Faculty Focus: Taking NMU to Africa


As NMU experiences its seventh straight year of declining enrollment, there are three things we as faculty members can do. We can blame someone or something for causing this situation, we can do nothing, or we can do something innovative to bring new students to our university. Assistant Professor Madison Ngafeeson in the College of Business has chosen to do the latter.

Dr. Ngafeeson is a native of Cameroon, and he spent two weeks this past summer meeting with heads of state, college officials and prospective students in Cameroon and Rwanda. Biology major and pre-med student Rebecca Nyinawabeza, is from Rwanda, and she also helped with recruiting in her home country.

Their goal was to meet with at least 400 students. Through attending academic fairs and personal connections, they met over 600 students and obtained their names and contact information. Professor Ngafeeson knows first hand how important personal connections are. He came to the United States to study largely because he knew someone at Southern University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ngafeeson would later earn a master’s degree in management information systems from Southern University. “When I was living in Cameroon, there was very little information available about studying in the U.S. It took a friend of mine who knew my interests to bring me here,” says Ngafeeson.

Ngafeeson is no stranger to recruiting. He was engaged in recruiting efforts while he was

Students attending an academic fair in Cameroon.

Students attending an academic fair in Cameroon.

agrad student at Southern University and a doctoral student at the University of Texas-PanAmerican. “Africa has some of the best and brightest students in the world who without knowing about these opportunities might never pursue an education they might have wanted,” said Ngafeeson.

Ngafeeson said he got involved in this project after President Erickson invited NMU’s international faculty to help recruit students in their home countries. So, Ngafeeson wrote a proposal to NMU Vice-President for Extended Learning and Community Engagement Steve VandenAvond in the winter of 2016, and funding was made available for Dr. Ngafeeson and Ms. Nyinawabeza to reach out to students in Cameroon and Rwanda. “Their work has more than met our expectations,” said VandenAvond.


Dr. Ngafeeson addresses cabinet members, health care experts and others in Cameroon.

In addition to meeting with students, Ngafeeson met with university officials to make sure all documentation would be processed properly. “It would be useless for NMU to issue admission letters only to find out the students were unable to come due to paperwork. We wanted to know what they needed, so we can increase the chances of them getting a visa and coming to NMU,” said Ngafeeson.
Dr. Ngfeeson also met with the Prime Minister of Cameroon Philemon Yang. After the meeting, Prime Minister Yang invited Ngafeeson to meet with his entire cabinet the following week. “When he asked me, I said, Your Excellency, I will do that any day any time,” said Ngafeeson. During the meeting, Professor Ngafeeson shared some of his research regarding the use of information technologies to solve health care problems and the role of leadership in this endeavor.

Ngafeeson says an American education in is highly valued in Africa, and adds that the students are very motivated. Another reason an education in the U.S. is appealing is resources here are far here better than what students would encounter in Africa. “In Cameroon, a student will go to college for three years, but they will not touch a computer until their third year because there are too many students and too few computers. For example, I did my undergraduate degree in bio-chemistry, but it wasn’t until the last year that we got a chance to go to the labs,” says Ngafeeson.

Dr. Ngafeeson will not know the full results of his recruiting trip for about nine months because it takes about one full year to process clearances for students, but applications are already starting to arrive at NMU. “I believe we can truly partner with the administration to bring more students here,” says Ngafeeson. “First of all, we can revise our curricula and we can teach more online courses and engage in recruitment efforts in whatever way is a good fit for each faculty member. For me, when I go to my country, I don’t connect with the people simply because I’m from Northern Michigan University, but because of my personal connections. I have met with all of the university presidents in Cameroon because they know me and they respect me,” said Ngafeeson.


Dr. Ngafeeson promoting NMU on a popular TV show in Cameroon

Dr. Ngafeeson says the traditional markets for international students are China, India, South Korea and to a certain extent Brazil. But he says there are new and emerging markets in Africa. “When I met with the university presidents, I did not see evidence of other U.S. universities having a presence there. So if we are the first to go there, they will choose us even though there are many other universities to choose from in the U.S.” Vice-President VandenAvond says a recent report shows Africa is likely to be targeted by other universities for recruiting international students, “It’s good to be ahead of the trend, and this project not only advances president Erickson’s goal of growing enrollment, it also helps meet another important goal of increasing cultural diversity at NMU,” said VandenAvond.

