Category Archives: Faculty News

Faculty Spotlight: Besa Xhabija of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Besa Xhabija, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Read below to learn more about Dr. Xhabija and her field of biochemistry or join her in one of her upcoming class:

  • CHM 350: Fundamentals of Biochemistry
  • CHM 382: Environmental Toxicology
  • CHM 451: Biochemistry Laboratory I
  • CHM 453: Biochemistry Laboratory II

Admitted students can register at or find more information about upcoming semesters at

What is your background and education?
I completed my Bachelor of Science with Honors in Biochemistry from York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and my Doctorate in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Windsor (also in Canada) under the supervision of Dr. Panayiotis Vacratsis. I then continued on to a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine in the Department of Oncology, where I worked with Dr. Benjamin Kidder. My work there focused on studying stem cell and cancer epigenetics, specifically evaluating the functions of chromatin modifying enzymes in self-renewal and genome stability.

Why are you passionate about your field? 
I absolutely adore Biochemistry. It was my first love! I believe that it is the science that will open a window of understanding about how life has evolved from a one cell organism to becoming a well-oiled intricate organism. Understanding that living things are just bags of chemicals that can function in order to think, remember, behave, walk, run, talk, read, write, is absolutely fascinating to me. I am amazed at how basic elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen can make up a bacterial cell, yeast, skin cells, muscle cells, neurons, retinal cells, and organisms generally. This is something that I still find mesmerizing to this day.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
This is an easy one. I fell in love with biochemistry when I was a junior in high school when we covered the principles of DNA and nucleic acids. I remember myself being very excited about the topic. I started reading on my own and learning the most that I could about how a disease is caused at the genetic level and how to solve biological problems—not realizing that I just scratched the surface of the biochemistry field. Later on, I started reading about the human body on my own and trying to understand, with very little scientific background at that time, how it functions at a molecular and cellular level. I am very glad to have chosen biochemistry as my field of expertise because it truly is my passion and not only it drives my discovery-based research approach in my lab, but also helps me teach with the passion to inspire others to do the same.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
It probably is not a surprise, but any level of Biochemistry.

What is your latest or favorite research project? 
Currently, I am in the process of setting up a system in my laboratory utilizing embryonic stem cells to study the effect of various toxins and drugs in embryo development. I am very excited about this project and I find it very informative for students and for the Flint community. Moreover, it offers students a large number of research techniques that are essential in any research laboratory.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I hope to play an important role as an educator, in particular to sharpen students’ aspirations and allow them to develop their own branch of research or thoughts. I believe that only by pushing and supporting our students to perform to their full potential via promoting collaboration makes them succeed in their future academic paths.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I consider myself fortunate to have been a member of the UM-Flint Community prior to joining as a full-time faculty member now. I served as lecturer at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Fall of 2016 and I was really pleased to see how strong the bonds between faculty, staff and students are.

What do you hope for students in your field? 
I hope for them to become good citizens and follow their chosen path with dedication, passion and strong ethics. I hope for them to inspire and motivate future generations and make this world a better place. I want to encourage those who choose to educate, to educate with passion, I want the health care professionals to serve their patients with care and go the extra mile. Finally, regardless what path they take, I hope that our students find their niche where they love what they do and do everything with passion and dedication. I believe that mediocrity is the enemy to success and that is something that I fight every day and encourage students to avoid avidly.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • I live in Canada.
  • My door is always open and students should feel free to discuss things with me.
  • I enjoy biking.

Faculty Spotlight: Rebecca Tonietto of UM-Flint Biology

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor in the Biology Department.

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, of UM-Flint Biology

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, of UM-Flint Biology

Read below to learn more about Dr. Tonietto and her field of biology or join her in one of her upcoming classes:

  • BIO 111: Organismal Biology
  • BIO 327: Ecology

Admitted students can register at or find more information about upcoming semesters at

In which area of biology are you particularly interested?
I study native bee communities – how their diversity and structure are related to plant communities, surrounding land-use, and management – for pollinator conservation. With those interests, I am at the intersections of a few different fields, but consider myself a community ecologist interested in conservation and restoration biology.

