The scholarly work of North Central College’s faculty was the focus of an academic mini-conference that served as the final event to celebrate the Sesquicentennial. More than 55 presenters shared their academic research, which often involves their students and informs their classroom teaching. The event concluded with a keynote speech by President Harold Wilde titled “Confessions of a Non-Teacher/Scholar” about his own passion for learning, which was cultivated by inspired educators.
R. Devadoss Pandian, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, opened the conference: “In the College’s entire history, this institution has been endowed with great teacher-scholars, scholars whose work has been characterized by the academic environment of that period. The cumulative contributions of all their work have taken us to where we are today and I am grateful to every teacher-scholar, past and present.”
Pandian had charged conference co-coordinators Lisa Long, professor of English, and David Gray, associate professor of accounting, with developing an event that would celebrate the past while setting the tone for the future. “During the lengthy tenures of President Wilde and Dev Pandian, we’ve witnessed a transformation in our faculty culture,” says Long. “During the past two decades we have become a first-rate faculty comprised not only of committed teachers, but also of accomplished scholars and artists—many of whom are producing work on par with that of their peers at top-tier research institutions and bringing that expertise back to the campus and, most significantly, to the classroom … The mini-conference reaffirmed my pride in our faculty.”
The conference highlighted the diverse nature of the scholarship underway at North Central, from Holocaust translations to superheroes in pop culture to auditing case studies to the history of Italian-American identity in sport.
“We were grateful that so many people participated,” says Gray. “It’s something that we might look at doing every four to five years as we gain new faculty and different faculty choose to participate.” Long was pleased that the end result showcased the College’s “community of learners” who model for their students the intellectual engagement faculty expect of them. “The conference featured the institution’s flexible view of what scholarship can be—from the scholarship of teaching to traditional publication to performances and art installations to consulting work brought into the classroom. And it showed how our faculty contribute to their larger scholarly, artistic and professional communities outside the institution.”
A scholar’s approach to politics
Stephen Maynard Caliendo, professor of political science, is undertaking research into the neuroscience of racial prejudices.
Caliendo’s work represents his latest collaboration with Charlton D. McIlwain, associate professor of media, culture and communication at New York University (NYU). Both are directors of The Project on Race in Political Communication and authors of “Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns.”
Caliendo and McIlwain are now exploring how race figures into the subliminal influence of political ads. They are joined by David Amodio, associate professor of psychology and neural science at NYU, to measure brain activity (electroencephalography, or EEG) and facial muscle changes in subjects exposed to racial messages in political ads.
Students assisting with the research include Stacie Epson ’13, a music education major, and Meghan Steinbeiss ’13, a political science major. “My students have always been very closely involved with my research,” Caliendo says. “If you read the acknowledgement page in my books, you’ll see many North Central students’ names listed. Our entire department is committed to that. Even if our students do not choose to pursue post-graduate work in the field, the skills they learn will be valuable to them throughout their lives.”
For several months leading up to Election Day, Caliendo was a frequent guest on radio and television, including on CBS2 Chicago, giving a scholarly perspective on political news.
“I can’t count the number of times a student told me that a parent saw me on CBS2 and called in excitement. That’s a real bonus,” Caliendo says. “I try to help folks to understand how political scientists view the news. In many ways, it’s an extension of the work I do in the classroom.”
The marketing of social responsibility
“I do research because I’m curious,” says Assistant Professor of Marketing Xiaoye “Sherry” Chen, who incorporates her research into her undergraduate and graduate-level classes. “It’s become a habit of mine and way of thinking.”
Her marketing research focuses on corporate social responsibility —a method companies use to market their products or build brand equity by supporting social initiatives that positively impact society. Green packaging or donating a percentage of sales to support social causes like children’s literacy or cancer research are examples.
Chen’s research specifically looks at consumer reaction to these social initiatives. Some companies engage in social responsibility because they’re truly philanthropic; others expect something in return.
“My students are very socially aware and tell me they’re more likely to choose entertainment or purchase items that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible,” says Chen. “They also can sense a company’s motives, whether they’re sincere or tactical about only wanting to increase profits.” Chen challenges her students to research, probe and look for evidence and correlations to support their thinking and findings.
“The research component can’t be separated from the classroom. I want students to reflect on results through scientific approaches and I want them to be mindful marketers, too,” says Chen. Marketers impact people’s lives, says Chen, and students must be mindful of that influence and consider what kind of psychological effect their decisions will have on the consumer—whether good or bad.
