Sports Diplomacy course scores with great timing, conversations

Paul Wright

Paul Wright

Paul Wright has no problem stirring a lively conversation.

Not only is NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education a deft moderator, but the students in his KNPE 399: Sport and Diplomacy course are Honors Program students.

They’re opinionated, they’re smart and they want to talk.

Beyond that, the topic of the day Feb. 12 is a hot one: South Korea, North Korea and the Olympics.

During that class meeting just a few days after the torch roared to life to start the winter games, the discussion of possible reunification crackles with different opinions.

Alexandra Zdunek deems the Olympic-borne olive branches between the Koreas nothing but a publicity stunt perpetrated by the North. As the TV cameras gradually disappear, she says, so will the sudden show of cordiality that stunned the world.

“I don’t think reunification would be possible under this regime,” says the senior Political Science major from Crystal Lake, who plans to become a lawyer. “As soon as North Korea gets what it wants, they will pull out.”

Others in the NIU Honors course, having just watched the Korean athletes march together under a unified flag in the opening ceremonies, aren’t so sure.

unified-flagFundamental pride of nation, one classmate says, will begin “to win out” thanks to athletes from both Koreas competing together as teammates. Inspired by that solidarity, the student says, they will “drop the small stuff and go for it.”

Gestures of unity “really match the ideals of the Olympics,” another offers, talking of countries building bridges of cultural exchange in celebration of human potential and human performance.

Maybe the recreational aspects of sports and the “safe space of competition” would give Korean athletes from both sides of the demilitarized zone a good excuse not to talk policy or politics, another suggests.

Standing aside to let the conversation flow, Wright loves it all.

“What I really like about working with this group of students is that because they are confident about putting their thoughts out there, we are getting a range of opinions,” he says. “The rightness or wrongness of their answers is inconsequential. We’re having a good, rich discussion.”

January’s out-of-nowhere goodwill between the Koreas came as “a welcome surprise,” he says. He had developed the curriculum months earlier.

“That was serendipitous. We had no idea what was about to start brewing,” Wright says, “but this course is a natural extension of what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. It’s sort of a progression in my scholarship. I have a solid grounding in, and a long history of, using sport for positive youth development.”

Students in Wright’s class come from several majors – none in the College of Education – that include Accountancy, Electrical Engineering, History, Marketing and Political Science.

Their textbook, the newly published “Case Studies in Sport Diplomacy,” includes a chapter Wright wrote on his three-year (2013-16) project in Belize. It also examines similar work in Brazil, Central America, China, Haiti, Iran, New Zealand, Russia, South Sudan and, appropriately, Korea.

Class sessions are filled with history lessons.

o-ringsLaying the groundwork to make sense of the current Korean situation began with a look 5,000 years in the past, tracing through the “Three Kingdoms” period of Korean history and centuries of interference or rule from China and Japan. The time of Japanese Colonial Rule, from 1910 to 1945, ended with World War II.

Wright then outlines the events that precipitated the Korean War and the various stages of its aftermath, including the three-decade struggle over communism and democracy and the decade of “co-existence” following the 1987 end of the Cold War.

Engagement began to improve in 1998, stopping in 2008 as North Korea found its footing and started to grow in power as it no longer found itself desperate for cooperation or help.

A decade later, the North is driven to acquire, keep and assert power – military, economic and political – while the South adheres to democracy and positive relations with other countries.

The Olympics have made ripples in the past, Wright says, but none like 2018, which “seems on track to be a vastly different story.”

Unification was planned for the 1960 games in Rome, for example, but the North abandoned those talks when the International Olympic Committee recognized both countries. When Seoul hosted the games in 1988, North Korea boycotted.

Despite those misses, he adds, a certain set of statistics reveals an interesting picture.

case-studiesEighty-five percent of the 55 socio-cultural exchanges between the Koreas between 1971 and 2017 involved sports. This includes unified teams for the 1990 Beijing Asian Games and the 1991 FIFA World Cup in Portugal.

“I am a lover of history, and I feel comfortable talking about those issues and my own curiosities and interests,” Wright says. “In much of the work I do with education, curriculum and schooling – that is my field – there are many things you can’t understand without first understanding the historical context: What shaped our school system? What was going on at the time?”

Building on the Olympics, he asked provocative questions during the games.

Do you think North Korean athletes will try to defect? If so, how do you think North Korea will go after them? What kind of “welcome home” will North Korean athletes receive if they fail to medal? How does the presence U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s sister play into all of this?

He’s also assigned students to watch sport-related movies, report to the class on what they saw and give the films a rating of “gold thumb, silver thumb or bronze thumb.”

“I try to mix things up a bit, have some fun,” Wright says. “We’re lucky to have several more weeks in this class to follow up on the Olympics: After all he bluster and all the drama is done regarding North and South Korea, what do we see sticking? Does the momentum fade and die? Does it take on new life?”

