Lionhearted Leaders

They teach. They mentor. They impact.

And they bring a wealth of experience, engagement (and fun!) to the classroom. Each department picked one faculty member who has been outstanding this past year.

Meet our featured Lionhearted Leaders below! We will be sharing more about their peers—and their accomplishments—throughout the 2021-22 academic year.

Meet Your Amazing Professors

J. Curtis Creighton

Professor of Biological Sciences

I really like all things outdoors. I like to hike, watch birds, hunt and fish to name a few outdoor activities that I particularly enjoy. I also enjoy working out – whether outside or in a gym.

Dr. Creighton says working with students in his lab has been the most satisfying thing he has done as a professor. During the past 20+ years, he has graduated 11 MS thesis students and two Ph.D. students, and worked with a number of undergraduate and non-thesis graduate students. “These students have left my lab and later become doctors, veterinarians, physician assistants, optometrists, dentists, pharmacists, college professors, researchers, teachers and more. That makes me feel good!” Dr. Creighton feels his work on the PNW Faculty Research Board helps promote research on campus and gives students important hands-on experience.

Meet Professor Creighton

Jim Higley

Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology

More than anything, I enjoy helping students learn how to make things in the ANDR 140 Manufacturing Laboratory.

Professor Higley doesn’t engage in traditional scholarly activities. He works with local and national companies in the areas of design and manufacturing, and these connections have resulted in numerous students placed in jobs, current skills brought back to the classroom, and five US patents. He runs a program on Friday afternoons called “Introduction to Design and Manufacturing” for a small group of middle and high school students, which educates the students to the same skill level as many adults in the proper and safe use of industrial equipment. In 34 years of teaching, his favorite moments are when students finally understand a concept that has been eluding them.

Meet Professor Higley

Wendy St. Jean

Associate Professor of History

Cardio drumming at the Hammond YMCA is how I take time for myself. I’m also a Volleyball Mom. I can’t play at all but I cheer on my daughter who’s team captain of the Illiana Jr.’s.

Dr. St. Jean is interested in the way the environment and natural disasters have shaped history. In her last Civil War class, they discussed how torrential rain affected the outcome of General George McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign. “So many students had bad weather-insect stories. It was great. They could really relate to what life on the march was like for 19th century soldiers.” She also took a group of students to Huntington, Indiana, to do restoration work on Chief Richardville’s home, and hopes to travel more with students in the future.

Meet Professor St. Jean

Yun (Tom) Liu

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

I like swimming in Lake Michigan. During the summer, I bike on Lake Shore Drive close to the Michiana Boundary, and then go swimming in the lake.

Liu is most proud of developing a new approach of studying the complex flow on flying insects. This research allowed him to understand the unsteady aerodynamics of hawkmoths, which can lead to the design and development of more efficient flapping wing robots. He enjoys teaching fluid mechanics, and remembers how much fun a class had when he asked them to play a paper airplane game that really helped the students learn the new concept. Liu was the first recipient of the PNW Engineering Faculty Internship Program, where he worked with engineers at Dwyer Instruments to help develop and improve a novel 4-channel Pitot tube sensor, leading to a redesign of one of their products.

Meet Professor Yun Liu

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Meden Isaac-Lam

Associate Professor, Chemistry

Learning something new is my hobby and a habit. When not teaching, discovering, or serving, this is what I do: Learning about meditation as a form of relaxation and exploring different healthy diets.

The most fulfilling moment of Isaac-Lam’s career at PNW happens when her Organic Chemistry students are accepted into medical school. “This makes me feel that I performed my role as a teacher to the best of my abilities.” She is well known for her invention of drug therapeutics for cancer (two patents) and a published article on alcohol determination with more than 36,000 views.

Isaac-Lam also has a project that recruits American military service members with PTSD, using MRI to study the effect of smoking in specific regions of the brain. With this research, she is honored to serve the brave American soldiers who serve and protect us.

Meet Professor Issac Lam

Alicia January Headshot

Alicia January

Assistant Professor, Psychology

When I’m not working, I like spending time with my family! Our most recent adventures have been exploring the outdoors, including hiking the trails in the region and finding fun places to camp.

