North Park University Receives $166K Grant From NASA To Install Air Quality Sensors

North Park University will install sensors that detect weather and pollution patterns as part of a $166,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

North Park University will install sensors that detect weather and pollution patterns as part of a $166,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The sensors will be installed atop the Nancy and G. Timothy Johnson Center for Science and Community Life on campus.

NASA awarded the five-year grant to North Park in part because of its federal status as a Hispanic Serving Institution, a school that is committed to equitable outcomes for Hispanic students. The two weather sensors will be installed by NASA this spring, and money from the grant will fund travel expenses and salaries for instructors and student workers. The equipment will be owned and maintained by NASA.

The grant was secured through the joint efforts of Assistant Professor of Chemistry John Randazzo and Director of Sponsored Projects Renee Cox. Only about 10 institutions across the country received the grant, and North Park is the lone Chicago site.

The environmental data gathered by the sensors will allow NASA researchers to monitor levels of atmospheric compounds such as carbon monoxide, along with particulate matters expelled by cars and factories. The data will also be compared to that acquired by satellites circling the earth to ensure accuracy. North Park students and professors will have access to that data, which will be transmitted directly into North Park’s classrooms.

“This is a powerful tool because it makes learning real,” Randazzo said. “The students can read the data and know that’s coming from just above their heads.”

Randazzo said the NASA grant was likely to raise North Park’s profile as a research university.

“Building a face-to-face relationship with NASA raises our credibility and increases future prospects,” Randazzo said, adding that a NASA engineer will be speaking on campus in March.

Dr. Randazzo said he and Cox found the grant opportunity on a NASA LISTSERV about a year ago, and although they ignore “99% of them” because they are not applicable, this particular grant struck them both because of North Park’s location and Randazzo’s background in atmospheric science.

The two worked together to apply for the grant, which they learned they’d won late last year. Read more press releases here.

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National Science Foundation Grant Student Cohort Grows Network

Funded by the National Science Foundation, North Park’s S-STEM cohort of 20 students, embraced virtual learning opportunities with STEM guest speakers from across the country.

Working within COVID-19 guidelines, the cohort scholars experienced immersive learning through meetings with guest speakers. Physics and Engineering scholars attended 10 guest speaker sessions over the course of the school year and Biology scholars attended 12 guest speaker sessions.

Students interacted with an environmental science analyst from Argonne National Labs; Chicago-based architectural engineer; medical technologist at Amazon; and biomedical devices designer at Medical University of South Carolina.

Sunny Meva, a sophomore majoring in Environmental Science, found the networking

Sunny Meva

aspect of the cohort especially beneficial. “Having guest speakers come to talk to us and getting to know them has helped me make a comfortable transition to contacting other people. With the support of Dr. Choi and Dr. Quainoo I know I can succeed,” said Meva.

Dr. Yoojin Choi, professor of Biology and Department Chair, connected students with North Park alumni and professionals with intersectional experiences, such as pre-med students who pursued biomedical engineering/design; an environmental science major who is now a photovoltaic system designer; a physics major who is now studying environmental management; and a math and chemistry double major who now leads medical doctors in cancer research.

“The clear message that emerged from most of our guest speakers was that we need to be open to new career possibilities and that North Park’s liberal arts-based science education allows us to offer those valuable learning experiences,” said Choi.

North Park’s Biology Department maintains relationships with alumni and other industry partners so current students can speak directly with both accomplished and entry-level STEM professionals. The S-STEM grant introduces students to networking, communication, intentional advising, and immersive industry experiences. Thanks to the S-STEM grant, industry partnerships are already beginning to bloom – GI Supply, a biomedical devices company, has committed to offer funds to a team of three North Parkers to start a research project this summer.

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Summer Science Academy Returns to Provide High School Students Access to Engaging College-Level Science Courses

After being canceled last summer due to COVID-19, North Park’s Summer Science Academy (Academy) is set to resume in-person under robust safety measures.

After being canceled last summer due to COVID-19, North Park’s Summer Science Academy (Academy) is set to resume in-person under robust safety measures.

