KU News: Lecture on brain diseases, ‘The Devils Between Us’ opens and more

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Teruna Siahaan to deliver Distinguished Professor Inaugural Lecture with focus on brain diseases
LAWRENCE – Brain diseases are some of the most difficult to treat, but Teruna Siahaan’s research discoveries might lead to breakthroughs in treatment. Siahaan, the Aya and Takeru Higuchi Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, will deliver his Inaugural Lecture at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1. Individuals can register to attend the Zoom webinar here. His presentation is titled “Delivering Molecules to the Brain.”

‘The Devils Between Us’ opens Dec. 3 at KU Theatre
LAWRENCE – The next production from University Theatre will focus on lifting up LGBTQ and trans voices of color with an emphasis on appropriate casting and care for challenging subject matter. “The Devils Between Us,” opening Dec. 3 at the University of Kansas, is unusual in many respects for a university premiere. Cast and crew members include Kansas students from Andover, Lawrence and Topeka.

Topeka junior wins undergraduate research award
LAWRENCE – Kade Townsend, a junior from Topeka at the University of Kansas, has been awarded the Courtwright Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence through KU’s Center for Undergraduate Research for his scholarship on antibiotic resistance. The $500 award honors undergraduate students with majors in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences whose research and creative works stand to make meaningful contributions to their fields of study. Award finalists included two students from Lawrence.

New grant aims to improve writing skills of Alaska Native students
LAWRENCE – Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems (ATLAS), a center within the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas, has partnered with Alaska’s Arctic Slope Community Foundation to improve Alaska Native students’ writing skills so they are better prepared for success after high school. A $1.75 million grant from the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education’s Alaska Native Education program supports the three-year Writing and Revising Interventions to Excel project, which will reach more than 3,000 students in 10 rural school districts.

Full stories below.

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Contact: Evan Riggs, [email protected]
Teruna Siahaan to deliver Distinguished Professor Inaugural Lecture with focus on brain diseases
LAWRENCE — Brain diseases are some of the most difficult to treat, but Teruna Siahaan’s research discoveries might lead to breakthroughs in treatment. Siahaan, the Aya and Takeru Higuchi Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, will deliver his Inaugural Lecture at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1. Individuals can register to attend the Zoom webinar here. His presentation is titled “Delivering Molecules to the Brain.”

The lecture will be recorded for those unable to attend the virtual event and posted to the Faculty Development website.

Siahaan also serves as a fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. He is director of the school’s Center for Global Health, KU School of Pharmacy, a member of the school’s executive committee and a member of the executive board of directors of the Globalization Pharmaceutics Education Network Organization.

A pillar of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Siahaan joined the university in 1991 as an assistant professor and was named associate chair in 2006. Before coming to KU, Siahaan worked as a research investigator at Sterling Drug Inc.

Siahaan’s research focuses on improving drug delivery to the brain and immune cells. He has published 200 papers, obtained 12 patents and edited two books. His research method has successfully been used to deliver small molecule drugs and neurotrophic protein into the brains of brain disease animal models such as medulloblastoma brain tumor, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases are difficult to treat because it is difficult to deliver drugs from the bloodstream into the brain,” Siahaan said. “This is due to the blood-brain barrier (BBB) as a barricade between the blood and the brain. We found a method to increase the porosity of the blood-brain barrier to enhance the penetration of drugs from the bloodstream into the brain. We hope that our method can improve brain delivery of drugs for the treatment of brain diseases.”

The longtime KU faculty member has received several honors and awards, including Self Faculty Scholar, Pfizer Research Scholar, 2013 Mentor of the Year from the KU Office for Diversity in Science Training and 2014 PhRMA Foundation Award for Excellence in Pharmaceutics.

Siahaan earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona and his master’s degree in organic chemistry from the University of Indonesia. He also served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Santa Barbara.
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Contact: Lisa Coble-Krings, 785-864-5685, [email protected]
‘The Devils Between Us’ opens Dec. 3 at KU Theatre
LAWRENCE — The next production from University Theatre will focus on lifting up LGBTQ and trans voices of color with an emphasis on appropriate casting and care for challenging subject matter. “The Devils Between Us,” opening Dec. 3 at the University of Kansas, is unusual in many respects for a university premiere.