Ngafeeson feels that if twenty students come to NMU as a result of this trip, it will be a huge
success and could lead to many more students to follow. “Africa is a very collectivist culture, so for each person who comes here, there will be about one hundred people directly aware of where this student is.” Ngafeeson feels this will be natural advertisement for NMU.

VandenAvond says Dr. Ngafeeson’s work builds upon knowledge gained from a previous recruiting trip to China last year that was led by Sociology Professor Yan Ciupak. “We visited a town in northern China that was in many ways like the U.P. of Michigan, there were students from hard working families in more rural area, and we are already seeing enrollments as a result of that trip,” said VandenAvond. VandenAvond also says his staff is still entertaining proposals for continued international outreach, and Dr. Ciupack has been reassigned as the Faculty Director for International Initiatives. “As we try to recruit new students and internationalize our campus, we want to make sure the faculty perspective is maintained,” said VandenAvond. Faculty interested in finding out more about faculty recruitment efforts can contact Dr. VandenAvond or Dr. Ciupack.

mike deskAssociate Professor Mike Burgmeier is not a teaching member of the faculty, but his work as Chair of the General Education Committee at NMU will have a major impact on what is taught in the classrooms at NMU for many years. Burgmeier, who is a Reference and Web Services Librarian, has been a part of the General Education Council for the past three years, and he now chairs the committee responsible for reviewing all courses submitted for the new General Education Program at NMU. “As a librarian, I see and get involved with people from all disciplines,” Burgmeier said. “That’s one of my favorite parts. I see across disciplines,” Burgmeier said. “Not one of them is more important than the next.”

Part of his job is serving as a liaison between departments across campus. “It’s one of the best perks,” Burgmeier said. He enjoys when faculty members come to his desk looking for information and he learns about the research they’re involved in. It excites him to experience all the different subjects. “In hindsight, I kind of wonder if I should have been a general studies major, I love that breadth of knowledge so much,” Burgmeier said.

Gen Ed

Members of the GEC meet to discuss proposals for the new Gen Ed program.

The new Gen Ed program is designed to modernize the NMU curriculum towards those used by universities across the country. “The emphasis will move from disciplines to cognitive skills,” Burgmeier said. “You can tell right away it’s more about integrative thinking, it was a huge undertaking.” To date, 146 courses have been approved, but Burgmeier says Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis as well as Scientific Inquiry are specific areas where the GEC would like to strengthen the program. Part of the review process requires an assessment plan to describe how a course will meet the outcomes of the program as a whole. “That’s where a lot of people are running into problems,” Burgmeier said.

Work as a librarian also has drawbacks, Burgmeier said. He doesn’t grade or advise students, so those can be shortcomings when it comes to directing the GEC. “That’s one area where having the other faculty members on the council really helps. They know the workload and the issues that are going on with trying to assess these courses,” Burgmeier said.

More than any other project he’s worked on, Burgmeier said he sees the benefit of the GEC. A General Education Program cuts across so many areas that multiple perspectives are a necessity. Even though the process has at times been tedious and a bit slower than he would like, Burgmeier understands the need for thinking long-term. “You have to have patience, it’s a big undertaking and a big change,” Burgmeier said.

No course from the previous liberal studies bulletin was moved to the new curriculum without review. Every course had to apply to be a part of the General Education Program designed by the GEC. There have been 180 course proposals since November, 2014. Roughly 30 are in the review process. “People are revising them based on our feedback,” Burgmeier said.

Like the previous Undergraduate Bulletin, it will be possible for students to use a course for both a major and the General Education Program. The new program will also provide ample opportunities for a student to explore a foreign language. “That whole notion of the global world and diversity were two big things that we consciously tried to build into the program,” Burgmeier said.

One new graduation requirement that will be implemented into the General Education Program is an English and Mathematics competency. Students will still need to pass English 111 and 211, with some exceptions. “For the intermediate course in Effective Communication, any department can submit a course that can count, Burgmeier said. “That same flexibility is built into the math requirement we have now. For example Econ 101 could be submitted to count towards that math comp requirement, it would then go to the math department and they would review it.”