Students are gaining ideas of how the notion of diplomacy through sports can empower their future careers.

Maria Fracassi, a senior with a major in Marketing, calls Wright’s course “interesting.”

football-fansAlthough she considers herself a “mediocre sports fan – I watch when it’s exciting,” she knows that capitalizing on the universal affinity for sports can help to build the business relationships that she will depend on as a marketer.

“I never thought much about how sports can unify people,” Fracassi says. “I enjoy the conversations.”

Zakyrah Harris, a junior studying Political Science and Philosophy, enrolled in Wright’s class because of her interest in the Colin Kaepernick-led NFL protests.

Before Kaepernick and his followers began kneeling during the national anthem, Harris says, she believed that sports always brought fans together. Now she’s surprised to learn that sports can cause military conflict, such as the “Hundred Hour War” between Honduras and El Salvador “over something as small as a soccer game.”

“Dr. Wright is an amazing professor. He makes each class interesting,” she says. “He shows you how sports can bridge gaps and how different countries are able to come together politically or completely destroy each other.”

Zdunek agrees.

“He is really good at getting us engaged, especially when we’re all different majors,” she says. “He is very knowledgeable, and he wants to understand how we can use sport to better each other’s lives. That is such a big care for him.”

Wright is enjoying the class as much as his students.

“They’re really bringing in their different disciplines, and it’s fun to see what they’re being trained in. They’re talking about social issues around race, such as Brown v. Board of Education. They’re seeing connections to other courses they’re in that aren’t normally in our conversation about sport,” he says.

“I’m really pushing them to see behind every one of these stories and case studies we look at, to understand the motivation of the people we’re talking about, to connect the dots, to see what’s driving them,” he adds. “If you understand those things in the background, you can practice critical thinking and look behind the obvious. I’m sure they can apply that in every one of their different disciplines going forward.”

Early Childhood majors visit Riverwoods Montessori School

Stephanie DeSpain

Stephanie DeSpain

Thirty-nine Early Childhood Education students from NIU recently enjoyed inside looks at a Montessori school.

Donations to the NIU College of Education from alumni Anthony L. Kambich (B.S. ’59, Physical Education) and Carolyn A. Kambich (B.S. ’60, Elementary Education), founders of North Shore Montessori Schools in 1966, financed the Feb. 13 and Feb. 27 trips.

“Students in my class last year were asking more about Montessori,” says Stephanie DeSpain, an assistant professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“When I talked to our chair, Greg Conderman, he said, ‘Well, we happen to have this funding to start to infuse some of the Montessori style and approach to teaching and learning in our classes to just expose our students to this other world of teaching young children,’ ” she adds. “This semester was kind of our first step in doing that.”

NIU students watched demonstrations by the school’s teachers and were able to ask questions of the faculty.

Montessori education, according to the North Shore website, “is based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s scientific observations of the young child … young children learn with great ease by simply ‘absorbing,’ like a sponge, everything to which they are exposed, rather than learning through logical analysis.”

Riverwoods Montessori School – one of three under the North Shore umbrella – provides a toddler program for 2-year-olds, a preschool classroom for ages 3 to 5 and a school-age classroom for children kindergarten through sixth-grade.

Arranged “in a homelike fashion for students to feel like they’re home,” DeSpain says, it features a living room of sorts in the middle of the school. Other familiar spaces include a regular kitchen, a dining room and a laundry room.

“It really does feel kind of like a home,” she says.

On the bus to Montessori

On the bus to Montessori

Called a “prepared environment,” the classroom is, according to the website, “designed to support these (developmental) periods of the children and allow them to easily learn at their own individual rhythm.”

A few Huskies were able to watch children in action as they stacked blocks and counted colored rods – these are called “manipulative materials” – to learn concepts such as quantifying and fractions.

Manipulatives, according to the website, are located “low on small shelves which are easily accessible to every child. This gives the children freedom, within the limits of safety and respect, to choose activities for themselves that they will succeed in doing. Many little successes build self-confidence and develop knowledge.”

“They have a three-stage lesson: I demonstrate, I have you show me and then I have you do it. That’s kind of how all their teaching is,” DeSpain says.

“When it’s introduced in our textbooks, it’s as a very child-directed approach to teaching, a natural environment where the teacher just serves as a guide and the children watch that guidance,” she adds “We’ve not necessarily had that as a component of our program before. It’s a little bit outside of what our students are familiar with. That prompts a really good discussion, like, ‘Wow, how do I do these things when they’re child-directed?’ ”

Lauren Van Havermaet, a junior Early Childhood Education major from Inverness, enjoyed the trip.

“I thought it was very insightful because I hadn’t known a lot about Montessori,” Van Havermaet says. “They did a good job of showing us what the teachers do and what the kids do, and they showed us a different way of teaching.”

binomial-cubeVan Havermaet was fascinated to see the Montessori teachers “never telling the kids that they were wrong” but focusing on “more of what they’re doing right.”

