Monthly archives: November, 2015

Wellness Grant For Developmentally Disabled

Tamar Heller, director of UIC Institute on Disability and Human Development. Click on image to download. Photo credit: Jenny Fontaine/UIC

Tamar Heller, director of UIC Institute on Disability and Human Development.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has received a five-year, $4.4 million federal grant to find ways to improve wellness and preventive care for adults with developmental disabilities.

The grant, from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, will fund a unique combination of research, training and education, and health promotion projects at UIC’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Developmental Disabilities and Health.

“A lack of focus on wellness and preventive health has placed people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at greater risk for poor health,” says Tamar Heller, UIC professor of disability and human development, the principal investigator on the grant. “There are a multitude of factors that can be described as a cascade of health disparities.”

Two major health promotion projects are one component of the center’s work:
In its Health Matters program, the center developed a variety of tools to help people with developmental disabilities, including peer mentoring, online resources, and train-the-trainer programs.

“This is the only evidence-based health promotion curriculum for adults with developmental disabilities,” Heller said. The grant, she said, will fund scale-ups in three other states, which are translation of research “focused on getting best practices widely used.”

A second health promotion project, POWERS, uses technology to promote healthy behaviors, such as weight loss. This will be the first time the technology is used in the developmentally disabled population.

The center is five years into a large, long-term epidemiological study of health disparities in this population. The longitudinal study involves nearly 2,000 families that include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The study is examining the relationships between health behaviors and health over a period of years — looking at the relationship between what they’re eating, their exercise, and their access and use of preventive health care — and how each of these behaviors relates to their health status over time.

“It’s a big study and the only one of its kind,” said Heller. National data sets don’t currently include such information.

“People with developmental disabilities have high obesity rates and often don’t get needed preventive care. They often develop chronic conditions earlier.

“Knowing whether some of this may be preventable could have an enormous impact on healthcare costs,” she said. Managed care’s effect on people with disabilities is another area of research for the center, Heller said.

“States are moving Medicaid recipients into this healthcare model. The Center is developing and validating measures for quality of care for people who have cognitive limitations to help insure that this population gets needed care in the new system.”

Outreach and education at the center extends to every level, Heeler said, from peer-to-peer training, to students, to other health care professionals, and to community leaders and legislators.

“We’re interested in making a difference,” Heller said.

Dental Students Help Esperanza Health Clinic Patients in Little Village

Volunteers from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry chapter of the Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA), including David Dominguez, pictured, worked a health fair at the Esperanza Health Center in the Little Village community recently, applying fluoride varnish to people of all ages and providing oral health information, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental flow.

Dr. Adriana Semprum-Clavier, Co-Director of the DMD Advanced Standing program and Clinical Associate Professor, Restorative Dentistry, at the UIC College of Dentistry, helped establish a partnership between the Esperanza Health Centers and the HSDA to conduct monthly oral health education and application of fluoride varnish for an average of 15 families one Saturday a month. During these sessions students under her supervision provide oral hygiene instructions and diet counseling. The UIC team also provides referrals to other oral health providers.
“With this partnership we were able to significantly increase the percentage of children having a dental visit by the 24th month of life,” Dr. Semprum said.
Dental student Jacqueline Magallanes said Dr. Semprum “goes above and beyond by mentoring HSDA members in advocating for the oral and general health of underserved Hispanic communities in Chicago through volunteer work with Esperanza.”

“Love Notes” Promoting Family Literacy in Englewood Community With Moms

What is the value of a memory?

Alumna Cheryl Watkins piloted a Dean’s Community Engagement project at Maria Shelter in Englewood, run by the Institute of Women Today, hoping to work with mothers to write about a happy or cherished memory to share with their child. She encountered memories happy and sad, but what she found was a litany of intrinsically valuable lessons learned from the bumpy roads that led these women to the shelter.

During her project, “Love Notes,” Watkins, her sister and a few of her close friends, collaborated with residents at the shelter to brainstorm, write, edit and share any memories participants felt would be a valuable story.

“Living in a shelter is not an ideal situation for everyone, so I wanted them to really think about something that was happy,” Watkins said. “As the women started sharing, it became, ‘Wow, this is a story that will really help another woman.’”