Why are you passionate about your field?
I love bees! They are so incredibly diverse and beautiful. Did you know we have around 400 species of bees native to Michigan? The honeybee is not one of those, we don’t have a native honeybee in North America. Some of our native bees are metallic green, metallic blue, and range from big and fuzzy to tiny and shiny. They provide an important ecosystem service by pollinating many of our crops and wildflowers, though also deserve conservation attention in their own right. I love talking to people about bees, and investigating how we can best support them. In general, providing habitat for native bees really means making places more beautiful – with more flowers and more species of flowering plants.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
I loved my entomology and ecology classes as an undergrad at Kalamazoo College, and my senior project there involved aquatic insects. I kept working with insects in any capacity I could afterward, but after my first research assistantship observing bees I never looked back!

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach? 
My favorite courses to teach are the ones closest to what I do, ecology and my currently-being-developed upper-level biology course will probably be my favorites here at UM-Flint. These courses tend to get students outside in nature, making observations and trying to figure out how to explain or investigate patterns.

What is your latest or favorite research project? 
My latest project was an investigation into the value of urban agriculture for pollinator conservation support in three shrinking cities across the Midwest: Detroit, Chicago and St Louis. We found urban agricultural sites (community gardens and urban farms) supported greater bee species abundance and diversity than open lots. The urban gardens and farms were amazing and inspiring places to work, and I met some wonderful people doing incredibly cool things.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I hope to be an effective and inspirational teacher, I hope to do research meaningful to the community and pollinator conservation, and I look forward to getting to know the students.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I’m a fourth generation Michigander who was thrilled to move back home after over a decade away for research assistantships and graduate school. It means the world to me to be doing meaningful research that would benefit local conservation and the local urban agriculture movement in the region I have, and will always, consider home.

What do you hope for students in your field?
I hope that students remain optimistic and creative, and embrace their inner tenacity and grit, as all are assets in finding out-of-the-box solutions to conservation challenges.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • Though I have studied bees for over 10 years, I have only been stung 2 or 3 times.
  • I love knitting, though lately I design more than actually knit patterns.
  • I come from a family of engineers – my mom, dad, sister and many other relatives are engineers, too!

Faculty Spotlight: Daniel Hummel of Public Administration

Daniel Hummel, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor of public administration in the Political Science Department.

Daniel Hummel, PhD, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at UM-Flint

Daniel Hummel, PhD, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about him and the field of public administration, or join him in one of his upcoming classes:

  • PUB 311: American State and Local Government
  • PUB 500: Politics, Policy, and Public Administration
  • PUB 502: Public Sector Management
  • PUB 518: Budgeting and Finance in the Public Sector
  • PUB 578: State and Local Public Finance
  • PUB 596: Intergovernmental Relations

Admitted students can register at or find more information about upcoming semesters at

Why are you passionate about your field?
Public administration is a central aspect of civilization. Despite the popularized hatred of government, it is hard to imagine any modern society functioning without one. I strive to understand the interconnections between local economic activity, the optimal functionality of government, citizen engagement and participation, the response of citizens to taxes and regulation and the response of government to human behavior. This is my passion.

This field is the nexus of multiple fields. There is economics, psychology and political science. I find myself reading journals from multiple fields to understand a phenomenon in public administration. It is for this reason that I have published in diverse journals. It is also the reason I have found myself on panels at conferences with historians and sociologists. I received my degree from the College of Design and Social Inquiry at FAU where I rubbed shoulders with scholars in public administration as well as planning. My dissertation was on fiscal health and right-sizing cities which combined public finance with planning practice. My first academic position was in the College of Arts and Letters at Idaho State University in a political science department and my last academic position was in the College of Business at Bowie State University in a management and marketing department. This field is vibrant and growing.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
Interestingly, I had no interest in public administration before my final year of my Bachelor’s degree in International Politics. I was more into the study of religion and culture than how to balance a government’s budget. I wanted to study Central Asia and I wanted to work closely with Tom Gouttierre at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in their Center for Afghanistan Studies. Tom recommended that I get my MPA at UNO since the Center did not have a degree program. I was not enthusiastic about it, but I gave it a try.

