News Briefs

  • Keum Suk Gendry-Kim named winner of the 2020 Krause Essay Prize

    October 27, 2020

    Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
    Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

    The University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program is pleased to announce that Keum Suk Gendry-Kim has won the 2020 Krause Essay Prize for her graphic novel Grass (Drawn & Quarterly), which explores the harrowing experiences of Lee Ok-Sun, a Korean woman forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII.

    Register for the award ceremony and reading by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and illustrator Janet Hong:

    Gendry-Kim, whose graphic novels also include The Song of My Father, Jiseul, and Kogaeyi, will be honored at the Krause Essay Prize award ceremony at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 29, via Zoom, where she will read from her winning work. There she will receive the Prize’s $10,000 award and an inscribed walnut letterbox handcrafted by a local Iowa artisan. She will be joined by Vancouver-based writer and translator Janet Hong, who translated Grass into English. The online ceremony is free and open to the public.

    “I am very moved and honored to hear that my book ‘Grass’ has been awarded the Krause Prize,” Gendry-Kim said. “This prize means a lot to me. I gain much more than a personal satisfaction from it. This honor... will help oppressed women’s voices—whom I defend here—be heard. I hope you will receive my book as a voice on the women and the weak’s behalf. That’s why I started drawing and writing comics and why I keep doing so. I sincerely thank the jury for supporting my book with this prize.”

    book cover for Grass by Keung Suk Gendry-KimKeum Suk Gendry-Kim, who was born in the town of Goheung in Korea’s Jeolla Province, has exhibited her work in Korea and Europe since 2012. Grass has received many awards and nominations, including the Big Other Book Award’s Best Graphic Novel and a Believer Book Award nomination in nonfiction. In addition to her many graphic novels, Ms. Gendry-Kim wrote and illustrated The Baby Hanyeo Okrang Goes to Dokdo, A Day with My Grandpa, and My Mother Kang Geumsun. She received the Best Creative Manhwa Award for her short manhwa (comic) “Sister Mija,” about a comfort woman. Her graphic novels and manhwa focus primarily on people who are outcasts or marginalized.

    Made possible by the Kyle J. and Sharon Krause Family Foundation, and run by The Nonfiction Writing Program, the Krause Essay Prize is awarded annually to the work that best exemplifies the art of essaying. For more information about the Krause Essay Prize, visit

  • Gary Pierce awarded NIH grant to study isolated systolic hypertension

    October 27, 2020

    Gary Pierce
    Gary Pierce

    Associate Professor Gary Pierce of the University of Iowa Department of Health and Human Physiology received a five-year, $2.1M R01 grant from the National Institute on Aging, a unit of the National Institutes of Health. Pierce will investigate the role of the sympathetic nervous system on the stiffness of the large elastic central arteries, including the aorta and carotid arteries, in older adults with isolated systolic hypertension (ISH).

    Stiffening of the large elastic central arteries with aging is an early predictor of future heart attacks, strokes and cognitive impairment. As a result of this stiffening, older adults can develop ISH, one of the most common types of hypertension in adults older than 60 years of age.

    Previous studies by Pierce’s lab suggest that overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system could be one mechanism that contributes to stiffening of the large elastic central arteries with advancing age. With this NIH funding, Pierce aims to investigate the direct impact of inhibiting sympathetic nerve activity on stiffness of the large elastic central arteries and ISH.

    The project will run through March 2025.

    Pierce joined the UI faculty in 2011. He established and directs the Iowa Translational Vascular Physiology Lab. His team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate candidates, and undergraduate students work to understand how vascular dysfunction contributes to cardiovascular disease risk and identify new therapies to treat these conditions.

    Pierce serves a dual appointment as an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. He is also a member of the Francois Abboud Cardiovascular Research Center and the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, home to Carver College of Medicine’s cutting-edge endocrine and metabolic research.

    As one of the 27 centers a part of the NIH, the National Institute on Aging aims to understand the aging process and the factors that lead to a healthy, long life. They conduct and fund research projects that specifically look at that conditions affect the older population.

    By Grace Culbertson

  • Pregnancy 24/7: Kara Whitaker awarded $3.5 million to study impact of sedentary behavior on pregnancy

    October 27, 2020

    Kara Whitaker
    Kara Whitaker

    The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recently awarded Kara Whitaker, University of Iowa Assistant Professor of Health and Human Physiology, a $3.5 million, 5-year grant to study the role of sedentary behavior, physical activity, and sleep in hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

    As principal investigator of the study, titled “Pregnancy 24/7,” Whitaker said her research will look at 24-hour activity and sleep cycles, to see whether lifestyle behaviors across pregnancy trimesters are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes — particularly hypertensive disorders.