Watkins, PhD Special Education ’15, loves the process of writing and cherishes facilitating storytelling with others. She worked closely with the women to elicit deeper imagery in their stories, asking prodding questions for details and teaching the women how to ask questions of each other to create richer stories. As the project continued, residents grew confidence in their own writing and editing skills, gaining comfort in dictating exactly how they wanted their stories spelled out.

The stories the women crafted made Watkins “clutch my heart.” One resident, Andrea, shared a story of how she purposefully rode certain CTA trains at night to increase her chances of staying on a train for the duration of the night. She shared her struggles of life at other shelters, raising two children. She relayed the trials of her drug use and her struggles to find full-time employment. But she also shared her successes, landing a job and now secure in her employment.

Another woman, Eunice, was reluctant to participate. She freely admitted she showed up to workshops for the free backpack and the treats. Watkins and another volunteer, Peggy Snowden, also PhD Special Education ’15, convinced her to participate, leading Eunice to share stories of the “front porch,” a space within the shelter on the first floor where residents gathered to dispense advice to other women and their children and to look out for one another, the embodiment of community.

Other women shared struggles with mental illness, injured relationships and stories of family rejection.

Watkins requested volunteers with the project to journal their reflections from the experiences. Volunteers agreed that while many of the memories shared were from painful experiences, the strength and resiliency of the residents shone through.

“You learn that anyone can be in this situation,” Watkins said. “The project wasn’t so much about the journals or backpacks and books donated, it was being able to see the fruits of the labor, a testament to the resilience and strength and love of the women.”

Watkins plans to launch another series of workshops at the shelter, as she says the residents are eagerly awaiting new opportunities to write and share memories.

Racing To Find A Cure For Diabetes

Finding a cure for diabetes is like running a marathon, says José Oberholzer, UIC College of Medicine transplant surgeon and diabetes researcher. He is perfecting a transplant procedure that frees patients from their dependence on insulin. He’s also run 17 marathons to raise money for a cure.

LULAC hosts College Fair in Stone Park on Nov. 19th

2015 Proviso East West LULAC of IL (3)

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Illinois and Proviso East/West District 9 will be hosting its first College/University Fair on Thursday, November 19, 2015 from 6:30pm to 8:30 pm at the Village of Stone Park located: 1825 N. 32nd Ave Stone Park, IL.

The event seeks participation from students and parents living in Stone Park; Maywood; Bellwood; Melrose Park; Broadview; Northlake; and Berkley townships.

For more details, contact:

Tomas Uriostegui, VP of LULAC Young Adults Council 5238 at 773-563-0652

Alma Beltran at 630-689-6138

LULAC:  708-207-1704


Book Examines Black Youth Living in Public Housing

In Adolescents in public housingthe first published volume on black youth living in public housing based on data collected in many housing developments in several large U.S. cities, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor examines how life in public housing affects adolescent mental health symptoms and health-risk behaviors.

“Adolescents in Public Housing: Addressing Psychological and Behavioral Health” (Columbia University Press, 2015) provides a grasp of the deviance, substance abuse, and depressive symptoms that characterize these communities — and links them to gaps in policy and practice.

The book should be “an important contribution to our collective understanding of the capacities, strengths and challenges of an understudied and vulnerable population of American youth,” says its author, Von Nebbitt, associate professor in UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work.

Nebbitt’s motivation for writing the book came from his frustration — over the span of his academic career — in searching for broad-based empirical studies or theoretical frameworks concerning minority youth in public housing.

“As a doctoral student, I was surprised to discover that research on minority youth living in public housing was a patchwork of single-site or single-city studies, which offered very little in the way of a unique theory to explain life in public neighborhoods,” Nebbitt said. His book “represents an important step” toward providing that missing picture, he said.

The book also addresses the mental health status and health-risk behaviors of black youth in public housing that Nebbitt says were unaffected by a 1990s housing strategy called Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE VI.  The $5 billion federal strategy to transform distressed public housing launched in many large U.S. cities but had limited effect, he said.

