Pluim named LEPF chair

Carolyn Pluim

Carolyn Pluim

Carolyn Pluim nurtures an active curiosity.

An intense interest “in issues around health and well-being” prompted her to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Western Ontario in her native Canada.

When she moved to the United States shortly after graduation and could not immediately take the RN exam in this country, she enrolled at Michigan Technological University to study environmental policy.

That perfect intellectual combination – policy, its implications and health – soon led her to a Ph.D. program at Georgia State University, where she completed a doctorate in educational policy studies and social foundations of education.

In 2007, Pluim began her teaching career at the NIU College of Education in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

One decade later, and after a year serving as acting chair of that department, her leadership role becomes official and permanent July 1.

“NIU has provided me so many opportunities for professional growth. Having been mentored by faculty inside our department and outside our department has been so beneficial,” Pluim says. “I enjoy the people who work in this department, and I enjoy helping to remedy or solve some of the issues that come up in a department that is this diverse and complex.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education, is pleased that Pluim has accepted the appointment.

“Based on her contributions this past year as acting chair, I am confident that she is highly qualified and motivated to lead,” Elish-Piper says. “Carolyn is a strategic thinker, problem-solver and consensus-builder who is well positioned to lead LEPF into the future.”

Pluim has taught courses in the foundations of education, the history of education, the ethics of education and education as an agent of change.

health-apple-2Meanwhile, she has continued to investigate the intersections of health and policy, especially as they relate to schools.

Research in this realm comes at a critical and problematic time, she says, as lawmakers begin to encourage forms of “healthism” in public schools by requiring fitness testing, body-mass indexing and even the distribution of “health report cards” to parents, guardians and state governments.

She is the co-author of “Schools and Public Health: Past, Present, Future,” and has written numerous articles and book chapters. She is collaborating with Australian colleagues as a partner-investigator on a University of Queensland-based project studying the digitization of school health and physical education.

Her work also explores how policies shape how children think about health and, in turn, come to understand and identify with their bodies.

For example, she has questioned the “give-it-to-the-schools” attitude that delegates conversations on difficult topics such as sex and drugs solely to teachers.

“That’s really a dangerous reflex – that, ‘We don’t need to think about drug education because the schools are doing that,’ ” Pluim says. “It obscures solutions that could possibly be more effective.”

Book cover of “Schools and Public Health: Past, Present, Future,”As department chair, Pluim will ensure that LEPF meets and exceeds the academic and professional needs of its students.

She is proud of recent work faculty in the department have done to reimagine and redesign programs, such as the Ed.D. in Leadership and Policy Studies and the Ed.S. in Educational Administration.

Her plans to maintain the quality of the nationally recognized M.S.Ed. in School Business Management call for continued recruitment and retention of excellent faculty and students as well as a sustained commitment to the program’s strong relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

“I love the diversity of our department,” Pluim says. “We have very diverse faculty who have very different ways of seeing the world and of approaching their research. I love the people who are so passionate about what they do.”

Pluim lives in Sycamore with sons Jared, 13, and Calvin, 11.



Educate Global provides ‘world of opportunity’ for NIU students flying to teach in China, Taiwan

Educate Global logoThirty-seven NIU College of Education students are traveling to teach in Asia this summer, a “business trip” guaranteed to enrich and shape their professional lives in amazing ways.

Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, the inaugural Educate Global journey will place NIU students at China’s Beijing Royal School from early July through mid-August or Taiwan’s Miaoli County Government Education Bureau Schools in July.

Huskie travelers depart in late June to teach English as a Foreign Language in summer camp settings to Chinese and Taiwanese pupils in third- through 12th-grades.

Undergraduates on the trip already have completed their first professional semester in Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Middle Level Teaching and Learning or Special Education. Some graduate students in the same licensure programs, or currently holding teaching licenses, also are making the flight to Asia.

And it’s impossible to beat the price: Educate Global covers an amazing package that includes round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours.

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, is excited to visit both sites to see Educate Global travelers in action as they “interact with their students, and embrace all of the cultural opportunities available to them in Taiwan and China.”

“I have long believed that travel is one of the best teachers about diversity, culture and one’s place in the world,” Elish-Piper said.

“Many of our teacher-candidates have not had the opportunity to travel internationally and to see education enacted in other parts of the world,” she added. “The experiences in Taiwan and China will help them understand teaching, learning and themselves as they live and teach in another part of the world.”

globeNIU students who participate in Educate Global will give themselves a leg up in the job market, said David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs.

Students can apply for the university’s Engage PLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which demonstrates such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.

“Our program allows students to become more educated in their disciplines, and engaged outside of the classroom in areas such as experiential learning, hands-on learning, problem-based solving, research and other areas of teaching and learning,” Walker said.

“They’ll look back at this as one of the highlights of their undergraduate or graduate careers,” he added. “I know I did; I traveled to the Soviet Union in the late ’80s, and it really helped set my course later in life. We are helping our students to teach, learn and interact in a broad space.”

