Students with Disabilities Reach Out to High Schoolers

Julia Williams, junior at UT and member of the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance

When Julia Williams was a high school student in Nashville, she aspired to study science in college. But with her diagnosis of ADHD, she wondered about the unique challenges she might encounter and didn’t know who to turn to for answers.

Today students like Williams, now a junior in microbiology at UT, can find those answers by turning to groups like the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance, which aims to improve the success of students with disabilities in the STEM disciplines.

At a Meet-Greet-&-Eat event held last week at the L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville, Williams and other members from the STEM Alliance chatted over pizza and cookies with  high school students with disabilities who are interested in the STEM fields. The UT students shared tips and resources based on their own experiences in navigating STEM majors on the college campus. UT faculty and staff who work with students with disabilities also attended and shared resources. About 20 high schoolers attended.

“This event was really empowering for our students,” said Lucinda Parramore, Special Education Department Chair at the L&N STEM Academy. “The UT students shared very insightful, personal, and realistic stories about their own experiences in college and how it relates to their disability. For a student with a disability, having peers here talking with them, being honest about their experiences, was encouraging and really lends credibility.”

After the meeting, Parramore said that a parent of one of the high school students told her that the meeting was particularly inspirational for her son. Prior to the meeting, the student had worried a lot about his ability to succeed in college, but hearing from college students was inspirational and showed a path toward success.

Williams has been involved in the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance since she was sophomore at UT and says it has been a invaluable resource in learning how to advocate for herself. The group has also helped her know her rights around disclosing her disability and for getting learning accommodations based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said it is something she wished she had available to her when she was in high school considering taking on a difficult college major.

“I didn’t know anything about what to expect. It was hard to find any information or who to talk to. Some people even discouraged me from going into microbiology, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Williams said.

The UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance also provides scholarship funds to students. Usually meeting bi-weekly throughout the semester, the group holds discussions with speakers on professional development topics, such as careers, resume writing, mentorship, graduate schools and internships. The group also has informal gatherings to share ideas and provide support.

Due the success of last week’s meeting, Parramore hopes to have more meetings with the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance and expand it to other Knoxville schools that focus on STEM. She also aspires to develop a mentor program with the college students.

“Having older peers share so openly about their disabilities with the high school students is really empowering. They help mitigate concerns [that the high schoolers] might have about how to succeed in college and help them know about what support is out there,” Parramore said.

Representatives from the Knox County Schools system also attended the Meet-Eat-&-Greet at L&N, including Mike Scripa who works with students with disabilities throughout Knox County. Scripa found the meeting beneficial.

“I was impressed by the maturity of the members of the support group. Their message was empowering and relatable,” he said. “I felt that it provided our students with clarity regarding the importance of seeking helpful relationships in support of their transition goals, regardless of their disability.”

If you or someone you know might be interested in becoming involved with the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance, visit its website for more information or contact advisor Suzanne Lenhart ( or NIMBioS Education Coordinator Greg Wiggins (

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NIMBioS Sweep: Spring Awards Round-up

As the spring semester winds down here on the UT campus, congratulations are in order for a number of NIMBioS-affiliated faculty and staff who received accolades for service and academics.

Suzanne Lenhart
Associate Director for Education and Outreach

At the UT Mathematics Department Honors Day Events, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart was nominated for a 2018 End-of-Year Service Award by the Math Graduate Students Committee. The award honors “outstanding contribution to graduate students not directly related to duties as an instructor of record (eg. advising, mentoring).” In nominating Lenhart, graduate students wrote: “This incredible individual works tirelessly to make sure she is taking care of the needs of everyone with whom she works with. The help and path she has put myself and many others on is very deserving of a service award.”

“Dr. Lenhart is an excellent mentor and helps tremendously in the navigation research, professional development and networking. Despite her very busy schedule, she always makes time for students,” wrote another graduate student.

(L to R): UT math professor Morwen Thistlethwaite, Sam Duchscherer, and Louis Gross at the UT Mathematics Department Honors Day Events.

Graduate students also made their mark. The Mathematics Department honored Samantha Duchscherer who received the Yueh-er, Hong-hsu & Clarence Cheng Kuo Fellowship Award for her master’s thesis, “Classifying Building Usages: A Machine Learning Approach on Building Extractions.” Duchscherer was supported by a contract to NIMBioS and her thesis advisor is NIMBioS Director Louis J. Gross. Following graduation this spring, Duchscherer has accepted a position as a post masters research associate with the Geographic Information Science and Technology  group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


NIMBioS GRA Danielle Burton

Over at the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet, NIMBioS Graduate Research Assistant Danielle Burton  was awarded the LGBTQ Student Leadership Award, given by the Commission for LGBT People to a student who demonstrates a commitment to advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues on campus. Burton is a doctoral candidate in mathematics whose research focuses on optimal control of difference equations describing populations and on examining the effects of processes such as harvesting or dispersal on individual or coupled populations. More details here.


