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Experiential Learning

Pharmacy Students to Fill Indy’s Prescription for Hand Sanitizer

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Apr 30 2020

A small group of Pharmacy graduate students will briefly step away from their long-term research projects to help fill a need for the Indianapolis community.

Utilizing their lab skills, Victor Anguiano, Mohammed Ramadan, and Zach Todd are mixing up gallons of hand sanitizer to donate to Circle City hospitals, as well as homeless shelters, nursing homes, and domestic abuse treatment centers. Funding for the project came from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (COPHS). Pharmacy faculty members Sudip and Nandita Das are supervising the project, which will distribute the sanitizer in 200-milliliter bottles.

The recipe contains 75 percent alcohol, making it more effective than some products once found on store shelves.

“We’re working from specifications set up by the World Health Organization, and we’re meeting their standards to make it efficient,” says Anguiano, who also works in research and development in the pharmaceutical industry. “Everything’s been verified.”

Anguiano says the entire process should take two days: Day one will consist of mixing the sanitizer and leaving it to settle overnight. Day two will be for bottling and distribution.

The process of making hand sanitizer is easy, especially for Pharmacy researchers. Combining the alcohol with glycerol only takes 10 minutes in lab mixers. The glycerol gives the sanitizer a gel-like consistency and a hydrating element. The students kept the recipe simple, excluding scents or other frills that would slow down the process.

“Being pharmacy students, this is one of the main ways we are able to contribute,” Anguiano says. ”We have a responsibility to make an impact in this fight.”

Professor of Pharmaceutics Sudip Das says many Butler students, staff, and faculty members are helping the community—and beyond—during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is proud of the students who are taking time out of their research to lend a hand.

“The No. 1 thing is that you do whatever you can during this humanitarian crisis,” Das says. “We are trying to make sure people know that COPHS is in the fight against this pandemic, and we want everyone to be safe and healthy.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

istock
Experiential Learning

Pharmacy Students to Fill Indy’s Prescription for Hand Sanitizer

A trio of graduate students will make 50 liters of sanitizer for donation to community programs and facilities

Apr 30 2020 Read more
istock
Experiential Learning

In Switch to eLearning, Butler Student-Teacher Finds What Matters Most

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Apr 24 2020

Patrick Conway, a senior Secondary Education major at Butler University, spent three days student-teaching in a seventh-grade classroom before the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the nation to move online.

Now, as he continues his own Butler coursework remotely, he’s back home in Naperville, Illinois. But that isn’t stopping him from staying connected with his students at Zionsville West Middle School.

“The College of Education really emphasizes that you need to be flexible as a teacher,” Conway says. “Not every day is going to look the same. Not every lesson is going to look the same. That’s helped me adjust now. I am going with the flow and doing my best to help these students learn.”

For Conway, that has meant experimenting with new technologies and redesigning class content to fit the online space. Group work becomes individual projects. Interactive simulations become research papers. But Conway says the transition has given him a chance to focus on the most important parts of the curriculum, narrowing down ideas to spend more time on key points.

“Obviously, I would still prefer to be in the classroom,” he says. “But this situation has made all teachers reflect more on what we’re teaching. In the long-term, I think it might make classes and learning better.”

Conway says being physically separated from students has given him more appreciation for time spent in the classroom, and it reminds teachers how important it is to build relationships and provide support.

“For some of these students who maybe don’t have access to food at home, or whose parents are struggling with the effects of the pandemic, school might not be the most important thing right now,” Conway says. “So you still have to be there for them any way you can.”

Free online tools like FlipGrid, which Conway uses to create and share daily videos, have been key for staying connected with students and providing engaging lessons. Conway is using this time to explore new technologies, planning for how he might keep using them even after class is back in the classroom.

“You can be told over and over to always be ready for the unexpected,” he says, “but once you actually experience it, you are so much more prepared moving forward. We’re just all staying flexible and learning new things together. Teachers are a resilient group of people, and we are working hard to make this the best possible experience for our students.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

istock
Experiential Learning

In Switch to eLearning, Butler Student-Teacher Finds What Matters Most

Adapting to a pandemic, Patrick Conway develops new online content for seventh-graders at Zionsville West Middle School

Apr 24 2020 Read more
Mark Macbeth teaches from home
Experiential Learning

LAS Professor Finds the Right Chemistry for Distance Learning

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Apr 07 2020

About a month ago, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Mark Macbeth would look out to his General Chemistry lecture to see 57 first-year students in their seats inside a Gallahue Hall classroom, taking notes on chemical bonding.

Today, when he looks at his class, it’s like watching a more-crowded version of the intro to The Brady Bunch as the same 57 students pop up in little squares of video on Zoom. Since Butler University switched to online learning on March 19, the students and professor have used the popular video conferencing app three times a week for review sessions of the video lectures Macbeth posts on Canvas.

