Newsletter, November 2016

Programs and Places  ♦  Faculty and Student Spotlight  ♦  Alumni and Friends  ♦ Upcoming Events

Big E Welcome...

Students gather in Atrium of Science Building for Big E Welcome

Around noon on August 18, the atrium of our state-of-the-art new science building was a beehive of activity as faculty and staff from all 6 departments in the College of Science converged to welcome new freshmen who are or might be interested in majoring in one of the college’s many programs.

The first year in college is an exciting time Dr. Ka-Wing talks to incoming Computer Science majorsfull of promises. However, it can also be a challenging time as this is the first time away from home for many students. EKU understands this and designed a program called the Big E Welcome to facilitate a smooth transition from high school to college.

The Big E Welcome is a 5-day experience designed to prepare all first-year students for the collegiate experience both inside and outside of the classroom. The Big E Welcome facilitates opportunities for each new student to build friendships and connections with other first-year students, equip themselves with skills to excel in the classroom, and allows the EKU family to truly welcome students into the EKU experience.

Dr. Christian Paumi talks to incoming Chemistry students
According to Dr. Karin Sehmann, Associate Dean for the College of Science, “This event provided a great opportunity for new students with a declared major to get a feel for their major, what to expect for the next four years, and meet students who share similar interests. Exploratory students (students undecided in their major) had the opportunity to connect with faculty and staff from multiple disciplines.”

Biologist allow students hold a hissing cockroach
Over 2,700 first-year students arrived on campus this fall and out of those, more than 300 declared a major in the College of Science. Some of the most popular majors for new students are: Biomedical Sciences, Biology, Forensic Science, and Computer Science.

The departments in the College of Science provided tours and various demonstrations to showcase some of the exciting opportunities they have. Computer Science hosted a motion capture studio demonstration, Biological Sciences allowed students to hold and touch hissing cockroaches, Geosciences discussed a plate tectonics display, and Physics and Astronomy exhibited their famous 33-pound meteorite, affectionately known as “Precious.”

As an added bonus for the students who attended, they had the opportunity to spin a wheel for prizes if they participated in at least 4 different activities.



Maywoods provides opportunities for families and K-12 Students

Lake Edminston at Maywoods Environmental and Educational Laboratory

Do you love the outdoors?  Is preserving the environment important to you? You can achieve both desires at Maywoods Environmental and Educational Laboratory (Maywoods).

Maywoods provides opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors, engaging environmental education learning experiences to K-12 students, opportunities for professional development on environmental education to K-12 teachers, and opportunities to conduct research for college professors and students.

Maywoods is a beautiful 1700-acre natural area located in southern Garrard and northern Rockcastle counties, 22 miles southwest of EKU’s Children participating in Creek Critter Hunt at MaywoodsRichmond campus.  The property was acquired by the University in 1973 and provides a site for teaching, research and outreach opportunities for the University community, surrounding schools and other universities and community groups.  Maywoods is one of 21 Kentucky field stations that are members of the Kentucky Organization of Field Stations.

The operations of Maywoods are overseen by the Division of Natural Areas, whose mission is to protect and restore for EKU’s unique Natural Areas while supporting innovative student experiences and regional engagement through multidisciplinary research, public outreach and experiential teaching and learning. The Division is housed in the College of Science.

According to the Natural Areas’ Director, Dr. Melinda Wilder, “A variety of educational programs and events take place at Maywoods including interdisciplinary scholarship, summer field courses for university students throughout the region and country offered by the Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Curriculum and Instruction, environmental education programming for K-12 schools (averaging 1600 students per year over the past four years) andStudents doing research at Maywoods multiple public events such as Family Nature Day, 5K Trail Run and a Bioblitz.”

Additionally, Dr. Wilder adds, “There have been over 15 research projects completed by faculty and students across six disciplines and four universities ranging from forest composition studies to soil erosion factors to lake cyanobacteria and cyanotoxin concentrations.  Ongoing research projects include a vascular plant inventory by Dr. Ralph Thompson (Berea College), bess beetle population genetics and behavioral ecology by Jacqueline Dillard (University of Kentucky), and amphibian and reptile diversity by EKU bDeck of Maywoods Lodgeiology undergraduate students and Dr. Stephen Richter.”