    In collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, Whitaker discovered in pilot studies that pregnant women who have high levels of sedentary time across each trimester were at a threefold greater risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

    “There’s no sedentary behavior guidelines and, potentially based off of our pilot work, what we’re finding is sedentary behavior may be a really important determinant of health outcomes,” Whitaker said. “So, we’re hoping throughout the study that we’ll get enough evidence to inform guidelines for sedentary behavior in women during pregnancy.”

    Recruitment for the 250 women who will participate in the UI’s research begins in January, Whitaker said. The women, in their first trimester of pregnancy, will wear two devices to monitor their sedentary behavior, physical activity, and sleep for one week. And then they repeat this process in their second and third trimesters. The University of Pittsburgh will also recruit 250, for a total of 500 women in the study.

    "What could be fascinating is if researchers could develop interventions during pregnancy that prevent the future development of cardiovascular disease," Whitaker said.  "Pregnancy is a critical window where, if intervention is effective, cardiovascular disease could be prevented 20 years down the road.

    The primary aim of “Pregnancy 24/7” is to study how sleep and patterns of sedentary behavior in pregnant women affect future cardiovascular health. Women who develop gestational hypertension or preeclampsia are at increased risk for future cardiovascular disease. The question becomes whether these women were already on a trajectory toward cardiovascular disease or if their pregnancy set them on it.

    “Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are pretty serious complications that can affect not only the health of the mom but also the health of the baby,” she continued. “I think our main focus is, how can we get pregnant women to be as healthy as possible?”

    She’s thrilled to scale up the study, Whitaker said, and it’s especially exciting because she and her co-investigator at the University of Pittsburgh have already done the pilot study. Now, they’re just making everything bigger, with more people and better equipment, Whitaker said, and she feels confident about accomplishing the aims of the study.

    “We have very strong pilot data and I’ve been working in this field studying physical activity in pregnancy since graduate school. This grant is the culmination of many years of work, so that’s very exciting.”

    The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health. Its goals are to work with researchers like Whitaker to understand human biology, reduce human disease, develop workforce and resources, and advance translational research.

    Kara Whitaker joined the Department of Health and Human Physiology faculty in 2018. She has an adjunct assistant professor appointment in the Department of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health.

  • Iowa Journalism Professor Melissa Tully receives grant to study health misinformation in Africa

    October 26, 2020

    Melissa Tully, University of Iowa
    Melissa Tully

    As countries around the world continue to try to understand COVID-19 in the midst of the pandemic, researchers like the University of Iowa's Melissa Tully seek to combat misinformation on social media platforms about the coronavirus, vaccines, and related issues.

    Tully, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, received a $10,000 grant from the Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society at Villanova University to study and mitigate the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 on the WhatsApp messaging platform in Senegal and in Kenya. Tully's co-Principal Investigator is Dani Madrid-Morales, a faculty member at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston.

    Tully's study seeks to address key questions around existing needs for information about COVID-19 in Senegal and Kenya; what differences exist in information-seeking strategies across demographic groups; and what interventions can stop the spread of misinformation and improve people’s knowledge of the virus.

    "As the pandemic has evolved, the misinformation around it has also evolved,” Tully said. “So, we will determine what the key misinformation is. We want to interview journalists and fact checkers and other media professionals to understand their professional understanding of these issues, and how they try to combat misinformation in their work,” Tully said. “And we plan to also interview a general population of social-media users.”

    The researchers' project is titled “Effective strategies to counter the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp: An Experiment in Kenya and Senegal.” WhatsApp is very heavily used in Kenya, Senegal, and other African countries. The social-media platform is organized around "groups," or topical message boards on which users share content. Tully's team will use their interviews to develop interventions, such as fact-checked news stories or news-literacy promotions, to be circulated among WhatsApp groups. An experimental group will see the curated, high-quality information of the interventions, and a control group will see everyday news and information. The researchers will then test to see if the interventions encourage the experimental group in news-literacy behaviors such as verifying information or seeking additional sources.

    Tully said she wants to develop the experiment based on local context, local expertise, and local needs in the two countries. Because Senegal is primarily French-speaking and in West Africa, and Kenya is primarily English-speaking in East Africa, the two countries provide for some comparative work, Tully added.

