Category Archives: Department News

Faculty Spotlight: Christopher Kowal of UM-Flint Communication

Christopher Kowal, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences in Fall 2016 as an assistant professor of communication.

Christopher Kowal, PhD, assistant professor of communication at UM-Flint

Christopher Kowal, PhD, assistant professor of communication at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about him and the field of communication, or join him in one of his Winter 2017 courses:

  • COM 316 – Advanced Advertising (TR, 9:30am-10:45am)
  • COM 512 – Consulting & Training (online)

Students can register now at sis.umflint.edu or find more information at umflint.edu/register.

Why are you passionate about your field?
I am passionate about what I do because it connects us and bonds us. I became an academic almost by accident, but have found that the curiosity that I have for understanding emotional communication has motivated me to ask questions and dive into concepts that we have often been misinformed about such as the role and importance emotions have on our interactions.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I love teaching about emotions, nonverbal communication and leadership.

What is your latest or favorite research project?
Measuring hormones before and after interfacing with tech devices and looking if body positioning mediated the results, we found it’s not the size of the device you use but rather how you use it.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
As an undergraduate student I was talking a theory class with the absolute worst instructor, she would read from her notes, get confused, confuse us, and then get angry at us. I’m sure she’s in a healthy relationship now. Anyway I was chatting with another professor and confessed that I hated the theory class. With a childlike look of disappointment she explained her passion for theory and helped me reframe how I was viewing the material. The instructor still made our lives miserable, but now I could look past the teaching and engage with the learning. I was able to touch and feel the theory that forms our understanding of our field.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I am hoping for a few things while I’m here at UM-Flint. First, I hope I can have an impact in teaching, research and community. I hope that I can reach and teach that [which] engages while challenging students to think about knowledge and information to inspire curiosity. I hope that my research is meaningful and correctly expands the academy. I hope that my work, my passion, with how we view and effectively use emotions can have a larger impact within our community. Understanding emotional communication is an important skill that can be acquired by any willing participant. I hope to be able to provide workshops for the community that might motivate and inspire entrepreneurial spirits. Further, I hope that I make and nurture many friendships on and off campus.

What do you hope for students in your field?
Be bold and fearless. Communication has emerged as an important and pivotal skill in business and life, and I hope our students will use their creative problem solving, their voice, and achieve great things.

What are three things you think people should know about you?
Politics, Sex, and religion are my favorite topics of discussion. My favorite saying is life begins at the end of your comfort zone. With that said, I am not afraid to back down from important and difficult topics or conversations.


To learn more about communication at UM-Flint, visit umflint.edu/communication. To register for winter courses, visit sis.umflint.edu or umflint.edu/register.

 

Faculty Spotlight: Kimberly Bender of UM-Flint Criminal Justice

Kimberly Bender, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences in Fall 2016 as an assistant professor of criminal justice.

Kimberly Bender, PhD, assistant professor of criminal justice at UM-Flint

Kimberly Bender, PhD, assistant professor of criminal justice at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about her and the field of criminal justice, or join her in one of her Winter 2017 classes:

  • CRJ 185 – Introduction to the Criminal Justice System
    (MW, 11am-12:15pm)
  • CRJ 388 – Corrections: A Critical Perspective
    (W, 5:30pm-8:15pm)
  • CRJ 430 – Processing Offenders (MW, 4pm-5:15pm)

Students can register now at sis.umflint.edu or find more information at umflint.edu/register.

Why are you passionate about your field? 
The criminal justice field is one in which real, significant differences can be made. It is a field in which those who hold more power or status can create time and space for marginalized individuals to be heard. I feel honored that I have the ability to create that time and space and be the facilitator of much needed conversations. I often tell the women in prison whom I interview that they are the real change-makers. It is their experiences and the experiences of other men and women in the criminal justice system that need to be heard in order to begin making the much needed improvements.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I find the Introduction to Criminal Justice course exciting to teach because it is one of the first classes that a criminal justice student takes. Students in the Intro class are usually full of questions and thoughts about the criminal justice system. As a teacher, one of the most exciting parts of the job is watching “the lightbulb go off.” I love when students begin to think about an idea or issue in a completely different way than they did when they first stepped foot into the classroom. For me, this is what learning is all about: showing students additional ways of thinking.

Corrections is another class I enjoy teaching very much. I am able to bring a great deal of my research into the classroom to share with the students. Rather than reading from a textbook, I can provide real life stories from men and women who have lived the prison life and who have experienced the major challenges of reintegrating into society.

What is your latest or favorite research project?
The latest research project I am working on uses in-depth interview data collected from 100 Baltimore City residents and protesters who shared their personal experiences and observations of the police prior to Freddie Gray’s death. The study explores if and how race and gender intersect with citizens’ strategies during their encounters with Baltimore police. Findings have implications as to how men and women across race make sense of police actions and how citizens manage their interactions with the police.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
I was a 19 year old undergraduate student majoring in Psychology at Ohio University. I took a class, “Psychology of Justice,” and on one particular day the professor held a book up. The front cover of the book resembled a yearbook with its 45 individual headshots. That day I learned all about wrongful conviction. Those 45 faces on the cover of the book were faces that had been exonerated through the innocence project. That class was so powerful for me that I went on to double major in criminal justice and further pursue my education.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I understand that change does not always happen overnight nor does it always happen in big ways. However, if I can make any sort of positive change or difference in the lives of the students, the university and the community I will have been successful during my time at UM-Flint. I also hope to make strong and lasting connections with the students and faculty as well as the surrounding community.

What do you hope for students in your field?
It is my hope that criminal justice students use the knowledge that they learn in the classroom and apply it not only to their jobs, but to their everyday lives. I hope that they will use their knowledge and position to create a more equitable society and criminal justice system. A student recently told me that he believed he would be a better police officer after taking a Gender, Race, and Crime course that I taught. I see the classroom as a forum for discussing sensitive issues that are not often talked about in everyday life, but most definitely need to be discussed.

