Debut SparkTalks provides whirlwind tour of UIC discovery, impact 

The breadth, innovation and community focus of research, scholarship and outreach at University of Illinois Chicago was on full display at the first edition of SparkTalks. The new series hosted by the Office of the Chancellor showcases UIC faculty who speak for three minutes about their work in front of an audience of their peers, the Board of Trustees and other members of the UIC community. 

At the inaugural SparkTalks event, held Nov. 17, three dozen speakers spoke about a broad range of topics, including housing and segregation, environmental justice, civic engagement and health equity. Presenters from across 16 UIC colleges and schools talked about how their work addresses some of the most consequential topics in medicine and public health, technology, social justice, education and workforce development, among others. 

The program was designed to encourage the sharing of ideas and inspire new opportunities for collaboration. Areas of common interest organically emerged, with faculty approaching a shared challenge from different perspectives.

For example, the topic of fair and equitable housing was addressed by sociologist Maria Krysan, who studies the causes of segregation in Chicago; architect Alexander Eisenschmidt, who organized a summit on affordable housing and designed a prototype one-room house; and Allison Bethel, director of the Fair Housing Legal Clinic, which has represented Chicago residents for 30 years. 

Climate change and opportunities for environmental justice was another common topic. Max Berkelhammer and other UIC scientists in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences study urban heat islands and the benefits of trees as part of the multi-institutional CROCUS project, while Daniel Morales-Doyle of the College of Education develops participatory science curricula around student-led community projects looking at pollution, clean energy and other neighborhood issues. Rachel Havrelock’s Freshwater Lab trains future leaders on climate policy and action, while Samuel Dorevitch of the School of Public Health brings innovative water treatment technology to communities in Kenya. 

But the common thread through all 36 talks was a foundation of community engagement and education, a feature highlighted by Chancellor Marie Lynn Miranda in her closing remarks. 

“You could have done any number of things, and you made the deliberate choice to become a faculty member,” Miranda said. “You made the choice to commit your life to training the next generation and advancing the knowledge frontier, and I find that choice completely inspiring.” 

View a photo gallery of the event below.

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