“I thought it was going to be chaos, but you roll up your sleeves and work through it,” says Macbeth with a laugh. “The students can still ask questions, and we still work through the problems together.”

The General Chemistry course also includes a lab section. With the academic labs closed for the semester, Macbeth says it was more of a challenge to figure out how to give his students proper lab experience online. Before, the students would strap on gloves, goggles, and lab coats for hands-on work—setting up the experiment, writing out reaction equations, and pouring the chemicals.

Macbeth decided to create demonstration videos of the experiments. In these “virtual labs,” staff and faculty from the Clowes Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry recorded experiments on concepts such as equilibrium and saturation. Ammonia added to silver chloride causes it to dissolve, and light pink cobalt solution mixed with chloride changes to dark blue, which makes for easier observation from a student’s laptop.

“It’s up to the students to interpret that data,” says Macbeth, whose current research focuses on the biochemical analysis of nucleic acid-protein interactions, as well as RNA and DNA editing. “At the end of the video, they do an online quiz about what their observations were and what concepts were used during the reaction.”

Macbeth's lecture notes
Macbeth uses a tablet to write notes in red during his distance learning lectures.

Students say the transition to online lectures has been smooth. For Healthcare and Business major Mason Runkel, not having the chance to be in a physical lab to refine his fine measurement skills has been the toughest aspect of learning from his home in Bloomington, Illinois. But he says Macbeth’s use of visuals and voiceovers on the digital lessons allows him to understand concepts just as well as he would in the classroom.

Chemistry major Audrey Wojtowicz says she was concerned about losing valuable lab experience, especially for complex techniques. An upcoming lab will focus on titration—the slow addition of one solution of a known concentration to a known volume of another solution of unknown concentration until the reaction reaches neutralization. However, Macbeth’s availability during the three weekly review sessions, as well as his office hours over Zoom, has eased some worries.

“Especially now, if you have concerns, go to your professor,” Wojtowicz says. “Everyone is in the same boat. Admittedly, I was stressed out, but I was assured it will be OK. Faculty members understand, and they are going to adapt to our needs for next semester.”

Macbeth has been impressed with his students’ performance the last few weeks, but he knows the online learning transition can sometimes be tough. He wants students to know he is there for them for the rest of the semester and beyond.

“It’s not an ideal situation at all for us,” Macbeth says, “but we’re trying to make it work the best we can. We’re trying to get the students to have some sort of learning process about chemistry, learn some chemical processes, and learn to interpret data.

“To the students who are really uncertain about this, I just want to let them know we are on their side. We want to help them get through this successfully and prepare them for their future courses.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

Mark Macbeth teaches from home
Experiential Learning

LAS Professor Finds the Right Chemistry for Distance Learning

With hands-on experiments now impossible, Mark Macbeth created video-based virtual labs for his chemistry class

Apr 07 2020 Read more
C. Patience Masamha
Experiential Learning

Butler Researcher Explores New Approach to Ovarian Cancer Treatment

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Mar 02 2020

C. Patience Masamha has dedicated her research to fighting cancer by discovering new drug deliveries at the molecular level. The Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences’ new project will tackle ovarian cancer and its tendency to return after initial, successful chemotherapy.

The project is based on preliminary ovarian cell research done by Masamha and two graduate students, Zach Todd and Bettine Gibbs ’19.

“Patients who usually respond to chemotherapy drugs will, at some point, develop resistance to those drugs,” says Masamha, who chose to study cancer after her grandfather passed away from mantle cell lymphoma. “Once the patient is diagnosed, they usually go through surgeries and aggressive chemotherapy. Patients usually respond well to treatment, but the cancer often comes back. And when it comes back, it’s resistant to the original chemotherapy.”

Todd and Masamha
Graduate student Zach Todd, right, and Professor C. Patience Masamha work in the lab.

In January, Masamha received a $10,000 New Investigator grant from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy to fund the work. The project will explore why ovarian cancer is so drug-resistant, especially compared to other cancers. The goal is to develop a new drug that will make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy, lowering the chance of relapse.

Masamha is looking at drug transporter proteins, which are the body’s natural way of removing toxins from healthy cells. But cancer hijacks this system, repurposing those toxin-removing proteins to pump chemotherapeutic drugs back out of cancerous tumor cells—reducing the treatment’s effectiveness and resulting in a drug-resistant disease. Masamha wants to know how these drug transporters are produced in order to later develop drugs that target these transporters to stop refluxing drug molecules in the cells of ovarian cancer patients.

Masamha says there is conflicting information in her field about these proteins. Some papers state the drug transporter concentrations are high in ovarian cancer patients, while other researchers say the same proteins are too low in the patients. Masamha’s research aims to provide more understanding of how these proteins behave under the influence of cancer.