Children were interested in learning, she says, partly because they were able to choose their activities. One 4-year-old girl even was learning to sew using a shoelace.

She also noticed parallels between the Montessori method and the education of her boyfriend, who was homeschooled by his mother.

“The children were so well-behaved,” adds Van Havermaet, who appreciated that the children were generous in their sharing of toys and manipulative materials. “The whole classroom is very calm.”

NIU students also were curious about how Montessori schools serve children from diverse backgrounds, DeSpain says.

“When we talk about working with young children with special needs, we talk about supports and modifications,” she says. “In a Montessori school, children all work very independently. They grab the materials they want. They do the work they want. For a child with a disability, that might be more difficult.”

Those students who visited were grateful and excited by the opportunity to do so.

Early Childhood is a unique field, DeSpain says, that offers careers in public preschools, private preschools, church-based preschools, Head Start programs and, of course, Montessori.

“Our candidates get a chance to go into a lot of Early Childhood settings, but Montessori is not one they typically get. With the donor funding, it really allowed us to go in and get that exposure to this other type of programming,” she says.

montessori-logoSome already have expressed a desire to undertake their student-teaching in a Montessori school, she adds.

“If a few students in your cohort walk away feeling inspired, empowered and passionate about the job they want to do, then these trips are worth it,” DeSpain says.

“At the end of the day, we want our students to go and get jobs. Everyone needs to feel like they’re going to work somewhere that fits them, and this gives them that exposure and helps them to understand what they need to do to become a credentialed Montessori teacher, which requires some more training,” she adds. “Or, if they found ideas to implement in their future teaching, but realized that Montessori was not the right fit for them, then that’s empowering as well.”

DeSpain hopes to make the field trips to Riverwoods a regular event, and also is planning to use some of the donor dollars to purchase some Montessori materials to place in a designated NIU College of Education classroom or the Learning Center.

That is likely to please Van Havermaet, who is open to borrowing Montessori concepts for her classroom.

And no matter where she finds work, she is eager to start.

“You get to teach kids the first things they learn, and that’s something they’re always going to take with them. They’re always going to need their social skills. They’re going to need their numbers, colors and words,” she says. “That just kind of draws me there, just to see the kids grow.”

Faculty, student podcast probes portrayal of mental illness in film

Scott Wickman

Scott Wickman

People who love movies love to talk about movies.

Sometimes it’s the plot. Sometimes it’s the acting. Sometimes it’s the cinematography or the music or the special effects.

But for NIU’s Scott Wickman and his cohort of film buffs – colleagues, students, longtime friends – the topic of conversation explores how movies portray issues of mental health and its professional treatment.

Wickman, an associate professor of Counseling in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, is the co-creator of the “Mental Illness in Pop Culture” podcast, available for free through iTunes and heard around the world.

Now in its third season, the podcast currently features 22 episodes that dissect feature films, documentaries and even classic Saturday morning cartoons in the belief “that public perception is both reflected and influenced by popular media.”

“Even though this is really fun to do, there’s an educational component to this,” Wickman says. “Listeners just feel like they’re sitting in the room with us, engaging in the conversation. We’re like the Siskel and Ebert of Counselor Education. It’s become an international phenomenon.”

Two of his frequent collaborators – Adam Gregory, an NIU Ph.D. candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision; and Leanne Deister-Goodwin, a consultant, group facilitator and public speaker on leadership and management who is also pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling – bring different perspectives.


Gregory, a seasoned cinephile, previously was a member of the Cleveland International Film Festival for five years. He also once drove from Cleveland to Detroit simply to watch “Brokeback Mountain” before the Oscars.

“I watch maybe five or six movies a week. It’s my self-care,” Gregory says. “This has never felt like work.”

Deister-Goodwin, on the other hand, calls herself “just a consumer” of movies. She became a fan of the podcast at the urging of Wickman, who had been her high school Spanish teacher in downstate Robinson.

Joseph Flynn

Joseph Flynn

Joseph Flynn, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction with an interest in pop culture, media and critical race theory, has joined the panel for Season Three.

Recordings are made in Wickman’s Graham Hall office on his Samsung phone. There are no rehearsals or preparation beyond watching the movies in advance; the conversations are unscripted and free-flowing with no set time limit.

Films discussed so far include classics such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Ordinary People” and “Harold and Maude” as well as contemporary works such as “Moonlight,” “Manchester By the Sea” and “Inside Out.”

Others include “Good Will Hunting,” “Girl, Interrupted,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

A December 2017 episode on “Looney Tunes” analyzed Pepé Le Pew’s predator tendencies, looked at gender identity issues concerning Bugs Bunny and mused that Wile E. Coyote has a schizoaffective disorder, positing that the roadrunner existed only in his mind: “It’s a compelling argument!” Wickman says.