    Additional funding for the project will come from the University of Houston, and Tully said she and Madrid-Morales plan to hire graduate-student researchers, including in Kenya and Senegal, and perhaps also at the researchers' institutions. Graduate students with knowledge of local Kenyan and Senegalese languages, such as Swahili or Wolof, would meet a need brought on by coronavirus-based travel restrictions.

    “One of the challenges here is that we cannot go to Senegal or Kenya right now because of the pandemic,” Tully said. “So we’re going to do some interviews and things virtually, but we also want to have a team of local experts. We’re hoping to put together a team of researchers who bring the myriad types of expertise that we need to be able to pull this project off while we are in the U.S.”

    Tully was already doing work in Kenya on health misinformation earlier this year when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Health misinformation and news-literacy interventions have long been a primary research interest, leading to her current focus on coronavirus.

    Tully and Madrid-Morales’ research will ask experimental groups in their research not just about COVID-19, but also broader questions, such as health misinformation surrounding vaccines, and levels of trust in information that comes from health and government officials.

    “The issues that we see in this country—who to trust on what you’re supposed to do for wearing masks or getting vaccinated—those issues exist in other countries but they manifest in different ways,” Tully said.

    "Personal health behaviors can also affect public health," Tully said. "If someone chooses not to get vaccinated, for example, they could potentially hurt not just themselves, but the public as well. If people's decisions or behaviors are driven by false or inaccurate information on social media, someone could hurt themselves or their loved ones."

    Health information is a matter of trying to explain to people the scientific method, and that they should trust the best expert advice available at any given time.

    “And the thing that’s really difficult about health information is that science changes,” Tully said. “Science is never stagnant. The way that science works and scientific development works — it’s marred with uncertainty by its very nature.”

    The new project will directly engage with complex issues surrounding global-health misinformation, and aims to improve access to information and create positive social change. Tully said that she and Madrid-Morales have been thinking about this project for a while, particularly the idea of experimenting with a chat app like WhatsApp, and were delighted to receive the Waterhouse Family Institute grant.

    “We are really excited to do this design, which we think is innovative in and of itself,” Tully said. “By doing this research in two countries that do not often get the attention that they deserve, we’re hoping that we can really add to our global understanding of health misinformation, and particularly around the pandemic.”

    —by Katie Ann McCarver

  • Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz book wins prestigious award from National Communication Association

    October 26, 2020

    Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, University of Iowa
    Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz

    Associate Professor Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz’s recent book, Homeland Maternity: U.S. Security Culture and the New Reproductive Regime, brings attention to the harmful correlation between national security and the curtailment of reproductive rights in the United States.

    In recognition of this significant publication, the National Communication Association (NCA) has awarded Fixmer-Oraiz the prestigious James A. Winans-Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address. Fixmer-Oraiz has appointments in the University of Iowa Departments of Communications Studies and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies.

    Homeland Maternity: U.S. Security Culture and the New Reproductive Regime, by Associate Professor Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, has won the National Communication Association's James A. Winans-Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address.

    "Fixmer-Oraiz powerfully articulates how reproductive justice and homeland maternity provide scholars and activists the vocabularies and interpretive frameworks to interrogate and disrupt dominant mechanisms that are used to police individuals' reproductive lives. Homeland Maternity is intellectually rigorous, forceful, and timely to the current sociopolitical context. It can and should inform future studies in rhetoric, media studies, and gender and women's studies." —Women's Studies in Communication

    Published by the University of Illinois Press in March 2019, Fixmer-Oraiz’s book discusses how nonreproductive and “overly” reproductive people have been positioned as threats to national security and American social norms. When asked how this book relates to current events, Fixmer-Oraiz stated: “Sadly, reproductive violence and injustice are not rare. The recent whistleblower account of sterilization abuse of immigrant women in ICE detention is a devastating example of what I mean by homeland maternity, which is a white supremacist logic that authorizes control over pregnant and parenting people in the name of homeland security.”

