Newsletter, November 2017
EKU’s Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week which was held from Monday, September 11 through Saturday, September 16, 2017, was a celebration like no other and featured many firsts: the first celebration of Science and Mathematics event, the presentation of the first College of Science (COS) Awards, the first COS Alumni Lecture Series address, the first formally organized gathering specifically for retired faculty, and the first specially commissioned music for the grand opening of Phase II of the University’s science building.
This issue of our alumni newsletter continues our tradition of highlighting some of the people, places, and programs that make the College of Science at Eastern Kentucky University a special place to work and learn. It is also special in that all the articles herein are connected to the Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week.
EKU, like other institutions of higher education across the country, is facing many challenges. Amidst those challenges, however, are opportunities and positive accomplishments worth celebrating. Our faculty and students continue to excel and receive recognition. We have recently established new programs in biomedical sciences, fermentation science, and geographic information science. We have an amazing new science building, and we are engaging with our alumni, individual and corporate donors, and retired science and mathematics faculty like never before.
Indeed, when the College was formed through a structural reorganization a little over a year ago, one anticipated outcome was that the new organizational structure would provide an opportunity for an increased focus on science and mathematics programs at EKU. The Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week was one way of doing just that. Below are some of the highlights of the week.
On Monday, September 11, the College celebrated its alumni by launching the first annual Alumni Lecture Series, which is designed to honor alumni who have distinguished themselves and the college through their professional accomplishments. The first alumni speaker was Dr. Tracie Prater. Dr. Prater is a 2006 EKU physics graduate and is currently employed as an aerospace engineer in the Materials and Processes Laboratory Engineering Support Office at the NASA Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The College took its engagement with alumni to the next level by presenting the first College of Science Awards to Dr. Gary Booth, a 1962 EKU chemistry graduate, and Dr. Prater. The College of Science Award is presented to people who have made impactful contributions to the College.
The recognition of Dr. Booth, a passionate philanthropic supporter of EKU and the College of Science, was also a celebration of our individual donors. The celebration of our corporate partners was symbolized by a check presentation in support of a STEM summer camp by Novelis Aluminum Corporation on Thursday, September 14.
We celebrated our ongoing commitment to diversity by examining the value of diversity in science in the keynote address delivered on September 14 by Professor Sylvester James Gates, a distinguished American theoretical physicist. In a presentation titled "Einstein v. Roberts: Does Diversity Matter in Science?" Professor Gates used examples from the natural sciences and social sciences to illustrate the powerful role of diversity in innovation and creativity in STEM fields. We also celebrated our diversity by having a distinguished female engineer and a distinguished African American scientist as our plenary speakers of the week.
Our local community was also celebrated in a number of ways. A free show at the Hummel Planetarium was presented on September 12, hands-on science and mathematics activities for students from Madison Central, Berea Independent, Model Laboratory, and Madison Southern high schools were held on September 11-14, guided tours of the Science Building were held every day, and a Family Nature Day event at EKU’s Maywoods Environmental and Education Laboratory in Crab Orchard was held on September 16.
On the evening of September 15, we hosted a memorable reception in honor of our retired science and mathematics faculty. We provided a private tour of the science building and an opportunity for them to visit with one another. This was followed by a dinner and time to reminisce about their tenure at EKU.
The high point of the week was the dedication of Phase II of the Science Building which was held on September 15. The EKU Brass ensemble performed Emergence Fanfare for Brass Quintet, a piece commissioned by the College of Science specifically for this occasion. This piece was composed by Dr. Richard Byrd, a faculty member in EKU’s School of Music. Speakers at the event included EKU President Michael T. Benson; senior geology major Laura Kelley; Dean of the College of Science Dr. Tom Otieno; EKU Board of Regents Chairman Craig Turner; Kentucky Senator Jared Carpenter; Kentucky Representative Jonathan Shell; and Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes. The ceremony was followed by a reception and tours of the building.
A photo gallery of our celebration events is available at http://scienceweek.eku.edu/celebration-science-mathematics-week-photo-gallery.
Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Hummel Planetarium Host Eclipse 2017
The Department of Physics and Astronomy (PHAS) and EKU’s Office of Conferencing and Events/Hummel Planetarium have a tradition of collaborating in service to our community. This was the case on the evening of September 12, 2017 when, as part of the Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week, PHAS and Hummel Planetarium presented a free planetarium show to the community. The show titled Two Small Pieces of Glass illustrates the history of the telescope from Galileo’s modifications to a child’s spyglass. After the show there was a special presentation and a questions and answers session led by Dr. Mark Pitts, a lecturer in PHAS.