Content is king and the syllabus is considered. If the course is appropriate for the cognitive skills required it could theoretically count. “Generally, faculty are trying to spread themselves out so students can take courses in different departments,” Burgmeier said.

Mike BBurgmeier feels the result will be a program that offers students opportunities to learn common knowledge and the kind of skills they’ll need once they reach the work force. “Cutting across disciplines will make students more versatile and offer them the kind of knowledge that is vital today, said Burgmeier. That’s why I’ve been involved in the first place and why I’ve wanted to see it through,”

For more information, go the GEC website. The new Gen Ed program is set to launch in Fall 2017.

D. Wood


Professor David Wood will be staying on as the Director of the NMU Honors Program. Wood, who also serves as Distinguished Professor in the English Department, had recently considered stepping down, but he will remain at the helm. “In looking really critically at my ongoing work with our extraordinary Honors students, I have come to understand how much I would miss creating opportunities for them day in and day out: these students are terrific to work with.”

Arriving at Northern in 2007, Wood has directed the Honors Program since 2010; in 2014, he successfully lobbied to bring Dr. Michael Joy, Professor of Spanish, on board, too, as Assistant Honors Director. The two facilitate academically talented students at NMU to pursue additional learning opportunities through the Honors Program.

            Wood’s first exposure to the Honors Program was in 2009 when then-Honors Program Director Michael Broadway and Wood brought 17 students to Ottawa and Ontario. When Broadway became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he talked Wood into the opportunity: and Wood found himself to be the only applicant! Since then, Wood has gone on to create a pool of the University’s best faculty to teach Honors courses at a semester’s notice, based on demand.

“My method was to get 3rd and 4th year Honors Program seniors together and ask them: “If you had to take Honors 101 again, for example, who would you want to teach it?” “That method hadn’t been tried in a while,” Wood said.

Dr. Wood also studies every student evaluation in an attempt to give his students the very best educational experiences that NMU offers. Additionally, significant recent donations by NMU alumni John Berry ($5 million) and Rich Lundin ($25,000 annually) have provided the Honors Program participants additional opportunities.

The “John and Shirley Berry Award” money implemented thus far funds two new freshmen each year with stated interests in pursuing Business and related majors with $5,000, renewable for four years. The “Lundin Summer Research Fellowship,” on the other hand, offers undergraduate students the ability to pursue mentored research with NMU faculty during the summer between their third and fourth years. Last year, Lundin funded five of these $5,000 scholarships.

“It’s a great thing to see bright students succeed,” Wood said. “I just think this is one of the best things that this university does. By promoting faculty to do pursue these directed studies with students, we push both our faculty and our top students to succeed. Our ability in Honors to attract these outside funds speaks genuinely to Northern’s dedication to a top undergraduate education,” Wood added.

Wood stressed that the Honors Program could benefit a university struggling with enrollment issues. Every year the program sends out 500 emails to families of prospective applicants to explain the benefits of NMU and the Honors Program. These are students who seek to pursue greatness in their respective fields. While the minimum to enter the Honors Program requires a 27 or higher ACT score and a 3.5 high school GPA, this year’s average ACT score for admitted applicants is 29.7, with a weighted GPA of 4.11.

“The students we’re bringing to Northern through the Honors Program are definitely going to graduate,” Wood said. “In fact, many of them graduate early, and many, as well, successfully pursue double and even triple majors.”

While most students who join the Honors Program do so as they enter college for the first time, Wood stressed that the Program’s class load was designed to allow students from any major to apply.

Every year, students from the Honors Program travel to the Collegiate Honors Council where students can present their research. The annual meeting will be held in Seattle, Washington October 13-16.

Wood with students in Stratford, Ontario

Wood with students in Stratford, Ontario

Additional opportunities for curricular and extracurricular travel for Honors students abound. Based on his travel years ago with Dean Michael Broadway, Wood continues to take Honors students of all majors to enjoy drama in such locations as the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario; the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, in Chicago; and the Guthrie Theatre, in Minneapolis. He is also working this summer to establish an NMU Study Abroad program either in Oxford or London, England.

“I’m establishing a program that will be for all Northern students, but which will cater to the high GPA and advanced expectations of our Honors students. They will likely uniquely benefit from it,” said Wood.