Masamha’s research focuses on messenger RNA (mRNA), which reads DNA codes from the drug transporter genes to help the body create proteins. Different forms of mRNA can be made from the same DNA sequence. When cancer is present, the cells overproduce shortened mRNAs, which behave in a way that leads to the spread of cancer. Masamha is trying to figure out how short and long mRNAs can be made from the same DNA sequence, with the goal of creating a drug that would help prevent production of short mRNA.

The shorter mRNAs in cancer cells—which would need to be destroyed to prevent chemotherapeutic drugs from being kicked out of the cell—aren’t always detected by current treatment methods. Masamha’s group is working on ways to better detect those affected molecules, and to figure out how cancer cells generate these shorter mRNAs in the first place.

“If we are able to detect those short mRNA messages, that would clear up conflicting information in the field about these proteins,” she says. “We want to develop drugs that prevent the shorter mRNA from being produced in cancer cells. This will reduce the amount of drug transporter proteins that are made by tumor cells, allowing anti-cancer drugs to work.”

Zach Todd has been working in Masamha’s lab since fall 2016. He says focusing on the mRNA activity within cancer-affected cells could lead to a new way to treat cancer—helping healthcare providers stay a step ahead of the disease.

“Sometimes cancer has the annoying habit of figuring things out faster than we can,” Todd says. “We have to work around it, and this project is very promising.”

 

Photos by Brent Smith

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

C. Patience Masamha
Experiential Learning

Butler Researcher Explores New Approach to Ovarian Cancer Treatment

The disease’s drug resistance could be explained by its effect on cell proteins, Prof. C. Patience Masamha says

Mar 02 2020 Read more
Experiential Learning

Triple Threat: Dancer, DJ, Chemistry Instructor

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Feb 11 2020

It’s almost showtime for Carl DeAmicis.

The Chemistry Lecturer has the music cued, the camera about to roll, and some dance moves at the ready. But this isn’t his demo reel for the next season of America’s Got Talent. It’s another online lecture filled with a lot of organic chemistry and showmanship.

When DeAmicis hits record on the desktop computer inside Irwin Library’s Lightboard Studio, he gets down on all fours—out of camera shot. He crawls under the lightboard, where a complicated chemistry problem is scrawled in bright green pen. Then DeAmicis dramatically rises into view as Ed Sheeran’s Beautiful People echoes around him.

DeAmicis doesn’t think his dance moves are particularly good or special, but the music-filled introductions get his students to log on and watch the online lessons.

“I think the idea of an Organic Chemistry instructor in his 60s who is willing to get up there and dance is what makes it special,” he says. 

For the class that also includes lab sessions and in-person lectures, the videos are more like focused tutoring sessions. DeAmicis saves his main lectures for in-class, but both formats are high-energy. 

DeAmicis realized early on that his students’ musical tastes are different from his, so he takes recommendations from his kids—who are in their 20s—and finds other songs on pop playlists. But the dancing comes naturally, and the moves are as organic as the chemistry he teaches. 

Beyond the dancing, DeAmicis’ class is notoriously difficult. About 80 percent of the students are majors in the College of Pharmacy and Health Science, and Organic Chemistry is often the last hurdle before they move on to graduate work.

“My goal is to kind of make it light-hearted so that it’s a little bit fun—not just torture,” DeAmicis says. “Unfortunately, it’s still really difficult. It’s a little more fun, but no one says it's any easier.”

Story Fridays

Among DeAmicis’ class traditions, Story Fridays have become a hit. The lecturer pulls from his 30-year career at Eli Lilly and Company and Dow AgroSciences, as well as his time as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University. His stories lend insights into the kinds of careers or advanced studies that await his class of undergrads, often relating to what the class is learning that week.

“I find the students like to hear about real-world applications of the stuff we’re doing,” DeAmicis says. “My first Story Friday was about a 15-year project on a molecule discovery and development called Spinetoram. The entire class applauded after my story, and I was floored. Ever since then, I start every Friday class with a story, unless we have an exam.”

Carl DeAmicis
Carl DeAmicis gets animated during a recent Organic Chemistry class.

A recent class began with DeAmicis’ take on studying under and researching for Eugene Earle van Tamelen, a pioneering bioorganic chemist and an imposing figure by the time DeAmicis enrolled in his lab in 1983. He spoke about being thrown into teaching van Tamelen’s chemistry course in front of 250 students. He did well enough to earn two crisp $50 bills from the intimidating professor’s wallet. 

“My opinion of van Tamelen prior to that day was down here,” quips DeAmicis, stooping down to the classroom floor before rising to his tiptoes. “After that day, it was up here. He turned out to be one of the nicest people I ever met. He even let me use his office to write my dissertation.”

Turning to his students, DeAmicis drives home the moral of his Friday story.

