Geography in the News

Ph.D. student Mike Ribant wins People's Choice Award at ILGISA 2011Fall Conference. Story

Liberal Arts and Sciences honor 11 alumni, faculty, and staff. Story

Konen, Morris, Swedlow honored with awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Story

NIU Soil Judging Team places 5th at National Soil Judging contest Story

Liberal Arts and Sciences will honor 10 faculty, staff during Golden Anniversary Story

Changnon, Powell and Smith named as 2010 Board of Trustees Professors Story

Presidential Commission on the Status of Women bestows annual awards to Kohli, Lamb, Morris, Rigg Story

NIU honors Engel, Rigg, Rossetti, Brata for undergraduate teaching, instruction Story

Outstanding Women Student Award presented to Jericho Winters and Monica Zappa Story

Nighttime tornadoes? Worst nightmare - Twisters that occur from midnight to dawn are 2.5 times more likely to kill: NIU researchers Story

Geographic Design - Geography department will stage night of GIS demonstration Story

NIU Foundation awards annual Venture Grants Story

Award-Winning Online Campus Map Improves Story

‘Raising the bar’ Strategic Planning Task Forces recommend positive campus, Office of Engaged Learning Story

Strategic planning task forces will present recommendations to Peters, Alden this week Story

'Other' Killer Winds May Take More Lives Story

2008 Presidential Teaching Professors Story

Dozens attend NIU’s first assessment expo Story

High school students use NASA data to research whether rain fell on Mars Story

IEPA director will visit campus to speak on initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases Story

GPS-powered system enables students to track Huskie Buses, reduce wait time Story

NIU scientists, students will bring global warming to Canadian sugar maples Story

Where the bugs are? New ag-weather Web site predicts pest migrations Story

University Libraries happy to be swamped with thousands of historical wetland maps Story

NIU's David Changnon to appear in TV documentary on climate change Story

NIU experts will hold seven public presentations on global climate change Story

NIU graduate student's research hits pay dirt Story 

Geography department launches weather Web site Story

Geography alum spots NIU-produced maps on display at Library of Congress in Washington Story

NIU announces 2004 recipients of SPS Presidential Awards for Excellence Story

Geography professor receives NASA grant to study Martian valley networks Story

Campus Web Map wins award Story

Click and you’re virtually there - New interactive Campus Web Map gives lay of the land — and then some Story

NIU research scientist lands award from Intergraph Story

NIU Department of Geography Partners with Northern Illinois Food Bank Story

Intergraph Awards Education Grant, Boosts NIU Research Technology Story

NIU Researcher: It's Not The Summer Heat But The Humidity Story

Graduate Student's Research Recognized in International Competition Story

Researchers Track Illinois Storm Damage to Crops Via NASA Satellite Story

 NIU Cartography Lab Wins Award for Watershed Map Story  

 NIU Department of Geography Selected as 1 OF 6 'CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE' Nationwide Story


October 19, 2011

Ph.D. student Mike Ribant wins the People's Choice Award at ILGISA 2011 Fall Conference.

Mike Ribant was awarded the People’s Choice Award (student division) for his poster “Persistent County Clusters of High Unemployment Across Recessions: November 2001-June 2009” at the fall 2011, Illinois Geographic Information Systems Association (ILGISA) conference.


October 14, 2011

Liberal Arts and Sciences honor 11 alumni, faculty, and staff.

NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences held its second Distinguished Alumni, Faculty, and Staff Awards dinner Friday, Oct. 14, in Altgeld Auditorium.
Eleven honorees were selected from the many nominations submitted by fellow faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the college.
This year’s honorees were:

Howard T. Brady, M.S. Geology, 1977
Richard L. Escalante, B.A. Political Science, 1974, M.A. Political Science/Public Administration, 1978
Kelli Lyon Johnson, M.A. Foreign Languages and Literatures/French, 1996, Ph.D. English, 2003
Gail A. Krmenec, M.S. Geography, 1986
William E. Mickols, B.S. Biological Sciences and B.S. Chemistry, 1977, M.S. Biochemistry, 1978
Wendy Sue Parker, B.S. Geography/Meteorology, 1997, B.A. Philosophy, 1997

Faculty and Staff
Gary D. Glennm, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, 1966 – 2007
James D. Norris, Professor Emeritus, History, Dean , 1979 – 1995
Barbara M. Posadas, Professor, History, 1974 – Present
Patricia K. Boesche, B.S. Accountancy, 1990 , M.A.S., 1992; M.P.A., 1994, Business Manager, 1996 – 2009
Ellen E. Franklin, M.A. English, 1978 , First-Year Composition Instructor, 1976 – 1992 , Assistant to the Director of First-Year Composition, 1992 – Present

Gail A. Krmenec
M.S. Geography, 1986

Ms. Gail Krmenec graduated with an M.S. from the NIU Department of Geography in 1986. She began her career as a freelance cartographer for Rand McNally where she designed and produced maps of individual U.S. states and Canadian provinces for the Young Student Encyclopedia set. She also worked as a cartographer for Nystrom, a leading publisher of maps, globes, and atlases for students from kindergarten through college.

In 1988, Ms. Krmenec began a career as a geographer with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. In this role, she provides professional support in the geographic aspects of the Decennial Censuses and ongoing survey operations interacting with city leaders, urban planners, and development officials in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana to ensure housing unit and population counts are accurate.

She has served as Geographic Coordinator and Assistant Regional Census Manager for the last two decennial censuses, planning and executing multiple concurrent projects and programs with rigid deadlines to support this constitutionally-mandated activity. Her direct responsibilities in the 2010 census included leading a decentralized team of approximately 1,650 office staff and 12,000 field staff to complete the census and managing a budget in excess of $27 million. During her tenure with the Census Bureau, she twice took a leadership position running the Combined Federal Campaign program in the Chicago area (an annual fundraising drive that provides federal employees an opportunity to donate to non-profit organizations). The campaigns raised $2 million and $4.3 million respectively in charitable funds.

The professional geography field has acknowledged Ms. Krmenec’s work. She was elected on the Illinois Geographic Information System Association Board of Directors from 1998 – 2002; serving as President from 2000 – 2001. In 2003, Ms. Krmenec won the Bronze Medal from the U.S. Department of Commerce for her professional contributions.

Ms. Krmenec advocates for and supports NIU students, too. More than a half dozen graduates with Bachelor or Master’s degrees in Geography have gotten their first professional experience working under her tutelage in the Bureau of Census. In 2001, she and her husband initiated and created the William Morris Davis scholarship (honoring the founding father of North American geography). The foundation encourages graduate students to conduct advanced research in geography and supports students who demonstrate financial need.

As an active contributor to her community, Ms. Krmenec volunteers her time in activities such as career guidance workshops and participates in fundraising events such as the DeKalb Garden Walk.

Wendy Sue Parker
B.S. Geography/Meteorology, 1997
B.A. Philosophy, 1997

Dr. Wendy Sue Parker received recognition from her professors and the University while earning double major degrees at NIU. In 1997, Dr. Parker graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy and a B.S. in Meteorology, both summa cum laude, and was named the NIU Lincoln Laureate that year. Professor David J. Buller, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, says “[she] stands out as the single best student I have ever taught.”

After NIU, Dr. Parker continued her study of meteorology and the philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh, the internationally acknowledged top doctoral program in History and Philosophy of Science. There she was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and the Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship.

After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Parker held fellowships first as a Congressional Science Fellow working on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Two postdoctoral fellowships followed, one at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University, and then in the Science Studies Program at the University at San Diego. In 2006, Dr. Parker accepted a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Ohio University where she is currently employed. She was recently promoted to Associate Professor.

Of her interdisciplinary research into epistemological questions regarding meteorology, renowned philosopher of science, John Norton, has credited her with initiating a new subfield within the philosophy of science—philosophy of meteorology. Dr. Parker’s research demonstrates that method, explanation, and confirmation in meteorology are unique to the philosophy of science, and meteorology must be understood within a different epistemological framework than other sciences.

At Ohio University, Dr. Parker has developed and taught more than a half dozen courses, presented a number of prestigious invited papers, and published five manuscripts. In 2008, she received the Ohio University Challenge Grant and a three-year National Science Foundation Grant to examine ensemble climate prediction. NIU Meteorology Professor David Changnon, says, “Even though she has just started her academic career, Wendy has already made a huge impression on her field. Her ability to address important issues to two or more disciplines is rare among scientists.”

Dr. Parker’s professional and public service is impressive and spans several arenas. She reviews grants for both the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. She serves on a number of committees at Ohio University and she is a referee for a number of important scholarly journals.


April 2011

Konen, Morris, Swedlow honored with awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

‘Soil tells a story’

Mike Konen cannot keep from chuckling when he talks about his job teaching soil science and physical geography to graduate and undergraduate students.

The subject itself is not funny, but the attention and excitement he attaches to what many people refer to as dirt, casts it in an ironic light.

To further the irony, the light he has shined on soil was reflected back onto him this month when the professor in NIU’s Department of Geography received the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

“I was surprised I won,” he said. “Last year, I was nominated after the committee told me. I suspected I would be nominated again this year. There are a lot of excellent teachers nominated.”

Receiving the award is an honor, he said, and winning tells him that he can incite students to be just as enthused as he is about soil.

“I love soil, and I love teaching,” said Konen, a farmer turned college scholar. “Some people call me a soil nerd. But there’s more to soil than just being dirt.”

The first thing he tells his students at the start of a semester is they will get their hands dirty and shoes muddy. He teaches his courses in two segments: in the classroom and in the field.

“Teaching my classes is rewarding. In the field, I can show students the different layers of soil. From them, we can tell what has happened on the property in the last 100 to 200 years,” Konen said. “We can tell if a plot was farmed or if any buildings were once on it.”

From its color, layer thickness and vegetation, Konen and students determine how old it is, how well water drains from it and, if someone wants to build on it, how it will react to development.

Before attending college, Konen worked as a dairy farmer. Later, he earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Iowa State University. He received his master’s degree from Ohio State University.

While working for an environmental engineering firm, Konen became interested in soil and wanted to learn more. He wanted to know why soil is different some places, how and why it changes and how people impact soil properties.

“Soil tells a story,” he said. “I like teaching my students what to look for in finding that story. I know many of them would say ‘That guy loves soil.’ Yes, I do love soil and I like teaching, too.”

Since he started teaching at NIU in 1998, the rural DeKalb County resident’s enthusiasm for the earth has put the university on the map with other universities that offer similar courses.

He introduced NIU and his students to the American Society of Agronomy Soil Judging Contest where a team of undergraduate students compete against other universities to describe soil properties and interpret potential land use.

Last spring, in only its fourth year of existence, the NIU soil judging team placed fifth at the national soil judging contest in Lubbock, Texas. On Saturday, April 30, team members will compete in their third consecutive national contest in Bend, Ore.

Team member Clint Bailey was one of the students who nominated Konen.

“I am sure that many students will tell you in this nomination how Dr. Konen’s creative teaching style has turned what can be often deemed a boring and dry subject into something interesting and exciting,” Bailey told nominating committee members.

“I think what truly separates Dr. Konen from the rest is the passion he has for his subjects and how far he will go to instill that passion into others.”


April 12, 2010

NIU Soil Judging Team places 5th at National Soil Judging contest

Results from the National Soil Judging contest held near Lubbock, Texas March
21-27. The contest was hosted by Texas Tech University.

1) Virginia Tech
2) Wisconsin Platteville
3) Rhode Island
4) Maryland
5) Northern Illinois
6) Utah State
7) Illinois
8) Georgia
9) Northwest Missouri State
10) Iowa State
11) Auburn
12) Missouri State
13) Wilmington College
14) Cal Poly
15) West Virginia
16) Oklahoma State
17) Missouri
18) Texas A & M
19) Clemson
20) Arkansas
21) Tennessee Martin

Norm Yackle was the 2nd place individual!! He eclipsed the 10th place nationals
finish of his coach (way back in the 1980’s…)!

NIU team members include:
2nd place individual - Norman Yackle (Geography)
24th place individual - Clint Bailey (Geology)
37th place individual - Amber Singer (Geography)
48th place individual - Aaron Browning (Geography)
Alicia Lisowski
Mike Konen

21 teams participated in the contest. The top 3 teams from each of seven regions
qualified in the fall of 2009 and moved on to the national contest. Approximately
84 students participated from the 21 universities.

This was only the 3nd year NIU has participated in soil judging. Please
congratulate the students if you see them. They did an excellent job and had some
fun while they learned about soils, vegetation, hydrology, geology, and land-use in
the Southern High Plains of Texas. We also learned a lot about the relentless wind
and how and why the Dust Bowl occurred.

March 22, 2010

Liberal Arts and Sciences will honor 10 faculty, staff during Golden Anniversary,
April 16 event caps 50th anniversary celebration

NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will honor 10 distinguished faculty and staff with a Golden Anniversary Faculty/Staff Award in Friday, April 16, ceremonies that cap the college’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration.

Selected from a large group of peers nominated for the award, the 10 honorees distinguished themselves by making a strong, positive difference in the development, growth and stature of the college during the last 50 years.

“The Golden Anniversary Faculty/Staff Awards recognize individuals who provided outstanding leadership and service to the college – in teaching, research, service, administration, program development and expansion,” said Dean Christopher K. McCord.

“Their achievements are very much in evidence today, in the Departments of Computer Science, English, Foreign Languages & Literatures, Geography, Mathematical Sciences, Political Science and Physics; the Division of Public Administration; and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.”

Brief profiles on the Golden Anniversary Faculty/Staff Award recipients are online.

The entire university community is invited to attend the public recognition event for CLAS Golden Anniversary Faculty/Staff Award honorees at 2 p.m. Friday, April 16, at Altgeld Hall.

The event also will feature a keynote address on “Liberal Learning in the 21st Century” presented by Dr. Terrel Rhodes, vice president of the Office of Quality, Curriculum and Assessment for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Perspectives also will be offered by NIU Lincoln Laureate Shay Galto; John Landgraf, president of Global Pharmaceutical Operations at Abbott Laboratories; and Professor Linda Sons, a Golden Anniversary Award honoree.

