Northwestern faculty awarded grants for summer scholarship

Dr. Todd Tracy, professor of biology, will conduct summer research on the structure of ant communities in regional prairies.

Eleven Northwestern College professors are conducting research and pursuing further study this summer with funding from the Northwestern College Scholarship Grants program. The awards, ranging from $1,600 to $5,300, are designed to encourage the production of scholarly work for publication and distribution beyond Northwestern’s campus.

Four faculty are collaborating with students on their research projects.

Business and economics professor Dr. Fan Fei is embarking on an exploratory research project to determine whether there are location-specific factors that impact cancer incidence and mortality. From 2015 to 2019, Iowa ranked seventh in cancer incidence rates among people aged 50 and below. Fei is investigating whether Sioux County and similar nearby counties exhibit unusual patterns of cancer. Isaiah Gritters, a senior biology–health professions major from Pella, Iowa, is serving as Fei’s student research assistant.

Dr. Rajat Emanuel Singh, kinesiology, is researching the correlation between human metabolic rate and muscle activity at various speeds. Singh is focusing on the frequency of the EMG signal to discover how human locomotion can be optimized for rehabilitation purposes in order to help individuals suffering from gait-related disorders. Grace Van Namen, a senior exercise science major from Grandville, Michigan, is serving as Singh’s student research assistant.

Two students—Princess Bola-Lawal, a junior medical laboratory science major from Gambia, and Kleyton DeGroot, a senior biology–ecological science major from Orange City, are conducting research with Dr. Todd Tracy, professor of biology. Together they are studying the structure of ant communities in relict and restored prairies in northwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota. Along with collecting information on ants, they are also performing vegetative surveys and collect soil samples.

Dr. Kali Jo Wacker of the English department is creating an active-learning textbook on multimodal composition—one that draws on linguistic, visual, auditory, gestural, spatial and material modes of communication. The text will be a model for teaching practices and activity-based writing. Jessica McCubbin, a senior art therapy major from Broomfield, Colorado, is providing illustrations for Wacker’s book.

Another seven Northwestern professors round out the list of award winners.

Dr. Heather Hayes, a Northwestern education professor with expertise in special education, is continuing an analysis of international peer-reviewed research into literacy instruction for students with extensive support needs. She is conducting these studies as part of a team of special education professors and teachers from throughout the U.S.

Another continuing research project is that of Dr. Cambria Kaltwasser, an associate professor of biblical and theological studies. Kaltwasser is working on a book about the Christian life as friendship with God in the theology of Karl Barth.

Music professor Dr. Juyeon Kang, meanwhile, is preparing for a piano-voice duo recital titled “The Beauty of Colors.” A pianist originally from South Korea, she will accompany Melody Wilson, a Black American opera singer from Vienna, Austria. Their performance is scheduled for Oct. 19 in conjunction with the Orange City Arts Council.

Piet Koene, professor of Spanish, translation and interpreting, is compiling both quantitative and qualitative data to better understand how Northwestern can attract, retain and contribute to the success of Hispanic students. He plans to present his findings in a user-friendly format that can be made available more widely to contribute to this quickly growing body of research.

Dr. Jason Lief, biblical and theological studies, is working on a book about St. Francis of Assisi. Lief has led a number of Northwestern summer study abroad trips that trace the saint’s journey from Assisi to Rome. His book will explore how Francis can be a model for American Christianity, which is experiencing the increasing polarization of communities around political and cultural issues. Francis, Lief believes, is an example of someone who remained part of his cultural world yet refused to be defined by its ideological labels, living a life conformed to the image of the crucified and risen Christ.

In the sciences, Dr. Cody Rozeveld and Dr. Sara Sybesma Tolsma, both biology professors, are using their grants to conduct lab research. Rozeveld is growing and preserving several pancreatic cancer cell lines in order to study how plasmids impact the breakdown of lipid droplets, which store fat in cells. In some cancers, like breast and pancreatic, lipid droplets are broken down to help fuel the uncontrolled growth and spread of cancer cells, so understanding that process could lead to promising new therapeutic treatments.

Tolsma is continuing her work analyzing the genomes of bacteriophages discovered by Northwestern students through the college’s partnership with the international SEA-PHAGES research program. She is also finalizing the data set her SEA-GENES students created as they performed a genetic screen on bacteriophage Island3 and is writing a paper reporting those results for publication. Her Northwestern Scholarship Grant will cover the publication costs of these research reports.