Please tell us about your educational background.
I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Then, I pursued my master’s degree and doctorate in biopsychology at the University of Texas at Austin. I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neurosurgery at UCLA, and one in neurobiology at Northwestern University.
What research are you currently involved with?
I’m involved with basic scientific research, however, it does have a clinical twist to it. The work I do is with traumatic brain injury. In my research, we’re trying to understand how the brain fixes itself, or can fix itself, following a traumatic brain injury. And what external types of therapies (drugs, transplantation, physical rehabilitation, etc.) can fix the brain post-injury. Obviously that has clinical implications to the millions of people who are diagnosed with brain injury yearly, as well as the thousands of soldiers who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury.
We have just completed studies which examine physical rehabilitation post-injury and have found that, unlike what is seen following a stroke, the brain is less plastic following traumatic brain injury, and it takes more intense and varied combinations of rehabilitation strategies to be helpful following a brain injury. This work was funded by the Department of Defense
and has been presented at national meetings, and to rehabilitation centers that focus on traumatic brain injury.
How do you classify a traumatic brain injury?
The classic definition of a traumatic brain injury is injury to the brain caused by any sort of physical blow to the head. But that definition has been challenged recently by the types of injuries incurred by troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these soldiers never really get hit with anything on the head. They get what’s called a blast trauma, so they get a brain injury because of the waves going through their brain caused by explosive devices.
Symptom-wise, it really depends on where there is damage in the brain. Typical symptoms (mild, like a concussion) include headaches, slight memory loss and trouble focusing. With a brain injury, a patient could have paralysis, severe memory loss and cognitive dysfunction, or even go into a vegetative state or coma. There’s quite a diversity in symptomatology.
How do you involve students in your research, whether in the classroom and/or lab?
The teaching I do here primarily is in the biology department, primarily in neurobiology. I also teach some focal-point classes to freshman students. I often meet students in my classes who are interested in neurobiology and they ask if they can come work in my lab. In terms of the lab and the studies I lead, I play a small role in the day-to-day aspects of the research because of the help I get from my students. I have both graduate and undergraduate students who help. I train them, and they do the research. After students analyze the data, we go to national and local meetings and they present their findings. Many of the students participate in writing the research articles for their studies, which are then published in scientific journals. This is a unique opportunity for undergraduates to claim authorship on a published research paper, one that is typically limited to graduate students at other institutions.
In 2011, DePaul launched its new College of Science and Health, along with a new undergraduate Health Sciences program. Please describe this program.
DePaul has always had strong science departments and students who are interested in health. In the last 12 years that I have been at DePaul, the science departments have significantly increased in size, indicating strong student interest in those fields. The administration has realized this growth, and has supported the sciences with the addition of cutting-edge facilities in which we can do our teaching and research. The last step was to recognize the sciences as a college. The creation of the College of Science and Health
allowed the sciences greater visibility within the institution, as well as in the Chicagoland area. In addition, it allowed us to work together more seamlessly to offer strong programs to students in science and health.
One of these new programs in the College developed instantly into the newest department at DePaul — the Department of Health Sciences. This department offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences in which the student can select one of two concentrations (biosciences, or health care policy and practice) and several tracks within each program. The underlying philosophy of the program is that healthcare is multidisciplinary and includes practitioners directly involved in individual human health as well as administrators, policy makers and educators who work to enhance the health of communities. These students typically are housed in separate majors and separate colleges at other universities. In our new program, health sciences students are all in the same major, working together in interdisciplinary teams to prepare them for the work they will do in the multidisciplinary field of health care.
What do graduates of the health sciences go on to pursue?
We just started the health sciences major this academic year (2011-2012) so data on what these majors do post-graduation isn’t yet available. However, we anticipate that our majors will go on to traditional fields like medicine, nursing, dentistry, as well as fields in health such as health care administration, public health and health education. Some will also go on to work in laboratories that examine health on a global level like at the Centers for Disease Control
. We really look forward to seeing where our students go after DePaul.
What’s your teaching style?
I’ve never been the type of instructor who sits at the front of the classroom and talks at students, teaching material that only I think is interesting. I try to engage students early on in the quarter to learn what they think is interesting about neurobiology and incorporate that into my courses. I’ve always been very open. Sometimes students bring up topics that I don’t know much about. This forces me to go out and learn more along with them. I learn as much from my students as they do from me. It’s very much a back-and-forth learning process. Yes, teaching them facts is important, but it’s more about the process of learning.
What qualities must a good professor possess?
Creative, approachable, open, challenging and inspiring.
The notion of inclusion is important to DePaul. How so?
I’m from Chicago originally, and I’m a child of immigrants. So the idea that DePaul began as an institution where everyone had an opportunity to attend college and have access to education, and continues to uphold this philosophy, is something that’s relevant to me. The fact that I teach students of all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, with many different backgrounds is really rewarding. I’ve been a part of other institutions where it’s not like that.
What makes DePaul different from other universities?
With regards to the sciences, DePaul is very unique. Our research laboratories and classrooms merge together. Our faculty members are scholars but they involve undergraduates in their research, and in doing so, teach them about what science is and how it is done. Students here have opportunities to get directly involved in the scientific inquiry process and have opportunities to work directly in the health-care field, contributing significantly to both. Faculty members — not teaching assistants — guide students in their discovery.
How would you describe the relationship between Chicago and DePaul?
It’s definitely reciprocal. We provide a great education to the citizens of Chicago. It’s a great place for them to come and learn; We offer students experiences from law to science to business to music to theatre. I think DePaul is a great asset for students in Chicago
. But at the same time I think that DePaul, through service learning opportunities and our interaction with the community, provides a variety of services to the citizens of Chicago. And while there are students who leave the Chicago area after graduation, many stay and work here.