A reception will follow from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

The Honorees:

•Rodney Angotti (Computer Science)
•James Banovetz (Division of Public Administration)
•Paul Burtness (English)
Richard Dahlberg (Geography)
•Clyde Kimball (Physics)
•William Monat (Political Science)
•Nancy Schuneman (Center for Southeast Asian Studies
•Linda Sons (Mathematical Sciences)
•Raymond Tourville (Foreign Languages & Literatures)
•Daniel Wit (Political Science)

Richard E. Dahlberg

Professor Richard Dahlberg came to NIU in 1970 to chair the newly formed Department of Geography. From the 1970s into the 90s, Dick was the most widely known and respected member of the geography faculty, recognized by his peers in cartography, geography and cartographic education, and internationally as well as nationally.

Though State of Illinois economic conditions at the time prohibited the establishment of a Ph.D. program in geography, Dick played a major role in the initiation or development of the following:
• an M.S. degree program in geography
• the Cartography Laboratory
• public service functions of the Cartography and Geographic Information
System (GIS) laboratories
• the NIU Map Library
• the NIU Co-Op program (currently housed in Career Services)
• standards for excellence and career-long contributions to scholarship sustained by the Department’s faculty
and staff
• the department’s first endowed scholarship: the Richard E. Dahlberg Memorial Scholarship in
cartography/mapping science.

Dick’s many professional accomplishments spanned state, national and international borders. He founded the Illinois Mapping Advisory Committee and was its chair for 10 years; co-founded the Illinois GIS Association; and founded and served as editor of Northern Illinois Mapnotes, now known as Illinois GIS and Mapnotes. He also was elected president of the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping and president of the Land Information Assembly; was national director of the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing; and served as editor of The American Cartographer, a major international peer-reviewed journal.

The Illinois GIS Association annually honors and recognizes his substantial contributions to mapping and GIS through the Richard E. Dahlberg Distinguished Achievement Award to a deserving professional.

Two colleagues fondly remembered Professor Dahlberg in memoriam. One said, “Richard lived for teaching. He spent a large amount of time preparing his lectures, even during (international) seminars . . . putting in the finishing touches.” Another remarked, “I shall never forget the way Richard subtly imparted information and gave me advice on the American way of life. He was very positive and generous in spirit and will be sorely missed.”


March 22, 2010

Changnon, Powell and Smith named as 2010 Board of Trustees Professors

NIU is recognizing three faculty members who are standouts in, well, just about everything.

David Changnon, Ross Powell and Pamela Smith have been named as the 2010 Board of Trustees Professors. Established in 2007, the professorships recognize faculty members who have achieved a consistent record of excellence in teaching, academic leadership, scholarship or artistry, and service and outreach.

Special emphasis is placed on the recognition of those who have earned widespread acclaim for their scholarship or artistry and continue to engage students in their research and professional activities.

“David Changnon, Ross Powell and Pamela Smith – these are well-known names, both within our campus community and within their respective fields of expertise,” NIU President John Peters says.

“They are truly standout members of our faculty who excel in every aspect of teaching, research and service,” he adds. “They challenge their students, ask probing questions of the world around them, inspire their colleagues and make all of us at NIU extremely proud.”

Each BOT Professorship is accompanied by a $10,000 stipend, renewable annually during a 5-year term. The BOT Professorship awards will be presented during the annual Faculty Awards Ceremony and Reception beginning at 3 p.m. Monday, April 19, in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium.

Here’s a closer look at the 2010 BOT Professors.

Creating a learning climate

Any student interested in meteorology would covet an opportunity to intern with the weather guru of gurus, Tom Skilling.

Fortunately for NIU meteorology undergraduates, Professor David Changnon has an in. Over the past decade, he has supplied WGN-TV’s famous weatherman with more than 50 interns who have assisted Skilling with his broadcasts and Chicago Tribune weather page.

“It’s hard to put into words what it means to work with Tom Skilling,” says senior Robert Clavey II, who was encouraged by Changnon to apply for the internship. “I’m learning so much in my time at WGN that I cannot thank Dr. Changnon enough for the opportunities he offered me.”

When it comes to experts in weather and climate, Changnon has used his many contacts nationwide to make hands-on experience a hallmark of the NIU meteorology program, for which he serves as undergraduate adviser.

In the mid-1990s, Changnon won a grant to develop an applied climatology course that has resulted in students working alongside professionals, winning internships and landing jobs. During the course, students conduct research that helps businesses such as Allstate Insurance, Del Monte Foods and United Airlines make better-informed, weather-sensitive decisions.

And, yes, they help with daily weather forecasts, too, not only on WGN-TV but also at TV stations in Rockford and downstate Illinois.

“Professor Changnon is the leading advocate for including hands-on applied climatological work experience as part of an undergraduate degree program in atmospheric science,” says Julie Winkler, a professor of geography at Michigan State University. “He has developed perhaps the only truly applied climatology course offered at a U.S. academic institution.

“What a remarkable learning experience for these undergraduate students,” she adds.

Changnon himself is one of the nation’s leading scholars in applied climatology, focusing on the human and societal impacts of climate and climate change. He has researched trends in snowstorms, flooding, droughts, cyclone frequency and heat waves. He also has shown how businesses can benefit from long-term seasonal forecasts and documented the impact of climate change on agriculture, as well as the impact of changing agricultural practices on climate.

Amazingly, nearly 40 percent of his published articles, some of which have gained widespread media attention, were co-authored by students. They credit him with connecting textbooks to their life experiences and inspiring their meteorology careers.

“Without his guidance, patience and encouragement, I know I would not be where I am today in my own career,” says Tamara Houston, who as a student co-authored research with Changnon. She now works as a physical scientist for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Changnon also is known for service to his profession and to NIU. He has participated as a reviewer for the International Panel for Climate Change and served on the American Meteorology Society’s undergraduate degree-experience committee. Active in many faculty teams at NIU, he recently led a task force on curricular innovation, exploring ways to improve teaching.

“David Changnon represents the epitome of a fully engaged professor,” says Andrew Krmenec, chair of the Department of Geography, which oversees the meteorology program.

Adds colleague Lesley Rigg, “Every time I look in his office, he is with students. Every time I am amazed by the passion of a lecturer in a classroom, it is Dave’s voice I hear. And every time a professor is rallying the cause of student research and mentored learning in a faculty meeting, it is Dave. He is by far one of the most inspirational, demanding and creative teachers and researchers on campus.”


May 4, 2009

PCSW bestows annual awards to Kohli, Lamb, Morris, Rigg

NIU’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women this spring honored Rebekah Kohli, Julia Lamb, Sherrill Morris and Lesley Rigg with its annual awards.

Kohli, program coordinator in Women’s Studies and faculty adviser to the NIU Women’s Rights Alliance, won the Women Who Make a Difference Award.

The award recognizes women with outstanding dedication to the empowerment of NIU women. Winners make changes at the unit level, make important contributions to addressing issues that are important to women and go “the extra mile” to assist others.

Lamb, outreach coordinator for NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and Morris, an assistant professor of speech-language pathology in the Department of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders in the College of Health and Human Sciences, share the Outstanding Mentor Award.

Winners of this award show exceptional commitment to advancing the career and/or educational goals of NIU women students, staff, and/or faculty. They consistently act as exemplary teachers, coaches, advisers, facilitators and resources in helping NIU women achieve career and/or educational goals. They creates opportunities that help protégés achieve their goals, and they demonstrate the characteristics of an outstanding role model within their areas of expertise.

Rigg, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator in the Department of Geography in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is this year’s Wilma D. Stricklin Award recipient.

Winners of the Stricklin award demonstrates exemplary leadership/service resulting in a more favorable campus climate for women. They provides continual leadership/service over an extended period of time. They expend efforts beyond expectations and work responsibilities. They achieve results and effect lasting changes that make NIU a better campus for women.


April 20, 2009

NIU honors Engel, Rigg, Rossetti, Brata for undergraduate teaching, instruction

Author and poet William Arthur Ward once said of teachers: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

NIU has many great and inspirational teachers, and Mylan Engel, Lesley Rigg and Jeanette Rossetti stand tall among them. The three are this year’s recipients of the Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Engel, from the Department of Philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Rigg, from the Department of Geography in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Rossetti, from the School of Nursing and Health Studies in the College of Health and Human Sciences, now enjoy the university’s longest-standing honor.

The recognition stands in a class of its own because the nominations and subsequent words of support originate with the young minds on the other side of the classroom.

“To have the students you teach support you for this award is an incredible honor. It says the students themselves value what you’re doing in the classroom,” Engel says. “I routinely have former students contact me to say, ‘Contemporary Moral Issues is the only college class I still think about.’ If you can teach a class and have the students still thinking about it 10 years later, you’ve accomplished what you were hoping to.”

Initiated in 1966, the awards honor excellent undergraduate teaching at the university, encourage improvement of instruction and promote discussion among members of the university community on the subject of teaching.

Nominees must be full-time faculty whose major responsibility is teaching and must have worked at least five full academic years at NIU. Engel, Rigg and Rossetti each receive a check for $2,000.

Joining them in honor is Ed Brata, an instructor in the Department of Marketing in the College of Business, who has received the university’s third Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction award.

“It means a lot to me. They’re saying, ‘You are doing a good job, and we appreciate it,’ ” Brata says. “I’m definitely humbled and proud. I must be doing something right.”

Here is a closer look at the four.

Mylan Engel

Credit Mylan Engel’s mother with incredible foresight – and equal patience.

Her young son spouted an endless stream of profound interrogations, most of which were far beyond why the sky is blue. He wanted to know if other children saw colors the same way he did and, oh, why more people weren’t Christians if faith in God meant eternal happiness.

“My whole life, I was intrigued by philosophical questions without even realizing they were philosophical questions,” Engel says. “She’d say, ‘You think too much.’ I was a 10-year-old kid.”

Yet when he went to Vanderbilt University for a double major in business and economics – Engel intended to become a lawyer at his father’s firm in hometown Mobile, Ala. – his mother encouraged him to take a philosophy course. It changed his life.

Among the topics on the first day: the inverted color spectrum. “The very thing I had puzzled over as a kid! I thought, ‘Other people think about these things!’ ” he says.

Engel fell in love with the discipline’s deep questions, which he calls “fundamental, intellectual puzzles,” of the nature of reality and our place in the universe.

He has philosophically examined the ethics of eating animals and concluded that not only is it immoral but that most humans would agree if they fully analyzed their own beliefs. He’s also concluded there are no valid reasons to believe in God.

“I really have a passion for the subject,” he says. “The ancient Greeks were right. Philosophy holds the key to the good life. I want that for my students: to think philosophically, to question, to become an independent thinker, to grow immensely.”

Teaching came naturally. A former competitive gymnast, Engel had coached the sport to children from age 3 through high school.

In his classes, Engel challenges students to think in a “radically reflective way” that requires them to open their minds and become “dispassionate” about the topics as they search for the truth. They must set aside emotional attachments. They must respect each other.

During the process, they discover their personal values and beliefs. Sometimes, he says, those conclusions are troubling. And, he adds, if you realize you’ve been mistaken once already, chances are good there are other mistakes in your thinking.

“I often set things up as a puzzle, and they start to see, ‘Oh, there’s some inconsistency in my beliefs,’ ” he says. “They don’t like that. They thought they had it all worked out.”

“Though Professor Engel’s classes have proven to be some of the most challenging that I’ve taken, each class also proved to harbor what I believe to be some of my greatest intellectual growth,” student Adrian Seeley says. “His expectations of his students are high, but it is clear that his personal teaching expectations are as well.”

“Professor Engel has a remarkable ability to explain complex philosophical notions with great clarity and articulation,” student Kearney Grambauer adds.

All college students can benefit from courses in philosophy, Engel says. They’ve left home, eager to carve out unique personalities and to profess individuality, maybe dyeing their hair green or purple, “yet they believe almost everything they’ve been taught.”

Study of philosophy also promotes responsible parenting, he says. Parents who explore their fundamental values can then teach ethics and values to their children without having to “pawn” that duty off to someone else or simply “passing down” what their own parents imparted.

“It’s our thoughts that define us, not the color of our hair,” he says. “My goal is to force you to think for yourself and to free you from the shackles of your upbringing.”

Lesley Rigg

Ebert and Roeper might enjoy auditing Lesley Rigg’s geography classes.

Rigg requires students to critique movies, not for their entertainment value but from a physical geography perspective. Take “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” for example: Viewers glimpse Australia. Or Rigg’s favorite, “Lawrence of Arabia,” which features desert footage filmed in Jordan and Morocco.

“Maybe it will make them curious. Maybe they’ll go there 10 years down the road,” Rigg says. “But I’ve had students say, ‘You’ve ruined movies for me!’ ”

She’s also spoiled spring break and family vacations for others. Some students who intended to recline on hot beaches with adult beverages in hand instead found themselves running along dunes to examine coastal processes.

Rigg’s own love of geography began as a young girl in Toronto, Canada, where she earned a private pilot’s license and a glider license.

“I did a lot of flying as a kid, so I had a lot of appreciation for the landscape,” the DeKalb resident says. “Geography came naturally. It was one science where I could see where all the pieces come together.”

During a one-year break as she earned her bachelor’s degree at York University in Canada, she worked as an international flight attendant. “I saw the world from 36,000 feet,” Rigg says. “Then I came back to university (and eventually in pursuit of a master’s in Colorado and a doctorate in Australia) and never left.”

Geography offers a study of “everything that happens on the earth’s surface – climate, soils, plants, humans, hydrology – through space and time. It’s not just where, but why things are there.”

Two-thirds of Rigg’s students, many of whom are non-majors, find that geography is not what they expected. Many change their majors after introductory classes capture their enthusiasm.

She involves students in her current research on the impact of climate change and pollution on sugar maples at their northern limit in North America. She and her team will return this summer to Lake Superior Provincial Park in Canada, where they are simulating projected future temperatures and precipitation patterns on sugar maple seedlings growing there.

“Science isn’t horrible. Science isn’t scary. Science isn’t difficult, mostly,” says Rigg, winner of the 2009 Wilma D. Stricklin Award for enhancing the climate on campus for women. “Teachers just have to make it approachable. You have to make students comfortable first. I say something funny. I do something silly. Students learn when they’re having fun. It’s not that it has to be fun, but fun means they’re learning more.”

