LEPF doctoral student leads multilingual efforts in Uruguay

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

Languages are deeply valued in Uruguay, where multiple tongues beyond the native Spanish are the norm.

“Uruguay is a country of immigrants,” Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says of his homeland.

“We have more than 120,000 Italian citizens living in Uruguay. We have British people. We have Spanish people,” Rodriguez adds. “We have German, Swiss and Portuguese cities settled by immigrants from those countries.”

People living near the country’s border with Brazil are generally also fluent in Portuguese, which is considered a regional language.

And everyone is expected to know English, which the country regards an international language. Students begin learning English in fourth-grade.

The man in charge of advancing the government’s language ambitions is none other than Aldo Rodriguez, the recently appointed national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“By 2030, we want a multilingual country,” he says. “For more than 40 years, our secondary school students have learned French, Italian and English. Authorities believe in the neurological benefits of learning multiple languages.”

Schools in this country should share that ambition, he adds.

uruguay-flag“I think U.S. schools will benefit by adopting these types of policies, first and foremost for the multicultural heritage the country has,” Rodriguez says. “It’s outstanding how diverse and culturally rich the United States is. Learning multiple languages will make people understand more about other cultures and people. When you learn a language, you learn its culture.”

Rodriguez, who is living and working in Uruguay while he completes his NIU dissertation, is responsible for crafting policy for all levels of education from first-grade through college.

His professional background fuels his passion for the job. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, a career he began in 1998. He’s also mentored dozens of teachers, designed educational materials, delivered workshops and seminars and served as the director of an institute for second languages.

Teaching also drives his Educational Psychology dissertation, which focuses on persistence in adult secondary school contexts.

“I started working at the adult schools. The population of this school is very unique since 100 percent of the students went through a negative experience with education, and they had to drop out of traditional education,” he says.

“Dropping out is something really common in this context. Sometimes you start with a class of 50 students, and only six or seven finish the school year,” he adds. “My questions were, ‘Who is successful? Who finished school? Why?’ ”

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Coming to NIU in 2010 on a Fulbright grant to pursue his master’s in Adult and Higher Education opened many doors.

“When I read the profiles of the professors I was going to have, and the expertise they had on adult education, I just loved it,” Rodriguez says.  “I had Dr. Jorge Jeria as my first mentor, and I think I couldn’t have made it to the end of the master’s course without his support.”

Staying at NIU for his Ph.D. brought the mentorship of Stephen Tonks, for whom Rodriguez became a three-year research assistant. Before returning home in 2015, he also worked as a TA and participated in a search committee.

“My experience at the LEPF department was one of the best in my life,” he says. “All the people who work there are just great, and they made me feel at home.”



Suicide ‘survivors,’ counselors discuss uncomfortable subject, stigma at powerful CLS event

Adam Carter

Adam Carter

For Adam Carter, the moment came some 15 years ago in the preschool classroom where he taught.

Three-year-old Malcolm would not – or perhaps could not – sleep during the nap time; instead, Carter remembers, the young boy asked to climb onto his teacher’s lap.

Carter would have rather taken those few moments to rest himself, or to sanitize the classroom and its toys, but he nodded and plopped into the rocking chair. Malcolm joined him.

“He said, ‘Did you know that my grandpa just died?’ ” says Carter, who did not know. “Malcolm, at 3 years old, said, ‘I have mixed feelings about that.’ ”

For Stephanie Weber, the moment came nearly 40 years ago. She had recently “retired” from teaching to become a stay-at-home mom to four children, the youngest of whom was only 11 months old.

Weber’s mother, who had tried to die by suicide two-and-a-half years before, succeeded in her second attempt. She was 61.

It stirred within Weber feelings of shock, grief and anger, and bestowed on her a new title.

“The initials by our names are ‘survivor,’ ” Weber says. “We have been down in the trenches where we never wanted to be.”

Laura Bartosik

Laura Bartosik

Laura Bartosik’s moment came only three years ago. Her son, Seth, “so likeable, so compassionate,” chose to take his life at the age of 20.

Bartosik and her husband, Brett, overwhelmed with shock, tears and guilt, struggled to understand. Their only child was gone.

Seth was always “a happy-go-lucky youngster” and “a social butterfly.” Teachers told the proud parents that Seth was “a joy to have in class” and “a chatty kid.” He loved to fish, skate, play hockey and ride his skateboard.

Two years after he graduated from DeKalb High School, he was ready to attend culinary school. The taste of his bread pudding with caramel sauce is one his mother cannot forget; her voice breaks in sorrow when she says that she’ll never get to taste it again.

