Toward Common Goals with SPEA faculty Todd Royer, Brian DeLong, and Frank Nierzwicki.
Leading from the Sidelines
[by IU Communications}
Science isn’t all white lab coats and data analysis in SPEA Professor Todd Royer’s laboratory. If you want to work with Royer analyzing water quality, then you better be prepared to get dirty. His students are out collecting samples in all kinds of weather, from 10° below to 100° above.
“Anything that can go wrong has gone wrong at some point,” says Royer.” “It could be anything from equipment that breaks to not being able to collect samples because a stream has dried up. I need people willing to do work in less than ideal conditions and who have a certain understanding and love of water chemistry.”
“It’s important for the students to get hands-on training,” Royer says. “They need to understand where the data comes from, and the only way to really understand how data are generated is to do it yourself.”
For Royer, training future scientists involves a hands-off supervisory approach. “I walk through the lab every day and have regular lab meetings, where students report on what they’re doing and the problems they may encounter during fieldwork,” he says. Royer’s former student, Jessica Fulgoni, believes his approach was integral to her development. “He always made sure I understood everything, but he wouldn’t tell me right away; he would let me work on a problem to try and figure it out on my own first.”
Royer’s lab is operated by students at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc level. A new student will always start with the simplest work in the lab – tasks like acid washing glassware and learning how to process samples. As a student’s familiarity and experience increases, he or she will become more involved with lab analysis and eventually participate in field sampling. Royer likes to pair novices with seasoned veterans; that way students can learn how to train each other.
The more experienced the student, the more confident Royer is with letting him or her take the lead on projects. Take Royer’s former graduate student, Kristin Gardner, for example. Royer says Gardner came to him with the motivation and desire to direct her own project. He had just the thing – the Monroe County commissioners had recently approached him to monitor the drainage in their streams; he gave the project to Gardner.
Over a period of two winters, Gardner monitored the effects of road salt on water quality in the streams around Bloomington and Ellettsville. She presented her findings to the county drainage board and at scientific conferences. Explaining science to nonscientists is not easy, but it’s a necessary skill. “It definitely prepared me for my transition into the world of consulting,” says Gardner. “Learning how to communicate my research results to clients and project partners was invaluable.” Gardner published her work in the Journal of Environmental Quality and was credited as lead author.
Is this typical? Absolutely. “Just about all of my masters’ students have been published, either in peer-reviewed journals or in technical reports to agencies,” says Royer. “I’m very fortunate to have students that are self-motivated and self-determined.”
SPEA’s Home Team
[by Jim Hanchett]
The coach comes to Indiana University from a traditional powerhouse. He methodically rebuilds the team here, tirelessly recruiting future stars and then teaching them the keys to success. He spends countless hours reviewing video and strategizing deep into the night. Before big contests, he cajoles, commands, encourages, and disciplines the members of his young team made up largely of freshmen and sophomores. Now he points toward a national championship.
Tom Crean, right? Nope, those words describe Brian DeLong, or De-Lo as the coach is known by the competitors on his team. His team is the IU Debate Team, sponsored by SPEA, and DeLong is a member of the SPEA faculty. In a sense Crean has had it easier than DeLong. When the basketball coach, formerly at Marquette, arrived in Bloomington there was a team to lead, even if it was at the bottom of the Big Ten. When DeLong left the University of Kansas for IU, he had to start from the ground up. Debate hadn’t been a point of emphasis at IU for 15 years due to a lack of interest and leadership. Crean’s rebuilding effort may be a couple of years ahead, but the revival that DeLong is leading is no less impressive.
“There are certainly some similarities between what Coach Crean does and what I do,” DeLong says. “I have to stand up for my team after a poor decision. I have to be adaptable to the emotions of the team and get their confidence up. I set goals for the season, just like he does.” DeLong, as calm and friendly a coach as you’ll ever meet is asked if he ever yells. “Yes,” he says and does not elaborate. Like Crean, DeLong can point to a debate tradition at SPEA. The late Elinor Ostrom, a SPEA professor and Nobel Prize-winning economist, was a high school debater. Tavis Smiley, a SPEA alumnus and prominent broadcaster, was an IU debater.
There are also distinct differences between the basketball coach and the debate coach. During games, Crean is a prowling, sweating, emoting ball of energy. DeLong must sit silently, watching as his team competes and can’t even so much as raise an eyebrow to suggest a strategy. Sometimes the anxiety gets so great, he just leaves the room. There are times when Crean probably wishes he had that option.
