Keyaira Phillips, TAPP Alumna & 20 Under 40 Winner

UNI TAPP Alumna, Keyaira Phillips, had been named as one of the Cedar Valley's 20 Under 40.  This award is given by the WCF Courier to outstanding leaders in the area.  Ms. Phillips has worked at a number of places since graduating from UNI, but is currently at Rockwell Collins as a Senior Sourcing Manager.  (

A STEM Story was written about Ms. Phillips in 2016.  Take a few moments to enjoy learning more about her and her career.

DREAM DEFINED IN DIVERSITY, Alumni Profile, February 2016

Keyaira PhillipsIt all started with a couple of short and simple questions: Who decides what we get and what we do not get?  “I have always been a curvy girl,” says Keyaira Phillips. “So, before it was ‘in’ to be curvy, I had the hardest time finding in Waterloo/Cedar Falls areas a selection of clothes that were trendy and cute, and that fit.”  Of course, Phillips did not know then that “there were actual buyers and teams that pick out clothing assortments and that what was available varied per locations/regions.” However, she knew one thing for sure.  “From drawing outfits when I was younger, to taking sewing classes in high school, I knew that I belonged in the fashion industry in some way, shape or form,” Phillips says. “Those questions and my early desire for style are what initially probed my interest in fashion, ultimately directing me to enroll and major in Textiles and Apparel at UNI.”

She loved the diversity in undergraduate coursework at UNI.  “We were immersed in quality assurance classes which highlighted systematic process of determining whether products meet customers’ expectations and government regulations,” she recounts. “I took product development courses which taught us the technical side to our field (specification writing, creating and constructing patterns, sewing, etc.).”  “We also had CAD (computer-aided design) classes that taught us how to create and render designs on the computer,” she adds. “Lastly were the merchandising and design courses that focused on the business, buying, consumer behavior, and design sides of the fashion industry.”

“They set up the TAPP program this way because you get a holistic overview of career paths that you might want to take or have an interest in,” she says.  Phillips also found the projects to be fun and unique, eye-opening and interesting.  “We had to make a garment out of unconventional materials (pop-cans, playing cards, etc.),” she recounts. “I made a formal wear top and skirt out of different condom wrappers. I know it was extreme but it conveyed the message about safe sex practices, a message that was plaguing college students on campus at the time. It was a huge hit.”

The under-graduate course-work was about diversity in more ways than one.  “In most of my classes, we had to do tons of group work,” Phillips says. “Having been immersed in so many group projects in school allowed me to figure out ways to work well with others and how to communicate with them.”  The lessons in effectively communicating, negotiating and working with others have proved to be a treasure-trove for her.  “When working at John Deere and Target, I had to work with people from all over the world and English wasn’t their first language,” she says. “It was a struggle at first… but having had courses where the themes were communicating effectively, speaking through common language (numbers) helped me build myself into an effective communicator.”  

Keyaira Phillips with Professor Annette Lynch and Nicole Lyricc at the Fashion and Empowerment workshop at UNI.Diversity has marked Phillips’ career path, too.  After graduating from UNI in 2006, she did an internship with Von Maur—the department store chain that sells primarily upscale brand-name apparel, accessories, cosmetics, gifts, jewelry and shoes—in its executive training program for buying and then went into store management.  In 2008, she started her corporate career at the Target headquarters in Minneapolis as a sourcing specialist. She worked with the company’s sourcing services, buying and merchandise planning teams, imports and customs, and Target India and overseas factories, to ensure the best product selection in its stores. In 2011, Phillips ventured into the world of agriculture, having landed a job at John Deere as a planner and buyer supporting its supply chain and management.

Finally, in 2014, she joined Alliant Energy.  At Alliant, she coordinates and manages the purchase of materials, equipment and services to meet internal customer requirements, and is responsible for assuring the lowest total cost supply base and sourcing competitiveness through the procurement process. Simply put, she supervises and tracks everything that the company purchases—from desk chairs to computer equipment—and makes sure that the company gets the best price.  She also manages key contracts, materials, services and commodities, and assists with the development and implementation of strategic, operational, tactical sourcing and logistic planning activities.  Phillips says her leaps across industries have been rewarding. “I had no idea that I would go into agriculture or utilities but I am glad that I did,” says Phillips. “I will eventually get back into the retail industry but I am happy with the experience and skills I have gained so far.”

“Shocking as it may sound since fashion and retail are ever changing in terms of sourcing, merchandising, and product development, I was starting to become complacent at that time,” she recalls.  “I also wanted to diversify my portfolio in terms of carrying over the skills and foundations I had from fashion into other industries,” she adds. “Employees love the diversity within my career.”  She believes her education at UNI has helped her transition from one industry to another.  “There are many things that I can tie together between my studies in college and the work I have done previously and presently, one being the business component,” she says. “Regardless of the product I may source or buy, the basic business fundamentals hold true across the board.”  Diversity is also at the core of her advice for middle and high school students.

“Dream big and know that no job is too big for you,” Phillips says. “Tell people what your passions and dreams are because you never know what connections they might have to get you one step closer to your dream job.”  “Start early networking and job experience,” she adds. “Even if it’s a job shadow, volunteering and doing an internship, start as early as possible. The more experience you have, the more marketable you will be for that dream job.”

Mir Ashfaquzzaman
Posted: 09-07-18

2018 UNI STEM Camps under way!

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

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