My first semester I met Dale Krane and John Bartle. Both professors were exceptional, especially Dr. Bartle. It was Dr. Bartle that showed me that public budgeting and finance is an amazingly interesting topic. When I finished my MPA I decided that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the field. My time at Florida Atlantic University solidified my love of the field and my interest in public budgeting and finance. I also became increasingly interested in local government, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. I grew up in the shadow of industrial decline in northwestern Pennsylvania and, after reading about the Youngstown 2010 Plan, I decided that I really wanted to focus my research on declining cities. This entire experience has been immensely rewarding for me.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
My favorite course to teach is public budgeting and finance. I am teaching a class at UM-Flint called State and Local Public Finance (PUB 578). I am really looking forward to this class as it combines my dual interests of local government and budgeting / finance. I also enjoy teaching public policy. I am [also] teaching PUB 500 which is titled Politics, Policy and Public Administration. I will enjoy this class because half of it will be on the foundations of public administration in the United States and the other half will be on public policy.

What is your latest or favorite research project?
Currently, I have one paper in revision that is focused on the relationship between urban population and housing density and urban productivity. I am interested in this dynamic because one of the central assumptions of smart growth and smart decline is that urban productivity is a function of urban density. In shrinking cities this would mean consolidating the population in healthy centers which is a highly controversial thing to do. So far, my research is indicating that low density development is more closely associated with higher productivity values than high density development at least for the United States in the years selected.

In addition to this project, I am presenting a paper on the relationship between student debt levels and housing vacancy this year at the Northeastern Association of Business, Economics and Technology conference. So far, I am noticing that many neighborhoods in historically declining areas of cities are attracting recent college graduates for many reasons, reducing vacancy in these places. One of the reasons is the housing affordability in these places as recent grads are unable to afford homes elsewhere due to high debt-to-income ratios.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I want to make an impact not only in the classroom with my students, but on the community of Flint and the region. My research has implications for practice in declining regions and I want to be a part of that discussion. My hope is to continue building on my prior research in this area and defining myself within the field. I also want to see our MPA program continue to be successful as we plan for the future. Obviously, this entails the proper education of current and future public administrators who are increasingly subjected to more constraints along with higher expectations. Ultimately, my goal is to get tenure and be a permanent fixture of this program as I work with my colleagues within the department as well as across the university on important projects.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
My research necessitates access to public officials in places like Flint. Being in the middle of my research provides me incredible opportunities to see these projects really bloom. In addition, the university and my Department are great. The people I have met along with the resources available indicate to me that this is a good place to call home.

What do you hope for students in your field?
My hope for our students is that they are personally successful, however they define that. Obviously, I want to see them achieve higher positions and higher pay as a result of completing the MPA degree. These are important indicators for a successful academic program in general. I also want them to feel fulfilled in their careers in public service. I want to provide them with out-of-the-box ways of thinking about public problems that will push them to think innovatively. I want them to do their jobs in ways that improve their own wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of the communities in which they work. I want people who work with our graduates to see the quality of our program through their actions.

What are three things you think people should know about you?

  • I am very friendly, but I am thinking about stuff all the time, so if you see me on campus and I walk by you without saying something please don’t be offended. If you see me grab my attention and I will definitely greet you.
  • I love spicy food. I can eat non-spicy food, but I usually do so only to survive. When I want to truly live I ask for the Ghost Peppers.
  • I have a little boy going to Kindergarten (first and only kid) this year. Big event!!

UM-Flint Students Attend 2017 Michigan TESOL Conference

Thanks to funding from UM-Flint’s University Outreach, Emily Feuerherm, assistant professor of linguistics in the Department of English, was able to bring her TEL 313 class to the 2017 Michigan TESOL conference.

Emily Feuerherm, PhD, (front row, right) and her TEL 313 students at the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference

Emily Feuerherm, PhD, (front row, right) and her TEL 313 students at the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference

TEL 313: Second Language Acquisition, is recommended coursework in UM-Flint’s 15-credit TESOL program. (TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The program, which culminates in a certificate that shows on one’s transcripts, allows graduates to teach English abroad without additional teaching credentials or special training.

“Students were so excited for this event; for many of them, it was their first experience at a professional conference,” said Feuerherm. “Following the conference, students wrote reflections about the experience and connected what they learned at the conference to the theories in our course readings. Next year, the goal is that they will all present at the conference.”

Feuerherm and her students spell out M-I-T-E-S-O-L while attending the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference.

Feuerherm and her students spell out M-I-T-E-S-O-L while attending the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference.

Attending the Michigan TESOL conference also allowed the students to interact with professionals and educators, and make important network connections. “Thanks to University Outreach’s Civic Engagement Grant for making it all possible,” concluded Feuerherm.