“I ask why and want to know the psychological mechanisms that prompt consumers to behave this way or that way. I want my students to develop critical thinking abilities, too, and be rigorous when analyzing any problem.”
Making an impact with public theatre
Walking on campus during spring term, one might have seen theatre students performing on the steps of Goldspohn Hall or at the entrance to Kaufman Dining Hall. They had enrolled in a new theatre seminar called Devising Theatre: Radical and Community-based Performance, taught by Kelly Howe, assistant professor of theatre. Her students explored using theatre performance as an interactive medium to express how they feel about issues and what they want changed in society.
“During the class, we looked at events like parades and protests and certain activist groups as examples of public theatre,” she explains. The class also discussed community-based performance groups like Cornerstone Theatre Company, based in Los Angeles, which allows people to stage stories about their own lives.
The new course resulted from Howe’s research in the area of performance studies, an interdiscipline that analyzes performances that are part of everyday life. Her dissertation at the University of Texas focused on activist performance and, in particular, performances called legislative theatre. “The play becomes a medium to communicate with legislators.”
At the Excellence in Scholarship conference, Howe presented new research to seek input from her colleagues. She’s analyzing a 2011 bank robbery as a form of health care performance, as the robber sought to hold up a bank for $1 to be arrested and obtain free prison health care. Collin Loeffler ’13, who’s majoring in English and theatre, assisted Howe with her research.
The campus may see more public performances as the new seminar becomes part of the theatre department’s curriculum. “North Central students have a highly developed social conscience and real passion for their art.”
Mentoring scholars through “brick-by-brick” research
Unlocking the mysteries of the Yak1 yeast protein might move along more quickly if the research was performed by Stephen Johnston, Roger and Nadeane Hruby Professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology. For more than 15 years, Johnston has been focused on yeast genetics, which offers insights into cell growth control and pathway signals implicated in certain diseases.
“The pace of scientific discovery would be a whole lot faster if I did all the work myself. But that’s not consistent with the mission of this institution or my mission,” he says. “Working with undergraduate students in the lab is an extension of the classroom. Guiding a student’s project is a highly personalized form of teaching and personally very rewarding.”
Johnston describes student research as a “brick-by-brick” process that builds each study upon the previous work of “yeast lab” students. Students like Emily Albright ’10, Dorothy Tran ’10 and Grace Muganda ’12 —whose names grace the covers of old lab notebooks—parlayed their research into successful applications for graduate and medical schools.
“The best research starts with the question, ‘I wonder if,’” says Johnston. “Emily came up with some questions that ultimately encouraged collaboration between me and (professor of biology) Jon Visick.”
Johnston feels lucky to have gained lab experience as an undergraduate at Iowa State University, earning minimum wage for washing equipment. He received great mentoring, he says, and by the time he was completing graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, “I’d chosen a path that allowed me to prepare for working with undergrads. I knew I wanted to teach at a small liberal arts institution.”
In a tiny room inside Kroehler Science Center, biochemistry major Rebecca Kirk ’13 is frequently brewing coffee. Her own caffeine habits aside, she has been immersed in research with a team of psychology students focusing on caffeine’s effects on recall in people with certain personality traits. “My role has been to control the biochemical aspects of the caffeine,” Kirk says. “I determine how much caffeine is in our coffee to make sure it’s consistent.”
She tests each batch of brewed coffee using high performance liquid chromatography. This provides an accurate reading of the milligrams of caffeine per cup. The tested product is then used by psychology students who are looking at whether the participants are introverted or extroverted (based on their recitation of certain words) and whether the caffeine affects what they remember. “We’re looking at the interplay between caffeine, personality type and the type of words they recall,” Kirk says.
The team plans to present its results at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) and Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research. Kirk presented her caffeine study results at Rall in May 2012, with the help of Jeff Jankowski, associate professor of chemistry.
The opportunity to produce research across science disciplines suited Kirk’s goal to prepare for admission to medical school. “Medical schools like to see interdisciplinary research and there are so many opportunities at North Central —I love that,” Kirk says. “Working across disciplines is so useful—medical schools are looking for well-rounded candidates with good communication skills.”
Diverse interests spark research
What do Frederick Douglass and Lady Gaga have in common? The 19th century anti-slavery crusader and pop singer both fascinate David DePino ’13, who researched them for projects that represent his majors in history and speech communication.