Nebbitt believes that since HOPE VI wrapped up, policymakers and practitioners may think the public housing challenge has mostly been met, and the problems of the millions of youth still living in traditional public housing may go unnoticed or unaddressed.

The first of the book’s three sections provides a background and theoretical discussion on youth development within public neighborhoods. The second section examines cross-sectional data of 900 black youth in public housing in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, and St. Louis from 2005 to 2008. The third section is recommendations for policy and practice.

The study used an integrated, community-based research design. Using a battery of standardized survey instruments, Nebbitt measured both positive and negative aspects of the public housing environment, including parents’ behaviors and family life and peers’ behaviors and relationships, all with the goal of assessing their respective impact on vulnerable adolescents’ mental health and health-risk behaviors.

“The central role that community cohesion plays in the well-being of adolescents in public housing is a key finding in this book,” Nebbitt said “With this information in hand, local housing authorities should create more opportunities for the general public to become involved in the issues that affect them. Practitioners should work with youth groups, encouraging and preparing them to work together to make a difference in their communities.”

Findings also challenge long-held assumptions that all public housing projects are nothing but “constellations of crime, gangs and drugs,” Nebbitt said — assumptions that have led to stigmas and stereotypes of public housing and its young residents. A view of public housing as an environment that only nurtures antisocial or criminal behavior doesn’t take into account the many positive social influences and opportunities that may exist in these communities.

“Although there are numerous potential negative influences in public housing communities,” Nebbitt writes, “the research in this book purports that these negative influences can be counterbalanced by positive influences.”


Ultrasound Fade Could Be Early Detector of Premature Birth Risk

Preterm Birth Risk

Ultrasound imaging during pregnancy is a valuable screening tool in helping to detect potential problems, including birth defects, placental issues and breech positioning, as well as determining due dates and multiple fetuses.

Ultrasonic attenuation — an ultrasound’s gradual loss of energy as the sound waves circulate through tissue — could be an early indicator of whether a pregnant woman is at risk for delivering prematurely, according to a new study at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing.

Premature birth — delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy — is the leading cause of long-term health problems, accounting for 75 percent of abnormalities such as cerebral palsy and developmental delay. Premature births cost the U.S. health care system more than $26 billion in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UIC Nursing researchers led by Barbara McFarlin, associate professor and head of women, child and family health science, predicted that an ultrasound exam should detect changes in water absorption and collagen makeup as the cervix remodels, offering a noninvasive way of measuring changes in the cervix that occur prior to delivery.

Current methods to predict risk of preterm delivery rely on measuring the length of a woman’s cervix.

“Cervical length assessment has become a widely used clinical measure for identifying women at high-risk for preterm birth,” McFarlin said. “The risk of premature birth is greater in women with a short cervix than [in] women with a longer cervix,” she explained.

But the measurement is of limited usefulness, she said, because most women identified as having a short cervix are still able to carry their pregnancies full term.

In a new study published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, almost 240 ultrasounds were performed on 67 African American women to examine cervical length and signal attenuation during the ultrasound exam. The analyses focused on the early gestational periods — from 17 to 21 weeks, and from 22 to 26 weeks.

At 17 to 21 weeks gestation, ultrasounds already showed significant differences in attenuation between the group who later delivered prematurely and those who carried to term. There were no significant differences in cervical length between the two groups.

None of the women had a cervical length of less than 2.5 centimeters — the most commonly used cut-off to identify women at risk for premature birth who are candidates for progesterone therapy before 27 weeks of pregnancy.

“As the cervix changes from a firm to a supple, soft structure, estimates of attenuation from an ultrasound can provide clinicians with early tissue-based information, rather than waiting for symptoms of preterm birth,” McFarlin said. “In the future, this can be a feature added to clinical ultrasound systems.”

Co-authors include Viksit Kumar and Timothy Bigelow of Iowa State University; Douglas Simpson and William O’Brien Jr. of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Rosemary White-Traut of UIC; and Jacques Abramowicz of Wayne State University.

Walking in the Shoes of Undocumented Students

FearlessUndocumentedAllianceStudents will paint their sneakers to support undocumented immigrants’ access to higher education Nov. 4 at “Paint the Path for ACCESS” in the Latino Cultural Center on the UIC Campus. The next step is to wear the decorated footwear for the Walk in my Shoes Campaign Nov. 11 on campus.