Honesty and courage are key to the podcast’s authenticity. The panel members are candid when their life stories offer parallels to the characters and plots they are analyzing.

manchester-by-the-sea“Manchester By the Sea,” for example, is a 2016 film about a man’s struggle with unbearable grief. The recording of that podcast came only two or three days after Wickman lost two close friends; part of the discussion prompted Gregory to tell a story of when he answered his father’s cell phone one day after his father died.

Panelists wondered why no character in the movie suggested that the man, played by Casey Affleck, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal, seek professional help. They discussed themes of the movie – abandonment, forgiveness, suffering is universal – and hoped that healing came for the characters after the movie’s non-Hollywood ending.

During their recording session one week later on “The Soloist,” which stars Robert Downey Jr. as a print journalist who encounters Jamie Foxx, whose character is a homeless musical genius, it was Deister-Goodwin’s turn to share something personal – and to grasp again the power of the podcast.

“There’s so much of us in this thing. Being real, true and authentic is always our goal, and we try to bring that,” she says. “When I was young, I had some years of my adolescence when I lived in a van.”

Wickman believes that such revelations boost the podcast’s impact, along with the mix of professionals and students and the “split-level talking” theory of chatting with each other while simultaneously addressing a much larger audience.

Leanne Deister-Goodwin

Leanne Deister-Goodwin

Using film as the foundation helps as well. “We all watch movies. We just do,” Deister-Goodwin says, “and you can enjoy the podcast even if you haven’t seen the movies or know about counseling.”

Members of the panel, who clearly have become tight friends, also hold each other in high regard.

“Scott always makes sure that everyone’s voice is important and heard,” Deister-Goodwin says. “When you’re in an environment where you’re valued, and you’re heard, you want to give more. You really do.”

It originated with a course Wickman offered under the same name – Mental Illness in Pop Culture – that didn’t attract enough students to make it viable. Those who had signed up, however, still were interested and asked if it could become an independent study.

Ph.D. student Gregory was there, too, and had been ready and willing to co-teach with Wickman.

When the two met at Starbucks to brainstorm ideas of how to salvage the concept, they hit upon the idea of the podcast – something that now has reached ears on every continent except Antarctica.

Adam Gregory

Adam Gregory

NIU’s podcasters, meanwhile, have presented at a Chicago conference of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision; they’ve also been told that faculty at other colleges and universities have required the podcast as part of academic courses or have awarded extra credit for listening.

“It’s just an amazing adrenaline rush. I sit back and watch us go from 200 to 300 listens over a 48-hour period,” Wickman says. “It’s why I got into counselor education – to contribute knowledge and dialogue on these topics.”

Upcoming films will include “Still Alice,” “Room” and “Nebraska,” and Wickman is hoping that the podcast can also expand its scope.

“These are really compelling films, and we’re looking at them through a critical lens that helps certain elements pop out,” he says. “We all have ideas. We talk about what we’ve seen, what’s resonated with us. I have a dream that this moves us into other pop culture – songs, books, TV.”

NIU College of Ed joins coalition calling for more Illinois teachers

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper has put the support and expertise of the NIU College of Education behind a new alliance calling on leaders to address the state’s urgent need to increase the number of teachers and to elevate the teaching profession in 2018 and beyond.

Members of the diverse coalition – Teachers for Illinois’ Future: Investing in teachers for all students today and tomorrow – include teachers, K-12 administrators, higher education institutions and advocacy organizations.

Higher education must “help young people and career-changers see that being a teacher is a noble, rewarding and exciting profession,” says Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education.

What that requires is “mentoring and induction support to help new teachers be successful,” she adds, along with professional development for educators across their careers to keep them in the profession.

“Entry into the teaching profession needs to be more accessible so motivated, qualified individuals can become teachers. Additionally, we need to diversify the teaching profession so it more accurately reflects the PK-12 student population,” Elish-Piper says. “There is so much we need to do, which is why I’m thrilled to be part of this statewide coalition that represents multiple sectors, all working together to benefit education in the state of Illinois.”

advance-illinoisThe coalition has a vision that all students, especially those who need the most, have access to the teachers they need to prepare them for college and career.

Over the last decade, the supply of future Illinois teachers has tightened. This shortage varies by region and subject area and is most acute outside of the Chicagoland area in rural and suburban districts. The subjects where this shortage is most severe include special education, bilingual, high school STEM teachers, and career and technical education.

All students are impacted: Schools are forced to hire substitute teachers in lieu of fulltime teachers, cancel classes and convert classes to online instruction.

The Teachers for Illinois’ Future coalition is a collaborative effort to:

  • Ensure students have the teachers they need in order to learn.
  • Support teachers’ growth from exploration of profession and throughout their career.
  • Increase the respect for and the desirability of the teaching profession.
  • Provide school and program leaders with systemic flexibility to meet their students’ needs.

