Month: March 2018

Message from the Dean

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Like many, I find myself in awe of the #NeverAgain students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Their resiliency and courage in the face of tragedy, coupled with their willingness to speak up, have affirmed my confidence in the future. These amazing young people are informed, intelligent and eloquent, and they are trying to make a positive change in this country.

Images and video of the March for Our Lives, which drew those students and countless thousands of young people to the streets of Washington, D.C., and their hometowns from coast to coast March 24, brilliantly illustrated the depth of their resolve and the urgency of their call to action.

Of course, their voices also serve to remind me of the importance of one our main roles here: preparing teachers at all levels along with principals, counselors, superintendents and others who work in and around schools.

Caring, talented and responsive educators are profoundly critical in helping schools rise above and prosper in these challenging times.

Even if we in higher education feel sad, or worried for the future of our schools, we cannot ignore what’s happening as we prepare our students for the reality of today’s schools. That’s why we’re working with the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation to incorporate safety training protocols into our programs now.

clin-2While these are challenging times, our students who plan to become teachers are passionate about teaching.

They are passionate about wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of their students, their families and their communities. They understand the enormous demands of teaching today, but they are eager to get started making the world a better place through education.

Our job, therefore, is to ensure that our curriculum is current and relevant; that we provide the support our students need to succeed; and that we are strategic and efficient as we face significant financial challenges.

As you might have read in January, NIU anticipates a gap of up to 8 percent between projected revenues and expenses.

I have worked closely with the College of Education Senate to build a college budget that focuses mainly on generating revenue but also reduces spending in ways that we believe will have limited impact on students, faculty and staff.

Our goal when creating the budget has been to remain academically responsive and fiscally responsible. We believe that we have proposed ways to steady the ship, and we expect that senior leaders in Altgeld Hall will provide us with a budget update in the very near future.

strategic-frameworkFor our part, we are ahead of the curve. We continue to make progress on our Strategic Action Planning Framework as department chairs work with me to review their action plans and the Senate identifies the metrics to measure our work.

Meanwhile, we are collaborating with our colleagues in the Division of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications to promote our programs; this includes online advertising campaigns for three of our online graduate programs as well as the BSAM-ITTE. We’ve also embarked on a website update that features a more dynamic homepage along with more customized navigation within our departmental websites.

Our rich partnership with EMMC also brought a busload of high school students from Future Teachers Clubs in Elgin Area School District U-46 to campus March 22. They and their teachers were so impressed with our academic programs, our engaged learning opportunities and the friendly and welcoming climate on our campus.

While not on a bus, Judy Schneider, our director of Advancement, and I have been traveling to share our mission with alumni and donors.

We recently visited Florida to renew and build strong relationships and to talk about the amazing things going on here.

Judy just visited alumni in Arizona, she and I had a wonderful lunch meeting with alumni in Lake Forest and we hosted an event for nearly 20 alumni in Palm Desert, California, last weekend. There are so many great stories to share about the inspirational work and accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff.

We also are hoping to energize our retired faculty – and ourselves – Tuesday, April 10, through an event prior to the Community Learning Series. We have personally invited our retired faculty to join us that afternoon to socialize and to learn about what we’re doing in the college before we adjourn to enjoy the panel discussion.

one-word-cloudI hope to see many of you there for a night that I’m sure will inspire our work as the semester races to a close in just a few short weeks.

You might also remember that “inspire” is my “one word” for 2018, and I’m enjoying my progress in that goal. I’m inspired daily by the amazing work you are doing to teach, mentor and serve our students; to conduct and disseminate important research; and to provide service to the college, university, community and professional associations. I’d love to know how your “one words” are shaping your lives this year, so please stop me in the hall, send me a message or stop by the office to share your stories.

I am deeply grateful for all you do to make the College of Education such a wonderful place to teach, learn, work and serve.