(L to R): Faculty Advisor Beth Schussler and her student Miranda Chen at the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet. Photo Credit: Marilyn Kallet

Miranda Chen, a doctoral student in ecology & evolutionary biology, was awarded a Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Community Service for her contributions to the university community through leadership and service. During the spring semester, Chen conducted an independent study with the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER) at NIMBioS. She also helped NISER with evaluating the Possibilities in Post-Secondary Education & Science (PiPES) program. She is working with NISER to write a paper for The Qualitative Report Journal that includes best practices in the evaluation of STEM education outreach programs using qualitative data from multiple stakeholders. Chen will continue her research this summer with NISER and NIMBioS.

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US Defense Department Supports New DySoC Research on Political Instability

KNOXVILLE—The Arab Spring, the collapse of democracy in Turkey, civil wars in Africa, and continued violence in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq—imagine the possibilities if we could truly understand the socio-political forces at play, make better predictions about when violent outbreaks might happen and thus better assess the resilience of human societies to political instability.

That is the thrust of new research by NIMBioS Associate Director for Scientific Activities Sergey Gavrilets who was recently awarded a three-year grant from the US Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative. Gavrilets also directs of the Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity (DySoC) at NIMBioS.

The project, “Integrating structural theories of revolution with evolutionary models to predict societal resilience and (in)stability,” will develop new mathematical modeling tools to investigate political revolutions and the resilience of human societies to shocks. The research will use data from Egypt, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia to validate the models and test predictions. [Read more]

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NIMBioS/NISER Efforts Highlighted in NSF Report to Nation

A new National Science Foundation report highlights NIMBioS’ and NISER’s efforts in the “bold, new initiative in broadening participation in STEM” called NSF INCLUDES.

A comprehensive national initiative begun in 2013, NSF INCLUDES aims “to enhance U.S. leadership in science and engineering discovery and innovation by proactively seeking and effectively developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent from all sectors and groups in our society.” INCLUDES stands for “Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science.”

One of NSF’s Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments, NSF INCLUDES invests in pilot projects and funds alliances and partnerships that use research-based, collaborative change strategies aimed to broaden participation in STEM. A total of 69 pilot grants were awarded in 2016 and 2017. The grants have been awarded to projects that provide STEM engagement for students and communities to promote STEM studies and careers; enhance support systems for undergraduate and graduate STEM students; strengthen institutional capacity; address students’ STEM identity, attitudes and motivation; prepare STEM educators; address career needs of STEM professionals; and expand access to quality STEM education.

The new 24-page NSF INCLUDES Report to the Nation highlights the NIMBioS/NISER conference on Multiscale Evaluation in STEM Education (NSF Award #1650390) held in February 2017. The conference and associated activities taught participants how to develop evaluation plans for NSF INCLUDES projects. It included a pre-conference tutorial on “Modern Methods in Program Evaluation” and a two-day conference. More than 100 participants from across the nation attended. A pre-conference webinar, “Program Evaluation 101,” was attended by more than 100 virtual participants. The hour-long video has been viewed more than 250 times.

Continuing its involvement in NSF INCLUDES, NIMBioS/NISER is currently hosting a series of monthly evaluation-focused webinars to help viewers develop evaluation plans that meet the needs of INCLUDES Pilot and Alliance Projects. The free webinars will be of interest to those involved in current or upcoming INCLUDES projects, those considering collaborating in such projects, and STEM educators considering inclusion of formal evaluation in their projects.

The next webinar, scheduled for next Thursday, April 2, at 2 p.m. EST, will focus on “Engaging Diverse Populations in Evaluations of NSF INCLUDES Projects.” Past webinars, as well as the webinar slides and the associated chat, may be viewed at Online registration for future webinars is also available at the link.

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Congrats to Director Gross!

Louis J. Gross
NIMBioS Director

Congratulations to NIMBioS Director Louis Gross, who has received a top award from the Southeastern Conference. Gross was honored with the 2018 SEC Faculty Achievement Award, the SEC announced today.

The prestigious, university-level award recognizes professors from the 14 SEC universities who have outstanding records in both teaching and scholarship. Honorees from each university receive a $5,000 honorarium and become their university’s nominee for SEC Professor of the Year, to be awarded this spring. The Professor of the Year receives an additional $15,000 honorarium and is recognized at an SEC awards dinner in Destin, Florida.