What are three things you think people should know about you?
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to teach. I did not know what I wanted to teach or who I wanted to teach, but I did know that being in the classroom conveying knowledge to others was something I could not live without.

A fun fact about me is that I am originally from Connecticut, but over the course of my life I spent many summers in Michigan with family and every November my family and I would drive to Detroit for the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving Day football game. Thus, I am and will always be a diehard Detroit Lions fan.

Lastly and most importantly, my door is always open to anyone who has questions, needs advice, or who just wants to chat.


To learn more about criminal justice at UM-Flint, visit umflint.edu/sac. To register for winter courses, visit sis.umflint.edu or umflint.edu/register.

Faculty Spotlight: Daniel Birchok of UM-Flint Anthropology

Daniel Birchok, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences in Fall 2016 as an assistant professor of anthropology.

Daniel Birchok, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at UM-Flint

Daniel Birchok, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about him and the field of anthropology, or join him in one of his Winter 2017 classes:

  • ANT 100 – Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
    (held TR, 9:30am-10:45am)
  • ANT 295 – Cultures of South Asia (held TR, 12:30pm-1:45pm)
  • ANT/SOC 301 – Social Theory (held TR, 2:30pm-3:45pm)

Students can register now at sis.umflint.edu or find more information at umflint.edu/register.

Why are you passionate about your field?
I want to answer this question by noting that I, like many of my colleagues, participate in many fields. My training is in both anthropology and history, and I also work in religious and Islamic studies. That said, the questions that most interest me are anthropological questions. What I find so exciting about anthropology is its ambition as a field. We anthropologists often cannot agree on what, precisely, we study, but that is because at its root anthropology is the study of the human, and we embrace a holistic and opportunistic approach to this project. The sheer ambition of it all has always impressed and excited me.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
Honestly, I just love to teach. Right now I am really enjoying teaching Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. The course revolves around fundamental concepts in the field, and ones that have the potential to change the ways in which students engage and interpret their social worlds. We discuss the merits and shortcomings of the concept of culture, and are about to turn to the anthropological critique of race, that is, how race can be such a powerful social reality even though it has no genetic basis. I try to structure all of my courses around such questions and concepts, but there is just something about the Intro course that gets at the fundamental potentials of the discipline for making sense of the world in transformative ways. I find helping students figure out how to take up these conceptual tools extremely exciting!

What is your latest or favorite research project?
I have an article that is forthcoming in Asian Studies Review that discusses two female Islamic “saints” in the rural area of Indonesia where I carry out field research. Southeast Asia is well-known for societies in which women are relatively powerful, but scholars have tended to understand this to be the result of local and indigenous cultural patterns, not Islam. I argue, in contrast, that the authority of these female saints, which is today claimed by some of their male descendants, is expressed in distinctly Islamic terms. This is, therefore, an instance of Muslims taking up the Islamic tradition in ways that challenge patrilineal and patriarchal social forms, forms that are also a part of the tradition, at least historically. This kind of internal complexity is quite common among Muslims and in Islamic societies, but it too often gets overlooked in public debate in the United States, where oversimplifications and stereotypes of Islam are the norm.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
First and foremost, I fell in love with ethnographic methods, mainly as a result of a year I spent as an undergraduate student living in the Federated States of Micronesia. While there, I began experimenting with ethnography. There was something that I found intuitively compelling about the tensions that are central to ethnographic insight, for example, the critical perspective that comes from simultaneously being epistemologically close to yet distant from the object of one’s study. I carried out research about a kava ritual, but more than anything I fell in love with the challenges and rewards of ethnographic encounters and exchanges. (Note: Kava is a mild sedative, processed from the root of a pepper plant. It is socially and ritually consumed in several Pacific societies.)

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I am looking forward to growing as a scholar and a teacher. My family and I have lived in Southeast Michigan for fourteen years, so it is deeply satisfying to have landed a job in the region that has become our home. I am currently revising a book manuscript, about the family of saints that I discuss above, and every day I feel myself growing through that project. My experiences in the classroom have driven home that students here are very interested in the ways anthropology helps us to understand topics such as race, religion, concepts of person, etc. I am also hoping to develop an opportunity, through a program that I have helped to lead in the past, for University of Michigan-Flint students to travel to Indonesia. If all of this continues or comes to fruition, and I have no reason to believe that it will not, I will be a happy camper.

What do you hope for students in your field?
Whether anthropology majors or not, I hope that all of my students leave my classes with anthropological habits of mind that enrich their lives and help them to be more thoughtful citizens. There are many such habits that I try to instill, but I think the primary one is a capacity to suppress knee-jerk judgments about other people and ways of life in order to try to understand these people and ways of life in their own contexts. Anthropology is often thought of as being infused with an ethic of relativism, and this is not incorrect; but I want my students to recognize that this is a critical and strategic relativism, one that does not refuse the taking of political and moral stances, but that equips us to engage politics and morality in ways that are more careful and sophisticated than they otherwise might be.

What are three things you think people should know about you?
I am a native Pittsburgher and I am very hometown proud.

I love to play basketball, and try to do so multiple times a week.

I did not go to the Federated States of Micronesia to discover anthropology, actually. I was young, and in love, and chasing a significant other. We now have two kids and have been together for quite some time, so I guess it worked out in the end!


To learn more about anthropology at UM-Flint, visit umflint.edu/sac. To register for winter courses, visit sis.umflint.edu or umflint.edu/register.

Pursuing Passion: Stephanie Dean, UM-Flint Theatre

In the University of Michigan Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences, faculty, staff, and students combine their passions with academic excellence as they participate in coursework, research, and creative pursuits. We are proud to spotlight some of these individuals in our new series: Pursuing Passion.