Beyond the experience of teaching in a foreign culture, the Educate Global travelers will receive classroom management and instructional coaching by onsite NIU faculty members. They will work with local teaching assistants who help manage students and the language barrier. They will assist with out-of-class activities that culminate in a closing ceremony.

Elementary school campers at the Beijing Royal School will learn conversational English through exploring fairy tales, emotions and the similarities and differences between the United States and China. Teenage campers will develop their English through examining aspects of American culture, including American movies and television shows.

School-age children in Miaoli, meanwhile, will learn American culture and customs, songs and music, science and social studies with a focus on the theme of comic books and superheroes. Each child will develop and write a comic book while learning to speak, read and write in English.

Terry Borg

Terry Borg

Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs, said the engaged-learning initiative opens “a world of opportunity” to students while also benefitting the college, the university and humanity itself.

“Looking at this from the big, big world perspective, the more opportunities that we take part in, where we meet and learn from people from other countries, the more we begin to recognize that we are all the same,” Borg said.

“We have families that we love. We want to learn. We want to achieve. All of these things are the same,” he added. “In an era when we’re concerned about building walls, and you’re either for us or against us, I believe this gives people cause to think that, ‘Maybe I need to be a more critical thinker than my government wants me to be.’ This might create an opportunity for more world peace and understanding.”

NIU’s students already have impressed Borg with “their commitment to be not just good but great educators.”

“Our students are concerned about teaching, and really concerned and excited about the students they’re going to teach. They’re committed to putting together very sound lesson plans based on objectives and standards,” he said. “They’re going to make NIU proud.”

Amor Taylor, a Middle Level Teaching and Leaning major in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, wants to teach in China to “gain the knowledge necessary to view the world from different perspectives.”

“I think that I already view the world in different ways but teaching in China will add to these perspectives,” said Taylor, a native of Chicago.

Amor Taylor and Stephanie Eller

Amor Taylor and Stephanie Eller

“I also want to teach in China so that I can become a better teacher for my students. The best teacher advocate for students deals with all types of situations,” she added. “Teaching in China will give me another perspective on my students and put me in an environment that allows me to learn how to deal with a variety of students. I think this opportunity as a whole is just a great way to make me a better person, student and teacher.”

Stephanie Eller, a fourth-grade ESL teacher at Emily G. Johns Intermediate School in Plano Community Unit School District 88, expects her Taiwanese campers will teach her something. She graduated in May with her M.S.Ed. in Literacy/ESL from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“This will be a chance to step into a new dimension of language instruction for me, and allow me to grow my skills as a teacher working with students who do not have a common language background that we can both rely on,” Eller said. “I am excited to not only teach my language to my students in Taiwan, but also hopefully learn from them as well.”

Borg is confident that Taylor, Eller and the 35 others will return with broadened perspectives as they complete unparalleled opportunities to put theory into practice.

Some will find the courage and motivation to seek teaching jobs overseas at international school and U.S. Department of Defense schools, he said. Others will gain a greater realization of the need in Illinois for more English as a Second Language teachers as well as for teachers of English Language Learners.

passportAll, however, will become superior teachers who “will never view their students or this career in the same way that they have before this experience,” Borg said.

“They’re going to understand now what it means when a students doesn’t understand something because they’re going to be in a place where English is not the main language, and they will translate that experience into their future students’ experience,” he said.

“Being away from their homes – flying 15 hours away, thousands of miles away – they are going to know what it means to be an environment that’s very alien to them,” he added. “And when they come back to classrooms in Illinois, they’re going to understand in a first-hand fashion about working with populations that are not indigenous here and how that feels for them.”

Elish-Piper shares Borg’s optimism – and is thrilled to see Educate Global become a reality as well as an incredible differentiator for NIU College of Education students.

“Whether our students plan to teach abroad, to teach in another part of the United States or to return to their hometown and teach,” the dean said, “Educate Global will provide them with a transformational learning experience that will forever change how they think about teaching, learning, language and culture.”



Unlocking potential: LEPF will honor donor Marguerite F. Key with launch of fellows program

Carolyn Pluim and Alan Clemens

Carolyn Pluim and Alan Clemens

When Alan Clemens attended a recent annual conference of the National College Access Network, which works to open the doors of higher education to underserved populations of students, he noticed something missing.

Representatives from colleges and universities were few.

“Higher education was heavily underrepresented,” says Clemens, an instructor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

“Some sessions were designed specifically to speak to college retention, but those were more sparsely attended,” he adds. “The primary emphasis being put particularly on college access for these populations was at the high school level.”

At the same time, Carolyn Pluim, acting chair of LEPF, was soliciting ideas from her faculty about the possible creation of a fellowship program.