At the 2012 Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research, DePino presented his analysis of 40 Chicago Tribune articles about Douglass set against the backdrop of racism and slavery. “It was probably my favorite research project of all,” says DePino, who was advised by Bruce Janacek, associate professor of history. Also at Rall, DePino discussed his rhetorical analysis of empowerment anthems in Lady Gaga’s music and her emergence as a feminist voice in culture. “Both of these projects were equally challenging,” he says. “But it’s probably the first time anyone has played Lady Gaga’s music at Rall.”
His presentation on Lady Gaga began as a project for a speech capstone course and also served as the basis for a very successful rhetorical criticism speech for forensics competition, advised by John Stanley (pictured, above left), assistant professor of communication, assistant director of forensics and director of individual events.
This year, DePino and Stanley are teaming up on several research projects. They include a conference proposal about the effects of media on transgender issues, a proposed article called “How We Say It: A Nonverbal Communication Analysis of National Finalists 2000-Present” for the National Forensic Association Journal, and a rhetorical analysis of an Indian television show. “One of the reasons I love North Central is that through student-based research we can further explore any of our interests in an analytical way,” DePino adds.
Scholarship has been integral to teaching and learning at North Central College since the school’s founding, and the impact of that tradition is reflected in the accomplishments of alumni over seven generations. An academic environment that allows for an exchange of ideas and nurtures skills of research, inquiry and artistic expression is at the heart of a rich history of notable alumni achievements, perhaps best symbolized by two remarkable brothers.
The name Rall is synonymous with academic scholarship, research, health and medicine. Edward ’40 and David ’46, sons of the College’s fifth president, Edward Everett Rall, were physicians, researchers and authors with worldwide reputations. Both were elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the 1980s. The science laboratories of North Central launched the international roles they would later assume in health and environmental sciences.
Dr. Joseph Edward Rall ’40, for whom the Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research is named, was active for a half century at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Rall was a leading authority on the thyroid gland and helped devise therapies to prevent thyroid disease. He authored more than 160 scientific papers, including books on gland radiation, and eventually became deputy director of all intramural research at NIH, where he nurtured and challenged great research and supervised and inspired numerous Nobel Laureates. In 1996, Dr. Rall helped rally science alumni to support the funding needed to receive a grant from The Kresge Foundation. In a letter to alumni, he expressed his fondness for his academic roots in discussing the importance of science professors like Harold Eigenbrodt and Irvin A. Koten. “I know that the doctors, veterinarians, teachers, researchers and other science alumni who receive this letter have a fond affection for North Central College and what she has stood for throughout the years. We understand the importance of the sciences to her graduates and to society.”
Rall inspired the creation of the Rall Symposium in 1998 by suggesting that students at his alma mater would benefit from presenting their research in an academic forum. He would bring world renowned scientists and Nobel Prize winners to address the symposium, a tradition that continues.
“Ed Rall knew that great science and scholarship is engaged science,” says President Harold Wilde. “From his memory of attending the events at the symposium, he later could recall and critique each student’s presentation.”
Scholarship and curiosity alter the health field
Dr. David Rall ’46 made such an impact on health sciences that one could say he “invented” the field of environmental health. In the 1960s and 1970s, Rall pioneered the effort to identify and understand the environmental elements that have consequences for human health, educating scientists, government officials and the world community in the process. Many consider his most significant accomplishment was developing the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which was founded in 1969 and directed by Rall from 1971 to 1990. There he became an international leader in the search for credible, reliable environmental science that would inform decisions about complex health issues.
He studied the effects of prolonged exposure to chemicals in the environments of people in certain occupations and also the presence of hydrocarbons and heavy metals in the environment. His legacy includes the development of the National Toxicology Program (NTP), established in 1978. NTP focuses on evaluating the toxic effects of chemicals and disseminating information resulting from these studies.
In writings about his career, his leadership and impact have been praised by his peers. “The contributions of NIEHS and the NTP to the world community... for the protection of human health have been invaluable,” said a dedication to Rall in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. “Dr. Rall’s role in the success of these institutions cannot be underestimated.”
Among Rall’s publications was a major textbook he edited called “Environmental Medicine: Integrating a Missing Element Into Medical Education.”
“The environment is one of the major determinants of human health and well-being,” he wrote. “Healthy environments promote individual and community health . . . we hope to convince others of the fundamental importance of environmental medicine.”