Category: Professors at Work

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

Pellegrino Joins American Academy of Arts & Sciences


James Pellegrino, co-director of the UIC Learning Sciences Research Institute and distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, psychology and education

Learning sciences researcher James Pellegrino of the University of Illinois at Chicago has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies and research centers.

Pellegrino, co-director of the UIC Learning Sciences Research Institute and distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, psychology, and education, is among 213 new members who join some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, business and philanthropic leaders.

For more than three decades, Pellegrino has produced influential research related to student learning, instruction and assessment. Combining knowledge of cognitive science, assessment, educational technology, instructional practice and educational policy, his work aims to design and deliver new, improved and equitable learning environments.

Throughout his career, he has led large-scale research and development projects for the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences and the Office of Naval Research.

Pellegrino’s current research is focused on assessment of student learning in multiple areas of mathematics and science that span kindergarten through college. He was the principal investigator for a NSF grant to the College Board to redesign and improve the Advanced Placement science courses and assessments.

Pellegrino, who came to UIC from Vanderbilt University in 2001, is an American Educational Research Association fellow, a lifetime national associate of the National Academy of Sciences, and a past member of the board on testing and assessment of the National Research Council. In 2007, he was elected to lifetime membership in the National Academy of Education.

The new academy members will be inducted at an Oct. 8 ceremony, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members of the 2016 class include winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the Wolf Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; the Fields Medal; and the Grammy Award and National Book Award. Founded in 1780, the academy is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.

By Brian Flood

Dr. Doubleday Honored For Teaching Excellence


Dr. Alison Doubleday, Assistant Professor, Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry

The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has selected Dr. Alison Doubleday, Assistant Professor, Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, as the 2016 ADEA/Colgate-Palmolive Co. Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.

According to a written statement provided by Dr. Richard W. Valachovic, President and CEO of ADEA, “each year, ADEA and the Colgate-Palmolive Co. recognize one dental educator who demonstrates exemplary standards and promotes excellence in dental education through scholarship and innovation.”

Dr. Doubleday was nominated by a UIC College of Dentistry committee consisting of Dean Clark Stanford; Dr. Richard Monahan, Head of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences; peer faculty; and a student representative.

Dr. Doubleday was also required to provide a personal statement outlining her teaching philosophy, her personal educational development, and her plans for advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning.

“I am incredibly grateful to the nominating committee for their efforts, as I’m sure that I was selected as a result of their generous support,” Dr. Doubleday said.
The award brings a stipend of $2,500.

“I hope to use the funds to support learning for the biomedical sciences at the UIC College of Dentistry,” Dr. Doubleday said. “I intend to invest in resources that will help our students learn the biomedical foundations of dentistry and will allow them to review and apply the biomedical sciences to their clinical practice.”

Dr. Doubleday stressed her gratitude to ADEA and Colgate-Palmolive “for highlighting the important role that dental educators play in supporting and guiding dental students,” she said. “I believe I have a responsibility to my students to do everything I can to help them learn and to assist them along their path to academic and professional success. I take this responsibility very seriously.”

She also expressed her appreciation to her colleagues and the administration at the College, and to the students “for helping me remain curious about the world around me and for constantly inspiring me to try new things.”

Dr. Doubleday received her award at the ADEA Annual Session and Exhibition in Denver in March.

Examining The Psychology Behind Partisan Politics


One aspect of Matt Motyl’s research is whether conservatives or liberals are happier. “Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness,” says Motyl, assistant professor of psychology. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

Forget red and blue states, says Matt Motyl. Think red and blue neighborhoods instead.

“People are disproportionately likely to move to another neighborhood to find people who share their values,” said Motyl, an assistant professor of psychology. “So you find red and blue communities.”

He reported that finding for a Salon piece and a book chapter titled “Liberals and conservatives are geographically dividing” in the forthcoming Bridging Ideological Divides.

Speaking of red and blue, Motyl, who is in the psychology department’s social and personality area, wondered which political type more frequently gets the blues.

His answer is in a Science article he co-wrote, “Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness.”

There’s a long research history of conservatives claiming they’re happier than liberals, Motyl said.

But his study of photos in the Congressional Record shows that more right-leaning congressmen flash apparently fake smiles, while liberal congressmen are more likely to display evidently genuine grins.

Also, conservatives more often use sad or negative words when speaking or writing for Twitter.

Motyl’s research was done during the Barack Obama presidency; he opines that conservatives “may be angrier or sadder because they’re not in power.”

One often hears someone say of a particular candidate, “If he wins, I’m moving to Canada.”

It’s hard to find data indicating that anyone follows through on this declaration, Motyl said. “Most people don’t move, but a lot threaten to,” he said.