Dollars were available from the Marguerite F. Key Expendable Fund for the College of Education, but Pluim needed a purpose – a focus – for those who would participate in an annual institute in DeKalb.

“Our department has been blessed by Marguerite’s generosity for a few years now,” Clemens says, “and while the funds were being used effectively to enhance various student programs in the department, Carolyn was looking for something more substantial, something that honored the scope of Marguerite’s commitment.”

Marguerite F. Key

Marguerite F. Key

Clemens proposed a program that would bring together high school principals from across NIU’s service region to share their innovative ideas and best practices for not only shepherding underserved students into college but also preparing them for success there.

Pluim loved the concept.

“The Marguerite F. Key Fellows Program is a project in line with the vision and passion Marguerite has for supporting the preparation of future educational leaders,” Pluim says. “The program will recognize the great work Illinois principals are doing, and provide them with specialized professional development and growth opportunities.”

Nominations will open July 1 for the first class of fellows, who will meet in June of 2018 for a series of workshops and dialogues.

“What we’re hoping to find is real evidence of innovation, energy and ingenuity that’s being brought to the table in service of this very poignant need, and to put additional focus on this innovation, to increase opportunities for students to successfully achieve their college dreams,” Clemens says.

“There is research that shows – and I personally believe this – that those students across the country who, at this moment are facing the most significant obstacles to college access and college success, are the country’s largest source of growth potential,” he adds. “I can’t see any more noble purpose, or more potentially powerful purpose for the future of our country, than empowering these underserved voices.”

A seven-member advisory committee will guide the ongoing framework and rationale of the program as well as the selection, and work, of the fellows.

The advisory committee will consist of representatives of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, local school districts and the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement.

Fellows need only serve one year, Clemens says, but are always welcome to stay involved.

key-puzzleUndergraduate and graduate students with an interest in college attainment and success, public educational policy or other related issues also can participate, possibly obtaining independent study or internship credit for administration of the program or assistance with the institute.

Students who seize those opportunities will witness a sharing of expertise – the wisdom and work of leading principals in the region – along with the possible births of partnerships or design of grant proposals.

It’s something Clemens says matches current thinking on campus – “President Baker has always been very interested in examining the factors that contribute to student success throughout their P-20 educational experience,” he says – as well as the values of Marguerite F. Key.

Key graduated from Northern Illinois State Teachers College in 1944 with a major in biology and a minor in music. She taught one year, and then earned her master’s degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

During most of the next year, she worked in the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield as a health educator. When the Kellogg Foundation funded a program in Illinois to place a health educator on the staff of each state college, Key came to Northern.

arlington-public-schoolsAfter she married four years later and moved to Washington, D.C., where her husband worked with the National Education Association, she began a 40-year career in the Arlington Public Schools as director of guidance in a middle school.

In 1995, after the death of her husband, she returned to DeKalb, where she continues to live.

She was on the original committee to place a one-room school on campus, served for 12 years on the Development Committee of the College of Education and has been able to assist 10 non-traditional women in the college in obtaining scholarships through the Philanthropic Educational Organization.



NIU working with ECC to offer Elementary Ed degree in Elgin

Anne Gregory

Anne Gregory

Beginning in Fall 2018, students at Elgin Community College need not travel to DeKalb to earn bachelor’s degrees in Elementary Education from Northern Illinois University.

Administrators of the NIU College of Education and Elgin Community College are preparing a “2+2” agreement that aligns ECC coursework with 100- and 200-level general education courses at NIU.

Upon completion of their associate degrees, students then are welcome to transfer to NIU’s main campus in DeKalb – or, if it’s more convenient, to take upper-level NIU courses taught by NIU professors on the ECC campus.

Clinical and student-teaching experiences also will take place in Elgin or in nearby communities, further enhancing the benefits of staying local. Meanwhile, either option promotes four-year graduation by connecting the degree requirements between NIU and ECC.

“One of the things we know about some of our students who are interested in pursuing our B.S.Ed. in Elementary Education is that they’re place-bound,” said Anne Gregory, chair of the NIU Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“What the 2+2 will do is allow us, with Elgin, to create seamless transitions,” Gregory added. “We’re also going to provide degree completion on their campus, bringing our program and our coursework to a place where people need to stay. It’s a win-win.”

Gregory identifies another “win-win” for NIU and the Kane County school districts in and around Elgin.

“This will create a greater impact in the local communities of learning by growing teachers to work in those communities,” she said. “ECC’s proximity to the U-46 and Huntley school districts really solidifies the relationships we already have with those two districts.”

Margee Myles

Margee Myles

Sean Jensen, director of Transfer Services for Elgin Community College, worked with Gregory and Margaret Myles, director of College of Education Student Services, to draft the agreement. Conversations began on news that NIU’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction will shift its Elementary Education program from “select” entry to “direct” entry.

“NIU is the top transfer destination for our students, and this update was of particular interest to us as it will allow students to complete the NIU bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education on the ECC campus,” Jensen said.

