Illinois Public Media News
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois will be going to Japan next week to survey the devastation caused by Friday's magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami.
Doctoral candidate Hussam Mahmoud with the U of I's Mid-America Earthquake Center said one thing to learn from the world's 5th largest earthquake since 1900 will be how to better retrofit buildings. He said damage to newer structures will reveal flaws in design codes. But Mahmoud said Japan had already improved from prior designs, learning from the 1995 magnitude 7.2 quake near the city of Kobe that claimed more than 6,000 lives.
"Then we can see exactly what are the weak points we have in all design codes," Mahmoud said. "And the design really are no different in any countries of the world. What they have in Japan for design and the codes that we also have here, there's a lot of dissemation of information, there might be slight differences, but we're pretty much doing the same thing."
But Mahmoud said the tsunami and many fires associated with this earthquake make it very hard to assess the total loss of life, damage, and economic impact.
He said the information coming from his team's research in Japan will be distributed to thousands of agencies worldwide studying seismic activity.
Nearly 200 University of Illinois Urbana campus graduate workers affected by a payroll glitch can receive emergency grant money this semester.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the university is temporarily raising the cap on that program, so anyone impacted will be able to recoup what they were losing by the university's failure to collect taxes on tuition waivers the last seven years.
Revised figures show about 170 grad assistants were impacted, but Kaler said only six are to receive no pay over the next three months. One hundred ten of them will see a pay reduction of 10-percent or less. Graduate Employees Organization spokesman Christopher Simeone said he is happy to see the U of I stepped up and took the blame.
"We felt from the beginning that although this is a series of accidents that this was ultimately the University's responsibility," Simeone said. "We felt that it was unjust to hand down the consequences of the mistakes unto least able to bear those consequences."
Kaler said the cap for emergency grants is being temporarily increased to $2,200 this semester, allowing to recoup what would have received over the next three months. Students are normally limited to $500 a semester through the grants.
Kaler said there are other situations in which others students would apply for the grants.
"You do not have to be a GA or a PGA to apply for this program," she said. "If for example, you have a job on campus and you also have a job in the community somewhere and you've lost your job, you would be a candidate to apply for this."
Grant forms are being made available in the next couple of days, with the money expected with seven to 10 days. When the payroll error was discovered, some graduate workers indicated they would have to withdraw from school. Simeone said he can't verify that anyone did, but says members of the GEO were 'very scared'.
He said the union is still concerned about future problems regarding tax withholdings, and is working with the U of I to help plan members' budgets. He said the GEO is also trying to contact US Senator Dick Durbin's office about potential revisions to federal tax law.
Heading into the Big Ten tournament, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has questions.
Will Jereme Richmond's banged-up shoulder hold up? Can he count on slumping guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul for at least tough defense in Friday's game against Michigan? Will Demetri McCamey's solid form of the past few weeks last?
But Weber figures, surely, there's at least one thing he doesn't have to question -- what happens to Illinois (19-12, 9-9 Big Ten) after the conference tournament is done.
If Illinois isn't in the NCAA tournament, "I would be dumbfounded, to be honest," Weber said, counting off the tough non-conference opponents the Illini faced this season -- Texas, Maryland, North Carolina and Gonzaga among them. Illinois beat the last three and took Texas to overtime.
Then again, the Illini were stunned a year ago when they were left out of the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Their record then (19-14, 10-8) was even a little better as far as conference play goes.
This season, Weber said, the Illini went through a tougher schedule with last year's snub in mind.
If games against Texas, North Carolina and the rest don't get the Illini into an expanded tourney that now includes 68 teams, "I will totally change my mindset of scheduling philosophy, I promise that," he said.
Illinois has rebounded in recent weeks from a midseason slump that saw them slide out of the Top 25 and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. McCamey's game in particular fell off and losses to Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern piled up like failing grades on the Illini report card.
Since then, the Illini sandwiched wins over the Hoosiers and Iowa around a close road loss to Purdue.
The team that won those games, Weber said, looked a lot more like the one that handled North Carolina than the one that couldn't buy a key basket when it needed one at Indiana.
"We had the puzzle pretty well put together early; it got messed up," Weber said. "Now we're putting those pieces back into the puzzle."
The biggest piece of that puzzle is McCamey..