“During your career, you will hear horror stories about certain people,” he says. “And then when you meet them, you’ll develop a relationship, and it just might be the best ever. It happens, and I want you to remember this story.”

The chance to make a difference for even just one student a semester is why DeAmicis continues to teach after retirement.

“For me, it’s the pinnacle of fulfillment,” DeAmicis says. “That’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Twitter sensation

Dustin Soe, a junior studying Biochemistry, says the Organic Chemistry class would be more difficult if it wasn’t for DeAmicis’ passion and creativity toward the challenging material.

“He’s quite different from everyone else, but that works for me. I like it,” he says. “It can be hard to come to class on Friday, but he loves pop music and dancing around. He makes it more entertaining.”

Pharmacy sophomore Reilly Livingston is one of many students who appreciate the instructor's energy in a difficult class. She has tweeted dozens of videos of DeAmcis’ dance moves, along with one clip of DeAmicis dressed as a wizard for Halloween. (He used “magic” to pull down a projection screen for that day’s lecture.)

“The dancing is something really fun,” Livingston says. “He puts in a lot of effort because I think he realizes it is a difficult class. I wasn’t looking forward to the class going in, but now it has become one of my favorites.”

 

Carl DeAmicis’ greatest hits

The Organic Chemistry instructor has entertained his students all year, but some of his top moments include:

  • Getting hit by a giant rubber ball to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball,
  • Donning a blue wig and strumming along on a guitar to Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, 
  • And dressing up in the style of Jimmy Buffett for a lecture.

 

Photography by Brent Smith and Tim Brouk; video by Joel Stein

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Experiential Learning

Triple Threat: Dancer, DJ, Chemistry Instructor

Carl DeAmicis’ Organic Chemistry course is notoriously tough, but he finds ways to keep students interested

Feb 11 2020 Read more
Prof. Chris Stobart and senior Benjamin Nick
Experiential Learning

Butler Researchers Work Toward Possible Coronavirus Treatment

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 31 2020

As the coronavirus spreads globally and the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency, a team of Butler University researchers are working toward a potential virus vaccine and drug development.

The research team, led by Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Stobart, is focused on a protease named nonstructural protein 5 (nsp5) —an enzyme that cuts larger viral proteins into smaller proteins. Backed by a team of five undergraduate researchers, Stobart has found an important region in the structure of the protease in the mouse hepatitis virus, a coronavirus of its own that affects mice and is safe to study in a lab. It’s structure mimics coronaviruses that affect humans. They hypothesize that inhibiting the enzyme’s effects on the protein could stop the virus’ replication.

 

“Without the protein, the virus is dead,” Stobart says. “It’s a vital target that a lot of groups in the past have looked at to develop therapeutic options. What we’re doing is trying to mutate parts of this enzyme to figure out what regions are potential targets for the drug.”

As a microbiologist and virologist, Stobart finds new behaviors in viruses with the goal of biochemists or pharmacologists to then create medicines to fight the virus. Stobart says the research on nsp5 should be finished this spring and ready to publish in the summer.

By understanding the important parts of the protease, a drug can be developed to throw a hammer into the coronavirus’ machinations. Those regions of the enzyme that can’t be mutated without killing the virus are important to map on the protein’s structure. They are “hotspots” for biochemists to attack with therapeutics. The important area they identified is called the interdomain loop within the protease. The project began in 2018 but in 2020, the research has real-world applications.

The December emergence of the coronavirus, which has infected thousands worldwide and killed more than 80 in China, is serendipitous but the work can affect related coronaviruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and those that cause the common cold.

“This virus’ mortality rate is much less than SARS and MERS, closer to about 3 or 4 percent, but it’s spreading much more quickly,” says Stobart, whose last decade of research projects have included coronaviruses that affect humans.

Mansi Pandya in the lab
Senior Mansi Pandya is an undergrad researching coronaviruses in Chris Stobart's lab.

Benjamin Nick, a Biology and Chemistry major, has worked in Stobart’s lab since his first year at Butler. Well-versed in lab techniques, Nick’s work started out like the proverbial “needle in a haystack” but zeroing in on nsp5 has revealed exciting results. Using a serial dilution technique to work with manageable levels of virus, Nick helped identify key residues in the mouse virus samples that could translate to therapeutic targets against human coronavirus strains.

“We put progressively less virus into our racks, from 10 times as strong to 1/100,000th of dilution,” Nick says. “We grow the virus at different temperatures—37 degrees Celsius for normal homeostatic body temperature to 40 degrees Celsius to mimic a human spiking a fever.”

Nick found that mutating parts of the interdomain loop of the protease made the virus more unstable than usual at higher temperatures. These parts of the protease that would weaken under mutations are targets for the Stobart lab’s molecular research.

Nick says working on the coronavirus project has been fulfilling and he is looking forward to seeing his name on published research that could have major ramifications in coronavirus treatment.

