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Featured Principal Investigators (PIs)


Emily Ragan, Ph.D.

Dr. Emily Ragan, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, followed her passion for teaching chemistry and biochemistry to two very different grant opportunities. Dr. Ragan is the Principal Investigator on a collaborative proposal, along with Co-PI Dr. Maureen Gorman at Kansas State University, to investigate iron uptake in the fruit fly. The National Science Foundation is providing MSU Denver $224,000 over three years, ending January 31, 2020, to support the iron uptake project, including funds for individual undergraduates performing research in Dr. Ragan’s lab. The grant also supports Dr. Ragan’s development of a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) in Biochemistry II (CHE 4320) that combines an introduction to bioinformatics with investigation of proteins potentially involved in iron uptake. Iron is essential for survival because it is required for many key processes in cells, including converting food into energy in the presence of oxygen. The fruit fly is an important model organism for scientific research but, surprisingly, little is known about how iron enters fruit fly cells. Understanding this may lead to insights into lesser-known iron uptake pathways in humans, which could ultimately help iron-related diseases. 

Dr. Ragan’s development of an online General Chemistry I course, one of the first two courses at MSU Denver to receive Quality Matters certification, led to another funding opportunity, this time for the benefit of MSU Denver faculty and the students they teach. Dr. Ragan’s online chemistry course uses the OpenStax Chemistry textbook, which is an example of an Open Educational Resource (OER). OER are educational materials that allow free reuse and remixing, which, in the case of General Chemistry, has saved Dr. Ragan’s students approximately $70,000 in the nine semesters she has taught the course. Because of her work on the online course, Ragan was selected to represent MSU Denver on the Colorado Open Educational Resources Council at its inception in the summer of 2017, where she served as Council Chair. Dr. Ragan is PI on the Open Roadrunners Grant, which is receiving $60,000 through the Colorado Department of Higher Education to address the challenge of rapidly rising textbook costs, which increased 900% between 1980 and 2015. This project runs through May, 2020.

Cost of course materials can be a barrier to educational access, a serious concern at MSU Denver which takes its mission to provide high-quality, accessible, enriching education seriously. The primary focus with the Open Roadrunners program is to encourage faculty consideration of OER and, where it makes sense, adoption of OER in high enrollment/high impact general studies courses. There are three incentivized aspects of the Open Roadrunners program: OER Review Workshops, OER Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs), and stipends for OER adoption.


James D. Reid, Ph.D. 

James D. Reid was awarded a Translation Grant for $158,102 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Dr. Reid’s NEH award, which ended in December, 2017, enabled him to complete an English translation of Heidegger’s Die Frage nach dem Ding (The Question Concerning the Thing). As one of the reviewers of Dr. Reid’s grant proposal observed, “Heidegger’s importance to the humanities is well-known: his reflections on being and being in the world, what it means to be human, death, care, and time have influenced scholars and non-scholars, here and abroad, over the past seventy years. The completion of this translation should impact a variety of disciplines, e.g. philosophy, religious studies, history, and literary theory.”

Dr. Reid holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is currently an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He has taught ethics and the history of philosophy, with special emphasis on Greek and German intellectual traditions, at the University of Chicago, Colorado College, College of William and Mary, and the United States Air Force Academy. His research is interdisciplinary, drawing from philosophical, scientific, and literary sources, and is devoted to problems in the theory of meaning, value, and significance, and finding appropriate ways of talking more richly and compellingly about the importance of what we care about. Dr. Reid has published on the philosophical legacies of Kant and his successors and is currently finishing a monograph on the ethical import of Martin Heidegger's philosophy. He is a contributor to Cambridge University Press's forthcoming, multi-volume Heidegger Lexicon, edited by Mark Wrathall. His book Being Here Is Glorious: On Rilke, Poetry, and Philosophy, which includes a fresh translation of the Duino Elegies, was published by Northwestern University Press in September, 2015.

Janelle M. Johnson, Ph.D.

