University News

Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day April 29

April 23, 2009

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MACOMB, IL - - When Western Illinois University's Centennial Honors College hosts the Seventh Annual Undergraduate Research Day Wednesday, April 29 in the University Union, there will be an important new component, in addition to a variety of student research projects.

The event is now known as the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day, in honor of the founding director of the Illinois Centennial Honors College at Western Illinois. Helm, who was a professor of religious studies in Western's department of philosophy and religious studies for more than 30 years, also served as the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (2003-2004). He was the University's 26th Distinguished Faculty Lecturer (1994).

Helm has graduate degrees in religious studies from Harvard University and The University of Chicago, where he was the recipient of the Meadville Fellowship and the University Fellowship. In 1979 he was invited to be a Junior Fellow at the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. Helm is also an elected Fellow of the Society for Values in Higher Education.

He was active in the American Academy of Religion, serving as president of the Midwest Regional Academy of Religion, the professional association for professors of religion and religious studies. With a strong commitment to the public humanities, Helm served two three-year terms on the Illinois Humanities Council and was the vice chair and member of the executive board of the council.

Helm's scholarship is in the areas of religion and culture and the history of Christianity. He has published some 50 articles, book chapters and reviews and presented more than 20 papers and scholarly meetings. His book, "The Christian Religion: An Introduction" (Prentice Hall), has been widely used in college classrooms in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. He retired from teaching and administration in 2006.

The Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day provides a showcase for students to present posters and make podium presentations of their researched work and give performances of creative works, said William Knox, Centennial Honors College director.

"In his many roles at Western Illinois University, Professor Emeritus Tom Helm was devoted to scholarship, teaching and academic leadership; he remains committed to undergraduate research and excellence in higher education. The endowment for the naming of Undergraduate Research Day was made possible by many friends, colleagues and others who share this commitment," Knox added.

A record number of research projects and creative works will be exhibited and presented April 29, with approximately 170 entries. Research has been done some 27 academic disciplines across each of Western's four academic colleges: arts and sciences, business and technology, education and human services and fine arts and communication. Psychology, African American studies, history, biological sciences, geography, English and journalism, chemistry, health sciences and mathematics are the academic areas with the most research projects.

The Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day's events will include the following:

11-11:30 a.m., Union Fox Room, Distinguished Alumna Presentation by Melissa Jay, (B.S. Biology, Spring 2008), first-year medical student at the University of Iowa, "From Tropical Plants to Leukemia: Research and My Path to Medical School."

Noon-12:30 p.m., Welcome and Remarks, Union Grand Ballroom, President Al Goldfarb, Provost and Academic Vice President Jack Thomas, Helm, Knox and Jay.

12:30-2:30 p.m. Research Presentations: Poster Presentations in the Grand Ballroom; Podium Presentations in the University Union Capitol and Fox rooms.

The 2009 research abstracts can be viewed at

For more information about the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day, contact Western's Centennial Honors College at (309) 298-2228 or e-mail

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