Kenneth Voglesonger

SCSE Director

I’m a first-generation college student that was born in Connecticut. I moved to New York City when I was 16, and didn’t really have plans to go to college. I always had an interest in science, but didn’t have any specific ideas about how to use that interest in terms of a career. I ended up filling out my college applications at the last minute (after being told by my guidance counselor that I was wasting my time), and was eventually wait-listed at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. I had some rough spots in high school in terms of my grades, but was able to explain things to the admissions office and was eventually accepted.

I originally wanted to be a music major, but after about a year I took a class in geology and was hooked. I majored in geology and earned my bachelor’s degree in five-and-a-half years. Toward the end of my undergraduate degree, I learned that scientific research was an actual career, and was something I thought I could do. With this knowledge, I applied for graduate schools and was accepted to a doctoral program at Arizona State University. While there, I developed an interest in the chemistry of water in different types of environments, and ended up doing my dissertation on “Experimental and Field Studies of Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems.” Basically, I did a series of experiments examining how different organic molecules could have been synthesized on the early Earth prior to the rise of life and did a bunch of field work examining the relationship between mineral precipitation, fluid chemistry, and microbial colonization of seafloor hydrothermal vents, with an eye toward how these processes could be related to the origin of life. 

After completing my doctorate in seven-and-a-half years, I took a postdoctoral position at the University of Toronto, where I learned about isotope geochemistry and did field work sampling water and gases within some of the deepest mines in Canada. This work focused on the role of geochemistry in supporting microbial communities located deep within the Earth, with an application to the search for potential microbial habitats on Mars. I started my position at NEIU in the Earth Science Department in 2008, and have been here ever since. I love to teach, and I find working with students at all levels one of the most rewarding and fun things that I get to do in my current job. I’ve been able to serve as the Director of the Student Center for Science Engagement since August of 2018.

My research has provided me with some amazing opportunities – including a submarine trip to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, sampling water 10,000 feet underground in mines in Canada, exploring the Chicago River system with NEIU students, working in Mexico, and attendance at conferences around the country. My initial interest in science and the path I took has opened up so many opportunities for me, and I hope to be able to continue to work with NEIU students to help them on their own paths toward success.

REY AYON

Academic Success STEM Coach

I developed a passion for science, research and education through an academic journey beginning with a single question: why do animals behave the way they do? While pursuing my undergraduate degree at San Diego State University, I became fascinated with animal behavior when I took my first biology class, and wanted to understand the mechanisms and development of behavior. This led me to find a laboratory where I carried out independent field research on the functional organization of anti-predator behaviors in prey, and consequently how they assess the risk posed by predators. After earning my B.S. in biology, I continued my research program in behavioral ecology and completed an M.S in evolutionary biology from the University of Chicago. Here, I investigated the implications of perceived predation risk on the behavioral and physiological development of prey to tease apart developmental differences in behavior and stress hormones stemming from differential maternal environments.

As a first-generation college student and scientist, pursuing biology was an opportunity to surpass learning curves and preconceptions in science, and to carve my own journey through academia. I discovered an ambition to advance that journey for others by advising students in research opportunities, leading workshops to advance students in their science careers, joining student organizations aimed at promoting the engagement and success of underrepresented minorities in academia and becoming president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Chapter at the University of Chicago. My work with the SACNAS community culminated in the formation of the SACNAS Chicago Symposium offering professional development and opportunities for graduate and undergraduate minorities from various Chicago-area institutions to present their research. I have devoted a significant amount of time to advising prospective and first/second-year students throughout their academic careers, and I bring this insight and experience with me as the Academic Success STEM Coach at Northeastern Illinois University’s Student Center for Science Engagement. I am committed to fostering academic success and leadership in Northeastern’s student communities, help them attain advanced degrees, and aid in paving the way for meaningful careers towards a broader goal of promoting cultural and economic diversity in positions of leadership.

LAURA WEST

STEM Transfer Advisor

I am the STEM transfer advisor who works with students transferring from Chicago-area community colleges into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors at Northeastern Illinois University. I assist and support prospective, incoming and current students in the following majors: Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Science, Environmental Science, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology. 

Before I came to Northeastern, I worked with prospective and incoming transfer and first-year students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I also have experience as a science teacher at the middle and high school levels and as a science educator for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. I received my bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in environmental science and a Master’s of Education in Secondary Education and Biology. In my free time, I volunteer as a canoe guide with the Friends of the Chicago River and enjoy cooking and traveling.

EXECUTIVE BOARD

The Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) mission of supporting student success in the sciences is an extension of mission of NEIU’s STEM departments. Its work is overseen and facilitated by the SCSE Executive Board. This board is made up of the director, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (or designee), and an elected faculty representative from the departments of  Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Science, Mathematics, and Physics, and an advisory representative from the department of Psychology.

Membership of the current Executive Board: Dr. Joel Olfelt (director), Dr. Sudha Srinivas (acting associate dean, CAS), Dr. Cindy Voisine (Biology), Dr. Samantha Brown-Xu (Chemistry), Dr. Francisco Iacobelli (Computer Science), Dr. Elisabet Head (Earth Science), Dr. Lidia Filus (Mathematics), Dr. Gregory Anderson (Physics) and Dr. Ruth Church (Psychology).