Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus
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"Spotlight" Series Showcases Grant-Funded Research & Student Opportunities
October 19, 2011
MACOMB, IL -- A five-year, nearly $1,000,000 project that helps future teachers in Illinois serve the state's large population of English language learners. A $500,000 alternative crop research project that provides students with plant-breeding internships, as well as future green-energy career possibilities and has implications for helping displace many petroleum-based products. A $240,000 grant that helped to enable the construction of a new facility at a biological research and teaching station on the Mississippi River, which has allowed scores of students, PreK-college level, learn and experience how human activities impact ecosystems. These projects, with the help of the Western Illinois University Office of Sponsored Projects, are ones that WIU's innovative faculty members have carried out (or are currently working on) and support the University's core values of academic excellence, educational opportunity, personal growth and social responsibility.
To showcase these projects, and ones like them at WIU, the Office of Sponsored Projects and University Television (UTV3) are co-producing the "Spotlight" Series, designed to highlight the grant-funded work of Western's faculty and staff. Conceived during a casual conversation between Michael Thompson, UTV associate director, and Beth Seaton, the director of the WIU Office of Sponsored Projects, the series is comprised of 30-minute programs hosted by Seaton.
"There are a lot of people on campus who are doing some amazing research and public-service projects that fall outside of what we think about when we think of the traditional college classroom experience," Seaton explained. "Oftentimes, these projects have the ability to vastly enhance student learning through opportunities for hands-on research and outreach to the community and schools."
Three of the programs showcased in the "Spotlight" series can be viewed on WIU's YouTube Channel, via the "Spotlight" playlist at www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA66837035BA8F66B, as well as on WIU-TV3 in the Macomb area.
In the "Spotlight" episode covering Project Estrella—the five-year nearly $1,000,000 project funded by the U.S. Department of Education—WIU Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies (EIS) Professor and Project Co-Director Gloria Delany-Barmann explains how the grant funding serves WIU students enrolled in the bilingual/bicultural education, as well as how funding is also available to in-service teachers seeking Illinois Bilingual Teacher Certification and ESL (English as a Second Language) endorsements.
"I would say over 75 percent of that money goes to student support, in terms of tuition. They get up to $2,000 a semester in tuition waivers. We provide them a $300 per month stipend. We also have a significant amount of our budget dedicated to professional development for the students, such as field trips, and we visit model programs, too," Delany-Barmann explains. "The undergraduates receive the largest portion of the financial support [through Project Estrella]; however, the graduate students also receive $450 for every WIU course they take that goes toward their bilingual or ESL endorsements."
In this "Spotlight" episode, Delany-Barmann tells Seaton that Project Estrella provides a wonderful opportunity for undergrad students on the Macomb campus, as well as for graduate students who are studying outside of Macomb.
"We offer courses in the Quad Cities for graduate students, as well as here in Macomb. We also have some onsite courses that we do with different cohorts. We just finished up a cohort in Beardstown [IL]. I think practically every teacher in that school who works with English language learners has gone through our program," she tells Seaton.
Also interviewed in this "Spotlight" episode are Project Estrella Co-Director and WIU EIS Professor Carlo Paciotto, as well as in-service teachers in the Beardstown school district who have benefited from the project. The episode can be viewed on Western Illinois University's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRnZgL22pck.
Alternative Crop Research
In the "Spotlight" episode about alternative crop research at WIU, School of Agriculture Professor Win Phippen talks about a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded grant that is helping him research the possibilities of the alternative crop pennycress and is providing students with practical in-field opportunities to learn about plant breeding.
"It's very unique. It's not a hard-core science research project; it's more plant-breeding education, with a component of science related to it. And the real neat thing about it is that is has lots of opportunities for students," Phippen explains in the episode. "A lot of private seed companies, especially for corn and soybeans, are trying to get students re-energized about the field of plant breeding. This grant allows for students to do internship projects, during an entire summer, at these private companies, as well as at other universities in Illinois and Iowa."
In the program, Phippen tells Seaton that the grant has enabled the WIU School of Agriculture to create a new minor in plant breeding, which educates students about traditional plant breeding and new biotechnology plant breeding. Phippen also explains how the grant is funding the scientific research he and scientists at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture are doing with pennycress, a cover crop that can be planted in Illinois' corn and soybean fields in the late fall and that grows throughout the winter months.
"Not only does pennycress provide off-season production, but it also gives benefits back to the field for growing corn and soybeans. It gives us field coverage, so we don't get a lot of erosion in the fields during the winter months. In addition, pennycress seeds have a lot of oil, about 40 percent oil. So the intent of this is to help displace a lot of petroleum-based products. That could be fuel—it could be crushed to get out the oil to make a bio-diesel product. Or you can take this seed and add it to, let's say, plastics and other petroleum-based products. It's not going to alleviate us completely from the dependency on foreign oil, but it is certainly a step in the right direction," he tells Seaton.
Also shown in this episode of "Spotlight" is a pennycress field day event at WIU. This episode can be viewed on Western Illinois University's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwGRnyEtL-Q.
Kibbe Life Science Station
In the "Spotlight" episode about WIU's biological research and teaching station on the Mississippi River, the Alice L. Kibbe Life Science Station near Warsaw (IL) is showcased. Seaton interviews WIU Biological Sciences Associate Professor and Director of the Kibbe Life Science Station Sean Jenkins, who gives Seaton a bit of background about the field station, as well as tells her about how a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) helped fund an expansion of the original facilities at Kibbe.
"Alice Kibbe was a botanist like me. She was a biology teacher at Carthage College in Carthage [about 20 miles east of here]. She was also chair for quite a few years during the 35 years she taught there. She initially bought the first 215 acres out here and used the land as a natural laboratory for her classes. She would bring her students out here, and they would stay in the Frank House, which is our oldest building on the facility," Jenkins explains to Seaton. "In 1962, the college administration decided they were going to move the college to Wisconsin, so when it moved, she donated the land to Western Illinois University, with the understanding that we would open up a field station for the education of the children in the area and for college students at Western."
Jenkins goes on to explain to Seaton that the NSF Field Station Marine Laboratory Directorate grant has helped the biological sciences department construct a multi-use building at the Kibbe field station, where meetings can take place and where students can stay when they are taking courses at Kibbe.
In the episode, Seaton also interviews Jim Lamer, the field station manager, as well as WIU students who take courses at Kibbe. Seaton, Lamer and the WIU students also take a boat ride on the Mississippi River, where Lamer shows Seaton how they conduct long-term monitoring of the species and habitat along this part of the Upper Mississippi River. You can view the "Spotlight" episode about Kibbe on Western Illinois University's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fnhn46JWn7A.
Seaton added that these funded grant projects—which are conceived by faculty members, who then apply for competitive grant funds—are a testament to the faculty members' work.
"Many times, their ideas are funded because they are doing something really important to the external agency's mission of research or instruction, or the projects have some sort of public benefit. We have some really great faculty members involved in some very innovative and interesting things, and 'Spotlight' is a great way to showcase them, their work and the opportunities they provide for WIU students," Seaton said.
For more information about the Office of Sponsored Projects and the research projects that it helps administer at WIU, contact Seaton at (309) 298-1191 or via email at B-Seaton@wiu.edu, or visit the Office of Sponsored Projects website at www.wiu.edu/sponsored_projects. For information about upcoming "Spotlight" programs on UTV Channel 3, contact Thompson at (309) 298-1880 or via email at MR-Thompson3@wiu.edu. Learn more about University Television at www.wiu.edu/UTV.
Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606