One of January’s favorite courses to teach is her introductory course, where students get to learn about concepts for the very first time. She loves being able to see students connect with the course material and relate it to the real world. Her research focuses on exploring the psychosocial and medical outcomes of childhood spinal cord injury and dysfunction.

This important research is done in collaboration with Shriners Children’s Chicago, where January also serves on the medical and research staff. At PNW, she is a member of the CHESS Faculty.

Meet Professor January

Chen Ye Headshot

Chen Ye

Associate Professor, Management Information Systems

I enjoy reading about technologies and watching movies and documentaries. I also like to travel. I wish I could eventually visit most of the national parks in North America.

Ye is passionate about helping students to demystify information technologies and develop the necessary skills for a successful professional business career. He has taught a variety of courses in areas ranging from database design to web development. Recently, he developed a new course introducing the blockchain technology. Students learn how this disruptive technology is applied in different business areas to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

He also guided several groups of students in analyzing the public opinion toward different social topics related to the pandemic in a Business Information Analytics capstone project.

Meet Professor Ye

Afshin Zaheree is pictured.

Afshin Zahraee

Assistant Professor, Construction Engineering and Management Technology

Zahraee is an avid sports fan and even hosts and produces his own soccer podcast.

The most interesting PNW teaching moment for Zahraee started with a strength of materials class that severely underperformed on their first exam of the semester. Instead of simply showing solutions, announcing the average, and harping on the students for doing poorly, he had a discussion with the class to see what “we” can do better.

“That’s right, WE. I wanted the students to know we are all a team in this and that how they do reflects on how well I am teaching as well.”

Meet Professor Zahraee

Shuhui Grace Yang is pictured.

Shuhui Grace Yang

Professor, Computer Science

Yang enjoys going to conferences with her students and watching them present their work to the professional community.

Shuhui Grace Yang’s research interests include wireless communication, mobile computing, parallel and distributed systems, wireless security and privacy and social network applications. She always challenges her students with real-world problems in class, and involves students with her research work. Her students have received more than 10 research awards from both internal and external resources.

Yang’s National Science Foundation sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduate students (REU) program with the research topic of “Sustainable Wireless Communication” was the first REU site at PNW.

Meet Professor Yang

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Mary Beth O'Connor

Associate Professor, Communication

When not teaching, O’Connor practices storytelling by creating memories with family and friends through the art of writing, gardening, crafting, decorating, cooking and entertaining.

Mary Beth O’Connor believes that the art of teaching lies not only in conveying course content, but also by helping students learn about the world and most importantly themselves. She believes that creating a safe space and building a sense of community is vital to a student’s success.

O’Connor celebrates her students’ work, personal growth, and the lessons they teach her. Her students have won over 100 prestigious awards for classroom work. She’s proud to see many go on to highly successful careers which involve winning several entertainment industry awards including local and national Emmys®.

Meet Professor O’Connor

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Matthew Bauman

ASSOCIATE Professor, HTM

Matthew Bauman is most proud of the opportunities to engage undergraduate students in research.

This past spring, he and two students applied for and received an undergraduate research award to explore expressions of gratitude in the hospitality and tourism industry. His project with another student is currently analyzing sustainable tourism and the impact of short-term rentals on Michigan City, IN. Bauman teaches Sales and Service for Beverage Operations, a fun class where students get to experience beverages from water and soda to coffee and tea to wine and beer.

He loves to spend time with his 10-year-old chocolate Labrador, Lee. He also enjoys exploring local restaurants, as well as visiting wineries and breweries. Traveling is one of his great passionshe most recently visited Amsterdam for the first time!

Meet Professor Bauman

Bethany Lee is pictured.

Bethany Lee

Assistant Professor, English

Bethany Lee enjoys spending time with her two sons, ages 5 and 13, and she loves trying new recipes and restaurants. Her five-year-old has recently joined in her quest to “try every food.”
Being part of helping students share their writing and art with the PNW community is one of Lee’s greatest joys. A few years ago, a student of hers produced the entire PNW student literary magazine herself, an impressive task. The student, a trans woman, decided to publish as her chosen name for the first time—the name she’d made for herself.

“This moment demonstrates everything I love about teaching creative writing, literature, and composition: When students create, they make new works and new worlds—not only within their writing but also within themselves.”

Meet Professor Lee

Quamar Niyaz is pictured.