Like father, like son: P.E. proves perfect major for Maveus family

Jeff Maveus

Jeff Maveus

Jeff Maveus had spent his professional years at DeKalb Genetics, feeling secure and content in his position with the Corporate Services Department.

That changed when Monsanto purchased the company in 1998. “I knew it was just a matter of time before I wasn’t going to have a job,” says Maveus, who lives in Cortland.

Pondering his next step, he discovered that it no longer lie in Corporate America but in a school gymnasium.

“I had played a lot of sports in high school. Coaching was something I had a passion for. My mom had a daycare for 30 years, and I had always been around kids. I had worked at camps,” he says. “I wanted to teach.”

Enrolling in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Maveus earned his bachelor’s degree in Physical Education in the fall of 2005. For the last 13 years, he has taught P.E. – the first eight years of those in an elementary school, and for the last five years, to sixth- through eighth-graders at Harter Middle School in Kaneland.

Now his son, Tyler, is following in those footsteps.

“My dad, for sure, was one of my biggest inspirations,” says Tyler, a 19-year-old sophomore at NIU who was a four-sport athlete at Sycamore High School.

“Hearing him come home and talk about how it’s a rewarding profession, and all the fun he has at work, just really made me want to get into it,” he adds. “I like the environment. I like the atmosphere of always being active. I like being able to have fun with kids, to help them learn and grow. I like the overall satisfaction of helping others.”

Dad understands why.

“What I love about teaching P.E. in middle school is that I love that age,” Jeff says. “The kids are learning how to lead healthier lifestyle and to make some good decisions in their lives. I’m teaching them about lifelong fitness; a lot of kids think that lifelong fitness is just a sport. They don’t know that more is involved, and I like to provide that knowledge, to be that role model.”

Tyler Maveus

Tyler Maveus

Sure enough, Tyler is also aiming toward a career in a middle school.

“At that point in their lives, they’re starting to become more independent, but it’s not like high school, when they’re starting to not participate as much,” he says. “Middle school can be a real rough experience for some kids, and I want to be sure to help them. I really enjoyed P.E. growing up – I had good experiences – and I want to make sure I give students that same experience. I want to be a role model, and someone my students can look up to.”

Being in the same profession – and, for now, the same house – is also providing a new camaraderie between the two.

Following an early clinical experience at DeKalb’s Huntley Middle School last semester, and part of a current assessment-related clinical at Brooks Elementary School, Tyler is getting his feet wet.

Naturally, he’s got questions and observations.

“It’s just nice to have my dad in my back pocket as a resource,” Tyler says, “like if I need help with an assignment late at night, he’s there. I can run warmup ideas by him, things to change, things to do differently, things that worked well, things I should be doing.

“My wife is just loving this. She thinks it’s great that we sit there and compare notes,” Jeff says.

Like Tyler, he enjoys the family room conversations.

“It’s really cool to not only talk to him about where the program is at NIU – it’s changed since I was there – but it’s really cool to have your son, when you’re watching a basketball game at night, turn to you and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a couple warmups I’d like to run past you,’ ” he says.

gym-balls“We talk about professors. We talk about how you bounce ideas off of other teachers, that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, that that’s how you get better,” he adds. “Tyler wants to be the best. It’s just fun.”

Both offer high praise for the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“One of the top programs in the nation!” Jeff exclaims. “I’m so thankful that I went through the P.E. department at NIU. Every step NIU had through the progression was phenomenal – early childhood, clinicals, student-teaching – and the best experience I could ever have. It was all the classes I needed, and 10 years later, something I never thought I would use, I’m using now.”

KNPE professors – he singles out Connie Fox, Clersida and Luis Garcia and Jenny Parker – were motivational and committed to teaching “the do’s and don’ts.”

Tyler, who starts student-teaching in the fall of 2019, is enjoying KNPE’s cohort model.

“We move through the program together, which is really nice because I can grow and become good friends with the other students,” he says. “Also, I’m learning that you can only be so prepared from the classroom. NIU does a really good job of immersing us in the schools, and getting us that experience. There’s no better way to learn than experience, and you can only follow the book so much when you’re out in the field.”

Perhaps their strongest endorsement, however, comes from Jeff’s perpetual welcome mat for NIU student-teachers in his gymnasium.

“I had two cooperating teachers who were phenomenal. They really helped me to finish that final step I had to take, and it’s not an easy step. There are a lot of things you have to learn while you’re student-teaching,” he says. “I remember how important it was to me to have someone good to work with – someone to learn from – and I want to be that person. That’s definitely what I’m here for.”

Scott Wickman left ‘speechless’ by ‘Humanistic Educator’ award

Scott Wickman, associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, has received the 2018 Humanistic Educator/Supervisor Award from the Association for Humanistic Counseling.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

He will be honored in April at the 2018 ACA Annual Conference in Atlanta.

The award recognizes an AHC member who demonstrates a humanistic philosophy of teaching or supervision, resulting in a significant impact on the development of students, new professionals through teaching, advising, supervision and/or mentoring.