Stephanie Dean of UM-Flint Theatre

Stephanie Dean of UM-Flint Theatre

A Rock Musical with Feeling

Assistant Professor Stephanie Dean is the director of Next to Normal, an award-winning rock musical about a woman’s struggle with bipolar disorder. The show is the first production of the UM-Flint Theatre & Dance Department’s 2016-17 season and will run October 28-30 and November 4-6.

Next to Normal began as a ten-minute play called Feeling Electric that explored the medical field’s approach to mental illness. But, noted Dean, “they began to realize that they story they wanted to tell wasn’t about the treatment, it was about the people, and they began to morph it into the Off-Broadway production that opened in 2008.” By 2011, the musical had enjoyed three years on Broadway and earned numerous awards, including three Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The musical suited both the talent pool at the university and Dean’s desire for material that would challenge her students and herself.

She began work on the production long before students stepped on stage for auditions. Her spring and summer months were filled with research about the show’s sensitive subject matter. Recalled Dean, “I wanted to know: What is fact? What is fiction? And how was the production received by audiences when it came out? There was a lot of research that went into the research that [the writers] did.”

UM-Flint Theatre's Stephanie Dean talks with cast members during a rehearsal of "Next to Normal."

UM-Flint Theatre’s Stephanie Dean talks with cast members during a rehearsal of “Next to Normal.”

This is Not a Case Study

Dean wanted to be sure she was both respectful and accurate when representing the journey of someone being treated for bipolar disorder. The musical touches on a wide variety of topics related to the mental health field, including prescription drug use, electroconvulsive therapy, hallucinations, depression, and suicide.

“When I was doing the research, I read an interview in which the composer and lyricist had said they had not written the show to be  a case study,” said Dean. “Next to Normal takes dramatic liberties; everything that can happen to this woman does happen, and it not only affects her, but everyone around her. It’s important to understand that the writers wanted to create a story that people could relate to from many different viewpoints, depending on their own life experiences. Because of that, I truly believe that you cannot be an adult or even a teenager and not relate to something in this show.”

Dean consulted with Dr. Tom Wrobel of UM-Flint Psychology for insight on the script, and to learn about the validity of the portrayed treatments in today’s fields of psychology and psychiatry. She also talked with practicing therapists.

Stephanie Dean and the "Next to Normal" cast rehearse in the UM-Flint Theatre

Stephanie Dean and the “Next to Normal” cast rehearse in the UM-Flint Theatre

Now that the show is in rehearsals, the preparation is paying off: “I feel like I have command of the material, and am well prepared to address the issues in the script in a way that is effective and within the scope of reality. I also feel prepared to work actors through these difficult topics and the emotions that come with that. Understanding the content and context at a deeper level allows me to find subtleties in the script and makes me better equipped to guide the actors to more nuanced performances and to speak to the designers about a unified vision.”

Working with a Student Cast

During the summer, Dean also spent time considering the emotional toll the production could have on its student actors and stage crew. “When you are working on a musical, it is not an exaggeration to say the music does not exit your head for the entire two months,” said Dean. “Between rehearsals, memorizing lines, working on music, etc., the actors and I are spending four to eight hours a day with this material. I had to ask myself, ‘how do I bring the students in and out of rehearsals in a way that is mentally healthy for them?'”

Dean works with UM-Flint Theatre student Shelby Coleman on the set of "Next to Normal."

Dean works with UM-Flint Theatre student Shelby Coleman on the set of “Next to Normal.”

Part of Dean’s work to answer that question took place during the summer in North Carolina where she studied a method of evoking emotion using breathing, posture, and facial expressions, rather than actual emotional stimuli. Dean has used this to inform her work with students, when she has had to help them be comfortable with difficult emotions like anger, fear, and sadness. She hopes it will also help her student cast process the heavy emotions that come with the Next to Normal script. “I’m interested in focusing the actors energies in rehearsals,” said Dean. “It is important to step into rehearsal as a group, leaving personal problems at the door, and to develop a supportive ensemble that can talk about problems if this story is hitting too close to home. Likewise, the actors have to be able to leave the characters and their problems in the theatre to avoid having an ’emotional hangover’ when they leave rehearsal.”

“Maybe the songs will be stuck in our heads, and some days it will be harder than others to put the show away outside of rehearsal; I recognize that,” continued Dean. “Alice Ripley, the actress who played the lead role in this musical on Broadway, talked in her interviews about having a very difficult time living this story night after night and not feeling it during the day.”

Dean hopes that what students are learning as UM-Flint Theatre performers will serve them well after graduation. “Part of my job as a teacher and as an acting teacher is to teach students to be physical and vocal vessels for the tough emotions their characters experience on stage without tying that too closely to their personal lives. Theatre reflects humanity. Humanity is messy. Therefore, the actors face this challenge throughout their entire professional career. I’m excited for this challenge.”

Her cast has responded very well to Next to Normal, and embraced its difficult themes. “On the first night I asked each of the cast members why this show was important to them,” remembered Dean. “I got some really interesting answers about how they each related to the material. Lots of stuff I wasn’t expecting. They each bring a lot of insight to this show.”

Stephanie Dean sits with Assistant Director Michaela Nogaj and Stage Manager Taylor Boes during rehearsal

Stephanie Dean sits with Assistant Director Michaela Nogaj and Stage Manager Taylor Boes during rehearsal

Connecting with the Audience

“It’s important to me to help people understand that theatre doesn’t always have to be about entertainment. It can make you think about life and help you to relate to others and still be an incredibly wonderful, fulfilling, and positive experience that you want to have again.”

Because of its relatable material and high entertainment value, Dean hopes that Next to Normal can entice audiences to the UM-Flint Theatre. “This show has a profound and immediate purpose. It’s a show that invokes conversation about a topic that our society is afraid to address, and yet mental health effects everyone to different and varying degrees on a daily basis.”