My best,

Laurie



Keeping all the balls in the air: Honors lauds Leslie A. Sassone with Great Professor Award

sassone-3

Leslie A. Sassone (left); her father, Nick Sassone; and NIU alumna Gail Gattis, a National Board Certified Teacher in River Forest, who uses Professor Sassone’s juggling curriculum.

Among the many decorations adorning
Leslie A. Sassone’s office in Graham Hall is a small photograph she snapped years ago at a Grateful Dead Furthur Festival concert.

The picture shows a woman reading a book, paying little or no attention to the music being performed in front of her by living legends of rock ’n’ roll.

Sassone laughs when she thinks about that moment. Maybe it amuses her simply because she loves music so much – she self-describes as “a peace-love-justice child of the ’60s” – or, maybe, it’s because music is how she got here.

Raised in New York, Sassone was in her early 20s and spinning the hits at a radio station on the East Coast when she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in media systems and management. Doubting that she possessed “the voice” for a larger market, she figured a college diploma would at least provide some security for her future in broadcasting.

But something unexpected happened at Westfield State University.

“I was introduced to philosophy,” says Sassone, a professor in the NIU College of Education since 1997.

Her new passion – her intense love of “the honest interactions and connections between text and the world” – eventually led her to Purdue University, where in 1988 she earned an M.S.Ed. in Communication and Speech Education and, in 1994, a Ph.D. in Educational Studies.

Nearly 25 years after that doctorate, the powers within philosophy continue to drive her.

Leslie Sassone

Leslie Sassone

“Philosophy keeps me honest. Philosophy invites me to think through the thoughts of other people on their own terms,” she says. “Philosophy of Education is why I love working with students. It’s a reminder to me that we might stop hurting each other if we could just understand that we come from different paradigms.”

Or maybe her motivation stems from a deeply personal mission to shape current and future generations: “I was a high school dropout from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City, and those teachers I had – not one of them ever saw me,” she says. “Teachers need to see past themselves.”

Either way, her love of subject and love of teaching clearly resonates with students.

Chosen to receive the University Honors Program’s Great Professor Award for 2018, Sassone is being recognized for “contributing significantly to honors education at NIU” and “manifesting leadership, dedication and service” to the program and its students.

Despite those glowing terms, and her gratitude for the recognition, she takes it all in stride. She’s here to empower students “to know what they believe and how to communicate that.”

“What could be more valuable than helping people become literate?” she asks. “Teaching keeps me young. It keeps me up with the times. It lets me extend and visit my beliefs regularly. I’m someone who makes her job fun for herself.”

A professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Sassone teaches courses in the area of foundations, which offers neither a major nor a minor. None of her classes are “prerequisites to anything,” she adds. “It frees me.”

She also loves to teach EPFE 201: Education as an Agent of Change, a General Education course. “I love Gen Eds,” she says. “I believe that every NIU student is a College of Education student.”

Honors classes are especially dear to her, and she is grateful for the college’s generosity in allowing her to teach those.

sassone-4Like her subject matter, her classrooms are unique.

Classes begin with a contemplative focus activity. “If it’s good enough for the K-12 public schools in Illinois to have a moment of peace to gather themselves,” Sassone says, “then it’s good enough for us.”

By the end of each class, however, the professor has exhausted herself as not a teacher but an active participant – a “co-facilitator.” She’s intertwined in the discussion, throwing herself in as fully as Parker Palmer advocated in “The Courage to Teach,” pushing students to share their viewpoints freely.

And although she does dutifully craft syllabi and tries to order books in advance, those tasks pain her. She’d rather get to know her students first, and for them to know each other, before she locks in a semester’s worth of “really difficult” readings and tests.

Then there’s the juggling.

Juggling is a hallmark of Sassone’s work over the last seven years. She uses juggling ostensibly to build classroom community through a fun activity, and to model for future teachers something inexpensive they can do in their own classrooms, but its benefits run far deeper.

Mastering the skill requires patience, practice, perseverance and persistence – all necessary skills for literacy and success in life. Juggling also addresses the K-12 Social Emotional Learning Standards, something she first realized after watching NIU students working to keep all the balls in the air.