Nominees must be counselor educators and/or counseling supervisors with a history of incorporating a humanistic philosophy into their work, which results in a significant impact on students, supervisees or mentees.

Before coming to NIU, Wickman was a K-12 school counselor. He also worked as a community support counselor, serving clients with serious and persistent mental illnesses while running court-mandated psychoeducational groups for perpetrators of violence and abuse.

Wickman also has received the Beverly Brown Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Group Counseling, the Illinois School Counselor Educator of the Year Award and the NIU College of Education’s Exceptional Contributions to Teaching Award.

CAHE’s Xiaodan Hu celebrates ‘Dissertation of the Year’ award

Xiaodan Hu

Xiaodan Hu

Xiaodan Hu, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, will travel next month to Texas for an impressive honor.

Hu’s dissertation, “The Impact of Performance-based Funding on Community College Retention and Completion in Louisiana,” is the winner of the 2018 Council for the Study of Community Colleges Dissertation of the Year Award.

She will receive a $1,000 award honorarium/prize from a sponsor of the 2018 CSCC Conference.

Casey Ozaki, associate professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning of the University of North Dakota, informed Hu that her “dissertation has the potential to have a significant impact on the literature and policy.”

“In a year of very competitive nominees,” Ozaki wrote, “the committee agreed that your dissertation was an example of a rigorous and well-constructed research design and critically important findings that deepen the understanding performance-based funding and its impact on community college success.”

Meanwhile, her CSCC Dissertation of the Year award is an invitation to submit an article to the Community College Review. With support from CCR, her submission would go through the peer review process with the hope for publication.

Joining CAHE’s Adult and Higher Education faculty last fall, Hu teaches courses related to community college leadership; finance and policy; and higher education administration.

Her research typically employs quantitative methods to examine the impact of state policies and institutional initiatives on colleges and universities, focusing on educational equity issues of historically underserved students and non-traditional students.

CoE award nominations open, deadline is Thursday, March 22


Kate Donohue won the 2016 award
for Exceptional Contributions
by Supportive Professional Staff.

Do you know colleagues in the College of Education who deserve special recognition for their work over the past year?

Nominate them for a 2018 College of Education Award!

This year’s honors come in eight categories, each with specific criteria. More information about each award, as well as a link to each online nomination form, is available below.

A letter from the nominator and two letters of support are required to complete the online nomination.

All nominations are due by 4 p.m. Thursday, March 22. Recipients will be recognized Friday, May 4, during the Celebration of Excellence ceremony.

Excellence in Teaching Award by Faculty/Clinical Faculty 2018
1. Open to tenure-track, tenured and clinical faculty for their teaching accomplishments in the recent calendar year.
2. Provides recognition of outstanding contributions in the classroom or in an online course (face-to-face and/or online) environment in which students have been challenged, engaged and supported toward excellence in learning.
3. Professor has demonstrated creative and innovative pedagogy, such as:

  • activities that promote engagement with class activities and learning experiences
  • service learning
  • community-based educational activities that provide out-of-the-classroom involvement
  • inclusion of technology in innovative ways
  • bridging the gap between theory and application
  • innovative and noteworthy inclusion of diversity and social justice issues
  • relevance of the course to real-world experiences
  • participation in other activities that contribute to teaching excellence.

4. Outstanding evaluations/feedback from participating students in the class

Excellence in Research and Artistry Award by Faculty 2018
1. Open to tenure-track, tenured and clinical faculty for their research and artistry accomplishments in the recent calendar year.
2. Provides recognition of outstanding contributions to research and to other endeavors such as exceptional artistry or performance that have made a significant impact on the field to which the faculty member belongs.
3. Professor has demonstrated research and artistry excellence in the field in multiple ways, such as:

  • obtaining high quality publications in top-tiered journals in the field
  • receiving major grants and fellowships to support research and artistry
  • presenting at state, regional, national and/or international conferences to promote creative or innovative knowledge and skills in the field
  • service as an editor or a member of the editorial boards of professional publications
  • being awarded grants for the program and/or department that reflect innovation and the creative engagement of departmental personnel and students
  • presentation of a noteworthy or otherwise significant artistic performance
  • involvement in other activities that contribute to excellence in research and artistry

Excellence in Service Award by Faculty 2018
1. Open to tenure-track, tenured and clinical faculty for their service accomplishments in and/or outside of the university in the recent calendar year.
2. Recognizes outstanding service that has had a positive impact on the department, college and/or university, profession or community.
3. Professor has demonstrated service excellence in the field by completing activities, such as:

  • professional leadership
  • mentorship of faculty, staff or students
  • development of new ways to disseminate information and innovative ideas on behalf of the profession
  • noteworthy service to state, regional, national and/or international boards or professional organizations
  • leadership in state or national agencies on behalf of the profession or higher education
  • partnerships with schools, community agencies and/or other institutions
  • participation in other activities that contribute to leadership in service