Quamar Niyaz

Assistant Professor, Computer Engineering

When not teaching or researching, Niyaz enjoys spending time with his family, cooking and watching movies.

Niyaz’s work focuses on applying artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) based techniques for system and network security. He is active in spreading cybersecurity skills and awareness among his students through federal sponsored grants and enjoys engaging PNW students to work in those grants as researchers.

In teaching, Niyaz introduces his students to state-of-the-art technologies used in industry and academia. He finds immense joy mentoring his students for pursuing higher education and seeking employment.

Meet Professor Niyaz

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Jodi Allen

ASSISTANT Professor, NURSING

LOVES traveling! Allen has been to 49 U.S. states, four continents and multiple countries. She enjoys immersing herself in new cultures, eating all the delicious food and meeting new people.

Jodi Allen’s most interesting PNW teaching moment came during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was instructing graduate family nurse practitioner students who were also working on the frontlines of health care.

“It was eye-opening to see the fatigue on students’ faces and frustration in their comments, but also their resiliency. We were all able to commiserate and lean on each other. For me, it showed the importance of faculty being cognizant of our students’ lives outside of class and how that can impact their coursework.”

Meet Professor Allen

Michael Tu is pictured.

Michael Tu

Professor, Computer Information Technology

Enjoys long distance running and soccer. Was an athlete competing for 5K and 10K running, representing his university as an undergraduate and graduate student and joined local soccer leagues for fun.

Michael Tu enjoys seeing his students take all the challenges and overcome all the obstacles to succeed with their goals. “I have a couple of students who were struggling with low GPAs at their first year here and finally graduated as the most successful students with high GPAs and received well-paid cybersecurity job offers.”

He is very proud of his contribution on cybersecurity workforce development. The PNW CyberCorps scholarship program prepares a highly qualified future workforce for placement in U.S. government agencies.

Meet Professor Tu

LaVada Taylor is pictured.

LaVada Taylor

ASSOCIATE Professor, EDUCATION

When she is not teaching, researching, or serving, LaVada Taylor enjoys spending time with family and friends, a dance art form called stepping, and swimming.

LaVada Taylor remembers when a former student had trouble at home that gravely impacted her academic work and she dropped out of school.

“I assured her that when she returned, I would be here and asked her to promise me that no matter what, she would not give up on her dream of becoming a teacher.” That student kept her promise and returned to school. Taylor was there for her and made sure that she received additional support, which helped her excel as a student. Today, that former student is now a teacher!

Meet Professor Taylor

Grethe Hystad

Grethe Hystad

Associate Professor, Statistics

Honored with carrying the Olympic torch for the Lillehammer Winter Games. It was even more memorable because her glove caught fire!

Grethe Hystad’s research focuses on solving statistical problems in the new and emerging fields of Mineral Evolution and Mineral Ecology. She has mentored several PNW students on research projects which have led to collaboration on research papers and book chapters. Two of her undergraduate students have given talks at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting.

“I enjoy watching my students succeed in class as well as seeing them obtain great positions or go to graduate school.”

Meet Professor Hystad

Kim Scipes

Kim Scipes

Professor, Sociology

Has lived in 13 different states and traveled to 48, traveled around the world in 90 days in 2018 and has conducted research on six of the seven continents!

Kim Scipes is a global labor scholar who studies workers and their movements around the world. He is a long-time political and social activist, trying to make the world a better place for all. He loves working with students and teaches them how to think critically about everything they read and hear, including from HIM!

He wants students to think, and to challenge him when they disagree (even on exams). He works to develop his students into engaged citizens.

“I’m in love with the world and I try to share that with all whom I come in contact!”

Meet Professor Scipes

Jane Thomas

Jane Thomas

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior

Worked in HR, completed her PhD and started as an assistant professor all before the age of 30.

Jane Thomas is especially proud of her research on employee emotions in the workplace, which has been featured in the Wall Street Journal. She has won a best paper award for her work on how people manage their emotions in meetings with their supervisors and given a talk in the Leadership Institute at PNW called “Work Meetings Stink! How to Lead Better Meetings.”

She enjoys being the faculty advisor of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Because the PNW HR program is SHRM-aligned, this means students can sit for the professional certification upon completion of our program.

Meet Professor Thomas

Congratulations to All the Honorees!