Educators who adopt juggling to their classrooms are also engaging in the tenets of John Dewey’s “Experience and Education,” she adds, including contemplative practice, freedom of intelligence and understanding purpose. “Juggling brings all that to the forefront,” she says.

sassone-2

Sassone introduces Thomas E. Wartenberg, speaker at the 2013 James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award Lecture in the Holmes Student Center.

She visits a fourth-grade classroom in River Forest several times a year to work with the children in juggling, something she’s previously done in other suburban school districts, including Elgin’s U-46.

But it’s the figurative balls she juggles – the nagging questions and quotes about existence, such as “To know the good is to do the good” and “Can we learn to understand?” – that truly keep her engaged in teaching. And it’s why she believes her students value her.

“I see people – and that seems to both scare and endear the students to me,” she says. “I hope students know they’ll learn something from my experiences, and that they will appreciate and recognize that philosophy of education matters.”

Sassone (left) and her students present March 6 at the Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship Conference: Celebrating High Impact Learning at NIU.

Sassone (left) and her students present March 6 at the Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship Conference: Celebrating High Impact Learning at NIU.



Global problems, community praxis: April 19 conference set to explore world conflict, peace

globe-2Scholars from NIU and Macedonia will convene Thursday, April 19, in DeKalb to discuss local, national and international approaches to peace and transcultural communication.

“Global Problems and Community Praxis” is the second annual conference – but the first in the United States – organized on that topic by the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a collaboration between NIU and the University of Tetovo.

“We’re really excited. These are particularly timely issues these days,” said Patrick Roberts, a professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

“Our key goal is to facilitate scholarly exchanges, to foster public awareness of global conflicts and to examine, ‘How can I make a difference in my local community? How does local action have global impacts?’ We want to broaden awareness of what the issues are.”

The conference, which will include four professors from Tetovo among the presenters, begins at 9 a.m. in the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.

James W. Pardew

James W. Pardew

Keynote speaker James W. Pardew, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria from 2002 to 2005 and the author of the 2017 book “Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans,” will talk at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Barsema Hall, 740 Garden Road. A reception begins at 5 p.m.

Both events are free and open to the public. Call (815) 753-9359 or email proberts1@niu.edu for more information.

Roberts believes that people who attend, whether as participants or observers, will walk away with a clearer understanding of modern conflict and ways to resolve it from a “think globally and act locally” perspective.

Among the daytime presentation topics: “Does Torture Work: An Empirical Test Using Archival Data,” “The Balkans – A Matching Point of Two Controversy Theories,” “Migration as a Social Phenomenon and Refugees as a Contemporary Reality” and “The Politics of Food Diplomacy.”

Presenters also will discuss “Fleeing from Danger: Refugees’ Stories in Elementary School Classrooms,” “Religious Violence and Peacemaking: Rethinking Contemporary Conflicts,” “Between Mao and Gandhi: Social Structure and the Choice of Violent and Nonviolent Resistance,” “How Do We See Our Neighbors? Youth Inclusion, Participation, and Collaboration in Moldova” and “Sport for Development and Peace.”

NIU College of Education presenters will include Teresa Fisher, Carolyn Pluim, Teresa Wasonga and Paul Wright.

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson, a professor in the college’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, believes the interdisciplinary nature of the presenters and topics will illuminate connections “between these different struggles, both globally and locally.”

“Many times, when we have these types of conferences, they just focus on one distinct area,” she said. “This conference represents areas from all over the university. The topic is very broad – it covers a lot of ground – and allows us to explore common and divergent interests.”

Johnson’s own work in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood provides a good example.

Her research studies civic engagement, community involvement and advocacy among Latino and African American youth, with a focus on young mothers, and sees a bridge to the University of Tetovo’s battle for justice in higher education.

Use of social media and other media, she added, is making the planet a smaller place.