“I never imagined that this lovable kid, this social butterfly, would take his own life,” Bartosik says. “You feel your heart just breaking.”

Carter, Weber and Bartosik – their lives all jarred and redirected by personal grief or the grief of others – were among five panelists Oct. 12 at the NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series on “Suicide Prevention: Sharing Strategies of Care.”

Panelists also included Brooke Ruxton, who serves NIU students, and Vince Walsh-Rock, who works with students at Downers Grove South High School.

Suzanne Degges-White

Suzanne Degges-White

Organized by the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, the evening was dedicated to what Chair Suzanne Degges-White called “breaking the silence.”

It was a night of courage and questions, capped by a performance from Aurora’s Simply Destinee dance troupe, formed in honor of Destinee Oliva, who died by suicide in 2010 at the age of 16.

It was also a night with a challenge to “end the stigma” and to “ask the hard question” to those who might seem suicidal: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Mental health issues impact all ages and all people, something made vividly clear through the stories from the panelists. However, when it comes to suicide, many people are reluctant to confront it or to even speak its name aloud.

“We have to say the word,” Weber told the audience inside the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. “Saying the word ‘suicide’ doesn’t cause someone to take their life.”

“Talking about death and talking about dying is hard. It’s hard all the time,” Carter added. “These are conversations that are hard to have, but they’re worth having.”

Ruxton, director of Counseling and Consulting Services at NIU, related the story of a former NIU student who earned excellent grades, was active in extracurricular organizations and held leadership positions on campus.

Despite her outward appearance, she worked hard to keep her inner suffering a well-guarded secret. She contemplated suicide every day. She cut herself to treat the sadness. When she chose to seek help from Ruxton, it took three or four therapy sessions for her to utter even one word; during those appointments, the young woman could only curl up into a ball and cry.

Brooke Ruxton

Brooke Ruxton

“I could see the pain, so I just sat with her,” Ruxton said. “I helped her to breathe.”

At the end of each appointment, Ruxton asked important questions: “Can you come back next week? Are you going to be safe until next week?”

The answers, fortunately, were always “yes.”

Eventually, as graduation arrived and their counseling relationship ended, the young woman gave Ruxton a note of thanks with a quote from Elizabeth David, a 20th century writer from the United Kingdom: “There are people who take the heart out of you, and there are people who put it back.”

“What meant most to her was feeling cared about,” Ruxton said.

Around 40 percent of students who visit the NIU Counseling and Consulting Services have considered suicide, she said. Around 13 percent of those have tried to kill themselves.

Young people today are “navigating this world that’s constantly sending them information” via social media, she said. When mental health issues arise, they might feel ashamed or embarrassed by what could seem to them signs of weakness.

“Not every person who is struggling is going to say, ‘I’m having a hard time, and I’m going to go see a counselor,’ ” Ruxton said.

Sadly, she added, the stigma of suicide prevents many from receiving the critical intervention they desperately need from friends, family and others in their lives.

“People don’t know where to start. They’re afraid to cross a line or open a can of worms,” she said.

However, she added, “you don’t have to fix it right there and then.”

Vince Walsh-Rock and Stephanie Weber

Vince Walsh-Rock and Stephanie Weber

Walsh-Rock remembers cases of suicidal thoughts among Downers Grove South students as “minimal” when he started there 20 years ago. Now, he said, the staff under his supervision bring two – or sometimes three or four – such reports each day.

Many teens feel a “pervasive isolation,” he said, a type of trauma that requires compassion and action. Their young minds can believe that “this is the worst thing that’s ever happened – and it’s happening to me.”

Consequently, he teaches “depression literacy” and uses “threat models” that clearly signal to caregivers and others when they need to access appropriate services.

He also empowers everyone from teachers and school administrators to custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and secretaries to “see something, say something.”

“If you work in isolation,” he said, “you’re going to make mistakes.”

NIU’s Carter, an assistant professor of trauma counseling in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, has concentrated his career on intervening in the lives of preschool children.

Despite their tender ages, and as impossible as it seems, he said, there are 4-year-olds with thoughts of hurting or killing themselves. It’s as easy as walking in front of moving cars or jumping out of windows, he said.

Carter prepares future counselors to understand the grief experiences of children ages 3 to 5 – “it looks different,” he said – to help parents and caregivers communicate with the little ones.

“It’s something we as adults tend to be very afraid of talking about,” he said. “We don’t want to have these conversations with them.”