During the October 28-30 and November 4-6 weekends, performances will be held Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online or at the UM-Flint Theatre box office (please arrive early if purchasing tickets at the door). The Sunday, November 6, performance will feature a talk-back session with the cast, crew, and director. All are invited to attend.


For more information on showtimes, ticket sales, and performances, visit umflint.edu/theatredance/season-information or call (810) 237-6522. To reach Director Stephanie Dean, email scdean@umflint.edu.

UM-Flint Political Science Explores Voter Rights

Why does voting in an election matter? What does it mean to have the right to vote? How does the United States Constitution affect the rights of voters?

The UM-Flint Political Science Department held a discussion to answer these questions and more as part of their annual recognition of Constitution Day.

Faculty, staff, and students gathered for “Voting Rights in a Brave New World.” This discussion and question-and-answer session aims to get voters thinking about their rights in preparation for the upcoming presidential election.

“The Department of Political Science regularly hosts thought-provoking events on issues of relevance to the Constitution and its modern interpretation and historical roots,” said lecturer Kim Saks-McManaway. “This year being an election year, the topic of voting rights in a modern context seemed appropriate. This is especially true given the myriad of voter rights cases in the courts.”

UM-Flint Political Science faculty at the 2015 Constitution Day event

UM-Flint Political Science faculty at a Constitution Day event

 

UM-Flint students are excepted to play an active role in the event, and to make full use of the Q & A session with department faculty.

Andrew Roth, a dual enrolled student from Flushing, MI, is expecting to take part. Said Roth, “Voting is about more than helping to elect your candidate of choice; voting is about being a socially conscious citizen. If we allow our voices to go unheard now, then we eventually sign away all of our power. No longer do we have the ability to be a part of the discussion of issues that affect our day to day lives.”

Jordan Tiffany, a graduate student from Davidson, MI, added, “I vote because that is the only way to get change. We may not immediately get the change that we want, but nothing will ever get better just sitting out and being apathetic towards the process.”


For more information on the Political Science Department and the ways in which they are engaging the campus and community, visit umflint.edu/polsci or call 810.762.3470,

UM-Flint Music Selects Soloists for 2016 MusiCollage

Each year, the UM-Flint Music Department presents a non-stop immersive musical experience known as MusiCollage to the campus and community.

This year’s show featured three soloists: Jhane Perdue, vocalist; Ben Cunningham, piano; and Elizabeth Schultz, flute. The soloists’ performances blended into those presented by UM-Flint’s Wind Symphony, University Chorale, University Orchestra, Jazz Ensembles, Chamber Singers, and more.

The format of MusiCollage is different from any other concert on campus. Wind Symphony Conductor Chris Heidenreich explained, “We ask the audience not to applaud, and take it all in from the beginning to the end, so that each selection leads itself into the next one.”

“MusiCollage is a great opportunity to hear a whole lot of music in one hour,” added Brian DiBlassio, conductor of the Jazz Combo. “You’ll hear large ensembles, small ensembles, different types of music, too. Even within the jazz performances you’ll hear a variety of music, some fun genres, and some exciting songs.”

Read below as this year’s soloists share their thoughts on being a part of UM-Flint Music and the MusiCollage experience.


Jhane Perdue – Vocal Soloist

Jhane Perdue, UM-Flint Music Vocalist and soloist in the 2016 MusiCollage

Major: Music Performance
Hometown: Flushing, Michigan

I will be performing “Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime—a musical by Stephen Flaherty based on the novel Ragtime by E.L Doctorow. “Daddy’s Son” is a slow, heart-wrenching piece. In the show, Sarah is basically grieving the death of her new born son.

I have been performing since I was 11 years old. Throughout middle and high school, I was very involved with the music and theatre department. I was involved with Michigan School Vocal Music Association (MSVMA) solo and ensemble, MSVMA 2014 and 2015 All-State honors choir, my high school a cappella choir, my high school’s after school choirs (Beta Chi Theta and Madrigals), and a member of International Thespian Society. I also sang in my church’s choir.

[Outside of the department] I am the worship leader at Trinity Episcopal Church in Flushing, Michigan.

What do you love about vocal performance?
I love that I have a way to express myself. I love that music brings people together from all walks of life. I love the connection between performer and audience. I love how you can get a new piece of music and at first glance it’s just lines, spaces, and notes, but when you’re done with it becomes a part of you.

What do you love about the UM-Flint Music department?
The faculty. We are a small department, and because of it you get one- on-one attention. Our department is full of faculty that want you to succeed. I can personally attest to the outstanding work of our faculty, because of my voice teacher Kisma Jordan-Hunter. She has raised the bar on what it takes to become an amazing musician and leads by example.

What challenges you as a vocalist?
Two things: taking care of yourself and trusting the process. As a vocalist your body is your instrument, so constantly reminding yourself that the voice is constantly changing and if you just keep taking care of your instrument and make a daily commitment to practicing and self-care, you will reach your outcome. My mantra is “The strive for quality is not the same as creating the illusion that our work is perfect.”

Why should people come to MusiCollage?
To see all the talent UM-Flint music department has to offer.


Ben Cunningham – Piano Soloist

Ben Cunningham, UM-Flint Music major and soloist in the 2016 MusiCollage

Major: Music Education with a focus on Piano; Minor in Horn
Hometown: Hartland, MI

I’ve been playing piano since age 6.

The piano is unique in that I have the colors of a symphony and yet the control of a soloist. To be this connected to such a palate of musical timbres is a unique privilege.

The music department at UM-Flint has provided me with access to some of the best professionals in the field of music today, as well as the opportunity to experiment with an enormous variety of musical styles and genres at a consistently high level. In particular, having had the opportunity to be in every ensemble on campus has allowed me to become familiar with a much wider variety of music than the average student at a larger school.

I can’t single a single professor out as having provided more inspiration or mentorship to me. Rather, I will say that each has brought their unique experiences and outlooks to help shape my musicality.