The events support the proposed Student ACCESS bill (Access to College and Career-Education for Statewide Success) to make state-funded scholarships and tuition waivers at four-year public universities accessible to undocumented students.

“Undocumented students don’t have access to scholarships that citizens or permanent residents have,” said Amalia Pallares, director of the Latin American and Latino studies program. “Only private scholarships, which are few and insufficient, and private loans, which are also very hard for them to get, are available. Many students with great potential finish in seven or eight years because they have no support for their education.”

Jocelyn Munguia, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says she’s experienced the lack of financial support first-hand. “I could have graduated last May if I could afford being a full-time student, but that’s not the case,” said Munguia, program coordinator and social media chair for the Fearless Undocumented Alliance at UIC.

“And some students have to stop altogether,” Pallares added.

The campaign is sponsored by the Latino Cultural Center, Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, the Heritage Garden Student Group and FUA. There are three events:

• “Painting the Path to Access” shoe decorating, Nov. 4, noon to 3 p.m., Latino Cultural Center (LC B2). Bring shoes or buy white sneakers at the event for $5

• Student ACCESS Bill press conference, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m., 605 Student Center East

• “Walk in My Shoes,” a student-led walk through campus, leaving after the press conference at 2 p.m.

For more information, email or call 312-996-3095.

UIC Hosts ‘Noche de Ciencias’ For Young Latino Students interested in STEM


UIC engineering students Cristian Xavier Vargas and Catherine Santis guide young experimenters at a STEM fair. Photo by STARS Project Engineering Academy .

What does a robot look like inside, and how do you control it? How far can you launch a marshmallow with a homemade catapult? Those questions were answered during the recent “Noche de Ciencias” (Night of Science) at the University of Illinois at Chicago held on Sunday, Nov. 1, at UIC Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St.

Noche de Ciencias is a national event to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to America’s youth. In Chicago, the event is hosted by UIC’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Hands-on activities showed students in 7th through 12th grades the excitement and creativity of engineering while providing them with information on STEM education and careers.

In one hands-on experiment, students built a catapult from a mouse-trap, plastic spoon, Popsicle sticks and erasers to see how far they can launch a marshmallow. In another experiment they created and tested boats made from paper cups, straws and plastic wrap.

Engineering professionals and college advisors will lead the parent workshop, designed to provide valuable information about financial aid and helping their student choose the right college and prepare for college.

“Through Noche de Ciencias, our students aim to empower and inspire young students in the Chicago area to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math,” says Dr. Renata A. Revelo, UIC clinical assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “An important component of this program is having parents attend to learn more about STEM and the opportunities available at UIC.”

“It is vital for the increasing Hispanic population to consider STEM careers,” said Cristian Xavier Vargas, a civil and materials engineering student and president of SHPE at UIC. “Chicago has a large Hispanic population, and by pursuing these careers we have the potential to make a significant impact locally and globally.”

Collaborators and sponsors along with UIC-SHPE are SHPE IIT; SHPE Northwestern University; SHPE Northern Illinois University; SHPE Morton College; SHPE’s Chicago professional chapter and Exelon Corp. professional chapter; Caterpillar Inc. and the Kellogg Company. Other UIC sponsoring units and student organizations are the American Society of Civil Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, Women In Science and Engineering, National Society of Black Engineers, Minority Engineering Recruitment & Retention Program, Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services and the Engineering Design Team.

SHPE changes lives by empowering the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential and to impact the world through STEM awareness, access, support and development. Its vision is a world where Hispanics are highly valued and influential as the leading innovators, scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.

UIC is Chicago’s public research university and a leader in moving path-breaking research into innovative, real-world applications. The UIC College of Engineering offers undergraduate and graduate programs in six academic departments: the Richard and Loan Hill Department of Bioengineering; chemical engineering; civil and materials engineering; computer science; electrical and computer engineering; and mechanical and industrial engineering

Fighting Cancer in Chicago’s Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods


Robert Winn, associate vice president for community-based practice at UI Health, at the announcement for the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative, led by researchers from UIC, Northwestern University and Northeastern Illinois University. The three universities will work with the city’s underserved communities on cancer research, education, training and outreach.