Janelle M. Johnson, Principal Investigator, along with Co-Principal Investigators, Brooke Evans, Hsiu-Ping Liu, Jeffrey T. Loats, Mark Koester, and Philip Bernhardt, were awarded a grant of $1,449,920 under the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program from the National Science Foundation for their project, "Urban STEM Teacher Capacity Building”. The project, which ended in July, 2016, prepared STEM majors with experiences, skills, and knowledge to become highly effective inquiry-based teachers committed to working in high-need urban schools. In addition, Dr. Johnson was awarded $188,080 as Principal Investigator on a U.S. Department of State grant titled "Study of U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on U.S. History and Government," which was completed in November, 2017, as well as a $989,533 National Science Foundation grant titled "ITEST, Exploring a Community-based Approach for Engaging Students and Teachers in Effective STEM Education," to be completed in September, 2019.  

Dr. Johnson is an Assistant Professor in STEM teaching and learning in Secondary Teacher Education. Her primary areas of focus address disparities and improving learning outcomes for participants in both formal and informal STEM settings. Dr. Johnson works with teachers, administrators, families, and organizations of local, national, and international scope. She is on the leadership team of the Colorado Collaborative for Girls in STEM, is a Board Member with the Colorado Association of Black Professional Engineers and Scientists, and the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation. She is a GLOBE US Partner Forum Representative for the Southwest Region, and a leading consultant for the Increasing Marginalized Girls Access to STEM initiative of the National Girls Collaborative, in partnership with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, the White House Domestic Policy Council, Council on Women and Girls, and the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Johnson is a published author and reviews for journals including Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics (NCTM) and Anthropology & Education Quarterly. 

 Aaron Brown, MS, Ph.D.

Dr. Aaron Brown is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He was the Principal Investigator for a grant titled "Promoting Bi-institutional Hemispheric Collaboration through Study Abroad in Humanitarian Engineering," funded by 100,000 Strong in the Americas.  This program, completed in April, 2018, sought to broaden the intellectual horizons of participating students, establish a new partnership between two institutions of higher education in Colorado and Guadalajara, increase mobility of students and faculty, enrich curricula across disciplines of the two institutions, as well as increase the number of Mexican students studying in the United States. He was also the Principal Investigator for two grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). His Colorado Space Consortium grant, completed in May, 2016, funded a hands-on program for MSU Denver students, including electric car conversion and robotics projects. Dr. Brown’s NASA Colorado Undergraduate Retention in Science and Engineering (COURSE) award, completed in August 2016, engaged students in a hands on project and involvement in a statewide challenge.  

Dr. Brown holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Ph.D. in Civil Systems Engineering, also from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His work is primarily focused in the realm of appropriate design and humanitarian engineering. He has worked on development projects all over the globe. His international work includes projects in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, The Galapagos Islands, India, China, and Peru. As part of his humanitarian engineering work in these regions Professor Brown took students to Costa Rica where he directed a community project that designed a solar water heating system for a local school, and also built thermal composters. In the Dominican Republic, he is working with students and a local NGO to provide clean water for a community with low resources, and in the Galapagos he is working on a collaborative effort to study the relationship between development and conservation.

His most recently recognized humanitarian engineering project is focused locally, in Denver, where he is implementing the installation of solar furnaces he designed to help a low income community reduce their energy bills. This project was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and in the Denver Post, earning him the title "Community Game Changer of the Month" from CBS Denver. He was also nominated for the Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year award and the Presidential Award for STEM Mentoring. Previous to his academic career, Dr. Brown worked in the aerospace industry on projects such as the Mars Curiosity landing mechanism and Hubble robotics mission. He also directs undergraduate research projects in the aerospace arena involving robotics, electric vehicle design, energy harvesting, and solar design. 

Dr. Dawn Matera Bassett  

?Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program, in partnership with Colorado State University, received a $3,052,796 grant, in addition to a previously awarded $1.2 million grant completed in September, 2017, from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Over a four year period the grant funds stipends for 116 MSW students, in their concentration year, who work with children, youth, adults, and older adults with behavioral health issues, including mental health and addiction. The award also provides support through tuition, supplies and supported activities for 70 participants per year to receive paraprofessional certification.  An emphasis is placed on funding work performed at clinics serving multi-cultural populations, transition-aged youth, and violence prevention. A major part of the grant develops new collaborations with additional community agencies, and develops additional internship sites to provide graduate students with relevant, real-world experiences. 