When it comes to building a team, a basketball coach is limited by hundreds of rules about when and how he can contact a recruit. DeLong faces no such restrictions. “I have unlimited contact, the NCAA doesn’t care what I do,” DeLong jokes. Much of his recruiting is done at high school debate tournaments. Chicago is a hotbed for that and that’s where DeLong found Joey Peculis, now an IUB freshman, and regarded by DeLong as one of the building blocks of this new era in Hoosier debate.
“At the end of the tourney, we go over film with De-Lo and he works with us on what we should have emphasized.” That’s just part of the preparation that goes into a tournament. This year, college debaters are squaring off over the nation’s energy policy. Before they say a word out loud, DeLong’s team spends hundreds of hours doing research, writing out speeches and notes.
It’s all compiled on laptop computers they carry into the competition room in the same way Crean’s guys bring their Adidas sneakers to Assembly Hall. If debate sounds like just another grind of a class, there is a reward to it. DeLong can offer scholarships and expense-free travel, just as Crean does. Plus, there’s unquestionably a career benefit to learning how to make a cogent spoken argument in front of a room full of skeptics.
DeLong has already succeeded in molding the Hoosier debate team into a competitive force, not yet a powerhouse in Midwest debate circles but not to be taken lightly, either. His next goal is to propel Hoosier debaters into the national rankings. The opportunity for that will come in 2014 when the Bloomington campus and SPEA host the National Debate Tournament. Seventy-eight of the top two-person teams in the country will face off and DeLong wants to see a Hoosier team finish near the top. It might be time to start looking for a place at SPEA to hang a banner.
Taking the Team on the Road
[by Jim Hanchett]
The remnants of the fried chicken lunch had been cleared, the lights dimmed and, up at the front of the room, a team of SPEA graduate students was giving a PowerPoint presentation. The audience, 50 business leaders jammed into a meeting room at the Bedford, Indiana Chamber of Commerce, was sympathetic to the proposal the students were discussing. “But out there,” said one of the businessmen, gesturing as if to the sizeable rural part of Lawrence County, “out there, this isn’t going to fly.” So it goes with what is truly a learning experience.
The students are enrolled in what’s called a capstone class led by Professor Frank Nierzwicki. In capstones, teams of students execute a research project for a client in a process that mimics what they’ll do professionally. Nierzwicki has divided his planning assessment class into teams working in Indiana to study rail trails, parks, storm water runoff and, in the case of the students at the chamber meeting, a proposal to institute planning and zoning rules (what one leader in the room calls “the Z word”). It makes for a vivid example of the teamwork between a professor and students, between a research team and its client and between Indiana University and Indiana communities.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have this expertise from the university,” said Bedford Mayor Shawna Girgis. “To have someone pull in all the data about why zoning would be good really adds credibility to the argument. Plus, when I’m with the students, I’m really energized.”
It’s not all fried chicken and apple pie, though. The students experience real-world frustrations. That’s part of the value of the course. “We allow them to make mistakes,” Nierzwicki says. “Hopefully, they’re not major mistakes and the students can learn from those mistakes.” The Lawrence County team wanted to find out whether residents would support zoning so they tried to do a survey. A library kicked them out because of a “no solicitation” rule. Online wouldn’t work, one of the business leaders told them, because many rural residents don’t have computer access or would be suspicious of the request. “You could do it at the county fair,” said another, although that’s not until July. “Maybe we ought to be focusing on educating people on the benefits of zoning,” said a third, noting that would be a slow process finished long after the students had graduated.
Despite the hurdles, the students produced a preliminary report that will help the planning forces make their case.
With clarity that a high-priced consultant would envy, the team of students took turns presenting evidence and outlining talking points to use in the education process. “I like to see that coordination. Part of their grade is on how well they work together,” Nierzwicki says. And the team had ready answers for critical questions. A county official to MPA student John Zody: “This will be a freedom issue. We in the room may be in favor but what do we say to county residents concerned about property rights?” Zody: “You can say this will protect their property by limiting what can be built next door.”
As the lights come back on, the business leaders applaud the students. Becky Skillman, a former Indiana lieutenant governor and now leader of an eight-county economic development group, sums up the sentiment: “We are delighted to have you with us, working to make our community better and Indiana better.”
Cover photo take at Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana, by Kendall Reeves, Spectrum Studio. SPEA thanks the Indiana Univerity
Department of Intercollegiate Athletics for the "assist" in making the photo possible!