According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Chicago communities that are low-income or predominantly African-American or Latino have cancer death rates up to twice the national average. A  $17.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will enable three Chicago universities to work together with the city’s underserved communities on cancer research, education, training and outreach.

The five-year grant will fund the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative, to be led by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center and Northeastern Illinois University. The collaborative, the first of its kind in the Midwest, includes researchers and educators from diverse backgrounds and a range of academic disciplines.

An Oct. 23 community kick-off event at the Arturo Velasquez Institute in the Little Village neighborhood launched the initiative, aimed at reducing the burden of cancer in Chicago’s low-income and ethnic minority communities.

“We have a strong commitment to serve our community and the needs of our students,” said UIC Chancellor Michael D. Amiridis. “This partnership expands on opportunities to educate and train a pipeline of minority and underrepresented students who are interested in pursuing health-related careers and develops a diverse workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral and clinical research needs.”

“We are making exciting progress in the war against cancer. New approaches are emerging in cancer treatment, screening and risk reduction, but not everyone is benefitting equally from these advances,” said Dr. Leonidas Platanias, director of Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center. “This award will support our efforts as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center to community outreach and to reducing cancer health disparities in the communities that need it most.”

“We are so pleased to be able to continue our partnership with the Lurie Cancer Center and to add UIC to the very important partnership that began five years ago,” said Maureen Gillette, dean of the Northeastern Illinois University College of Education. “The focus on cancer health disparities in underserved communities fits well within the mission of Northeastern. The work that we’ve done together with Dr. Simon’s team for the past five years has resulted in foundational research and scholarship by faculty and students from both universities. This grant provides a unique opportunity to build on this work toward a more comprehensive approach to addressing the critical need for cancer equity.”

The collaborative will be led by community-focused physician-scientists and researchers, including Dr. Robert Winn, associate vice president for community-based practice at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, professor of medicine in the UIC College of Medicine and director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center; Dr. Melissa Simon, the George H. Gardner, MD Professor of Clinical Gynecology in Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine; and Christina Ciecierski, associate professor of economics, and Moira Stuart, associate professor of health, physical education, recreation and athletics, of Northeastern Illinois University.

UIC and Northeastern have good track-records of enrolling and graduating students from minority and nontraditional backgrounds and have longstanding partnerships with Chicago communities.

“UIC plays a unique role in this partnership,” said Winn. “We have seven health science colleges that will contribute to achieving the objectives of the grant, as well as a network of federally qualified community clinics, our Mile Square Health Centers, that put us in direct contact with patient populations on the south and west sides of Chicago, which are disproportionately burdened by cancer. Additionally, the University of Illinois Cancer Center is integrated into our Mile Square Health Centers, so we are well-positioned to make a significant impact on reducing cancer disparities.”

Northwestern’s Simon said that despite the existence of five academic medical centers in Chicago and millions of dollars spent on cancer research and treatment of the city’s residents, “we are still only in our infancy in responding to cancer health disparities.” The collaborative, five years in the making, Simon said, now offers “a way to move forward and foster the wonderful work of communities and organizations already working towards improving cancer equity.”

“The goal of our partnership is to connect with all Chicago communities,” said Northeastern Illinois’s Ciecierski, a native Chicagoan and first-generation American. “We will use the tools of education, research and advocacy to improve health among Chicagoans, especially those chronically underserved. As an educator, I know that training and community outreach will spread good health to all Chicago neighborhoods.”

Research will aim to improve cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivorship.

“The efforts of this collaborative will enable us to develop programs that aim directly at the cause of disparities and empower those who are most severely impacted by cancer inequities,” said Northeastern’s Stuart.

Activities of the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative will include:

  • establishing biomedical, socio-behavioral, basic and translational science research programs in cancer disparities
  • mobilizing researchers, educators, community leaders, students, organizations and patients in innovative cancer education and outreach programs
  • providing training and mentoring to recruit and retain minority and underrepresented students in health and cancer research careers
  • supporting career development and advancement of minority and underrepresented faculty.