“It’s really beneficial for our students because we do have many who are place-bound. Many work in this area, or have other responsibilities,” he added. “For those students who want to follow the more traditional path to NIU in DeKalb, that still exists.”

Although the first group of students will officially begin NIU’s program in Fall 2018, Gregory said the College of Education will offer some “transitional” courses next spring in Elgin. Enrolling in these courses, such as children’s literature and foundations of education, will enable candidates to test the waters and determine if they are good fits for the NIU program.

Meanwhile, next spring will bring the first round of interviews for students who want to major in Elementary Education.

“During the second semester of their sophomore year, our native NIU students interview for entrance into the program. What we’re looking for in these interviews is what supports we can provide so they can be successful in reaching their goals,” Gregory said.

“Just as our native students do with our faculty members, the ECC students will apply and go through the interview process in the semester prior to coming to our main campus or in completing their degree at ECC,” she added.

ECC students interested in the NIU program will meet with their academic advisers to discuss their interest in the NIU degree and to register for the appropriate general education credits and prerequisite courses, Jensen said.

elem-studentsGraduates of NIU’s B.S.Ed. in Elementary Education program are prepared to work with children in first- through sixth-grades, typically offering instruction in all subject areas. Thanks to lessons grounded in theory, research and best practices, they are ready to teach in a wide variety of linguistic, socio-economic and cultural contexts.

Licensure candidates select from one of four pathways: They can minor in Elementary Mathematics Education, or select from either Bilingual/ESL, Reading Teacher or Special Education to earn an additional endorsement as part of their required coursework.

Passage of the edTPA, required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states, is almost a given. One hundred percent of NIU Elementary Education undergrads who submitted edTPA materials this spring passed.

For more information, contact Jensen at (847) 214-7195 or sjensen@elgin.edu, or NIU College of Education Student Services at (815) 753–8352 or cedustudentservices@niu.edu.



Educate U.S. travelers celebrate another successful trip to Texas

Abby Spankroy, Elementary Education major

Abby Spankroy, Elementary Education major

One by one, the names of Farias Early Childhood Center students are called as the morning attendance is taken.

When there is no response – no “Here!” or “¡Aquí!”– a child stationed at the front of the classroom carefully removes that classmate’s photograph from the outside of the “We Wish You Well” heart and places it inside the heart.

“They say, ‘Let’s put them in our heart and wish them well,’ ” says Wendy Castillo-Guzman, an Early Childhood Education major in the NIU College of Education. “When I first saw that, I honestly teared up. I just thought it was beautiful because teaching kids at that age to care about their friends, and caring about one another, is so important.”

Castillo-Guzman, who spent the week of May 15 in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) as part of the College of Education’s Educate U.S. initiative, plans to adopt the heart-shaped ritual for her eventual classroom.

It’s not the only Texas inspiration she plans to pay forward in her teaching career.

“The teachers there, man – they’re just so loving,” says Castillo-Guzman, a senior from Rochelle.

“They told me that whenever you do something, do it with love, and always do it believing that every kid can excel. Never leave a child back. Show them that you believe in them, and that they can do it. Take the time to work with them. Take the time to show them that you care, and that you’re invested in them.”

Ashley Kivikoski, Early Childhood Education major

Ashley Kivikoski, Early Childhood Education major

Educate U.S., a component of the college’s hands-on Educate and Engage Program, enables select participants to work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons and engaging in co-teaching strategies.

NIU students chosen for the donor-funded, all-expenses-paid journey further enrich their experience by joining with Houston students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events.

And as much as the NIU students relish their transformational time in Houston – “This trip was amazing, and I miss my host family already!” one posted on Twitter – the HISD hosts call the feeling mutual, says Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development.

“Houston teachers love our students,” Johnson said. “The teachers there are motivated by how excited our students are, and it’s fun to have someone come into your classroom who’s so excited. The teachers are so gracious and welcoming.”

Visiting the HISD classrooms during the last week of the school year allowed the 20 students from NIU to observe assessment and grading as well as “closings and transitions,” Johnson says.

“They got an idea of how teachers get the students ready for the next year, where they think the children should go from here and what would be the best fit for them,” she says.

Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the College of Education, returned to DeKalb with a folder full of sticky-back visitor badges she acquired while observing NIU students throughout the 284-campus school district.

Nycol Durham (right), Early Childhood Education major, and Bailey Fisch (left), Special Education major

Bailey Fisch (left), Special Education major,
and Nycol Durham (right), Early Childhood Education major

Downey saw the 20 Huskies engaged in decision-making over grades for HISD student report cards.

She saw them learning how HISD teachers work in teams. She saw them collecting strategies for differentiating curriculum for bilingual and ELL students.

“It was really eye-opening for them,” Downey says.

Emma Foelske, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major from Batavia, confirms that she returned to Illinois with a new view.