“Over the last couple years, I’ve had the dream of developing a thesis and seeing it come to completion,” he adds. “Now that I've put in the work, done the things I need to do to prepare myself and gather the data, I can do that. It’s exciting to see how much of an impact my research time here at Butler can have. 

“The work I've been doing is relevant now. It matters. It’s literally impacting lives.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu

Prof. Chris Stobart and senior Benjamin Nick
Experiential Learning

Butler Researchers Work Toward Possible Coronavirus Treatment

Biology Professor Chris Stobart’s lab has focused on a protease in the deadly virus that could inhibit replication

Jan 31 2020 Read more
Ashley Altman in United Arab Emirates
Experiential Learning

Butler’s first Gilman Scholars embark for international study

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 24 2020

Two Butler University students traveled a combined 15,000-plus miles to conduct research abroad, thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships. 

International Studies major Ashley Altman and Biology junior Dakotah Harris are the first Butler recipients of the nationally competitive scholarship, which enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad while gaining skills related to national security and economic prosperity. The program was established in 2000.

Dakotah Harris
Dakotah Harris

Altman left for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on January 16. She is studying political science at the American University of Sharjah.

Harris is stationed in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where he’ll gain experience in public health. He will learn outside the classroom via one-on-one mentorships through April 4. Harris will also work with a volunteer group from the Human Sciences Research Council. Their mission will be to educate nearby populations about HIV while diagnosing and treating those with the disease.

“There’s a lot of very dangerous myths around HIV,” Harris says. “I’ll be working on getting information to the townships that don’t necessarily have all the resources they may need.”

Receiving $4,500 from the Gilman Scholarship, Altman’s trip is part of the International Student Exchange Programs. His time in South Africa will help pave a career path in epidemiology and the prevention of infectious diseases.

Harris says the opportunity will get him in on the “ground level” for his future work in public health.

“I’m excited for this life-changing experience. I’m ready to serve the people,” says Harris, who will leverage two years of research experience in Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Berry’s lab for his work abroad.

“Dakotah's drive and dedication to research will help him further investigate vaccines. Specifically from my lab, Dakotah has learned several skills and techniques—like animal handling—that will be useful for him in his future research endeavors,” says Berry, adding that Harris has become a student leader in her lab. “I think this trip will give Dakotah a chance to help a lot of people, and that's what he's all about.”

About 40 percent of Butler students take advantage of study abroad opportunities. For Harris and Atlman, The Gilman Scholarship has made that easier.

“To me, receiving a Gilman means that the students are motivated personally and academically to jump any hurdle in order to study abroad,” says Jill McKinney, Director of Global Engagement at Butler. “Not only are the students likely going abroad for the first time, but they’re also going to locations that have significant cultural and linguistic differences.”

McKinney expects Altman and Harris to benefit from their experience by improving language and communication skills, gaining intercultural agility, and making contacts from around the world.

“Study abroad is a great talking point in job interviews,” McKinney says. “In fact, we’ve anecdotally heard from our former students that they are asked more about their study abroad experiences than anything else they list on their resumes.

“For many Gilman Scholarship recipients, this scholarship is the reason they can make study abroad happen.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu

Ashley Altman in United Arab Emirates
Experiential Learning

Butler’s first Gilman Scholars embark for international study

The awards will allow the students to complete research in South Africa and the United Arab Emirates

Jan 24 2020 Read more
lab school classroom
Experiential Learning

How Neuroscience Helps Kids Heal From Trauma

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jan 17 2020

On a mid-December morning at Butler University Laboratory School 55, a fifth-grade classroom falls silent. The shouting and chatter fades, little by little, replaced by the chime of calming music.

Around the room, students lie flat on the floor, blinking up through the cucumber slices pressed to their eyes. Some sprawl out, arms spread wide, as others fold their hands together or reach up to feel the fruit’s coolness.

Cucumbers do more than signal a spa day in the movies, the students are learning. Rather, the slices can act as an anti-inflammatory for a stressed-out brain in the same way that ice treats injuries. They can calm the mind and prepare it for learning—a perfect addition to the collection of relaxation strategies Lori Desautels has brought to classrooms in Indianapolis and across the nation.

Throughout fall 2019, the College of Education Assistant Professor visited those fifth-graders every week to teach them about the brain, how it works, why we experience stress, and how to regulate emotions. Students learned that the prefrontal cortex is the brain’s center of learning, decision making, and problem solving. They learned that the amygdala, formed by a small set of deep-brain neurons, causes powerful emotions such as anger and fear that can make it difficult to concentrate. And they learned that, through a range of activities that incorporate breathing, movement, or sound, they can control those emotions and relax their minds.