Without a doubt, memorizing is by far the biggest hurdle as a pianist.

The best thing to come out of being a UM-Flint music student is the chance to participate in so many unique experiences with such a diverse group of people. I have come to appreciate many more styles of music through my time here, and have made close relationships with many people and faculty who I know will remain part of my life forever.

As I said before, the Department of Music at the University of Michigan-Flint has an enormous variety of music. People who come to MusiCollage will have the opportunity to see each ensemble perform a few selections, whetting the palate for the full ensemble concerts that take place later this year. This is the only opportunity during the 2016/2017 school year to hear them all in one place!

Music, and music education, are some of the most important things a person can experience. I am proud to be a student at the University of Michigan-Flint, and I am proud that our town of Flint is home to such a great place of higher learning in the arts.


Elizabeth Schultz – Flute Soloist

Elizabeth Schultz, UM-Flint Music student and soloist in the 2016 MusiCollage

Major: Music Performance
Hometown: Flushing, MI

I am playing an unaccompanied flute solo for MusiCollage. I’m also in Wind Symphony and University Orchestra.

I have been performing for 14 years.

I am also a proud member of the Lapeer Symphony Orchestra—our first concert is October 28!

Playing the flute allows me to focus, which can be a valuable thing. I can quiet my mind and spend time working on something I love. When I have a major accomplishment in music, it is the best feeling in the world because I know the work and the passion I have put into achieving this accomplishment.

The UM-Flint Music Department is a fantastic department. We have top notch instructors that care for our success and we have so many opportunities. I have grown tremendously as a musician at their hands.

Everyone should come to MusiCollage because it really shows what we have to offer.


 

For more information on performances from our UM-Flint Music Department, visit umflint.edu/music or call 810.762.3377.

UM-Flint Physics and Hubble Telescope Research

Dr. Rajib Ganguly of UM-Flint Physics

Dr. Rajib Ganguly of UM-Flint Physics

In late June, 2016, Dr. Rajib Ganguly, Associate Chair of UM-Flint Physics and Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Sciences, Engineering and Physics, received some exciting news: his proposal to use the Hubble Telescope to observe eleven objects in deep space was approved.

Dr. Ganguly’s research will claim 19 of the spacecraft’s orbits during the next year. Over 891 proposals, requesting 25,600 orbits, were submitted this year–while only 3764 total orbits are available.

Dr. Ganguly’s successful proposal was a first for him and for UM-Flint.

In the UM-Flint Physics and Astronomy programs, Dr. Ganguly is known for his research on quasars–or, as he describes them, growing super-massive black holes that reside in the center of galaxies.

Read below as Dr. Ganguly shares more information on his upcoming work with the Hubble Telescope and other areas of research:

In everyday terms, what is your field of research and study?
I’m interested in the understanding the biggest, most massive black holes in the Universe, how they grew to be that size, how that growth affects its surroundings, their relationship to the galaxies in which they reside. To do that, I combine both an empirical and a theoretical approach, using data from a wide variety of telescopes (including Hubble!) and computer simulations.

What do you find fascinating about this work?
That’s a loaded question that could be answered in a many ways! I once posed a somewhat related question to an group at a recent outreach event: What do you think is the most awesome thing about space? I got lots of interesting answers mostly naming specific objects, like black holes, or phenomena, like the expansion of the Universe. Then I told the audience my answer. I find it completely amazing that, using only information encoded in the light that we get here on Earth, and our own ingenuity, we can figure this out about things in space. It is striking that the Universe appears to obey certain rules and that we humans can have the audacity to try to figure out what those rules are. That might be a more generic answer for any us doing research in the physical sciences.

Without getting too esoteric, the current research effort is interesting on several levels. We (the astronomy community) are trying to tell the story of how structure emerged in the Universe, how galaxies formed from that structure, and how they evolve. The growth of supermassive black holes in the nuclei of galaxies appears to have a connection with that evolution. Furthermore, we observe that, in some of these actively growing black holes, there is a substantial amount of matter being expelled from the system, which seems counter-intuitive. How does matter escape from the vicinity of a black hole? There is interesting, and extreme, physics that is needed to explain what is going on.

By testing our ideas about how those rules of nature work in the extreme environment of a black hole, we can hope to improve our understanding of those rules. And with greater understanding comes a greater power to help ourselves.

Dr. Ganguly working with UM-Flint Physics students

Dr. Ganguly working with UM-Flint Physics students

What is your history with the Hubble Telescope?
I have a long history with the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble was launched in 1990 and I began graduate school at Penn State in 1996. My first task before classes even started in my first year was to help my to-be-advisor finish preparing proposals for, if I recall correctly, the fourth cycle of Hubble observations. (We’re heading into the 24th cycle now.) By the time I was in my fourth year of grad school, I was writing my own Hubble proposals. I actually wrote one to fund my PhD dissertation research which repurposed existing Hubble data. I defended my PhD in 2002, and my first post-doctoctoral position was as a research scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD. That is basically ground-zero from where Hubble is operated, and the data are archived.

There are many divisions at the institute: a division for each of the instruments, a division for archiving the data, a division for conducting outreach, etc. My supervisor was connected to one of the instruments that was to go up with the fourth servicing mission. Of course, 2003 saw the tragic loss of Space Shuttle Columbia and the astronauts on board, which then grounded the remaining shuttle fleet, and the cancellation of that mission. That was not a happy time, and many of us had to reinvent our research goals/methodology, which I did during my second post-doctoral position at the University of Wyoming. Fate can be rather twisted, though. Eventually, the shuttle fleet was brought back for a time, Hubble was serviced again and those instruments brought new life to the observatory. My then-supervisor, Ken Sembach, is now the director of the Institute. And the new proposal that will see UM-Flint’s first Hubble observations will be taken with the very instrument that we were going to use back in 2003.