For more information on the UM-Flint TESOL program, and the opportunities it presents to students wishing to work and live abroad, visit


UM-Flint Chemistry Professor Visits Alumni, Presents Talk at Iowa State University

Professor Jie Song, of the UM-Flint Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, was invited to give a talk at the Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Chemistry on October 27, 2017. Dr. Song did his postdoctoral research at Ames Laboratory US DOE from 2002 to 2004, located on the ISU campus, before he joined UM-Flint as a faculty member.

The talk was titled “Methods Applied in Studying Repellent-Attractant Interactions.” Besides talking to a small group of theoretical/computational chemists/physicists, Professor Song met with three UM-Flint alumni.

From left to right, Viet Nguyen ('17), David Poole ('16), Professor Jie Song, and Kristoper Keipert ('12)

Left to right: Viet Nguyen (’17), David Poole (’16), Prof. Jie Song, Kristoper Keipert (’12)

Since 2004, five UM-Flint undergraduate students who have done research with him have obtained or are studying for their Ph.D. in theoretical/computational chemistry at Iowa State University. They are:

  • Dr. George Schoendorff (Chemistry, ’06), Visiting Professor at Bradley University
  • Alexander Findlater (Chemistry, ’10)
  • Dr. Kristoper Keipert (Biochemistry, ’12), postdoctoral researcher at Argonne National Lab, US DOE
  • David Poole (Chemistry, ’16)
  • Viet Nguyen (Chemistry, ’17)

During the last 13 years, Dr. Song has supervised more than 30 undergraduate research students. Among them, seven have already obtained their Ph.D. in chemistry and three have obtained their MD.

For more information on the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit

Faculty Spotlight: Katherine Eaton of Science Education

Katherine Eaton joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor of science education.

Katherine Eaton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Science Education at UM-Flint

Katherine Eaton, Assistant Professor of Science Education at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about Katherine and how she’s educating future science teachers, or join her in one of her Winter 2018 classes:

  • EDE 344: Teaching Science, in Elementary/Middle School
    (held Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.)
  • SCI 125-02: Scientific Inquiry I
    (held Monday/Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.-4:50 p.m.)

Students can register at or find more information about upcoming semesters at

Students can also find Katherine at one of her Fall 2017 Coffee Chats:

November 2017 — Tips and practice for MTTC-Science items!
Thursday, November 16  |  5-6 p.m.  |  CSEP Conference Room, 215 MSB
Monday, November 20  |  12:30-1:30 p.m.  |  CEP, 410 French Hall

December 2017 — Fun with snowflake science!
Monday, December 4  |  12:30-1:30 p.m.  |  CEP, 410 French Hall
Thursday, December 7  |  5-6 p.m.  |  CSEP Conference Room, 215 MSB

Email for more information.

What degrees do you hold? 

  • B.S. Forensic Science, Michigan State University
  • M.Ed. Education, University of Michigan
  • Ph.D. Science Education (Dec 2017), Western Michigan University

Why are you passionate about your field?
The relationship aspect of supporting students as they begin to build their teaching practice is very rewarding! I think mentorship is a key component of having successful teachers in the classroom. I genuinely enjoy seeing students excited about experiencing and teaching science.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
I have always been curious about scientific phenomenon and questioning the world around me. Forensic Science was a great fit for me because it incorporated all of the scientific disciplines and even had a problem solving component. Science Education has a unique challenge in that the things we know today may be different tomorrow based on new discoveries or new technologies. How cool is that?!

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I really enjoy teaching science methods courses and mentoring interns during their placements. It is rewarding to see the “ah-ha” moments when they start shaping their own teaching practices. I am also excited to teach the Integrated Science courses, they connect well to my Forensic Science background.

What is your latest or favorite research project?
My current research project is looking at how professional identity develops during a teacher education program. It is interesting to see what components are influencing the development of candidates’ identities as teachers. A secondary question is what, if any, impact a cohort model has on their identity development. This is significant because many undergraduate programs are shifting to cohort models.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
My hope is that I am building longstanding relationships with my students, colleagues, and within the Flint community. I would like my students to see me as a mentor rather than just an instructor of a course they had to take. That role opens up an opportunity to extend beyond the classroom and be a part of their growth as classroom teachers. I am also looking forward to creating community connections that build on our course learning objectives.

