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Transferring with Ease

Ben Nettleton headshot

Each year, hundreds of students transfer to the University of Northern Iowa to continue their education at this institution. In fact, this year alone, 978 students made the decision to transfer after previously completing coursework at a different college or university. In 2013, Benjamin Nettleton decided that UNI was the right fit for him and made the transition to life at a 4-year college after completing his associate’s degree at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in Mason City, Iowa.

Nettleton is now a senior majoring in biology: ecology, evolution and organismal biology-honors research, with minors in earth science and general business concepts. He is finishing up his fifth year of school.

“I fell in love with UNI during a campus visit in high school,” Nettleton explained. “I fell in love with the campus and the environment and was attracted to the small classes and campus size. I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do with my life though, so I saved some money by living at home and did two years at NIACC to get my AA degree.” Nettleton began classes at UNI as a declared business major but also took a biology class, Organismal Diversity, with Dr. Jim Demastes after completing a summer internship with the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board.

“My boss at the conservation office could tell that I loved what I was doing and that I cared about conservation more than a typical intern,” described Nettleton. “So he encouraged me to take a biology class to learn more.” After a few weeks, Nettleton decided to declare a minor in biology with plans to continue in business. However, by the end of his first semester here, he chose to completely change his career path and switched to a major in biology and a minor in business.

Changing his career path opened him up to a whole new world of research and experiments. This past summer, Nettleton conducted research under Dr. Kenneth Elgersma through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP).

“We were studying the abundance in diversity in pollinators in biofuel crops,” Nettleton explained. “One of my main goals in conducting research was to see if it was something I enjoyed as I began looking ahead to graduate school.” Nettleton collected data during the summer and created his research poster which he presented to faculty and peers at the end of the summer. Now as Nettleton looks ahead to graduate school, he is seeing how big of an impact UNI will have on his future.

“Over these past few years at UNI, I have felt at home within the biology department here,” Nettleton said. “The professors have cared about me and they have met with me often. They have a passion to get to know you in the classroom because they’re not just here to do research, they are here to teach. Because of this, I have had opportunities to get research experience but I also have personal relationships with my professors. That gives me the opportunity for letters of recommendation that are meaningful, personal and are putting me ahead of other applicants coming from other institutions where those personal relationships with professors may be harder to come by because of the size of the institution.”

Nettleton is currently in the thick of applying for graduate schools to attend next fall. He wants to study coastal biology and is interested in looking at barrier islands and their role in protecting the mainland from hurricanes. Nettleton wants to make sure that these barrier islands are preserved and the plant ecology of these areas don’t go extinct so that the mainland is protected.

“My plan right now is to go for my doctorate after completing graduate school and then one day become a professor of biology,” Nettleton said. “My professors these past three years have done a lot for me and helped me so now that is what I want to do for future students in the field.”

Daniel Vorwerk, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 11-17-15

Empowered to Write Their Story

LSAMP programs in Iowa

Everybody has a story. The who they are, what they’re all about and where they’re going. Programs like LSAMP give some UNI students the chance to write a really great story about their life, and here’s how.

The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program is a national program aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of students who successfully complete undergraduate degrees in STEM programs. Beyond undergraduate work, the LSAMP program aims to increase the number of students interested in programs of graduate study with a long-term goal of earning their doctorate in STEM fields; specifically those from populations underrepresented in STEM fields. In order to achieve their goals, grants are given to qualifying institutions of higher education to financially support students who qualify for the LSAMP program, which is how UNI was able to get involved with the program and support students like Brittnie Dotson, a senior majoring in Biology.

“I chose to join LSAMP because it was one of the few organizations that actually supported minorities in STEM fields and helped with professional development for careers in STEM fields,” stated Dotson. “LSAMP has also provided funding for me to do cell biology research at UNI.” This research was a part of a study being conducted by Dr. Kavita Dhanwada, the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate College, during Dotson’s junior year at UNI.

“Our research was about how the breakdown components (metabolites) of Atrazine, a commonly used weed killer, would affect human liver cells,” described Dotson. “The metabolites of Atrazine are important because these are contaminants that are being found in high concentrations in our water systems, and we wanted to know if they behaved like Atrazine, which causes health defects. Also, there’s not a lot of information about these metabolites.” In addition to this research, Dotson has been afforded the opportunity to conduct research with the NASA BETA project under Dr. Alexa Sedlacek, Dr. Joshua Sebree and Dr. Xinhua Shen, alongside fellow LSAMP participants Jose Lopez and Steven Gomez.

Lopez, a junior majoring in biology, is doing research with the NASA BETA project as well as conducting research on botanical biology with Dr. Julie Kang. With Dr. Kang, Lopez is looking to understand the evolution and homology of leaf shape and vein patterns using a variety of plant species to investigate this correlation. His research opportunities are setting him a part as he begins preparing for graduate school and then medical school.

