Monthly archives: May, 2016

Comics for the Classroom In Gage Park

It’s no secret the arts are disappearing from standards-stressed urban classrooms. Victoria Alvarez, MAT Teaching of History student, says the arts have a role beyond just an art classroom—she wants arts integrated into core subjects like history.

Her after-school project, My Comics My Story, at Hernandez Middle School in Gage Park, serves as a space for students to engage with and create dialogue around social issues through comics. The project is an outgrowth of her own comics series, Scholar, which plays off the term “Chola,” a reference to a blue collar Latina identity.

“There are things kids are expected to learn at home, from their friends, but often times that doesn’t happen,” Alvarez said. “Comics are effective at engaging in dialogue about social issues, to ask, ‘Why does this happen?’”

One comic Alvarez uses depicts her character, ScholaR, watching a rather misogynistic telenovela favorited by ScholaR’s mother. Alvarez used the comic to start a discussion about the meaning of acting like a girl and acting like a boy. She says students often just need a slight prompt like a comic to start their minds racing; one question sets off an entire conversation.

Alvarez helps guide the discussions to address broader social issues. For example, as students explored gender identity, Alvarez pointed out that identity needs to be understood within the context of one’s entire life—their location in the Gage Park neighborhood, their race, their family composition and more.

Comics are an effective teaching device because they encourage creative thinking, Alvarez said. If a teacher puts a blank canvas in front of a student and provides just a bit of structure, students are encouraged to explore on their own.

“They look beyond what they have been instructed to do, beyond the idea that there is a ‘correct’ way to do anything and problem solve for themselves,” Alvarez said. “The arts are a great tool for questioning others, and I feel that’s something a lot of students aren’t being taught.”

Alvarez is working with a team in New York City focused on building comics-based curriculum specifically for newly-arrived immigrant high school students. She says she wants to host her own after-school programming in Chicago to specifically engage immigrant children and children of immigrant parents.

Read more of Alvarez’s comics at her website:

by Robert Schroeder

Potential Vaccine For Herpes Being Developed


Zinc oxide tetrapod nanoparticles. Credit: Deepak Shukla

An effective vaccine against the virus that causes genital herpes has evaded researchers for decades. But now, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago working with scientists from Germany have shown that zinc-oxide nanoparticles shaped like jacks can prevent the virus from entering cells, and help natural immunity to develop.

Results of the study are published in The Journal of Immunology.

“We call the virus-trapping nanoparticle a microbivac, because it possesses both microbicidal and vaccine-like properties,” says corresponding author Deepak Shukla, professor of ophthalmology and microbiology & immunology in the UIC College of Medicine. “It is a totally novel approach to developing a vaccine against herpes, and it could potentially also work for HIV and other viruses,” he said.

The particles could serve as a powerful active ingredient in a topically-applied vaginal cream that provides immediate protection against herpes virus infection while simultaneously helping stimulate immunity to the virus for long-term protection, explained Shukla.

Herpes simplex virus-2, which causes serious eye infections in newborns and immunocompromised patients as well as genital herpes, is one of the most common human viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of people from ages 14-49 carry HSV-2, which can hide out for long periods of time in the nervous system. The genital lesions caused by the virus increase the risk for acquiring human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

“Your chances of getting HIV are three to four times higher if you already have genital herpes, which is a very strong motivation for developing new ways of preventing herpes infection,” Shukla said.

Treatments for HSV-2 inczoten-Mechanism2-590x393lude daily topical medications to suppress the virus and shorten the duration of outbreaks, when the virus is active and genital lesions are present. However, drug resistance is common, and little protection is provided against further infections. Efforts to develop a vaccine have been unsuccessful because the virus does not spend much time in the bloodstream, where most traditional vaccines do their work.

The tetrapod-shaped zinc-oxide nanoparticles, called ZOTEN, have negatively charged surfaces that attract the HSV-2 virus, which has positively charged proteins on its outer envelope. ZOTEN nanoparticles were synthesized using technology developed by material scientists at Germany’s Kiel University and protected under a joint patent with UIC.

