after a course peaked their interest and they were drawn to the hands-on training.  “You really have to be motivated.  You cannot just skirt by in your classes, it does not work like that.  It will take a lot of your time,” Cassandra said.  Courtney Kamman is getting her degree in Athletic Training with minors in Biology and Chemistry.  She intends to attend medical school. 

Each of these four students have their own driving force for to majoring in Athletic Training and each are passionate about it.  Some were athletes themselves and all have an interest in helping others.  The hands-on aspect of their education is the by far their favorite.  The students’ favorite courses include Therapeutic Interventions, Clinical Integration, and Anatomy and Physiology.  All the coursework helps develop a deeper understanding of the body and how it functions.  The students agree that everything they learn in the classroom can be applied right away in their clinicals with patients and UNI athletes.  This helps them get a feel for what they will be doing and how to connect with their future patients.  Seeing the results in the outcomes for their clinical patients right away is rewarding.

Dr. Tricia Schrage giving Athletic Training students hands on experience and education.All of these students agree that UNI is the perfect home for them.  Eric tells others “Don’t go to UNI because you were told to.  Go because this is where you feel you belong.” 

“Go where you love the campus and love the school.  Where you go, you should love it, no matter what major you are or if the school has your specialty,” Cassandra said.  The size of campus and classes, the sense of community and how everyone is so friendly were all characteristics that drew these students to call UNI home.     

The creating of a new family among fellow students and faculty has been the biggest surprise for the four students.  These friendships are made in the classroom, in student activities, and during clinical training.  Each student has his/her own experiences outside the classroom in their clinical assignments and undergraduate research.  Payton works at a physical therapy clinic but makes time to go to $5 Movie Tuesdays with friends. 

UNI's Athletic Training ProgramEric works at the Gallagher-Bluedorn, is a member of the UNI Men’s Rugby Team and is part of the campus organization International Student Promoters.  This group is made up of primarily international students who promote UNI and lead campus tours.  He has enjoyed making connections with  people from all over the world and may have the opportunity visit a friend’s home country of El Salvador in the future.  “To have this opportunity at UNI is phenomenal,” he said.

Courtney works at the WRC, enjoys Hot Yoga and when she has time, loves to binge watch shows on Netflix.  Eric, Payton and Courtney assist Dr. Mark Hecimovich on his research understanding concussions.

Cassandra’s senior clinical assignment is with the Waterloo Black Hawks Hockey team.  She said, “No skates are required but I have to walk very carefully on the ice.”  She is studying for her board exams and works with Assistant Professor of Athletic Training Dr. Tricia Schrage and Dr. Kelli Snyder, Athletic Training & Program Director on their research on Manual Therapy Strain / Counter Strain. 

Hands on education in UNI’s Athletic Training Program.Courtney came to UNI thinking that she would be going home all the time.  She expressed that “Each person I have a connection with.  Each person I can see a friend in.  The professors love you.  You are a person to them.  They connect with you on a personal level.  They will take the homework questions along with the life questions.  This program is a family.”  Tricia agreed, not only within the program but UNI as a whole.  She stated, “At UNI, students come first.  Ensuring that they receive a quality education, along with abundant hands-on training is our priority.”

Like some of her students, Tricia transferred into UNI’s Athletic Training program after a fellow classmate mentioned it in chemistry class.  Since then she has obtained all three of her degrees from UNI.  She feels that she got a well rounded education from phenomenal instructors.  Tricia worked as an athletic trainer in the before becoming the Clinical Education Coordinator here at UNI.  While in this position she pursued a doctorate in education because it felt like it was the right fit.  She is currently supervising research with undergraduate and graduate students, teaching classes and conducting her own research.  Tricia is interested in identifying meaningful patient outcomes and how to assess them.

Courtney sums it all up, “Find your place.  Find your people.  Find what you love.  I fell in love with Athletic Training.  I love what I do.  I love going to clinicals everyday.  Being at UNI, you can choose what you want to do.  Go where your heart takes you."

For more information, please visit the Athletic Training Website to learn about the program, faculty and curriculum.


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 04-13-18


UNI FREE Program

UNI FREE, Fabulous Resources for Energy Education Logo is the word FREE in modern text over University of Northern Iowa
 The UNI Fabulous Resources for Energy Education (FREE) Program provides classroom resources on energy topics and a kit loan/purchase program.
Learn More >>

Like Us on Facebook

Screenshot of STEM at UNI Facebook page