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Iowa & the Mediterranean -- A Geology Story

Italy Capstone Student Enjoying the sun and beautiful waters of the Mediterranean

Devonian Fossil Gorge near Rockford (a former rock quarry)From exploring caves in Iowa to studying the Elymi people in the Mediterranean region, Dr. Chad Heinzel has done both.  Chad is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Northern Iowa and is involved with some valuable programs.

Chad has always been interested in geology because of the stories the rocks and fossils tell.  When he was younger he would talk about soils or the environment with his grandfather, a farmer, on Sunday afternoons.  He would explore nearby Maquoketa caves with his cousins and later went on to help build trails for the state park.  When he was older, Chad worked for the county engineer’s office where he would survey roads and work with the quarries when obtaining road materials.  So it seemed natural for Chad to pursue an education in geology, where he was encouraged and inspired by professors to obtain his master’s and then doctorate.IGRT Teachers Exploring Maquoketa State Park

As a Geoarcheaologist, Chad looks at the Earth’s surface to discover how it has changed over human history to learn about interactions between the people and the land.  Historically, humans have interacted with the land wisely and poorly.  Geoarcheaologists seek to understand human interactions with the Earth so that people can utilize land wisely and sustainably whether it is for agricultural purposes or for the oil and gas industry.  The Iowa Geologic Resources for Teachers and the Italy Capstone are just two of the programs Chad is involved with at UNI.

IGRT Teachers exploring a rock wallThe Iowa Geologic Resources for Teachers (IGRT) program is offered annually for the last 15 years.  The purpose of IGRT is to help teachers across the state to become more knowledgeable in geology, especially local geology, and be able to take this new knowledge and samples back to their classrooms to share with their students.  Rachael Woodley was one of the teachers that took part in IGRT this past summer.Waterloo East High School Teacher, Rachael Woodley, dons her hard hat at the quarry. 

Originally from Iowa City, Rachael is starting her 12th year at Waterloo East High as a science teacher.  IGRT gave Rachael a feel for how geology impacts our everyday lives, such as in the construction of our roadways.  She can encourage her students to consider geology careers.  She is interested in how this, now accessible and meaningful information, would impact the futures of her students.  

IGRT Teachers learning about geology at a quarry.The IGRT participants teach a variety of grade levels and subjects.  The teachers study background information online and then come to UNI campus for 3-4 days for hands-on training.   They also take tours of Maquoketa Caves, Devonian Fossil Gorge, and the Rockford Fossil Quarry.  Rachael enjoys the fact that she now has more experience and knowledge of resources in Iowa. The activities are tailored so that teachers are able to implement Next Generation Science and other subject standards with students.  Courtesy of the ILPA and local producers such as Basic Materials, the teachers are able to obtain two graduate credits at a minimal cost. 

Chad enjoys interacting with Iowa’s teachers and helping them develop confidence to be able to teach geology.  He wants to help them use their existing knowledge to develop new knowledge.  With her endorsement, Rachael is more enthusiastic and re-energized about geology.  She can now offer geology and earth science classes  and feels that she is better qualified teaching this subject.  She hopes that the new fossils and rock samples featured in her classroom will spark interest in her students to understand, become more knowledgeable about, and possibly pursue a career in geology and Earth science.

Spending time and researching in the Mediterranean, particularly studying the ancient Sicilians, known as the Elymi, has led Chad to take students to this area in the summer as part of an Italy Capstone program.  Students from UNI spend a week learning how the Romans lived and discuss sustainable practices then and now.  Then the students travel to Sicily to follow how the Elymians lived and look for clues as to why their civilization fell.  This particular research is interdisciplinary and requires that people from various areas of study work together to decipher the clues. 

Italy Capstone Students along the Mediterranean coastline.In the past, lack of knowledge and understanding of people and resources may have led to the fall of various civilizations.  For example, political stressors, corruption and the rapid expansion of the empire may have led to the collapse of the Roman Empire.   Also, intensive, and not sustainable, agriculture may have degraded the land so that not as much food could be grown for the increasing population.  Then the environment changed when a drought hit the Mediterranean area. Civilizations can typically survive one or two stressors, but all of these problems at the same time likely brought the empire to his knees.

The island of Sicily, like Iowa, is agriculturally based, though the crops are different.  Students are able to understand the Sicilian lifestyle as it parallels Iowa life, looking for similarities and differences.  The different majors and backgrounds of the students lead to great discussions about these differences and what can be done improve our civilization. 

The last place students visit is a small island between Italy and Sicily with limited resources.  It is here that Chad is able to educate students on the fragility of the resources on the island and what would happen if a major event occurred such as an earthquake or a drought.  The students brainstorm ideas about how the people on the island would adapt and rebuild.UNI Italy Capstone students show their Panther Pride in the Mediterranean.

All of these areas of exploration give students a sense of a different cultures and different ways you can live.  We are in a rapidly changing world with environmental stressors becoming more intense.  Studying the geology of different areas and the past lives of others can help the world’s population move forward sustainably. 

The IGRT and Italy Capstone allow Chad to mix it up locally and abroad.  He helps teachers get excited about the landscapes in Iowa and reconnects with friends in Italy, introducing new students to this culture and people every year.  His work and these programs have taught Chad to be a teacher; a mentor.  He must be flexible and pull the strengths of out of each person’s major or connection to increase social flexibility in how people interact and understand one another.  Chad shared that “someone is not going to truly care about a place until a connection is made and the person feels that he/she is a participant in it.

Chad’s advice to students is to “Get interested.  Get passionate.  Don’t sit along the sidelines.  Do as many things as you can, while you can, because it gets harder and harder after you graduate.  Look for those opportunities to improve yourself in any way you can… Don’t let road bumps slow you down, inevitably some will.  Don’t quit.”

 Note:  Iowa's Maquoketa Cave State Park was voted USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice 2017 Best Iowa Attraction.

IOWA TEACHERS - Apply for the 2018 IGRT Program!  The Iowa's Geological Resources Workshop is sponsored by Iowa Limestone Producers Association, UNI Department of Earth Science, and Iowa Geological Survey. You can find more information at The deadline is February 8, 2018.


Story by Ginger L’Heureux,  UNI STEM Graduate Assistant,
Posted: 10-31-17

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


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