Rigg’s teaching load includes sections of Geography 101 that pack as many as 400 students into the auditorium. A good teacher can reach those few hundred as if they’re a few dozen, she says.

“Dr. Rigg is animated and direct in her teaching, but offers the opportunity to discuss and debate in a comfortable and welcome environment,” student Jennifer Outcalt says. “Dr. Rigg spends time with every student, working with their level, and expects you to work hard. She gives as much as you are willing to give her.”

“You have to be yourself. You only can be yourself. The biggest thing is that you can only know what you know and you can only teach what you know. I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ I’ll say, ‘That’s a good question. I’ll find out,’ ” Rigg says. “You’ll see students move toward the front. Attendance increases. Students almost become protective of that classroom environment and protective of that friendly atmosphere we have.”

Rigg and her husband, David Goldblum, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, are parents to 8-year-old Rachel and 5-year-old Aaron.

Jeanette Rossetti

No one would blame Jeanette Rossetti if she chose to avoid hospitals for the rest of her life.

As a young girl, she watched her father battle maladies that included stroke and heart attack and that eventually claimed his life when Rossetti was only 13. Yet as doctor’s offices, hospitals and even the Mayo Clinic became familiar surroundings, she somehow saw a bright side.

“I was exposed to that whole health care environment, and it got me hooked,” Rossetti says. “I really saw the importance of how a nurse could teach or motivate a patient. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really an important job.’ ”

The Joliet native earned a degree in nursing from Lewis University but felt unexpected doubts during her first clinical rotation in medical surgical nursing.

Her second clinical, in the psychiatric ward, reignited her passion for nursing and launched her career as a psychiatric mental health nurse.

“I was fascinated by what the mind could do or not do, and my teacher was so supportive. She said, ‘You are really good at communicating,’ ” she says. “We care for patients who have mental illness – depression, bipolar, anxiety schizophrenia – and our job is to keep the patients safe, to monitor their meds, talk to them, preserve their self-esteem, and to do so in a compassionate manner.”

Rossetti started at Riveredge Hospital, a 200-bed psychiatric facility in Forest Park. The work was hard and often challenging: Some patients were homicidal; others suicidal. Nonetheless, she loved her work there and, in 1996, earned a master’s degree focused on psychiatric nursing.

Her 13 years at Riveredge also provided a first dose of teaching when nursing students arrived for clinicals.

“I was always the nurse who said, ‘Cool! The students are here.’ I’d say, ‘Come with me. Stay with me. Spend the day with me,’ ” she says. “The students were great to work with, and I always thought that somewhere down the line I would teach.”

That opportunity came in 1997 at Rockford’s Saint Anthony College of Nursing, where she was an instructor for three years.

Rossetti “fell in love” with teaching, pursued a doctoral degree in adult education at NIU and discovered her second life’s calling. She joined the faculty in the College of Health and Human Sciences in 2000.

In 2005, she spearheaded a commitment from Linden Oaks Hospital at Edward in Naperville to become a summer internship site for psychiatric nursing students. In 2007, she won the college’s Lankford Award for Teaching Excellence.

Rossetti’s classes, which enroll many students who never will pursue mental health work as psychiatric nurses, are brought to life with her tales from the field. “I tell lots of stories. They can read the book, but I try to bring it to life,” she says.

Many of the skills necessary for psychiatric nursing mirror those required for all nurses.

“My goal is that my students care for all patients, and take care of all their needs, no matter what kind of nursing they pursue,” Rossetti says. “Patients with mental illness need care and compassion, and nurses must be their advocates. Supporting patients’ rights is a passion of mine.”

“Dr. Rossetti did a brilliant job of honoring her relationships with patients by providing holistic nursing care, complying with hospital and state protocol, implementing evidence-based practice,” former student Dominique Kempf says, “and serving as a wonderful example to her students.”

Rossetti lives in St. Charles with her husband, Dave, who works in the transportation industry. Their daughter, Kristyn, 21, is a pre-law and paralegal studies major at Southern Illinois University.

Ed Brata

Sometimes Ed Brata can’t believe where he is.

As a construction worker three-and-a-half decades ago, he helped to build Founders Memorial Library, the steam tunnels and other fixtures of the Normal Road infrastructure. Now he’s a well-respected instructor of sales management and principles of sales in Barsema Hall, the modern and sleek home of the NIU College of Business.

Between his final days as a laborer and his first one-year contract in 1992 at NIU stood a tremendously successful 15-year career in real estate. The rich stories of his real world experience make his classroom crackle with excitement over learning.

“I encourage students to think beyond the textbook and learn from each other and through my own real-world experiences,” Brata says. “I care that each student succeeds beyond getting good grades. It is my desire that their success is based on the tools, skills and knowledge that I provide them in the classroom.”

His first years as a teacher were not easy ones, he says. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both from NIU, but they’re in geography. He came to the front of the classroom with no teaching experience – “Nil,” he says – and found himself trying to tackle an “overwhelming” four classes and three prep sessions.

Fortunately, he says, two of his NIU colleagues noticed his struggles. Professors Geoffrey Gordon and Rick Ridnour took Brata under their wings, offering help by loaning everything from lecture notes and exams to instruction on how to fill out grade books.

Soon he received invaluable advice from Janet Giesen, of NIU’s Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, who told him to “get out of the textbook.”

“It took me one or two semesters before I fully realized that students were looking for more than what is between the creases of a textbook,” Brata says.

A career was launched.

“I’ve had jobs. I don’t deem this as a job. I enter the classroom with a sense of energy,” the Sycamore resident says. “It’s the students’ willingness to learn that keeps me coming back. They want to learn. I only act as a facilitator. I’m still learning to learn myself.”

“Ed has a heart the size of a watermelon and truly cares for each and every one of his students,” former student Mary Jo Orbegoso says. “Ed wants to see us succeed, and he will do whatever it takes to get us there. He is an outstanding teacher, mentor and role model.”

Brata calls the students his “120 movers and shakers.” They stay in touch long after graduation with phone calls and e-mails, he says. He’s been invited to their weddings and the baptisms of their children.

He creates a classroom environment that is “firm, friendly and honest” as well as “caring and respectful where students feel welcome and motivated and to learn.” Questions are encouraged. They must expect challenges. They must challenge Brata. Grades are earned, not given.

Lessons of integrity and ethics are as important as principles of sales and sales management.

Of course, there is plenty to teach about marketing. Minimize your regrets. Optimize your opportunities. Know things: Know yourself. Know your company. Your competition. Your customers. Your manager.

For his part, Brata knows his students – and has found a level of comfort as a teacher that he never knew as a Realtor.

“I’m engrossed in the students. They are just incredible. I’m honored to be able to touch their lives somehow,” he says. “You’ve got to live in the present. You can’t live in the past. You’ve got to give today the best you can. My passion now is in the classroom.”


April 19, 2009

Outstanding Women Student Award presented to Jericho Winters and Monica Zappa


This recognition process was begun in 1980 as the Women’s Student Leadership Awards.  These awards were intended to foster the development of leadership among women students, both graduate and undergraduate.  For this reason, students who hold formal office on campus or community organizations have been obvious candidates for this recognition.  Beyond that, it increasingly has been the concern of the Commission to recognize those students whose leadership may be less formal in nature, who entertain non-traditional aspirations, who have overcome significant obstacles in the process of pursuing their education, or whose achievements and contributions might otherwise go unrecognized.

The award title was changed in the fall of 1987 to the NIU Outstanding Women Student Award.


The awards are intended to encourage the full participation of women students in all facets of the University experience and in their communities; to support their development of corresponding strengths, both cooperative and competitive; and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, including those not usually recognized by other award programs.

Recipients:  Department of Geography graduate students Jericho Winter  and Monica Zappa


November 10, 2008

Nighttime tornadoes? Worst nightmare - Twisters that occur from midnight to dawn are 2.5 times more likely to kill: NIU researchers

A new study by NIU scientists underscores the danger of nighttime tornadoes and suggests that warning systems that have led to overall declines in tornado death rates might not be adequate for overnight events, which occur most frequently in the nation’s mid-South region. 

Over the past century, the tornado death rate has declined, in large part because of sophisticated forecasting technology and warning systems. But the researchers found that the nighttime tornado death rate over the past century has not shared the same pace of decline as the rate for daytime tornadoes.

“The proportion of nocturnal fatalities and killer tornado events has increased during the last half century,” said lead author Walker Ashley, an NIU meteorologist and professor of geography. “Unfortunately, this nocturnal fatality rate appears to be a major factor for the stalled decline in national tornado-fatality tallies during the past few decades.”

Ashley, NIU Geography Chair Andrew Krmenec and Research Associate Rick Schwantes published their study in the October issue of the American Meteorological Society’s journal, “Weather and Forecasting.”

The study found that from 1950 to 2005, 27 percent of tornadoes in the United States were nocturnal, yet 39 percent of tornado fatalities and 42 percent of killer tornado events occurred at night.

Ashley predicts that annual tornado fatalities might begin to rise. In 2007 alone, 80 tornado fatalities were recorded, with 59 of those fatalities occurring between sunset and sunrise. Nineteen of 26 killer tornadoes that year occurred at night. So far this year, 123 tornado fatalities already have been recorded – nearly double the annual average.

“The tornado death rate has bottomed out and is probably going to increase due to several factors,” Ashley said. “Because of population growth and development patterns, including urban sprawl, tornado risk to the populace has increased in recent decades. Tornadoes are impacting larger populations that are more spread out, resulting in higher tornado death tallies.”

The most dangerous window of time for a tornado, according to the study findings, is the period from midnight to sunrise. Tornadoes during this time period are 2.5 times as likely to kill as those occurring during the daytime hours.

People are more vulnerable during nighttime events because:

  • Tornadoes are difficult for the public and trained spotters to see.
  • People are more likely to be asleep.
  • People are more likely to be in structures that are more susceptible to damage, such as single-family homes and mobile or manufactured homes as opposed to schools and large office or workplace buildings. (Nearly 61 percent of tornado fatalities in mobile homes take place at night.)
  • Warning sirens are designed to mitigate hazards for people outdoors and are less effective at reaching those indoors.

“Because most people go to bed after the late evening news, they are sleeping and unaware of televised weather alerts,” Ashley said. “And warning sirens give us a false sense of security. They’re not designed for warning people who are already indoors. We’re not seeing a forecasting problem but rather a communication breakdown.

“Scientists, along with emergency managers and people living in tornado-prone areas, must work together to solve this problem,” he added. “Right now, the best alert option during this overnight period is a weather radio.”

A relatively small proportion of American households own weather radios, though they are widely available, cost as little as $25 and come equipped with alarms.

As Ashley noted in previous studies, the nation’s mid-South region is most vulnerable to nighttime tornadoes. In fact, while the “tornado alley” region of the Great Plains boasts the most frequent occurrence of tornadoes, most tornado fatalities occur in the mid-South region, which includes parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

Among the reasons for higher vulnerability: The southeast United States has the highest percentage of mobile-home stock compared with any other region east of the Continental Divide. The NIU meteorologist said 45 percent of all fatalities during tornadoes occur in mobile homes, compared to 26 percent in permanent houses.

The new study also finds that seasonal factors also come into play. The cool and spring-transition seasons from November to April have the highest nocturnal fatality rates, despite having relatively few tornado events. Daylight hours are at a minimum during these months. Also, storms that occur before the national peak in the severe storm season, which spans May and June, are more likely to catch people off guard.

“Nocturnal tornadoes are dangerous anywhere, but the danger is enhanced in the South,” Ashley said. “There are more nocturnal events in the South than in the Great Plains. And the mobile-home density is much greater in the South as well. It’s a combination of factors.”


November 10, 2008

Geographic Design - Geography department will stage night of GIS demonstration

The NIU Department of Geography will showcase a wide array of uses for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – from virtual 3D tours of the university campus to an exploration of Martian valleys – during an evening of upcoming demonstrations.

The demonstrations will be held in open-house format from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19, in Room 114 of Davis Hall. The free event is open to the public and coincides with Geography Awareness Week and the 10th anniversary of GIS Day.

“NIU’s GIS program has a top reputation in the region, and this event gives us a chance to raise awareness of Geographic Information Systems and their many capabilities,” said NIU Geography Professor Wei Luo. “It’s also an opportunity to showcase our ongoing projects.”

GIS Night demonstrations will allow visitors to:

  • explore the valley networks on Mars.
  • find homes and property information through county Web-based GIS.
  • explore the NIU campus in 3D.
  • locate and view farmlands that are being encroached by urban sprawl.
  • track the status of NIU Huskie Buses in real time.
  • navigate the NIU campus using the Virtual Campus Map.
  • experience the 3D Virtual Reality Lab.
  • talk to NIU students, faculty and GIS professionals.

GIS Day is a global event that celebrates the innovative technology.

A GIS is a computer-based mapping tool that takes information from a database about a location – such as streets, buildings, water features and terrain – and turns it into visual layers. The ability to see geographic features on a map gives users a better understanding of a particular location, enabling planners, analysts and others to make informed decisions about their communities.

GIS touches our lives daily. It is used throughout the world to solve problems related to the environment, health care, land use, business efficiency, education and public safety. GIS promotes a more-efficient function of the power supply directed to homes, the patrol cars and fire trucks that keep neighborhoods safe and the delivery trucks on the road.

The NIU Department of Geography offers an undergraduate emphasis in GIS and GIS certificate programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. GIS Night is being held in the department’s Advanced Geospatial Laboratory, which is focused on GIS development.


October 6, 2008

NIU Foundation awards annual Venture Grants

From creating a digital library of maps to returning ancient and modern Mayan art to the spotlight, and from educating teens about U.S. citizenship to exploring new medical diagnosis and treatment, the 2008 Venture Grant awards benefit a variety of endeavors at NIU.
The grants, made annually by the NIU Foundation and awarded through a competitive application process, are intended to support faculty in their pursuit of excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the larger community. Funding is intended as an investment in the imagination, intellect and dedication of NIU’s faculty and students.
Five Venture Grants totaling more than $54,000 were distributed. The winning projects were:

Developing an NIU Virtual Map Library, $16,371

  • Andrew Krmenec, chair, Department of Geography
  • Phil Young, director, Advanced Geospatial Laboratory
  • Drew VandeCreek, director, University Libraries Digitalization Laboratory

This proposal focuses on the development of a virtual map library of more than 97,000 artifacts that would further enhance NIU’s national visibility as an important center for digital resources.
Specifically, the project would serve several important functions: establish a digital archive of the map collection, preserve the content of the collection, provide access to the collection via the Internet and make the maps usable in an electronic format for travel and other purposes. In addition, the university is in the process of seeking approval for a new Ph.D. program in geography; this digital library would be a valuable resource to support the research of both doctoral students and faculty.

