CHSBS in the News

CHSBS faculty win CMU teaching awards

March 5, 2014

​Psychology professor Larissa Niec is recipient of the 2014 CMU President's Award. Niec is an internationally recognized researcher, a licensed psychologist and one of only 16 Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Master Trainers worldwide. 

English faculty member Matthew Echelberger is recipient of a 2014 CMU Excellence in Teaching Award. 

Niec and Echelberger will receive their awards during the 2014 Faculty Excellence Exhibition 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, in the Park Library Auditorium. 

>>Read more

Larissa Niec

 Matthew Echelberger

CHSBS professors Rebecca Hayes and Hope May named Women of Excellence

March 6, 2014

Rebecca HayesCHSBS faculty members Rebecca Hayes and Hope May were honored as Women of Excellence March 6 at the 2014 CMU Woman of the Year Luncheon by the CMU American Council on Education.

Hayes has been a faculty member in the department of sociology, anthropology and social work since 2009. She has a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University, a master’s degree from Michigan State University and a doctoral degree from the University of Florida. She was nominated because of her role as a mentor of female students, an ally to the LGBTQ community and as an activist in the community.

May is a philosophy faculty member, licensed attorney, and has been the director of the CMU Center for Professional and Personal Ethics since 2003. She has a bachelor’s degree from The William Paterson College of New Jersey, as well as master's, doctoral and Juris Doctor degrees from Michigan State University. She was nominated because of her work in human rights and international criminal justice that includes and promotes the work of women.​

Hope May 


​Central Michigan University students study zombies through religion course
Philosophy and religion faculty member Kelly Murphy
"From Revelation to 'The Walking Dead'" ties biblical texts to pop culture

Central Michigan University students are studying zombies through “From Revelation to ‘The Walking Dead,’” a course that explores ancient texts and apocalyptic themes in the media.

“Thinking about the end and imagining life in a different way is something that humans have always done,” said Kelly Murphy, a philosophy and religion faculty member.

Murphy said she has always wanted to teach a course on apocalyptic literature, and she is a fan of “The Walking Dead.”

“The prevalence of apocalyptic stories in various media gives us a window into what people are worrying about, what they hope for and how they imagine they would react in the face of a cataclysmic event,” Murphy said. “In the same way, we can read the Book of Revelation or other ancient apocalyptic texts and learn what ancient Jewish and Christian groups were concerned about and what kind of world they hoped might exist.”

Murphy’s class will discuss ancient biblical texts including the books of Daniel, Enoch and Revelation; review popular novels such as “World War Z;” and watch clips from zombie movies such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “28 Days Later.”

“It’s important to incorporate popular culture into classroom settings because it gives students a means of connecting with the subject,” said Kevin White, a St. Clair Shores senior majoring in political science and religion. “Studying ancient biblical texts isn’t most people’s cup of tea. But, when you add zombies, it instantly becomes everyone’s cup of tea.”

Mount Pleasant senior Devon Wright, an English and history major, has never taken a religion course before and enrolled in the class because of her interest in zombies.

“In the first few weeks, we watched a lot of clips from zombie films and basically went through a history of zombies,” Wright said. “I like the idea of talking about something that’s a theme in pop culture and trying to give it some academic understanding.”

Students also will discuss hypothetical ethical and theological problems people could encounter in a postapocalyptic world.

“In ‘The Walking Dead,’ I think you’re more afraid of the people than the zombies because you don’t know who you can trust,” Wright said. “Zombies you know to stay away from. You’re more afraid of humanity than the undead.”

There are many theories about what zombies represent—such as communism, terrorism, consumerism or environmental disaster, Murphy said. Students in the class will discuss many of these themes in relation to ancient texts and current portrayals in the media.