Exceptional Contributions by Instructors 2018
apple1. Open to any full or part-time instructor in the College of Education for teaching accomplishments in the recent calendar year.
2. Recognizes outstanding contributions in the classroom or in an online course (face-to-face and/or online) where students have been challenged, engaged and supported toward excellence in learning.
3. Professor has demonstrated creative and innovative pedagogy within the classroom, such as:

  • activities that promote engagement with class activities and learning experiences
  • service learning
  • community-based educational activities that provide out-of-the-classroom involvement
  • inclusion of technology in innovative ways
  • bridging the gap between theory and application
  • innovative and noteworthy inclusion of diversity and social justice issues
  • relevance of the course to real-world experiences
  • participation in other activities that contribute to teaching excellence.

4. Outstanding evaluations/feedback from participating students in the class

Exceptional Contributions by Civil Service Staff 2018
1. Open to any full-time civil service staff member in the College of Education who has made exceptional contributions in the recent calendar year.
2. Recognizes outstanding contributions to the department and/or college that go above and beyond the assigned duties of the staff member.
3. Staff member has demonstrated creativity and innovation in such activities as:

  • creating a positive work environment and promoting the positive image of the college
  • development of service and work flow enhancements that positively affect the working environment within their office, department or college
  • significantly exceeding expectations and promoting communication/collaboration
  • advocating for students in ways that contribute to retention and recruitment
  • participating in other activities that contribute to excellence and success in the department/college

Exceptional Contributions by Supportive Professional Staff 2018
1. Open to any full-time SPS staff member in the College of Education who has made exceptional contributions in the recent calendar year.
2. Recognizes outstanding contributions to the department and/or college that go above and beyond the assigned duties of the SPS member and contribute to the enhancement of the program/department/college in significant ways.
3. Staff member has demonstrated creativity and innovation in such activities as:

  • creating a positive work environment
  • seeking to improve service and work flow
  • going beyond minimal work expectations in a significant and tangible manner that produces valued outcomes
  • advocating for students in ways that contribute to retention and recruitment
  • participating in other activities that contribute to excellence and success in the department/college

Outreach/Community Service Award 2018
globe-hands1. Open to any faculty/clinical faculty or staff member in the College of Education for their outreach or community service accomplishments in the recent calendar year.
2. Recognizes outstanding contributions in outreach or community service that have had a positive impact on the department, college and/or university, profession and community.
3. Employee has demonstrated excellence through outreach or community service activities by participating in activities, such as:

  • building partnerships with other institutions or groups in the community
  • providing leadership
  • creating bridges between the College of Education/or university and other institutions or the community
  • leadership in local, state, national or international venues that have had a positive outcome for the College of Education and the greater community
  • development of innovative methods of disseminating information and innovative ideas on behalf of the profession, college and/or university
  • other activities that contribute to excellence through outreach or community service

Exceptional Contributions in Diversity/Social Justice Award 2018
1. Open to any faculty/clinical faculty or staff member in the College of Education for their positive impact on diversity or social justice in the recent calendar year.
2. Recognizes outstanding contributions in addressing and promoting diversity and social justice that have had a positive impact on the department, college and/or university.
3. Employee has demonstrated excellence in addressing diversity or social justice issues by participating in activities, such as:

  • advocating for diverse students
  • addressing social justice needs for students and the college/program
  • bridging gaps between people through dialogue and activities that lead to enhance communication or engagement between diverse groups within the community
  • contributing to diversity and social justice through innovative teaching, research or community outreach within the department and college
  • participation in other activities that successfully contribute to the understanding and support of diversity and social justice

James Cohen wins Fulbright

James Cohen

James Cohen

James Cohen will spend the summer of 2019 in Uruguay as a Fulbright Scholar.

The associate professor of ESL/Bilingual Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction will work alongside Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. Rodriguez is also the national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“Essentially,” Cohen said, “I will be going around the country, from region to region, working with high school English teachers, focusing on a combination of English as a Foreign Language pedagogy and cultural sensitivity issues.”

Cohen hopes to make these educators “more culturally responsive in their teaching strategies and teaching approaches.”

“I want to provide a venue in which they can understand the hierarchical nature of these systems of injustice that exist in every country, including theirs,” he said. “I also want to provide a venue in which they are aware of their perspectives of the students – in other words, are they viewing their students from a deficit model or from a strength model? We are learning that the research is very, very clear on this.”

His reason is equally clear.

“No child should be treated as ‘the other,’ and I’ve seen it many times where teachers and school systems treat kids as ‘the other.’ It’s unethical, it’s immoral and it’s wrong, and a lot of times, teachers aren’t always aware that they’re doing this. It’s all about raising awareness,” said Cohen, who joined NIU in 2010.

“My experience here in the United States is that when teachers gain the awareness of how they’re interacting with their students, and how they’re viewing their students, it’s a win-win for everybody,” he added.