September 8, 2008

Award-Winning Online Campus Map Improves

A virtual trip through the NIU campus has never been easier.

NIU’s award-winning interactive Campus Web Map ( has been upgraded this fall with a host of new features. Those features allow users to do everything from locating Huskie Bucks food establishments in DeKalb and Sycamore to finding copiers, printers and vending machines on campus.

Students can even find their seats on the east side of Huskie Stadium, and upgrades planned for later this fall will provide field views from the seating sections.

The map is now compatible with both Windows and Mac formats, as well as with multiple browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. Additionally, the site has improved its features for visitors with disabilities.

The GPS-powered Campus Web Map attracts about 200 unique visitors daily. It was originally launched in 2004 and later was cited with a “best practices award” in an international competition sponsored by Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions, which provides software for the NIU mapping system.

“We think the map is unique in its level of detail, accuracy, quality and helpfulness,” said NIU research scientist Phil Young. He and research associate Rick Schwantes in the Department of Geography’s Advanced Geospatial Laboratory produce the map with assistance from students.

“We’re constantly working to improve it, and we’re anxious to hear feedback and suggestions,” Young said. Comments can be sent via e-mail at

As in the past, the map enables users to quickly identify buildings, bus stops, bus routes, bicycle racks, construction zones, parking lots by permit type, handicapped-accessible parking areas and even points of interest. Click on a building and its picture pops up.

A map user also can highlight, zoom to and print out a custom map of a specific area on campus. It’s also easy to pan across campus, find latitude-longitude coordinates for a given point, or measure distances between two locations and estimate walking time. A query option enables searches for specific offices, departments, buildings, colleges or laboratories equipped with information technology services.

Some of the new features also include:

  • A tie-in to the popular Huskie Tracks GPS bus locator system.
  • Full screen-size maps that automatically adjust to the dimension of the
    user’s computer screen.
  • Enhanced color graphics.
  • Enhanced zoom settings.
  • Updated aerial images with expanded coverage in the DeKalb and Sycamore areas.
  • Expanded mapping coverage to include regional outreach centers and other off-campus facilities

Two new mapping projects also are in the works.

Young said the mapping team is working with Greg Long, professor in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders, on a new map feature that will identify, rate and provide photos of all handicapped-accessible entrances and exits on campus.

The team also is working with Gaylen Kapperman, the longtime head of the NIU College of Education’s Programs in Vision, on a portable GPS-powered system equipped with audio components that will help people with visual impairments navigate the NIU campus.

May 20, 2008

‘Raising the bar’ Strategic Planning Task Forces recommend positive campus, Office of Engaged Learning

Education is a dynamic journey among learners, teachers and researchers that requires a successful communication of knowledge and ideas and a transformation of listener into thinker.

That’s the foundation underneath an ambitious set of “raising the bar” recommendations presented earlier this month to President John Peters, Provost Ray Alden and the Council of Deans by members of NIU’s two strategic planning task forces.

Among the largest proposals is to create an Office of Engaged Learning that would interact with the university’s general education program, provide support systems for a collaborative teaching-learning environment and advance learning through state-of-the-art technology.

Another suggestion to improve NIU’s teaching and learning is to hire more faculty to alleviate impacted programs – something that’s already begun, Alden said, mostly with visiting professors.

Foremost among the recommended move forward, however, is a shift in attitude and action to leave behind “the way it’s always been done” and a cooperation to change together.

What should result is an NIU that is strong, caring and engaged, said Carolinda Douglass, who chaired the Task Force on Student Success. NIU will become a school of first choice in Illinois that provides students with a genuine education – not just a set of experiences for a resume but the tools of critical thinking and the ability to communicate what they know and can do.

“I’m very impressed with the amount of thought, energy and effort that went into the work groups and task forces,” Alden said. “The Council of Deans will review these documents to see how they fit in with the ideas that have come through the colleges and the other university-wide sources.”

The goals to foster and uphold the new and grand vision start with a shift in campus attitudes and policies that will require “buy-in” by the faculty and administration, said David Changnon, who chaired the Task Force on Curricular Innovation.

“If you’re going to have great students and great engagement, it begins with the faculty,” Changnon said. “We have to encourage faculty to recognize that teaching is as important as research, if not more important. Excellence in teaching is something we really want to be known for.”

Earlier work by the initial committee involved in NIU’s strategic planning (2006-07) identified a set of key values and four planning imperatives:

  • Preserve, strengthen and extend NIU’s teaching and learning environment.
  • Develop a strategy for investing in multidisciplinary scholarship and artistic clusters to complement NIU’s focus on individual scholarly and artistic achievement.
  • Strengthen and extend NIU’s global/regional impact.
  • Make NIU an institution of “first choice” for faculty, students and staff.

In turn, the task forces on student success and curricular innovation set four goals their strategies would accomplish:

  • Increase student retention and academic success at NIU.
  • Increase the positive culture of NIU that leads to a more welcoming, student-centered, safe and integrated environment for all students.
  • Actively engage students in their own learning.
  • Improve upon and maintain high-quality teaching effectiveness among faculty and staff.

NIU is sensitive to public demands for accountability, Alden said.

“We will have a university where people will have guidance through their curricular paths, finding the majors of their choice and graduating in a timely manner,” he said. “When they get out, they will demonstrate critical thinking and communication skills.”

Goal 1 – to raise student retention and academic success – mandates more coordination of existing student support functions: sharing of electronic data, early identification of students at risk, training of faculty advisers and a voluntary system of accountability.

The recommendations call for NIU to enhance enrollment management by committing to bilingual and bicultural populations, attracting and retaining competitive students and making early outreach to prospective students.

Meanwhile, relief for impacted programs can come not only through hiring more faculty but by offering more curricular options. Assessment also is a priority.

Goal 2 includes an application to the Policy Center on the First Year of College’s Foundations of Excellence, a comprehensive, externally guided self-study and improvement process for first-year students that enhances an institution’s ability to realize its goals for student learning, success and persistence.

Goal 3 involves the proposed Office of Engaged Learning as well as a revision of the general education program.

Changnon and Douglass are among seven NIU representatives who will attend the upcoming American Association of Colleges and Universities Institute on General Education that begins May 30 in Minneapolis.

The delegation also includes Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver; Greg Long, chair of the NIU general education committee; Paul Stoddard, president of the Faculty Senate; Lucy Townsend, a professor in the College of Education; and Jes Cisneros, assistant director of the Honors Program.

“We’re re-examining general education at NIU,” Changnon said. “How do we address change? How do we get faculty and staff to buy in? How do we get them to take greater ownership of their participation in the process?”

NIU will host town hall meetings on general education in the fall.

Goal 4 encompasses policy changes in tenure and promotion, annual review and recognition. It also hopes to enhance pedagogical practice by providing release time for faculty to improve their teaching and developing a pool of master teachers.

In other words, Changnon said, NIU should provide course release time to faculty who wish to improve their teaching or money for those who want to purchase new technology that makes instruction more effective. Faculty should seek out and attend workshops and conferences on effective teaching practices.

“We need a broader view of what education is all about. It’s not all about content. It involves understanding what student learning outcomes the course hopes to achieve,” Changnon said. “If we approach this the right way, teachers will want to do these things.”

He hopes new and younger faculty will understand the need to think about teaching in a different manner.

“We foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when we can encourage the next generation of faculty that effective teaching is not just an elective. It’s part of getting tenured,” he said. “Over time, our task force would like to identify master teachers who will want to participate in this discussion and encourage effective teaching practices.”

Now that the ideas have been planted and their momentum has begun, Changnon and Douglass want to see others nurture the soil and cultivate blossoms on the flower.

Additional task forces should come together to carry on specific ideas, they said, adding that short-term deadlines create excitement. Champions also are needed, whether individuals or groups.

“It’s important we bring in new people who become aware of the need – the privilege – to participate,” Changnon said. “We need to change together, and we can’t expect others to change if we’re not also changing. Everyone’s got to get on the train.”

“The strategic planning process by which a different group of voices is heard is very important,” Douglass added. “I’m less concerned about which strategies are chosen and more concerned that different voices are heard throughout the process.”

Better communication will not only spark discussion on what NIU can do better but what NIU already does well, she said.

“We should support people in their efforts,” she said. “We do more good things than we think we do.”


April 28, 2008

Strategic planning task forces will present recommendations to Peters, Alden this week

Members of NIU’s strategic planning task forces will spell out their recommendations Friday to President John Peters and Provost Ray Alden.

The 15 “broad and sweeping” proposals to enhance curricular innovation and student success are consistent with goals determined at the beginning of the process last fall, said Carolinda Douglass, chair of the Task Force on Student Success.

Yet the ideas also fit into a larger vision created after the tragic events of Feb. 14.

The new and overarching objective helped both groups regain their concentration and proceed with excitement, Douglass said.

“We wanted to solidify the NIU Huskie identity as a strong, caring and engaged community committed to local, regional and global citizenship,” Douglass said. “That was not a new idea to us, but we really came together after 2-14 and thought, ‘What is really guiding us?’ It somewhat altered how we thought about our strategies, and hopefully for the better.”

Douglass and David Changnon, chair of the Task Force on Curricular Innovation, also will give Peters and Alden a similar number of sub-strategies related to the top recommendations and some additional proposals tied to some of the concept papers submitted by faculty and staff.

Alden expects to “get a sense of not only the goals and the strategies but also the priorities and the sequencing.”

“What we asked the task forces to do was to work in small groups to develop a number of strategies and initiatives that can help advance the goals they have set,” Alden said. “From what I hear, there may be some very interesting things coming forward, and because we see the process taking place over the next five years, some of these will evolve over time.”

The activities of the two task forces are rooted in Peters’ vision of NIU as a university that is sustainable, engaged, global, responsive and accountable.

Earlier work by the NIU Strategic Planning Task Force identified a set of key values and four planning imperatives:

  • Preserve, strengthen and extend NIU’s teaching and learning environment.
  • Develop a strategy for investing in multidisciplinary scholarship and artistic clusters to complement NIU’s focus on individual scholarly and artistic achievement.
  • Strengthen and extend NIU’s global/regional impact.
  • Make NIU an institution of “first choice” for faculty, students and staff.

In turn, the task forces set four goals their strategies would accomplish:

  • Increase student retention and academic success at NIU.
  • Increase the positive culture of NIU that leads to a more welcoming, student-centered, safe and integrated environment for all students.
  • Actively engage students in their own learning.
  • Improve upon and maintain high-quality teaching effectiveness among faculty and staff.

“We are very confident that there are some excellent ideas and strategies within our reports. This was an enormous undertaking, and it’s rewarding to finally have concrete recommendations to present that hopefully will have an impact,” Douglass said.

“It also created a great opportunity for people to have conversations,” she added. “In my group on student success, we were able to really dig deep into some of the data and some of the assumptions we have about why students stay at NIU or don’t and why students do well at NIU or don’t.”

The next step is for Peters and Alden to review the proposals and decide which hold the highest priority, Douglass said.

NIU’s vice provosts and members of the Council of Deans are invited to attend Friday’s presentation, she said. Participants in NIU’s system of shared governance also will have an opportunity to review the proposals, she added.

For more information on NIU’s strategic planning, visit 


April 9, 2008

'Other' Killer Winds May Take More Lives

While tornadoes hold the title for most murderous winds in the United States, there are less infamous winds which could give twisters some deadly competition, say meteorologists.

Mountain winds, dust storms, gap winds and winter storm winds that often occur under clear blue skies, it turns out, could potentially kill more people than hurricane winds.

Most deaths from these "non-convective" winds have been on the West Coast and in the Northeast, and mostly among people who are boating or driving, say researchers who studied weather-related fatalities from 1980 to 2005. Falling trees and signs are particularly to blame in many cases.

"Basically nobody has ever summarized these kinds of things," said weather researcher Walker Ashley of Northern Illinois University.

The far racier things like tornadoes and hurricanes have always received more attention, he said. Ashley and his co-author Alan Black published their study of wind fatalities in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

Ashley and Black report that in the study period there were 616 fatalities from non-convective winds. That compares with 696 deaths caused directly by hurricane winds. Surprisingly, most hurricane deaths are not from winds but from flooding and other factors. Tornadoes killed 1,388 in the same period.

Even more compelling is their discovery that during the shorter period from 1990 to 2005 there were more deaths from non-convective winds than from non-tornado thunderstorm winds. On average, about 24 people die every year in non-convective wind events, they report.

Another surprise is that the areas with the most fatalities are not those traditionally known for the highest winds.

The Great Lakes region has some very strong winds but has a low rate of fatalities. On the other hand, the Northeast had high fatalities: 57 in New York, 23 in Pennsylvania, eight in Connecticut, 11 in New Jersey, 12 in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and one in Delaware.

Three western states accounted for a third of all the fatalities: 96 in California, 46 in Oregon and 66 in Washington.

Population density probably has a lot to do with the numbers of fatalities, Ashley said. But it's hard to say for certain.

What can be said with more certainty is that the general public is less aware of the dangers of non-convective winds, said research meteorologist John Knox of the University of Georgia in Athens. He co-authored another paper about what creates the powerful winds in the Great Lakes region, which appeared in the December issue of the Journal of Climate.

"People don't think they can be killed when it's a clear blue sky," Knox said.

And often wind speeds are underestimated in forecasts, he said. In many parts of the country winds can gust at a violent 90 miles per hour or more. The extreme potential in the Pacific Northwest, he says, is particularly underappreciated.

"What we need to do is make sure people understand that high winds are deadly," said Knox. "All high winds can kill, period."