“I would love to get a PhD after I graduate,” stated Lopez. “I want to become a doctor someday.”

Unlike Dotson and Lopez, Gomez, a junior majoring in Biology, did not choose to attend UNI based on the opportunities LSAMP provided to him; he didn’t even know about it until the end of his first year here but the program has expanded what he has accomplished at UNI.

“My campus visit is what sold me on UNI,” explained Gomez. “I am from Texas so if I wouldn’t have visited UNI as a high school student, I would not have even looked at UNI as a place to go to school. It was upon arriving to campus for my first semester that I found out about LSAMP from Nick Sullivan in the Student Support Services office. Because of my interactions with him, I got connected with LSAMP and joined the program my sophomore year.” Being a part of LSAMP took him to a leadership conference his sophomore year. At the conference, students were presenting their undergraduate research posters on the research they had conducted.

“The conference helped me better my leadership skills and provided me with a lot of networking opportunities that have helped me with my academic success and professional development,” said Gomez. “I want to become a physician’s assistant someday and LSAMP has been helping me prepare for graduate school.”

Without programs like LSAMP, students like Dotson, Lopez and Gomez may not have had the opportunities they have been afforded through the program. From leadership conferences and professional development to connections with faculty, staff and future employers, LSAMP is helping students write their story here at UNI!

Daniel Vorwerk, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 11-03-15

Leland Wilson Lecture Series

Kim Rathmell, 2015 Lecture series speaker.

Almost 50 years ago, Dr. Leland Wilson, a professor of chemistry, was selected as the first head of the University of Northern Iowa’s newly established Department of Chemistry. While he was head of the department, the American Chemical Society accredited the undergraduate chemistry curriculum at UNI. During his 24 years of teaching at UNI, Wilson continually looked for opportunities to help students succeed and share his love of chemistry with them. It is for this reason the Leland Wilson Lecture Series was initiated in 1997 by colleagues, family and former students to honor Professor Wilson’s many contributions to the Department of Chemistry and the UNI community.

“The Leland Wilson Chemistry Lectureship strives to bring in speakers who can talk about their fields in a compelling way that provides the wider public with a better understanding of what makes science exciting and valuable,” explained Dr. William (Bill) Harwood, professor of chemistry at UNI. “The lecture series gives us an opportunity to show that good science is going on at UNI and that we are equipping our students well for professions in chemistry and biochemistry. Students will have an opportunity to hear and interact with leaders who are successful in the students’ future career arenas.”

Last Thursday, October 22, Dr. Kimryn Rathmell, Director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology and Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University, presented this year’s lecture titled The Exciting State of Affairs for Drug Development in Cancer: 2015 and many were in attendance to hear Dr. Rathmell present her thoughts.

“This year’s Leland Wilson lecture by Dr. Kimryn Rathmell gave an excellent overview of the rapidly developing new strategies in cancer treatment,” proclaimed  Dr. Laura Hoistad Strauss, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UNI. “These new strategies stem from the recent research showing that not all cancers are the same; even of the same organ or tissue.  The increased knowledge about how various types cancers evolve has shifted patient care.”

For almost 20 years, the Leland Wilson Lecture Series has hosted professionals from all across the United States. From Dr. Richard Zare, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, to this year’s speaker, Dr. Rathmell, the lectureship has allowed UNI to bring nationally recognized scholars and leaders in chemistry and science to campus. In 2007, Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, daughter of Dr. Wilson and member of the University of Denver Board of Trustees, donated $100,000 to fully endow the lectureship series and ensure its continual funding.

Daniel Vorwerk, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 10-27-15

A New Era in Mathematics

Professional Development Courses

The Center for Teaching and Learning Mathematics (CTLM) is committed to improving education and seeks to assist teachers, students and families in making sense of mathematics at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college and beyond.

While many UNI students are unaware of the CTLM, the impact the center is having on education across the state is definitely being felt.  With support from Math Science Partnership (MSP) Title II grants and the university, the CTLM exists to support teachers in the classroom, specifically striving to deepen teachers’ understanding of mathematical content and increase their ability to implement research-based best practices.

“When I grew up, mathematics was taught quite differently,” explained Julie Creeden, Writing Coordinator for the CTLM.   “I was taught to memorize a procedure to solve a problem, and that was the only way to do it.  I never really understood the math behind the procedure.  The courses we have developed help teachers in the field who had math experiences similar to mine, really make sense of mathematics.  Research shows that an increase in the pedagogical content knowledge of teachers has a positive effect on their students’ achievement.”  

