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Three WIU Arts and Sciences Faculty Receive Mentoring Program Grants

March 6, 2006

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MACOMB, IL - - Three College of Arts and Sciences faculty members at Western Illinois University have been awarded the collegeÂ’s first-ever Faculty Mentoring Program grants to assist in their professional research and scholarly development.

Recipients of the $3,000 two-year grants are Brian Peer, assistant professor, biological sciences; Nancy Kwang Johnson, assistant professor, African American studies; and Kristine Kelly, associate professor, psychology. The grants are funded by the college and WesternÂ’s Office of Sponsored Projects.

“The Faculty Mentoring Program is designed to help the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) faculty to develop research and scholarship connections with established researchers and scholars in universities or research institutes other than WIU,” said CAS Dean Inessa Levi. “The program will support research and grant writing activities of our faculty members who are either at the beginning stages of their scholarship career or are working on changing the area of their scholarship.”

“We are happy to work together with the college to support this program, and we look forward to working with these faculty members after they complete their mentoring activities to continue to search for and obtain external funding,” said Beth Seaton, director of Sponsored Projects.

Peer, a first-year faculty member in the zoology tract, will use the grant to work in collaboration with Stephen Rothstein of the University of California, Santa Barbara, to collect preliminary data and submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the development of song in brood parasitic birds.

“It is mainly male birds that sing and they do so to attract mates and defend their territories. Young males learn their songs while in the nest listening to their fathers sing and by listening to other males in the ‘neighborhood,’” Peer said. “Avian brood parasites lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and rely on these hosts to care for their young. Thus, male brood parasites grow up in a nest listening to the songs of their foster parent. However, a parasite such as the Brown-headed Cowbird that is raised by cardinals will not grow up to sing a cardinal song, but rather a song that is characteristic of cowbirds. We will investigate how song learning may differ between parasitic and nonparasitic birds.

“Dr. Rothsetin was my postdoctoral adviser, and we have already been successful in obtaining one NSF grant that lead to numerous publications,” Peer added. “We are hopeful that the Faculty Mentoring Program grant will help us continue our record of success.”

Peer earned his B.A. in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University (1989); his M.S. in zoology from Eastern Illinois University (1993); and his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Manitoba (1998). He has conducted postdoctoral research with the Illinois Natural History Survey through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the United States Department of Agriculture National Wildlife Research Center in Bismark, ND; the North Dakota State University zoology department; the University of California, Santa Barbara department of ecology, evolution and marine biology; and the Smithsonian Institution genetics program.

First-year African American Studies faculty member Kwang Johnson’s research project, “Census and Sensibility: Negotiating Migrations from the Colony (Sénégal) to the Métropole (France) – 1831-1946,” will examine the beginnings of Négritude in one of France’s oldest colonies, Sénégal. Négritude was a literary and political movement developed in the 1930s whereby writers found solidarity in a common Black identity as a rejection of French colonialism, Kwang Johnson said.

In her analysis of French census documents (1831-1946), Kwang Johnson noted that racial and arguably social terms (mulâtre, créole and métis) are often conflated with legal terms (citoyen, sujet and originaire) and French census categories (habitants, indigènes, assimilés and métis).

Her mentor is Francis Abiola Irele, Harvard University professor of African and African American Studies and of romance languages and literatures, who is a world-renowned NĂ©gritude scholar. Irele suggested she serve a residency at Harvard during winter and spring breaks during the two-year period. During the second year of the grant, Kwang Johnson looks to invite Irele as a speaker for Black History Month and meet at two conferences: African Studies Association and the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora.

The study will complement her doctoral dissertation, “Senegalese into Frenchmen'? The Politics of Language, Culture, and Assimilation (1891-1960)," which she completed at Cornell University (2001). Kwang Johnson also earned her M.A. (1995) and Master of Public Administration (2001) from Cornell. She earned her B.A. from Vassar College (1985).

Kelly, a ninth-year associate professor in psychology whose research interests center on interpersonal relationships, received funding for her “Children of Divorce Intervention Project.”

The project, over the next two years, will establish a new intervention program to reduce the traumatic effects of divorce on children and their parents in West Central Illinois. The program will eventually target the counties of the Ninth Judicial Circuit comprised of Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough and Warren counties. Kelly anticipates eventually serving approximately 200 families per year in the six-county target area.

McDonough and Knox counties already have short programs in place to assist families that would benefit from psychoeducational intervention, Kelly said.

“Our goal is to identify high-conflict parents who may have the most negative impact on their children in the future and to work with judges and community agencies to design a therapeutic intervention that will address the children’s needs,” she added. “From a prevention standpoint, children stand the most to gain from interventions that improve lifelong outcomes of families and forestall the potential downward trajectory experienced by children during divorce.”

The first 12-month period will include two pilot projects for needs assessment and data collection in order to develop an appropriate intervention program which will be administered with individuals and agencies in the communities involved, Kelly said.

“In order to sustain the intervention program for at least several years, I will be applying for state, federal and private funding with the help of my grantwriting mentor Dr. Joseph Ferrari,” she added. “His guidance will be invaluable in preparing a grant proposal.”

Ferrari, a DePaul University professor, is an applied community research psychologist who has extensive and successful experience in grantwriting, having obtained multimillion dollar federal grants for community projects, Kelly said. Her mentor also has extensive experience in community-based research and program design. The grantwriting and program design are scheduled for Year 2 of the CAS Faculty Mentor Program grant.

“The Faculty Mentor Program provides support for exactly what our faculty need to help us obtain major funding. Other programs offer financial incentives, which are nice; but when it comes down to actually writing the proposal and doing all the planning involved, having an expert to guide the process will be so beneficial,” Kelly said.

Kelly earned her B.A. from California State University, Sacramento (1991) and her Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (1999).

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