When bound to the nanoparticles, HSV-2 cannot infect cells. But the bound virus remains susceptible to processing by immune cells called dendritic cells that patrol the vaginal lining. The dendritic cells “present” the virus to other immune cells that produce antibodies. The antibodies cripple the virus and trigger the production of customized killer cells that identify infected cells and destroy them before the virus can take over and spread.

The researchers showed that female mice swabbed with HSV-2 and an ointment containing ZOTEN had significantly fewer genital lesions than mice treated with a cream lacking ZOTEN. Mice treated with ZOTEN also had less inflammation in the central nervous system, where the virus can hide out.

The researchers were able to watch immune cells pry the virus off the nanoparticles for immune processing, using high-resolution fluorescence microscopy.

“It’s very clear that ZOTEN facilitates the development of immunity by holding the virus and letting the dendritic cells get to it,” Shukla said.

If found safe and effective in humans, a ZOTEN-containing cream ideally would be applied vaginally just prior to intercourse, Shukla said. But if a woman who had been using it regularly missed an application, he said, she may have already developed some immunity and still have some protection. Shukla hopes to further develop the nanoparticles to work against HIV, which like HSV-2 also has positively charged proteins embedded in its outer envelope.

ZOTEN particles are uniform in size and shape, making them attractive for use in other biomedical applications. The novel flame transport synthesis technology used to make them allows large-scale production, said Rainer Adelung, professor of nanomaterials at Kiel University. And, because no chemicals are used, the production process is green.

Adelung hopes to begin commercial production of ZOTEN through a startup company that will be run jointly with his colleagues at UIC.

Co-authors on the study are Bellur Prabhakar, Tibor Valyi-Nagy, Thessicar Antoine, Satvik Hadigal, Abraam Yakoub, Palash Bhattacharya, and Christine Haddad of UIC and Yogendra Kumar Mishra of Kiel University. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants AI103754 and EY001792 and German Research Foundation grant Ad/183/10-1.

By Sharon Parmet


College of Education Fellow Helping CPS Students Analyze Water Safety in Chicago

The Flint water crisis has generated conversations about the marginalization of low-income Americans at the hands of far-removed government officials. The flip side of this discourse is the opportunity to strengthen citizen scientists to investigate and advocate on issues of environmental degradation in their own communities.

At CPS North Grand High School, Mindy Chappell is exploring how lessons on the Flint water crisis foster student learning via autonomously generating research questions and hypotheses and collecting, analyzing and explaining data. As a Master Teaching Fellow with the UIC College of Education’s Project SEEEC (Science Education for Excellence and Equity in Chicago), she is engaged in a teacher inquiry project examining the practices that support her culturally relevant, cooperative, inquiry-based content-rich science class.

“You have all these buzzwords out there, but you need a method for how to do that in a classroom when you have to keep in mind curriculum and standards,” Chappell (below) said. “I’m pushing for higher-order thinking questions, not rote memorization. My students know that I want them to be able to think critically about a phenomenon and seek relevant explanations on their own.”

Before the Flint situation unfolded, Chappell’s students completed a case study which investigated differences between tap water and bottled water as part of their ecology unit. The original lesson called for students to classify a man-made abiotic factor (water bottles, cars, houses, paper, etc.) and create a research presentation on its environmental impact. The Flint crisis represented an opportunity for a real-world inquiry-based research on an issue that was relatively close to home for Chappell’s students.

After researching and discussing the Flint problem, students formulated their own research questions involving water. Some students focused on lead, but Chappell stressed students’ autonomy in generating their research questions was a key tactic in fostering critical thinking skills. Each project needed to connect back to the Flint crisis in some manner.

Students explored whether boiling water reduced or eliminated lead content, since boil orders are issued when communities face a water pollution problem. Other groups examined how an efficient water filter could be constructed. Another explored whether chemical inputs could remove lead content.

Evaluation of the projects targeted students’ ability to use claims and supporting evidence to explain what happened in their experiment. They also needed to provide a warrant, an explanation of why their supporting evidence is valid and how it supports their claim. Students needed to determine how limitations and unaccounted factors might have affected the validity and reliability of their data and influence the explanation of their results.