“I think the professor is dealing with religion in a way where we’re talking about the Bible in a hands-on, easy-to-understand way,” Wright said. “I think most of the students aren’t even religion majors. Most of them just have an interest in zombies.”​


​​New behavior analyst certification program to help autism spectrum patients

​January 27, 2014 from CM Life

CMU's new board certified behavior analyst program will train students to provide services for children with autism and other learning disorders. Students with majors and minors in psychology are eligible to apply. "There is a big need with over 15,000 kids with autism in Michigan and less than 200 behavior analysts," says psychology professor Michael Hixson. Read more

CMU opens one of few parent/child training and research centers in country, expanding parent-child interaction therapy services

Center launched with $375,000 grant from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

December 16, 2013

Central Michigan University’s new Center for Children, Families and Communities expands parent-child interaction therapy services to families in need throughout the state. PCIT is an innovative method to help families with young children experiencing behavior problems learn healthy ways to interact.

The center is one of a few parent/child training locations in the country. It was launched this fall with a $375,000 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The center utilizes state-of-the-art technology to provide real-time coaching to parents to help them learn and practice healthy discipline techniques and enhance their parent-child relationships.

Psychology faculty members Larissa Niec and Ignacio Acevedo are co-directors of the center, leading the PCIT therapy and providing real-world training for CMU undergraduate and graduate students. Opening the center also allows greater opportunities to conduct externally funded research.

“Creating this center significantly increases our capacity for research and training,” said Niec. “Now we’re competing with more research intensive schools like Duke, University of Southern California and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

“We’re working to teach parents to interact with their children in healthy ways,” said Niec. “Historically that’s been done by meeting with the parents, talking about problems and suggesting skills to work on at home. Now with the use of technology we can be involved in real-time parent/child coaching sessions and help them learn and practice skills. And we can monitor the results and make immediate adjustments.”

As many as 35 graduate and undergraduate students each year will gain firsthand knowledge of PCIT and use of cutting-edge technology in the field to help facilitate therapy.

“Having a facility like this with new clients coming through the door really allows for us as first-year students to get involved in opportunities in a clinical setting,” said Jacob White, clinical psychology doctoral candidate from Shelby, Mich. “This typically wouldn’t happen until the second year or later, it really gives you a jump-start.”

Additionally, the center provides PCIT training to professionals in the field throughout the state and across the U.S., expanding the use of the innovative therapy.

“With our telehealth system we can provide training and follow-up consultations to more professionals,” said Niec. “This allows us to further the reach of PCIT therapy to communities beyond the region, even globally.”

The center is located adjacent to CMU’s campus at 2480 West Campus Drive, Suite B100.​


CMU neuroscience student Tia Hall.

CMU's neuroscience program named top in nation

November 11, 2013

Central Michigan University's undergraduate neuroscience program has been selected as the 2013 Undergraduate Program of the Year by the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system.

The award recognizes the accomplishments of a neuroscience department or program for excellence in educating neuroscientists and providing an innovative model other programs can follow. The award was presented at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting on Nov. 10 in San Diego.

CMU’s undergraduate program is very deserving of this award, says Gary Dunbar, director of the neuroscience program.

“This award speaks highly of our program,” said Dunbar.  “Our collective efforts of more than 30 years have been recognized by the international neuroscience community.”

Award recipients are selected for excellence in teaching and positively influencing the lives and careers of their students.

Dunbar works with a team of approximately 50 undergraduate and graduate students every year in CMU’s neuroscience research program. Many of Dunbar’s students receive state and national recognition for their work in the field.

“Research is a critical part of the education we provide, and a lot of young students in our program take advantage of it,” Dunbar said. “I think that’s what we offer that undergraduates can’t get as readily at other major research universities. We’re very proud of integrating students into research.”

In the last five years, CMU students have won nine out of 10 of the awards given to Michigan’s outstanding undergraduate neuroscientists from the Society for Neuroscience. Earlier this year, CMU graduate student Kyle Fink from Lovell, Wyo., received the prestigious Founders Award from the society’s Michigan chapter.