“What happens in one place often resonates in other locales in terms of climate change, economic and food insecurity or fights for human rights and gender equity,” Johnson said. “The Me Too movement has resonated internationally.”

Emily McKee

Emily McKee

Emily McKee, a professor in the Department of Anthropology of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who holds a joint appointment with the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy, studies resource conflicts and environmental peacebuilding.

Her students, who are learning about access to clean water, climate change, fracking, mining and more, will participate with students of Department of Sociology Professor Laura Heideman in a roundtable discussion on conflict and peacebuilding.

McKee’s students learn about “conflicts that involve access to resources around the world. Resource conflicts and environmental peacebuilding are buzzwords that get thrown around, such as wars between two countries,” she said. “We explore some of these tropes that are not so easily pigeonholed as resource conflicts but built into other conflicts, such as social, religious and economic.”

The roundtable “is looking at our pedagogy and how we teach these courses,” she added.

During the roundtable, students will speak about their semester-long research projects on cases of resource conflict around the world and reflect on the impact that this engaged learning has had on them. “That’s relevant to them as they go on in their lives as citizens and in their careers,” McKee said. “I’m particularly excited about that.”

Patrick Roberts

Patrick Roberts

For his part, Roberts is excited by the potential for motivation, whether in DeKalb, Chicago or Macedonia.

“We don’t want be a conference where people just get up and read papers,” he said. “I’m hoping to learn how understanding becomes action and the strategies people employ. None of that can succeed if there aren’t people – communities – willing to put these principles and polices into action.”

NIU and the University of Tetovo were introduced in 2014 through the work of Anthony Preston, director of Global Programs in the NIU College of Business.

The Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication was dedicated in 2015, when Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo. The center aims to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.

A current exhibition in the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum tells the story of Tetovo through nearly 70 reproductions of photographs that depict the university’s tumultuous existence.



User Experience Lab debuts

Fatih Demir

Fatih Demir

Students in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and all of NIU returned from Spring Break to find the cutting-edge literally at their fingertips.

Located in Gabel 212, the ETRA Innovation Lab features not only 3-D printers, Lego Education WeDo 2.0 sets, Google Home and Amazon Alexa but also eye-tracking systems that enable significant research into the real-time effectiveness of online learning models.

The increasingly affordable technology comes on a headband with tiny, spatial cameras pointed at both eyes and a third camera over the nose that captures an accompanying video of the environment – or, in other words, whatever the wearer is seeing in the moment.

“We’re tracking the eye movements of the user,” says Kyung Kim, assistant professor in ETRA. “In this way, we can understand how these people are interacting with the learning environment.”

Video of each interaction provides strong analysis of what aspects of the program design are working, and what needs improvement, through unparalleled data on user behavior while learning online.

Data will include valuable information on how long users stare at the screen without acting, where their eyes go when distracted and more. “We need to understand these things to design something better,” Kim says.

Kyung Kim

Kyung Kim

Potential applications of eye-tracking systems go far beyond online learning.

For example, motorists who wear the devices can discover what distracts them while behind the wheel, whether it’s billboards, traffic signs, dashboard readings or other things.

Major League Baseball players can wear them in the batter’s box to create videos of how to best hit the pitches. Surgeons who wear them while in the operating room can create videos of how they conduct their life-saving procedures.

Kim, whose research focuses on the intersection of visualization, knowledge structure and design, is eager to see how students use the powerful tool.

“I hope this lab serves as a venue where we can investigate learning processes, human-computer interactions and some hidden sides of the learning process better than before,” he says.

ETRA Assistant Professor Fatih Demir agrees: Students preparing for careers in online learning must recognize, and harness, the critical perspective of the user.

etra-legos“In today’s world, we are seeing that to just design a product is not enough,” Demir says. “My students can use this lab to collect data, create better products and test existing products to see if those products work well.”

He believes the lab will put NIU students ahead in the field.

“The options are endless if you can find a good research topic,” he says. “This technology allows you to achieve your goal.”