It’s all part of Desautels’ work in a field known as educational neuroscience, which focuses on finding the most effective strategies for working with students who have experienced adversity or trauma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of American children will experience at least one adverse childhood experience—or a potentially traumatic event—by the time they turn 18. About one in every six children will have four or more of these experiences, which can include circumstances such as violence, abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, food insecurity, or drug use, to name a few.

Beyond causing long-term consequences for overall health, trauma can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school as stress inhibits the brain from making decisions and building relationships. Some students respond to pain with aggression, while others exhibit high rates of absenteeism or keep their heads down during class.

“As the research points,” Desautels says, “anxiety has kind of become our nation’s new learning disability.”

Desautels tackles this problem from multiple fronts. Based on her research, she develops new strategies to help kids heal from trauma. She visits schools across Indiana, talking about the importance of caring for mental and emotional health in the classroom. Desautels works directly with children to help them succeed, and through leading workshops and teaching classes, she shows current and future educators how they can better support their students.

 

How to stay sensitive to trauma in the classroom

Desautels teaches a variety of strategies for responding to trauma in schools, but she says rethinking the discipline is the first step. When educators react with punishments based on frustration and arbitrary consequences, this usually reactivates a student’s stress response, leading to new trauma instead of new healing.

Change starts with teachers modeling the behavior they want to see from their students.

When a child’s actions require discipline, Desautels says the adult should always take some time to cool off. After reflecting on how the incident made them feel, they should explain to the student how they plan to calm down before addressing the situation.

I’m really frustrated, so we aren’t going to talk about this right now. I’ll count to four, and then I’ll take my two deep breaths, and then I’ll wait. And if my amygdala is still feeling angry, I’ll count to four again, until my cortex feels calm.

Teachers should also consider the power of non-verbal communication. Desautels says tone of voice is critical in calming a child’s nervous system, along with facial expressions, posture, and gestures.

“Emotions are contagious,” she says. “When a teacher is able to model a calm presence, students are less likely to react defensively.”

Once everyone feels relaxed, the teacher and student can discuss what happened, why it happened, and how they can repair the damage together. Consequences should follow naturally from the action in a meaningful way, Desautels says. For example, if the student was mean to a classmate, they could create something that shows kindness.

Desautels also stresses the need for listening to and validating the student throughout the process. If a child says, ‘This isn’t fair’ or ‘You are always picking on me,’ a validating comment might be, ‘That must feel so frustrating.’

“In the moment of rising tension,” she says, “when you feel someone hears you, that’s calming.”

But these strategies aren’t only for when there’s a problem. Building strong connections with students can help with easing their anxiety and preventing negative behavior from arising in the first place.

At Butler, Desautels has created a graduate certificate in Applied Educational Neuroscience to teach these strategies to educators, medical professionals, and others who work closely with children who have experienced trauma. The nine-credit-hour program launched in 2016 and has grown from just six students in the first cohort to more than 70 today. The classes explore the most recent research in neuroscience and attachment, then shift to how that research can be used to help students.

“And these strategies aren’t just useful for working with children,” Desautels says. “We are all dealing with more and more adversity and stress. Everyone taking this certificate is trying to improve on their professional practices, but I often hear feedback about how helpful it has been personally.”

 

 

A new way of teaching

Until a couple years ago, Emily Wilkerson didn’t know anything about neuroscience. She didn’t think she needed to.

Then, as an Elementary Education major at Butler, she met Lori Desautels.

“It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I realized teaching isn’t just about math, reading, writing, science, and social studies,” Wilkerson says. “Kids need so much more than academic content.”

So shortly after graduating in 2018 and taking a position with the then-new Butler Lab School 55, Wilkerson enrolled in Butler’s Applied Educational Neuroscience certificate. Right away, she started practicing the techniques in her fifth-grade classroom—the same classroom Desautels worked with last semester.

Together, Desautels and Wilkerson taught the students about three key regions of the brain and what it looks like to “be” in each one. In the prefrontal cortex, located near the forehead, the mind feels calm and creative. In the limbic system, closer to the center of the brain, you might start to be distracted by emotions such as fear, irritation, or embarrassment.

On the back of the neck, near the hairline, is the brain stem. Once here, you’re basically frozen. You might feel hopeless or disconnected. You might lash out, or you might run away.

“When a student has experienced trauma, we know that their brain is most likely not in the prefrontal cortex throughout the day,” Wilkerson says. “There could be triggers in the classroom, or they could just think about something traumatic that happened to them, and that could completely spiral their day. If they are locked into that anxiety or fear, they are inclined to stay in that brain state—unless they know that they can regulate their brain.”

So, the students learned how to do just that.

Every time Desautels visited Wilkerson’s class, she brought a new focused attention practice. These activities quiet the mind by having kids focus on a specific stimulus, whether that is a sound, a sight, a taste, or a breath—similar to meditation. This helps soothe the nervous system in a way that makes it easier to cope with challenges.