Frank Black Middle School is 75 percent Hispanic, so I got to see a lot of dual-language teaching, which will be really valuable going forward in my future teaching endeavors,” says Foelske, a junior. “I’ve only been in middle school classrooms in DeKalb, so just seeing the different experiences there just taught me so much that education is not one-size-fits-all.”

She spent her week rotating through sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies classes.

Katelyn Horton, Early Childhood Education major

Katelyn Horton, Early Childhood Education major

“My favorite thing was with the sixth-grade class,” she says. “They were doing presentations on different countries around the world, and I got to grade those projects.”

Like Castillo-Guzman, she found “a lot of ideas” to borrow for her own career.

“I actually spent a lot of time with the department head. He showed me everything he had in his classroom, and where he bought everything. He had an interactive notebook, which was really cool,” Foelske says. “I took a lot of notes.”

Her motivation to teach math and social studies comes from working at a summer camp, she says. “I like how different they are in middle school,” she says. “Sixth-graders are still like elementary school students. They’re innocent. By the time they get to eighth-grade, they think they’re in charge of everything.”

Castillo-Guzman, meanwhile, is picking the pre-school route to make good on a goal formed at her church as she taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

“At that young age, it’s important for them to have a teacher who cares about them. It needs to start when they’re little,” she says. “I love to see how they grow. You get to see that lightbulb go on in their head when they learn something.”

May 2017 Educate U.S. participants reporting for duty!

May 2017 Educate U.S. participants reporting for duty!



LEARN-IT conference exposes educators to instructional tech

learn-it-2

LEARN-IT 2017

Advances in technology come so quickly and frequently that it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of the latest innovations and applications.

Yet for teachers, and for IT professionals who work in schools, the integration of technology to enhance learning carries a great responsibility and significance: Students deserve the best education possible, and outdated equipment and programs hinders that.

NIU’s annual LEARN-IT conference, always held on the first Saturday in May, invites educators and school-based tech specialists on a weekend day for keynote presentations, breakout sessions and research roundtables that allow them to improve their knowledge and to better accomplish their objectives.

The goal is simple: to help educators transform the teaching-and-learning environment with “low- cost, high-impact” technologies that facilitate meaningful learning.

“Our overall theme for LEARN-IT has always been a focus on ‘low-cost, high-impact’ instructional technology,” said Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), which hosts the conference in the Learning Center of Gabel Hall.

“In many ways, our theme has been prophetic. Today we see more and more teachers using free or low-cost and highly accessible instructional technology tools,” Hung added. “And more than ever, we need to know how to use these tools effectively. I like to think of our LEARN-IT conference as a community of learners, where dedicated educators gather to share and learn from each other.”

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

More than 120 people attended the May 6 event, said Judy Puskar, who helped to organize the day with Gail Hayenga, conference and event coordinator in the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs.

Professional Development Hours or graduate credit (ETT 592: Special Topics in Instructional Technology) were available.

“LEARN-IT is a day when they’re given instruction instead of giving instruction,” said Puskar, academic program advisor in ETRA.

“With technology changing so fast, people in the classroom often don’t have the time to get exposed to new technologies. This is a chance to explore the tools, learn strategies and practice with new tools,” she added. “A lot of times, we’ll hear, ‘Oh, I haven’t heard of this before’ – and now they want to use them in their classrooms or look more into them.”

Keynote speakers included two new ETRA faculty, both of whom will join the department this fall.

Dongho Kim, who comes to NIU from the University of Georgia, Athens, presented “What Gets Measured, Gets Managed: Data Analytics and Technologies for Teachers.”

Growing use of digital devices in and out of the classroom produces large amounts of data regarding the learning processes of students, Kim said, which in turn creates great potential in K-12 classrooms from data-driven decision-making.

“Educators’ ability to utilize that kind of data enables them to assess various aspects of their students’ learning in a timely manner,” Kim said. “For example, students’ log data in the flipped classroom context reveals students’ engagement with learning content and allows teachers to provide ongoing supports.”

learn-it-logoFatih Demir, joining NIU from the University of Missouri, Columbia, spoke on “EnhancED Teaching and Learning: User eXperience (UX) Research and Design to Enhance Teaching and Learning.”

He challenged his audience of teachers: “Are your learning plans based on your research, insights, trends and innovative concepts or are they generic for all students? Do you fully understand the needs and expectations of each individual student?”

“Teachers as everyday designers are designing curriculum, course plans, in-class activities, presentations and many other forms of materials for a diverse population,” Demir said. “Knowing well about the target audience and understanding their needs and expectations are key in design.”

Both professors call LEARN-IT participants “engaged and interested,” a group that also includes NIU undergraduates, graduate students and members of the Technology Specialist cohorts.

“Many students found the topic very interesting,” Demir said, “and appreciated that User Experience and Human Computer Interaction courses will be offered at the ETRA Department. Some of them indicated that they would like to apply such methods to their dissertations.”