Katherine Eaton (left) and student Nancy Lareau pose with astronaut Story Musgrave

Katherine Eaton (left) and student Nancy Lareau pose with astronaut Story Musgrave

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I am excited to be a part of the integrated science TCP. The joint appointment between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education is a unique opportunity to combine my experiences as a scientist and educator. The Flint community has had a special place in my life for the last 20 years and I look forward to not only being an active member of the community but also supporting Flint Public Schools with well-prepared teacher interns. The place-based education opportunities at UM-Flint will provide wonderful ways to discuss science and pedagogy.

What do you hope for students in your field?
I hope students in Science Education enjoy the natural curiosities we all have and find ways to bring that into their own classrooms. New discoveries in science are happening every day and, as teachers, we get to share and explore these ideas with our students. Many advances in science came from failed experiments so I hope my students see that as an opportunity to take chances and try new things.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • I am passionate about my students and they will always be a priority.
  • I truly enjoy researching my own practice and growing as an educator and mentor.
  • When I win the lotto, I will host free educational retreats in the Caribbean for science teachers!

Faculty Spotlight: Biplob Barman of UM-Flint Physics

Biplob Barman, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor of physics.

Biplob Barman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Physics

Biplob Barman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Physics

Read below to learn more about him and the field of physics, or join him in one of his Winter 2018 classes:

  • PHY 143-01: College Physics I
    (held MW, 11:15 a.m. – 1:25 p.m., with Friday lab)
  • PHY 143-02: College Physics I
    (held MW 4 p.m. – 6:10 p.m., with Friday lab)

Students can register at or find more information about upcoming semesters at

In which area of physics are you most interested?
I am interested in experimental condensed matter physics, especially optical spectroscopy of semiconductor nanostructures.

Why are you passionate about your field? 
I am passionate about optical spectroscopy because it is one of the most fundamental fields of physics wherein one can study interaction of light with matter. Using this technique, one can use light of varying wavelengths to probe various properties in different types of nanomaterials, which are extremely important from a technological point of view.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
Travelling down memory lane, I believe it all started while working on physics labs in high school where a prism was used to separate white light into its constituent spectrum of colors. That was the beginning of this journey towards a PhD and I am glad I undertook it, because all along I have always been intrigued by the effect of light on different materials.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach? 
Besides introductory physics classes, I would love to teach the following courses:

  • Semiconductor Physics
  • Solid State Physics
  • Optics
  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic properties of Materials

What is your latest or favorite research project?
One of my favorite research projects has been the study of magnetic quantum dots, particularly their behavior as a function of the location of the magnetic dopants. Another area of research that I worked on was using Terahertz (Electromagnetic radiation between Microwaves and Infrared) time domain spectroscopy to study semiconductor charge carrier (electrons and holes) dynamics.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint? 
As a Physics faculty member, I hope to be able to nurture a sense of curiosity among the students and enhance their analytical and technical skills. As an educator and a guide, I would like to help the students reach a level where they are competent enough to choose between employment or further studies upon graduation. I hope to secure external funding to start an undergraduate research program wherein I can integrate material science engineering and Physics thereby imparting relevant technical skills necessary for success in their respective careers.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community? 
I have always dreamt of bringing various aspects of cutting edge research accessible to the general public as a means to inspire them. UM-Flint, and the Flint community as a whole, provides the perfect platform to jumpstart a movement wherein I can get together with high school teachers of the community to incorporate STEM at a very early stage. More significantly, the demographics of the community brightens the prospect of organizing workshops in collaboration with local high school teachers to enhance STEM education in the community.

What do you hope for students in your field? 
I hope the students can utilize their skillset to excel in whichever career path they opt for and at the same time enlighten every individual they come across with the knowledge they acquired so as to create a society based on the pillars of science and reasoning.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • Hard-work and honesty
  • Never say die attitude
  • An avid soccer fan

Pursuing Passion: Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre & Dance

Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre working in the university's Costume Shop

Every UM-Flint Theatre & Dance production is a chance to teach something new. Adam Dill, lecturer and Costume Shop Supervisor for the department, specializes in connecting his students to each project while creating pieces that build their skill sets and portfolios.

The final theatrical production of the 2016-17 season is The Importance of Being Earnest—a classic satire set in Victorian England. Said Dill, “This production is set in the 1890’s, so we are constructing silhouettes we have not made in this shop before.” He also noted that special considerations have to be made in fabric choice and construction—so the costumes function for the actor while looking the part—and in adapting older styles to modern bodies.

