AHS Welcomes New Faculty Members

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Pasquale Bottalico
Assistant Professor
Department of Speech and Hearing Science

After completing his Ph.D. in acoustical metrology at the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy, Dr. Bottalico worked first as an environmental and building acoustics consultant before co-founding PR.O.VOICE S.R.L. The company develops vocal dosimeters, which can be used by speakers and singers to measure vocal fatigue. In 2014, he was recruited by Dr. Eric Hunter of Michigan State University to serve as a research associate in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders.

Dr. Bottalico is generally interested in how acoustics influence how we produce sound and how it is perceived. His recent research addresses factors that affect intelligibility in classrooms, such as vocal fatigue, room acoustics, and voice disorders. Guidelines for designing classrooms exist, but he has found that what is acoustically perfect for listeners (the students) may not be so for speakers (the teachers). He is interested in determining how environmental acoustics interact with speakers and listeners, and how sound reflection can be modified to optimize each groups’ experience.

As he is also interested in studying these phenomena in relation to singers, Dr. Bottalico was excited to join a prestigious university with an outstanding program in vocal performance. “What I find by studying vocal performers can also be applied to teachers, and lead to not only improved acoustical design but also new clinical interventions,” he said.

 

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Neha Gothe
Assistant Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health

Dr. Gothe completed her Ph.D. in kinesiology here at Illinois. She went on to a tenure-track position at Wayne State University in Detroit, in the Division of Kinesiology, Health and Sport Studies. While she enjoyed her work there, she was excited to return to her alma mater. “Having done research here as a graduate student, I know there are excellent resources here as well as interdisciplinary expertise and numerous opportunities to collaborate,” she said.

One of the collaborative relationships Dr. Gothe is eager to forge is with Carle Foundation Hospital and the new medical school. Her research focuses on the impact of yoga on cognitive function. Her research already has shown that yoga is superior to stretching and strengthening exercises in enhancing cognition. At Wayne State, she began to use imaging techniques, comparing the brains of longtime yoga practitioners to individuals who did not do yoga. She found that the brains of yoga practitioners showed more efficient neural connections. Dr. Gothe believes that yoga is a gentle and modifiable form of activity that can be adapted to suit any population, and is interested in studying clinical populations that may benefit from the practice of this mind-body activity.

In addition to cognitive benefits, yoga practitioners derive better balance and greater flexibility from its practice. Dr. Gothe ultimately plans to establish a scientific evidence base for yoga and share its health benefits with a larger audience by delivering yoga programs through technology and web-based resources.

 

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Keiko Ishikawa
Assistant Professor
Department of Speech and Hearing Science

After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in vocal performance and pedagogy, Dr. Ishikawa pursued her interest in speech-language pathology. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati and worked for two years in the Voice and Speech Laboratory of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. Her desire to deepen her understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with dysphonia, or disordered voices, led her to doctoral study. She completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Ishikawa’s research focuses on the intelligibility of speakers with speech and voice disorders. She has examined the effect of background noise on the intelligibility of dysphonic (disordered voice) speech, and applied linguistic concept (landmark-based analysis) to the characterization of dysphonic speech in children and adults. Her research goal is to increase the intelligibility of disordered speech and voice. She also plans to contribute to the development of an automatic measure of intelligibility that will eliminate variations in speech perception that can prevent clinicians from making optimal choices for therapeutic intervention.

It is this last project that especially interested Dr. Ishikawa in the position in AHS. “The University of Illinois has a very strong engineering college,” she said. “By collaborating with engineering scientists and linguists, as well as my colleagues in speech and hearing science who are studying similar issues, this project could take a great leap forward.”

 

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Adam Konopka
Assistant Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health

After completing his Ph.D. in Human Bioenergetics at Ball State University in 2012, Dr. Konopka joined the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine as a postdoctoral research fellow in Endocrinology. He then joined Colorado State University in 2015 as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Health and Exercise Science. 

Dr. Konopka’s research addresses aging metabolism and physiology. One line of inquiry focuses on age-related osteoarthritis, a condition with which millions of older adults suffer that currently has no disease-modifying therapy. He is investigating the pathogenesis and treatment of age-related osteoarthritis by using a novel stable isotope to examine the production, maintenance, and function of new cells and organelles. In a second line of research, he is leveraging his established industry partnerships to implement an emerging technology called continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) that measures glucose values every 5 minutes for up to 10 days at a time. One of his goals is to use CGM to detect early warning signs of impaired glucose metabolism in order to prevent the development of Type 2 Diabetes.