April 2008

2008 Presidential Teaching Professors

This year’s winners of the Presidential Teaching Professorships come from dramatically different disciplines, but all three share traits in common, the most impressive of which is that they don’t just impart information to students.

They also change lives.

Selected for the honor were: Toni Tollerud, of the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education; Dan Gebo of the Department of Anthropology; and Dave Changnon who teaches meteorology in the Department of Geography.

Each has legions of students eager to tell the stories of how these teachers opened their eyes to new vistas, exposed them to new challenges and motivated them to achieve goals they never dreamed could be within their reach. Similarly, their colleagues praise the work of these individuals in the classroom, speaking with admiration of their ability to inspire, energize and mold students.

“We are justifiably proud of the work our faculty does when it comes to research and service, but at the heart of our mission lies teaching. All three of these individuals are truly gifted teachers and their work in the classroom brings great honor to the university,” Provost Ray Alden says. “They typify the excellence found throughout our teaching ranks and will serve as a tremendous example for all those who aspire to excellence in the classroom.”

The NIU Presidential Teaching Professorships were established in 1991 to recognize and support faculty who excel in the practice of teaching.

Recipients of this award have demonstrated their commitment to and success in the many activities associated with outstanding teaching. The recipients receive budgetary support and release time for the enhancement of their teaching skills.

After four years as a Presidential Teaching Professor, each of these eminent faculty members is designated a Distinguished Teaching Professor.


March 17, 2008

Dozens attend NIU’s first assessment expo

With so many parties holding universities accountable, from students to parents to employers to taxpayers to lawmakers, the importance of measuring success is paramount.

Few use the same tools or ask the same questions, however. Or, as geography professor David Changnon said, “assessment is something most of us weren’t trying to do.”

On the last day of classes before Spring Break, around three dozen faculty and staff gathered for NIU’s first assessment expo. Designed to highlight successful assessment practices on campus, the event included posters and a panel of speakers from departments across campus who shared their experiences with assessment.

“What really inspired us was to promote a more positive aspect of assessment – for people to be able to see good practices in assessment and to be able to borrow some of those practices for their own assessment,” said Carolinda Douglass, director of Assessment Services at NIU.

“This was a good start to holding more expos that will demonstrate the kinds of good practices people are doing.”

Virginia Cassidy, vice provost for academic development and planning, opened the expo by calling it an opportunity to learn from each other, to reflect on what’s happening on campus and to work collaboratively.

Some of the assessment models lauded at national conferences do not measure up to some of NIU’s work in that area, she said.

Posters outlined assessment tools for:

  • the bachelor’s of science degrees in business administration, public health and textiles, apparel and merchandising

  • the bachelor’s of arts degree in French and Spanish

  • the master’s of science in education degree in educational administration

  • the master’s of science degree in geography

Panelists included Penny McIntire from the Department of Computer Science, Andrea Evans from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Jinsook Kim from the School of Nursing and Health Studies and Changnon.

The work of assessment is complex and incredibly fluid, panelists said, and requires not only constant analysis and occasional revision of the tools but stability from year to year and in the rubrics used for good comparisons.

“Just because you’re trying to measure something doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful,” Evans said.

Evans addressed an assessment tool in her department that determines a degree candidate’s ability to support student learning and/or impact the learning environment.

Conducted during clinical internships, candidates collect and analyze school and/or district data, communicate the results of the analysis to relevant stakeholders, develop a plan using the data and revise and implement a program, policy or process that affects student learning or the learning environment.

Faculty in computer science appreciate assessment comments from employers, McIntire said, especially comments that demonstrate the learning abilities of the department’s graduates and internship students. “We can’t teach every technique,” she said.

Such external reviews sometimes can provide the department with a better picture of what students are capable of, McIntire added.

“I don’t think (students) know yet how much they know,” she said.

Changnon said he and his colleagues in the Department of Geography have learned a few things traversing the “long and winding road” of assessment. It’s an enhancing and enriching process. It reveals something more than what the final grade indicates. It need not measure everything all the time.

But among the good questions to ask, according to : Was there growth?

Three departments were awarded $500 each to spend on future assessment endeavors: the Department of Geography, the Department of Philosophy and the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

Ten departments, including the three award winners, received certificates acknowledging their outstanding assessment efforts.

The others include Business Administration; the Department of Computer Science; the Department of Economics; the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations; the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures; the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education; and the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences.

Another assessment expo is being planned for next spring, Douglass said.

January 7, 2008

Highschool students use NASA datato research whether rain fell on Mars

Did it ever rain on Mars? Scientists have conducted research on the topic and debated the question for decades. Now high school students, using data from NASA, will be launching their own investigations.

Students at nearly a dozen schools, from Rockford to Maple Park to Naperville, will study the planet using an online lesson plan developed by NIU faculty researchers. A determination of whether it rained on Mars would have important implications in the study of whether the planet ever could have supported life.

The lesson is geared for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Any teacher can use the demo and/or sign up for an actual section of Mars to study at

“This is an ideal topic to engage students in the process of conducting scientific research because it is still hotly debated, leaving room for students to make real contributions through their own observation and analysis of data,” said Wei Luo, an NIU professor of geography.

“It’s quite possible that students will make some discoveries that researchers overlooked,” he added. “Mars is a large planet.”

Development of the lesson plan is an extension of Luo’s own NASA-funded research into the origin of valley networks or river-like landforms on Mars, which has implications on climate history of the Red Planet. He and Professor Kathy Kitts, who coordinates certification of science teachers in NIU’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, developed the online lesson using Geographic Information Systems.

The NIU faculty members led a workshop this past fall for 16 high school teachers from across the region. The Mars lesson already has received excellent reviews from the students of Matt Leone, who teaches earth science at Libertyville High School and piloted the Mars lesson last spring.

Leone said he’s recommending it to other teachers.

“The kids think it’s great because it’s new and they’re actually doing research, rather than learning about somebody else’s (findings),” he said, noting that the lesson also is aligned with state standards.

“It fits perfectly into my curriculum,” Leone added. “We cover planetary geology and we also cover surface and groundwater processes, so students are applying knowledge that they’ve already learned in class.”

Students receive a section of Mars to study, along with its related topography and satellite imagery. They must determine whether valley networks in their section were formed predominantly by flowing rivers or by the action of groundwater, a process of erosion known as groundwater sapping.

“If surface runoff is the dominant erosion style on Mars, then it most likely points to an early warmer and wetter climate with an Earth-like hydrologic cycle, including rainfall,” Luo said. “On the other hand, if groundwater sapping is the dominant erosion style, the valley networks could have been formed under current climatic conditions, perhaps under a thick ice cover.”

With the teachers acting as facilitators, the students will extract information from the data, interpret their results, post them to a server and debate their findings with students working on the same section and on other sections.

After appropriate review, the students’ work will be saved in a permanent workspace on the server for all in the scientific community to access.

“I think the students are going to love it,” said Liz Losch, who teaches Ecological Biology and Dynamic Earth Systems at Naperville Central High School. She participated in the fall workshop and plans to use the Mars lesson in February.

“This is a great example of inquiry-based science, where the answers are not always black and white,” she adds. “It gets students to think outside of the box and be more complex thinkers. It also helps them construct ideas about how science is used in real life. Students are definitely interested in the possibility of life outside of our planet, allowing them to think critically about similar topics.”

NIU faculty researchers ultimately hope to stimulate the students’ interest in science.

“The whole point of this is that the students can do real research,” said NIU’s Kitts. “We want to get them interested in science and show them that they really can do it.”

Both Luo and Kitts note the Mars project is truly a team effort. Professor Wei-Chen Hung from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment provided his expertise in assessment, and NIU research scientists Phil Young and Rick Schwantes in the Department of Geography assisted in development of the Web site. A number of graduate students also contributed to the lesson plan development.

October 29, 2007

IEPA director will visit campus to speak on initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases

Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and former mayor of Rockford, will visit campus Wednesday, Nov. 7, to discuss how the state is working to reduce greenhouse gases.

Scott's NIU presentation, titled “Illinois Initiatives to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Our Impact on Global Warming,” will begin at 7 p.m. in the Montgomery Hall Auditorium. The event is open to the public.

Sponsored by the Department of Geography, the presentation is a continuation of last spring's public symposiums on global climate change. The symposiums featured leading NIU researchers who shared their expertise on climate change in a series of seven well-attended public presentations.

“Last spring's symposiums were very well-received by the public, and as we said during those events, we plan to continue our discussions with a series of speakers this academic year,” said Andrew Krmenec, chair of the Department of Geography.

“There are many dimensions to climate change, including its impact on culture, religion, economics, business, technology, government and, of course, the environment,” he added. “Doug Scott is a statewide authority and will enlighten us on what initiatives are under way in our own back yard.”

Scott served as a state representative for the 67th District from 1995 to 2001, followed by a four-year term as mayor of Rockford. Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed him director of the IEPA, effective July 1, 2005.

Last year the governor announced a new global warming initiative to build on Illinois' role as a national leader in protecting the environment and public health. The announcement marked the beginning of a long-term strategy by the state to combat global climate change. The strategy builds on the steps the state already has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as enhancing the use of biofuels and wind power.

Scott chairs the Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group, which is considering a full range of policies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will make recommendations to the governor. The Advisory Group has broad representation that includes leaders in science, business, labor unions, environmental groups and the energy and agricultural industries.

More information on the advisory panel is available online at .

Later this semester, Rebecca Stanfield, state director of Environment Illinois, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, will visit campus. Stanfield recently co-authored a report titled, “A Blueprint for Action; Policy Options to Reduce Illinois' Contribution to Global Warming.” She will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, in the Montgomery Hall Auditorium.

October 22, 2007

GPS-powered system enables students to track Huskie Buses, reduce wait time

NIU students now can easily track the near-real-time location, speed and direction of Huskie Buses.

Research scientists Phil Young and Rick Schwantes in the Department of Geography's Advanced Geospatial Laboratory, working in collaboration with the Student Association and Huskie Bus Line, recently launched the new Huskie Tracks system. It utilizes a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the movement of the buses along their routes.

Huskie Tracks can be accessed online at via a personal computer, the Apple iPhone and Apple iPod Touch. It also is expected to work on some Web-based cellular phones equipped with a browser and Windows CE operating system.

Students also can keep tabs on bus locations along each of seven routes using any one of three 50-inch monitors located on campus, two in the Holmes Student Center (near the Coffee Corner and Subway) and a third at DuSable Hall.

Young said the hope is to eventually install monitors at other locations on campus, including residence halls, and expand the system to include Late Night Ride services and FreedomMobile, a service for persons with disabilities.

“Our primary intent was to help students reduce their wait time at the bus stops,” Young said. “We think it will be especially useful during cold, rainy or snowy weather, when students don't want to wait longer periods for the bus. This tool will help them arrive right before the bus arrives, or will alert them if they've just missed the bus.”

The Huskie Bus Line provides a free service to all active NIU students with a valid NIU OneCard. It also serves members of the general public, who pay 75 cents per ride.

Bus routes serve the main NIU campus, including classroom buildings, parking lots, offices and residence halls as well as routes heading off campus to local apartments, shopping centers and food establishments. One route serves the Sycamore shopping areas as well.

“We're hoping as this system is used more that some of the bus-monitoring screens will be placed out at shopping destinations, such as Wal-Mart or Target, so students know exactly when the buses are coming,” Young said.

All of the Huskie Buses are equipped with transponders, which emit signals to the tracking system every 30 seconds. The Huskie Tracks Web site is automatically updated every 15 seconds. 

The NIU Student Association manages the Huskie Bus Line, owned by Veolia Transportation.

“I'm exceedingly pleased with the results I've seen,” said Brent Keller, director of mass transit for the NIU Student Association. “So far, the system has been used moderately by students, but we're hoping usage will increase as time goes by and more students learn about it.”

The Student Association spent $19,500 on the system, taking advantage of in-house expertise at NIU. Huskie Tracks is an extension of the NIU Virtual Campus Web Map system launched in 2005.

Huskie Bus Line General Manager Al Davis said complaints about late buses have gone down since the Huskie Tracks system launched in late September.

“I can only assume students are using Huskie Tracks because there has been a change in number of calls we get asking where a bus is at,” Davis said. “There also seems to be a lot less congestion on the buses. At certain times, everyone used to try to jam on one bus, which would slow down our drivers. That's not so much of an issue this year. Riders can see when another bus is coming.”

September 11, 2007

NIU scientists, students will bring global warming to Canadian sugar maples

For about 2,000 sugar maple seedlings now growing in Canada's Lake Superior Provincial Park, global warming will arrive next spring.

NIU geographers Lesley Rigg and David Goldblum have been awarded a $260,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to simulate global warming on sugar maple seeds and seedlings and study the effects over three years.

Rigg and Goldblum, working with NIU students, will travel in May to Canada, where they will build rain-exclusion, temperature-controlled structures over existing seedlings in a forested area of Lake Superior Provincial Park.

The structures will allow the researchers to simulate temperature increases and dryer conditions predicted to occur over the next century.

The sugar maple is the dominant tree species in the northeast portion of the United States and a keystone species of forests in eastern North America. Prized for its hardwood and known for the maple syrup made from its sap, the sugar maple is considered to be of great ecological and economic importance.

Sugar maples can reach 400 years of age and 120 feet in height. They thrive in cool, moist climates, with seeds germinating at about 1 degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Mature trees may be able to handle warming temperatures, but scientists need to determine whether the trees will be able to successfully reproduce and whether the species will be able to migrate northward to cooler climates,” says Rigg, who holds a joint appointment at NIU in geography and biological sciences.

Scientists expect global warming to be most pronounced in higher latitudes. Environmental mitigation will require early identification of potential problems.

“When it comes to climate change, there tends to be a focus on the direct impacts on humans, such as sea-level change, killer heat waves or negative impacts on agriculture,” Goldblum says. “But one of the more vulnerable aspects of global warming is the balance of our ecosystem. Scientists are concerned that animals and plant species won't be able to respond to rapid change.”

The Canadian Regional Climate Model (CRCM) predicts monthly temperature increases of 4.2 degrees Celsius (7.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for the study area over the next 75 years. Some researchers have suggested that sugar maple trees, which now extend south all the way to Georgia, could disappear completely from the United States.

