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Faculty Profiles

Marissa Cloutier

Instructor, Biology
Hillyer College

Marissa CloutierMarissa Cloutier, instructor in biology and nutrition, grew-up with an appreciation for health and well being.

As a descendent of one of the original settlers of the California Central Valley, Cloutier's fondest childhood memories are of her family's farmhouse against the backdrop of their vast vineyards.

Cloutier particularly loved watching her grandmother tend to her garden while she talked about the benefits of good nutrition, of exercise, and of simply being outdoors. Those influences were instrumental in Cloutier's decision to pursue a career in nutrition and in communicating the health message that was embodied by those who influenced her most.

After her clinical training at a primary teaching hospital of the Harvard University School of Medicine, she attended Boston University to further her studies in human nutrition and metabolism. While there, she was assigned a project that involved analyzing the health and nutrition data from epidemiological studies of the Mediterranean region. The intriguing information she unearthed in that project led her to become the lead author of The Mediterranean Diet, a book that explores the power of a Mediterranean model of eating and living for health. The book, now in its second edition, is approaching sales of 250,000 copies.

Cloutier's message to her students is that "you are what you eat." Fusing nutritional science and her clinical insight with the general biology curriculum, her goal is to enhance her students' awareness and appreciation of their own biology.

"If I can help my students extend their lives and help improve the lives of those around them," says Cloutier, "then I've done my job."

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Hirokazu Fukawa

Associate Professor of Sculpture
Hartford Art School

Hirokazu FukawaHirokazu Fukawa's work is complex and provocative. He draws on intensely personal experiences, such as his son's autism and his father's confinement in a prisoner-of-war camp in Siberia, to explore universal themes in a minimalist and abstract way. His large, mixed-media installations, which have been shown across the United States, have been widely praised by critics. (There are samples of his work on his website,

"I recognize that it may be difficult for some viewers to understand my work," he admits, "but that's a conscious choice on my part. The best art raises more questions than it answers and lingers in the mind. The real meaning may not strike you for months, but when it does, the experience can be very powerful."

Fukawa helps his students explore their own lives and find their own individual ways to express themselves in their artwork. "Sculpture has changed dramatically in the last 10 years with improvements in materials and advances in technology," he says. "My goal is to expose students to as many of these new options as I can, but at the same time, to help them understand which of these new trends are relevant and which are not.

"Even more important, I want them to free their spirits and to learn to consider alternatives. I've seen so many students blossom from freshman to senior year, and I want to do everything I can to nurture that experience."

"Clearly, not everyone will be able to make a living as an artist, but the lessons students learn about the creative process, and about themselves, will serve them well for the rest of their lives."

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Nels Highberg

Associate Professor, Department of Rhetoric and Professional Writing
Director of Gender Studies

College of Arts and Sciences

Nels HighbergNels Highberg is a prototype for a 21st-century college professor. He's flexible in his academic pursuits, fully invested in technology, and leads by example in using social networks for professional development and personal fulfillment.

Highberg teaches an intriguing array of courses, from rhetoric and professional writing to interdisciplinary topics, such as a focused investigation of pain. He's also director of the University's Gender Studies program. "I love the academic freedom at the University of Hartford," he says. "The world is changing at an amazing rate, and it's wonderful to be able to experiment. We're constantly finding new ways to help our students improve their career opportunities and understand the social and cultural forces shaping the world around them."

Highberg is a firm believer in the power of technology. He has accounts on Facebook and Twitter and writes a blog, "called Pennies in a Jar", on a regular basis. He actively encourages his students to do the same.

"I've built an amazing network of colleagues at universities around the nation whose ideas and insights have truly enriched my teaching," Highberg says. "We're also finding that it's increasingly critical for students to be able to use these tools and technologies effectively in whatever career they pursue when they graduate."

Highberg finds personal benefits from using the technology as well. "I've gone through some painful experiences in life," he says. "Being able to share my feelings and emotions on a blog, and finding out that I'm not alone, have been a tremendous comfort to me. I think my students will find their own unique ways to connect that I probably can't even imagine today."

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Abby Ilumoka-Nwabuzor

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture

Abby IlumokaAbby Ilumoka is where she wants to be. "I grew up in Nigeria and attended college in Great Britain, and now, thanks to the support of many individuals, I feel at home at the University of Hartford," she says. "It has a mix of research, teaching, and community involvement that suits my situation, and Connecticut is a great place to raise a family."

Ilumoka clearly excels in both scholarship and leadership. She won two long-term research grants from the National Science Foundation and spent a summer sabbatical at Bell Labs, a world leader in corporate research. She actively mentors high school students and speaks with young people of all ages about the profession she loves.

Last year, Ilumoka was inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements. She also was a finalist for Connecticut Women of Innovation Award in 2007.

"There are many unique challenges that come with being a female and a minority in a field like engineering in the U.S. even today," Ilumoka confirms. "But knowing that your contributions are recognized and appreciated makes it all worthwhile."

Ilumoka is extremely optimistic about her students' prospects for the future. "We've seen explosive growth in technology in all areas of our lives over the past decade," she says. "Engineers are crucial to the process today and will play an even more critical role in increasing our productivity, safety, and prosperity in the future.

"As an educator, one of my greatest thrills is running into a former student and finding out that they've been successful in their careers and their lives," Ilumoka says. "I have a feeling I'll be hearing many more success stories in the years ahead."