The onsite lodge provides accommodations for students and faculty to spend extended time teaching field courses and conducting research.  The lodge has a fully equipped kitchen, classroom and dining space, and sleeping quarters for 40 people.  Other facilities include a large outdoor classroom shelter, amphitheater, managFishing at Maywoods' Lake Edminstoner’s home, and a maintenance building with an office.  Natural habitats include an oak-hickory forest (over 95% of the site), restored tall-grass prairie, wetlands, a 13-acre lake and access to Fall Lick Creek. The self-guided trail system includes 6 trails, 5 of which are less than 2 miles, and is located around the lodge, lake, and immediate forest. A 4.2 mile trail provides an opportunity for hikers to travel deeper into the oak-hickory forest. Maywoods is also open to the public for hiking and fishing. 

To take advantage of opportunities available at Maywoods for teaching, research, retreats, or other purposes, please contact the Division of Natural Areas:  For more information, visit our website at

EKU Statistics - Big Data!

Statistics students having fun at the fall picnic

A career in actuarial science is the 3rd best starting salary for college graduates, according to The top 10 salaries are all in engineering careers, with the exception of actuarial science. Often called the “best job you have never heard of,” the field of actuarial science starts with a degree in statistics, mathematics or actuarial science. Eastern Kentucky University has successful programs in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, offering a Bachelor of Science in Statistics, a minor in Statistics, and a minor in Actuarial Science. The undergraduate statistics degree is one of only two in Kentucky and the oldest program in the state.

“The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard,” said the famous statistician, John Tukey. Statisticians are needed in virtually every field, which leads to interesting collaborations and more social interaction than many disciplines in STEM fields.Michelle Smith, Lisa Kay and Patti Costello

Statistics also has the largest number of women graduates in STEM. Although only approximately 18% of computer science graduates are women, that number jumps to 40% when it comes to female graduates in statistics.

Several of our graduates work as SAS programmers for companies such as Mapi (Lexington, KY) and Eli Lilly (Indianapolis, IN). They work to analyze data from clinical trials that are conducted to obtain FDA approval for medications. Several alumni work for the US Census Bureau. Others work for insurance companies such as New York Life Insurance Company, Cincinnati Insurance Company, and Humana. Several graduates work for the company 84.51° (formerly part of Dunnhumby) which analyze the data from Kroger Plus Cards. We even have one alumnus who was elected as the Kentucky Auditor in Students working together to solve statistics problems2015 (Mike Harmon). Some alumni have gone on to earn PhDs from schools such as University of South Carolina, Air Force Institute of Technology, and North Carolina State University. This includes Dr. Lisa Kay who graduated from EKU with a BS in Statistics and Mathematics, and has been teaching in our department ever since she earned her PhD from the University of Kentucky.

Two of the individual courses in statistics are having a big impact on our graduates. The term “Big Data” is used to describe all of the predictive analytics, user behavior analytics and advanced methods that drive our current society. Big Data is usedWhat some graduates do for internet searches, finance, and urban planning among other things. EKU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics offers STA 580 “R and Introductory Data Mining,” and STA 575 “Statistical Methods Using SAS.” EKU’s Dr. Patti Costello said, “This course has been an avenue for students getting jobs.” The FDA approves new pharmaceuticals based on data from SAS, so drug companies need to hire employees with SAS training.


Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jing Wang

Dr. Jing WangHave you ever wondered how students learn physics? So has Dr. Jing Wang, an Assistant Professor in the Department Physics and Astronomy at Eastern Kentucky University.

Dr. Wang is an expert in physics education research, a field that deals with how people learn in a physics classroom. In particular, she has been researching the link between the way students learn mathematics and the way they learn physics.

“We found that students who come to us with low math scores actually can gain a lot of math skills in the physics classroom, which is not what we expected. They come here and expect us to teach them physics, not math. But they do learn math while doing physics problems,” Dr. Wang said.