Who are you working with on this project?
For my sabbatical this past Winter semester, I went back to my old stomping grounds at Penn State. There, I continued working with my dissertation advisors, Professors Jane Charlton and Michael Eracleous. They are my primary collaborators on this project. I am also collaborating with Professor Charlton current graduate student (my academic brother), Chris Culliton, as well as Professor Eracleous’ post-doctoral researcher Dr. Jessie Runnoe. Dr. Runnoe actually did her PhD at the University of Wyoming, and worked with me while I was there. She will recently moved to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

How will the data from the Hubble help advance your particular research?
There are a number of questions regarding the matter that is being ejected by black holes that are growing in the cores of galaxies. How much is there? How does that compare with how much is falling in? How does it get ejected? The inflow likely takes the form of a thin disk accreting onto the black hole. What shape does the outflow take? What governs that shape?

In a previous study, we identified targets in the existing archive of Hubble observations that were also luminous in the radio band. Radio emission arises from jets of material travelling at relativistic speeds along the rotation axis of the black hole. As a by-product, we can use radio maps to gauge the orientation of these systems. We found two things from that study: (1) nearly all of the radio-luminous objects are viewed with the jet pointing roughly toward us, and (2) none of them show evidence for outflowing material. So, the question is: Are these two things related? Is this telling us something important about the geometry of the outflowing gas? Or is there something more fundamentally, and subtly, heinous about growing black holes with jets that prevent them from having the types of outflows we observe in other objects. [I should note here that the jet itself does not include a sufficient amount of material to provide an explanation for the ejected matter that we observe.] So, we identified a sample of radio-luminous objects where the jets are not directed toward us and convincingly proposed to observe them to test the hypothesis that this is just an orientation effect, that we are getting at the actual geometry of the outflowing gas. A “null” result – that we don’t find any outflows in the proposed sample – will indicate the latter option, which might be even more interesting in terms of understanding what physics is important in driving outflows.

How will UM-Flint students be involved in this research?\
There are a number of aspects of this particular project that my students will assist me with. As the data are collected by Hubble and transmitted down the Earth and archived, we will need to download the data, and to process it so that we can make measurements of it. (The processing has to do with accounting for the ways in which the telescope and camera behave, and calibrating the data.) Since our primary goal is a fishing expedition, our first step will be to count the fish and to compare the statistics of outflows with other samples of objects. Furthermore, for any outflows that are detected, we want to use the high resolution afforded by the Hubble Space Telescope to make measure how much gas there is, and the characterize its physical conditions. This will shed clues as to the nature of the outflowing gas, and the relevant physical processes that affect/drive it.

What value can the general public find in attending your outreach events?
Science is fun, and exciting, and important, and necessary. There isn’t really a price tag on the scope of human knowledge about how nature works, and the rigorous means we use to expand both the breadth and depth of that knowledge. Our primary vehicle for public outreach is a massive event that we call AstroNite, offered once during each of the semesters (October for Fall, April for Winter).  During those events, we have activities that cover how we use information that is encoded in light to learn things about the Universe, what kinds of tools and machinery (e.g., telescopes, Mars Rovers) we use to explore other places, and how we can use observations to infer the story of planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe as a whole.

This is the boldest and most audacious application of scientific principles – learning about no less than the entire Universe with just what we have figured out here on our tiny, precious Earth–and we use it to help inspire the next Carl Sagan, or Richard Feynman, or Stephen Hawking.


For more information on UM-Flint Physics, visit umflint.edu/physics.

UM-Flint Communication Students Unite for Charity Blitz

UM-Flint Communication 226 students in Fall 2016

Assistant Professor of Communication, Christopher Kowal, jumped right in to his first semester at UM-Flint. He came up with a creative project for students in his advertising class, splitting students into five groups and then challenging each to raise $150 for a charity of their collective choice. He noted that the assignment was meant to “challenge the groups’ urgency, strategy, and communication” in preparation for their final projects that involve working with local businesses.

Kowal was happy to report that, “They all met and exceeded the goal, raising just shy of $1,500 for a variety of charities. When I announced the challenge it was [met] with anxiety and resistance, today they were full of pride and confidence.”

The COM 226 students created a press release to share news of their success in their own words:

Students typically spend the second week of classes familiarizing themselves with syllabi, textbooks and the hallways on campus–not the case for Dr. Christopher Kowal’s COM 226 Advertising class who were recently charged with raising $150 to benefit a charity of their choosing…in just one week!

The charity assignment, part of a larger theme in Dr. Kowal’s class, was designed to teach students how to actively engage in team work and group projects–something that is “critical for success and survival in the advertising world,” according to Kowal. What better way to test a team’s functionality than to hold a charity fundraising blitz?

 All five groups of UM-Flint students met the goal to raise $150 and surpassed it, ultimately raising $1,456 for five different charities. The charities benefited were Flint Child Health and Development Fund for Water Crisis Victims, St. Jude’s Research Hospital, The Wounded Warrior Project for Veterans, Genesee County Animal Shelter, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

After reaching their goals, the teams reflected in class about how hard they thought it would be to raise $150 in one week. “Everyone has a different schedule and different responsibilities, so it seemed like an impossible task and we weren’t sure if we were going to reach our goal at first,” said Michelle Cardillo, a junior at UM-Flint. The teams came together to benefit a cause they believed in and in turn, ended up exceeding their goals and testing the dynamics of their groups. The teams were left with the feeling of pride and accomplishment, which is a great start to any semester–and may just be the beginning of a new tradition for UM-Flint Communications students.


To learn more about the College of Arts & Sciences’ Communication Department, visit umflint.edu/communication or call 810.766.6679.

Women of STEM: Bev Smith

The College of Arts & Sciences at UM-Flint is proud to recognize some of the exceptional women of its STEM disciplines. As leaders, mentors, and educators, these women bring passion and talent to students in classrooms and the world of science, technology, engineering, and math.