Since 2016, the summer enrichment experience led by Dr. Yoojin Choi has offered interactive, hands-on courses in biology, biomechanics, physics, chemistry, and psychology to high school students.

Designed to introduce students to college-level classes while nurturing their passion for science, the courses are taught by North Park’s full-time faculty members. North Park science students and recent alumni also have the opportunity to develop leadership skills through the Academy as teaching assistants.

“I have found that Summer Science Academy provides a venue for Chicago-area students from diverse backgrounds to come together and learn—students from selective-enrollment schools to charter

Dr. Yoojin Choi

schools to neighborhood schools to suburb schools, from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, from freshmen to seniors,” said Dr. Choi.

Mira Cechova, a current North Park junior majoring in Biomedical Sciences and Psychology, appreciated the extra preparation before entering college. “I truly enjoyed attending Summer Science Academy and meeting the different professors. As a North Park student now, I already got to know in advance the professors that I would have.”

This summer’s Academy will be held July 12-16, and students have the opportunity to take Forensic Chemistry, Biomechanics of Body Movement, or Human Anatomy Boot Camp.

In Forensic Chemistry, students will get to learn the behind-the-scenes of popular crime television shows by participating in hands-on activities, such as collecting evidence, analyzing samples of blood, drug, glass, DNA, and ink, as well as learning techniques in fingerprinting and chromatography.

Through measuring human movement with video, 3-D motion capture, force plates, and accelerometers, students enrolled in Biomechanics of Body Movement will gain experience with interactions between physics and musculoskeletal anatomy as they relate to human movement in sports performance, injury prevention, and rehabilitation.

Aiming to excite students for careers in healthcare, Human Anatomy Bootcamp explores organ systems of the human body and their connections to nutrition through experiential learning with 3-dimensional models, virtual systems, and human cadavers in the state-of-the-art Johnson Center’s Cadaver Lab.

Taking necessary precautions, the University plans to closely monitor the pandemic situation both on campus as well as the surrounding area; based on this safety analysis, cancelation of the Summer Science Academy may occur.

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History and Biology Professors Collaborate on Pandemic Curriculum

Through the cross-disciplinary lenses of history and science, Professor and Lecturer in History Peter Olfelt and Associate Professor of Biology Drew Rholl, shared their expertise to offer an innovative curriculum teaching North Park students about pandemics.

Through the cross-disciplinary lenses of history and science, Professor and Lecturer in History Peter Olfelt and Associate Professor of Biology Drew Rholl, shared their expertise to offer an innovative curriculum teaching North Park students about pandemics.

Professor Olfelt teaches a hybrid class called Pandemics in History, where he juxtaposes three historical periods in the context of pandemics including the plague pandemics, the 1918 influenza outbreak, and AIDS. Students learn how pandemics have been perceived differently in these historical periods as well as the short-term and long-term effects the diseases have had on our society and culture.

Professor wearing cloth face mask lectures with powerpoint slide showing map of "Flu Pandemics"
Peter Olfelt, Professor and Lecturer in History

In the sciences, Dr. Rholl teaches about microbes, how they grow, and how they affect the human body in his online course, Advanced Topics in Biology: Pandemics. With a specialized focus on the spread of diseases, the course explores the nature of organisms that cause disease, what different diseases look like, how they can be treated, and how the body is working.

Although the classes are not synchronous, students engage with both the history and science perspectives through shared video presentations. “The courses were designed to leverage the experience of each group so they could build off of each other,” said Dr. Rholl.

Integrated into the curriculum is the biology of the disease and its history. “To really dig into the nature of the disease, where it comes from, how it spreads, and the various strains of it, I find that that has made my classes even better,” said Professor Olfelt.

As a smaller environment, North Park’s close-knit community fosters cross-departmental relationships and collaboration among faculty and students. “Sometimes when we’re siloed in our own fields, we suffer from blind spots, which basically means that as a microbiologist I don’t know what history instructors don’t know. By having a conversation, we can identify those questions and have a much more effective transfer of ideas,” said Dr. Rholl.

Professor Olfelt says students are responding well to the collaborative curriculum, and it has boosted student engagement. “When we’re studying various diseases and looking at newspaper articles or papers, it’s easy to engage the class with how this relates to their own personal experience,” says Professor Olfelt, who’s excited to be teaching at this particular moment in time.