Wood said that one of the goals the Honors Program may stress going forward is to formulate an Academic Honors College. He warned that growth for growth’s sake may have consequences, however. “What you get is surely numbers, but what you can lose is the personalized touch that Professor Joy and I feel we have successfully constructed in our Honors Program. Should a College of Honors be in the cards, we plan to move with a deft touch.”

The benefit of such a change would be twofold, however: more talented students on Northern’s campus, and more of a representative voice with the upper administrative processes on campus.

When Wood took over in 2010, the Honors Program was admitting an average of 38 new students each fall. That number has nearly doubled to 70 each Fall. Further growth is a very realistic possibility with Dr. Wood continuing in his role as Honors Director.


NMU Gets Good PR from PR Faculty

Public relations is a profession devoted to providing a positive image for a client. In the case of NMU pubic relations professors Tom Isaacson and Jes Thompson, they are reflecting a very positive image of Northern on a national stage. In November, Isaacson won the Hall of Fame award from the Public Relations Student Society of America, and NMU students won the Star Chapter award from PRSSA at the PRSSA annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Just a few days earlier, associate professor Jes Thompson had represented NMU as a keynote speaker during the opening session of the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR Division’s (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) national conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Isaacson says the two awards share a distinctive feature, “Both are a reflection of our recent student work and success. The Star Chapter Award shows that our PRSSA chapter at NMU is active, involved and providing significant added value to our students, while at the same time allowing NMU to be recognized along with much larger universities from around the country.”

Dr. Isaacson accepts the PRSSA Hall of Fame award with current NMU PRSSA President Katie Bultman at the PRSSA Annual Convention in Atlanta.

Dr. Isaacson displays the PRSSA Hall of Fame award with current NMU PRSSA President Katie Bultman at the PRSSA Annual Convention in Atlanta.

PRSSA is an organization with more than 10,000 members nationwide, and during Isaacson’s time as faculty advisor, an NMU student has sat on the 10-person elected National Committee every year. Isaacson knows a little something about this because he served on the National Committee when he was an undergraduate at NMU.

Given the level of involvement by NMU students in PRSSA, Isaacson views his award as having his name on a team award. “An important reason I won, and a reason I’m honored by the award, is that the nomination was initiated and developed by our current PRSSA chapter president Katie Bultman. Katie is a student that embodies everything we value in an NMU student. She stands out in the classroom, and through her extracurricular involvement and her ability has been recognized at a national level. During the summer 2015, Katie was an intern at Fleishman/Hillard, a worldwide PR agency with more than 2,500 employees. Katie was one of only eight interns selected from a nationwide search to work at the agency’s Dallas office.”

Dr. Isaacson (center) along with alumnus Brian Price (left) and current NMU student and PRSSA Board Member Emma Finkbeiner (right) at the PRSSA Annual Convention in Atlanta.

Dr. Isaacson (center) along with alumnus Brian Price (left) and current NMU student and PRSSA Board Member Emma Finkbeiner (right).

Even though Isaacson is the only faculty member devoted full-time to the public relations major in the Department of Communication and Performance Studies, he proudly points out that NMU’s program more than hold its own when compared to much larger universities. “At NMU, we have an impressive level of involvement and success compared to the number of students in our major. Past students’ success helps contribute to future students’ success. This year at the national conference in Atlanta, our current students were able to network with recent alumnus Brian Price, who is now working for Edelman PR in Chicago. Brian presented at a young professionals panel that had more than 200 students in attendance. Our program is known and recognized within PRSSA and PRSA.”

Dr. Thompson delivers her address at the National Science Foundation's 24th Annual EPSCoR Conference.

Dr. Thompson delivers her address at the National Science Foundation’s 24th Annual EPSCoR Conference.

Jes Thompson also contributes to the public relations major, but her main expertise is in environmental communication. Her background and current role as the principal investigator in a National Science Foundation, Climate Change Education Partnership project made her a natural fit for the theme of this year’s conference, Collaboration: Advancing the Role of Science in the Service of Society.

