Professor Karen Swan and Social Presence

Social media surrounds us, but many feel like these online tools don’t really connect us.  So how can faculty connect with their students through online media?  Dr. Karen Swan kicked off the Spring Faculty Scholarship Series on February 13th with a presentation based on her most recent book, “Social Presence in Online Learning.” She will also be a facilitator at the Community for Innovative and Engaged Learning Symposium on February 15th.

Karen Swan

Dr. Swan is the James J. Stukel Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership.  Swan received the Sloan Consortium for Asynchronous Learning Networks Award for “Most Outstanding Achievement in Online Learning by an Individual” in 2006 and she is one of the most highly cited faculty at UIS.

articles, chapters, books, reviews, conferences

Students in her online classes are working towards becoming school principles, among other leadership roles. To improve student learning outcomes, Dr. Swan designs her courses to create social presence.  For example, she scaffolds multiple varied discussion boards to build cohesion. She also uses the journal tool to communicate one-on-one with her students. It doesn’t matter so much what the media is, but what the instructor does to build connections, since learning is social.

You can read more about Dr. Swan’s research in her book.

social presence in online learning

Professor Larry Shiner and the Fear of Smell

Larry Shiner, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, History, Visual Arts, will be presenting his latest research on Contemporary Olfactory Arts at the Illinois State Museum Research & Collections Center on Wed, Jan. 17, 2018, at noon.  More details of the event can be found on their Facebook page.

Larry Shiner

The talk will feature excerpts from the latest book that Dr. Shiner is working on.  One of his prior books, The Invention of Art (2001), was highly reviewed and has its own Wikipedia page.

Art book cover


Professor Brian Chen and Food Insecurity

‘Tis the season of giving, and many of us think about those less fortunate, perhaps donating to a food pantry. But Dr. Cheng-Chia “Brian” Chen studies food pantries throughout the year. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at UIS. His research topic, “Nutritional Epidemiology Research in Food Insecurity and Hunger,” has been conducted in collaboration with the FriendBrian Chens of Champaign County Food Pantry, an outreach of the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center.

A food pantry is defined as a charity food-assistance program. Champaign County has a relatively high concentration of low-income families, relative to the state, and low public transportation, and is thus considered a food-insecurity area. The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (C-UPHD) has partnered with the Food Pantry to help alleviate this public health issue. The health professionals from C-UPHD also provide public health and dental programs to the food pantry participants.

An additional partner in the Food Pantry is the University of Illinois Extension office. They have a nutritionist on site every week, providing a nutrition education program. To increase the nutrition content, the Pantry provides fresh produce, year round.

UI Extension booth

Donations to the Pantry are from local stores (Meijer, County Market, Schnucks, and Walmart) as well as Eastern Illinois Foodbank and C-UPHD Give Back Garden.  Part of the UIS study is to track the nutritional content of the food being provided.

Dr. Awais Vaid, the co-founder of the Pantry, is a medical doctor and a collaborator in this research. The Food Pantry was started in Feb. of 2016, and Dr. Chen got involved right away, initiated the research project in May.  The initial results (presented at the 2016 Illinois Public Health Association conference) found that participants from Rantoul had transportation challenges, so the C-UPHD began to use their branch office to reach families with the food.

Dr. Chen’s research project has demonstrated an innovative and sustainable academic-community-health department partnership/initiative that allows local multi-cultural communities and University of Illinois-Springfield (UIS) faculty, students, and alums to collaborate with local public health professionals to alleviate food insecurity among underrepresented minority groups.


UIS student involvement:

The current Administrator at C-UPHD is Julie Pryde, a UIS MPH alum (2017). And a current MPH student, Hinal Patel, is working on this project for her preparation to apply for a Ph.D. program in public health. She conducted a literature review, developed the protocol, helped train other MPH students to assist with collecting data. There are still opportunities for UIS students to join the project (to be eligible, students must have personal cars/driver’s licenses). The goal is to continue collecting data for an entire year in order to identify trends.

This study is an example of community-based participatory research (CBPR). Through mixed-methods (semi-structured interviews of participants, volunteers, and staff as well as paper-based/online surveys), the researchers and participants interact closely and evolve the research design. In fact, the research students help out at the Food Pantry.

The objectives of the study are to research food insecurity vs. food pantry program effectiveness, investigate barriers and incentives to utilize a food assistance program, and assess effects of food pantries on health outcomes, such as obesity.

So far the team has found that food insecurity has decreased for participants, and the variety of foods provided are an incentive for participants to return. The research team recently presented their results at the 144th American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta, which is the oldest and largest gathering of public health professionals in the world and attracts more than 13,000 health professionals from more than 40 countries.

Hinal Patel, Brian Chen, Julie Pryde

Hinal Patel, Brian Chen and Julie Pryde at APHA Conference 2017

Dr. Chen earned his MS and PhD from Indiana University-Bloomington. He describes his research program as Innovative Health Inequality, Policy and e-Education Research (iHIPER):  He has articles in peer-reviewed publications such as the International Journal of Health Services, the Health Education Journal, E-mentor Journal, and a chapter in Contemporary Issues in Public Health in North Africa and Middle East.


Dr. Chen is currently a Faculty Fellow in the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service. He is originally from Taipei, Taiwan, and is initiating a public health study of the “Praise Dance” exercise program that is popular there. Using the CBPR model, he will interview the trainers, coaches, and participants.

Dr. Chen teaches courses in Health Economics, Biostatistics, Food, Health and Public Policy, and Human Well-being. In 2017 he received the Burks Oakley II Distinguished Online Teaching Award. Learn more about Dr. Chen at his professional website


Professor Anette Sikka and Immigration

Last week was Thanksgiving in the United States, when we celebrate the Pilgrims coming to the New World. Today, however; immigration policy is now a “hot button” issue. Here at UIS, Assistant Professor Annuradha “Anette” Sikka has expertise in the fields of Immigration and International Law.  She recently was instrumental in creating a web resource for our campus to help with  understanding immigration issues.

Dr. Sikka earned her Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa and she has a J.D. from Dalhousie University. She is licensed to practice in Ontario, Canada and in Alabama where she continues to consult on immigration cases.  Her research focuses on immigration reform and criminal justice, race/class/gender approaches to security, and international rule of law programming. She is a professor in the Legal Studies Department and teaches international law, constitutional law, and human rights, in addition to immigration.

Prior to coming to UIS, Dr. Sikka worked for the United Nations in Bosnia and Kosovo training police and prosecutors on gender and operational policy. She has continued to work as a consultant providing research and training on security sector reform and refugee issues in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan. This work complements her teaching and enhances her research, and it provides avenues of interest for students in their quests to understand the ways in which law impacts different areas of society.

Dr. Sikka is currently seeking research assistants and project interns to assist with two immigration-related projects, one of which is also associated with her work as Policy Advisor at the Illinois Innocence Project.  Students will help Dr. Sikka gather and analyze data on pressures faced by immigrant defendants and witnesses to forego full participation in criminal proceedings for fear of facing immigration consequences .  The UIS Internships Office has information on how to apply and earn credit for this experience.

Students in Dr. Sikka’s classes will also be able to take part in various ways. In LES 476: Immigration and the Law, students will be able to participate in research and community-oriented projects related to immigration reform generally, and they can become directly involved in the pilot projects through class assignments. (click here to register now).​

She and Sophia Gehlhausen (UIS Diversity Center) have prepared a website to centralize communication about immigration issues at UIS. Together with a new student organization, H.E.L.P., they have produced a short informational video on the laws and resources relevant to our understanding of immigration in the current national and local context, and how it affects UIS students, faculty and administration.