Dawn Matera Bassett, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D., is the Principal Investigator for this 4-year HRSA project, funded through August 2021, entitled “Behavioral Health and Workforce Education and Training - Professional and Paraprofessional Track.” Dr. Matera Bassett serves as the lead faculty for Introduction to Social Policy, Advanced Policy and Programming, and Group Therapy courses in the MSW and BSW program. She has also taught Family Therapy, Program Management and Organizational Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship, Working with Urban Families, and Research courses at MSU Denver. Dr. Matera Bassett completed her MSW and Ph.D. at the University of Denver. She brings 20 years of clinical experience working in private non-profit and community-based mental health programs. Dr. Matera Bassett’s scholarship is built around developing and implementing effective interventions for children, adolescents, and adults. She has also conducted multiple research projects to explore how vicarious trauma impacts professionals in the public and private sector. Dr. Christian M. Itin, MSW, Professor in the Social Work Department, serves as Co-PI on the grant.  Elizabeth Mendez-Shannon, MSW, Ph.D., Assistant Professor also with the Department of Social Work, serves as Project Liaison.

Dr. Devi K. Kalla and Dr. Mingli He   

?Metropolitan State University of Denver is part of a robust consortium including Front Range Community College as the lead. In 2013, seven community colleges, a technical college, and 27 manufacturers throughout Colorado were awarded a 3-year, $25 million grant to implement the Colorado Helps Advanced Manufacturing Program (CHAMP). MSU Denver was the only 4-year institution in the consortium and received $1,958,663 of the grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. In Colorado, an estimated 15,800 jobs go unfilled each year due to lack of qualified candidates. CHAMP, completed in September, 2017, was an ambitious project that increased the attainment of manufacturing degrees and certificates that align with the industry’s recognized competencies, skills, and certifications to create a pipeline of highly-qualified advanced manufacturing workers. 

Dr. Devi K. Kalla, along with his colleague Dr. Mingli He, were the Principal Investigators for the CHAMP program at MSU Denver. Since Fall 2011, Dr. Kalla has served as an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET). He has extensive expertise in composite manufacturing, machining, and modeling. A dedicated teacher of higher education, one of Dr. Kalla's goals is to change the paradigm in how green manufacturing is taught. Dr. Kalla presented his ideas on incorporating life-cycle assessment teaching to enable engineering and industrial design students to better understand sustainability in a white paper presented at the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education conference.

Dr. Mingli He, Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering & Engineering Technology (EAET), has served in various faculty positions since joining MSU Denver. As a registered professional engineer, he works on developing research opportunities for EAET students and faculty in collaboration with local college and industrial partners. Most EAET senior capstone courses are supported with projects provided by industry, and some of the research has been presented by EAET students/faculty in the annual MSU Denver undergraduate student research conferences and National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). 

Bethany Fleck, PhD

Dr. Bethany Fleck was a Principal Investigator on an Engaged Scholarship Grant titled "Developing a New Community Partnership in a Developmental Research Methods Course," sponsored by Colorado Campus Compact and completed in December, 2014. The grant funding was used to support a service learning course with an existing community partner, The Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver, as well as to build a new community partner with another child development oriented institution in Denver. The funds also supported Dr. Fleck as she wrote a manuscript reporting data that empirically assessed the outcomes of the service-learning course on students by conducting a community engagement impact research study.  In her courses, Dr. Fleck used an active, learner-centered approach to teaching.  

Dr. Fleck’s research centered on cognitive and social development in classroom contexts.  She also worked on bridging "documentation," an early childhood education teaching methodology, with maternal reminiscing style, and published work in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) that included book chapters on the integration of social media into higher education, and creating a flipped classroom. 