Thompson says being selected as a keynote speaker means that the National Science Foundation is recognizing the challenge of collaboration in multi-disciplinary teams. “I’ve been studying complex teams since my dissertation fifteen years ago, and I’ve been invited to several NSF meetings, but this was my first time as an invited keynote speaker. This invitation and ultimately, the recognition that communication and collaboration matters when solving scientific problems, will help me as I continue my work and build my network here at Northern. It will also help as teams across the country work to improve their productivity by reflecting on the process and how they’re communicating and collaborating.”

Thompson followed the welcoming remarks from the New Hampshire Governor, Maggie Hassan and was immediately preceded by Mr. Alan Alda, actor (M*A*S*H, The West Wing) and founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

She addressed an audience made up of vice presidents of research and lead investigators on multi-million dollar interdisciplinary projects like wind energy in Iowa and nanotechnology in Arkansas.

NMU student Jose Aburto presents the award-winning paper he and Dr. Thompson authored at the National Communication Association Conference.

NMU student Jose Aburto presents the award-winning paper he and Dr. Thompson authored at the National Communication Association Conference in Las Vegas.

Two weeks after her keynote address at the NSF conference in New Hampshire, Thompson was off again presenting at the National Communication Association convention in Las Vegas, Nevada with undergraduate student Jose Aburto. Thompson and Aburto won the Top Paper in Environmental Communication Award. The award included a cash prize and Thompson and Aburto were recognized for their research entitled, Ecosystem-What? Public Understanding and Trust in Conservation Science and Ecosystem Services. Aburto gave a formal presentation highlighting the results of the paper in front of a large audience on Friday, November 19. Aburto is one of Northern Michigan University’s McNair Scholars, and he is majoring in Public Relations with a minor in Sustainability. “Working with undergraduates is very inspiring,” says Thompson. “They bring an eagerness and energy that rejuvenates me! Most importantly, I remember having the opportunity to work as an undergraduate research assistant when I was a student at Northern, and that experience really influenced the trajectory of my career.”

Both Isaacson and Thompson embody what makes NMU such a dynamic place for students to learn. They attended NMU as undergraduates, went on to find success in their profession and have returned to share their expertise with a new generation of students. Isaacson is an assistant professor of public relations and Thompson is an associate professor of environmental communication in the Department of Communication and Performance Studies.

To learn more about Thompson’s research, you can follow these links.





NMU Professor Partners with Florida State University to Offer MOOC

StavrosNMULogosLike the printing press, over 500 years ago, the Internet is creating an explosion of shared knowledge. NMU’s Sam M. Cohodas Professor, Tawni Ferrarini is sharing her knowledge with the world by offering NMU’s first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Ferrarini helps Associate Professor of Economics Hugo Eyzaguirre direct the Center for Economics Education and Entrepreneurship at NMU, and she has partnered with the Stavros Center for Economics Education at Florida State University to offer the MOOC.

Her MOOC “Common Sense Economics for Life” is based on her co-authored book Common Sense Economics:  What Everyone Should Know about Wealth and Prosperity. There is no cost, and takes CommonSenseEcobetween 10-15 hours to complete. “The MOOC itself is just an appetizer to get people to think about learning more about different aspects of their lives,” Ferrarini said.” So far, over 4,000 students have enrolled in the course in the four semesters she has offered it. “It is incredible outreach, there are so many ways to touch people’s lives now, and you never know when those MOOC points of contact will spill over into your regular courses,” Ferrarini said.

Ferrarini admits that there are a lot of window shoppers in the MOOC world, and only about 4% of those who enroll actually complete the entire course. Nevertheless, she is convinced such online experiences have a place in the future of education. “When you look at the brick and mortar institution and the challenges it faces, you know that transformation is under way, and we are either going to be riding the wave or be drowned by it,” said Ferrarini. “Competition in my world is a good thing. When I see other people succeeding, I have a tendency to ask what are they are doing and how can I learn from it. So, I think it’s a good thing we are being challenged to think about how we are reaching our multimedia students.”