Aurora’s Simply Destinee dance troupe performed at the end of the evening.

Should the unthinkable happen, Bartosik said, survivors can find ways to move on.

For the Bartosiks, the answers lay in honoring their son’s memory and by supporting, teaching and empowering his friends and other young people.

They first opened their home as a safe space for Seth’s friends to share grief and ask questions. “We thought, ‘We can all stumble through this together, or we can let the kids just suffer through this all alone,’ ” she said, “but that’s not who we are.”

Next, they launched a non-profit organization called Project Seth in the hopes that sharing their son’s story could potentially save the lives of others.

“This is how we got our hope. This is how we make it through every day without Seth,” she said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. Something was wrong – and that’s why he took his life.”

Weber, the executive director of Suicide Prevention Services of America, counseled the Bartosiks in their mourning.

Her love for suicide survivors is the foundation of all her work, which includes education and training, a suicide hotline, support groups, public speaking and, of naturally, counseling. “I am honored that they trust me with their pain,” she said, “and we move forward together.”

Of course, she acknowledged, not every answer will come.

“You have to keep asking yourself ‘Why?’ until you no longer have to keep asking. The person who has that answer can’t tell us,” she said. “We finally have to let that go and move on.”

Mark McGowan, NIU Newsroom



Getting the call: Builta deployed to Pacific Northwest to help train National Guard’s wildfire fighters

Steve Builta

Steve Builta

When the urgent call came in September for Steve Builta to travel to Oregon to train National Guard members in fighting wildfires, there was little time to decide.

Yet for the director of Technology Innovation and Learning Services for the NIU College of Education, the answer came quickly.

Two days later, Builta was on a plane flying to the Pacific Northwest.

“Oregon had a terrible fire situation this year. They had need to train 250 additional National Guard troops, but they didn’t have enough people to do the training,” he says. “The State of Oregon contacted the Illinois Fire Service Institute, and the program director called me.”

Builta, who is also the longtime chief of the volunteer fire department in Hillcrest, Ill., has been on the staff of the Illinois Fire Service Institute for 12 years. He and his colleagues there provide training for mostly volunteer fire crews around the state of Illinois in fighting wildland blazes and prescribed burns.

Funding comes from a Department of Natural Resources grant, which finances the training and supplies free gear to first responders who service populations of less than 10,000. “We provide them with the training and protective equipment to fight this type of fire safely,” he says, “and that makes huge difference.”

builta-1In Oregon, the trainers from the Land of Lincoln joined trainers from across the country to deliver the 40-hour curriculum over only four long days. The courses are conducted under the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s program, policies and standards for training.

Courses cover only the ground battles, which are waged with everything from shovels, rakes and hoes and “flappers” – mud flaps attached to long poles – to backpack water sprayers that “look like big Super Soakers.” Airborne wildfire fighting is not included.

Lessons in Oregon began with a class on fire behavior that focused on how weather, topography and fuel all can drive fire.

Remaining days were spent in the classroom during the morning, where the troops learned about preparation for firefighting, and in the field during the afternoon.

“There were two-and-a-half hours for skills stations; then the staff would put on a burn for the students,” Builta says. “The staff light the burn and suppress it; the class lead instructors talk to the students about fire behavior, what was going on, why we were doing what we were doing. After the fire was out, students would mop up and grid to make sure there were no hot spots left.”

builta-2A fortunate change in the weather during the training gave the upper hand to the crews already on the job, he adds. As a result, only half of the 250 National Guard members were dispatched after their four-day prep.

“This was the largest group of National Guard that I’d been around, and you just cannot say enough good things about them, their work ethic and their commitment to go out and do good things for the community,” Builta says.

He also is grateful for the cooperation of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training and the Oregon Department of Forestry. They join similar agencies from Georgia, Montana and California who have received assistance from trained Illinois Fire Service Institute staff members.

California’s devastating wildfires this fall are the result of “two major problems,” Builta says.

“From what I have read, the spring was really wet in California. The grasses grow a lot, and give you a lot of fuels for fire. Then, they didn’t get a lot of rain, the grasses dried and made for lots of fuel on the ground,” he says.

Meanwhile, he adds, “the Santa Ana winds – when high pressure pushes air over the tops of the mountains – come down warm and dry with low humidity. If something catches fire, then a lot of dry winds coming down just ignite the fire.”

Steve Builta, right, chats with other wildland firefighting trainers in Oregon.

 

Although Builta is frequent trainer of wildland firefighters, teaching those courses across Illinois between five and 10 weekends each year, he rarely can accept the two-week standard deployments to battle the blazes. “With my job, it’s hard to do that,” he says.