“In ‘Devils,’ Latifa walks into the play not as someone unfinished or irreparably damaged by her past. Instead, when she returns to her hometown, she seems to have been the only one who has done the work to grow, change and begin to love who she is,” said Cara Hinh, the director. “Something great that Sharifa Yasmin, the playwright, has done in this script is that she has shown how the people who have the most privilege, who have societal positioning and leverage like George, a white cis middle-class man, can make the decision to instead trap themselves into a world where they can’t express or be who they want in order to maintain the status quo of patriarchal power.”

Some of the highlights around KU’s production of “The Devils Between Us”:
• Yasmin, via Zoom and in person, has collaborated with guest director Hinh and the cast on revising portions of this original script, which will have its university premiere at KU.
• With the help of casting director Charlie Hano, KU Theatre hired an Arab-American trans person, a professional actor, writer, musician and performing artist named Elle Walker.
• Four rehearsals were set aside for cast members to learn from intimacy choreographer Jenise Cook.
• Post-show talkbacks on Dec. 3 and 5 and a pre-show discussion Dec. 4 are scheduled to augment the experience and expand on the show’s themes.

The play might just alter the way audiences perceive transgender community members, individuals who practice Islam, or both. Anger and regret are portrayed in the work, but there is also a sense of hope and fulfillment, Hinh said. Yasmin’s writing takes audiences into rural South Carolina where a trans Muslim woman, Latifa, returns to her hometown for her estranged father’s funeral and reunites with her teenage lover, George.

The play will be performed Dec. 3-9, excluding Dec 6, in the William Inge Memorial Theatre at Murphy Hall. The Dec. 5 performance is at 2:30 p.m. All others are at 7:30 p.m.
Post- and pre-show discussion schedule:
• Dec. 3, post-show: a meet-the-playwright conversation between Yasmin and Hinh follows the show and will focus primarily on centering trans voices.
• Dec. 4, pre-show: discussion about and with queer local artists and activists at 4 p.m. in 354 Murphy Hall.
• Dec. 5, post-show: panel featuring leaders from KC Transformations.

All post-show panels will be held in the Inge Theatre. Dates and topics are subject to change.

Tickets for “The Devils Between Us” are available for purchase by calling 785-864-3982, visiting the University Theatre Ticket Office in Murphy Hall, or online through kutheatre.com.

The play includes sexual themes and descriptions of violence against the LGBTQ+ community. For more information about the content of the play, please the KU Theatre website.

Hinh is a queer, fat and mixed Vietnamese American director and educator originally from Indiana. As the child of a refugee, they are drawn to work about and for people of the diaspora that expands the ideas of American identity. Hinh rejoices in work that speaks to the complicated and messy intersectionalities of holding a multiplicity of cultures and identities. Hinh is a 2021-22 Drama League Hangar Fellow and a proud member of the Roundabout Directors Group. For more, visit carahinh.com.

Walker (she/her) is an actor, musician and performance artist based in Chicago and represented by Paonessa Talent. Chicago stage credits include Madge in “Picnic” (American Theatre Company), Gavriella in “Mosquitoes” (Steep Theatre), “Cinderella at the Theatre of Potatoes,” “Dracula” (the Hypocrites), “The Addams Family” (Mercury Theater), and three summers as a featured artist with “The Fly Honey Show” (the Inconvenience). Her film and TV work include “Work in Progress” (Showtime), “Soundtrack” (Netflix), “Alex/October,” “Kappa Force” and “Two in the Bush.” She is a member of SAG-AFTRA.

In addition to Walker, “The Devils Between Us” cast consists of Chris Pendry, a Lawrence senior, as George; Isabella Lind, a Solvang, California, junior, as Barb; and Jordan Ray, a Topeka sophomore, as Hunter. The creative team is rounded out by KU students Cassandra Ludlum, a Topeka third-year student, as costume designer; McKenzie Needham, an Andover senior, as lighting designer; Marzieh Ashrafian, a doctoral student, as dramaturg; and India MacDonald, a Topeka junior, as the stage manager. In addition to Cook, a professional freelance intimacy choreographer, the production also features Dave Wanner, scene shop manager in the Department of Theatre & Dance, as scenic designer; and Kayleigh Shaffer, a recent alumna and freelance lighting and sound technician, as sound designer.

The University Theatre is a production wing of the University of Kansas’ Department of Theatre & Dance, offering six public productions during the academic year. The University Theatre productions are funded in part by Student Senate fees, and supported by Truity Credit Union. For more information on the University Theatre or to purchase tickets, visit KUtheatre.com.

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Contact: Matt Downen, [email protected]
Topeka junior wins undergraduate research award
LAWRENCE – Kade Townsend, a junior from Topeka at the University of Kansas, has been awarded the Courtwright Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence through KU’s Center for Undergraduate Research.