MOOCs do allow for tremendous reach, and her “Common Sense Economics for Life” course has drawn interest from people around the globe. Their experiences vary, and their perspective influences their interactions with course materials and resources. “A man in Venezuela commented about the challenges of having to account for rampant inflation and 90% spike in market prices when putting together a monthly budget. A woman in Syria noted her difficulty in leaving her country to seek economic and political stability. Doing so could be life threatening. So, shopping for a steady local government by voting with her feet was not a viable option in Syria which is the case in the U.S.,” Ferrarini said. U.S. students, especially those living in the remote U.P., can use their MOOC experiences to broaden their understanding of how social, political, business, and economic considerations act and interact to influence decisions by individuals, by sectors or groups and nations. This, in part, helps explain why some nations prosper and individuals make different consumption, investment, and saving decisions across households, states, countries, and time.

Ferrarini reviews her course. It is currently the third ranked MOOC on Canvas.

Ferrarini reviews her course. It is currently the third ranked MOOC on Canvas.

In 12-15 hours over any period prior to December 31, 2015, anyone who completes the Common Sense Economics MOOC receive four badges if they earn 80 percent or higher. The Key Economic Elements, Why Some Nations Prosper, Economics of Government, and Financial Fitness badge can be referenced on a resume or posted on LinkedIn or other social media accounts. “The badges may mean little to us who are used to thinking about full degree programs, but to the people who are a part of different global collaborative networks like GitHub, badges do have significance,” Ferrarini said. She also pointed out, “This experience is intended to offer a personal complement to the accredited college campus experience.  It is not a substitute.”

On the for-credit front, Ferrarini and her colleagues in NMU’s Economics Department offer both seated classes and online classes. The Departments minor has been online since 2000. Ferrarini uses the same materials in both offerings. The only difference is how she interacts with students. Ferrarini believes there is still value in the “chalk and talk” method of presentation, but she also recommends faculty consider expanding into online instruction. “You don’t have to know everything about the instructional technology, but you can challenge yourself to make small incremental changes by working with NMU’s Center for Teaching and Learning,” Ferrarini added.

Ferrarini hopes her partnership with Stavros Center at FSU will help NMU grow, gain resources and expertise from a center at a Research One institution. FSU Foundation support made the development of the MOOC possible. NMU receives institutional credit for Ferrarini’s digital work, publications, and content development.

Since 2013 Ferrarini, Dr. Eyzaguirre, and other facilitators have hosted more than twelve Common Sense Economics for Life workshops involving over 200 high school teachers. Ferrarini estimates these workshops will impact over 50,000 students.

Ferrarini feels NMU is a great place because it supports professional growth, development and collaborations with other universities that can help attract, retain, and create new student opportunities at NMU.

Faculty, staff, students and friends of NMU are invited to join and complete the CSE MOOC. Register here. Faculty interested in assigning the MOOC as bonus work can contact Dr. Ferrarini at tferrari@nmu.edu.


National Media Turn to NMU Sociology Professor for Insight on Police Shootings

Recent high profile police shootings in America brought to light the fact that the U.S. is an extreme outlier among other wealthy nations when it comes to gun ownership, gun violence and police shootings. For example, according to data collected by The Guardian, U.S. Citizens are 100 times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than a person in Britain. Journalists following these types of stories are turning to sociologists for context, and    Gummi DeskGuðmundur “Gummi” Oddsson, assistant professor of sociology at NMU, has been featured in the Washington Post, the UK’s Independent, The Business Insider and other publications.

Journalists have sought out Oddsson for his expertise in how class inequality relates to violence and social control in society but also because he is from Iceland, one of the least violent countries in the world. There has been one instance of a police officer killing a person in the 71 years Iceland has been an independent country, and it happened in 2013. Prior to that, Oddsson says there had been no such incidents dating back to the time the Icelandic police was formed in 1778 . Oddsson attributes Iceland’s low record of gun violence to several factors. “We are a small, tightly-knit society, very homogenous and with relatively low income inequality, and even though we rank 15th globally in the number of guns per capita, our guns are used for sport and hand guns are very rare,” Oddsson said. Plus, it is not an easy process to get a gun license, which includes a medical examination and a written test. As a result of these factors, Oddsson says people trust each other and trust their law enforcement officers to maintain law and order without using guns, except in rare cases.

