Saturday, February 24, 2024

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Civic Skinny

University sabbaticals — cookbook, bees, knitting. Also… Baby names. Broken records. Growth ranking.


For most of us, taking a “sabbatical” is veiled as a simple vacation. It is a nice break from work, if nothing else. However, the definition, at least according to the Oxford dictionary is, “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.” We looked through the 106 sabbatical requests, or professional development assignments (PDAs), for fiscal year 2025 that have been approved by the Iowa Board of Regents. These will come at an estimated faculty replacement cost of $266,468.   


University of Northern Iowa

Fernando Calderon Herrera, a professor of history for 11 years at UNI, plans to do research on his sabbatical that will highlight how the impact of civil society organizations and nongovernmental actors has shaped Mexico’s relationship with eastern bloc countries and oppressed people’s causes in the Third World. His request says he believes it is essential for UNI students to gain insight into the complex sociopolitical dynamics that have shaped history through the influx of Mexican musicians, teachers, feminists, activists, working-class youth and journalists to the Third World, and how they’ve been more effective in their efforts to earn Mexico’s reputation as a leader in the Third World than the Institutional Revolutionary Government. 

Sohyun Meacham has spent 10 years in curriculum and instruction. Her project is called “Intersectionality in Asian American Early Childhood” and is about issues surrounding Asian American children and their families. These issues are listed as Diversity of Asian American young children, AsianCrit and alternative theories, gendered practices and expectations of Asian American children, social class and untold/hidden poverty in Asian American early childhood, multicultural picture books on Asian/Asian-American-children, intersectional invisibility of Asian American children with disabilities, and Asian American families’ experiences in predominantly white communities. 

The last of the three sabbatical requests from UNI faculty comes from Michael Prophet, mathematics professor who has 24 years under his belt. His project, “Simultaneous Minimal Extensions,” looks at data modeling. He seeks to “accomplish the goal of minimal-error approximation, using an innovative technique. The new technique involves determining minimal-error, shape-preserving approximations on smaller ‘subspaces’ of a given large space of data, and then simultaneously ‘extending’ those approximations from the smaller sets to the original large set.” Exactly.   


Iowa State University

ISU had 38 sabbatical requests. These caught our eyes.

Abby Dubisar is an associate professor of English with 12 years of service. Her project is titled, “Cookbooks as Civic Action: Food Rhetoric’s for Peace and Justice.” She says her project will explore and analyze cookbooks published between 1968 and 2017 to see how authors took position on civic and political issues, and how they might have instructed readers on persuasive strategies while being a platform for women’s perspectives on world affairs.

Professor of Psychology, Zlatan Krizan has 16 years at ISU. His sabbatical project, titled “Fatigue during Investigations: Optimizing High-Stakes Interviewing,” applies sleep and fatigue science to improve the effectiveness of interrogations. The goal of this project is to result in a new research program on interrogations and enhance ISU’s reputation in legal-psychological scholarship. 

After 13 years as a professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, Amy Toth requested a sabbatical titled, “Strengthening international collaborations for bee conservation using big data.” The project looks at the decline in pollinators as a major area of research and public interest, because it has the potential to severely impact ecosystems and food supplies. As part of this research, Professor Toth will travel to Argentina to integrate bee conservation with big data, which will result in peer-reviewed publications, seminars and conference presentations. 


University of Iowa

The University of Iowa professors and faculty accounted for more than half of the total sabbatical requests with 65, including these three.

Monica Correia, professor of art and art history for 19 years, submitted a sabbatical request titled “Seamless Upholstery Design.” Professor Correia will be applying for a Fulbright research grant in advanced weaving, knitting techniques and materials for seamless upholstery design. She plans to perform this research at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, France.

With seven years at UI, associate professor of cinematic arts, Christopher Goetz, has a sabbatical request of “Another Castle: Gaming Culture Behind the Screen.” Professor Goetz plans to use this study to develop methods for preserving the past and present context of the video games people play. He plans to incorporate his findings into undergrad and graduate courses at UI. The description states, “Though they are still treated as an emerging art form, commercial video games have been around for more than 50 years. Preserving records of gaming’s past is proving one of the greatest and most urgent challenges facing the academic study of games.” 

Inara Verzemnieks, associate professor of English for eight years, will write a book about soccer. The title of the project is “A Human History of Soccer, Error, and the Triumph of Calamity.” She will explore the sport where achieving a “10/10” performance is the most difficult accomplishment, only completed by 15 players in the last 75 years. Professor Verzemnieks will use her findings to teach her students at UI and believes the book will have worldwide appeal. …

MercyOne hospitals located across Iowa celebrated more than 8,200 births in 2023, which included 153 sets of twins and one set of triplets. The top boy names at MercyOne Medical Center in Des Moines were Oliver, Liam and Henry, and the top girl choices were Eleanor, Harper, Ava and Emma. The one set of triplets was born at the Northeast Iowa Medical Center. …

Des Moines Water Works set a new record in 2023 for water production and distribution with more than 20 billion gallons of water being provided to their customers. “The increase in water demand is likely the result of increased population in central Iowa, as well as the drought, which led customers to water their lawns for longer stretches through the year, DMWW officials said.” …

The Des Moines Fire Department also set a record, apparently unrelated to the above item, for responses in 2023. Naturally, this set another record with the Fire Department responding to a call every 16 minutes, on average. They responded to a total of 33,351 calls during the year, 63% of which were EMS calls. A total of 952 calls were fire-related, which was a 10% increase from 2022. Fire Station No. 1, located on 1330 Mulberry St., was the busiest of them all. …

According to moving truck, trailer and self-storage rental company U-Haul, fewer people are moving to Iowa, or at least fewer are using their trucks or trailers. From their 2023 U-Haul Growth States rankings, Iowa was 24th, falling three spots from the previous year. ♦

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