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Unearthing a Passion

When Dr. Beverley Smith, archaeologist and associate professor of anthropology in UM-Flint’s College of Arts & Sciences, was a little girl, she would show up early for her piano lessons to look through her teacher’s collection of National Geographic magazines. Recalled Smith, “I learned about the search for human ancestors in Africa and exotic sites in places like Peru, Cambodia, and North America. I also found the articles about animals fascinating. It wasn’t until much later I found that I could integrate these two interests into a wonderful career. As an aside, I didn’t know my piano teacher knew I was coming so early to read, but when she moved, she dropped off all the magazines in our garage. My parents were shocked but I was thrilled.”

Years later, as an undergrad at the University of Toronto, Smith took courses in both biology and anthropology. “I came to realize that, while I would have to specialize in a targeted area of study in biology, whether fish, birds, mammals, or invertebrates, as an archaeologist I would have the opportunity not only to study the bones of all of these animals, but to make them meaningful by considering how the various species were procured, how they contributed to human survival, and what they symbolized in ideology and ritual to the people who relied on them within their environments.”

As a student with potentially disparate interests, Smith was fortunate to find a mentor in Dr. Howard Savage, described as a “pioneer in the field of zooarchaeology.” Remembered Smith, “this extraordinarily kind and patient professor taught me the analytic tools for my future work.”

Her unique path was further defined when she was recruited to Michigan State University by Dr. Charles Cleland for her graduate studies. His “work on fishing techniques and the application of his research to a pivotal court case in Michigan, which supported Indian people with the right to use gill nets, made me realize that my research could benefit Native people in contemporary concerns,” said Smith. “I have, ever since, worked closely with Native communities to facilitate their interests in their past, their concern for the destruction of archaeological sites, their struggle to repatriate ancestors, and their efforts to challenge restrictive jurisdictional and subsistence related laws in the courts.”

Smith is now an established expert who specializes in the study of bones. Her work involves “identifying, quantifying, and analyzing the various animal species used by people [which] helps us to better understand the food sources, seasonality, and technologies used to hunt and fish.”

Added Smith, “My work also extends to the analysis of human bones, which can tell us a great deal about the health, activities, origins, and belief systems of the population. Consequently, my work overlaps considerably with more traditional STEM fields, such as biology, chemistry, and environmental studies as well as with the social sciences and the arts.”

Teaching and Research at UM-Flint

At the University of Michigan-Flint, Smith’s teaching interests lie in introductory archaeology, Mesoamerican archaeology, historical archaeology, biological anthropology, and Native Americans. She is consistently lauded as a favorite faculty member by her students, noted for her caring and excellence.

Student Jonathan Henneberry described her as, “a dedicated educator who has enlightened me in the practices of anthropology and archaeology through lecture as well as practice. In addition, she possesses great knowledge within the field of anthropology as well as being a wise counselor and steadfast mentor.”

UM-Flint students on an archaeological dig with Dr. Bev Smith at Flint’s Stockton House.

UM-Flint students on an archaeological dig with Dr. Bev Smith at Flint’s Stockton House.

Smith’s archaeological digs and expeditions have been the subject of both UM-Flint News stories and those by the wider media. To her, they are an important way to connect her students to lessons. Said Smith, “The most effective tool for engaging students in archaeology and biological anthropology is to talk about my own experiences and research in the field. When students engage in a course in which the material is a shared experience, it becomes a powerful tool for learning and opening up possibilities for their own future of inquiry. This is one of the many reasons an active and diverse research agenda by professors is essential to our legitimacy and success in a place of higher learning.”

Alumnus Thomas Steele agreed: “Dr. Smith used text, supplementary readings, and videos that provided engaging, real-world experience to augment her instruction. She expected a great deal of academic maturity in order to grasp the complex cultural concepts of each course, particularly that of the Mesoamerican civilization and Native Americans . . . I carried this level of expectation, cultural appreciation, and connection to community with me throughout my studies, which in no small way helped play a role in my academic success.”

Outside of the classroom, Smith is currently “working on an National Science Foundation funded project that involves a group of scholars concerned with understanding the changing use of aquatic resources identified from inland eastern Woodlands archaeological sites during the Archaic period—about 8,000 to 3,000 years ago.” She and the other researchers are “using a program called, tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record) to integrate our datasets and to make this data available for other scholars in the future.”

Using Expertise to Inspire

Smith’s work as a mentor and teacher continues in the community. She is a part of the American Association of University Women’s annual Explorathon—a spring event aimed at helping girls develop science literacy while being inspired by a dynamic selection of scientists and fields of study. According to the AAUW site, the event’s “focus on women in science prepares and inspires girls by giving them role models and by showcasing state-of-the-art careers for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Dr. Beverly Smith, anthropologist, archaeologist, and associate professor at UM-Flint

Dr. Beverley Smith, anthropologist, archaeologist, and associate professor at UM-Flint

Added Smith, who presents on the popular topic of Forensic Anthropology, “This is an extraordinary opportunity for girls to learn that senior women in their aspired professions are approachable, interesting, and, hopefully, not nearly as nerdy as they expected. They value our advice which is, of course, to study and excel in as many sciences as possible in their high school coursework, and that sacrifices and hard work will reward them in their future endeavors. It is only with a broad range of knowledge and experiences that they may find something as interesting and wonderful as, for example, zooarchaeology.”

Smith’s expertise will be available to community members in the Flint area on September 22, 2016, as she presents Archaeology in our Backyard at the Sloan Museum. Her special lecture will “provide an overview of the prehistoric past in the Flint region and will be geared to a general audience.” She’ll discuss methods and tools of archaeologists and the ways in which artifacts help reconstruct the past. Highlights from recovery efforts at a local ancestral burial site will be included.