Paulette McIntosh

Paulette McIntosh was the Director and Principal Investigator for the TRiO High School Upward Bound (HSUB) Program. The $1,866,975 grant from the US Department of Education began in September 2012 and ran through August 2017. HSUB’s primary goal was to assist 85 low-income and first generation high school students in Denver to gain the skills and motivation necessary to complete a secondary education and to enter and complete a post-secondary education. For 38 years Upward Bound has received funding from the U.S. Department of Education to provide supplemental, after-school academic, tutorial, and pre-college support services to Program participants.  Ms. McIntosh is a graduate of Metro (’81), as well as a 1972 alum of the Upward Bound Program.



 Andrew Bonham, Ph.D. ?

In partnership with MSU Denver colleague Dr. Rosemarie DePoy Walker, Dr. Andrew J. Bonham was Co-Principal Investigator on a “Denver Metro Chem Scholars” (DMCS) grant funded through July, 2018, by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The DMCS program was awarded $620,309 over five years to provide scholarships, seminars, peer support, and research opportunities for MSU Denver Chemistry students. Dr. Bonham is a biochemist who joined the faculty of Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2011 to serve as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry. His research and teaching interests focus on transcription factor biology, bio-engineering and bio-sensors, and the transformative power of technology in the classroom. 

Dr. Bonham's student-driven research at MSU Denver and the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) focused on novel bio-sensors for disease and cancer diagnostics. It has been featured in Photonics magazine by the American Chemical Society, as well as Science Newsline. Dr. Bonham received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, emphasis in Biophysics and Bioengineering, from UCSB and was also a Tri-County Blood Bank postdoctoral fellow at UCSB. In 2013, Dr. Bonham received the Faculty Senate Excellence in Teaching Award from MSU Denver.

Adriann C. Wycoff, Ph.D.

Dr. Adriann Wycoff began fundraising to support family literacy programming for the Denver community in 1994 when she was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Denver Housing Authority.  Since then she turned a one-person project into a nationally recognized program that employed 14 staff members and managed funds from multiple federal, state, local and private grants and contracts totaling over $420,000.  The Family Literacy Program grew from a small single-grant program to a major initiative that offered home and center-based services to 290 adults and 356 children—including early childhood education, instruction in English as a Second Language, and Spanish-language GED preparation for adults and out-of-school youth. 

MSU Denver was also awarded funding by the Colorado Department of Education for a grant titled "Adult Basic Education (AEFLA)". Continuing from 2008 through 2020, with Dr. Wycoff as the Principal Investigator, this grant works to ensure that adult learners have access to quality educational opportunities that support family-sustaining employment, job training, and postsecondary educational aspirations. Dr. Wycoff is also Co-Principal Investigator on the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Migrant Education.  CAMP provides comprehensive academic support as well as scholarships to first year students who are from migratory and seasonal farm-working families. CAMP was established at MSU Denver in 1999 and serves approximately 35 first generation, low-income students each year.  Dr. Wycoff is a full-time faculty member in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. She received her B.A. in Spanish from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish from Northwestern University. 

 Hsiu-Ping Liu, Ph.D.

Dr. Hsiu-Ping Liu was a Co-Principal Investigator on a $1,449,920 Robert Noyce Scholarship Program grant from the National Science Foundation, for a project titled, "Urban STEM Teacher Capacity Building," completed in July, 2016. It prepared STEM majors with experiences, skills, and knowledge to become highly effective inquiry-based teachers committed to working in high-need urban schools. Dr. Hsiu-Ping Liu, in partnership with a colleague from the Smithsonian Institute, was also a Co-PI on grant awards that explored the “Taxonomic Clarification of Upper Klamath Basin Pebblesnails (genus Fluminicola)," completed in September, 2016, and “Taxonomic Clarification of Oregon and Washing Duskysnails,” completed in September, 2015, both funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Her research interests are in systematics, evolution and conservation genetics of freshwater mollusks. 

Dr. Liu joined the faculty of Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2007, serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology.  In 2008, she served as an Assistant Professor and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2012. She currently serves as the Director for the Center for Advanced STEM Education at MSU Denver. She has published 28 papers in various peer-reviewed scientific journals, received more than $300,000 in funding from external grants, and has mentored over 40 students. Since 2010 she has been an instructor for the Summer Science Scholars and the Summer Science Institute Programs, has been a Faculty Mentor for Colorado Alliance for Minority Participation (CO-AMP), and Research Coordinator for Strides Toward Encouraging Professions in Science (STEPS). Dr. Liu earned her doctoral degree from the Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She also holds a Master of Science degree from the Institute of Fisheries Science, National Taiwan University, and a Bachelor of Science from National Taiwan University of Marine Science and Technology.