“Under some climate-projection models, you can write off the sugar maple in its southern limits, even though warming there won't be as pronounced,” Goldblum says. “In order to survive, the species has to be able to move north.” 

Located on the eastern shore of the world's largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior Provincial Park marks an ideal setting to study the sugar maple's ability to migrate. The site of the experiment is within a transition area from deciduous forest to boreal forest, the latter dominated by coniferous trees.

“We expect that our experimental design of simulating a range of temperature and moisture regimes will capture conditions that the sugar maple will experience in the northern part of its range sometime in the next 100 years,” Rigg says.

Adapting to gradual climate change, the sugar maple has slowly migrated northward over time. But projections of human-induced climate change suggest that warming over the next several hundred years will be faster than anything the sugar maple has experienced within the last 18,000 years, or possibly within the past 2 million years.

“If predictions are correct, the changing climate will force the sugar maple to move faster than it has ever moved in its history – and through a fragmented landscape of streets, parking lots and subdivisions,” Rigg says.

NIU researchers and students recently returned from Canada, where they tagged the seedlings that will be studied, dividing them into about 20 plots, each measuring about 1 by 2 meters.

Meanwhile, work also is being done on the NIU campus.

Graduate student Shannon McCarragher is monitoring sugar maples that have been germinated in growth chambers and treated to different temperatures. The seedlings come from seeds collected in Tennessee, Illinois and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

“It may be that seeds and seedlings from the south, where temperatures have been warmer for thousands of years, will more readily survive in the north under conditions of global warming,” Goldblum says.

The study is expected to be completed in 2010.

August 2, 2007

Where the bugs are? New ag-weather Web site predicts pest migrations

DeKalb, Ill. — Farmers have long known the breeze can carry crop-damaging bugs. Now a new Web site launched by Northern Illinois University tells agricultural producers in the Midwest which way the wind blows and when pests might be hitching a ride.

The agriculture weather site, located at , produces a daily Insect Migration Risk Forecast, geared for farmers, agricultural producers and entomologists. It was created and is maintained by NIU's David Changnon, a professor of meteorology, and Mike Sandstrom, an NIU meteorologist and research associate.

“It's a tool for people who need to know where the bugs are today and where they might be tomorrow,” Changnon says. “Farmers and others in the agricultural industry need to know just when insects might be migrating to their fields.”

Changnon says the site initially is focused on tracking the location and migration of corn earworm, a major pest of late-season sweet corn, but might be adapted in the future to track other insect migrations as well. Corn earworms migrate northward during the summer. If left uncontrolled, the pests can cause millions of dollars in damage to Midwestern corn crops in a single season.

The Web site was prompted by research that Changnon and Sandstrom conducted in recent years with entomologist Brian Flood, manager of pest management for vegetables for Del Monte Foods, which provided support for the Web site development.

“Our forecasting can tell the growers not only when and where pesticide treatments are necessary, but also if it is even necessary to spray,” Sandstrom says. “If weather conditions are not favorable for insect migration, there's no sense spending the time and money involved with applying pesticides. Brian wanted something that would answer these questions. That's how this Web site came about.”

Winds aid migration

Corn earworms migrate as moths, carried by winds. Cold fronts and rain prompt the moths to drop to the fields. “Part of our risk forecast identifies locations experiencing southerly wind and where the pests could drop out from the atmosphere, usually near a cold front or thunderstorm,” Changnon says.

The moths eventually lay eggs, which hatch into caterpillars that feed on the tips of ears of corn. Corn crops are susceptible to earworm during the silking phase.

“An earworm, if you don't get it, will eat about 20 kernels of corn,” Flood says. “The ag-weather Web site provides a good predictive tool. Agriculture can't be managed with historic weather maps alone. Growers have to be ahead of the game.”

NIU's Analytical Center for Climate and Environmental Change at NIU provided funding for development of the agriculture-weather Web site. Research scientists Phil Young and Rick Schwantes in the Department of Geography provided the technical expertise needed to assemble the site.

July 31, 2007

University Libraries happy to be swamped with thousands of historical wetland maps

DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University Libraries now boasts a huge collection of original Illinois and Indiana wetland maps.

Lawrence Handley, a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, La., delivered 111 boxes of maps to the library earlier this month.

In all, there are believed to be as many as 10,000 master productions from the 1980s and early 1990s, with detailed topographic depictions of all wetland areas in the two states.

“The maps are a one-of-a-kind resource,” Handley said.

The USGS National Wetlands Research Center and the National Wetlands Inventory of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were happy to find a home for the originals. The agencies are now keeping a digital inventory.

The clear plastic maps can be superimposed over present-day maps for the purpose of studying changes in wetland areas. Robert Ridinger, head of electronic information resources for University Libraries, has the considerable charge of inventorying the maps, which will be made available to the public.

“An original map is like a rare book,” said Mary Munroe, interim dean of University Libraries. “The wetland maps have both historical and educational significance and will be a great research tool for students and faculty in such fields as geography, geology and public administration.”

Geography Chair Andrew Krmenec said the historical maps provide important records of the landscape, human impacts on the landscape and the landscape's impact on human activity. The maps will be important in the future for wetland mitigation and landscape reconstruction projects, as well as academic research.

”For history and research purposes, it's important to maintain our historical map collections, even though the world is going digital,” Krmenec said. “Any map has a shelf life, for the purpose it was originally produced. Once that shelf life expires, the maps still provide something of real value—a visual archive of the world.”

The map donation adds to University Libraries' already extensive map collection, which includes rare and historical maps from across the globe.

April 23, 2007

NIU's David Changnon to appear in TV documentary on climate change

NIU climatologist David Changnon will be among the experts featured in a new documentary on global warming that will air at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 28, on CBS Channel 2 in Chicago.

CBS 2 Meteorologist Steve Baskerville will host the one-hour special, titled “Truth About Global Warming.” He visited the NIU campus earlier this month to interview Changnon.

Changnon, a professor in the Department of Geography, spent an hour with Baskerville discussing potential impacts of climate change.

“The scientific community has come to an overwhelming consensus that the climate of the planet is changing and that there is a significant probability that those changes are related to enhanced levels of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Changnon, who specializes in the study of climate variability and its economic impacts.

“For me, the big question is this: How do we use the information that scientists are gathering?”

Baskerville was particularly interested in questions surrounding the impacts of climate change on Chicago and the Great Lakes region. Changnon has conducted studies on El Niño winters, demonstrating how warmer winters in the region have affected the economy.

“There's going to be costs and benefits in the region,” he said. “Warmer winters would mean less use of natural gas, for example, and also would improve transportation scenarios. But in the summertime there could be greater opportunity for drought and poor crop yields or even deadly heat waves like the one the Chicago area experienced in 1995.”

Changnon believes scientists need to get together with industry leaders in such areas as fuel, agriculture and transportation to learn more about how global warming would impact those sectors.

“A dialogue between the scientific community and those potentially impacted by climate needs to be developed sooner rather than later,” Changnon says.

“I believe that the next set of climate models need to examine issues at the regional and seasonal, if not weekly, scales,” he adds. “These are the space and time scales where we can develop strategies for the future. We can move in this direction if the scientific community and weather-sensitive decision makers sit down and develop a greater understanding of how, when and where weather impacts certain sectors.

March 19, 2007

NIU experts will hold seven public presentations on global climate change

Top NIU researchers on climate change will share their expertise in a series of seven public presentations revolving around the recent report on global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The series will kick off at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 22, in the Montgomery Hall Auditorium with an overview of the IPCC report and a discussion on the science that goes into global-climate models. Each presentation will include question-and-answer sessions and discussion.

“This entire series aims to provide the general public with a sense of the science behind the IPCC report, information on the causes and consequences of global warming and possible solutions,” said NIU Presidential Science Adviser Gerald Blazey, who along with Geography Professors David Goldblum and Jie Song will present the first public presentation.

“What we're really tying to do is put the evidence out there so people can learn about the issues and make their own judgments,” Blazey said.

The report by the United Nation's IPCC warns that global warming is very likely caused by human behavior and will require international action to stem potentially devastating effects across the globe.

“The topic of global warming has had a history of being politically sensitive. We intend to examine the issues objectively and leave politics outside the door,” said Andrew Krmenec, chair of the Department of Geography.

“The extent of climate change that our planet has seen could have a component that is natural, but we also know without question that humans are having an impact,” he said. “We've known that for a long time. The key questions are: How much are we contributing to global warming and what can we do to counteract those impacts?”

Krmenec, whose department organized the series on climate change, said the presentations will be geared for high school students, college students and adults. “These presentations are intended for a non-science audience, so you won't need a degree in physics, chemistry, geology or geography to understand the information,” he said.

The presentations will be held on consecutive Thursdays, all from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Montgomery Hall Auditorium. In addition to the March 22 kickoff event, the schedule of presentations is as follows.

  • March 29— Addressing climate change through decision tools; and climate change and the risk of weather extremes. Presenters: Geography Professors David Changnon, Mace Bentley and Walker Ashley.
  • April 5— Soil carbon, agricultural-land use and global-change relationships. Presenter: Geography Professor Michael Konen.
  • April 12— Climate change and ecosystems: impacts on plants and animals. Presenters: Geography Professor Lesley Rigg and Biology Professor Peter Meserve.
  • April 19— Waterworld: global oceans and ice. Presenter: Geology Professor Paul Loubere.
  • April 26— From science to societal response: political and historical perspectives. Presenters: Political Science Professor Brendon Swedlow and History Professor Eric Mogren.
  • May 3— Slowing climate change: our responsibility, our options. Presenters: Philosophy Professor Mylan Engel Jr. and Geography Professor David Goldblum.

Krmenec added that the geography department intends to hold another series on global climate change sometime during the next academic year.

“There are many dimensions to this issue, including environmental ethics, economics and alternative energies,” he said. “As a public service, we want to continue with these presentations in the foreseeable future.”

For more information on the series, contact presentation organizer David Goldblum at or (815) 753-6839.

December 6, 2006

NIU graduate student's research hits pay dirt

DeKalb, Ill. — Heidi Kelly, a graduate student studying geography at Northern Illinois University, is working to advance her career from the ground up—quite literally.

Kelly's research on soil recently took top honors in a nationwide competition, earning for her a $500 travel scholarship to a major conference in Indianapolis, where she presented her findings to an international audience of scholars and professionals.

The 25-year-old Sycamore native beat out 30 other applicants in winning the scholarship from the Association of Women's Soil Scientists.

“This was no small feat,” said NIU Geology Professor Melissa Lenczewski, Kelly's co-adviser. “Heidi was competing against students from a number of major universities with large soil programs.”

More than 3,500 people from 50 countries attended the Nov. 12-16 conference, which brought together members of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America.

“I think her award says something about the quality of research that our students are doing,” said Geography Professor Michael Konen, who leads the soil science program at NIU and also is Kelly's co-adviser.

“Heidi is doing a lot of unique things with her research. She's been going to Argonne National Laboratory to work with scientists there and learn about new procedures they're using to examine microbes and pesticides,” Konen said.

Microbes are microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, which are commonly found in soil. Kelly's research examined the effects of agriculture on soil microbes. More specifically, she studied the ability of agricultural soil to break down Atrazine, a commonly used herbicide in corn crops that can migrate to groundwater.

“I looked at the ability of microbes to break down contaminants in different types of soil,” Kelly said. “Human activity is greatly altering the microbial communities, and we don't really know what the impact is. It hasn't been studied much.”

Kelly earned her bachelor's degree in biology at NIU and is on course to graduate in May with a master's degree in geography, with an emphasis in soil science. She hopes to land a job with an environmental firm or laboratory where she can continue her research on microbial communities.

November 27, 2006

Geography department launches weather Web site

Just in time for the approaching winter, NIU's Department of Geography has launched a new weather-related Web site that features reams of local historical weather data as well as real-time conditions at locations on campus and in the DeKalb area.

The NIU Cooperative Weather Station Web site can be found at 

“We expect that this site will be interesting and useful to numerous audiences, including commuters, campus visitors, farmers, business owners and schools officials who have a need for current weather conditions or historical trends,” said Andrew Krmenec, geography chair.

NIU operates another weather Web site, , which provides current radar, weather bulletins, forecasts and more. Between the two sites, NIU faculty, staff and students who work to gather and produce the information have the weather virtually blanketed.

The new site features four weather stations that provide up-to-the-second information on temperature, humidity, wind chill, wind gusts and precipitation, along with sunset, sunrise, moonset and moonrise data. The stations are located at Stadium Drive and Annie Glidden Road, near First and Taylor streets, at the DeKalb Airport and at Peace Road and Route 23 in Sycamore.

“Since the Stadium Drive station is close to Huskie Stadium, we think it will be a valuable resource for sports fans trying to decide what to wear on game day,” Krmenec said.

The Web site was created to speed up the dissemination of climate and weather information that already was being collected by university meteorologists and students.

The National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Site permanently moved from Sycamore to NIU in 1966. Since 1993, students have compiled daily weather data and monthly climate information for the National Weather Service and nearly 100 other users in the community.

“Now users and other interested parties can simply log on to the Web site at their convenience to obtain historical records and current weather information,” said NIU Geography Professor Walker Ashley, who is manager of the Web site. “Since we have four weather stations, you can see how weather varies across the DeKalb region. Sometimes it can be quite substantial.”

Nine NIU meteorology students currently volunteer to gather the raw data.

“It's not only a service for the community but also a learning experience for the students,” Ashley added. “It's critical for them as meteorology students to learn where weather observations come from and how these raw data are collected.”

March 3, 2006

Geography alum spots NIU-produced maps on display at Library of Congress in Washington

NIU alumnus Matthew Van Eck ('02) recently was reminded of the widespread influence of his alma mater during a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington , D.C.

Van Eck, who holds a degree in geography, naturally stopped by the new “Maps of our Lives” exhibition, where he spotted two maps produced by the NIU Cartography Lab. One satellite-image map depicts landscapes of northern Illinois, while the other map shows the Rockford mass transit system.

Van Eck said NIU is the only university to have two of its cartographic products featured in the exhibit, which will run through Jan. 7, 2007.