Other presenters were:

  • Andrew Tawfik, “Evaluating EdTech: Evaluating, Designing, and Prototyping”
  • Kristin Brynteson, “Telling Stories with Technology”
  • Jason Underwood, “Effective Use of Video Tools and Strategies in the Classroom”
  • Colleen Cannon-Ruffo, “LEGO Education: WeDoSTEM 2.0” and “LEGO Education: STEM Robotics with Mindstorms EV3.”

Former ETRA Chair Lara M. Luetkehans launched LEARN-IT several years ago through the sponsorship of Bob and Mary English, friends of the College of Education. The conference always welcomes recipients of the Mary F. English Technology Award as honored guests.

LEARN-IT 2017

LEARN-IT 2017

The English family believes in the importance of educators having the tools they need to help all learners achieve their potential – and, Puskar said, it’s a belief that the educators who attend LEARN-IT share with the conference’s benefactors.

“Many of our districts are finding that technology is helpful in delivering content to students,” she said, “and in helping students to become self-directed learners.”

It begins when LEARN-IT participants leave the conference with “new skills, ideas and plans for enhancing learning,” Hung agreed.

“The high-impact strategies and technologies that the ETRA faculty and alums provide,” Hung said, “can enhance your work in assessing learners, engaging learners, producing media and putting the technologies in the students’ hands.”

Next year’s conference takes place Saturday, May 5.



Pomp and circumstance: NIU hosts spring commencement

grad-commence-18Three NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last month during the spring commencement ceremonies.

NIU President Doug Baker told the audience at the May 13 undergraduate ceremony about Tyler Hayes, who earned a bachelor’s in Kinesiology.

During the May 12 Graduate School ceremony, Baker spoke about Kai Rush, who earned a doctorate in Instructional Technology, and Natalie Tarter, who earned a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Here are President Baker’s comments.

Tyler Hayes

Tyler Hayes

Tyler Hayes

Every graduate is filled with a well-earned sense of accomplishment. That is particularly true for Tyler Hayes because of what it took to get here.

She arrived at NIU from Peoria filled with a desire to improve her life, but without a lot of money in the bank.

Every semester, she says, was a “guessing game” of whether or not she would be able to keep chasing her degree. She is grateful to those in the financial aid department who repeatedly helped her find financial assistance.

She can also thank her powerful work ethic. While at NIU, Tyler worked as a community advisor to cover room and board costs, spent time as a student orientation leader and earned money working in the sports information department.

It wasn’t always easy, but somewhere in her journey she recognized the power of her own positivity as a stabilizing force. She became a go-getter unwilling to wait around for things to happen.

That’s not to say she did it alone. She praises the “great motivators” she found among her classmates, for keeping up her spirits. She credits professors for their accommodating support. And she gives props to her teammates on the women’s rugby team for keeping her grades on track with study table sessions.

Tyler graduates today with a degree in Kinesiology. After a final summer working on campus, she will head off to Georgetown University this fall to pursue a master’s in Sports Industry Management.

Tyler says she will miss the caring, amazing people she met during a great NIU experience. Given her spirit, I have no doubt she has many memorable moments to look forward to in her future.

Kai Rush

Kai Rush

Kai Rush

Based on his SAT scores, Kai Rush had a 10 percent chance of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Today he graduates with his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology.

This is his second NIU degree. His master’s in Instructional Technology allowed him to climb the ladder from teacher to instructional coach to director of technology for West Chicago schools. Then he realized he was born to be a teacher not an administrator.

As Kai wrestled with that dilemma, Dr. Wei Chen Hung suggested he consider teaching classes here at NIU. He embraced the challenge and discovered that, after 15 years as an award-winning teacher at the K-12 level, he also loved teaching college students. Much to his surprise, he also discovered a passion for research.

Dr. Hung’s intervention, he says, was just one of many examples of how NIU faculty helped him find his current path.

Dr. Rebecca Hunt devoted hours last summer lending advice on his dissertation; Dr. Pi-Sui Hsu challenged him to explain his research in greater detail; Dr. Thomas Smith turned his dislike into enjoyment for math and statistics; and Dr. Nick Omale taught him how to plan and deliver a university-level lesson.

Thanks to the nurturing and cajoling of those professors, and to the help of many others here at NIU, the high-schooler who wasn’t supposed to go to college is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. There he helps prepare others for careers as teachers and does research on using technology to motivate minority and English language learners.

In a note he sent to me this spring, Kai said of his journey, “Test scores mean nothing if you have great teachers, professors and staff to support, assist and motivate students! That is NIU!”

It is my sincere hope that all of you in this room had an experience here at NIU to rival his.

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter’s star rose as a track athlete at Batavia High School.

  • A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles;
  • Illinois record-holder in the 100-meter hurdles;
  • Twice the state runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles.