However, fighting fires is an important part of his life at home – and one that involves the whole family.

Builta’s wife, Joelle; their son, Christopher; their daughter, Danielle Kaecker; and her husband, Justin, all are members of the Hillcrest Fire Department. Christopher recently returned from Montana, where he was dispatched to help fight the wildland fires there.

The story began 21 years ago when the Builtas bought their home in Hillcrest, located just north of Rochelle along Route 251.

builta-3Joelle, pregnant with Christopher, was on doctor-ordered bedrest. Steve was unpacking boxes. As a powerful thunderstorm rumbled through town, a violent lightning strike rattled the house.

“Moments later, we could smell smoke,” Builta says, “so we called the volunteer fire department, and out they came.”

No fire was found, but the assistant chief believed he had found something: a new recruit. After his first invitation that day, he made a few more trips to the Builta home until the new guy in town finally said “yes.”

“My wife and I had talked about trying to become involved in the community,” Builta says. “I just had no idea this would be it.”



CoE, NIU make good showing at MWERA annual conference

mwera-logoThirty-two NIU faculty, students, staff and College of Education alumni presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association (MWERA), held from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20 in Evanston.

MWERA is a regional educational research association modeled after the structure of the preeminent American Educational Research Association.

The MWERA mission is threefold:

  • to disseminate educational research conducted in the central states and provinces of North America;
  • to promote a collegial research culture in the region; and
  • to provide a forum for mentoring the research skills of graduate students and junior faculty members.

While MWERA featured presentations by affiliates of NIU’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Department of Counseling, Adult, and Higher Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Department of Psychology, faculty and graduate students from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment were particularly involved in the conference.

Associate Dean David Walker and Associate Professor Cynthia Campbell, both of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, are past presidents of the organization.

David Walker and Cynthia Campbell

David Walker and Cynthia Campbell

Many NIU faculty and students also regularly serve as session chairs and session dscussants during the meeting, and in other leadership roles within the organization such as webmaster, Association Council members and board members.

This year, several faculty also were recognized for their service to the organization in relation to recruitment of graduate students.

Current and past NIU affiliates who presented at the 2017 conference include Abdullah Albalawi, Farraj Alshehri, Youself Alshrari, Patricia Barton, Cynthia Campbell, Raye Chiang, Brad Cramer, Dustin Derby*, Anne Edwards, Khalifa Elgosbi, Joseph Ehrmann, Daniel Feller, Tawanda Gibson, Christopher Gonzales, Karen Higgs, Mary Hoyt and Naif Jabli.

Others were Ryan Kopatich, Melanie Koss, Nicholas Leonard, Rakez Mahmoud AL-ararah, Cornelius McKenna*, Jaclyn Murawska*, Elyzia Powers, Todd Reeves, Thomas Smith, Amy Stich, Tracey Stuckey-Mickell*, Victoria Therriault, Stephen Tonks, David Walker and Scott Wickman.

* Alumnus of the NIU College of Education



CoE remembers Joe Saban

Joseph M. Saban

Joseph M. Saban

Joseph M. Saban, who taught educational leadership courses in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, died Sept. 29 in Lakewood, Ill. He was 70.

Saban came to the NIU College of Education from Community High School District 155 in suburban McHenry County.

Beginning his career there in 1973 as a science teacher, he later became the district’s director of Business and Finance and eventually was named assistant superintendent for Finance and Staff Development.

His nine years as superintendent, from 1993 through his 2002 retirement, included the construction of Prairie Ridge High School.

The four-time NIU alum then taught at his alma mater from 2002 to 2013. His degrees included an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology.

“Joe was a gifted educator who eagerly shared his knowledge and professional expertise with graduate students in our college,” said Carolyn Pluim, chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. “Many in the Illinois educational community were touched by Joe’s kind and generous spirit.”

In 2007, while Saban continued to teach and advise working superintendents in pursuit of doctoral degrees and other educators who were seeking superintendent’s certificates, he and another retired superintendent shared the interim leadership of the North Boone School District.

His brief return to public schools felt comfortable: “I’ve never really left,” he said at the time. “I stay current with that stuff. It’s part of my duties.”

A memorial service was held Oct. 5 in Crystal Lake. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie; five children; and six grandchildren.



CoE gets in the spooky spirit

Winners of the College of Education’s annual pumpkin decorating contest were chosen in the categories of NIU, Halloween and Glam It Up.