Another event where this collaboration was evident was during the August 21st solar eclipse, when the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Conferencing and Events’ Hummel Planetarium worked together to provide a fun day of ‘eclipse viewing’.
Solar eclipses generally happen two to three times a year on Earth, however this was the first solar eclipse to occur in North America in 26 years. That made it something special. In Madison County, the eclipse was about 95 percent but if you traveled to western Kentucky you could have had a better view. In Hopkinsville, Kentucky the eclipse reached 100 percent.
Festivities for this great event included a day of family fun for the university and Richmond communities. Food trucks from Pit Stop Burgers, Apollo Pizza and Kona Ice provided food and the plaza at the Perkin’s Building was set up for a variety of games and activities where prizes could be won. Local radio and televison stations were on site as well.
Starting about 12:00 pm, shuttles were available to transport people from the Perkins Building to the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s Observation Deck. Dr. Marco Ciocca, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, had several large telescopes (with solar filters) set up to safely view the eclipse and was available to answer any questions onlookers had. Each person arriving at the Observation Deck also received special eyewear compliments of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and water compliments of Conferencing and Events.
The eclipse started at approximately 1 p.m., reached its maximum at approximately 2:30 p.m. and concluded shortly before 4 p.m. Many students and faculty who were unable to join the festivites at the Perkins Building or the Observation Deck could be seen looking toward the sky to catch a glimpse of this event between classes.
After the eclipse, Hummel Planetarium offered a free viewing of its show, “Exploding Universe,” which targeted kids from middle-school age and up.
Family Nature Day at Maywoods
Activities for the Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week were not limited to Eastern Kentucky University’s Richmond campus. On Saturday, September 16, 2017, the action moved to Maywoods Environmental and Educational Laboratory where the Division of Natural Areas hosted its annual Family Nature Day. Maywoods is a beautiful 1700-acre natural area located in southern Garrard and northern Rockcastle counties, 22 miles southwest of EKU’s Richmond campus.
Family Nature Day was filled with a variety of outdoor activities ranging from Insect Madness to Wonderful Weather and Nature Journaling. These activities were designed to get kids and their parents out into the creeks and forests in order to help them develop an appreciation of their natural surroundings in central Kentucky. The activities were led by EKU professors and various knowledgeable community members, students, and university staff.
An Associate Professor of biological sciences, Dr. Lindsay Calderon, who brought her five year old daughter to the event, commented, “Family Nature Day was an engaging experience that allowed families to enjoy a beautiful outside scenery filled with educational activities together. Maywoods directly stimulates children to learn about nature, ecosystems, and to have a respect for their environment. My family is looking forward to next year’s Nature Day.”
Dr. Pat Litzelfelner, an Associate Professor of social work, and her daughter, Anna, who is a junior at Model Laboratory School, are believed to hold the record for most frequent attendees at family nature days.
Asked why she likes the Family Nature Day so much, Anna responded, “Maywoods has a calming and relaxing atmosphere and helps me remember to live in the moment. My favorite part is the creek crawl. Sometimes I use the nets and magnifying glasses and look at critters in the creek and other times I just walk the creek and look at nature and listen to the birds.” After a short pause, she added, “Each time I go to Family Nature Day, I learn something new. I have learned to climb a tree, fish, shoot archery, do various arts and crafts and kayak.”
As for Pat, her favorite part of the Family Nature Day is watching Dr. Stephen Richter of the Department of Biological Sciences hunt for snakes. “He usually finds some. One time he came up from the creek with a big ol’ rattlesnake.”
For some people, a celebration is not complete if it does not include music. This year, the musical entertainment was provided by Dr. Matthew Pianalto, an Associate Professor of philosophy. His decision to play at the Family Nature Day was partly influenced by the fact that when he first came to EKU and took his children to the event, they enjoyed the music so much.
“It is my pleasure to share some of the traditional Appalachian and bluegrass music that I have learned to play on the banjo over the past three years. I also teach Environmental Ethics on campus and think that events like Family Nature day promote the hands-on nature education that is crucial for fostering appreciation and stewardship of the natural world,” Pianalto said.