Some take the threat seriously, though. He noted that Cape Breton Island in British Columbia is advertising to American tourists, “If Trump wins, we welcome you here.” Fox News dubbed it “the land of the flee.”

Research by Motyl and five colleagues showed that underlining climate change gives a boost to support for peace-making.

In Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, they argued that it’s possible “to get people to set aside their differences to work against something that affects everybody,” Motyl said.

In the case of global climate change, “that’s exactly what we found” when looking at right-wing Israelis and Palestinians living alongside them, he said.

On the other hand, he added, climate change might result in scarcer resources, with countries competing for them.

Examining such claims as “Virginia is for lovers,” Motyl and a colleague questioned whether “geographical or regional characteristics affect basic psychological processes.”

“Based on your attachment style, some places are going to be better than others,” he said.

“If everyone around you has different beliefs, why would you want to have close relationships with them?”

He made no judgment about the specific case of Virginia. “It was just a cute title,” he said of the article written for Social and Personality Psychological Science.

Pieces Motyl penned for Psychology Today and Slate had the same title: “Is Obama the Antichrist?”

The question brought to mind the period Motyl spent supervising the undergraduate honors program when he was pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

“It’s an especially conservative area with lots of military bases, and the family of one student was military going back many generations,” he said.

Email from one of the student’s relatives cautioned her that Obama was from zip code 60606, “606” being the sign of the devil, and that Scripture warns that the Antichrist will be a person with darker skin.

Motyl is a native of St. Augustine, Florida. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a master’s from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He came to UIC in 2014, and lives three blocks from campus.

He is a co-founder of, which he describes as “a nonprofit that tries to bring together academic research and interventions to improve political discourse.”

Reproducibility is the holy grail of research, and a piece Motyl co-authored is highly rated.

It was named No. 8 of the Top 100 Stories of 2015 by Discovery magazine; No. 6 by Science News; No. 5 in “Altimetric 100,” Nature magazine’s top science stories of 2015; and runner-up for “Breakthrough of the Year” by Science magazine.


Professor Urrea Finalist For Top Literary Award

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Luis Alberto Urrea, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is one of five finalists for the 2016 PEN/Faulkner award, the largest peer-juried prize for fiction.

Urrea, UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences distinguished professor, was nominated for his book “The Water Museum,” which was selected by a panel of three judges who considered approximately 500 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the U.S. during 2015.

“The Water Museum” is a collection of U.S. West- and Southwest-based short stories that, like some of his other best-selling works, reflect Urrea’s personal knowledge and experience of the U.S.-Mexico border culture. It was named among the best fiction books of 2015 by National Public Radio and Kirkus Reviews.

National Public Radio’s Michael Schaub calls him “compassionate but hard-edged, a kind of literary badass who still believes in love… ‘The Water Museum’ is a brilliant, powerful collection, and Luis Alberto Urrea is a master storyteller.”

The other PEN/Faulkner nominees are James Hannaham for “Delicious Foods,” Julie Iromuanya for “Mr. and Mrs. Doctor,” Viet Thanh Nguyen for “The Sympathizer,” and Elizabeth Tallent for “Mendocino Fire.”

The winner, to be announced April 5, will receive $15,000, and the other four finalists will receive $5,000 each. All five authors will be honored May 14 during the 36th annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, was born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother. The best-selling author has won numerous awards for his poetry, nonfiction, fiction and essays.

“The Devil’s Highway,” Urrea’s 2004 nonfiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize.

His novels, “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” and “Queen of America,” tell the story of Teresa Urrea, the unofficial Saint of Cabora and Mexico’s Joan of Arc. The former book won the Kiriyama Prize in fiction and, along with “The Devil’s Highway,” was named a best book of the year by many publications.

“Into the Beautiful North,” “The Devil’s Highway” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” have been collectively chosen for more than 30 national, local and collegiate One Book community reading programs.

Urrea, a resident of Naperville, Illinois, came to UIC in 1999 and teaches creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry workshops for graduate and undergraduate students.

Dr. Clark Stanford Named IOMC Fellow

Dr. Clark Stanford, Dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and UIC Distinguished Professor, was named a Fellow of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago.

“The IOMC is an independent organization of distinguished leaders in the health field who collaborate to improve the health of the public,” said Dr. Stanford. “Dr. Caswell Evans, Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences, nominated me; it was very nice of him.”

After approving the nomination, the IOMC invited Dr. Stanford to apply, resulting in his being named a Fellow.

Drawing on the expertise of its members and health leaders in the region, the IOMC addresses critical health issues through a range of interdisciplinary approaches including, education, research, communication, and community engagement. The organization also works to address health disparities in Chicago and to enhance the leadership skills of community health workers. It was established in 1915.