She went off to a Big 10 university on a full ride – and with legitimate Olympic hopes.

Then came the injuries – and three hip surgeries.

No longer able to compete at that high level, Natalie felt lost and lonely. It was a challenging period in her life, one that changed her outlook on sports.

Natalie fashioned quite a comeback, however.

She transferred to NIU, focused on academics and walked on the track team, finding success in a new event, the heptathlon.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in general studies, she stayed here. Today Natalie earns her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, with a graduate certificate in sports and exercise psychology.

The last two years, she worked with – and learned from – our Office of Student Academic Success, where Natalie provided academic coaching and leadership training to our students.

But sports remains a central theme in her work.

Natalie once presented a professional development session for her officemates, setting up hurdles outside their building and teaching them jumping techniques. When co-workers expressed embarrassment and doubt in their abilities, Natalie likened it to the frustration and uncertainty that students can feel as they navigate college.

It’s a lesson they won’t forget.

While interning at a private practice, Natalie created counseling groups for athletes at West Aurora High School and facilitated high school workshops on mental health and sports.

Athletes are often neglected in the mental health realm, Natalie says, and she wants to change that.

Additionally, the depth of her experiences has included working with young people who are non-verbal and autistic, as well as young women who have attempted to take their own lives.

It’s not surprising that Natalie has been asked to join the private counseling practice where she interned, and she has plans to continue her important work there with athletes and others.

We think Natalie Tarter never really needed an oval track to shine.

Please enjoy these photographs from the May 12 and 13 ceremonies.

 



And the hits keep on coming …

Eui-Kyung Shin and Thomas Smith

Eui-Kyung Shin and Thomas Smith

The spring awards season goes on for the NIU College of Education.

Eui-Kyung Shin, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Tom Smith, Presidential Teaching Professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, join former colleague Andrew Milson of the University of Texas at Arlington, in an award from the National Council for Geographic Education.

For more than 100 years, the NCGE has worked to enhance the status and quality of geography teaching and learning at all levels of instruction. Through its awards program, NCGE recognizes excellence in geography teaching, mentoring, research, instructional design and service.

ncge“Each year, we are impressed by the level of innovation, quality and creativity of all our award nominees,” said Zachary R. Dulli, chief executive officer. “Understanding our world is critical to a high-quality education, and these award winners represent the best of the best in providing that to our students.”

Shin, Smith and Milson were honored “Future Teachers’ Spatial Thinking Skills and Attitudes,” which earned top honors as Best College/University Article in the Journal of Geography Awards category. Milson taught in the NIU College of Education from 1999 to 2001.

Recipients of NCGE recognition will receive their awards at a special ceremony held during the 2017 National Conference on Geography Education, scheduled from July 27 to July 30 in Albuquerque, N.M.



A celebration of excellence

excllence-2College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, along with associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, rolled out the red carpet May 5 for the college’s annual Celebration of Excellence.

The event in Anderson Hall recognized winners of the College of Education awards.

  • Excellence in Teaching Award by Faculty/Clinical Faculty: Katy Jaekel, CAHE
  • Excellence in Research and Artistry Award by Faculty: Jim Ressler, KNPE
  • Excellence in Service Award by Faculty: Myoung Jung, SEED (not pictured)
  • Exceptional Contributions by Instructors: Jan Hart, SEED
  • Exceptional Contributions by Civil Service Staff: David Snow, LEPF
  • Exceptional Contributions by Supportive Professional Staff: Susan Schwartz, KNPE
  • Outreach/Community Service Award: Stacy Kelly, SEED
  • Exceptional Contributions in Diversity/Social Justice Award: James Cohen, CI, and Lauriece Zittel, KNPE

Also stepping into the spotlight:

  • Tom Smith, a newly named NIU Presidential Teaching Professor from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment;
  • soon-to-retire Toni Tollerud (COE personnel consultant) and Susan Schwartz (academic advisor, KNPE); and
  • Rachel Bicksler, Lauren Leifheit and Jacinda Starr, three of the freshmen who were among 2016-17’s inaugural group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients.

Congratulations to all!



Laura Ruth Johnson to study civic engagement, advocacy of young parents in Humboldt Park

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson has spent two decades observing the lives, struggles and triumphs of young parents in Chicago.

Throughout those years, the associate professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment has seen many young parents thrive in spite of a lack of programs that could help them.

“Some of them are missing school to work, but not because they don’t value education,” Johnson says. “It’s because they’re extremely responsible. Some are working an extra job to provide for their children or help their parents pay the rent.”

Johnson will turn her attention this summer to how young parents in Humboldt Park engage with their community – and if that civic engagement can inform and enhance their advocacy skills, for themselves and their children, as well as for other young parents.

Findings from a Youth Participatory Action Research study, funded by a summer Research and Artistry grant, hope to “inform services, programs and policy aimed at young parents, and challenge pejorative stereotypes of young parents as having ‘ruined’ their lives with little hope of academic or professional success because of their ‘bad’ choices.”

