North Central College - Naperville, IL

Just imagine what you could be doing...

Just imagine what you could be doing...

Researching family leave perceptions

If a male employee takes a leave from work for a family issue, what will his employer think? That’s the question that fascinates Dr. Karl Kelley, professor of psychology, and inspires his research on perceptions of people who use the Family Medical Leave Act. His research focuses on workplace perceptions ofemployees when they return to work after taking leave for certain family situations, like the birth of a child or caring for an aging parent.

Dr. Kelley engages students in this research—often assisting in the collection and analysis of data. Some even develop their own spin-off projects. In the past, students have co-authored papers with Dr. Kelley that have been presented at national research conferences. Students also present their work at the College’s Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research and other conferences for student research. Doing this research benefits students when they apply for jobs or graduate schools.

“As the lead researcher, I learned a lot about taking orders and delegating them,” says Kyle Kniss ’09, a psychology major. “Throughout this process, I learned how to get everyone to set group deadlines and meet them, which will help me in the workplace. And our emphasis on work-family issues will be applicable toward getting accepted into graduate school in the near future.”

Taking your shot at directing

Actors who want to move behind the scenes from center stage can become full-fledged directors when they stage a production through the College’s Student Director Series. Any student can submit a proposal for a show; faculty members choose the most promising submissions and act as advisors.

“Student directors manage all the acting, costuming, lighting and staging, then showcase their finished work in one of our fabulous new theatre venues,” says Dr. Deborah Palmes, professor of theatre and recently the advisor for a production called Trifles, a one-act play about a woman accused of killing her husband. Trifles, written in 1916, has themes relevant for today, Dr. Palmes says.

Valerie Heckman, a theatre performance major and the director of Trifles was thrilled to learn that she would be working in the College’s new thrust stage theatre. Her biggest challenge was coaching actors who had never been on a stage surrounded by the audience on three sides.

“As soon as I heard about this opportunity, I jumped in,” she says. “Dr. Palmes gives you creative freedom, but she’s there when you need her. She’s very supportive.”

Fighting disease with mathematical modeling

Math and medicine can add up to a powerful tool for understanding the spread of communicable diseases and the impact of vaccines that could prevent them.

Working with Dr. Linda Gao, professor of mathematics, student researchers are focusing their curiosity and skills on conditions such as chlamydia, which can lead to serious reproductive problems in women.

Applying mathematical modeling techniques to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students worked to predict chlamydia transmission patterns and the effects of a potential vaccine.

Student Christina Lorenzo says she enjoyed the project so much that she continued to work with Dr. Gao over the summer to further investigate questions uncovered by the research.

“This project has really pushed me to think more deeply about mathematics, and helped to solidify my desire to pursue a career in the field,” says Christina. “Being able to co-author a paper and present research at conferences like the National Conference for Undergraduate Research were truly incredible experiences.”

An expert in disease and vaccination analysis within populations, Dr. Gao recently published her work in the Chinese Journal of Vaccines and Immunization, which is published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This year she is starting a new joint project with colleagues in China: a cost-benefit analysis of chicken pox vaccinations.

She says that students can get involved quickly once they complete some initial coursework. She encourages sophomores and juniors to do research so they can participate over a longer period. “They learn that what they’re studying has implications in real life. That’s an important lesson,” she says.

Finding out how consumers think

What new stores would shoppers prefer to see filling vacant mall spaces? What new services or amenities would attract hotel customers?

These are some of the questions that intrigue Brian Hanlon, assistant professor of marketing and an expert in market research and real estate development.
He uses a research tool called customer choice modeling to determine how consumers make decisions.

To help owners fill vacancies in a new shopping center near Chicago, for example, he asked potential customers about their preferences for varied mixes of retail stores. His students get the chance to design their own ideal shopping malls, too. “They play with real data,” he says.

Another consulting project involved the Lake Junalaska Conference and Retreat Center in North Carolina. The managers of this United Methodist Church property needed help in determining what new features would attract family vacation and conference business.

Dominic Sulo ’10, a marketing major, assisted Dr. Hanlon for two summers and wound up with an internship at a commercial real estate firm. Working with Dr. Hanlon, “I helped survey and analyze information about the selection of store brands that would go into a specific mall,” he says. “For the conference and retreat center, I evaluated what the location had to offer in terms of service, quality and attractions. I’ve learned numerous things from Dr. Hanlon, but the most important is the ability to evaluate and analyze information more efficiently and effectively.”