Officers in Western countries like Norway, Britain, Ireland, and New Zealand also do not typically carry guns while on duty. In fact, Oddsson says 80% of police in Britain do not wish to carry a gun because they feel it would be counter-productive, that is, provoke more violence. “A country that is struggling with high rates of gun violence, like the U.S., should be able to learn something from other countries that are not plagued by the same problems,” Oddsson said. “A crucial difference is that most people in countries like Iceland and Norway trust law enforcement. In America, there is less trust, especially from the poor and minorities toward the police, and for a good reason. A lot of that distrust boils down to the fact that heavy-handed policing and police shootings take place disproportionately in poor African-American communities in hyper-segregated cities like St. Louis and Detroit. Thus, I think that the most important thing we can do is to build trust between the police and communities that have been most affected by police shootings. And, nothing is more effective for building trust than direct human interaction and treating one another with respect.”

In addition to building trust, Oddsson argues that that reducing income inequality, strengthening the welfare system, increasing legitimate opportunities, and a greater emphasis on education rather than incarceration can help reduce violent crime. He quotes Victor Hugo: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” Moreover, he points out that the U.S. represents 4.5% of the global population, but accounts for 25% of the world’s prisoners. In fact, Oddsson says America has a higher incarceration rate than China, North Korea, and Russia. “In Iceland, we view someone who commits a crime as a person who needs help and rehabilitation rather than someone who needs to be punished and put away for a long time,” Oddsson said.

Oddsson received his doctoral degree from the University of Missouri where he studied with noted American criminologist, John F. Galliher.. Gummi’s main area of interest is class inequality and how people think about class. When he teaches his course Social Class Power and Mobility, he talks about class inequality and how the U.S. is an outlier here as well when compared to wealthy developed nations. Research has, for example, shown that poverty can lock people into criminal activity, which can lead to violent interactions with law enforcement.

Gummi Kids

Oddur and Árni join dad at work

Like Oddsson’s native Iceland, the U.P. is home to just over 300 thousand people, and Oddsson feels at home in Marquette and at Northern Michigan University. “I chose NMU because I was very impressed with the university, the faculty, and Marquette after doing some research and then visiting when I was brought up here for an interview,” Oddsson said. “This place seemed to offer almost everything of what I was looking for, and the family and I are very happy that we ended up here. Being a faculty member at NMU offers me balance between teaching, research, and family. People here are very friendly and have welcomed us with open arms. Marquette is also a beautiful place and is as family-friendly as one can hope for in the United States. The family and I love the outdoors, and this area is about as good as it gets.”

Gummi and HabbyGummi and his wife Habby are enjoying raising their three boys Jakob, Oddur and Árni here in the U.P., and Habby has co-founded a local non-profit organizationGummi's boys called JJ Packs. The group gives healthy meal packs to schoolchildren in need. Last school year, about 80 children received backpacks with healthy meals every weekend.

Gummi and his family still speak Icelandic to retain ties to their heritage. It is a proud and peaceful heritage that is gaining the attention from some of the world’s largest media institutions.

For more on Professor Oddsson, you can link to his NMU profile page at: http://www.nmu.edu/sociologyandanthropology/gudmundur-gummi-oddsson.

Articles quoting citing Professor Oddsson





Selected Scholarly Articles by Professor Oddsson
“Policing Class and Race in Urban America,” Professor Oddsson and his colleagues recently published this article in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. It examines how racial-economic inequality and poverty influence the size of police forces in large cities (250,000+) in the United States.

“Class Awareness in Iceland”



A Professor’s Life Is Music to His Years

Many people dream of being able to do what they love for a living. Dr. Mark Shevy, an Associate Professor of mass communication and media production in the Department of Communication and Performance Studies, says he isn’t entirely there, yet, but he is finding a good balance between his professional and personal goals. The former Air Force nuclear missile combat crew commander is engaged with activities ranging from psychological experiments to feeding the hungry to dance fitness.

“I like to say that I became a professor of mass communication because I enjoyed watching TV and listening to music,” jokes Shevy. “I end up being so busy, I barely get time to do either, anymore.”