Instead, Johnson strives to show that young parents can be deeply involved in their communities and academically successful, if provided with the appropriate supports and resources.

Humboldt Park

Humboldt Park

Data will come from interviews, focus groups, observations and written assignments completed by young parents. Over the summer, a small group of young parents will work with Johnson to collect and analyze data, in the process gaining valuable research skills.

Research will take place at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, an alternative high school that currently serves about 190 students pushed out of the public school system, through its embedded program the Lolita Lebron Family Learning Center, which serves the needs of young parents attending Albizu Campos, which make up about 20 percent of the student body.

Many students there are familiar with Johnson’s topic: Parents attend a class, co-taught by Johnson, called “Social History of Parenting,” which helps them develop advocacy skills and involves them in creating campaigns that confront pejorative stereotypes about young parents.

But the need lies beyond Albizu Campos High School and the Family Learning Center.

“Having young parents involved in community and civic engagement is important, but their voices are largely absent,” she says. “So much policy is made for them, but they’re not included as a part of the conversation – and they need to be. They’re the ones these programs are aimed at.”

Quality mentorship offers a start, says Johnson, who has implemented such programs in Chicago for the last four years.

campos-2One goal of her upcoming project is to gather solid data on the impact of efforts like hers.

Whereas much of the civic engagement literature has focused on more traditional sorts of activities, such as voting, this study aspires to document how students’ involvement in community-based projects and grassroots activism that address issues that are meaningful to them can help them to develop leadership skills.

Among her questions: How do young parents view their communities? What issues are important to them? In what ways are local projects involving and engaging young parents? What skills do they gain from participating? How does their involvement shape their identities as active citizens? What role will it play in their postsecondary pursuits?

“Very few programs are aimed at young parents,” Johnson says, “and it’s harder for them to become involved. Most work. They have to take care of their own expenses. They have a child. And, as a result, they’re rendered invisible.”

Compounding the problem, she says, is that many programs focused on young parents are designed merely to prevent teens from becoming parents in the first place. Only a few mentor teens who already are young parents, she says.

Unfortunately, she adds, not many high schools offer child care.

Nonetheless, young parents can and do defy the odds. Four recent valedictorians at Campos High School have been teen parents, she says.

Laura Ruth Johnson

Laura Ruth Johnson

“Young parents right now see education as more important than ever,” Johnson says, “but for teen parents, it’s a challenge. They have to take care of a child and go to school. It’s a challenge of having support, of having child care or of having transportation. I know some young parents who walk, with their children, to school in the cold because they have no money for the bus.”

In the Puerto Rican community where Johnson conducts her advocacy and research, she witnesses some attitudes of fatalism among youth.

What difference can we possibly make outside of our neighborhood? How can these projects really change the way things are? Why don’t politicians actually care about us? They say what they think we want to hear, but they don’t know what we go through or actually listen when we tell them.

Even external forces are contributing, she says, pointing to a recent teen pregnancy advertisement that featured pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen and the message, “You’re supposed to be changing the world … not changing diapers.”

“As if mothers can’t be activists and be involved!” Johnson says. “We’re really trying to change that narrative and paradigm.”

She finds signs of optimism in Humboldt Park, where teen parents are thinking about greater social issues and historical events in relationships to their neighborhood – where they can act locally.

veggies-2Others are connecting the dots, she says.

“They’re invested even more when they have a child because they want to have a better future for their child, and they see that they can link all of the issues,” Johnson says. “Now they have a child to think of. Having safe parks. Having access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Healthy food, for example, offers lessons of urban agriculture, such as community gardens and greenhouses. It reinforces the importance of healthy food for growing children. Politically, it illustrates the social problem of “food deserts” or the public health crisis of diabetes.

Projects that Johnson has worked on with students include public service announcements filmed and posted on YouTube, social media postings and participation in hashtag campaigns such as #noteenshame and #teenparentpride.

Other young parents are podcasting.

“They’re interviewing one another and creating podcasts on their lives, collecting and editing their own stories,” she says. “I see that as a method of civic engagement because it’s having them participate in larger conversations, something that will help other young parents find resources that are of assistance to them.”

Johnson (right) with young parents, mentors and teachers in San Antonio.

Johnson (right) took young parents, mentors and teachers to the annual meeting
of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio, Texas

She also hopes to host community events where she – and the teens – present their findings.

A few of those involved in an intergenerational mentorship project for current and former young mothers recently took a national stage, presenting their work and research at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Antonio, Texas. Johnson received funds from the NIU College of Education and the Youth Connection Charter School to bring young parents, mentors and teachers to the event.

“I know some who really found that through their participation in a project, it expanded their view of their ability to make a change in the world, and they’ve taken that to their families,” she says. “Most of the students are really excited to become involved, and they have a lot of great ideas.”