For event information visit sloanlongway.org or call (810) 237-3450.


To learn more about anthropology and archaeology at UM-Flint, visit the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice’s website at umflint.edu/SAC or email bevsmith@umflint.edu.

Women of STEM: Samantha Grathoff

The College of Arts & Sciences at UM-Flint is proud to recognize some of the exceptional women of our STEM disciplines. As leaders, mentors, and educators, these women bring passion and talent to our students, classrooms, and the world of science, technology, engineering, and math.


A Leader in the Curiosity Academy

Samantha Grathoff is a lab coordinator, community engagement liaison, and adjunct lecturer for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in UM-Flint’s College of Arts & Sciences. She’s also one of the directors of the Curiosity Academy: a community club that engages middle school girls, mostly 6th to 8th graders, who have an interest in STEM subjects.

The Academy aims to reignite the girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math at an age when they may be moving away from such disciplines. Through fun projects and activities, the students are connected to educators and professionals in various STEM fields. Noted one recent student, “Curiosity Academy has been an amazing experience and I love that I got to do cool science projects with my friends. My favorite activities were sending the remote controlled cars down a zipline, doing the plant scavenger hunt, and, of course, going on cool field trips!”

Sam Grathoff works with students in a Curiosity Academy session at UM-Flint

Samantha Grathoff works with students in a Curiosity Academy session at UM-Flint

Grathoff works “in all aspects of the program, from writing grant applications, developing lesson plans, advertising, and recruiting students, to recruiting speakers, coordinating field trips, developing a peer mentorship program, and, of course, working with the girls during their time with us.” She shares duties with fellow program directors Monique Wilhelm and Essence Wilson.

The Curiosity Academy’s mission closely aligns with Grathoff’s personal interests. Said Grathoff, “I believe that far too many people are intimidated by science, think that it’s only for ‘nerds’, or think that it’s a secluded community. I love to break those stereotypes by providing fun and interactive activities that explain scientific concepts and engage people.”

Grathoff’s desire for an inclusive community and increased confidence for her students is already being realized. Fifteen-year-old Alexis was asked what she likes about Curiosity Academy. She replied, “The sense of community it provides for all those in the program.” Her mother echoed the sentiment, saying, “It’s not about the exclusion of boys, that has not been an issuse for Alexis, she can and does speak out in class. It’s more about my daughter learning a sense of community with other females. . . I found a program that embodies that.”

Added Grathoff, “Curiosity Academy has transformed girls from being reserved and quiet to outspoken and confident. It’s incredible that a program that meets only two hours per week can so strongly influence the participants.”

Curiosity Academy students conduct an experiment in the UM-Flint lab

Curiosity Academy students conduct an experiment in the UM-Flint lab

A Love of Learning

When asked how she knew a career in STEM was right for her, Grathoff replied, “I was interested in math and science by elementary school. I recall doing workbooks for fun during the summers and having my parents quiz me on math at stores. It wasn’t until high school, however, that my true passion developed. I enrolled in physics, honors chemistry, and almost every biology class my high school offered. The material didn’t come naturally to me, but I loved learning it.”

Grathoff credits both her high school teachers and her parents for fostering her love of the STEM disciplines: “My high school science teachers shared their passion and enthusiasm with me and developed wonderful projects that really engaged me. I loved to see how much they enjoyed their careers, and how much fun STEM could be. My parents also inspired me. They helped me pursue my interests and gain experiences that would help advance my education.”

Grathoff’s role in the Curiosity Academy as a mentor is one that’s appreciated by both her students and their parents. Angie, one of the Academy parents, noted, “I think that the time and energy that these women put into our young women is remarkable and ‘grateful’ is really the best word to describe my feelings. The role models and examples they are [is] truly a blessing for my daughter and all of the girls.”

Sam Grathoff with one of her Curiosity Academy students.

Samantha Grathoff with one of her Curiosity Academy students.

Connecting with the Future

The Curiosity Academy is open to its participants for a small but important window of time in their lives. “My hope is that after Curiosity Academy, the girls’ perseverance, passion, and enthusiasm for STEM continues, regardless of roadblocks that they may encounter,” said Gratthoff. “Even if they decide that STEM isn’t the career for them, I hope that they can take what they’ve learned from Curiosity Academy and apply it to their personal and professional lives.”

For some of the girls, the Academy has already made a difference in their plans. Seventh grader Madison said, “Curiosity Academy has really changed my ideas on what I would like to major in college or what I would like to do for my career. I now would like to possibly go for a chemistry major or maybe even math!” She’s also found that it’s had a positive effect on her time in school: “Curiosity Academy really expanded my knowledge of science. I learned a lot more about plants, fossils, robotics, and so much more… Because of it, I learned a lot before it was even discussed at school, which helped me understand the topic a lot more.”

Madison has also absorbed the example of mentorship that Grathoff shows every day: “I love being a girl who loves STEM! it helps other girls at school see that girls can love topics like science and math, too!”

Whether they are interested in STEM disciplines or not, Grathoff believes “young girls should do what they enjoy doing, not what others think they should do.” She advises students to “try activities that you’ve never tried before. Put effort into every subject in school, even if you don’t think you like it. You never know what you’ll end up liking. Finally, don’t stop exploring. Ask questions, foster new friendships, and stay busy! It’s never too late to explore a new interest, whether it’s academic or for fun.”

2015-16 Curiosity Academy students at UM-Flint

2015-16 Curiosity Academy students at UM-Flint

Join the 2016-17 Curiosity Academy

Applications are now being accepted for this year’s Curiosity Academy class. The deadline is October 10, 2016. Admission is based solely on program interest and is limited to 24 participants. Partial and full tuition assistance is available.


To learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UM-Flint, and their opportunities for students of all ages, visit their website at umflint.edu/chemistry. To connect with Samantha Grathoff, email sgrathof@umflint.edu.