Way Klingler Young Scholar Awards support promising young scholars in critical stages of their careers. The awards of up to $32,000 are intended to fund $2,000 in operating costs and to cover up to 50 percent of salary to afford the recipient a one-semester sabbatical.
Dr. Francesca Lopez, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership, knows what it’s like to be singled out because of her ethnicity. While raising her family in Arizona, she was reprimanded by her son’s teacher for not speaking English at home, even though Lopez and her husband had chosen to raise their children to be bilingual.
“Children that are part of marginal groups are much more aware of stereotypes. My son was only five at the time, but he asked me if he could wear long sleeves to cover his dark skin,” Lopez said. “My personal experiences have been a catalyst for my research on the broad range effects of bilingual education.”
Her sabbatical study will take her into Milwaukee classrooms, where she’ll interview 600 children ages four to 14 to determine how personal, educational and social contexts contribute to the development of ethnic identity, and how positive ethnic identity helps promote academic achievement. By analyzing student and teacher surveys, augmented by interviews and classroom observations, Lopez hopes to demonstrate that classroom context helps form children’s context of self, and that by honoring children’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds, teachers can increase academic achievement among students who are most at risk for dropping out of school.
After the study is completed, Lopez plans to write a book about her findings, to inform educators and policy makers. “I’m on the front lines of what’s happening in classrooms,” Lopez said. “I have the chance to teach teachers, to change the culture of education and to help shape educational policies that have the power to make a difference.”
Knowing that Dr. Scott Beardsley, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, was researching the connection between visual processing and movement, a colleague once casually asked him what kinds of visual impairments were associated with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients. Beardsley said he didn’t know, and that he would look into it. Five years later, he’s still looking.
Beardsley uses a combined experimental and computational modeling approach to identify and quantify deficits in MS patients’ sensorimotor control of their arm movements. He assesses patients’ fine motor functions through a variety of clinical tests and electronic drawing exercises, and then uses robotics to measure their corrective movements as they perform specific motor tasks. This data is then plugged into a computational model to determine how MS impacts patients’ sensory and motor processing compared to neurologically intact subjects.
“In MS patients, we’ve found that there seems to be a mismatch between how the person’s arm moves and how the brain thinks it’s moving. That difference results in a tremor,” Beardsley said. “Based on the type of mismatch, we can pinpoint which parts of the brain’s sensorimotor control system have been affected by the disease and then develop rehabilitation strategies that target the source of the mismatch.”
He plans to use his sabbatical to gain clinical experience and to begin categorizing sources of motor impairment in MS patients. Beardsley hopes someday his research will aid the development of tailored rehabilitation strategies that will improve patients’ quality of life. Until then, he’ll keep looking.
When asked how she’s doing, Dr. Abir Bekhet, assistant professor of nursing, will answer, “I’m wonderful,” no matter what kind of day she’s having. Her research on vulnerable populations’ use of positive cognition to overcome adversity has woven itself into her personal life.
When Bekhet moved to the United States from her native Egypt to pursue a doctorate degree, she observed some of her international classmates falling apart under the stress of relocating to a different country, while others seemed to thrive. “I wanted to know how I could be in the ‘thriving’ category,” Bekhet said. “Then I started thinking about how if it was difficult for a young person to relocate, it must be very hard for older adults to relocate to assisted care facilities.”
Bekhet has implemented pilot intervention studies using positive cognition and resourcefulness concepts to help older adults who were relocated to retirement communities adjust to their new environment. She is currently completing data analysis on two descriptive studies examining the effects of positive cognition and resourcefulness on caregivers of people with dementia and autism.
During her sabbatical, Bekhet plans to conduct a study to examine the validity of a new eight-item Positive Thinking Skills Scale she developed based off of the acronym, THINKING. The scale will measure the frequency with which positive cognition intervention recipients use specific positive thinking skills.
“I wanted to focus my research on mental health concepts so that I’m not limited to a specific population,” Bekhet said. “It’s my goal to help vulnerable populations not only cope with struggle across their lifespan, but also thrive.”
Most people don’t equate chemistry with creativity. But the opportunity to create something new is exactly what drew Dr. Adam Fiedler, assistant professor of chemistry, to his current research. “In so many of the other sciences, you’re studying something that already exists. In chemistry, you can create brand new molecules and see what they do.”
Fiedler studies the role metalloenzymes – biological catalysts that require a metal ion to perform their biological function – play in naturally breaking down environmental pollutants. During his sabbatical, Fiedler will seek to better understand this chemistry by designing iron-containing molecules that mimic the structure and function of metalloenzymes. His ultimate goal is to develop synthetic catalysts that are capable of using oxygen as an oxidant, instead of harsh, polluting oxidants – such as bleach – currently used industrially to carry out similar reactions.
“I call it bio-inspired chemistry,” Fiedler said. “We’re looking at what nature has the capability of doing and seeing if we can use the same chemical principles to translate that into a synthetic system, where we have much more control and increased possibilities of creating new chemical reactions.”