Townsend is majoring in microbiology and is mentored by Josephine Chandler, associate professor of molecular biosciences. Townsend’s undergraduate research project explores the evolution of antibiotic resistance of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes severe infections in patients with cystic fibrosis and other immunocompromising conditions.

Townsend has been conducting experiments in the Chandler Lab in the Department of Molecular Biosciences with the intent that the research could lead to creating efficient treatments for infections. Townsend has presented this research at local, regional and national conferences, with plans to submit to a scientific journal. To learn more about Townsend’s research project, view this poster from the Kansas Undergraduate Research Day held in March 2021.

The Courtwright Award for Undergraduate Research Excellence was established at KU Endowment in 2020 through the contributions of David (c’74) and Chris Courtwright (c’83, j’83). The Courtwright Award seeks to recognize undergraduate students with majors in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences whose research and creative works stand to make meaningful contributions to their fields of study. Townsend will receive $500 in addition to the normal $1,000 Undergraduate Research Award that they received this summer.

“We are grateful that the generosity of the Courtwrights allows us to recognize some of the exceptional research done by undergraduates at the university,” said Alison Olcott, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research. “The work done by Kade Townsend, as well as that done by this semester’s Courtwright Award finalists, has the potential to be transformative in their fields and reflects the benefits of the opportunities offered by a vibrant research university like KU.”

Courtwright Award finalists are selected from applications for the Undergraduate Research Awards each semester. Along with Townsend, the other finalists for the Courtwright Award:
• Casey Carlile, of Lawrence, “Merger Signatures of Cold Quasars in the Distant Universe,” mentored by Allison Kirkpatrick, assistant professor of physics & astronomy
• Aisha Mohammed, of Lagos, Nigeria, “Patriarchy from Marriage and Empowerment Through Western Education for Senegalese Women in Mariama Bâ’s Une Si Longue Lettre,” mentored by Gillian Weatherley, lecturer in French, Francophone & Italian studies
• Nicola Santangelo, of Lawrence, “Analyzing the Spoken Language Abilities of Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing,” mentored by Dr. Jena McDaniel, postdoctoral researcher with the Life Span Institute.

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891
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Contact: Jackie Hosey, Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems, [email protected]
New grant aims to improve writing skills of Alaska Native students
LAWRENCE – Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems (ATLAS), a center within the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas, has partnered with Alaska’s Arctic Slope Community Foundation to improve Alaska Native students’ writing skills so they are better prepared for success after high school.

A $1.75 million grant from the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education’s Alaska Native Education program supports the three-year Writing and Revising Interventions to Excel (WRITE) project, which will reach more than 3,000 students in 10 rural school districts. The project will develop research-based learning map models for Alaska career and technical education (CTE) teachers and their students in grades 9-12.

Dale Cope, ATLAS research project director, is WRITE’s principal investigator. Russell Swinburne Romine, ATLAS associate director, and Jennifer Kobrin, ATLAS research and evaluation lead, are co-principal investigators.

The project addresses a problem that is prevalent in Alaska and high schools throughout the United States: CTE teachers are not usually trained to teach argumentative writing.

“Students who graduate high school without the ability to write persuasively often end up in developmental courses in college,” Cope said. “When students enter college needing developmental writing courses, their chances for finishing a degree greatly diminish.”
Patuk Glenn, executive director of the Arctic Slope Community Foundation, said the partnership with ATLAS aligns with the foundation’s mission to improve the quality of life for those in the Arctic Slope region of Alaska. Glenn attended high school in rural Alaska.

After she graduated high school in 2002, she was forced to take remedial writing courses at the University of Alaska.

“When you travel to a big city, that in itself is a big deal. When you then realize your writing skills are not at the level they need to be to succeed, it’s a two-pack punch,” Glenn said.

In many villages in rural Alaska — so remote they are accessible only by airplane — teachers are teaching multiple subjects, and young people must learn the indigenous way of life for survival. “It often comes down to choices like learning to write a resume or learning to hunt with your dad,” she said.

Deborah Riddle, an Alaska Department of Education and Early Development partner on the WRITE project, has experience working with ATLAS and its maps-based system. She said broadening that partnership to include argumentative writing standards taught within the general education curriculum is an exciting prospect.

Cope agrees. “State assessments show us that this problem is not unique to Alaska,” she said. “We’re building on the learning resources created in the earlier projects with new maps to help general education teachers become better writing teachers. I’m excited about where that could lead.”
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