  Esther M. Rodriguez, JD

Esther M. Rodriguez was the director of the Center for Urban Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she led the university's partnership with Denver Public Schools to increase student achievement through highly effective teachers.  She served as the Principal Investigator and director for a $9.5 million federal Teacher Quality Enhancement grant, completed in 2010, and also served as PI and Director for a 5-year 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, completed in 2017.

Prior to joining MSU Denver, in 2007, she headed an education consulting practice, was Vice-President for Development at the Education Commission of the States, where she was responsible for managing all fundraising operations, and served as Associate Executive Director for the State Higher Education Executive Officers. There, she headed national policy initiatives on P-16 collaboration, high school reform, teacher quality, workforce development and diversity in higher education.  She is a licensed attorney, earning her JD degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, and is also a former urban high school teacher.  

Margaret “Peggy” M. O'Neill-Jones, Ph.D.

Dr. O’Neill-Jones is a Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Media Production at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and served as Department Chair for nearly ten years. Her career began as a newspaper photographer and moved to broadcast, corporate, and educational media. As media transitioned to digital, online, and virtual environments, she led the way with innovative interactive media productions, including 21st Century Learning Matters, a video that describes the strategies and tools needed to create powerful learning environments.

Currently, she is the Regional Director for the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Western Region program. TPS provides professional development related to locating, accessing, and integrating the vast reservoir of primary sources from the Library of Congress to deepen content understanding through inquiry-based learning and 21st century learning skills. Through Dr. O’Neill-Jones’ leadership, since 2013 the TPS-Colorado program has grown from a statewide outreach project to a regional program that serves 14 western states. The program recently received additional support from the Library of Congress to continue through December, 2021.

   Leroy S. Chavez, MBA

Principal Investigator of the Month

Leroy S. Chavez was the Principal Investigator and Project Director of the Federal TRIO Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) at Metropolitan State University of Denver, completed in August, 2017.  VUB was designed to motivate and assist veterans in the development of academic and other requisite skills necessary for acceptance and success in a program of postsecondary education. The program provides assessment and enhancement of basic skills through counseling, mentoring, tutoring and academic instruction in core subject areas. The primary goal of the program is to increase the rate at which participants enroll in and complete postsecondary education programs.    

A United States Veteran, a MSU Denver alum (’96), as well as a graduate of VUB, Mr. Chavez has over fifteen years of experience in higher education, including eleven years working directly with military veterans who are pursuing goals in postsecondary education. His grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of VUB received funding in the amount of $1,404,715 over a five year period.  

Rosemarie Depoy Walker, Ph.D.  

?Dr. Walker, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at MSU Denver, is the Principal Investigator for "Denver Metro Chem Scholars", a $620,309 grant funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF).  This program provides financial assistance, effective student supports, and academic experiences necessary to create for its students the conditions for success, including degree completion, preparation for graduate school, and careers as scientists.  The program serves a total of 25 students who have financial need and are pursuing bachelor's degrees in Chemistry and/or Forensics.

Dr. Walker also serves as the Director of the STEPS (Strides Toward Encouraging Professions in Science) program, a major National Institute of Health (NIH) Bridges to the Baccalaureate grant that has been operational since 1998, and continues through June 2020, with awards totaling over $2.4 million. STEPS seeks to encourage and support underrepresented minority students from two-year colleges to persist in their education, transfer to four-year colleges in majors related to biomedical sciences, and to eventually enter careers in biomedical research. STEPS has played a role in MSU Denver’s success in improving the transfer rate of minority students, as well as the number of minority students majoring in Biology and Chemistry.

The American Chemical Society Committee on Minority Affairs selected Dr. Walker as The Rocky Mountain Regional Meeting 2012 recipient of the Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for advancing diversity in the chemical sciences, presented at the 23rd Rocky Mountain Regional Meeting . 




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