The senior guard, even with his midseason slump, is Illinois' leading scorer with 15 points a game. And no one on the roster can run the offense the way McCamey can -- his 6.1 assists a game are second in the conference, behind the Wolverines' Darius Morris.
McCamey traces his problems -- and his team's -- to a tentative streak he believes is behind them.
"I think I've just got to be aggressive," he said, adding that the Illini were often slow to get into transition during their slump. "We are a real dangerous team when we get out in transition."
Weber said his other questions still need to be answered.
Richmond, the first player off the bench for Illinois, is playing with pain in his injured shoulder but will have to be a factor for the Illini if they're going to get past Michigan (19-12, 9-9).
Paul and Richmond, Weber said, could be important, too. Paul is one of Illinois' only options for spelling McCamey -- and when he's on, the sophomore guard can be a dangerous shooter. Richardson, meanwhile, will likely have a lot of the defensive responsibility for Morris.
"Morris is kind of the head of the group," Weber said. "A Steve Nash-like player that wheels and deals and sets up everyone else.
A University of Illinois graduate student who developed an automatic gear shifting mechanism for manual wheelchairs is this year's winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize. Mechanical engineering student Scott Daigle was to formally received the $30,000 prize at a ceremony Wednesday evening on the Urbana campus.
Daigle said his invention helps users of manual wheelchairs who risk chronic shoulder pain and even injury, from constantly pushing the back wheels of a wheelchair. He compares his "IntelliWheels" gearshift to the gearshift that a bicyclist uses to handle different terrains and speeds.
"The IntelliWheels system achieves that same goal, by automatically sensing what the user is doing," Daigle said. "How hard they're pushing, how fast they're going, what kind of hill they're on, and intelligently selecting the best gear for the job."
But Daigle said the most important result of the IntelliWheels wheelchair is that it helps wheelchair users better maintain their independence.
"We're not asking them to rely on big heavy motors or big batteries," he said. "It's an easier way of keeping your mobility in a manual wheelchair."
Daigle said his IntelliWheels wheelchair is still in the testing stage. Meanwhile, he is also working on other devices for wheelchair users, such as an emergency toolkit and what he calls "castor-skis" to go on a wheelchair's front wheels to get around on snowy winter sidewalks.
Daigle is doing the research through his IntelliWheels comany, formed with partners that include U of I PhD. candidate student Marissa Siebel, the athletic trainer for the U of I wheelchair athletics team. The company operates out of the EnterpriseWorks Technology Business Incubator at the U of I Research Park in Champaign.
Daigle said he plans to invest his Lemelson-MIT prize money into IntelliWheels. The Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize is one of four prizes in the Lemelson-MIT student program, which rewards outstanding work by student inventors.
UI Holds Forum on Proposed Cuts to Institute of Aviation
The University of Illinois held a public forum Tuesday night to get feedback about a budget recommendation to break up the 65-year-old Institute of Aviation.
A University of Illinois student who was struck by two vehicles over the weekend has died.
The Champaign County coroner's office said 21-year-old Bradley Bunte died late Monday morning - he had been in critical condition since late Friday night, when an eastbound van clipped him at University and McCullough in Urbana. Bunte was then run over by a second vehicle.
He was a Champaign native and a sports reporter for the Daily Illini.
(Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Events Friday tied to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day brought in a large amount of people to East Central Illinois...thanks in part to the social networking website, Facebook.
Extra police officers from Champaign, Urbana, and the University of Illinois campus were stationed around the community to prevent major disruptions and maintain public safety. There were 364 people who received court appearance notices for charges related to indecent behavior and public intoxication, and more than half of those cases were people who lived outside the Champaign-Urbana area.
While these figures are up from 2010 and 2009, Urbana Police Lieutenant Robert Fitzgerald said he thinks his department did a great job during the night.
"The police departments were all out there in force to make sure that everyone was safe," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think we could change much in the next year than what we did this year."
Meanwhile, a University of Illinois student who was struck by two vehicles over the weekend has died. According to the Champaign County coroner's office, 21-year-old Bradley Bunte passed away late Monday morning. He had been in critical condition since late Friday night, when an eastbound van clipped him at University and McCullough in Urbana. Bunte was then run over by a second vehicle. He was a Champaign native and a sports reporter for the Daily Illini.