Mark Shevy at the Society of Music Perception and Cognition Conference at Vanderbilt University

Mark Shevy at the Society of Music Perception and Cognition Conference at Vanderbilt University

The psychological effects of media, particularly music, are the main focus of Shevy’s research. In recent years, he has published two chapters in an Oxford University Press book titled, “The Psychology of Music in Multimedia.” One chapter details how research and theory in mass communication and music psychology can be integrated. The other chapter, with co-author Kineta Hung at Hong Kong Baptist University, explores the psychological effects of music in television advertising and other persuasive media.
In the summer of 2015, Shevy organized a symposium on music in multimedia for the Society of Music Perception and Cognition conference in Nashville. At the conference, he also presented findings from experiments he has conducted on listeners’ perception of non-diatonic music, a research project he is leading with colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While in Nashville, Shevy was able to sit in on an all day session at a professional music recording studio. “It was incredible to see how quickly these players could adapt to a song they had never heard before and play it with such confidence and skill,” he said. Shevy also had a chance to watch engineer John Nicholson control the soundboard and ProTools audio software. “Studio musicians in Nashville speak a musical language that few

Mark with John Nicholson at Hilltop Recording Studios in Nashville

people outside their fraternity would understand, but John was on the same page with them on all nine songs they recorded that day, and the results were amazing,” said Shevy.

In the year prior, Shevy spent three weeks in Nashville working on a professional movie set, and he traveled to Costa Rica to produce an informational documentary for Strong Missions, an organization founded 10 years ago by a missionary named Charlie Strong to feed children and support poor communities in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Mark helps gives quick video lesson to a child in Costa Rica.

Mark gives a quick video lesson to a child in Costa Rica.

“Although I enjoy working with media, it would be an empty experience if it were only for the sake of self-indulgence,” says Shevy. “Communication is powerful, and it can have an impact on people and society. I want to use it to improve people’s lives.”
Shevy’s service to others extends beyond media production. He is the faculty adviser for the NMU student group, “Marquette Ending Hunger,” which raised thousands of dollars during the 2014-15 academic year for local people in need. The group won NMU’s Program of the Year award in 2015, and Shevy was nominated for student group adviser of the year.

“Marquette Ending Hunger was a natural fit,” says Shevy. “Hunger has been a top concern of mine for a long time, so when Lauren Larsen, the president of the group at that time, said they needed an adviser, I got my family on board and committed. I’m so glad that I did. The students in this group are compassionate, driven, and well organized. They led the way, and I had a front row seat for seeing how far they could go.”

One of the biggest challenges for Shevy is finding enough time to conduct research, produce media, serve the community, and spend time with his wife and three sons. “I’m trying to choose activities that we can all do together, like working with Marquette Ending Hunger.” If an activity can satisfy multiple needs at once, Shevy is more likely to do it. This has led to a surprising path for him in the past few years. Shevy recognized the need for physical fitness and for spending more time with his wife, so they started going to the gym together. There, they saw a dance fitness class called “Zumba.” Although Shevy’s love for music drew him toward the class, his fear of dancing in public kept him away.
“I knew that confronting my fears and stretching my social constraints would be good for me, so when the Zumba instructor invited me to class, I dared myself to go. I was too scared to go alone, so I made Cheri, my wife go with me,” laughs Shevy.
MarkZumbaOne dare led to the next, and Shevy became a licensed Zumba instructor in December 2014. He taught for a semester at NMU’s PEIF and had students say it was the most fun they’ve had on campus. Currently, he teaches with the group “Z-Dance Fitness” at Dawn Dott Dance Studios.

“Zumba, or other dance fitness classes, can improve physical strength, balance, coordination, and reflexes, but it has a strong emotional effect, too. We drag ourselves into the studio and by the time we leave, we’re smiling and laughing, despite the fact that we’re drenched with sweat,” says Shevy.
Shevy says that teaching Zumba helps him stay healthy, serves people in the community, and provides a unique perspective that ties into his music interests. It’s also an activity that his family can join. Although, he hasn’t been able to persuade his teenage boys, yet.

“I’m thinking less of separating life into work, family, and personal components. I’m looking at it more as just ‘life,’” says Shevy. “I want to find enjoyment in meeting the needs of those around me, and if I can do that by overlapping multiple areas, as long as I am really meeting those needs, I think that’s a life I want to have.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in what we hope will be a series of articles focusing on NMU faculty members. We will attempt to highlight their passion for what they do on campus as well as what they do off campus. If you know a faculty member who should be featured as one of our passionate professionals, contact Dwight Brady at dbrady@nmu.edu.

Categories: Academic Freedom

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