Dunbar and his research team are involved in a new study poised to help reduce cognitive deficits after a stroke. He believes their research may promote recovery from brain damage caused by stroke, traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.

CMU hosts international events to honor centenary of the Peace Palace

Central Michigan University philosophy professor Hope May. 

Photos published October 29, 2013: View on Facebook

Philosophy professor Hope May and Central Michigan University received international recognition this summer for May’s efforts in organizing educational outreach activities surrounding the centennial anniversary of the Peace Palace—known as the seat of international law.

May organized an international conference in The Netherlands for students and young professionals Aug. 25-27 and hosted a public educational ceremony with keynote speakers Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist who received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize; Brigid Inder, executive director of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice; and Stephen J. Rapp, U.S. Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice.

She received a $55,000 grant from the Planethood Foundation to develop student engagement opportunities and build public awareness about the International Criminal Court, the history of international law and the “Peace through Law” approach. Additional funding came from the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Philosophy and Religion at CMU.

The Planethood Foundation, an initiative of former Nuremberg Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz and his son Donald, supports projects pertaining to the International Criminal Court and educational efforts to replace the law of force with the force of law.

“Dr. Hope May is one of the real leaders in the field of trying to make people understand the true value of international law and the International Criminal Court,” says Don Ferencz. “She has been the pioneer in establishing a foothold for students coming to The Hague to introduce them to and to further their interest in this field.”

May also distributed packages of materials about peace history and international law to 30 partners across the globe, including locations in China, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

“It is important that the story of the Peace Palace and the centenary be recognized beyond The Hague,” May says.

“The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘Every person and every institution shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these fundamental rights and freedoms,’” she says. “Sharing the story of the Peace Palace and the movement that surrounded it is one way to do this. So, I am simply doing what I know I must do. I am simply doing what needs to be done.”

Located in The Hague, Netherlands, the Peace Palace is home to the “World Court” of the United Nations, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and an extensive library dedicated to international law. It was built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie and opened on August 28, 1913.

Benjamin Ferencz says he’s looking forward to continuing his collaboration with May.

“Her work is very impressive and demonstrates her skill, dedication, determination and talent – for all of which we are most grateful,” he says. “Mr. Carnegie would be proud.”

State of Michigan Awards $500,000 to CMU psychology faculty for behavior analysis training to treat autism

October 9, 2013

The Michigan Department of Community Health has awarded $500,000 to psychology professors to increase the number of professionals trained to serve individuals in Michigan with autism spectrum disorders.

CMU faculty members Carl Merle Johnson, Sharon Bradley-Johnson, Michael Hixson, Mark Reilly and Katrina Rhymer will train students in applied behavior analysis, which focuses on improving social behaviors of individuals with autism using intervention practices to modify actions and teach new skills.

“Behavior analysis is considered the best treatment of choice for autism because of the results it provides,” said Johnson. “Every individual who receives treatment experiences some improvement. That’s why it’s so important for us to train more people to be able to provide the service. The need is great and growing, particularly here in central and northern Michigan.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder, a neurological condition that affects normal brain function and impacts communication and interaction skills. The U.S. Department of Education estimates the number of individuals diagnosed with ASD is growing nationally at a rate of 10 to 17 percent a year.

The one-year grant began Oct. 1 and will certify 25 undergraduate students as Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and eight graduate students as Board Certified Behavior Analysts. The grant is part of a statewide effort to improve services for people with autism. CMU’s program is designed to serve those in central and northern Michigan.

Later this semester, students can submit applications to CMU’s psychology department to participate in the program. Training of the first group of students will begin in January.

The use of applied behavior analysis techniques as treatment for individuals with autism has been effective in reducing inappropriate behavior and improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self-care, school and employment. Studies indicate applied behavior analysis, when implemented intensively and early in life, may produce significant gains in development and a reduction in the need for special services.

“Applied behavior analysis may not decrease the number of cases of autism,” said Bradley-Johnson, “but it can certainly improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families.”