The cartographic section of “Maps in Our Lives” highlights more than 40 items
selected from the annual map design competition of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM). The exhibits demonstrate notable advances in cartographic interpretations, design and production during the last 22 years.

Van Eck is a certified Geographic Information Systems professional who works for Texas-based BDS Technologies. While at NIU, he won the ACSM's annual map design competition for students. That map, related to WWII bombing missions, is part of the Library of Congress collection.

April 19, 2004

NIU announces 2004 recipients of SPS Presidential Awards for Excellence

Four members of the Supportive Professional Staff (SPS) have been chosen to receive the university’s Presidential Awards for Excellence.

The recipients are Shevawn Eaton, director of ACCESS; Len Lennergard, video production manager in Media Services; Judith Pokorny, assistant to the undergraduate director in the Department of English, and Philip Young, research associate in the Department of Geography.

If you build it, Phil Young will map it.

Young, an NIU employee since 1993, designed and developed NIU’s new Campus Web Map, using software donated by Intergraph Corp.

He and his assistant, Rick Schwantes, spent scores of hours, including personal time, to develop databases, verify names and locations of campus features, conducting GPS surveying of recent campus construction and locating everything from doorways and emergency call boxes to bus stops and bike racks.

“The new Campus Web Map puts NIU at the forefront of providing accessibility and security information,” said Andrew J. Krmenec, chair of the Department of Geography.

“Phil’s vision for the institution and ability to see a unique application of modern technology to improve the university have resulted in a significant contribution to NIU,” Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver said. “Clearly, our students, campus visitors and others will view NIU as an innovator and a friendlier place to navigate.”

Young maintains his department’s computers and manages the teaching labs. He has initiated and managed more than $1.5 million in contracts and grants, engaging more than 30 students for paid internships through these projects.

He also has provided pro bono services to the Northern Illinois Regional Food Bank by developing poverty concentration maps and Food Bank location maps.

April 4, 2004

Geography professor receives NASA grant to study Martian valley networks

Wei Luo, an NIU professor of geography, is leading a new study that aims to shed light on whether cold, desolate Mars has a wet, warm history that might have been more hospitable to life.

Luo’s team is examining the Red Planet’s extensive dry river valley networks to determine whether they were shaped predominantly by flowing rivers or by the action of groundwater, a process of erosion known as groundwater sapping. The valley networks are located throughout the southern highlands of Mars.

“The topography of Mars holds secrets to the planet’s climate history dating back billions of years,” Luo said. “Determining how the valleys formed on the Martian surface will begin to unlock those secrets and have important implications in the study of whether the planet ever could have supported life.

“If surface runoff is the dominant erosion style on Mars, then it must point to an early warmer and wetter climate with an Earth-like hydrologic cycle, including rainfall,” Luo added. “On the other hand, if groundwater sapping is the dominant erosion style, the valley networks could have been formed under current climatic conditions, perhaps under a thick ice cover.”

NASA is funding Luo’s three-year, $187,000 research project, which begins this spring.

In a preliminary report two years ago, Luo concluded that the Martian topography in an area called Margaritifer Sinus displays features of groundwater sapping and to a lesser extent surface-water runoff.

“The different processes generally leave different shapes on the landscape,” Luo said. “The key question I want to answer this time is the relative importance of each process in forming the valley networks. My gut feeling is that Mars at one time had a climate that was Earth-like. If you look at images of Mars and the patterns of the valley networks, they look just like the dendritic drainage systems found on Earth.”

Luo, of DeKalb, earned his Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis nine years ago. His dissertation on landforms in Egypt ultimately led to his current project. “Many aspects of landforms on Mars are remarkably similar to the landforms found in Egypt’s western desert,” Luo said. “That’s how I got interested in Mars.”

Raymond Arvidson, Luo’s adviser at Washington University, also encouraged Luo’s study of the Red Planet. Arvidson has had a role in nearly every NASA Mars mission since the 1970s, and is deputy principal investigator for the current Mars rover mission.

He and Alan Howard of the University of Virginia are collaborating with Luo in the study of Mars’ valley networks.

Under current atmospheric and climatic conditions, liquid water is unstable on the Martian surface, meaning that it either would freeze or evaporate almost immediately. NASA discovered ice at the planet’s south pole in 2002. This year, the rover mission has confirmed that water existed in a liquid form at one time on the Martian surface.

Luo’s research project will use Geographic Information Systems (GIS), high-resolution satellite imagery and computer simulations to examine valley network basins located in a wide range of latitudes and elevations. The relative importance of surface water, groundwater and impact cratering (from large meteoroids, asteroids or comets) in forming each basin will be determined. The study also will attempt to measure the secondary effects of wind, gravity and volcanic lava flow in modifying the valley network forms.

“My preliminary study didn’t consider impact cratering, which is another important process on Mars,” Luo said. “This time around, we’re using information from the topography of the moon to get the landform signature resulting from that specific process. The lunar landscape is pure craters. Our planet also was impacted by cratering, but because of rapid recycling of the crust through plate tectonics, most of Earth’s craters have been destroyed.”

By quantifying the surface characteristics, coupled with the computer simulation and image analyses, the researchers can infer past processes and thus past climatic conditions. Their study also could be useful to NASA for the selection of future landing sites, because the results will suggest where deposits generated by surface water or groundwater will most likely be found.

If the scientists conclude that surface water was plentiful on the Red Planet, then that does not necessarily mean that life existed there. “The presence of water is one necessary condition, but it’s not sufficient to say there was life,” Luo said. “That’s one of the motivations for sending astronauts to Mars.”

April 4, 2004

Campus Web Map wins award-

The leader of NIU’s Campus Web Map initiative has taken home a prize for his work.

Phil Young, a research scientist in geography, won second place in the International GeoMedia Best Practices Competition, a contest that draws entries from university educators worldwide displaying their best uses of geographic information systems (GIS) software. The prize was based on Young’s work on the interactive Campus Map, which debuted in January.

Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions, an industry-leading geospatial solutions provider, sponsored the competition. Young will pick up his award and make a presentation on his contest entry during the GeoSpatial World 2004 convention to be held next month in Miami.

January 12, 2004

Click and you’re virtually there - New interactive Campus Web Map gives lay of the land — and then some

NIU is unveiling its interactive Campus Web Map, a sophisticated tool that allows users to create custom maps and quickly locate campus features, from buildings to bicycle racks.

Produced by the Department of Geography’s Advanced Geospatial Laboratory (see related story) as a service to the NIU community, the Campus Web Map can be accessed from the NIU Home Page or directly at

“This is one of the most advanced Web-based campus maps in the country,” said Phil Young, a research scientist in the Department of Geography. Young spent 11 months leading the mapping initiative. His project team included research associate Rick Schwantes and NIU students Martin Arnold and Catherine Schwantes.

“Map users virtually have the campus at their fingertips,” Young said. “We think the map will be an incredibly useful resource for faculty, students and visitors to campus.”

The map enables users to quickly identify buildings, bus stops, bus routes, construction zones, parking lots by permit type, handicapped-accessible parking areas and even points of interest. Click on a building and its picture pops up.

A tool bar across the top of the Web site provides a variety of other useful functions.

A map user can highlight, zoom to and print out a custom map of a specific area on campus. It’s also easy to pan across campus, find latitude-longitude coordinates for a given point, or measure distances between two locations and estimate walking time. A query option enables searches for specific offices, departments, buildings, colleges or laboratories equipped with information technology services.

“The Campus Web Map brings a dynamic and interactive element to the maps of the NIU campus,” said Andrew Krmenec, geography chair. “It incorporates a wealth of information that makes our big campus a more livable place.”

The map is a work in progress, so new features will be added over time. By the spring, the Campus Web Map will be linked to course registration so that students can print out maps highlighting the locations of their classes.

“New students often come to campus on the first day of a semester not knowing exactly where their classrooms are located,” said Don Larson, university registrar and executive director of Enrollment Services. “We’ve wanted to provide them with a map such as this for a long time.”

Larson said he also hopes to use the Campus Web Map to help students identify distance conflicts. “This is a little more complicated, but we want to be able to automatically alert students during registration to situations where the estimated walking time between two classes exceeds 10 minutes,” he said.

Vice Provost Earl Seaver said faculty and students should familiarize themselves with the capabilities of the Campus Web Map.

“This is all about making campus more student-friendly, more faculty-friendly and more visitor-friendly,” Seaver said. “We anticipate that the map will be exceedingly popular. There’s a lot we'd like to do with it in the future, and we’re open to suggestions.”

May 12, 2003

NIU Research Scientist Lands Award from Intergraph

NIU research scientist Phil Young of DeKalb has won third place in the International GeoMedia Best Practices Competition, a contest that drew entries from university educators worldwide displaying their best uses of geographic information systems (GIS) software.

Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions, an industry-leading geospatial solutions provider, sponsored the competition. Young will pick up his award and make a presentation on his contest entry during the GeoSpatial World 2003 convention in New Orleans from May 19 to 21.

Educators were invited to submit entries illustrating practical training and application of GIS-related programs in the classroom. Young submitted an educational primer he developed for introducing students to the field of GIS.

Earlier this year, Intergraph awarded NIU a GeoMedia Education Grant for software and designated the university as a "Team GeoMedia Registered Research Laboratory."

Intergraph's grant award, which also included technical support and accompanying licensing agreements, is valued at more than $900,000. The Huntsville, Ala.-based company has collaborated with NIU since 1995.

February 10, 2003

NIU Department of Geography Partners with Northern Illinois Food Bank

DeKalb, Ill.-In order to erase hunger from the map, the Northern Illinois Food Bank first needed, well, a map.

So when the food bank set out recently to identify population pockets of greatest hunger need, it turned to Northern Illinois University mapping experts for help. Cartographer Leonard Walther and research scientist Phil Young, both faculty in NIU's Department of Geography, volunteered to create a map illustrating varying hunger needs by township in the northern Illinois region.

The completed map allows food bank planners to quickly identify the proximity of pantries and distribution sites to needy areas.

"We sometimes fail to recognize the value of resources that are so close to us and willing to help," said H. Dennis Smith, Northern Illinois Food Bank executive director. "I'm glad we asked for help and NIU responded because together we will make a difference in helping the hungry."

Northern Illinois Food Bank, based in St. Charles, serves a 12-county region. Smith said the food bank wanted to be able to quickly visualize the location and concentration of populations living at or near the poverty level. The U.S. Census Bureau makes that data available.

The government puts the poverty level for a family of four at $18,200, Smith said. But given cost of living expenses in the region, the food bank considers those at risk of being hungry to be at or below 150 percent of the poverty level, or $27,300 for a family of four.

The map illustrates that even wealthy areas such as DuPage County can have significant at-risk populations. DuPage has more than 16,000 families at or near the poverty level, Smith said. That compares to 1,000 families in DeKalb County.

"The mapping ultimately will help us create a better-rounded network of assistance to hungry people," Smith said. "It will help us determine where we need more distribution centers or food pantries. Our goal is to have food within an easy reach of anyone who might be in need."

The university first aided Northern Illinois Food Bank more than a year ago when the geography department created a map identifying the location of Food Pantries served by the Food Bank. The partnership expanded when Food Bank VISTA Volunteer Kathy Taylor of Sycamore sought help in illustrating the Census Poverty Data on a map of the region.

"Our primary job is educating students, but the university also is quite committed to outreach," said NIU's Walther, adding that an upper-level geography student is beginning a new project for the food bank.

"Sometimes we can incorporate work for non-profit organizations into student research," Walther said. For example, geography students and faculty created detailed maps using geographic information systems for the Carroll County tax assessor. Students also have created maps or prototypes for events in the region.

"Working with the food bank presents a great opportunity for students," Walther added. "It provides them with real-world experiences."

February 3, 2003

Intergraph Awards Education Grant, Boosts NIU Research Technology

DeKalb, Ill.-Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions-a worldwide industry-leading geospatial solutions provider -is making cutting-edge mapping and geographic information systems (GIS) software available to the NIU Department of Geography.

Intergraph recently awarded the university a GeoMedia Education Grant for the software and designated NIU as a "Team GeoMedia Registered Research Laboratory." The Huntsville, Alabama-based company has collaborated with NIU since 1995.

The Intergraph Team GeoMedia Registered Research Laboratory program provides students, educators and researchers with the leading-edge technology and development support needed for applied research activities. In return, the geography department's Advanced Geospatial Laboratory is required to conduct two research projects a year using Intergraph technology.

Intergraph's award of GIS software, technical support and accompanying licensing agreements is valued at more than $900,000, according to Phil Young, an NIU research scientist in geography and Intergraph GIS project director. The software donation includes multiple licenses of GeoMedia, GeoMedia WebMap Professional, GeoMedia Grid, SMMS for GeoMedia, GeoMedia Terrain, and IntelliWhere OnDemand, plus a license for IntelliWhere LocationServer and unlimited licenses of GeoMedia Professional.

The licenses are university-wide, Young said. That means any faculty or students can use the software for research. (For more information, contact the geography department at 753-0633.)

Young said the geography department's Advanced Geospatial Laboratory is now working on a detailed "automated campus map." The computerized mapping project should be completed by late next fall.

"We're really excited about this project," Young said. "We'll have an overhead shot of the university showing buildings, greenways, sidewalks, street names and other features. Map users will be able to click on any building to get information about what's inside. The map will also have a query bar that will allow users to ask questions. For example, you could ask to identify all the places on campus that have food, or to identify all computer labs. It's going to be a great asset."

About 170 graduate and undergraduate students at NIU major in geography, but students in other academic areas also stand to benefit from the partnership with Intergraph. NIU's Department of Geography offers a certificate in GIS studies that attracts students from all disciplines.

About Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions

Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions is a leading geospatial solutions provider for the following markets: local, state, and federal government; transportation; utilities; communications; location-based services; photogrammetry; remote sensing; cartography; and military and intelligence. For more information, visit

August 14,2002

NIU Researcher: It's Not The Summer Heat But The Humidity

DeKalb, Ill.- A study by Northern Illinois University climatologist David Changnon indicates the Chicago region is more apt now than in decades past to experience heat waves accompanied by extreme and dangerous spikes in humidity. And a familiar crop with a propensity to sweat day and night could be at the root of the problem.