Thanks to the collaboration between Professor Olfelt and Dr. Rholl, these innovative courses are creating additional learning opportunities for students to make connections between the classroom and real-world experiences.

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North Park University Receives Grant from National Science Foundation

North Park University has been awarded a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand pathways for more undergraduate students to meet the nation’s need for well-educated scientists, engineers, and technicians.

North Park University has been awarded a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand pathways for more undergraduate students to meet the nation’s need for well-educated scientists, engineers, and technicians.

North Park faculty members Dr. Stephen Ray (principal investigator), and co-principal investigators Dr. Eric Brown, Dr. Elizabeth Gray, and Dr. Sunshine Silver won the grant for their project entitled, Leveraging a STEM-focused Urban Industry Immersion Program to Expand Pathways for Undergraduates into STEM Fields.

“This historic award will be absolutely transformational in the lives of our STEM students,” said North Park University President Mary K. Surridge. “And it represents a tremendous amount of excellent work by our distinguished faculty. This should continue to raise the profile of our outstanding science programs and the overall educational experience at North Park.”

Over five years, this project will fund 20 scholarships for two groups of 10 students who are pursuing baccalaureate degrees in physics/engineering or biology. The project will support science and engineering students as they participate in a new urban-industry experiential immersion program.  This program includes undergraduate research, internships, class projects, job skills development, and opportunities for students to learn about careers in industry. Student cohorts will be guided by faculty to foster strong connections with the industry and to help students develop job skills and knowledge about science and engineering-oriented careers.

The interdisciplinary research team is composed of faculty from the Departments of Physics & Engineering, Biology, Psychology, and Chemistry. To win this substantial grant award, the team leveraged the momentum gained from North Park University’s recently constructed Nancy and G. Timothy Johnson Center for Science and Community Life, and the University’s newly implemented Chicago-based curriculum, Catalyst 606__.


North Park University is a city-centered, intercultural, and Christian university located in Chicago.


Christopher Childers
Assistant Vice President of University Marketing and Communications
North Park University

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Science-minded High Schoolers Offered College-level Courses at North Park University’s Summer Science Academy

Back by popular demand, North Park University will open its state-of-the-art science facilities to high schoolers who enroll in our Summer Science Academy, June 17–July 11.

Back by popular demand, North Park University will open its state-of-the-art science facilities to high schoolers who enroll in our Summer Science Academy, June 17–July 11. Now in its fourth year, the Summer Science Academy will offer credit-bearing, university-quality instruction in a supportive, enriching environment.

Some Specifics about Summer Science Academy:

  • June 17–July 11 one- and two-week long courses meet either in the morning or afternoon
  • Course fee $180 per week per course
  • 2-week courses earn North Park credit
  • 10% early-bird discount registration March 31st
  • Priority registration and scholarship application April 30
  • Final registration May 15

Register Now

“All the experiments were very interesting. I had a lot of fun, along with learning a lot,” said one 2018 student participant.

“These courses are a great opportunity for students to experience science as closely as it could be at a college level but with the added guidance appropriate for high schoolers,” said Dr. Yoojin Choi, the program’s director.

New to Summer Science 2019 is Forensic Chemistry, a perfect opportunity to experience North Park’s Chemistry Instrumentation Laboratory. Students learn the chemistry behind techniques utilized in examining physical evidence from crime scenes. Like all Summer Science courses, Forensic Chemistry will use hands-on, experiential learning.

Students can choose from the following courses:

  • Human Anatomy Boot Camp: Department of Biology
  • Fins, Fur, and Feathers: Department of Biology (2 weeks)
  • Genomes from the Chicago River: Department of Biology (2 weeks)
  • Forensic Chemistry: Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Body Dynamics and Comfort: Division of Health Sciences

North Park started the program so high schoolers could have access to high-quality, engaging science courses, according to Choi. The idea, she said, is to foster in young people a curiosity about science, which eventually leads to their involvement in science-related careers.