New entrance to Anspach HallCMU completes $14.4 million Anspach renovations

September 24, 2013

Central Michigan University has completed the final phase of the two-year Anspach Hall renovation project that began in the summer of 2012. The $14.4 million renovation modernizes the building, which has not been updated since its $2.4 million construction in 1966, by updating the ventilation infrastructure, constructing new sidewalks that are more handicapped-accessible and adding a new space for a student lounge, offices and conference rooms.

“It’s well worth the cost,” says Timothy Hall, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences. “The building is much more usable for students and faculty, and it’s much more energy efficient. In terms of sustainability, there will be some recovery in terms of the cost of the project over the life of the building.”

The newly renovated building is projected to save the university more than $50,000 a year in energy costs. Hall says the decision to completely renovate the building began with a discussion to update Anspach Hall’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

As part of the second phase of renovations, CMU completed updates on the new high-tech ventilation system to better control indoor temperatures in the most cost-efficient way; modernized the electrical systems with new lighting and occupancy sensors; added a new roof over the office area and a canopy over the west entrance; constructed new sidewalks that are more handicapped-accessible; and added a new space to the building that allows for a student lounge, extra offices and two new conference rooms.

Sara VanderVeen, project manager with the plant engineering and planning department in facilities management, says the renovations will prove to be a great benefit to the university and the more than 25,000 students who walk through Anspach Hall each week.

“Design matters,” VanderVeen said. “It’s the most heavily used building on campus, one of the major faces of the university. For students to have a place like the student lounge to work together and mingle in between classes is an exciting opportunity. It makes for a much more pleasant experience.

>>Click here to view photo gallery of the new lounge




New study at CMU could help reduce cognitive deficits after a stroke

September 23, 2013

Gary Dunbar, director of the neuroscience program at Central Michigan University, believes his research team may have taken a step in the right direction toward furthering research to promote the recovery of the brain after damage caused by stroke, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.

Dunbar, who was quoted in a feature by Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, says the method used in his research is innovative to the field.

“Our research uses a relatively new way of assessing cognitive problems after a stroke, a fairly recent technique to create a stroke in a mouse, and it uses adult stem cells to treat the stroke,” Dunbar said. “The combination of those three relatively new techniques combined makes it a fairly interesting and novel study.”

As part of the research, rats are injected in the brain with a hormone that temporarily constricts blood vessels that carry oxygen. By depriving the brain tissue of oxygen, the cells begin to die out, mimicking a stroke. This allows the team to assess cognitive learning problems that follow a stroke, such as memory difficulties.

To treat the stroke, the team injects bone-marrow-derived stem cells into the brain that produce proteins to reduce brain swelling and help damaged cells survive, function better or return to normal function faster.

In evaluating the experiment, Dunbar and his team discovered stroke rats that were injected with stem cells could perform tasks with significantly fewer mistakes than rats with strokes that did not receive the stem cell injections. In fact, Dunbar reports that stem cell-treated stroke rats could perform nearly as well as rats that did not have a stroke.

“The stem cells are producing proteins to help the brain work better,” Dunbar said. “The question we’re asking is if these stem cells can produce proteins to help the brain remember and reduce cognitive deficits. We believe these stem cells can do that.”

Dunbar credits lead author and CMU alumnus Steven Lowrance, ’13, for the success of this project. Dunbar works with a team of approximately 50 students every year in his neuroscience research. Many of Dunbar’s graduate and undergraduate students receive state and national recognition for their work in the field.

“It speaks highly of our program,” Dunbar said. “It’s a critical part of their education and a lot of young students in our program take advantage of it. I think that’s what we offer that undergraduates can’t get as readily at other major research universities. We’re very proud of integrating students into research.”