These unexpected results may be because of the way Physics faculty at EKU approach their teaching. According to Dr. Wang, “Research has shown that the traditional pedagogy in which the professor stands in front of a large number Round tables in the classroom promote student discussionsof students and lecture is not very effective.” Instead, Dr. Wang prefers a more intimate teaching environment. “If you come to my classroom, you will find round tables instead of theatre style seating. I want students to come in and form small groups. The group dynamics in such a setting enable the students to exchange ideas and talk more freely in the classroom. This new innovative classroom, which has been proven to help students learn, is a direct result of physics education research."

Dr. Wang has always wanted to teach and finds EKU to be a perfect fit. The size of the school gives her the benefit of meeting many different students from different backgrounds. On the other hand, the Physics and Astronomy Department allows her to teach in a small classroom setting, which enables very personal interaction with students. In sucStudents participate in projectile demonstrationh a dynamic classroom, she can try some new teaching methods and get feedback immediately, which, she says, is always the fun part of her job. 

Unlike most professors whose teaching and research occur in separate spaces, Dr. Wang’s classroom is also her laboratory, “In my physics education research projects, students are my study subjects. Their behaviors are recorded on paper or video, and I study these behaviors to help me understand the complicated teaching-learning process.”

Dr. Wang also introduces interested students to physics education research. She encourages them to pick their own research questions and desigDr. Wang prepares a projectile demonstrationn tangible experiments to test their hypotheses. The research skills thus gained helps the students tremendously in their graduate school application process.

Dr. Wang has been recognized several times for her excellence in teaching at EKU. She received the EKU Stars award in 2012, and has been nominated twice (2011, 2014) for the Critical Thinking Teacher of the Year award, and the Golden Apple Award (2011, 2015).

Dr. Wang obtained a Ph.D. degree in Physics/Physics Education and a M.S. degree in Statistics from The Ohio State University, and an M.S. degree in Engineering Physics, and a B. S. degree in Engineering Physics from Tsinghua University.


Student Spotlight: Katlyn Sewell and Michelle Sabo

Katlyn Sewell and Michelle SaboOn June 3rd, geology students Katlyn Sewell and Michelle Sabo boarded a plane in Louisville to begin a geology adventure they will never forget. They spent the next five weeks studying field geology along the North Anatolian Fault in western Turkey, widening their cultural horizons, and making new friends from around the world. Sewell, a Lexington native, first discovered the opportunity when she was reviewing field camp options with her academic advisor, Dr. Melissa Dieckmann. She chose Turkey because, as a graduating senior, she wanted to experience life outside of her comfort zone and help solidify her career goals. For Sabo, a Katlyn Sewell in the field in western TurkeyCalifornia native, the opportunity to compare two major strike-slip faults – the North Anatolian Fault and the San Andreas Fault that runs through California – was too tempting to pass up.

Despite a failed coup attempt this summer in Turkey, Sewell and Sabo were extremely safe during their stay. “They welcomed us into their homes, and treated us like family,” Sabo shared when recounting her experiences. Sewell agreed, and added, “This experience has really changed my views on the people of this region.” It was common for the students to be invited to join families in elaborate after-sunset meals during the month of Ramadan. They were treated with respect and great kindness.

Both students collaborated wiMichelle Sabo takes strike and dip measurementsth EKU’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services to file all necessary documentation and prepare for an international trip. Sewell and Sabo spoke very highly of Education Abroad Administrator, Ms. Jennifer White, who not only helped with paperwork and bureaucracy, but was able to work with the students to secure partial funding for their field camp through scholarships and financial aid. The students described this opportunity to study in Turkey as invaluable in strengthening their geologic knowledge and skills. When asked if they would recommend to other students to complete their field camp abroad, both Sewell and Sabo enthusiastically said, “Oh my gosh, YES!!!”


Allia Vaez

Allia Vaez

Eastern Kentucky University offers many opportunities for its students, both within the United States and abroad. For students who take advantage of these opportunities, the sky is the limit. Allia Vaez’s story is just one powerful example.