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Undergrad-led Research Findings Span Academic Majors

Organized by the Undergraduate Research Committee, 25 students present original research at North Park’s 12th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

North Park students, faculty, advisors, and family gathered May 2 at the Johnson Center for the 12th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. Organized by the Undergraduate Research Committee, the 25 student presenters first submitted an abstract to the committee for entrance into the symposium.

“Most of these student scholars conduct their research in their Directed Research course throughout the academic year,” said Dr. Yoojin Choi, chair of the committee. “Students really learn best when doing authentic inquiry,” added Dr. Choi.

As part of the Directed Research course and/or independent studies coursework, the research topics represented students majoring in biology, psychology, exercise science, physics and engineering, nursing, philosophy, environmental science, English, chemistry, and biochemistry.

Eleanor Manning

“This is the best learning experience I’ve had at North Park because we can apply what we’ve learned,” said Eleanor Manning, a physics and engineering major. She credits her understanding of the mechanics of prosthetics to participating in undergraduate Directed Research coursework.

“Conducting research projects is the best way to learn research and it allows our top students to shine,” said Provost Michael O. Emerson.

Exercise science major Victoria Pudussery expressed her gratitude for her learning experience.

“I now have perspective on how large research is and am fortunate to learn the research process as an undergrad,” said Pudussery. Post-graduation, Pudussery will pursue a degree in physical therapy at Northwestern University.

Victoria Pudusserey

Students displayed the practical, career-building skills they acquired at North Park via media such as charts and graphs. Physics and engineering senior Kristina Lundeen illustrated an analysis of wind in her presentation of Improving a Pedestrian Comfort Model for Arbitrary Geometries. Nursing student Aisha Badla presented statistical reporting and data analysis that answered Does Breastfeeding a Neonate Improve Oxygen Saturation Levels Without Any Other Intervention?

Spending hours in North Park’s Brandel Library conducting in-depth research, the participants further developed their critical thinking, case study reading, oral presentation, and confidence in fielding questions from the audience.

“The Undergraduate Research Symposium is a magnificent spotlight on what is great about a North Park education,” said Provost Emerson.

“Most grad schools require research experience in the undergrad years and having the Research Symposium on your CV is very good,” said Dr. Choi. The CV credential is a bonus—but even more, these students displayed true to North Park form their appreciation for research, gratitude to their mentors, and exceptional work ethic.


The Undergraduate Research Symposium wishes to thank the students and faculty mentors for their efforts at creating original works of knowledge. This year’s Undergraduate Research Committee consisted of Professors Yoojin Choi, Gianfranco Farruggia, You-Seong Kim, Suzen Moeller, Rachel Schmale, Sarah Thorngate, and Joel Willitts. Special thanks to Brandel Library, Provost Emerson, and Interim President Balsam for their support and for underwriting the cost of the symposium.

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NPU Senior and NASA Intern Renee Baker Nominated for Seaborg Prize

North Park Senior Renee Baker is nominated for the prestigious Glenn T. Seaborg Science Scholarship after completing an internship with NASA.

North Park Senior Renee Baker has been nominated for the prestigious Glenn T. Seaborg Science Scholarship, an honor bestowed upon an outstanding natural science major at one of the six colleges recognized by the Swedish Council of America as a Swedish Heritage College. North Park is recognized as such an institution because of its active connection with modern Scandinavia, via its language studies and academic exchange programs.

“I’m so incredibly honored to be nominated for this scholarship,” said Baker, an environmental science major, of the award named for the famed Swedish chemist.

She’s certainly worthy: while many college kids spend their break on the beach or working a part-time job, Baker was doing test flights with NASA. Last summer, Baker spent two months in California interning with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, tagging along on plane rides, collecting atmospheric data and learning how various instruments worked.

The Carol Stream, Illinois native actually applied for the NASA internship on something of a whim. “I honestly just got an email from [chemistry professor] Dr. Rienstra-Kiracofe, and I applied because, why not?” Baker says. Rienstra-Kiracofe provided a letter of recommendation, and the next thing Baker knew, she was on her way to Irvine, Ca.

In addition to the flying experience, Baker spent several weeks on campus at the University of California, Irvine, where she learned how to use tools to perform remote sensing and took a trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab. At the end of the internship, she and her group presented to a group of NASA employees and fellow students.