    In her book, Fixmer-Oraiz traces the rhetorics of homeland security that are reshaping reproductive politics. Her book dives into politics and popular culture, from public debates over emergency contraception and unintended pregnancy to the “Octomom.” As University of Northern Iowa Professor Catherine Palczewski wrote in her review of Homeland Maternity: “This book is devastatingly good. Good because it is elegantly written, tightly argued, and theoretically informed and informative. Devastating because it makes clear that a nasty thicket of laws, institutions, and rhetoric values pregnancy (even a potential pregnancy) more than the integrity, safety, and humanity of women, pregnant people, and mothers. I have long followed public policy debates over reproductive health care. Fixmer-Oraiz's conclusions should not have surprised me and the examples should not have horrified me. But they did.”

    book coverSince joining the Iowa faculty in 2012, Fixmer-Oraiz has published several articles and delivered lectures on feminism, rhetoric, and reproductive politics. She has two new book projects in the works. The first, Queering Family: Reimagining Kinship and Community, discusses creative and compassionate approaches to kinship and community. The second, New Grammars for Reproductive Justice, is a collaborative project with Shui-yin Sharon Yam of the University of Kentucky; it explores how various stakeholders are crafting new vocabularies to address the diversity of gender identity and experience in the context of reproduction. Fixmer-Oraiz is also the co-author of Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, with Julia T. Wood.

    Fixmer-Oraiz’s award will be presented virtually on November 21 at the NCA 106thAnnual Convention. NCA is the largest communication association in the United States and supports more than 6,500 scholars and educators by funding their professional research and education interests.

    By Grace Culbertson

  • Learn about stuttering and people who stutter from the nation's leading experts

    October 22, 2020

  • PhD student Krista Wahlstrom investigates amygdala's role in storage of spatial memories

    October 07, 2020

  • Brown, Schwalm receive UI Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award

    October 06, 2020

  • Luis Martín-Estudillo receives inaugural Fellowships Open Book Award from NEH

    October 03, 2020

    Luis Martin-Estudillo, University of IowaLuis Martín-Estudillo, Collegiate Scholar and professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, is one of twelve authors selected to receive an inaugural Fellowships Open Book Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

    Thanks to funding from the award, Martín-Estudillo's book, The Rise of Euroskepticism: Europe & Its Critics in Spanish Culture, will be newly edited as a free ebook.  

    Originally published in traditional book form by Vanderbilt University Press in 2018, The Rise of Euroskepticism: Europe & Its Critics in Spanish Culture discusses the role of artists and scholars in Euroskepticism, a movement that calls for the reform or termination of the European Union.

    The book examines connections between artistic and political discourses in Spain. By analyzing the ways in which people have historically expressed Euroskepticism, Martín-Estudillo highlights areas of improvement within the European Union.

    Martín-Estudillo is the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the director of the European Studies Group. He also serves at the managing editor of the Hispanic Issues series and is the author and editor of several books about modern and contemporary Spanish culture. He is currently completing a book on the artist Francisco de Goya.

    The Fellowships Open Book Award aims to improve the availability of outstanding humanities books to the public. Founded in 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities creates initiatives like the Fellowships Open Book Award to expand research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. 

    —By Grace Culbertson

  • University of Iowa Department of Dance partners with Hancher Auditorium for in-person instruction, community building

    October 03, 2020

    Student dancer in Hancher
    Dance students training on Hancher's Hadley Stage

    As all corners of campus adapt in an effort to accommodate students, faculty, and staff during the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Iowa Department of Dance seeks to provide safe rehearsal spaces while still fostering a sense of community for its members.

    Rebekah Kowal, professor and chair of the department, said that when classes initially moved online in the spring 2020 semester, the department knew it had to start conceiving of new ways to teach its dancers. A key aspect of daily dance training is a feeling of community and togetherness, Kowal said.

    Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Dance's beloved Dance Gala—a University of Iowa tradition now in its 39th year—will take place virtually on Friday, November 13.

    Experience Dance Gala via the Virtual Dance Studio, as UI artists perform original works by UI dance faculty.

    “So that was a moment when our community really came together,” Kowal said, "to try to preserve the things that we think are really important and valuable for us, knowing that people were under so much stress.”

    The department originally planned to host in-person classes during fall 2020 in its home facility, Halsey Hall, Kowal said. Then, two weeks before classes were to begin, UI Facilities Management deemed the 105-year-old building's ventilation inadequate for group activities.

    The department began communicating with its campus partners to determine where it could hold rehearsals, Kowal said.

    “In really short order we had to start looking for new spaces for dance,” she said. “A place that’s going to work for 25 seated people is not going to do as well for 25 moving people. It looks different when you’re thinking about moving bodies, compared to putting desks in a classroom.”

    The university came through for the department, and classes and rehearsals are happening not only in the Iowa Memorial Union, but also in one of the world's renowned homes for dance, the UI's iconic Hancher Auditorium. The dance department is currently practicing in the multi-use Strauss Hall, as well as on the Hadley Stage, Hancher's main performance space.

    dance class strauss hall
    Dance class in Hancher's Strauss Hall

    At the beginning of the semester, Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson spoke with the classes to give them a history and perspective of dance at Hancher.