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

“The teachers are no longer frustrated with their students; the students are no longer upset about going to class; and the students end up working harder for the teacher because the teacher is respecting them. I’m passionate about this because I know it makes a difference in kids’ lives.”

Before Cohen and his family embark for South America, he plans frequent and extensive conversations with Rodriguez to discuss the specifics of the implementation of the proposed project.

In preparation for this time in Uruguay, Cohen is taking an advanced-level Spanish course this semester during his sabbatical because he does not know what level of English proficiency the teachers will have. He also hopes that, by spending three months in Uruguay, he and his daughter will continue to improve their Spanish.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program is administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Fulbright awards approximately 8,000 grants each year to roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars and 900 visiting scholars, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.

Cohen’s first application for a Fulbright grant, one he submitted four years ago in hopes of visiting Paraguay, the country located directly north of Uruguay, received “alternate status” and never came to fruition.

However, this year’s attempt seemed predestined to succeed.

fulbrightDuring a recent academic conference, while he awaited word on his proposal, Cohen bumped into a close friend who teaches at Western Illinois University. She unexpectedly mentioned that she had applied for – and had received – a Fulbright grant.

The good news was enough to excite Cohen, but the “rest of the story” sent him over the top: His friend was going to Uruguay. “I’m like, ‘This is awesome!’ ” he said. “She’s there now. She just went down there in January, and she’ll be there for the whole semester. I didn’t even know that she was applying.”

Cohen got his good news while in Washington, D.C. for the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Institute, sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and held from Jan. 19 through Jan. 23.

“I was listening to a presentation and then, all of a sudden, I get this email, and it says, ‘Congratulations! You have won!’ ” he said. “Needless to say, I have no idea what that presenter said. From that moment on, I was no longer listening.”


Engage U.S. ready to launch with trip to Olympic City USA

Brandon Male

Brandon Male

All of the world’s eyes – Brandon Male’s included – are on South Korea.

But the instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) is looking at the Winter Olympics through a different lens, one that understands that the games are far more than athletes, medals, national anthems and must-watch TV.

Male is preparing to select and accompany a dozen NIU College of Education students this May to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, also known as Olympic City USA, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Stop One on the trip, coming at the half-way point of the drive, is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where the Engage U.S. students will visit the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory.

It’s among the first ventures of Engage U.S., a new addition to the Educate and Engage Program and tailored for students who are not in teacher-licensure programs. Thanks to generous funding from donors to the college and the department, students selected for the trip will pay almost nothing.

“This is a big opportunity for our Exercise Science and Sport Management students to gain a little insight and to get their own Olympic experience,” Male says. “This is going to be the start of something cool.”

team-usaHuskies chosen for the trip will engage with, and learn from, coaches and other practitioners and administrators who work at the U.S. Olympic headquarters. Male also hopes his travelers will meet current Olympic athletes.

USA Swimming and USA Shooting also house their national headquarters on the complex, which covers 35 acres and can provide housing, dining, training facilities, recreational facilities and other services for more than 500 athletes and coaches at one time.

NIU students will stay in the training center’s dormitories and enjoy use of the fitness facilities and swimming pools, he adds.

Field trips are planned to the Air Force Academy and the headquarters of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“Colorado Springs is kind of the fitness, strength and conditioning capitol of the United States,” Male says. “It’s kind of like Silicon Valley is for the technology industry.”

KNPE Chair Chad McEvoy was instrumental in bringing Male’s vision to life.

“Dr. McEvoy had a couple contacts there, including a former student who’s moved on to the USA Triathlon. He still knows some folks there, though, and did a little networking, made a few phone calls – business development is his title – and they ate it up,” Male says.

“Every once in a while, the Olympic Training Center has a university tour that comes out, but they’re trying to get more experience with more young people, with more up-and-coming professionals, and they’re really trying to push the Olympics to help grow and cultivate Team USA. They’re very on board. They love the idea.”

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

“Our Kinesiology program at NIU provides exceptional opportunities for students to pursue their passion for working in fitness and exercise related professions,” McEvoy says. “This Engage U.S. experience with the Olympic Training Center will allow our students to immerse themselves in sport performance at its peak.”

Past the invaluable lessons of the industry lie the kinds of experiences that are only available outside the classroom, Male says, including new skills, greater confidence and the inspiration to “better themselves to become the highest level of professional.”

“I hope these students realize that it’s a big world out there with a lot of really great opportunities. I hope they come back with a more global perspective, and that it’s important to reach out, to make contact with people and to take a chance,” Male says.

“I want them to think about those employers, those graduate schools and those jobs that might seem too good to be true, or too much of a big fish, and to go for it,” he adds. “At its core – at its root – what this is is a networking opportunity, to just go out there and meet people, and this is an opportunity to go out there and meet the best of the best. Who better to talk to you about that than Team USA?”