“It’s critical not to stop at the surface level such as, ‘My hypothesis is valid because the data shows it is,’” Chappell said. “If my students are going to be able to compete with students from other areas in citywide science fairs, they need to be able to explicitly explain how evidence led to their conclusion, any limitations to their research or experimental setup, any possible experimental errors, and be prepared to answer questions about alternative explanations of their data.”

Chappell says inquiry-based design methods strengthen student learning of scientific practices from asking questions and determining a purpose to collecting data to constructing explanations and the meanings of observations. She says students sometimes default to the expert in the room—the teacher—to hash out the tough answers on the whys and hows, but she avoids providing these to her students.

This science classroom on Chicago’s west side includes diverse learners, English language learners and students with individualized education plans. Chappell says this inquiry-based approach requires some modifications and accommodations, but teachers need to present diverse learners with the same opportunity to explore their own questions.

In investigating the Flint crisis, for example, she prepared three modified versions of the lesson, but only one group needed a modified version. All students began the inquiry investigation design phase similarly with Chappell providing scaffolds, modifications and accommodations only as needed. She says this strategy removes limitations on student questioning and does not stifle creativity with experimental design.

“Some people say, ‘These students can’t,’ but I want them to know they can,” Chappell said. “Will it be challenging? Yes. Will you want to quit? Yes. However, that’s where I come in. We all face challenges, but when you are done the beauty in all the hard work you put in overcoming will be so amazing, it will make those challenging experiences worth it.”

By Robert Schroeder

UIC Lecturer Leading Early Childhood Taskforce


Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the MEd Early Childhood Education program within the UIC College of Education

Early childhood education is one of few issues that crosses the partisan divide. Federal Race to the Top funding encourages early childhood education funding and expansion, while liberal mayors such as Bill de Blasio and conservative governors such as Bruce Rauner all champion pre-K access.

As pre-K seats expand and are filled, the next step in ramping up early childhood education quality is defining the meaning of quality in the early childhood workforce. Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the MEd Early Childhood Education program within the UIC College of Education, is leading statewide and national efforts to examine how to strengthen and support the early childhood workforce.

“We have spent a lot of effort and money in early childhood education focusing on the young children, but we haven’t always thought about the people working with the young children in a cohesive manner,” Main said. “Right now different systems have different competencies, standards and benchmarks for the workforce, so we need to move toward a cohesive system of competency-based qualifications for everyone working with young children and their families.”

In Illinois, Main is leading a task force funded through a grant by the McCormick Foundation to examine the Illinois early childhood workforce. The task force’s work is taking place in conjunction with national efforts led by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The NAS published a report on “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation” and started a new program called Innovation to Incubation (i2I) composed of four statewide groups examining the workforce issue on the national level. The group is reviewing and analyzing the IOM recommendations for implementation in Illinois.

In February, Main and the Illinois team attended a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. with counterparts from Washington state, California, and the Capitol region comprising Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, starting work on a strategic plan to implement recommendations from the Transforming the Workforce report back in each state and region.

Main says the teams focused on connecting the many existing state initiatives on workforce to the IOM recommendations, but also brought to light the lack of coherent data systems and policies to study and support the current early childhood workforce. Given that the workforce is divided among traditional teachers, Head Start teachers, early childhood center employees and in-home caregivers, determining baseline metrics across these groups is challenging. In particular, these disparate groups often represent differing levels of educational attainment. For example, in Illinois, a Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license is required for preschool educators in public schools, a bachelor’s degree only to work in Head Start centers, and a minimum of early childhood course hours in child care centers.

Main says she is excited for the possibility of developing shared competencies across Illinois for educators who work with young children, regardless of role or type of program. Teacher assistants, lead teachers and center directors could be hired and evaluated with consistency to better ensure equitable quality across the state.

By Rob Schroeder

Zoie Sheets Selected as 2016 Truman Scholar


Zoie Sheets, a junior in the UIC Honors College and a biological sciences major in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

A University of Illinois at Chicago junior has been named a Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation scholar for 2016.

Zoie Sheets, a biological sciences major in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the only recipient from Illinois among the 54 Truman Scholars selected from across the country.

The foundation’s competitive $30,000 scholarships are awarded to exceptional college students planning to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or the nonprofit sector. Scholars also receive leadership training, career and graduate school counseling and special internship opportunities within the federal government.