    “I wanted them to know not only that this is a beautiful place, but also that this place has a history of presenting dance, a history in which they’re involved,” Swanson said. “So it was important to me and to Hancher to inspire these students and let them know that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.”

    Kowal said the department worked closely with Melanie Wellington, clinical associate professor in the UI Carver College of Medicine, to return to the studio with the proper epidemiological protocols in place to keep people safe.

    Changes included how much space each dancer would have in any given room, how to sanitize their personal spaces, and how choreography could avoid clumping or waiting. Faculty had to rethink the flow of their classroom and choreography, Kowal added.

    “We also had to think about the kind of things we were asking students to do, because we didn’t want them to be so breathless and breathing hard that it would create risk,” Kowal said. “So we had to think of training in a more stationary way.”

    outside dance class
    An outdoor dance class

    After some high COVID-19 numbers in the first two weeks of classes, Kowal said the department conferred with epidemiologists again to increase mitigation methods, which included reducing class sizes even further, adding space between dancers, and rehearsing outside when possible.

    “The students have been really cooperative and community-oriented, and I think that they appreciate that we’re trying to balance this community dimension of our department and trying to keep them safe and keep faculty and staff safe,” Kowal said. “It feels like a tremendous responsibility for us.”

    Even before the Department of Dance knew it couldn’t host rehearsals in Halsey Hall, Kowal said there were talks with Hancher to bring first-year dance majors to the big stage. She hoped to create new feelings of pride and community in the space.

    George de la Peña, professor and director of dance production, said he’s impressed with first-year dance students and how hard they are working and embracing new modes of learning.

    "It’s exciting to witness for teachers, and the students inspire each other with their commitment to carrying on and doing the best possible work they can under the circumstances," he said. "One of the things I admire in dance—in all artists—is the determination to make the best of a very complicated situation. That’s just a beautiful characteristic of our community.”

    Not everything that dancers in the department do is intended for performance, Kowal said, but there’s something about daily dance training that can be monotonous. Practicing in a facility like Hancher allows for the imagination to run in a way that’s not easy in an ordinary space.

    “It puts you in a completely different space and frame of mind in terms of who you are and where you could go with your work,” Kowal said. “I think it makes what we’re doing very real. You can see the seats and you can imagine the audience when you’re training.”

    Hancher Auditorium, University of Iowa
    Hancher Auditorium

    In addition to keeping students and faculty safe, Swanson said that a primary goal of Hancher's partnership with the Department of Dance is to inspire students.

    "Part of the dancers' education is entering from the stage door and performing on a world-class stage like Hancher’s," Swanson noted. "I think there’s a real connectedness that, during COVID, a lot of people have not been feeling. I want to create a memory that students will always remember, because there are a lot of memories from this pandemic that are not going to be positive."

    He added, "During this time of the pandemic, the arts are more important than ever before. And during this time of social unrest, too, the arts are a way to heal. The arts are a way to learn. The arts are a way to bring people together, and the arts are a way to make the world a better place.”

    De la Peña said the most important thing for the dance department right now is to be sensitive to the needs of students. That includes making sure they are not stressed or expelling a lot of air, especially considering they are wearing masks in class.

    dancers on break
    Exhausted dancers catching their breath

    Though there are modifications, de la Peña said, there’s also a real rigor to the learning of in-person practice. For him, dancing in Hancher is a return to his days of professional dance, which de la Peña said is lovely to re-experience and a terrific opportunity for students.

    “I think this has been a tremendous lesson, showing how the arts help one another,” de la Peña said. “Not only has Hancher Auditorium come to our rescue, but so did the Department of Theater Arts. It shows this solidarity with the arts community that has been really fantastic.”

    UI senior and dance major Jensen Steinbronn has an in-person class at Hancher, as well as an outdoor modern dance class, which she said is fun when the weather is nice. The department is doing its best with the information it has about the virus, she said.

    Students stay in socially distanced spaces, Steinbronn noted, and they train with less range of motion. She said that it can be sad—she wants to dance with abandon, and she’s lost strength, flexibility, and some of her drive to keep going.

    Having class in Hancher, however, she said is uplifting.

    “Every time we go into that class, I’m just even more thankful that we get to dance,” Steinbronn said. “I get to look out there at the audience and be like, ‘I’m still doing this. There's still space for us.’ It makes me grateful every time I get to do it.”

    By Katie Ann McCarver


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.