As an exercise physiologist, Dr. Konopka was attracted to the position in AHS because of the outstanding research, academic rigor, and potential for interdisciplinary collaboration. There is a strong historical connection between his alma matter and the University of Illinois. Dr. Bud Getchell, who founded the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, studied at Illinois with Dr. Thomas Cureton. “This campus is second-to-none when it comes to impactful research and the development of next-generation technology,” he said. “This is a place where ideas get off the ground.”

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Shannon Mejia
Assistant Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health

Dr. Mejía’s background is in human development and family studies. Her Ph.D. is from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. She joined AHS from a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Psychosocial Aging Group and Biosocial Methods Collaborative in the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

Dr. Mejía developed her interdisciplinary view of aging while working for seven years in long-term care as a developer of activities and technology. Her experience working with residents, caregivers, and families inspired Dr. Mejia to examine how older adults support their own health and well-being within the context their daily lives and interactions with others. She’s particularly interested in the potential for monitoring technologies to provide visual feedback that translates daily subtle behaviors into actionable knowledge that older adults and their loved ones can leverage to support their own health and well-being. A second theme of Dr. Mejía’s research is interconnectedness with others. Recently, she received funding to study a little-understood phenomenon—older couples’ similarities in health and cumulative risk. She’ll use longitudinal data from the 2006 – 2016 waves of the Health and Retirement Study to examine how couples’ shared experiences contribute to their shared cumulative risk and the implications of this shared risk for future health.

Because of her interest in how technology can assist in the aging process and help people better understand their interconnectedness, Dr. Mejía is enthusiastic about working with KCH colleague Dr. Wendy Rogers through the CHART Program (Collaborations in Health, Aging, Research, and Technology) to assist older adults in optimizing the aging experience. “I felt as though this was the position I’ve been training for,” Dr. Mejia said. “Many institutions talk about interdisciplinary research, but the systems are in place for true collaboration here at Illinois.”

 

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Brian Monson
Assistant Professor
Department of Speech and Hearing Science

Dr. Monson came to Illinois from Boston, where he was a research scientist in the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a research associate in the Department of Radiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. His Ph.D. in speech, language, and hearing science is from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Monson’s research focuses on the auditory neurodevelopment of premature infants. Little research has been done in this area, although early deficits in neurodevelopment can affect premature infants adversely throughout childhood and into adulthood in the form of delayed language development, hearing and auditory processing deficits, and problems with semantics and grammar. “I suspect that the underexposure to voice and language input experienced by premature infants, who may spend weeks or even months in a hospital incubator, may underlie some of their neurodevelopmental deficits,” he said. His ultimate research goal is to optimize the auditory experience for infants born prematurely in order to facilitate healthy outcomes in speech and hearing.

The University of Illinois’ outstanding resources and commitment to interdisciplinary research drew Dr. Monson to SHS. He already has had positive meetings about collaborations with neonatal intensive care physicians at Carle. In addition to joining what he describes as a “great” department, he is excited about the University’s engineering and cognitive psychology programs and their potential for impacting positively on his work here.

 

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Alessandro Rigolon
Assistant Professor
Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism

Bologna, Italy, native Dr. Alessandro Rigolon brings his expertise in the planning and design of sustainable and healthy environments to AHS. He was on the faculty of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at California State University, Northridge, where he taught courses on sustainable land use planning. His doctoral degree in Design and Planning is from the University of Colorado at Denver. He also has bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in architecture and design from the University of Bologna.

Dr. Rigolon’s research addresses environmental justice, specifically disparities in recreational opportunities between low-income and wealthier neighborhoods. He uses geo-spatial tools and qualitative techniques to expose inequities in access to parks and is interested in furthering our understanding of why disparities exist and how they are tied to policies and funding. His most recent work has focused on policies that promote the development of new parks and green spaces in underserved communities without displacing their longterm residents, a process known as “green gentrification.”

Dr. Rigolon’s decision to join Illinois’ faculty was based in large part on learning of the keen interest in social justice and parks that exists in RST. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we all care about the health and well-being of communities.” He could see himself forming successful research partnerships not only within his department but also across campus, and he was impressed by the abundance of resources the University offers.