He also believes that “Bonding through music can help create and sustain community and add to the fun of Family Nature Day. It made my day to see all of those children dancing their socks off to ‘Hook and Line,’ and hopefully moments like that will help make them want to come back to Maywoods to learn more and to have more fun in the woods.”
If you would like to be put on our Family Nature Day contact list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and put Family Nature Day in the subject line. We’ll be sure to send you information for our Spring 2018 event.
Staff Spotlight: Melanie Givan
You may have seen Melanie Givan taking photos at many of the Celebration of Science and Mathematics week events, but she isn’t a professional photographer… she is the College of Science’s Technology Coordinator. Givan isn’t your typical ‘computer geek’. With a B.A. in Art and Geology from Hanover College in Indiana and a M.S. in Geology from Eastern Kentucky University, a career in computer technology was never the place she assumed she would end up.
Givan began her career at EKU in the former College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences while still in graduate school. “I needed money to pay the rent and luckily, after just one interview, was able to land a job managing a small computer lab called the Science Learning Resource Center or SLRC. At the time, the lab had about 20 Apple IIe computers and was used primarily by the Department of Chemistry,” Givan says. “That turned out to be one of the luckiest days of my life. That position opened doors to a lifelong career that has served me very well.”
The SLRC proved to be a 'jumping off point' for Givan to build her knowledge of computers. Just when the World Wide Web (WWW) was taking off and computers were beginning to be networked, EKU received a Communications Grant from AT&T/NCR which led to a campus-wide network for personal computers. “The SLRC was used as a trial site to see how well PC’s could be networked to the rest of the campus and eventually to the outside world. We used a Novell Network at the time which required me to take classes in UNIX. The only computer programming class I ever had was in Basic so learning UNIX was a real challenge for me,” Givan said.
The networking of Eastern’s campus linked it to the World Wide Web. The job of creating and maintaining web sites for the then College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences fell to Givan and she had to learn HTML and later PHP and CSS, which are all programming languages designed for the web.
Givan states, “I have had to reinvent myself a number of times over the years in order to keep up with the changing technology and demands of my job. My background in science and art help me see unconventional solutions to many problems I encounter which are invaluable in the ever-changing world of technology."
Givan’s B.A. in Art has also come in quite handy over the years as she has helped numerous faculty by creating and digitizing figures and graphical images for a number of books and publications, including “Practical Forensic Microscopy,” by Barbara Wheeler and Lori Wilson and “Plant Life of Kentucky” by Ronald L. Jones. She also created a number of graphical images for college and departmental recruiting materials and as a result, one of the collages that she created for the Forensic Science program has been incorporated into the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission's home page banner.
In 2014, Givan was invited to become a member of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen for her digital color photography. “I am a landscape photographer. My love of geology and of nature is often reflected in many of my photos. I especially love visiting and photographing our National Parks. I try to capture the natural beauty that they have to offer,” says Givan. In 2015, she received a Best of Show ribbon for one of her photographs.
Givan also teaches an introductory geology course in the Department of Geosciences. “I love teaching and I enjoy finding unconventional ways to help my students learn geology. My class is a bit different from most of the other introductory geology classes in that it is at night from 6:00-10:00 pm. This long class period is often times hard for both the students and the person teaching, but I try to create activities that not only help the students learn basic geologic concepts but are also fun. They especially love when we do activities that include food,” states Givan.
When she is not working at EKU, Givan enjoys a doing a variety of crafts. “I cook, I bake and decorate cakes, I’m an avid cross stitcher, I crochet, I sew, and I occasionally do a bit of scrapbooking,” says Givan. She also enjoys spending time with her two adult children and her fiancé, Pete Worcester, who also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Department of Geosciences.
Student Spotlight: Laura Kelley
Laura Kelley, a senior geology major, had the honor of being selected to be the student speaker during the dedication ceremony for Phase II of the Science Building, which was held during Eastern Kentucky University’s Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week.
Laura, who was born in Lexington, Kentucky but has lived most of her life in Bagdad, Kentucky, chose to come to Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) because of the small class sizes and because EKU is centrally located in Kentucky.
As to what she likes most about EKU Laura said, “I like how, on this campus, there is a sense of community. Everyone is very friendly and helpful at all times.”