  • NIU: Terry Borg (Educate Global)
  • Halloween: Pat Crumpacker (pumpkin with kittens inside)
  • Glam It Up: Portia Downey (pumpkin with glasses and pearls)

Here’s a look at the pumpkins in competition (with the three winners on top), as well as a photo of a familiar face in a Halloween mood.

 



NIU Athletic Training students practice at Chicago Marathon

marathon-1When runners finally cross the finish line and enter “the chute” at the end of the annual Chicago Marathon, their races aren’t quite over.

Chances are good that they might need medical assistance.

“Your body responds in a variety of ways after you run 26.2 miles,” says Kelly Potteiger, associate professor of Athletic Training in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

One of the most common reasons for needing medical attention after the race is postural hypotension.

After so much high-level activity over a long period of time, Potteiger says, blood vessels dilate to supply ample amounts of energy to muscles. When those muscles suddenly stop, it can cause a runner’s blood pressure to crash. And, when this happens, runners can become dizzy and even lose consciousness.

Other reasons runners might collapse include their bodies shutting down from the heat; stress on their hearts; a lack of preparation; or other complications.

Triage is necessary along the quarter-mile passageway to swiftly gauge the current fitness and needs of all 45,000 runners – upright or not – to make sure these mostly amateur athletes are in possession of their mental and physical condition.

Kelly Potteiger

Kelly Potteiger

Enter “the sweep team,” which on this Sunday included several students from NIU’s Athletic Trainers Student Association.

“We help to escort people who are in trouble through the chute and assess their capabilities,” Potteiger says. “If they’re losing cognitive function, or no longer have the ability to support themselves, we have to make a decision. Do we need to call a crash team? Can we get them to the medical tent? Or can they exit the chute on their own?”

Potteiger joined the 13 students in what has become an every-October excursion to Balbo Drive and Columbus Avenue near Grant Park. Their bus left the NIU campus at 4 a.m.

“It’s a great learning experience for our students to see how the medical response for a large event is organized,” Potteiger says. “That’s part of what athletic training is. If we’re working a football game, and a football player goes down, the athletic trainers run out there to do a quick evaluation and determine how we can safely get this player off the field to the sidelines for further evaluation.”

Students prepared by watching a training video and through mock simulations in the classroom.

The first-year students who made the trip were excited, if not a little nervous. “They practiced taking a history. They gained an understanding of how to take vitals and assess cognitive awareness,” she says. “It brings to light the different steps, and they take it more seriously when they know that they’re going to need to do all of this.”

Some of the students were Chicago Marathon veterans.

Corina Salinas, an athletic training major who volunteered for the first time in 2016, worked on a triage team. She and five others – one EMT, one nurse, two certified athletic trainers and another student – were on call when spotters situated in towers overlooking the course saw runners go down.

Corina Salinas

Corina Salinas

“They didn’t need to be walked or stretched. They needed immediate attention,” Salinas says. “We went to evaluate. It was either, one, that they were fine and just needed to rest, or two, they needed intervention.”

Although “nothing catastrophic” happened Sunday, the autumn warmth did cause heat exhaustion and fainting in some runners. Salinas and her teammates quickly grabbed ice bags and cold towels to place directly on main arteries “to cool them down from the inside out.”

She enjoyed her 2017 trip more than the one that preceded it. “This year, I was more mentally prepared, and I felt more comfortable doing what I did,” she says. “I feel like I got more hands-on experience practicing the clinical skills that I’m learning at NIU.”

However, Salinas calls herself grateful for both years of experience.

Multitasking and collaboration provided good lessons in what is expected and required of athletic trainers, she says, whether they’re working with sports teams or with NASA. She also appreciated the glimpse at how the triage team worked together – and how the others relied on the athletic trainers for their specialized expertise.

“I really like putting myself in various stressful situations and seeing how I react to them, if I’m able to keep my calm but still experience the rush of caring for a stressful medical situation,” Salinas says. “I have to act and react, and I have to do it effectively and efficiently. It makes me feel good knowing that I can.”

During the in-class debriefing Monday, the students scrutinized Sunday’s activities and discussed how they can apply those experiences to future clinical experiences, both as a student, and eventually as a professional, athletic trainer.

marathon-2

Many will find jobs at high schools and colleges, where they will need to prepare for events such as cross country or track meets with only a few gallons of drinking water and one aid station. Working the marathon exposed them to grand-scale productions, however.

“It’s mindboggling to see the different resources behind the scenes, and our students get to see that,” Potteiger says. “Did you know that they run a 911 system out of a trailer at the marathon? It’s hooked right into 911! It’s really impressive.”

