Continuous Improvement of Education

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

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

Drones: Geography from a Different Perspective

Thermal imaging of the UNI-Dome area by a drone.If you see a drone overhead while walking on the University of Northern Iowa campus, there is a good chance that it is one of the Geography Department’s.  Dr. James Dietrich joined the faculty of UNI last summer to continue his research with drones.  Dietrich stated that, “Dr. Pease, was on the forefront” of implementing this technology into the Geography curriculum when he posted the position.  “I’m very excited to be a part of this department and university,” he continued while standing in the Geography Department’s Drone Lab.   

Birds-eye view of UNI Campus by a Geography Department drone.With drones, Dietrich is able to blend his love of technology with the beauty of being outside in nature.  Technology has allowed geography researchers to look at landscapes through the medium of photography.  Dr. Dietrich and other researchers are able to use historical aerial and ground photographs and compare them to recent drone photographs noting the changes that have taken place.

Having grown up in Colorado, Dietrich was encouraged and pushed by his parents and his professors to go out and try different things and to find his passion.  He has since traveled the United States for his education.  The University of Kansas, Texas State University, University of Oregon, and a post-doc at Dartmouth College have all been a part of Dr. Dietrich’s path toward his position as professor at UNI.Dietrich prepares a small drone for flight on UNI Campus.

UNI’s Geography department has a long standing history of strength in graphical information systems (GIS).  It has a reputation for being on the forefront of computer-based mapping, remote sensing, and satellite imagery. 

Dr. Dietrich is looking forward to working on landscape, terrain, and ecosystem restoration projects.  Interacting with the UNI students has been great.  Colleagues in the department and across campus have been wonderful in supporting Dr. Dietrich in his first year on campus.

As a doctoral student, Dr. Dietrich worked with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to do a long term physical monitoring of a salmon spawn habitat restoration of the Middle Fork of the John Day River.  It was a challenging project. The river had been altered for a mining operation and in later years over grazed by cattle.     Cattle destroy the banks of the river and change the landscape. The changes destroy habitat, increase water temperature, and affect the fish and other life in the river.  The restoration process included removing the cattle, rebuilding the banks, and planting vegetation to help maintain and increase the available habitat. 

The goal was to utilize pre-mining photos to design and complete a restoration project to bring the land as close as possible to the original landscape.  Once completed, the salmon will now have the proper conditions to swim upriver and spawn.  Dr. Dietrich’s contribution was to determine what the area originally looked like using photographs from the 1800’s and historic maps.   One photo from about 1930 showed how the mining operation had altered the landscape, destroying much of the valley river system. 

Teaching and working with students to help them understand drone technology.Next the team determined what a healthy and productive river should look like by finding a snapshot of the river in an area that was unaltered.  The objective was to mirror this healthy part of the river in the damaged portions.  As a geomorphologist, Dr. Dietrich’s task was to look at the physical parts of the river: banks, sandbars, and bed material.  Through this, he could get a sense of how the river has changed. These changes include its shape, composition, and overall structure of the river. 

River restorations can be small (a couple hundred yards) to large (a couple miles in length).  The size of a restoration adds to the challenge. This restoration would be considered a large project.  The outcome of the restoration thus far has been a success.

As a professor with a drone pilot’s license, Dr. Dietrich has six drones he utilizes for teaching and research.  Each drone has different characteristics so that different tasks can be completed.  One drone is a fixed wing, much like a traditional airplane, flying straight and level over large areas for big aerial mapping.  The fixed wing has limited maneuverability but can fly for about 30 minutes and cover a large area.  The other five drones are rotorcraft with multiple rotors.  These are great for tight spaces such as within trees and along shorelines. However they can only fly for about 20 minutes before needing to recharge. Dr. Dietrich with his largest rotocraft drone.

The drones have onboard cameras that can level themselves and compensate for movement so that the photos and videos are cleaner and stable.  The largest drone can lift up to 32 pounds.  This is necessary so that it can fly while carrying a large digital SLR camera for super high resolution photos.  It can also carry cameras that can take digital true color, thermal (or infra-red), and multi-spectral digital images, measuring both visible and invisible light at many wavelengths.  Because of its size, all of these cameras can be mounted on the drone at the same time.

Since coming to campus, Dr. Dietrich has worked on projects at the Washburn Prairie, a river restoration near Manchester, and mapping campus.  The campus mapping will allow future students to tour campus virtually.  His research will focus on how to improve accuracy of the maps created from drone footage.  The Geography Department and Dr. Dietrich can work with state and local agencies to complete mapping projects.  For example, flat maps can be made into three dimensional elevation maps.

Check out this drone video!


Ginger L'Heureux, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 04-05-18