Laura has been involved in undergraduate research since the summer of 2016 under the mentorship of Dr. Jonathan Malzone, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences. Laura’s project has involved sampling water at EKU's Meadowbrook Farm to determine where potential nutrient contaminants are coming from and how to lessen their impact on the environment.
Laura has also been active in disseminating the results of her research and placed third in the Oral Presentation Competition at the Kentucky Academy of Science meeting in November 2016. She also won the Undergraduate Research Award for her poster presentation at EKU’s Scholarship week in April 2017.
“As Laura’s advisor, I have been impressed by her leadership and drive to take ownership of her education,” said Dr. Malzone. “Laura’s quality of work led the conveners of the Geological Society of America’s conference to upgrade her submission from a poster to a prestigious professional talk. While this speaks to Laura’s talent, it is a terrifying experience for most undergraduates as they are then required to present their work to a large audience of experts. It has been extremely rewarding to watch Laura rise to such challenges and develop herself as an eager young professional.”
Laura is a member of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, the National Honor Society for Geology Students, and served as the society’s President in the spring of 2017.
The choice of Geology as a major came from Laura’s childhood interests. “One interesting thing about myself is that I have always wanted to do something to help protect the Environment since I was little and Eastern has helped me achieve my dreams from childhood.”
Laura plans to graduate in December 2017 and hopes to get a job as an Environmental Consultant. She wants to pursue her passion for protecting the environment.
Dr. Tracie Prater
On September 11, 2017, Dr. Tracie Prater returned to her alma mater to be the first individual to deliver a lecture in the newly established College of Science Alumni Lecture Series. The series is designed to honor alumni who distinguish themselves and the college through their professional accomplishments and was launched during Eastern Kentucky University’s Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week.
Dr. Tracie Prater also received the College of Science Award which is presented to people who have made impactful contributions to the College.
Originally from Hazard, Kentucky, Dr. Prater graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in 2006 with a B.S. in physics. As a student at EKU, Prater’s career plans were constantly changing. She filled out a change-of-major form several times but ultimately stuck with physics because of her undergraduate adviser, retired Foundation Professor Dr. Jerry Cook. “In one of his courses, I was suffering from a bit of burnout toward the end of a semester and made a poor grade on a test,” Prater recalled. Dr. Cook handed it back to me and asked me if I had been the person who had really taken that test, and he told me he knew I could do better. “Sometimes you need someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself,” Prater added, “and that describes almost every professor I had [at EKU].”
Dr. Tracie Prater is currently an aerospace engineer in the Materials and Processes Laboratory Engineering Support Office at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
To those who know her, it should come as no surprise that Prater is now part of a team at NASA tasked with developing the processes, skill sets, and systems needed for manufacturing off-planet. She was always the kid asking “why,” probing for answers to hard questions. In kindergarten, her first science fair project involved the effects of light on plant growth. In elementary school, she was a proud member of the Young Astronauts, where she learned about space and related careers. In middle school, she was awestruck watching the movies “Apollo 13” and “Contact.”
At Perry County Central High School in Hazard, Kentucky, an “incredible” math teacher, Tony Melton, helped Prater build a skill set to be successful in college. And Governor’s Scholars introduced her to the possibility of an engineering career.
From EKU, Prater went on to earn her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt. “I think it’s a testament to my professors, who wrote many a recommendation letter, and to EKU’s program that I was able to get a full fellowship for graduate school and seamlessly transitioned into engineering courses without having an undergraduate degree in the field.”
Aside from family members (her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother are all Eastern alumni ), teachers and EKU faculty, Prater’s career choice was met with some skepticism, sometimes because of her gender. This skepticism is why she takes such pride in mentoring students today, especially females.
“I want to make sure girls are exposed to engineering at a young age,” she said, “and I do a lot of STEM outreach talks for various programs I support at NASA. I feel like some of the gender gap in engineering can be closed by just making girls aware of these fields at younger ages, and I want to actively help do that.” Indeed during her visit to EKU, Prater also spoke to middle and high school students at Model Laboratory School.
Prater said many women in STEM fields suffer from imposter syndrome. “You have to believe that you’re as good as anyone in the room, and you most likely are. Sometimes that’s hard because you really don’t feel like you belong or deserving of your position or role, but always remember that your gender alone does not determine your capabilities. At some point in my engineering classes, I started to realize that almost every guy in my classes had to work just as hard as I did.”
