Two professors awarded research grant

Assistant Professor of Education (School Psychology) Christopher Drapeau and Professor of Physics and Astronomy Todd Hillwig were awarded University Research Professor Grants for the 2020-2021 school year by the University’s Creative Work and Research Committee. 

“This grant, the University Research Professor award, provides one semester of leave from teaching, and other administrative responsibilities, to concentrate on my research program. The award also provides a $4000 budget to use toward expenses associated with the project,” Hillwig said. 

Valpo offers this grant to two professors each year. 

“It is a competitive process that requires an application and a description of your research plans. I applied for this award because I am at a place in my research that having a semester to focus on it will allow me to be especially productive. Really it will allow me to take the past ten years of my work and use it to make some significant conclusions about how our universe works,” Hillwig said. 

Hillwig will use that time to research close binary stars, or two stars that orbit one another, typically closer together than the size of the sun. One of the stars he’s studying is a white dwarf. He has been working for over ten years on this project and has discovered over thirty five new close binary stars bringing the total up to ninety similar systems known. 

“I will be spending my time with this grant using those 90, and any new ones we discover between now and then, to work out how these stars lead to other astronomical objects,” Hillwig said. 

One example is a Type la supernova, or an exploding white dwarf that can be seen nearly all across the universe and can help people determine the size of the universe and how it works. They also led to the discovery of dark energy and the accelerating universe which makes it important to know how they behave as people currently do not. Hillwig’s work aims to understand them better and identify what leads to a Type la supernova. 

Drapeau is using the grant to work on three projects related to studying the lack of school psychologists training in assessing, identifying and treating sleep disorders in middle and highschool students. 

“That has significant implications for learning because the argument currently, based on research, is that sleep is very important not just for helping information transfer over to long term memory, but also it impacts your mood, engagement, attention, processing speed, etcetera so it seemed like an important area to address,” Drapeau said. 

Drapeau is writing a book with Dr. Michelle Perfect, a colleague at the University of Arizona, to increase school professionals’ knowledge of sleep issues and to present strategies for how to improve sleep for youth. This will lead to improved social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students.

“The other two projects are focused on examining the prevalence of training in school psychology when it comes to identifying, assessing, or treating sleep problems in a school setting,” Drapeau said. 

Drapeau’s study will be one of the first of its kind as it looks into whether school psychologists are assessing for sleep problems during special education evaluations for ADHD, for instance, as some untreated sleep disorders can look a lot like ADHD. 

“This study will lay the groundwork for future research that I hope to do with my colleague, Dr. Michelle Perfect, at the University of Arizona which is creating an assessment and treatment approach for school psychologists and testing that out to see if it works, number one, and two, how they can best communicate with students and parents about the importance of sleep and how sleep problems can be managed outside the school setting,” Drapeau said. 

Hillwig stresses the importance of the grant in allowing professors to further their research.

“Time is in many ways worth much, much more. It is wonderful that Valpo provides its faculty with opportunities to focus primarily, or solely, on scholarly work for a period of time,” Hillwig said. “Performing research helps me to be continuously learning, and that translates directly to the classroom by allowing me to better understand the material I’m teaching, and to find new ways to communicate it to students.”

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