The EKU alumna has already spent many of her years busting barriers between diverse cultures and building bridges of goodwill. That is why she was recently selected by the newly established Global Citizenship Alliance () as its first and only all-expenses-paid student-leader intern for 2016.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry (pre-med) last May, Vaez joined a half dozen or so other interns from around the world in Austria at the Salzburg Global Seminar, whose lofty mission is to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of worldwide concern.

It was not the Richmond native’s first visit to Salzburg or even her first experience with the Global Citizenship Program. In 2014, Vaez was one of three delegates in EKU’s inaugural student contingent to participate in one of its weeklong seminars. The second-generation Iranian-American made a vivid and lasting impression on many that summer, notably Dr. Jochen Fried, now president and CEO of the Global Citizenship Alliance.

“Allia contributed to all discussions with great enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of issues that were addressed in the course of the week,” Fried said. “I was so impressed with (her) maturity, intellect and sound judgment that I invited her to apply for an internship with us after her graduation – an offer that we only very rarely extend because we receive so many unsolicited applications.”

Fried continued, “Allia understands the nature of globalization, has a deep appreciation for human diversity, and recognizes the challenges that are compromising humanity’s future. More importantly, she perceives these issues through the lenses of a future medical doctor. The future would look brighter if there were more people like Allia who combine the commitment of a humanitarian and the ambitions of a medical doctor.”

Salzburg is both a bigger stage for replicating her past efforts on the EKU campus and a springboard to launch additional small-scale efforts for positive change at home. The co-valedictorian of her 2012 graduation class at Model Laboratory School grew up with a global awareness borne of her own family’s journey. Her parents, long-time EKU faculty and staff members Dr. Jaleh Rezaie (now at North Carolina Central University) and Dr. Hossein Vaez, remained in the U.S. in the wake of the 1979 revolution in their homeland.

“We were delighted when she announced that she had made her decision to attend EKU because we knew, as an Honors student, she would get the best education possible along with all the extracurricular activities she was interested in such as leadership opportunities, study abroad, and dance” said her father, Dr. Hossein Vaez.

Despite a demanding academic major (she also minored in French) and her participation in EKU’s nationally prominent Honors program, Vaez maintained a 3.85 GPA and found time to head numerous campus initiatives designed to promote excellence and diversity and further international dialogue and understanding. For example, she:

  • served as president of the International Students Association, mentoring many students.
  • served as vice president of GLOBAL (Girls Learning of Becoming a Leader).
  • organized “Unveiling Truth behind Colorful Scarves,” a forum explaining the meaning of modesty and head coverings to women in different parts of the Middle East.
  • organized the “My Story: International Female Professionals at EKU” forum on adapting to the American culture and getting ahead in career paths.
  • created a video, “Global Misconceptions,” which involved asking students questions about different cultures, demonstrating how many misconceptions unknowingly exist.
  • helped EKU tutors overcome cultural and language barriers.
  • organized the international exhibit at the University’s annual City Fest.
  • organized bowling nights to help American and international students bond in a fun setting.

Dr. Minh Nguyen, director of EKU’s Asian Studies Program, associate director of EKU Honors and coordinator of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships, exclaimed, “You will hardly find a more determined, focused and goal-oriented person – utterly committed to promoting human rights, diversity and active citizenship in her community and around the world – than Allia.”

Vaez also had a heart for service and helping the less fortunate. Her senior Honors thesis examined treatment approaches for neonatal jaundice in her ancestral homeland, a subject into which she gained some insights through her research with a global medicine pediatrician at the University of Minnesota and through her hospital volunteer work.

A volunteer stint in the maternity ward at St. Joseph East Hospital in Lexington confirmed her desire to pursue a career in that branch of health care. Vaez, who aspires to be a physician, said her liberal arts grounding in EKU Honors has been the yin to her science-minded yang: “It has helped me decide what I want to do with my life. It has helped me learn how to connect with people better, especially those from different backgrounds. If you can’t connect with people, you won’t be a good doctor.”

The week of April 10-16 found Vaez pursuing a more artistic passion. As a member of EKU Dance Theatre, she took her spin in the spotlight at the troupe’s annual spring concert.

“I always loved to dance,” she said. “I find that when I’m dancing, everything else goes away. It’s the best stress relief.”