The CTLM created the Making Sense of Mathematics and Teaching (MSMT) professional development course series as a way to provide current Iowa elementary school educators with the training they need to become more effective teachers of mathematics. The Making Sense courses were developed by a team of UNI faculty members and math experts from across Iowa. The CTLM Director, Dr. Vicki Oleson, brought these professionals together to create high quality, research-based professional development courses that enhance math instruction.  The center’s Assistant Director, Karis Townsend, aids Oleson in these efforts.  Kaylee Tritle and Anna Backstrom are two student assistants who also work at the center.

“Currently, six, three-hour graduate level courses have been developed and are available for Iowa educators, and we are in the process of developing two more courses,” stated Creeden. “Our newest course, Making Sense of Programming, is currently being piloted by Dr. Ben Schafer, associate professor of computer science at UNI.  Megan Balong, UNI math faculty member, is currently working to create Making Sense of Data and Statistics as our first fully online course.  Our goal is to offer a math endorsement to teachers who take the entire series of eight courses.”  The eight courses that make up the MSMT series are:

- Making Sense of Numbers
- Making Sense of Operations
- Making Sense of Geometry
- Making Sense of Measurement
- Making Sense of Algebraic Thinking 
- Making Sense of Rational Numbers
- Making Sense of Programming
- Making Sense of Data and Statistics

To assist in the training of new facilitators for these courses, the CTLM team continues to develop iBook Facilitator Guides.  Creeden writes the content for these guides based on videotaped sessions facilitated by Connie Terry, math consultant at Green Hills AEA, and Lynn Selking, math consultant at Great Prairie AEA.  In an attempt to model best practice for new facilitator training, Creeden chooses video clips from these sessions, which are embedded in the iBooks by Jon Chamberlain, Multi-media Producer at the center. Dana Lechtenberg, CTLM Art Director, takes this content and creates very appealing, CTLM-branded iBook Facilitator Guides, with the assistance of Amy Frohardt-Schafer, CTLM Editor.  To date, over twenty school districts throughout the state have felt the positive impact of the center’s professional development courses.

Last year marked an exciting expansion of the CTLM courses.  Thanks to an additional MSP Grant for Special Education Math Professional Development (SPED math PD), the achievement gap between students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and students without an IEP is being addressed.  Beginning this past January, twenty special education teachers and consultants from the Waterloo Community School District (WCSD) began professional development to boost the effective use of math intervention time.  Teachers are receiving support in their use of specially-designed instruction, as well as learning how to use diagnostic assessments to guide their instruction.  The four courses that make up the Teaching Math to Struggling Learners (TMSL) series are:

- TMSL: Building Your Confidence
- TMSL: Addition, Subtraction and Place Value
- TMSL: Multiplication and Division
- TMSL: Fractions

This SPED math PD was developed by a team of UNI faculty members: Christina Curran, Kim Miller, Oleson, and Jean Hitchman; Green Hills AEA consultant, Connie Terry; WCSD Instructional Strategists, Odette Bulmer and Deb Colflesh; WCSD Special Needs Instructional Coach, Kelly Westley; and WCSD preK-12 Math Curriculum Specialist, Sarah Stephan.  

Moving forward, the CTLM remains committed to high-quality professional development.  As a result, elementary teachers are empowering students for lifelong learning by helping them make sense of, and develop an appreciation for, mathematics.  Deb Marchesani, 1st grade teacher in Cedar Falls, states, “I am a more confident math teacher because of these courses.” Dennis Rokusek, WCSD math coach, adds, “The Making Sense courses do as the title suggests. These hands-on courses have increased my content understanding and allowed me to be more effective as a coach for the Waterloo School District.”  Deb Colflesh sums it up, “The Teaching Math for Struggling Learners courses have opened my mind to the complexities of teaching math beyond programed materials.”  The Center for Teaching and Learning Mathematics is very proud to continue this rich tradition of making powerful learning a reality for each person it serves.

Daniel Vorwerk, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 10-22-15

Halloween Haunted House

Halloween Haunted House Poster

Make your way to the second floor of McCullum Science Hall for an evening filled with exciting science demonstrations and fun activities, all with a Halloween haunted house theme! On Friday, October 23, the UNI Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society, in collaboration with students from the Departments of Biology, Physics, Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Earth Science, will once again be hosting a Halloween Haunted House from 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the McCullum Science Hall.

UNI students will be performing Halloween themed science demonstrations and supervising hands-on activities in rooms such as the “Devil’s Den”, “Frankenstein’s Lab”, “Skeleton Graveyard”, and “Underground Mysteries”.

The event is free and open to students of all ages but the majority of demonstration and activities are planned with elementary age children in mind. The public is encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes, but they are not required. Contrary to the event title, the event is not a haunted house and none of the activities are intended to be scary, all activities are planned with Halloween fun in mind.

Daniel Vorwerk, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 10-20-15

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