IOMC Fellows are professionals in medical and allied fields whose contributions to healthcare are meritorious, who demonstrate leadership in improving the health of the community, and who manifest the highest ethics, standards, and principles of professionalism.

The IOMC is located at 142 E. Ontario St., Chicago. For more information, call (773) 234-5925 or log on to

Professors Find Surprising Chemistry Inside Battery

Battery Professors

Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering (right), and postdoctoral research associate Mohammad Asadi with their specially modified differential electrochemical mass spectrometry (DEMS) instrument. PHOTO CREDIT: UIC College of Engineering

Lithium-air batteries hold the promise of storing electricity at up to five times the energy density of today’s familiar lithium-ion batteries, but they have inherent shortcomings. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have helped prove that a new prototype is powered by a surprising chemical reaction that may solve the new battery’s biggest drawback.

The findings are reported in the Jan. 11 issue of Nature.

Today’s lithium-air batteries (in which the metallic lithium of the anode, or positive terminal, reacts with oxygen from the air) hold great promise, because they store energy in the form of chemical bonds of oxide compounds. Versions tested to date have stored and released energy from lithium peroxide, an insoluble substance that clogs the battery’s electrode.

Battery scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory developed a prototype that they claimed had the surprising ability to produce only lithium’s superoxide, not peroxide, as the battery discharges. Unlike troublesome lithium peroxide, lithium superoxide easily breaks down again into lithium and oxygen, thus offering the possibility of a battery with high efficiency and good cycle life.

The Argonne group designed the battery to consume one electron rather than two and produce the superoxide, said UIC’s Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. But it was difficult to prove the reaction took place.

“Ex-situ analysis is not accurate enough to prove such a big claim,” he said.

Salehi-Khojin and postdoctoral research associate Mohammad Asadi devised a state-of-the-art mass spectroscopy apparatus to measure the electrochemical reaction products in situ during charging or discharge of the battery. The system operates in ultra-high vacuum and is “very sensitive to the tiniest change in oxygen concentration,” said Asadi, who is one of five first authors on the paper in Nature.

For the first time, the UIC researchers were able to show that one electron per oxygen atom was produced, indicating lithium superoxide, not peroxide, was forming in the battery. They were also able to show that no other lithium compounds were generated as side-products.

“This is going to be a valuable system for continuing the study of this battery and other types of metal-air batteries,” said Salehi-Khojin. “Not only can we analyze the products of the electrochemical reaction, we can elucidate the reaction pathway. If we know the reaction pathway, we’ll know how to design the next generation of that battery for energy efficiency and cost effectiveness.”

The work was funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Science and the University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor’s Proof of Concept Fund.

Other authors on the Nature paper are Argonne’s Jun Lu, Dengyun Zhai, Zonghai Chen, Khalil Amine, Xiangyi Luo, Kah Chun Lau, Hsien-Hau Wang, Scott Brombosz, Larry A. Curtiss, Jianguo Wen and Dean J. Miller; Yun Jung Lee, Yo Sub Jeong, Jin-Bum Park and Yang-Kook Sun of Hanyang University in Seoul; Zhigang Zak Fang of the University of Utah; and Bijandra Kumar of the University of Kentucky.

By Bill Burton

Dr. Bin Yang Honored for Dental Innovations

Dr. Bin Yang, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Restorative Dentistry, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, recently received the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Prosthodontist Innovator Award from the American College of Prosthodontists.

The goal of the award is to sponsor research that advances the understanding of prosthodontics-related biological and/or materials systems, human behavior, cost and care delivery, and economic modeling and quality of life investigations.  Dr. Yang received $10,000 to support her research.

“The acrylic resin denture base material polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) has long been the most widely used denture base material for removable, maxillofacial, and implant-retained fixed and removable prostheses,” Dr. Yang said, in explaining her research that earned her the award.
She noted that PMMA has poor wear-resistance and is porous, so it is “susceptible to surface degradation and infection with microorganisms, forming denture plaque and biofilm.”
The biofilm is responsible for stomatitis, peri-implantitis, and increased risk for systemic diseases such as aspiration pneumonitis and systemic candidiasis.

“By changing the surface properties of the PMMA with our innovative nano-ceramic TiO2-ZrO coating, hopefully we can increase the surface wear resistance and porosity and reduce the candida attachment and biofilm formation on the surfaces of the denture,” Dr. Yang explained, noting that she was inspired by the previous research of Dr. Stephen D. Campbell, Professor and Head, Restorative Dentistry.