“Because of her first-rate intellect, temperament and character, she is poised to be an absolute success not only in whatever profession she wishes to pursue,” Nguyen said, “but also, and more importantly, in the fight to protect minorities and promote human rights.”

Remembering the standard Vaez set two years ago, Fried said, “Allia cares deeply about significant social issues and is skilled at sharing her ideas in ways that are meaningful while at the same time bringing consideration of diverging perspectives. She is well-trained, studious, ambitious, and yet very open-minded and self-effacing. All of these attributes combined make her a great student and future professional, as good at helping others learn as she is in her own learning.”

Clearly Vaez has taken full advantage of the opportunities EKU has to offer. She is enrolled in Duke University’s “very unique” master’s degree program in global health this fall – “an absolutely perfect fit for her talents and interests,” said Dr. David Coleman, director of EKU Honors.

According to Dr. Vaez, “Allia is a proud alumni of this university and I see her often wearing her EKU T-shirts to Duke University. In our family so far, we have obtained twelve graduate and undergraduate degrees from EKU. In our opinion, EKU is a great place to live and learn.”

Original story, published in April 2016, can be found at

Angela McMullin Springs

Angela McMullin Springs“Undergraduate research experience at EKU helped me get into pharmacy school and has given me a greater understanding of the research process that goes into developing a new drug,” says Angela Springs, a pharmacist at Kroger pharmacy in Richmond, KY.

Angela, a native of Richmond, attended EKU from 2000 to 2002 and was able to secure admission to pharmacy school after only two years in college. “My interviewers were very impressed when I explained to them how I used an infrared spectrometer to collect data on compounds that I synthesized in the laboratory and how I then used the data to help characterize the compounds. I am convinced that my explanation sealed my admission,” explains Angela.

Then known by her maiden name of Angela McMullin, she conducted her research in the laboratory of Dr. Tom Otieno, the current Interim Dean of the College of Science. “Doing undergraduate research with Dr. Otieno was a wonderful learning experience for me. I learned how the research process starts with a hypothesis and the many hours of trial and error that go into synthesizing new products. I was thrilled when my work was included in a journal publication! I also had an opportunity to present the results of my research at a scientific meeting,” Angela remembers.

“I cannot be any prouder of Angela. She had the courage to sign up for undergraduate research in chemistry as a freshman and obtained publishable results. She also made an oral presentation at a regional conference and placed first in a competition that included juniors and seniors,” commented Otieno.

From EKU, Angela went to Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, SC, where she obtained her Pharm.D. degree in 2006. Upon graduation, she worked at the Kroger Pharmacy in Monticello, KY, before relocating to the Richmond location in 2008.

Angela and her husband Brian have two children, Gabriel who is 9 years old and Emma who is 6 years old.

Angela has many fond memories of EKU. “I really enjoyed my time at EKU. I made friends with other pre-pharmacy and science major students and I had a great experience with my preceptor, Dr. Martin Brock. I still see some friends and professors around town and it is nice to have these relationships that all started at EKU.”

For current students aspiring to go to pharmacy school, Angela has these encouraging words, “Pharmacy is a wonderful industry that is constantly growing and changing. There are many opportunities for pharmacists now including retail and hospital pharmacy, home IV infusion, compounding pharmacy, clinical pharmacy (working in the hospitals and health care centers along with other providers), medication therapy management (talking to patients about their prescriptions), diabetes counseling, basic health screenings, smoking cessation, and administering vaccines. My job is a little different every day and I enjoy every minute of it.”


November 12, 2016:
Students of Scholastic Excellence Event
New Science Building
7:30 am - 12:00 pm

November 17, 2016
Chautauqua Lecture: Jeremy England
Topic: Entropy and Irreversible Change: The Thermodynamics of Evolutionary Adaptation
7:30 pm
O'Donnell Hall, Whitlock Bldg.

November 19, 2016:
Spotlight Event
Keen Johnson
11:45 am

November 29, 2016
College of Science Major Meet Up
9:00 am - 10:30 am
New Science Building 3101

December 16, 2016
College of Science Commencement
6:30 p.m.
Alumni Coliseum