The award was established in 2010 by the SEC Presidents and Chancellors.  There is one winner/nominee per campus and one overall winner for the SEC.

To qualify for the award, an individual’s scholarly contribution or discoveries must be such that the faculty member has been acknowledged by colleagues within the discipline nationally or internationally.

In addition to NIMBioS, Gross also directs UT’s Institute for Environmental Modeling. He is an an Alvin and Sally Beaman Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics.

Gross has developed quantitative methods to address problems in disease ecology, landscape ecology, plant ecology, conservation biology, and natural resource management. He is a leader in educational initiatives in quantitative methods for life science students.

He recently co-led a study examining how humans react to climate change. He and colleagues paired a standard climate model with a mathematical formulation of the social psychological theory of planned behavior to explore how people would hypothetically respond to their changing environment and how this impacts future global temperatures.

Since 1990, Gross has been a principal investigator on more than 35 externally funded research and education projects with combined funding of more than $51 million. He has had continuous support since 1992 from the National Science Foundation.

Gross is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Society for Mathematical Biology.

Last year, Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach, was a recipient of the SEC Faculty Achievement Award.

More information about the announcement from the SEC can be found here.


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New Roster of Summer Undergrads Announced

Projects at the interface of mathematics and biology at the 2018 NIMBioS Summer Research Experiences

NIMBioS is pleased to announce the 15 participants selected for its highly competitive 2018 Summer Research Experience (SRE) program. Participants were selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants from around the country. The program runs for eight weeks, from May 29-July 20. Participants will come to NIMBioS on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus to work in teams with NIMBioS postdocs and UT faculty on five research projects at the interface of mathematics and biology.

2018 SRE participants and their assigned team projects are as follows:

Eeman Abbasi (Ecology, Mount Holyoke College), Kevin De Angeli (Mathematics, Texas A&M Univ.), and Corina Oroz (Mathematics, Pomona College) will collaborate on a project to explore the spatial interactions between hunting and gathering in tropical forests.

Brianna Alred (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Tennessee), Yacine Choutri (Biological Sciences, Berea College), and Benjamin Schenck (Applied Mathematics & Statistics, College of William and Mary) will team up on a project combining ecological niche modeling and climate change models to assess risk of thousand cankers disease in black walnut trees.

Amelia Berle (Biological Sciences, Lewis & Clark College), Diego Castedo Pena (Mathematics, North Carolina State Univ.), and Sadhana Chidambaran (Genetics, Rutgers Univ.) will work on a project using phylogenetics to better understand cancer tumor evolution.

Annastashia Blesi (Physics, Univ. of Tennessee), Samantha Brozak (Mathematics, Arizona State Univ.), and Hanna Reed (Mathematics, Univ. of Central Florida) will team up on a project to investigate the role of Aedes mosquitoes in La Crosse encephalitis virus transmission to children.

Sarah Brock (Biomedical Sciences, Univ. of Tennessee), Yi Dai (Data Analytics, The Ohio State Univ.), and Brielle Kwarta (Mathematics, Houghton College) will work on a project to model the management of feral cats with economic impacts.

To read more about NIMBioS SRE, visit


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New Center at NIMBioS Explores Dynamics of Social Complexity

NIMBioS officially rolled out the new Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity (DySoC) this week. The Center promotes connections and collaborations between researchers focused on human social behavior.

Combining system thinking, modeling tools, and big data, DySoC-associated researchers develop testable predictions and research into a variety of topics related to human social behavior, such as cooperation, conflict, cultural evolution and dynamics, mass behavior and psychology, and human origins. Research also focuses on emergence and evolution of human societies, impacts of social structure on disease transmission, social norms, and societal response to shocks.

Core faculty members come from various departments across UT, including mathematics, ecology & evolutionary biology, anthropology, classics, political science, and psychology.  Read more.

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Spanning the Globe: Fall Updates from Education & Outreach

Suzanne Lenhart (center) and participants of the SAMSA-Masamu STEM Education Workshop.

NIMBioS Education & Outreach has been busy this fall with events that have spanned the globe.