Ultimately, Baker, a physics minor, plans to pursue a career in alternative energy and biomimicry engineering, a field of science that seeks sustainable solutions to human-generated problems by copying patterns in nature. For instance, scientists who specialize in biomimicry are testing new plumbing and electric systems that mimic the branch-like structure of trees and leaves, as they may be more efficient than pipes positioned at right angles.

Baker will find out in March if she has won the coveted Seaborg prize, which includes airfare to Sweden, a living stipend, and participation in December’s Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, a weeklong series of events arranged in connection with Nobel Peace Prize activities.

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Physics and Liberal Arts, An Educational Alchemy: Jonathan Almer C’91

Jonathan Almer C’91, utilizes both his liberal arts and physics education in research involving a 1,800-year-old mummy.

Jonathan Almer, C’91, recently welcomed a 1,800-year-old mummy to his office for the day.

Of course, Almer, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, doesn’t have your average desk job. As part of his work there running the Advanced Photon Source (APS)—a highly sophisticated X-Ray machine—he conducted an in-depth examination of the mummy, believed to contain the body of a 5-year-old Egyptian girl.

“We’re hoping our data will help us better understand details of her bone tissue, and her teeth,” said Almer, who majored in physics at North Park and received his PhD in material sciences from Northwestern University in 1998. “This kind of information will help us enrich the historic context of the mummy as well as the Roman period in Egypt.”

Almer’s expertise with Argonne’s APS allowed him and his partner, Northwestern Prof. Stuart Stock, to peer into the mummy at a high resolution, and “in a non-destructive way,” Almer said.

The mummy is one of only 100 so-called “portrait mummies” in existence. Such mummies feature life-like paintings of the deceased person’s face. This particular mummy is owned by Northwestern University and will be on display for several months in 2018 at the school’s Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Almer and Stock’s fascinating research was featured in a recent Chicago Tribune article.

Almer credits his North Park education with sparking his sense of curiosity.

“My physics courses were challenging but sometimes even fun, thanks to Linda McDonald,” said Almer, of the longtime NPU physics professor.

“North Park provided an excellent basis for my career,” Almer said. “The strong overall liberal arts focus at North Park meant I took a much broader set of courses than most of my colleagues I’ve worked with since.”

Almer also joked, “Such broad-based knowledge helps personal development in a myriad of ways, but also provides practical benefits such as communication skills which, let’s face it, scientists could use more of.”

Well said, even for a scientist.

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North Park Embraces Wearable Technology with Launch of Snapchat Tours

Learn about North Park’s new Snap Spectacles and where you might see them next!

Snapchat: North Park’s New Spectacle

North Park University is expanding its social media presence and capabilities with the use of Snapchat Spectacles. Since the launch of North Park’s Snapchat a little over a year ago, the platform has consistently gathered the University’s fastest-growing social media following. Excited to connect with current students and the students of tomorrow, North Park has recently added Snapchat Spectacles to its arsenal. These “snap specs” are sunglasses with cameras and sensors built directly into the frame.

NPUSocial Social Media Page

How it works

An LED light indicator prominently displays when the wearer is taking the 10-second videos which are recorded at the touch of a button. The Spectacles are connected via a smartphone, and the videos recorded are then uploaded to North Park’s Snapchat Story. Snapchat has over 173 million active global daily users, and the Spectacles will help North Park utilize Snapchat on the go. This wearable technology gives us an innovative way to reach hundreds of prospective and current students already using Snapchat on a daily basis.

What to Expect

The Spectacles have already been in use over Homecoming weekend where we captured footage of alumni and current students participating in the day’s events and on the field at North Park’s Holmgren Athletic Complex. Student ambassadors will also wear the Spectacles during select campus tours, an excellent way for prospective students to engage in tours that they might not be able to attend. The opportunities are endless, and soon you may see “spec snaps” showcasing students, University events, or new programs like Catalyst 606__.

Coming Soon . . .

Make sure to look for the first Snapchat tour, this Friday, September 22nd!

Plus . . . new filters will soon be available on campus featuring more graphics and Ragnar, our Mascot.

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