Students, research, community – SparkTalks highlights convergence of UIC missions 

The priorities of the University of Illinois Chicago include student success, research excellence and community engagement. These aims are not separate pursuits, but intertwined, and the myriad ways they make each other stronger were on display Feb. 1 at the second edition of SparkTalks — UIC’s lightning talk showcase of faculty research and programs across campus.  

The afternoon’s 36 speakers included representatives from each of UIC’s colleges and schools, covering work ranging from tissue regeneration and room-temperature superconductors to training early childhood educators and high school science teachers and providing harm reduction for drug use and violence. 

“SparkTalks is about giving you, the changemakers who are inspiring and creating a better world, an opportunity to share and learn with others across UIC,” Chancellor Marie Lynn Miranda said. “It’s about fostering collaboration and idea exchange among faculty.” 

Echoes and overlaps emerged throughout the session, and one theme was justice. Barbara Ransby of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences highlighted the work of Social Justice Initiative scholars in migrant health, labor rights and prisoner education; Brenikki Floyd talked about the academic-community partnerships of the School of Public Health’s Collaboratory for Health Justice; and Michael Seng of the School of Law spoke about the Restorative Justice Project, a course and outreach program he proposed every UIC department could adopt. 

Others spoke of going into the community to meet people and their needs where they are. Scott Tomar from the College of Dentistry announced the new Inclusive Care Clinic for patients with disabilities and another clinic opening in the Pilsen neighborhood, while Jennie Jarrett from the College of Pharmacy talked about the work of the Community Outreach Intervention Project Mobile Unit, which provides clean syringes and preventive medication in areas with the highest rates of overdose. 

Research presentations featured further connections to society’s most vulnerable populations. Kathryn Bocanegra from the Jane Addams College of Social Work argued for viewing violence through the framework of addiction to create new harm reduction strategies. Tanvi Bhatt of Applied Health Sciences presented work on reducing fall risk in elderly and disabled people through simulated “trips and slips” in the laboratory, while Orly Lazarov of the College of Medicine and Shannon Halloway of the College of Nursing respectively presented about understanding the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and promoting lifestyle behaviors that may prevent dementia. 

And students were at the center of even the most cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs on display. Russell Hemley from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences highlighted work by UIC graduate students that advanced the worldwide search for the first room-temperature superconductor and was featured in the New York Times. Salman Khetani of the College of Engineering proudly displayed the prestigious academic and industrial destinations of former lab members who helped his work on engineering tissues for cell-based therapies and drug discovery. And Brian Murphy from the College of Pharmacy explained his program involving Chicago middle school students in the hunt for new antibiotics from natural sources — including goose droppings. 

In her talk, Ransby emphatically declared why UIC has been her professional home for over 25 years, summarizing the recurrent themes of the day. 

“I’m proud of our social justice mission. I’m proud of our students. I’m proud of the communities we engage and serve,” said Ransby, John D. MacArthur Chair and Distinguished Professor in the departments of Black studies, gender and women’s studies, and history. “Every day we ask: How do we train and sensitize our students so that they go out into the world with their moral compasses intact and become ethical scientists, patient and nurturing teachers, conscientious architects and engineers and truth-telling poets and writers? It is the very soul of who we are as a campus and an intellectual and learning community dedicated to serving a greater public good.” 

View a photo gallery of the event below.

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