Sheets, a student in the UIC Honors College, has as a passion for inclusion and cultural responsiveness that is reflected in her education, volunteerism and career aspirations.

She serves as co-coordinator of UIC’s chapter of the Peer Health Exchange, a national nonprofit which provides health workshops in Chicago Public Schools that would not otherwise have a health curriculum. Her responsibilities include managing more than 100 volunteers, along with training and mentoring undergraduate peers to teach the workshops.

“It has been life changing,” Sheets says. “Cultural responsiveness and inclusivity matter in every walk of life, but they really matter in those personal aspects of life, such as education and healthcare.”

As part of an inclusive campus ministry group, she conducts weekly outreach to assist those experiencing homelessness in Chicago’s South Loop.

After she receives her bachelor’s degree next year, she will enter medical school at UIC through the university’s Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions (GPPA) in medicine. She plans to become a teaching physician, with a focus on implementing policy that requires cultural-competency training. Her goals are to improve access to healthcare and education in underserved communities.

“I thoroughly enjoy science and understanding the world around me, but I also enjoy people and gaining an understanding of their background, culture and experiences,” said Sheets, who is minoring in chemistry and Spanish.

“Medicine is the perfect intersection of those interests.”

She supplements her challenging course work in the GPPA program with research in the department of psychiatry on chronic migraines.

“It’s been a great opportunity to gain scientific knowledge and skills, but also just life skills such as critical thinking,” she says.

Sheets’ commitment to community service and advocacy is evident in her service as a mentor in the Honors College and as a member of the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities and the Chancellor’s Advisory Council. Her service has been recognized with campus awards, including the Jane Addams Distinguished Service Award and the Eugertha Bates Memorial Award.

Sheets is from Blue Mound, Illinois, a town of approximately 1,000 people located 20 miles southwest of Decatur. She is a 2013 Meridian High School graduate.

“I have loved every second of getting to explore Chicago, museums and neighborhoods, but also exploring UIC,” she said. “In terms of the diversity, it has given me an opportunity to explore other people and their backgrounds, but it’s also given me more of a chance to define myself.”

The 2016 Truman Scholars were selected from among a record number of applicants (775) and institutions (305). They were chosen in a multistage process that concluded with regional interviews by 16 independent selection panels.

Sheets and her fellow scholars will gather May 24 for a leadership development program at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. They will receive their awards at a May 29 ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.

Created by Congress in 1975, The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation serves as the federal memorial to the 33rd president. Its mission is to select and support the next generation of public service leaders.

By Brian Food

UIC Says Thank You for Campus Gifts

Campus Gifts

University President Timothy Killeen presents a leadership award to UIC College of Dentistry alumnus Dale Nickelsen. Photo: Diane M. Smutny

The University of Illinois at Chicago highlighted the ways philanthropy has benefited students, researchers and the campus as a whole during “An Evening With Legacies and Leaders” held at the UIC Forum last month.

“You have inspired and challenged us all to be better, to do more and to try harder to give UIC students every opportunity to succeed in their education and their careers,” UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis told donors during the event.

“You have supported collaborative projects that empower communities by putting students and faculty on the ground, working to enact positive change across Chicago, the state of Illinois and around the world.”

Nearly 450 people attended the April 7th event including donors, UI Foundation board members, university administrators, faculty members, alumni and student leaders.

In a series of videos, students and faculty members told donors exactly how campus gifts have made their dreams a reality.

Zitlalli Roman Rodriguez, a graduate student in social work, spoke on behalf of all students whose college experience has been made possible thanks to private gifts to campus. “Whether you have supported scholarships, research or community engagement, you are helping to shape tomorrow’s leaders,” she said. “You have truly made a difference in our journeys.”

University President Timothy Killeen presented the William Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership — which recognizes those who inspire others to engage with campus, volunteer and give — to UIC alumnus Dale Nickelsen.

A 1962 graduate of the UIC College of Dentistry, Nickelsen has contributed gifts to the college for more than 35 years. He made the leadership gift for a new dental clinic, which was dedicated the Dale C. Nickelsen and Caren C. Nickelsen Pediatric Dentistry Postgraduate Clinic in February.

“He has been a model of what it means to form a lifelong relationship with one’s alma mater,” Killeen said.