“We used historical patterns that are actually from the 1890’s on this production,” added Theatre Design & Technology student Alli Switalski, “so it was definitely a learning experience to adapt the pattern of a teeny tiny garment from the turn of the century into garments that our actors could wear.”

A dress for the production is Switalski’s first large-scale project: she completed the garment’s entire drape, pattern, and construction process. And, she admits, it’s this start-to-finish project that she’s most excited to see on stage.

Dill is the production’s Costume Shop Manager and Lead Draper, and also charged with being the faculty advisor for the Wardrobe Crew. “As the shop manager,” said Dill, “it is my responsibility to budget and price out the show, to make sure all of the clothes are produced in a timely fashion, and the clothes are properly fit to each actor. Acting as the lead draper, I have taken on the creation of Miss Prism and Lady Bracknell.”

Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre working with a student in the university's Costume Shop

Adam Dill works on a bodice with UM-Flint Theatre Design & Technology student Alli Switalski.

Teaching in UM-Flint Theatre

Switalski transferred to UM-Flint to study with Dill—her previous institution didn’t provide a supportive teaching environment like the one she found on a visit to UM-Flint Theatre. “It’s like a little family in the theatre department,” she noted. “Collaboration makes our world go round, so I really love that we are all so close.”

When asked about Dill as a teacher, she said, “Adam has taught me to laugh. To ‘just do it’ and have fun in the process. He challenges me to push my limits as a designer and technician and to trust my instincts in the process.”

Lydia Parker VanTol, a senior Theatre Design & Technology student, echoed her sentiments, adding, “Not only have I learned how to pattern, drape, and sew, but I’ve also learned a lot of life lessons like how to handle working under a deadline and learning about a balance between perfection and time management. I love our sense of teamwork and community. It’s great to work with people who understand and respect your craft and who are also learning at the same time as you.”

Taylor Boes works on a boa for "The Importance of Being Earnest." She's also an actress in the production.

Taylor Boes works on a boa for “The Importance of Being Earnest.” She’s also an actress in the production.


Switalski and Parker VanTol are just the kind of students Dill enjoys teaching at UM-Flint. “I really appreciate that the average student has an open mind and a willingness to learn,” he said. “Regardless of background, upbringing, or circumstance—our students are constantly committed to pursuing their best self.”

Currently, Dill teaches Introduction to Stage Costuming, Patterning, and Draping, Textiles and Costuming, and a Stage Costuming Lab. His students often get a chance to assist on production costumes, adding finishing touches like hems and closures.

Bringing Experts to Campus

Part of Dill’s teaching philosophy involves bringing experts to campus. “I’ve previously hosted a tailoring workshop, a lighting technology workshop, and most recently a wig workshop,” said Dill. “For the future, I have workshops planned specifically for working with thermoplastics in theatrical costumes, a workshop on creating/recreating parasols, and hopefully a two-day workshop on working with theatrical millinery.”

The wig workshop, held on a Saturday in late February, brought Heather Fleming from the Custom Wig Company to campus. Seven UM-Flint Theatre students and one alum attended.

“In the workshop, we discussed how to properly style wigs using different roller sets, how to properly prepare the actor for wearing a wig, how to make/take a wig wrap, and how to ventilate and create our own custom wig products,” recalled Dill.

Participants in UM-Flint Theatre's recent wig workshop.

Participants in UM-Flint Theatre’s recent wig workshop.


“We decided to host this workshop so students could actively learn the art of wig styling on a practical application for one of our productions,” he continued. “Several of the students from the workshop are on the wardrobe crew for Importance of Being Earnest, so having direct access to the wig stylist benefits the wig work you will see in this very exciting production!”

Alli Switalski at the UM-Flint Theatre wig workshop.

Alli Switalski at the UM-Flint Theatre wig workshop.


Switalski was one of the student participants. When asked what she enjoyed most, she responded, “It’s a fascinating art form that most people don’t even know exists. I enjoyed diving right in and playing with wigs to get a hands-on experience of styling and maintenance techniques.”