Urbana Police are not saying at this point if the incident was connected to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
A leader of University of Illinois graduate workers said the Urbana campus is actively working to soften the blow on those affected by a computer problem that meant taxes weren't withheld for seven years.
The payroll glitch on tuition waivers means 17 graduate employees will not see a paycheck for three months as the U of I owes thousands in back taxes. More than 250 other graduate assistants will be taxed for part of their tuition waivers starting this month, which could mean more than half of their pay.
Graduate Employees Organization co-president Stephanie Seawell said the U of I is actively meeting with the union to find solutions, but the two sides have yet to come up with a concrete plan.
"Hopefully we can find some sort of solution where they could spread out how they have to pay it," Seawell said. "Or in some cases, if they do a lot of teaching work, they might be able to be teaching assistants instead of the classifications that generate these sort of taxes."
The GEO said the deepest impact may be felt on international students, some of who have spouses who aren't eligible to work in the U.S. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the only apparent solution now for the graduate workers is taking out a loan.
"We are obliged to make these withholdings," Hardy said. "And we greatly appreciate the patience and cooperation on the part of these graduate students."
Hardy said graduate assignment classifications for many of the students vary on the Urbana campus, making it difficult to find a uniform solution. The U of I's change to the Banner computer system was only made in Urbana, and graduate workers in Chicago and Springfield were not affected.
Students, instructors, and graduates of the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation say administrators want to close a valuable program at a time when it's needed most.
About 80 of them Thursday discussed an industry that stands to lose about 37,000 pilots in the U.S. alone over the next 10 years. U of I Graduate Nathan Butcher is now a Delta pilot. He said there's a decline in training overall, and many pilots are nearing their mandatory retirement age. Butcher said administrators have a very narrow view of the Institute, which is turning out more than pilots.
"The Institute of Aviation is a long standing center for excellence in the field of professional pilot training, aviation research, and aviation safety advancements," he said. "Unfortunately, the university's administration defines the Institute of Aviation's role as being very technical and only worth of trade school status. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Willard Airport Tower Air Traffic Controller Kevin Gnagey said two thirds of his workforce is nearing retirement age, and that the Institute generates 85% of the traffic they direct at Willard. Gnagey contends the U of I is also throwing away the chance for future research on airport grounds.
"I would also be so bold as to assert that losing the Institute of Aviation could pose a large loss to the University of Illinois," he said. "This loss may not be immediately evident, but as the FAA is investing billions of dollars into research and development in new technology for the next generation of the national airspace system, opportunities would be lost."
Instructor and U of I graduate Joseph McElwee said while no decision has been made, he says administrators are trying to make closing the institute easier by moving remaining faculty to other academic units, and denying Fall 2011 admission to new applicants.
"They say that no decision has been made, so we don't have to bargain with your VAP's (Vistiing Academic Professionals)," McElwee said. "But at the same time, if you think about this, it's just an academic institution. And so the backbone of this is the students. And if we don't have students, there's no one to teach."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the recommendation to close the facility came after evaluating competing interests of students, faculty, and the public, and determining that closing the Institute and discontinuing degree programs were in the best interests of the Urbana campus. She also cites declining enrollment at the Institute in the past decade, noting it had 176 applicants in 2002, admitting 119, and 65 freshman enrolled. In 2010, the Institute had 112 applicants, admitting 65 and 34 enrolled.
A hearing on the Institute's future will be held Tuesday before Urbana campus Senate. The plan must also go before the U of I's Board of Trustees and the State Board of Higher Education.
Public universities in Illinois are letting state lawmakers know how government funding cuts have impacted them.
The schools are hoping to avoid further cuts in the next state budget. University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he put in a request for more money from the state. Now he said he is just hoping his funding level stays the same without getting docked by legislators.
"The governor has come in asking for less," he said.
Hogan said keeping high-profile faculty at the university is hard when he can't offer competitive salaries. He said the school remains under a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, Southern Illinois University's president Glenn Poshard said he's having the same problems. He said the money issues at his school have been exacerbated by late payments from the state.
"If this the state's not going to help us," Poshard exclaimed. "I mean had we not had the income fund monies that we have from the tuition increases, we couldn't make payroll."
But lawmakers say universities, just like every other state benefactor, must tighten their belts to survive the state's current budget crisis.
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