Sunday also offered a test in terms of endurance. Chicago Marathon runners in need of help come “in waves,” Potteiger says.

A majority of early finishers are “the pros” who know exactly how to prepare for, and run, marathons. Members of the triage team typically have little to do.

Many runners in the next wave, however, are pushing their bodies past their limits to notch good times – and the chute quickly gets busy for medical providers. The third phase brings those runners who have trained well, she says, and the medical traffic slows.

As the event nears its end, those who have been running for several hours begin to trickle in and tend to fill the medical tents.

marathon-3Weather also plays a role in the medical response.

Potteiger was there in 2007, when the oppressive, 88-degree heat forced organizers to shut down the marathon in progress. She was there in 2006 – just the year before – when the cold and icy conditions caused one runner to slip and hit his head hard on the pavement.

She was also there in 2011 when a pregnant runner went into labor.

“You interact with so many patients throughout the day that you get really good and really fast at being able to tell who’s in danger and who’s going to be fine. You have people all along that spectrum,” she says.

“Our students can spend 10 minutes with someone. They could spend 30 minutes. It could be as short as five minutes. It’s as long as it takes,” she adds. “The year we had to shut it down, we had students sitting outside the medical tent just making conversation with runners to keep an eye on them and make sure they were lucid. Our students become very vested in their patients as they spend more time with them. They want to know that they’re OK, and they want to see them reunited with their families.”



Working the Intersections: Symposium brings practitioners in LGBTQ research to campus

working-the-intersectionsScholars who assembled at Michigan State University for the first National Symposium on LGBTQ Research in Higher Education focused on methodology and practice.

Among them that day in 2014 was Z Nicolazzo, a soon-to-be NIU College of Education professor who studies trans* collegians with a particular emphasis on trans* student resilience and kinship-building.

Nicolazzo’s memories from that event include hearing the loud-and-clear invitation for another institution to host the next gathering. Three years later, ze and Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education colleagues Katy Jaekel and Carrie Kortegast are the first to answer that call – and with a different and expanded premise in mind.

Called “Working the Intersections,” the second national symposium will take place Saturday, Oct. 14, at NIU. Researchers, faculty, staff and students from across the United States and Canada are expected to attend.

“Our theme is really thinking about how gender and sexuality show up alongside a lot of other identities and experiences,” Nicolazzo says. “We were really intentional when we called for papers.”

“When we talk about things like gender and sexuality, oftentimes particular identities are left out,” adds Jaekel, whose research agenda includes the classroom experiences of LGBTQ students. “We want to be more inclusive, and we hopefully want to generate some new knowledge.”

D-L Stewart

D-L Stewart

Keynote speaker Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart, professor of higher education and student affairs at Colorado State University, will speak at 8:30 a.m. Kristen Renn, a professor of higher, adult and lifelong education at Michigan State University, gives the closing address at 4:30 p.m.

In between are several paper-and-panel sessions, roundtable sessions and a PechaKucha plenary session, all geared to illuminate emerging knowledge, trends and conversations of LGBTQ research.

Under the “Intersections” theme, participants will discuss the experiences of LGBTQ people of color – “it’s vastly under-researched in our field,” Nicolazzo says – as well as how LGBTQ identities coexist with disability, spirituality, religion and more.

Exploring these topics is critically important, both say, especially for those in higher education.

Many faculty members and Student Affairs professionals don’t put LGBTQ issues up for discussion, Jaekel says, because such topics are often considered “value-neutral.” Others believe they don’t know enough, she adds, or are afraid to misspeak.

“While many people think that because things like gay marriage have occurred, and there’s been an increase in civil rights, that these issues have been solved and everything is better,” Jaekel says. “The truth is there continues to be a group of students who have particular needs.”

Z Nicolazzo

Z Nicolazzo

And, Nicolazzo says, that population is on the rise.

“All indications are that there are three- to six-times more people identifying as transgender below the age of 18 than over 18 – that’s our college-going demographic. We have more LGBTQ students in higher ed, and we need to meet the diversity of our students, faculty and staff in college environments,” ze says.

“We also have a growing awareness that there are LGBTQ faculty and staff at institutions of higher education,” ze adds, “so I think it’s important to not only highlight the research of those folks who are LGBTQ but to also highlight the work about LGBTQ people.”

Both are excited that a large number of students have registered to attend the symposium.