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Jean McGivney-Burelle

Associate Professor of Mathematics
Director, Secondary Mathematics Education Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Jean McGivney-Burelle"I believe math teachers should do more than just cover the content of a textbook in their classes; they should uncover the material so that their students truly understand it," says Jean McGivney-Burelle. She carries out that philosophy in wonderfully innovative ways.

"We have a unique secondary education program at the University of Hartford," she points out. "Our students earn a BA in math as well as a certificate to teach mathematics in grades 7–12 in Connecticut. We feel that this approach gives them an exceptional foundation to succeed in the classroom."

Even though the curriculum is rigorous, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun along the way. "We recently introduced 'clickers' into our math classes," McGivney-Burelle says. "We ask everyone in the class the same question, and each student gets to vote on the answer in real time. Their responses are combined and the results are displayed on a bar graph. It's a lot like the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, when a contestant asks the audience for a life line."

"Students love the technology, and it really livens up the classroom," McGivney-Burelle says. She recently started working with a nationwide group that received a grant from the National Science Foundation to bring clickers to college classrooms across the country.

"New technologies, from sophisticated calculators to computers, have already transformed the way we teach mathematics, and clickers take us one step further," McGivney-Burelle says. "It's really exciting to continue exploring new technologies and to help shape the way math will be taught in the future."

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Melinda Miceli

Associate Professor of Sociology
Hillyer College

Melinda Miceli"I had wonderful professors when I was an undergraduate, who gave me a completely different perspective on the world and literally changed my life," says Melinda Miceli. "I work hard every day to try and have the same impact on my students."

In addition to sociology, Miceli teaches courses in gender studies, which focus on the many challenges facing gays, lesbians, and women in America. "Even though we've made progress, not all groups in America have achieved equality," Miceli acknowledges. "Still, I see signs of increased tolerance among young people today, which I find quite encouraging."

Miceli chronicled one nationwide trend in her groundbreaking book, Standing Out, Standing Together: The Social and Political Impact of Gay-Straight Alliances. "An increasing number of high school students across the country have taken it upon themselves to create a nurturing and supportive environment for their lesbian and gay classmates," Miceli says. "It's amazing to see the fresh ideas they've come up with and the remarkable results they've achieved."

Miceli urges her students to do the same. "I'd love to see every one of my students become a social activist," Miceli says. "It would be great if everyone could get involved in community organizations or play an active role in the political process.

"But there are other ways to make a difference. Being open to new ideas and viewpoints, and treating everyone they meet with respect and dignity every day, are huge steps in the right direction."

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Peter Oliver

Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Human Development
College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions

Peter OliverLife is a constant voyage of discovery, both literally and figuratively, for Peter Oliver, associate professor of educational psychology and human development at the University of Hartford. Oliver has trekked the mountains of Nepal, explored the tropical forests and ancient temples of Thailand, and hiked above the Arctic Circle, where the sun shines 24 hours a day in the summer.

"I'm constantly invigorated by the beauty of the world and the amazing diversity of its people and cultures," Oliver says. "I also feel that travel has a wonderful, positive impact on my teaching because I can share these experiences with my students and open their eyes to different perspectives and new possibilities."

Oliver is an explorer of the mind as well. He's a classically trained psychology professor who teaches courses in educational psychology, human development and self-awareness. He also studies Buddhism and practices meditation.

Oliver put together a course called Understanding Yourself and Others to guide undergraduates who are majoring in education and human services on their own voyage of discovery.

"These students have the awesome responsibility and great privilege of caring for others and shaping their lives," Oliver says. "It's important for them to understand themselves first so they can give as much as possible to the people they're teaching and caring for.

I love to see the way students grow and develop during their time at the University. They have a genuine desire to make a difference when they come here. I'm thrilled that we can help each of them find their true calling and make the world a better place in their own way."

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Joan Pedro

Associate Professor of Education
College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions

Joan Pedro"My whole life has been about education," says Joan Pedro, associate professor of education at the University of Hartford and coordinator of teacher education. "I started teaching elementary school in Trinidad when I was 18 years old, and I still love what I'm doing today—educating a new generation of teachers who will make a difference in children's lives in the future."

Pedro learned to appreciate the value of experience early in her career. "There were two classes in the same room when I started teaching in Trinidad, separated only by a chalkboard," she recalls. "I paid very close attention to what the experienced teachers were doing on the other side of the classroom, and I learned as much from them as I did in teacher's college."

She still sees the benefits of this approach today. "Students at the University of Hartford have three different student-teaching assignments before they graduate," Pedro says. "It's critical for teachers to balance theory and practice, and I'm thrilled that we're able to give them wonderful opportunities to do this in a variety of settings."

While she was in Trinidad, Pedro blossomed into a major force for change in the island's education system. She developed Trinidad's first training and certification program in special education and personally prepared hundreds of teachers before moving to the United States. "I'm very proud of this work," Pedro says. "Those teachers are making life better for thousands of children in Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean."

She has equally high expectations for the future teachers who are at the University of Hartford today. "They face a different set of challenges because of the recent reforms in education," Pedro admits. "But when I look in their eyes and see how eager they are to learn and how deeply they care about children, I know they will be extraordinary educators in their own right."

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