Areas of inquiry tailor-made for the lab’s technology include aging and disability.

Voice-activated devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa enable users to accomplish tasks without physical touch, whether it’s accessing the Internet or turning off the bedroom lights.

Meanwhile, the ETRA lab is awaiting delivery of brainwave monitors that can also measure the mental engagement of those who wear them. It also allows wearers to move something, such as a computer mouse, with their mind.

“It needs analysis,” Demir says, “but you could design that type of product using this lab.”

Chris Kraner

Chris Kraner

Chris Kraner, a graduate research assistant in ETRA who is pursuing his master’s degree in Educational Research and Evaluation, works in the lab as a trainer and researcher. He primarily works with the 3D printers.

Kraner, also a collaborator with NIU STEM Outreach to promote science to K-12 students in the region, loves what is blooming in the Gabel 212 space that is open to all.

“We want our students to do some interesting problem-solving here. We want our student to be comfortable if they come across this technology in their professional careers,” he says. “I’m really hoping to have teachers in here to show us what they’re doing and to tell us what we should be doing.”

The lab also provides study carrels, a poster printer and a soundproof lab for online teaching recording.



Sit or stand? SCOPE research examines sedentary behaviors of older adults at Oak Crest

Marianne Sackett, a resident of Oak Crest, participates in the SCOPE test under the direction of NIU graduate student Josh Pak.

Marianne Sackett, a resident of Oak Crest, participates in the SCOPE test under the direction of NIU graduate student Josh Pak.

Excessive sitting, some say, is the new smoking – in other words, something that insidiously contributes to shortening a lifespan.

Indeed, says Emerson Sebastião, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, at least one decade of research into physical activity behavior shows that “sitting too much is going to be detrimental to your health.”

But what does that mean for elderly people who live in nursing homes or retirement communities, where very little time is spent standing or moving?

Little scholarship on this matter exists on that population, Sebastião says, who are different from their counterparts still living at home in their communities.

“Physical activity is reduced drastically, and the amount of time spent sitting is higher,” Sebastião says. “Someone is going to cook for you. Someone is going to clean for you. Someone is going to do your laundry.”

Residents of DeKalb’s Oak Crest Retirement Center are participating in Sebastião’s current research project to help him understand how sitting impacts their lives and what “interventions” he can develop or suggest to get residents to sit less and move more.

Called “SCOPE” (Sedentary Behavior, COgnition and Physical Function in OldEr Adults Living in a Retirement Community), his work examines how sitting affects not only the physical fitness of the Oak Crest residents but their mental fitness as well.

Tests for physical fitness gauge upper- and lower-body strength, record how many steps they can take in two minutes, county how many times they can stand up from a chair in 30 seconds, assess their gait while walking a straight line for a certain distance and pivoting for a return and how far measure they can lean ahead without losing their balance.

Emerson Sebastião

Emerson Sebastião

Speed is a critical factor, Sebastião says: People who walk quicker live longer.

Cognition, on the other hand, is evaluated through verbal and visual memory skills. Sebastião recites 16 words to the test subjects and asks to hear them repeated back to him in any order.

Declining memory is something Sebastião understands personally through interactions with his late grandmother. “I would say to her, ‘Grandma, you need to buy your groceries. Grandma, you need to pay your bills. Grandma, you need to clean room.’ ”

When he completes his study – he’s hoping to examine 100 people, and is about three-quarters of the way there – he will have valuable data for the next step.

“I’m trying to establish a connection between scores on these tests and the amount of time residents spend sitting,” he says. “We don’t have any recommendations on how long people should spending sitting to protect them from adverse health outcomes. We don’t have such a thing for older adults.”

Possible “interventions” to help those in need include wearing Fitbits or similar devices that track footsteps, standing or walking around the living room during TV commercials, engaging in exercise that improves cardiorespiratory or muscle fitness or seeking counseling to help them understand the importance of moving more and sitting less.

scope-2Unfortunately, he says, much of physical activity behavior or the lack of it is most likely predetermined by personal habits earlier in life.