"Our research findings at NIU suggest that a new, more dangerous breed of heat wave has become established in northeastern Illinois," said David Changnon, a climatologist and NIU professor of meteorology.

"Heat waves today are different than they were a half century ago because they are more frequently accompanied by extreme spikes in humidity," Changnon said. "I strongly suspect that changes in agricultural methods - particularly in the area of corn production - are playing a major role in this by adding more water vapor to the lower atmosphere of the Upper Midwest."

All plants transpire, that is, release water vapor into the atmosphere through their leaves. Corn is unique in that it belongs to a family of plants that transpire, or sweat, both day and night. "Stand in any cornfield and you can feel the increased humidity," Changnon said.

He points out that average corn yields in Illinois have increased from about 50 bushels per acre in 1950 to more than 130 bushels per acre in 2000. Planting densities climbed dramatically as well, from about 18,000 seeds per acre to nearly 30,000 seeds per acre during the 1970s, when farmers started planting crop rows closer together.

"Overall, the amount of water transpired to the atmosphere in our region is greater today than it was a half century ago just based on changes in agricultural practices and corn production," Changnon said. "More plants and greater yields per acre imply an increased need for and use of water by corn.

"I'm not knocking the agricultural industry-corn and other crops are absolutely vital to our region, our nation and the world," Changnon added. "These higher dew points represent a product of a complex agricultural process. We don't want to go backward in terms of production techniques, but we need to investigate and deal with the impacts related to what appears to be a significant factor in the regional climate of the Midwest."

Changnon increasingly began to suspect a link between agricultural production and humidity after he and two graduate student researchers - Jesse Sparks of downstate Newton and Jason Starke of suburban Buffalo Grove - studied historical trends in northeast Illinois dew-point values. The results of that study are published in the August edition of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Applied Meteorology. The American Meteorological Society ( is the nation's leading professional society for scientists in the atmospheric and related sciences.

The dew point is the temperature at which condensation begins, and dew-point measurements provide an indication of how much water vapor is in the air.

Initially, the study was undertaken in response to concerns of NIU's physical plant supervisor, who saw a relationship between dew points and the efficiency of the campus cooling system. But while extreme hot and humid weather can take its toll on air-conditioning systems and increase electrical demand, it also can be deadly.

The northern Illinois heat waves of 1995 and 1999 claimed hundreds of lives. Previous studies have noted that both high air temperatures and high dew points characterized those hot spells. "The higher the dew-point value the more difficult it is for the body to cool itself through evaporation from the skin," Changnon said.

Changnon and his students analyzed hourly dew-point readings recorded from 1959 to 2000 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and Rockford Airport. The top four high dew-point frequency years were 1983, 1987, 1995 and 1999.

Analysis of the 10 most extreme heat waves in the region further showed that the number of high dew-point hours was much greater after 1980. Additionally, the researchers discovered that over the 42-year period they studied, three different dew-point indices at both airports showed general increases over time. Those indices include:

Hours per summer with high dew points reaching or exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Summer days with at least one hour of high dew point.

Summer days with 12 or more hours of high dew points.

"Dew points that exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit are considered rare in most regions of the United States, the exception being the Gulf Coast," Changnon noted.

The Gulf of Mexico does play a large role in humidity levels in northeast Illinois. Normally during the summer, tropical air masses originating in the Gulf of Mexico move into and remain in the Midwest for days or weeks at a time. Since that source of water vapor hasn't changed over time, Changnon ruled out the Gulf as being the source for the growing frequency in high humidity levels. He also noted that during the 1995 and 1999 heat waves, the dew-point levels were greater in the Upper Midwest than in those areas between the Midwest and the Gulf Coast.

Changnon also ruled out urban heat island effect as a primary cause of humidity spikes because similar trends were identified at both the suburban O'Hare weather station and the rural Rockford site.
For transpiration to occur at levels that cause such high dew points, crops such as corn and soybeans must have access to sufficient soil moisture. Over the past 100 years, precipitation in the Midwest has increased, Changnon said.

He said the link between adequate soil moisture, increased transpiration and a greater number of high dew points was evident in the 1995 and 1999 heat events, which were preceded by average to above average precipitation across northern Illinois.

"In contrast, the heat wave of 1988 was accompanied by a drought," Changnon said. "Corn yields dropped by nearly 50 percent. And although it was an extremely hot summer, with Chicago experiencing temperatures of 90 degrees or greater on more than 40 days, very few high dew points occurred."
Contact: Tom Parisi, Office of Public Affairs (815) 753-3635

June 7, 2002

Graduate Student's Research Recognized in International Competition

DeKalb, Ill.- Northern Illinois University graduate student Russ Bigley has won second place in an international competition for creative use of geographic information systems (GIS) software.
Intergraph Mapping and GIS Solutions, a Fortune 1,000 company based in Huntsville, Ala., sponsored the worldwide poster contest, open to students in universities, technical schools and distance learning programs.

Bigley, a Nebraska native who now lives in De Kalb, was the only U.S. student recognized in the university-level division of the competition. Other winners in his category were from Germany and Malaysia.
The competition recognized outstanding innovation and technology excellence in the classroom. Students were invited to display their creative use of GIS software by submitting a poster. Projects used Intergraph technology.

Bigley will present his poster at Intergraph's "Geospatial World 2002," an international training and management conference to be held June 10-12 in Atlanta. Bigley's poster project reflects NIU research he did for Del Monte Foods Company. He uses meteorological data and GIS to predict the spread of soybean aphids in commercial crops. Soybean aphids can spread disease and devastate crops.

"This award is a great accomplishment for Russ," said Andrew Krmenec, chair of the NIU Department of Geography. "The competition is rigorous, and the judges look for creative and cutting-edge approaches in the geographic sciences.

"At NIU, we believe it's important for our students to make a connection between their research and the real world," Krmenec added. "And Russ's work demonstrates how our student researchers are able to make contributions to solving real-world problems."

Bigley's second-place award includes complimentary registration to the Geospatial World conference, recognition on stage and a cash prize of $350. Bigley earned his bachelor's degree in meteorology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and worked in the private sector before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in geography at NIU. Bigley said he chose NIU to work with Professor David Changnon, a noted expert in applied climatology.

"Applied climatology is an exciting, expanding field," Bigley said. "New technologies allow us to apply our climate and weather knowledge in ways that can benefit our economy, industry and society."
NIU's geography and meteorology programs are uniquely equipped and staffed to provide students with expertise in creating detailed electronic maps with GIS technology. The maps can provide hundreds of geographic details, from topography to soil conditions, at the click of a mouse.

Intergraph is the world's leading producer of GIS software. The company has designated NIU as an "Intergraph Mapping/GIS Center of Excellence." The honor is extended to only a handful of geography programs nationwide.
Contact: Tom Parisi, Office of Public Affairs (815) 753-3635

March 21, 2002

Researchers Track Illinois Storm Damage to Crops Via NASA Satellite

Researchers say they used data produced by a NASA satellite orbiting more than 400 miles above the earth to estimate the cost of crop damage from hail and wind storms that swept through west-central Illinois, the heart of America's farmlands.

"This could become the preferred method for assessing crop destruction from any natural or man-made disaster," said Mace Bentley, lead author of a study on the satellite assessment technique.

The study is published on the cover of the March Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Bentley is a meteorology professor in the Department of Geography at Northern Illinois University.

Bentley said imagery produced from the satellite data found significant damage that went undetected by traditional means of assessment. Bentley and University of Georgia researchers Thomas Mote and Paporn Thebpanya used data produced by the U.S. satellite known as Landsat 7, which acquires high-resolution images of the earth's land surface.

Each year more than 20,000 thunderstorms erupt in the United States, causing between $1 billion to $3 billion in property and agricultural losses. Many of the most damaging thunderstorms with extensive winds and hail are concentrated in the country's central plains and Corn Belt regions and occur during the late spring and summer months, the primary growing season.

"You're definitely going to see Landsat data used more and more often to assess damage not only from thunderstorms but also from tornadoes, brush fires and any other disaster that destroys vegetation," Bentley said.

"Spatial mapping of agricultural damage could be used by farmers, insurance companies and even meteorologists examining storm formation and downburst potential," he added. "Combining this technology with radar would help meteorologists identify and be able to recognize storm features that produce the greatest amounts of damage. As advances in satellite remote sensing continue, there is also evidence that these techniques could prove useful for damage assessment in urban and suburban areas as well. Additionally, storm damage assessment using satellite data gives us global coverage."

Bentley said the satellite-produced imagery has distinct advantages over standard methods of storm-damage assessment, which typically consist of drive-by observations or occasional aerial photography. Those methods are particularly inadequate when trying to estimate the number of acres damaged, Bentley said. "Using data from the Landsat 7 represents a superior method of identifying actual acres that sustain damage," he said.

Landsat 7 data can be used to measure differences in ground reflectance among different land-surface types.The satellite can detect chlorophyll absorption in vegetation and will identify changes in ground reflectance once crops have been destroyed-or within a week to 10 days after a storm, Bentley said. With the launch of Landsat 7 in 1999, the cost of acquiring data has dropped significantly, he added.

The researchers specifically examined two wind and hail storms that rolled through a total of 14 counties in the corn- and soybean-rich region of west-central Illinois on Aug. 12 and Aug. 18 of 1999. The researchers compared data from July 12 (before the storms) and Aug. 28 (after the storms) to determine damage extent.

The major storm on Aug. 12, destroyed thousands of acres of corn across the area, causing more than $53 million in crop damage in eight counties, according to estimates published in Storm Data, a monthly publication produced by the National Climatic Data Center. A second series of storms six days later caused an additional $4 million in hail damage to corn and soybeans.

In comparison, Landsat 7 data detected more than $100 million in damage from the two storms. However, due to prevailing soft-soil conditions and the ability of farmers to modify harvesting equipment to salvage blown-down crops, actual losses were only a fraction of that.

"Conditions were just right to make the crops salvageable, something we couldn't determine from the satellite imagery alone," Bentley said, adding that the case study points to one limitation of using the satellite data.
"It's much easier to determine hail damage than wind damage," he said. "That's not real surprising because large hail pulverizes crops. Wind, on the other hand, may simply blow the crops over. Sometimes portions remain rooted and still survive, though less productive and more difficult to harvest.

"Satellite images sometimes show a different picture than the actual storm reports," Bentley added. "By combining the old-fashioned methods of storm-damage assessment with the high-tech imagery, we can get more accurate readings of crop damage. And when we're talking about millions of dollars in potential losses, that's good news for farmers and insurance companies."

Illinois counties studied in the analysis were Adams, Brown, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Logan, Mason, McDonough, Menard, Morgan, Pike, Sangamon, Schuyler and Scott.

The American Meteorological Society ( is the nation's leading professional society for scientists in the atmospheric and related sciences.
Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635
Stephanie Kenitzer, AMS press office
(425) 432-2192
A joint announcement from the American Meteorological Society
and Northern Illinois University

May 18, 2000

NIU Cartography Lab Wins Award for Watershed Map

Northern Illinois University's Laboratory for Cartography and Spatial Analysis (Department of Geography) produced a Des Plaines River watershed map that received the annual Public Information Award for education on wetlands and flooding.

Awarded this month by the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management, the map was presented to the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission as one component of a wetlands public education program.

"The map is a unique product as the entire watershed, from headwaters to its lowest reaches, has been mapped," NIU Production Cartographer Leonard Walther said.
The map was part of the Wetlands College Project, and received the award based on the whole watershed focus.

Walther, of Aurora, Ill., said, "Usually the award is given to a journalist who writes about wetlands education and flooding. This is the first time they have gone outside of journalism."

The map was distributed to local communities and also to schools in the Lake Country area.
Contact: Lesli Groth, Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-0234

Jan. 5, 2000

NIU Department of Geography Selected as 1 OF 6 'CENTERS OF EXCELLENCE' Nationwide

DE KALB, Ill.-Northern Illinois University is once again on the map for excellence.
Intergraph-a Huntsville, Alabama-based Fortune 1000 company and worldwide industry leader in computerized mapping and geographic information systems (GIS)-has renewed its designation of NIU as an "Intergraph Mapping/GIS Center of Excellence."

To date, the company has extended the honor to only six university geography programs from among its more than 1,800 partner schools.

Intergraph, which also has offices in Arlington Heights, is the world's leading producer of geographic information systems (GIS) software. Under a three-year agreement that accompanies the Center of Excellence designation, Intergraph will provide NIU with the most sophisticated GIS software on the market and unlimited technical support. The value of this most recent gift is expected to exceed $100,000, making Intergraph one of NIU's most recognized partners.

"The continuation of the Intergraph Mapping/GIS Center of Excellence designation for Northern Illinois University is in recognition of the tremendous accomplishments by the faculty and staff in providing their students with an outstanding program," said Susan Nolen, Executive Manager of the Intergraph Program for Schools. "NIU continues to deliver to the market quality graduates that go on to become highly sought after decision-makers and technology experts."

Among geography programs in the country, Northern is uniquely equipped and staffed to provide students with expertise in creating detailed electronic maps with GIS technology. The maps can provide hundreds of details at the click of a mouse-from property tax records to locations of utility easements to information on topography and soil conditions.

Intergraph has had a long and productive relationship with NIU's Department of Geography, said Andrew Krmenec, geography chair.

"Having Intergraph here on campus is very important to the success of our programs and to the successes of our students in the workforce," he said. "We are impressed not just by their products or commitment to Centers of Excellence, but by their overall commitment to geography and geographic literacy in all educational curricula-from kindergarten to college.

"Everyone wins in this collaboration," added Phil Young, an NIU research scientist in geography who spearheaded efforts toward renewal of the Intergraph partnership. "Most of all, the partnership benefits our students. When they go out into the workforce, they will have the most current and up-to-date software expertise as a tool for their employment."

Nearly 300 graduate and undergraduate students at NIU major in geography, but students in other academic areas also benefit from the partnership with Intergraph. NIU offers a certificate in GIS studies that attracts students from all disciplines.

NIU faculty members also use GIS technology in their research, with projects ranging from mapping for local governments to analyses of plots of farmland for development suitability.

"The partnership with Intergraph helps strengthen Northern's contribution to the region," said Frederick Kitterle, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "We're benefiting people in the region, because the work that we're doing influences their quality of life."

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635