“It’s really important for students, and particularly LGBTQ students, to see what Laverne Cox calls ‘Possibility Models’ – models of who they can become in the future,” Nicolazzo says. “A lot of folks who are interested in doing research, or are interested in teaching, but identify as queer and trans* might not think they can do it because they don’t see a lot of faculty who are queer and trans*.”

“Different privileges are afforded to some and less to others, so we really wanted to highlight that,” Jaekel adds. “A lot of times, we look only to experts for knowledge and truth about gender and sexuality. Students have much to offer us, and highlighting different voices and different positions, we can learn from one another. Everyone can be deemed the expert of their own experience.”

Katy Jaekel

Katy Jaekel

The College of Education colleagues hope their participants share wisdom, gain insights, create knowledge and leave energized.

“Because I know we have so many students coming as participants, one of my main goals is for them to develop some good mentoring relationships and networks that might last beyond the conference,” Nicolazzo says.

Hir personal goals likely apply to all of the scholars coming Oct. 14.

“I’m really hoping that we can continue to practice how we share our information in ways that are understandable for the broader public,” ze says. “I’ve become really good at talking to other gender scholars about why my work matters. What I really want to become better at is making my working understandable to people who don’t do this kind of work at all.”

For more information, email LGBTQsymposium@gmail.com.



Merritt speaker to explore ‘joy of discovery’ during Oct. 19 talk

Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.

Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.

Don’t try to pigeonhole Eugene F. Provenzo Jr. It won’t work.

The professor emeritus from the University of Miami’s School of Education is a Renaissance man whose interests – and qualifications – reach far beyond his title.

“By way of my background, I’m a much more interdisciplinary scholar than most social foundations professors. I’ve got degrees in history, philosophy and history of education,” Provenzo says. “I branched off fairly early in my career, and I started looking at a much wider range of topics than I think is considered normal.”

What Provenzo truly enjoys is finding “the patterns that connect” the seemingly obscure and unrelated; his academic scavenger hunts are lined with clues in toys, fables, photographs, marine life, world’s fairs, computers, poetry, science, video games, books, puppets and more.

Uncovering those links reveal “a much more complex and interesting universe,” he says.

“I’m trying to get people thinking and understanding that there’s a deeper level of connection with things,” Provenzo says, “and if we paid more attention to these things, we’d be more at ease with the world.”

Provenzo is the 2017 recipient of the James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award for Contributions to Philosophy of Education, an award given by the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

He will deliver the annual Merritt Address, titled “An Educational Cabinet of Curiosities: 40 Years of Research in the Philosophy, History and Sociology of Education,” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in the Holmes Student Center Skyroom. A reception begins at 3:30 p.m.

Helen and James Merritt

Helen and James Merritt

Named for the late James Merritt, philosopher of education and professor in the College of Education, and the late Helen Merritt, artist and professor of art history in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the series spotlights scholars who have deeply influenced educational thought and practice.

All are welcome to attend; email lsassone@niu.edu for more information.

“Professor Provenzo embodies the Merritts’ commitment to the creative development of the function of philosophy of education in teacher education,” says Leslie A. Sassone, an associate professor in Foundations of Education. “With the changing climate of higher education, Dr. Provenzo will also appeal to students across the university who struggle with making meaning of their own schooling, as well as the current state of public education.”

Provenzo named his presentation after a centuries-old cultural endeavor in which he is a modern and enthusiastic participant.

“Going back to the late Renaissance, naturalists and art collectors – people sort of interested in the world, geography, things like that – began to collect objects together in large exhibit rooms. They would have collections of books, geological specimens from the natural world, paintings, sculpture. It was really the beginning of the first scientific laboratories,” he says.

“What I have done for this talk, and maybe it’s because I’m a serious artist, is that I’ve thought about this in terms of an exhibition hall,” he adds. “Where I live in Virginia, there is an extremely strong artistic tradition of landscape paintings – a lot look alike – whereas someone like myself is doing 10 or 15 things that may not look like they come from the same artist.”

cameraHe plans to walk his audience through, and around, a dozen of his fascinations and their broader meanings, from a 19th century photograph of a young, female teacher on the frontier of Idaho who’s harboring a dark secret to a look at how early advances in printing parallel the computer revolution.

These finds and other “crazy stuff that show up in the same context” come from trips into libraries and rare book rooms, where he pokes though the shelves for “what’s odd, what’s pushed out, what’s in a corner.”

When books or magazines pique his curiosity, he pages through them looking for places to start or continue an intellectual journey.

Educators should adopt and espouse his philosophy of curiosity to the practice of teaching-and-learning, he says.