For example, the class could spend a few minutes with a breathing exercise that matches movement to the rhythm of the breath, lifting their arms high on the inhale and dropping them on the exhale. They could place their non-dominant hands flat on pieces of paper, tracing the outlines repeatedly until their minds feel calm. Or, the students could put ice cubes in their mouths, imagining their stress fading as they feel the ice slowly melt away.

Desautels also uses “brain breaks.” These exercises introduce new challenges or novel sensations to help break up the routine of a school day, training the mind to see things through new perspectives.

Desautels always carries a bag of assorted household objects—markers, paper, shoelaces, and so on. After picking an item, students imagine two ways it could be used for something other than its intended purpose. Another brain break involves asking the kids to peel a tangerine with their eyes closed, then to eat the fruit while focusing on its smell and taste. The more senses these activities draw on, the more effective they will be for regulating the brain.

The students learned to be more aware of how they feel throughout the day. Desautels introduced brain reflection sheets, which help both students and teachers evaluate their current brain states and figure out what they might need to feel better in that moment.

“If I’m feeling frustrated,” Wilkerson says, “I’m going to go sit in the reset corner and take 10 deep breaths, or roll playdough in my hands, because that might be something that feels good to me. But you can regulate a brain in a thousand different ways.”

Most of the fifth-grade students now use the language of neuroscience throughout the school day. And since Desautels first visited, Wilkerson has noticed an overall shift in classroom culture.

“We as elementary school teachers have the opportunity, if we are using the language of neuroscience in our classrooms, to really set students up for a greater level of success throughout their whole lives,” Wilkerson says. “I can’t imagine, if I could go back in time and learn about all this neuroscience during fifth grade, how that would have impacted me in middle school, high school, college, and adulthood.”

Beyond her work at Butler and in Indianapolis classrooms, Desautels visits schools across the state to speak about the trauma-responsive strategies she has developed. She’s also published three books about the human side of education, with a fourth expected to release in 2021.

Nationally, Desautels’ work has inspired hundreds of schools to build what she calls amygdala first aid stations. Typically set up at a designated table or corner of the classroom, these spaces give students a place to go to calm down or recharge. They might offer stationary bikes, yoga mats, art materials, or headphones. Others have bean bag chairs where students can relax with weighted blankets while smelling lavender-scented cotton balls.

Since she first started co-teaching six years ago, Desautels has worked with 13 classes ranging from preschool to 12th grade. It has become more common for schools to address mental and emotional wellbeing, but Desautels says her work is unique for its focus on actually teaching kids the science behind how their brains work.

“Teaching students about their amygdala and their fear response is so empowering,” she says. “When we understand that this biology is thousands of years in the making, hardwired to protect us, our minds begin to relax through knowing that our reactions to negative experiences are natural and common. Many of our children report a sense of relief to know there’s nothing wrong with them.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu

lab school classroom
Experiential Learning

How Neuroscience Helps Kids Heal From Trauma

Lori Desautels, an Assistant Professor in Butler's COE, visits classrooms to teach students about their brains.

Jan 17 2020 Read more
MiM
Experiential Learning

New Master’s in Management Boosts Careers of Non-Business Grads

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jan 14 2020

For some students who completed undergraduate degrees unrelated to business, a little bit of accounting, marketing, or finance know-how could go a long way in building a career.

Butler University’s new Master’s in Management (MiM) program is designed for students interested in the edge that a business education could bring to today’s competitive job market. The full-time, on-campus degree lasts one year, and it is intended for recent or soon-to-be graduates with little to no business knowledge.

A potential MiM student might have realized that, while still passionate about their undergraduate area of study, they’d like to approach the field from a new perspective. For others, the program might lead to a completely new career. Either way, the curriculum aims to help students understand how the language of business applies to a variety of professions.

“The inspiration really comes from the fact that here in the Midwest, there is a need to better support our non-business graduates who are unemployed or underemployed—to give them a well-rounded skill set,” says Marietta Stalcup, Director of Graduate Programs for Butler’s Andre B. Lacy School of Business. “We hear from employers today that ideal candidates can bring right-brained, creative skills to the business side of things.”

Stalcup uses her own career path as an example for how someone could benefit from the MiM program. After graduating with a degree in biochemistry, she realized she didn’t want to work in a lab. So Stalcup pursued biochemistry from a different angle, accepting a pharmaceutical sales position with Eli Lilly and Company. She worked for several years before obtaining formal business education through a Master of Business Administration (MBA), but she knows her early-career self would have been a great fit for the MiM.

Unlike an MBA, which typically targets students with at least five years of professional experience, the MiM appeals to fresh graduates who want to boost their skills before launching their careers. The MBA is meant to help seasoned professionals either switch fields or advance into senior-level executive positions in their current careers, while the MiM kickstarts a career early on by teaching students business skills to boost their value in the workplace.