Human beings who are physically active and fit in their younger years “are building up a savings account. Their rate of slowing down as they grow older is slower,” Sebastião says. “Those who are active at a young age are more likely to be active in older age.”

Sebastião, who studies elderly and clinical populations by exploring factors that influence physical activity as well as creative ways to promote physical activity among older adults, received a six-month Dean’s Research Grant to conduct his work at Oak Crest.

Two graduate students and one undergraduate student are assisting him.

All will write their own papers; they also will combine to pen a group paper, with Sebastião as lead author, for submission to journals on gerontology and geriatrics. The undergraduate student, meanwhile, will present at the College of Education’s Third Annual Student Research Symposium, scheduled for Friday, April 20.

scope-3“My students are learning important elements within the research process – how to design a study, how to select instruments for data collection, how to collect data,” he says. “They’re also learning how to talk with our participants throughout the testing to provide motivation.”

Josh Pak, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology, is enjoying his chance to work with the senior citizens.

He believes that his collaboration with Sebastião will equip him well in his eventual career, in which he plans to work with elderly adults on cardiac rehabilitation.

“Some have no idea of how to go about fitness. A lot of them just go around their apartments,” says Pak, who is from Arlington Heights, “but a lot of them surprise me with how much they can do. A lot of them love to be active.”



KNPE reserves grad program spots for NIU Honors students

honor-programHonors students at NIU now can gain direct and guaranteed admission into most of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s graduate programs.

Reserved seats are available in the department’s M.S.Ed. in Kinesiology and Physical Education and M.S. in Sport Management degrees. The upcoming master’s program in Athletic Training, which involves a strict vetting process and a specific set of prerequisite courses for admission, is not part of the deal.

Although it’s assumed that students interested in careers related to fitness, human performance or sports are most likely to take advantage of the new benefit, Honors students graduating from any bachelor’s program are welcome.

Todd Gilson, director of the Honors Program, believes that this agreement and the two others like it will position his students for productive futures.

Todd Gilson

Todd Gilson

Chad McEvoy and Steve Howell reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we heard what you started with Political Science, and we’d really like to get in on that as well,” says Gilson, who also is on the faculty of KNPE.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Gilson adds. “Honors students can come to NIU, work on their University Honors requirements and know that when they want to advance their career – to take that next step – that it’s already locked in for them. The department then can get that better quality of students.”

Howell, associate professor of Sport Management and director of Graduate Studies, says that he and McEvoy, chair of the department, are eager to harness such potential.

“We thought it would be a good idea to incentivize Honors students to attract high-quality, top-notch students into our master’s programs,” Howell says.

“And this is not only to attract those highly qualified students but freshmen and sophomores who are looking ahead a couple years and seeing that automatic feed,” he adds. “More students need to look into these avenues as they want to make themselves marketable.”

NIU’s M.S.Ed. in Kinesiology and Physical Education prepares students to work in the exercise science or Physical Education-Teacher Education communities. Specialties are offered in Adapted Physical Education; Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership; Pedagogy and Curriculum Development; and Sport and Exercise Psychology.

The M.S. in Sport Management equips graduates for a variety of careers, including professional sports, college athletics, campus recreation and parks departments.

Chad McEvoy and Steve Howell

Chad McEvoy and Steve Howell

Honors students who pursue these degrees through the direct admissions program will become pioneers of sorts, Gilson says.

“It’s very uncommon,” he says. “We (Honors) have benchmarked 131 institutions – peer institutions to NIU, a lot of the flagship schools, directional state schools – and only two offer programs like this. I think it says that we’re thinking forward.”

Gilson also hopes that Honors students realize what an advantage the program offers.

“College degrees become harder to acquire as adult life begins, but when you’re still a student and you know how to do it, go and do it,” he adds. “This is not for your first job, but for your third job.”