  • Associate Director Suzanne Lenhart presented at the SAMSA-Masamu Program STEM Education Workshop in Tanzania in November. Held at Arusha Technical College in Arusha, the workshop included discussions with local teachers and college faculty about student STEM activities. Lenhart, who also represented UT where she is a Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Mathematics, led a session on active learning activities. She co-presented with Jane White, a senior lecturer in math at the University of Bath in the UK and a short-term visitor to NIMBioS in November 2014. The SAMSA-Masamu Program is based at Auburn University. SAMSA is the Southern African Mathematical Sciences Association. The word “Masamu” translates to “mathematics” in the Southern African region, and so the SAMSA-Masamu program serves to promote U.S.-Africa collaboration in mathematics research. The workshop was a part of the SAMSA Annual Conference.
  • In October, Lenhart, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator Greg Wiggins, and former NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellow Oyita Udiani represented NIMBioS at the Modern Math Workshop in Salt Lake City. Udiani gave a talk at the workshop, which is pre-conference to the annual SACNAS (Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) Conference.
  • Lenhart helped establish a SACNAS Chapter at UT. Lenhart is serving as Chapter advisor.
  • NIMBioS was also represented at the annual Field of Dreams Conference in St. Louis in November where Christina Edholm, a postdoctoral teaching associate in UT’s math department, gave a talk.
  • More than 100 participants attended another successful Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics. We have your photo album here!

The NIMBioS Education and Outreach program offers a diverse array of activities to meet the educational needs for learners of all ages including K-12 students and teachers, university and college student and faculty, professional industry audiences, and the general public. NIMBioS initiatives focus on the enhancement of education at the interface between mathematics and biology and promote cross-disciplinary approaches to science at all levels.

If you are interested in participating in NIMBioS E&O or partnering to support E&O activities, contact the NIMBioS Education and Outreach office.

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Enhancing STEM Diversity at Field of Dreams

Christina Edholm

Math students from diverse groups attended the Field of Dreams Conference in St. Louis this month to hear about graduate opportunities in the mathematical sciences, and NIMBioS was represented as a part of its commitment to enhance diversity in the STEM fields.

The annual conference is organized by the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences (or “Math Alliance”) whose goal is to build a national community of scholars from underrepresented groups in the mathematical and statistical sciences.

Christina Edholm, a postdoctoral teaching associate in UT’s math department, attended on behalf of NIMBioS and gave a talk entitled, “What Is Infectious Disease Modeling?”

Edholm has been particularly active at NIMBioS, having served as a mentor last summer for undergraduates in our Summer Research Experiences program. She has also participated in various NIMBioS workshops, tutorials, and other programs.

Her research focuses on mathematical biology, specifically infectious disease modeling and pest management.

“I was able to expose my area of research to many different students, in addition to discussing my path to a post-doc and providing advice I had for navigating through academia,” Edholm said. “Overall, the conference provided a setting that provided students with opportunities and professional connections they might not otherwise have had access to. I feel the conference encouraged students from underrepresented backgrounds to see their futures in the mathematical sciences, through the examples of those who came before.”



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Lenhart Named National Women in Math Fellow

Dr. Suzanne Lenhart (far right) advocates tirelessly for women and students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in STEM fields. She has been selected as a Fellow of the Association for Women in Mathematics.

Congratulations to NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart whose sustained and lasting commitment to women in the mathematical sciences has led to her selection to the Inaugural Class of Fellows of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM).

The new AWM Fellows Program has been established “to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to the support and advancement of women in the mathematical sciences.” In addition, the program “epitomizes the AWM mission to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences,” according to an AWM press release about the award.

The Inaugural Class comprises 25 Fellows, drawn from senior members of past Presidents of the AWM, AWM Life Time Service Award winners, and AWM Humphreys Award winners.

A Chancellor’s Professor in UT’s Department of Mathematics, Lenhart is an applied mathematician in the field of differential equations. Her research publications span several areas of biology, including HIV, tuberculosis, bioreactors, bioeconomics, cardiac function, population dynamics, disease modeling, and resource management. She was recently awarded the Lord Robert May Best Paper Prize from the Journal of Biological Dynamics for a paper she co-authored about modeling cholera motivated by Haiti outbreak.

Lenhart advocates tirelessly for women and students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in STEM fields. She recently started a new student chapter of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos and Native Americans in Science) and is leading a new group for students with disabilities in STEM called the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance. For 24 years, Dr. Lenhart has directed Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs at UT and has supervised the research of 21 PhD and 31 Masters students.

“Diversity is important to me. I am committed to the AWM mission and continue to work for this organization. I am proud to be in this inaugural class,” Lenhart said.

She is a former AWM president and currently serves as co-president of the Tennessee chapter of the Association for Women in Science. She was also in the inaugural class of the American Mathematical Society Fellows in 2012, and is a AAAS Fellow and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Fellow.

Lenhart and other Fellows will be honored on Jan. 10, 2018, at the AWM Reception and Award Ceremony at the Joint Mathematical Meetings in San Diego. A new class of Fellows will be announced each January at the JMM. The nomination process and deadlines for the 2019 class will be announced in January 2018.


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