“It’s not an ‘MBA Lite,’” Stalcup says. “It fulfills a different need.”

In addition to a curriculum of foundational business classes in areas such as finance, accounting, marketing, leadership, and economics, the MiM provides every student with a career mentor to help with setting and meeting goals. Students also complete a 300-credit-hour internship.

The program’s first cohort will begin in June 2020. Applications are open now, with deadlines on the first of each month until June 1. Admission decisions will be released within two weeks of each application deadline.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

MiM
Experiential Learning

New Master’s in Management Boosts Careers of Non-Business Grads

The latest graduate program from Butler’s Lacy School of Business aims to create well-rounded candidates.

Jan 14 2020 Read more
RMI students prepare a case study.
Experiential Learning

Butler’s Risk Management Programs Earn Top-10 Recognition from Business Insurance Magazine

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 06 2020

Butler University’s programs for risk management and insurance professionals have been recognized by Business Insurance magazine as one of the top-10 in the nation for the most graduates in 2019.

The magazine tabbed Butler No. 9 for most Actuarial Science and Risk Management and Insurance graduates. The ranking combines the two related programs–Butler’s Davey Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) and Actuarial Science majors–that assess risk for insurance purposes from qualitative and quantitative sides of the risk management coin.

“These rankings recognize the collaborative efforts of the Davey Risk and Insurance Program and the Actuarial Science program at Butler University to recruit the future leaders of the RMI industry,” says Dr. Victor Puleo, Associate Professor and Davey Chair of Risk Management and Insurance. “I am very pleased to see Butler University listed alongside the other universities and colleges that share in this mission.”

The national ranking released in December 2019 is the first top-10 national honor for the Andre B. Lacy School of Business.

The Davey Risk Management and Insurance program was established in the Lacy School of Business in 2012. It graduated 34 students in the 2018-19 school year, which was combined with Actuarial Science’s 20 graduates for that top-10 ranking. Business Insurance also listed Butler at No. 13 for the largest “risk management program” overall based on student enrollment.

“We’re probably the smallest university on the list,” says Zach Finn, Clinical Professor of Risk Management and Insurance, “but the Lacy School of Business has an efficacy for recruiting. We’re retaining students all the way to graduation while maintaining a high rate of growth.”

According to Risk Management magazine, job growth in the risk management and insurance industry is up 60 percent since 2013. These positions include risk management analysts, underwriters, and brokers for companies like Aon, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Northwestern Mutual, and State Farm Insurance. A 16 percent job rate increase is still expected by 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the industry grows, a wave of insurance underwriters and brokers are nearing retirement age, which will open thousands more positions for young, expertly trained professionals like Butler graduates, Finn says.

The Lacy School of Business recently launched a Master of Science in Risk and Insurance (MSRI) online degree program, which is further evidence of the University’s commitment to be a national leader in risk management and insurance. Part of the buzz around the industry includes the insurance of new business concepts. From electric scooter rental services to pizza-delivering drones, there is an insurance side to every game-changing business venture. Professionals trained in risk management are needed now more than ever to establish what kind and how much insurance policies should be, Finn says.

Senior Kyle Niemiec just wrapped up his third internship. A Finance major, his experience at Encova Insurance in Naperville, Illinois, made him change his focus to risk management.  

“No business can run without insurance,” Niemiec says. “It’s also helping people. I’ve fully invested myself into insurance as a whole. I was in financial planning, but getting to see behind the scenes aspects, I knew I wanted to do insurance.” 

Businesses have noticed Butler’s strength in risk management. MJ Insurance helped fund the first student-run captive insurance company at Butler. Students benefit from experiential learning by taking on real risks and real underwriting, while also gaining insight into starting and running a business.

“MJ Insurance had the confidence that our students were up to the task in deploying those funds,” says Finn, “and that gift helped put us on the map.”

As chair of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Actuarial Science, Associate Professor Chris Wilson has led a student experience for Actuarial Science students. Undergrads are given opportunities to take four Society of Actuaries credentialing exams before graduation. The more exams completed, the more actuarial job opportunities become available to the students in the risk management field.

“We’ve had examples where a student has gotten a job, passed an exam, and gotten a raise before they even started work,” says Wilson, who has seen the number of Actuarial Science graduates quadruple since he joined Butler in 2007. “It’s people who are aware they are high-achieving students and they’re ready for a challenging major. They want to do something to develop their quantitative skills and enjoy problem solving.”

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

RMI students prepare a case study.
Experiential Learning

Butler’s Risk Management Programs Earn Top-10 Recognition from Business Insurance Magazine

Publication recognizes Risk Management and Insurance and Actuarial Science programs for number of graduates

Jan 06 2020 Read more

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