Interested students are encouraged to contact their Honors advisors or the KNPE department at knpe@niu.edu.



KNPE inks transfer agreement with Rock Valley for Kinesiology

rvcRockford-area students with plans to major in Kinesiology now have another option toward NIU Student Career Success.

NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education has signed a “2+2” agreement with Rock Valley College to provide a smooth transition between its associate degree and our bachelor’s degree.

The agreement helps students to identify relevant and recommended RVC coursework that transfers to NIU.

Future Huskies must complete the Exercise Science option of Rock Valley’s A.A.S. degree in Fitness, Wellness and Sport; with the 2+2 agreement, they are able to earn their NIU bachelor’s degrees within two years.

Chad McEvoy, chair of the NIU department, said that he and his colleagues at both schools saw not only a pressing need but also an exciting opportunity to provide a strong and comprehensive academic experience.

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

“More students than ever before are choosing to attend community colleges,” McEvoy said.

“But when community college graduates explore how to continue their higher education at a four-year institution, a major challenge is finding a program that will allow them to count their full two years of community college work toward the four-year bachelor’s degree,” he added. “Our partnership delivers a seamless transition.”

Shaine Henert, professor and chair of the RVC Department of Fitness, Wellness and Sport, said he and his Rock Valley colleagues were motivated by two factors.

“We connected with NIU for the high quality of education we think students will receive, not only at NIU in general but in the Exercise Science program, and we wanted to provide a local option. NIU has a well-established and well-respected program,” Henert said.

“Our students who complete the two-year program are essentially completing the first two years of NIU’s four-year program,” he added, “and when they transfer, this will help them complete the four-year degree in four years.”

Meanwhile, Henert said, the 2+2 makes financial sense for his students.

“Bachelor’s degrees definitely increase their earning potential,” he said. “The majority of our students want to continue on. They understand that with a two-year degree, they’re looking at entry-level positions. With a four-year degree, they have a substantially higher median salary.”

Courses taken at Rock Valley include communication; composition; statistics; life science; anatomy and physiology; biochemistry; psychology; sociology of sport; sport and exercise psychology; exercise and sport science; nutrition for fitness and sport; and nutrition, exercise and weight control.

Shaine Henert

Shaine Henert

At NIU, Rock Valley graduates who transfer their credits will enter the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education ready for 300-level courses in the Kinesiology major.

Kinesiology majors explore scientific principles that regulate behavior change and performance, such as physiology, biomechanics, psychology, measurement, gerontology and nutrition, while they engage in a variety of clinical experiences and an industry-related internship.

Graduates are equipped to work in a variety of health, wellness and sport performance settings. Students also can prepare for graduate school in exercise physiology, physical therapy, athletic training and sport and exercise psychology

The kinesiology major received the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Education Recognition Program award for meeting established criteria in strength and conditioning.

For more information, call (815) 753-8285 or email wharris3@niu.edu.



Hot dog helpers needed April 10 for Student Appreciation Day

student-appreciation-day-1College of Education Student Services will host Student Appreciation Day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, at the main entrances of Gabel and Anderson halls.

The event celebrates COE students by providing free hot dogs, chips and beverages.

Your help is needed to make this a truly special day. Faculty and staff are invited to hand out food and beverages and to mingle with students.

To volunteer, email Lisa Pitney at lpitney@niu.edu to indicate your availability and location preference. Please include any slot you are able to volunteer. Staff are usually scheduled for a maximum of one hour.

Volunteers will receive emails confirming their assigned time slots.

For more information, contact Pitney at (815) 753-8352 or lpitney@niu.edu.



Community Learning Series will explore ‘transitions’ to adulthood for students on autism spectrum

dotsDuring the first 21 years of their lives, individuals with autism are offered critical support services through their local public schools.

By law, those services must include “transition” planning that begins when the students turn 14½, providing nearly seven years of preparation for the next stage of their lives.

Yet when that assistance ends, many of those young adults and their parents are left with the same question.

Now what?