CMU students dig the real-world archaeology experience

Anthropology summer course takes students to Emmet County
June 24, 2013

Central Michigan University anthropology students spent last week driving their shovels into the ground to unearth the past in Emmet County. As part of their Archaeological Field Methods summer course, approximately 10 students traveled to the historic McGulpin Point Lighthouse to dig up the building’s storied history.

The McGulpin Point Lighthouse, built in 1869, operated as a beacon in the Straits of Mackinac for ships carrying lumber and ore to Chicago until its light was extinguished in 1906.

During their stay in Emmet County, CMU students received hands-on archaeology experience digging at the site of a former barn. Students utilized excavation practices, such as removing 10-centimeter layers of dirt within established boundaries, sifting the dirt and examining its contents. The class was careful to keep extensive journals on its research activity and draw detailed maps.

During their excavation, students discovered several artifacts, including a pocketknife and the remains of a child’s toy.

“The artifacts tell us a little bit more about the rich story of the personalities and the people who lived here,” says Sarah Surface-Evans, CMU anthropology faculty member leading the summer course.

After a period of cleaning and analysis at CMU, the artifacts are sent back to the lighthouse to be displayed and offer visitors a look into the past.

Senior Steven Smendzuik of Beulah says Surface-Evans emphasizes the importance of excavating systematically and with respect.

“I think I’ll be walking away with a lot of skills that I can take forward into a career in cultural resources management,” Smendzuik said, speaking to his career goals of conducting archaeological work for the U.S. government. “It’s very important work.”

In addition to the excavation at McGulpin Point Lighthouse, students also had the opportunity to work with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe at the former Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School site. Surface-Evans says conducting the course at the Boarding School is unique because most field schools do not have the opportunity to work directly with their community like CMU’s course allows them to.

Click here to view photo gallery



CMU students win top awards at state neuroscience conference

CMU has won nine out of 10 undergraduate awards in past five years

 Kyle Fink

June 19, 2013 —

Central Michigan University’s Kyle Fink of Lovell, Wyo. is this year’s recipient of the state’s most coveted award for outstanding neuroscience research by a graduate student. The Michigan Chapter of the Society of Neuroscience honored Fink with the Founders Award.

In addition, seniors Phillip Starski of Goodrich and Tia Hall from Inkster both received top honors for their undergraduate neuroscience research. They competed with 33 other undergraduate neuroscientists from around the state. In the last five years, CMU has won nine out of 10 awards given to Michigan’s outstanding undergraduate neuroscientists.

“This award is a tremendous honor for me,” said Fink. “I am the first awardee from CMU and one of the first outside of UM, MSU or Wayne State to win the award. This truly reflects the growth of the lab and is a validation of the research that is being conducted at CMU.”

Fink’s research involves the use of adult stem cell therapies for Huntington's disease. He has been working with a new type of adult stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, which can be isolated from non-embryonic tissue, such as skin cells, and transformed into any cell in the body, including brain cells. This technology has tremendous potential for diseases associated with aging.

“Kyle, Phil and Tia are great examples of the many outstanding students we have in our neuroscience program who have taken full advantage of the student-centered, cutting-edge research opportunities here at CMU,” said Gary Dunbar, psychology and neuroscience faculty member. “The magnitude of their research has the potential to positively impact treatments for some of the major neurological diseases that affect millions of people throughout the world.”

Starski is exploring stem cells taken from fat tissue. He’s researching whether stem cells taken from fat are as good as stem cells from bone marrow. He has found the cells reduce some of the symptoms of Huntington’s disease in mice.

Hall is researching a possible therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease using an experimental drug, examining its effectiveness in alleviating some of the symptoms. With no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, this type of study is crucial in helping scientists better understand the neurodegenerative disorder.

“Receiving an honor of this caliber would not have been possible without the phenomenal undergraduate research experience I received at the Field Neurosciences Research Laboratory at CMU,” said Hall. “The training and support given by my adviser, Gary Dunbar, the graduate students and my peers that aided me in conducting this research project. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be surrounded by, doing what I love — research.”


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