“I’ve come to realize that we might be on a kind of dead-end approach to teaching,” he says. “We’re taking the joy out of things – the joy of discovery, the joy of creating things – and that’s a good bit of what education should be about. I always think that this stuff is self-evident. We need less testing and more creative play.”

Consequently, he will encourage teachers to do more than “teach to the test.”

“What do we need to know to be educated? Johann Sebastian Bach? Yes, but we also ought to know who Led Zeppelin is. Transgender? Lipstick lesbian? Those words maybe as important as a lot of other terms,” Provenzo says.

“If you ask me who’s more important in terms of social history – Queen Elizabeth or Queen Latifah? – I’d say that we maybe need to know both of those people,” he adds. “That’s probably a fairly radical point of view, but I’d like people to be more critical and inclusive.”



People with visual impairments might score romance on Tinder, SEED researchers discover

jvib-coverMen with visual disabilities are more likely to find dates on Tinder than are women with visual disabilities, according to a study by professors and their graduate research assistants in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education.

Published in the July-August issue of the Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness, NIU’s research explores questions of whether sighted individuals are opposed to dating persons who are blind, and whether Tinder is a good vehicle to facilitate such interactions.

Researchers at NIU created eight individual Tinder profiles featuring four NIU College of Education graduate students – two men and two women, all in their early- to mid-20s – and then posted two photos of each during four separate test periods.

Half of the photos depict the students as they appear normally. In the others pictures, however, they are wearing sunglasses and holding white canes. Their clothing is the same in both photos.

Only one photo of each student was posted at any one time; “blind” and “sighted” photos were not posted simultaneously.

No written descriptions that would include personal interests, favorite things or other information were provided. Because Tinder allows users to choose a distance within which they are willing to travel for dates, NIU researchers established a radius of 50 miles from DeKalb.

When the first group of profiles were “live” on the popular dating app in the spring of 2015, the profile of the man with visual disabilities received five more “likes” than did the same man without sunglasses or cane. However, the sighted woman in that same round of testing received 14 more “likes” when she wasn’t pictured with sunglasses and cane.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

During the second round, in the fall of 2015, those numbers respectively rose to nine and 58.

The percentage of “likes” for the male profiles are quite low – from 2 to 4 percent of the total 700 swipes – while the same percentages for the women range from 39 to 68 percent. Researchers attribute this to “cultural norms which dictate that men are to approach women.”

Stacy Kelly, as associate professor in the Vision Program of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, says the study shows how sighted people view people with visual impairments as potential romantic partners.

The research also demonstrates the power of the Internet to connect people and to open personal and professional doors, she says.

“It makes you a whole person. It makes your life full,” Kelly says. “We want people who are blind to have a level playing field with their counterparts who are sighted. So much of social networking is visual in nature.”

And despite Tinder’s emphasis on photos, she says, people with visual impairments do use the app to seek romantic partners.

“They’re human,” she says, “and we know that they can be socially isolated. We know that they can struggle later in life financially, or become unemployed. And Tinder is free to use.”

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Co-authors on the study are Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the NIU Vision Program; Tom Smith, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment; and Kylie Kilmer, a graduate student in the Vision Program.

Kapperman, who is visually impaired, knows from a lifetime of conversations with others with visual impairments that they find the dating scene difficult – something that hasn’t changed following the advent of social media.

“Girls who are blind, when they have tried to initiate some kind of relationship with guys, and when they are honest in their profiles, get no takers,” Kapperman says.

One woman with visual impairments told Kapperman that she hid her blindness from a potential suitor, who discovered the truth when he came to her front door to pick her up for a date. He did not take the surprise well, the professor says, and left alone.

“I always advise people to be upfront about it,” Kapperman says.

The research project reinforces NIU’s standing as a global leader in promoting and leveraging assistive technology for people with visual impairments, she adds.

A five-year, $1.25 million U.S. Department of Education grant awarded last year to NIU will fund the preparation of students to receive the Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist designation – the new national standard – from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Stacy Kelly and studentsNIU is the first university to offer a course of study toward the CATIS designation, something that leads to greater empowerment of people with visual disabilities as they are taught how to use the latest innovations.

“For people who have access to assistive technology, their whole, entire world opens up,” Kelly says. “Assistive technology gets them through the workday. It gets them through the weekend. People really can be limited if they can’t connect to the technology.”

Kelly and her cohorts plan to repeat their research to create a larger sample from which to draw data. “We see this study and the findings as just the beginning,” she says. “We are now developing a line of research that no one else has considered.”