Prater envies NASA employees who, in their lengthy careers, have worked on a variety of projects, including Skylab, Space Shuttle, International Space Station, Space Launch System (NASA’s next rocket for deep space exploration) and science payloads.
“I hope to have a career like that, where I can work on multiple, diverse programs and ultimately feel like I’ve done work to really advance technology forward, both in space and on earth, and make space flight more frequent and accessible. I’m really happy to have any small part in making humanity a space-faring species.”
Prater is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and serves in leadership roles with AIAA at the local and regional level. In her spare time, she enjoys SCUBA diving, running, reading about all things space-related and traveling. She is also an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and is the author or co-author of over 20 publications.
Retired Science and Mathematics Faculty
On September 15, 2017, the College of Science celebrated its retired science and mathematics faculty by hosting the first formally organized gathering of this esteemed group. Twenty-two retired faculty with nearly 600 years of combined full-time service to Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) gathered in the Atrium of the Science Building for a reception hosted in their honor as part of the University’s Celebration of Science and Mathematics Week.
The retired faculty who attended and their years of service to the University are listed below by department:
Biological Sciences: Dr. Ross Clark (July 1992-May 2009), Dr. Robert Creek (February 1970-May 2001), Dr. Paul Cupp (August 1974-December 2012), Dr. David Eakin (August 1997-May 2013), Dr. Ronald Jones (August 1981-May 2013), Dr. Sanford Jones (September 1961-July 1992), Dr. David Mardon (August 1976-July 1999), Dr. Barbara Ramey (August 1983-May 2010), and Dr. Guenter Schuster (August 1979-May 2009).
Chemistry: Dr. John Davidson (September 1965-May 2000), Dr. Vernon Stubblefield (August 1971- May 2003).
Computer Science: Dr. David Fields (August 1986-May 2003), Dr. Bill Janeway (August 1981-May 2007), and Dr. Jaleh Rezaie (August 1983-August 2015).
Geosciences: Dr. Bruce Davis (July 2000-July 2011), Dr. Stewart Farrar (August 1985-May 2017), Dr. Gary Kuhnhenn (August 1979-May 2012).
Mathematics & Statistics: Dr. Andrea Bailey (August 2006- May 2015), Dr. Patrick Costello (August 1982-May 2017), and Dr. Kirk Jones (August 1990-May 2017).
Physics & Astronomy: Dr. Jerry Cook (August 1983-June 2013), Dr. Karl Kuhn (May 1966 - May 2000).
Many of the faculty were accompanied by their spouses. Also in attendance were all department chairs and a number of the Dean’s office staff.
Welcoming the guests, Dr. Tom Otieno, the dean of the College of Science, acknowledged the invaluable contributions the retired faculty had made during their many years of service to EKU. He noted that the retired faculty had helped propel the college to its current status and a number of them had played a critical role in the lobbying and planning for the new Science Building.
Otieno reminded the retired faculty that they are part of the College of Science family and the college will host them annually: “Current faculty and staff are the parents, alumni the children and you, the retirees, are, therefore, our brothers and sisters. Members of a family need to get together periodically, even if only for Thanksgiving.”
Individuals expressed excitement at seeing one another and recognized those who mentored them as young faculty, some of whom were present in the room. One faculty member (Dr. Jaleh Rezaie) who came to EKU as a student had the distinction of sharing the platform as a retiree with two of her former professors (Drs. Janeway and Costello).
People acknowledged how EKU supported their careers through professional development opportunities (including paying for advanced degrees), talked about the process of the getting the science building (including periods of trepidations that funding for Phase II would not be realized), recollected the growth of Richmond and the expansion of EKU to south campus, and marveled at how technology has changed. A good time was had by all.
“There is energy here that will look into the chaos of whatever and bring it to order, structure and better understanding. Take it and make the most of it.” Sanford Jones.
“It is really refreshing that you have remembered that we are part of this family and that all here have put in many many years of our lives to this institution. I want to thank you for sharing this with us.” Guenter Schuster.
Sarah Adams, the college’s Academic Skills Coordinator summed up the evening. “The retirement dinner was an extremely powerful event. I enjoyed hearing stories and memories from being on campus in the 1960s to the first discussions about the need for a new science facility. There were a lot of laughs, and maybe even a few tears… I hope we can make the dinner an annual event.”