“It’s a very important topic right now because there have been some changes in the legislation,” says Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez, associate professor of Special Education. “One change goes back to 2004: the IDEA law on special education, which changed the language to really focus on transition and on meaningful outcomes in the three areas schools are accountable for: community living; careers and employment; and postsecondary education.”

Modifications to the Higher Education Act, meanwhile, require that access to postsecondary education is available to students with intellectual disabilities.

And, in 2017, Illinois become an “employment-first” state to promote “community-based, integrated employment as the first option for employment-related services for individuals with disabilities, physical, intellectual or behavioral.”

Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez

Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez

The NIU College of Education’s upcoming Community Learning Series – “Transitioning to the Adult World: Connecting the Dots for Young Adults with Autism” – will help parents, students, teachers, employers and future educators make sense of it all.

Scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, the event takes place at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road. A reception begins at 5:30 p.m.

Free and open to the public, the event will feature six forward-thinking panelists who will share their innovative and exemplary approaches, supports and successes that have empowered their students to achieve productive lives.

  • Khushbu Davi, program coordinator, Parents Alliance Employment Project
  • Kori Jung, teacher/case manager, District 214 Transition Program, Arlington Heights
  • Christine Putlak, assistant director, A.E.R.O. Special Education Cooperative
  • Benji Rubin, attorney, Special Needs Legal and Future Planning, Rubin Law Offices
  • Toni Van Laarhoven, professor, NIU Department of Special and Early Education
  • Traci Van Laarhoven, vocational coordinator, Waubonsie Valley High School

“There are so many resources that teachers and parents need to plan ahead,” Toni Van Laarhoven says, “so we’re looking at what’s out there: What are some of the benefits available? What are some of the legal things people need to think about, such as guardianship? How do we prepare individuals if they choose to go the college route? These are things people really have to start thinking about.”

“We’re really focusing on services that are innovative and community-based,” adds Johnston-Rodriguez, who considers transition a matter of civil rights and social justice.

“Some states have done away with all of their ‘sheltered workshops,’ and the emphasis now for schools is to prepare these students for some kind of education, career or employment in the community.”

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

Van Laarhoven, a Presidential Teaching Professor at NIU, and her identical twin sister will talk about their Project MY VOICE – a person-centered planning tool that equips high school students with autism, and/or intellectual disabilities, to participate and have a voice in their own Individualized Education Programs via multimedia.

Johnston-Rodriguez, meanwhile, is also piloting a program that challenges students with disabilities to create their own PowerPoint presentations based on career exploration and creating a plan for where they want to go with their lives and how they plan to get there.

Lisle-based Parents Alliance Employment Project is partnering with Cadence Health in Project SEARCH, to offer internships at Central DuPage Hospital to young adults with developmental disabilities.

Many corporations “have gotten on board with employing people with special needs in meaningful kinds of jobs,” Johnston-Rodriguez says. “There’s also been a lot happening at the federal level with research and programs on customized employment. We’re seeing all of this come to fruition.”

Both professors say the evening will enlighten everyone, from those adolescents, parents, families, teachers, service providers and employers already engaged in transition to future teachers of individuals with special needs.

“Preparing for adulthood is extremely important, and has its challenges for people with autism as it does for any young adult, but it really does take a lot of planning, support and resources,” Johnston-Rodriguez says.

dots-2“As for any adolescent, these years are very formative. But for students with disabilities, they are even more so, because this is their last chance to get really intensive academic preparation and independent living skills and really focus on career and employment skills,” she adds. “In school, everyone gets a free education, but when you get into the adult world after 21, that all changes.”

Van Laarhoven especially wants teachers and future teachers to attend the Community Learning Series.

“Even though teachers of Special Education are aware of transition and what goes into it, that’s an area where they need much more support. There’s so much to think about, and there are so many moving parts,” she says. “I would like them to be able to think outside the box.”

For more information, call (815) 753-1619 or email seed@niu.edu.



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.”