Month: September 2016

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John Evar Strid

John Evar Strid

Achieving the unimaginable is no easy task, and doing so is something most people will never know.

John Evar Strid is not among them.

The associate professor in NIU’s Department of Literacy and Elementary Education recently learned that the TESOL Journal accepted the first version of his manuscript, “The Myth of the Critical Period.”

He also was invited to join the top-tier journal’s editorial review board.

“Wow … you have done the almost impossible,” Joy Egbert, editor of the journal, wrote in an Aug. 25 email to Strid. “Nicely done.”

Strid’s article examines the “critical period hypothesis,” which holds that the learning of language becomes considerably harder following the “ideal time” to acquire that knowledge.

It was good news to one reviewer, who reported that “the article turned around my thinking. All this time, I believed that there was little use in trying to correct pronunciation with older learners.”

“The manuscript presents a seminal case that will motivate the full spectrum of (journal) readers, from TESOL researchers, teacher-educators (and) TESOL teachers,” the reviewer wrote. “Readers will concur that older learners can, and do, develop a new language efficiently or more efficiently than those acquiring a new language starting at a very young age.”

Strid, who joined the NIU College of Education in 2012, teaches applied linguistics, language development, multicultural education and bilingualism and reading.

His research interests include psycholinguistics, bilingualism, language processing, literacy, language acquisition and teaching English as second language. He earned his Ph.D. in linguistics from Northwestern University.



How to save a life

NIU receives grant to prevent suicides through awareness

mental-health-chalkA $300,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will work to decrease stigma around mental health and promote resilience in the NIU community.

NIU’s three-year grant, awarded to collaborators from the NIU College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (CAHE) and NIU Counseling & Consultation Services, will fund various training programs and an awareness campaign.

“Like every other campus across the country, we’re seeing more and more students presenting with mental health issues than we have in the past,” said Brooke Ruxton, executive director of Counseling & Consultation Services and a licensed clinical psychologist, “and we’re doing something about that.”

Called “B-Safer” – an acronym for “Building Suicide Awareness and Fostering Enhanced Resilience” – the initiative officially begins Sept. 30. The B-Safer team also includes Suzanne Degges-White and Carrie Kortegast, chair and assistant professor in CAHE respectively.

Workshops will include “gatekeeper” training for faculty and staff, who will learn how to identify at-risk students and how to respond when they do.

The B-Safer program also will offer awareness training for peer leaders from student organizations on how to recognize signs of trouble in their friends and classmates.

Suzanne Degges-White, Carrie Kortegast and Brooke Ruxton

Suzanne Degges-White, Carrie Kortegast and Brooke Ruxton

Both scenarios will take into consideration NIU’s diversity; some populations on campus are culturally resistant to seeking out help for mental health issues, Ruxton said.

Participants also will learn from Kognito, an online program that, according to its website, “simulates the interactions and behaviors of practicing health professionals, patients, caregivers, students and educators in real-life situations” through “conversation simulations featuring virtual humans to drive measurable change in physical, emotional and social health.”

Kortegast hopes her colleagues across campus will participate – and find empowerment.

“Faculty are some of the people who are seeing students on an ongoing, regular basis. Sometimes there is a reluctance on the part of faculty to inquire with students on how they’re doing,” Kortegast said. “We can do this in a way of a community of care rather than, ‘It’s not my business. It’s not my concern. There are others who will intervene.’ ”

Such awareness “builds a community of care in which faculty and staff feel it’s OK to reach out to students and resources on campus, that it’s OK to talk about issues of mental health,” Ruxton added. “We’re creating a culture that this is something we’re doing with student organizations, this is something we’re talking about, that we’re watching out for our friends.”

Degges-White, Kortegast and Ruxton already have assembled a Mental Health Task Force made up of NIU faculty and staff as well as a representative from the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board.

“A big piece is connecting with the community,” Degges-White said. “We need to have community buy-in.”



Singing NIU’s praises overseas

College of Ed alumna values, imparts NIU lessons

Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa visits Altgeld Hall in August.

NIU alumna Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa visits
Altgeld Hall in August.

Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa was teaching children with special needs through a spiritual organization in her native India when she came to an important realization.

“I didn’t have enough knowledge to teach them,” Lalitha says. “I wanted to learn more skills and how to be an effective teacher so I could really teach them better.”

That mission brought her to the United States – sponsored by her uncle – to enroll at the College of DuPage and, eventually, at NIU. She graduated from the NIU College of Education in December of 1993 with a master’s degree in special education.

Returning to India, Lalitha began volunteering at a school called Vivekananda Kendra, located in a rural area.

While there, she began applying her NIU training and evangelizing for the College of Education.

“I thank NIU for giving me such a nice education. I applied all of those skills in my school. I learned how to give them feedback, how to assist their skills and their intelligence, how to motivate them to learn,” she says.

She also taught English to the children, saying that many earned better grades in English than in Hindi. Her lessons also taught the children “good values” and “how to be happy.”

Her NIU experience similarly persuaded her to eschew a homeland tradition. “In behavior modification back home, we used harsh punishments to make them learn,” she says.

vive-logoAbandoning that practice, she says, allowed “the children to come out to be better human beings – that’s what I felt – and to value their education also.”

During her seventh year at Vivekananda Kendra, the school won a “best school award” at the district level and “best academic results” in the State of Assam for the year 2000.

Lalitha left teaching in 2004, moving to a cave in the Himalayas where she has lived since.

In the cave, located near the town of Gangotri, she enjoys “peace of mind and happiness” as she spends her days in prayer and living off the land.

Wild animals, including bears and leopards, are occasional visitors. “Sometimes they will come and sit next to me,” she says, “but they never harm me.” Telephone messages are delivered second-hand (and in person, obviously) by villagers in Gangotri who are aware of her home in the cave.

Anonymous strangers also leave food outside the cave, even though she asks for nothing, and somehow provide exactly what she might lack on that certain day.

“It is strange,” she says. “I don’t know how it works. I don’t have any explanation.”

Despite her Spartan lifestyle, and her departure from the classroom, she says her passion still burns for teaching.