A Life of Creativity

Dill is an excellent example for students who are unsure about pursuing a career in theatre. “I previously started my education in Pre-Dentistry,” said Dill. “One day while sitting in a molecular biology class, I realized how much I missed being in the theatre. I eventually withdrew from school, moved back home, and prepared myself for a life in the arts. After a few months at home, I enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington as an Acting major. I was assigned to the costume shop as part of my practicum. I was given the task of decorating hats. Once I realized that working in theatrical costumes was a viable career path, I changed my major again and have never looked back.”

Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre working in the university's Costume Shop


Switalski is ready to follow in his footsteps. “I have two semesters left before completing my degree,” she noted. “This involves my capstone project which will probably be a draping project, so keep an eye out for my name in next season’s programs. After graduation, I plan on moving to where the work is to get some experience before graduate school. I’ve also started my own business that I’d like to expand, taking more costume commissions for Halloween, Cosplay, and Renaissance Festivals.”

Dill hopes all of his students “leave here with a renewed sense of self confidence, and understanding of how to overcome challenges, and an open mind to potential that life presents to us!”

As for his future? Dill replied, “Right now, I am in the process of designing one of the dance pieces in our dance concert—A Midsummer Night’s Dream—choreographed by Adesola Akinleye. At the same time, I am remounting a previously designed production of Cat in the Hat for the Flint Youth Theatre. Because I don’t have enough going on, I am also managing the Colorado Shakespeare Festival costume shop this summer.”

After graduation, Parker VanTol will also be working at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where she’ll no doubt continue learning from Dill.

Learn about creative opportunities for all majors, both on and off stage. Visit

Shakespeare Inspires CAS Students to Connect with Flint, World

Dr. Mary Jo Kietzman of UM-Flint English with "Lear Reassembled" students

At first glance, the study of Shakespeare can seem outdated in today’s world and university curriculum. But associate professor of English Mary Jo Kietzman, Ph.D., has been successful in teaching Shakespeare as a means for UM-Flint students to think deeply about and connect to their world.

Why Shakespeare?

Kietzman believes in the connection students—not just those majoring in English—make with the language of Shakespeare, and in the connections that exist between his time and ours. “We still have a primal need for a language that will move us–whether to laughter or to tears,” said Kietzman. “[It’s] the language of the imagination, of telling stories, of wrestling with ideas and feelings—the language of real communication, of people wanting to talk about issues that concern them and their community, issues of conscience, ideas, and dreams. Texting cannot fulfill this deeper need, and, as another Renaissance playwright famously wrote, ‘where words prevail not, violence prevails.'”

“The people of Shakespeare’s world lived with a lot less padding between themselves and harsh realities,” she continued. “It can be easy to forget that all the heat in Shakespeare’s language, the coarseness, the violence, the passion, the sorrow, came out of a very basic sense of survival. I believe students in Flint can connect with the immediacy of its impact.”

Projects for UM-Flint Students

In the past, Kietzman had a class “reassemble” Shakespeare’s King Lear to get UM-Flint students out in the community and asking questions about Flint. Noted an article about the project, “students had to overcome their stereotype-bred fears of Flint and venture forth, doing highly unconventional research. They tramped around Chevy-in-the-Hole. They volunteered at soup kitchens. They scanned the Flint Journal, visited the Genesee County Historical Collection, and read books like Gordon Young’s Tear Down to learn about Flint.”

Sarah Swartz, a student who participated in Lear Reassembled, said, “What has impressed me the most about our project is the way we have taken something as classic as Shakespeare and given it a modern purpose. No longer are we studying the themes of the play in the classroom. We have taken it further and found meaning for it in Flint.  That is something I think Shakespeare would be proud of.”

The "cast" of the Lear Reassembled project.

The “cast” of the Lear Reassembled project.

More recently, Kietzman taught a cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays for the first time. “I thought it would be interesting to do in the run-up to the presidential election,” she said. “These plays gave us a lot to think about in terms of what we are looking for in our rulers and how much expressive freedom the citizenry should expect. It seems to me to be easier to approach politics in the classroom obliquely through a safe literary filter. Shakespeare also provides a cross section of the population (rich and poor) and multiple ways of thinking about any given issue. This is so unlike our current divisive political discourse that it almost seems like Shakespeare is better at encouraging critical thinking about all manner of political problems.”