“This will reduce the diffusion of pathogens into the acrylic base material and facilitate the easier removal of pathogenic factors such as biofilm/plaque from acrylic prostheses, thereby reducing oral pathogenic organisms and their impact on oral and systemic health,” she added.
“This has a huge potential impact on this very large and growing patient population that the dentistry community serves,” Dr. Yang stated.

Dr. Yang applied for the award with the help and encouragement of Dr. Campbell; Dr. Fatemeh Afshari, Clinical Assistant Professor; Dr. Judy Yuan, Assistant Professor; and Dr. Cortino Sukotjo, Assistant Professor, all of the Department of Restorative Dentistry; and Virginia Buglio, Director of Research Services.

She is collaborating on the research project with Dr. Christos Takoudis, Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Dr. Christine Wu, Professor, Pediatric Dentistry.
Of all involved, Dr. Yang said, “I am very grateful to them. I am very happy to have such a very positive team to work with.”

Two UIC Researchers “World’s Most Influential”


John M. Davis, professor of psychiatry, studies the biological basis of mental illnesses

John M. Davis, professor of psychiatry, studies the biological basis of mental illnesses

Frank Chaloupka

Frank Chaloupka, director of the UIC Health Policy Center, looks at the economics of harmful health behaviors like smoking and substance abuse.


Two UIC researchers are among “some of the world’s most influential scientific minds” included on the 2015 Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list.

Psychiatrist John M. Davis and health economist Frank Chaloupka are among 3,000 researchers worldwide “ranking among the top 1 percent most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact,” said Thomson Reuters.

The list is based on an analysis of published journal articles and citations considered an objective measure of a researcher’s influence over the past 12 years.

Davis studies the biological basis of mental illnesses and how psychotropic drugs work to treat these illnesses. His research helped introduce the concept that mental illness can be caused by biochemical abnormalities.

He is interested in the role of nutrition on health, particularly heart disease and stroke. His research on the effects that a mother’s diet during pregnancy may have on her child’s intellectual capacity and mental health led to revised Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

Davis is professor of psychiatry and research professor of medicine in the UIC College of Medicine.

Frank Chaloupka, director of the UIC Health Policy Center, looks at the economics of harmful health behaviors like smoking and substance abuse.

Chaloupka studies the effects of local, state and national policies on smoking, substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors.

His work challenges the idea that many smokers are so dependent on nicotine, they will continue to smoke no matter how much it costs. Instead, he found, increases in cigarette prices — including tax hikes — lead to significant reductions in consumption and smoking.

Chaloupka directs the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on the Economics of Tobacco Control. He is the principal investigator of the UIC research team Tobacconomics.

He served on an Institute of Medicine committee to review Leading Health Indicators for Healthy People 2020 and the ad hoc National Research Council Committee on the Illicit Tobacco Market.

Chaloupka is distinguished professor of economics in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Health Policy Center in the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Nik Theodore, professor of urban planning and policy in the UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, was a 2014 Highly Cited Researcher.

By Sharon Parmet


Teacher Benefit Cuts Won’t Lead to Taxpayer Savings

Darren Lubotsky

Darren Lubotsky, associate professor of economics.

Cutting benefits for teachers or other public-sector workers may not save taxpayers as much as one might think, according to a new University of Illinois at Chicago study.

“Rising health insurance costs don’t translate into dollar-for-dollar increases in the costs of public education” or in taxes, says Darren Lubotsky, UIC associate professor of economics. The study is published in the December issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

Much of the cost of health insurance is passed onto the teachers themselves, because most contracts stipulate that a portion of the cost be deducted from teachers’ salaries.

Lubotsky and Craig Olson, alumni professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations on the Urbana-Champaign campus, analyzed pay and health insurance costs for Illinois public school teachers between 1991 and 2008. They found that teachers’ take-home pay fell by about $17 dollars for each $100 increase in the cost of individual insurance and by about $46 for each $100 increase in the cost to cover family members.

Teachers in districts with older workforces tend to pay a larger share of their insurance costs.

“This is not surprising, since health care use rises with age, and people who use more medical care tend to be willing to pay more for insurance,” Lubotsky said.

Many speculate that rising costs for employer-provided insurance will raise costs for districts, or lead them to cease offering coverage. But Lubotsky said the results of this study “suggest those fears may be exaggerated, since a fraction of these costs are passed on to teachers.”

Lubotsky said the study is unique, because the authors had access to public school pay scales, insurance premiums, and cost sharing arrangements for all school districts in Illinois for nearly 20 years — a wealth of data generally not available for private-sector firms.

“Our research is the first to document the important role for employees’ premium contributions toward their health insurance,” Lubotsky said.