2014 Faculty Showcase: A parade of talent and academic rigor

September 17, 2014
visitors to a hip-hop demo. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/UAA)

Dance instructor Gabe Harvey welcomes visitors to a hip-hop demo. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

The festival of events that welcomed Anchorage and the entire UAA community into the new Alaska Airlines Center, home of Seawolf Athletics and many future community events, finally wound down this last weekend.

From blues rockers Alabama Shakes to the Springhill Suites Invitational clinched by the ‘Wolves, to an Alaska food fest to a local arts and music festival—it’s been one big giant open house.

Gabe Harvey and hip=hop dance crew.

Gabe Harvey and hip-hop dance crew. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

One event that happened the first weekend, Sept. 5-8, is well worth a mention because of its unique nature: the 2014 Faculty Showcase that ran for four days on the mezzanine and running track level of the new sports facility. (Don’t miss the links below to a few ad hoc videos that highlight Toby Widdicombe and Alyse Knorr of the English Department, reading their work aloud.)

This faculty-driven event came to life months ago when a new faculty member mentioned that the university he came from had featured the work of the faculty on campus. Aside from campus conferences on specific disciplines, INNOVATE year-end reports by grant-winning faculty, or the two Rapid Fire: Research and Scholarly Work events organized a few years ago by Kenrick Mock and others, there aren’t all that many opportunities for the UAA community to get a glimpse into the creative world of academia.

Judith Owens-Manley and Landry Signe in front of the CCEL poster titled 'Walking and Talking Alaska'

Judith Owens-Manley, director of UAA’s Center for Community Engagement and Learning, staffed a poster highlighting a collaborative project to visit and collect grassroots information about Anchorage neighborhoods. The CCEL poster included augmented reality tapped with the use of an iPad and QR codes. She is joined here by colleague Landry Signe. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

With the planned opening of the new arena, an idea was born: Why not join the community and athletic energy surrounding the new arena to showcase the ambitious work of UAA faculty? The faculty showcase idea took root under the guidance of co-chairs:

  • Dr. Helena Wisniewski, vice provost of research and graduate studies
  • Dr. Diane Hirshberg, president of the faculty senate
  • Dr. Jill Flanders Crosby, professor of theatre and dance
UAA Department of Theatre and Dance. (Ted Kincaide/UAA)

Costume display from UAA Department of Theatre and Dance. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

The offerings were truly amazing. More than 50 faculty members participated, featuring everything from biofeedback research, clarinet playing, performance poetry to hip-hop to dozens of detailed posters featuring recent significant research reports.

Just a few samples from the creative activities:

  • Herminia Din, assistant professor of art, displayed samples of “junk to funk,” recycling found objects into art.
  • Toby Widdicombe, professor of English, read an original poem about reluctantly retiring an old pair of running shoes; he also rewrote some Shakespeare, a speech from ‘Henry V’ commemorating the building of the Old Globe. Toby rewrote the original to salute the opening of the Alaska Airlines Center.
  • Alyse Knorr, term instructor of English, read her original poetry. (Find video links to both Toby and Alyse below.)
  • Gabe Harvey, adjunct lecturer in Theatre/Dance demonstrated a hip-hop dance class
  • Joey Yang, an engineering professor, displayed his carbon fiber tape deicing and snowmelt system
  • Tim Smith (music professor), Bogdan Hoanca (computer info systems) and Kenrick Mock (computer engineering) showed their eye-tracking research
  • Bruno Kappes demonstrated biofeedback applications and also honored the collaborative work he did with cold injury expert Dr. William Mills, a former team doctor at UAA
  • Daniel Glen Carlgren and Colleen Metzger  from the UAA Department of Theatre and Dance, displayed theatrical costumes and addressed Research in the Creative Design Process
Joey Yang, professor of engineering, developed de-icing equipement to make Alaska sidewalks snow-free in winter. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/UAA)

Joey Yang, professor of engineering, developed de-icing equipment to make Alaska sidewalks snow-free in winter. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

More than 30 posters graced the arena curves along the top-level running track. A sample of the diversity of topics includes:

  • Unwed Pregnancy in the 1960s: Secrets, shame and the architecture or silence, by Heather Adams, assistant professor of English
  • It’s an RNA world after all: The human innate immune response to viruses by Eric Bortz, assistant professor of biological sciences
  • Walking and Talking Alaska (an interactive poster that employed augmented reality to take viewers around Anchorage), Clare Dannenberg, Judith Owens-Manley and Bree Kessler (Anthropology, CCEL, Health Sciences)
  • Do fees for excessive police services work? By Troy Payne and Sharon Chamard (Justice)


Toby Widdicombe, professor of English, read a poem he wrote upon retiring an old pair of running shoes, certainly suitable for an athletic center. Further, this Shakespeare scholar rewrote The Bard. A speech in ‘Henry V’ comments on the building of the Old Globe theater in a few short days from the recycled wooden beams of another structure. What could be more of a tribute to the new arena than rewriting Shakespeare’s words into a tribute of the just-opened Alaska Airlines Center. Widdicombe teaches Shakespeare and wrote a book about him, called “Simply Shakespeare” in 2003.

“Adapting Shakespeare as much as I have over the years, you know what it sounds like, how to get a convincing iambic pentameter,” Widdicombe said later. Watch and enjoy.

Diane Hirshberg, one of the co-chairs, was watching Toby perform when one of the building’s shapers, Michael Carlson of McCool Carlson Green Architects, happened by. “He stopped and listened, he was smiling. He seemed to really enjoy it,” Hirshberg said. She also commented on other feedback she got regarding the  faculty display. “I had a student come by Monday, who had an extra credit assignment from his English 111 course to write about five of the posters or performances. He thanked me for the opportunity—really enjoyed the posters and learning what faculty were doing,” she said.

Also from the English department, Alyse Knorr brought a newcomer’s perspective on Alaska to her live performance of her own poetry. She arrived in Alaska a year ago this August, from the warm state of Georgia. She read a “wedding ceremony poem,” and also a poem about the Alaska State Fair that she wrote in what she described as “the deepest, darkest coldest part of winter.”

In conversation with faculty after the event, one sentiment seemed to dominate: They rarely get the chance to learn what their fellow faculty members are up to. While the visiting public may well have been the target audience for the displays and demonstrations they prepared, a primary beneficiary was their own academic colleagues. Organizers say there is appetite for a repeat performance—perhaps in a different venue and with the opportunity to speak briefly and take questions.

If there is one lingering and shared view from this broad and varied display of faculty talent, it is  this: Let’s do it again!


Written by Kathleen McCoy, UAA Office of University Advancement

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