UM-Flint students performing their one-act play exploring gender roles in "Taming the Shrew"

UM-Flint students performing their one-act play exploring gender roles in “Taming the Shrew”

In other classes, Kietzman has had UM-Flint students write short (one act) plays to explore general questions like what gives people power? or why do we fight in relationships? or what are we fighting for? “Scriptwriting forces students to translate and own the issues in a personal way,” said Kietzman. “Because I ask them to draw on their own experiences, collaboration is tricky. Personal histories, pain, struggles, and prejudices inevitably come out and must be embraced by the teacher and the group.”

Shakespeare Beyond UM-Flint

Kietzman knows that those who connect with her class projects will carry the experiences with them long after graduation. “I was amazed to discover how relevant Shakespeare still is and at how little changes about human nature,” said one past student. “All of the issues we are facing today are covered in his plays. Professor Kietzman was brilliant at leading class discussions in a way that made us think beyond the words on the page. I finally understood why Shakespeare still matters and have turned into a passionate advocate for his work.”

Local community groups and publishers have also taken note of Kietzman’s work. She’s been an invited speaker to the St. Matthew’s Speaker Series—a downtown Flint church’s forum for those who are making a difference in the community. She has also written an article on her time spent teaching Shakespeare in Kazakhstan—where her idea to adapt King Lear to Flint was born.

“It’s hard to find a reason to truly care about what is happening in your surroundings,” noted alumni Stephanie Ruddock when speaking to the ways in which the Lear project helped her connect to Flint. “But when you begin to investigate, you begin to crave more knowledge, and, in turn, you become more involved in your community. Suddenly, you feel a desire to take part of the world around you and show the world how wonderful it is.”

Looking to the future, Kietzman said, “I would like to tackle another Flint adaptation. I have to figure out another play that would be a good fit for Flint. It also takes a dedicated cohort of students. I am passionate about this work for the single reason that I think students need to grow roots in Flint. There is a growing sense of alienation that comes, I think, from being displaced from a sense of place. Globalization is great, but what about our shared home—this city? Shouldn’t we know it? Shouldn’t we figure out how to care about and get involved in it?”

Learn about the ways in which linguistics, writing, and literature help UM-Flint students connect to the world around them and thrive after graduation.


Faculty Spotlight: Fadi Mohsen of UM-Flint Computer Science

Fadi Mohsen, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts & Sciences in Fall 2016 as an assistant professor of computer science.

Fadi Mohsen, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at UM-Flint

Fadi Mohsen, PhD, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at UM-Flint

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

  • CIS 363 – Commercial Applications of Web Programming
    (MW, 2:30pm-3:45pm)
  • CSC 370 – Intro to Information Security
    (MW, 11am-12:15pm)
  • CSC 570 – Cyber Security (M, 6pm-8:45pm)

Students can register now at or find more information at

Why are you passionate about your field?
Every day a massive amount of data is being generated, the data can be utilized to enhance our lives, but it can also be misused. In my field, we investigate the malicious ways of collecting personal data and propose solutions to defend against them.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I prefer to teach upper level courses in information security and privacy, particularly in the network and mobile computing domains. Moreover, I have a particular interest in teaching application development courses in which students are inquired to develop complete desktop, web, and/or mobile applications.

What is your your latest or favorite research project?
My latest and favorite research project is called “The Danger of Android Broadcast Receivers.” There are two typical assumptions made regarding permissions and mobile applications security and privacy. The first one is that malicious applications need to retain dangerous permissions. Secondly, smartphone users assume that installed applications access data if they are only in the foreground. In this project, we show how malicious Android applications are able to orchestrate their attacks and collect users’ data with minimum permissions and while running in the background.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
Well, when i started my graduate studies i wanted to specialize in data mining. So, in my first semester,  I took a security course with a professor who then became my thesis advisor. He showed a lot of enthusiasm about the topic, the course also was very interesting and exciting. In my second semester, i took another course with the same professor, by the end of that semester i decided to specialize in security.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I am interested in creating socially relevant computing courses that helps students develop skills in communication, leadership, and planning community outreach. I am also looking forward to integrate my research ideas into the curriculum of the courses that I teach. Finally, I am hoping to develop multiple online courses.

What do you hope for students in your field?
I hope for them to engage in real open source software and research projects, which would get them ready and well-equipped  for the job market

What are three things you think people should know about you?
Soccer is my favorite sport, I love road trips, and I have lived in three different states: Colorado, North Carolina, and Michigan.

To learn more about engineering at UM-Flint, visit To register for courses, visit or