Debra Feakes brings fresh perspectives to campus

Debra Feakes, dean of the University of Indianapolis Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences

Debra Feakes, dean of the University of Indianapolis Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences

Amid the growing consensus about the importance of STEM education to tackle complex global issues, Debra Feakes, dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Indianapolis, offers insight on the continuing significance of the liberal arts.

“General education outcomes like teamwork, communication, critical thinking and reasoning are equally important as getting that STEM education. Somebody who can combine the two of those and communicate well at all levels is a powerful graduate,” Feakes explained.

As dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences, Feakes describes herself as an advocate of the general education core curriculum. Her perspective has evolved over more than two decades in higher education to embrace the idea that STEM skills are connected to the humanities in critical ways, which is a concept she champions in her role.

Emphasizing the relevance of the liberal arts and the value of a well-rounded education is a primary component of Feakes’ long-term strategy for the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences, comprised of 20 undergraduate and 9 graduate programs.

“Part of the task for colleges of arts and sciences across the nation is to recognize the contributions from these fields. We need to focus on making what we do meaningful to the public and demonstrate how this work has a broader positive impact,” Feakes said.

Feakes came to appreciate the humanities through her mother, whose interest in the arts acted as a counterweight to Feakes’ science-oriented academic career. Feakes earned a doctorate in chemistry from Utah State University in 1991, but the subject matter didn’t always come easy.

“I got average grades, but chemistry was a passion. I realized I could be challenged every single day as I took the career path,” Feakes said. “I truly believe that anybody can do what they want, as long as they’re passionate about it.”

An important component of her student experience that she draws from as an educator, including 24 years at Texas State University and now as dean at UIndy, is centered in helping students unravel layers of complexity.

There’s a perception from students that if you’re teaching chemistry, chemistry was easy for you. I understand how difficult it was to grasp, so I was able to use that to help develop my teaching skills, and how better to explain things and make it relevant to students,” Feakes said.

Feakes introduces the the Gala Opening Concert of the 2018-19 Faculty Artist Concert Series, featuring Maestro Raymond Leppard.

Feakes introduces the
the Gala Opening Concert of the 2018-19 Faculty Artist Concert Series, featuring Maestro Raymond Leppard.

Raising awareness among high school students and undeclared majors about potential careers is another goal for Feakes in her role as dean.

“When I went to school, I knew people who wanted to be an art historian or chemist. But nobody told me they wanted to be in experience design. I’d like to look at how we can bring the students in and show them potential careers that they might not have considered before,” Feakes explained.

Exploring the field to its full potential is a common theme in Feakes’ own career. As an inorganic chemist, she specializes in boron neutron capture therapy, a treatment designed to target tumor cells for patients with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. Her interest in chemical education research led her to the area of supplemental instruction, which she applied across the chemistry program as associate chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas State.

Under the supplemental instruction model, students who excelled in chemistry courses were invited back and paid to model good student behavior in class, such as taking notes or asking questions. Those former students also held study sessions to help current students learn study skills.

Supplemental instruction is one example of Feakes’ work as interim associate director of the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research at Texas State, which aims to improve access and opportunity for participation in STEM careers. High-impact practices also included first-year experience classes targeted for specific majors, early internship opportunities, undergraduate research and learning assistants.

“There are mechanisms to improve retention rates at UIndy and those are just some of the things that we can look at,” Feakes explained.

As the first female tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas State, Feakes says she appreciates the value of female, minority and disability role models in STEM fields.

“If we’re truly going to embrace diversity, we need all of those opinions,” she said.

Learn more about the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Indianapolis

Roche Academy at the University of Indianapolis announces first cohort

Roche_Mobile500The University of Indianapolis and Roche Diagnostics, the world leader in in vitro diagnostics, are partnering to solve the talent pipeline for biomedical equipment technicians. The first Roche Academy cohort brings together eight students from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky who will begin the program in the 2019-20 academic year. Established in 2018, the program is an innovative partnership that provides real-world training for biology and chemistry majors to create industry-ready graduates for high-demand positions with Roche Diagnostics.

The Roche Academy offers a customized curriculum and summer internship experience focused on the hands-on life science and engineering skills necessary to succeed in a career with Roche. Students will receive training and skill-building opportunities, professional development, an internship and a full-time position at Roche upon successful completion of the program. Graduates will serve a critical need to Roche’s operations as they maintain lab equipment and provide customer service across the United States.

“The Roche Academy is critical to our business. These career-ready graduates will not only bring fresh ideas to our organization but will also be mentored by tenured Roche employees to supplement our workforce with highly-skilled talent,” explained Russ Fellows, Roche Academy project leader.

Debra Feakes, dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences, said the model sets a new standard for university partnerships with industry leaders to onboard fully trained employees.

“Roche has been a fantastic collaborative partner as University of Indianapolis faculty identified a curriculum that will position students to excel in the classroom and in the field. The University is thrilled to offer students this unique opportunity to develop a career path and apply new skills in a professional setting with built-in mentorship,” said Debra Feakes, dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences.

The first cohort of students will complete a paid internship at Roche the summer of 2019 before gaining full employment at Roche in 2020. The Academy is expected to produce up top 20 biomedical equipment technicians for Roche annually.

The first cohort includes:

Brad Moon ’20 (biology major, chemistry minor); East Moline, Ill.
Megan Briley ’20 (chemistry); Martinsville, Ind.
Will Durchholz ’20 (chemistry); Evansville, Ind.
Michaela Heil ’20 (chemistry major, criminal justice minor); Indianapolis, Ind.
Kiley Kenekham ’20 (chemistry major, biology minor); Brownsville, Ind.
Michael “Blake” Chitwood ’20 (chemistry); Greenwood, Ind.
Jeffrey “Jack” Kuerzi ’20 (chemistry); Louisville, Kentucky
Victor Inglima ’20 (biology and chemistry dual major); Brownsburg, Ind.

“No Belles: Legends of Women in Science” coming to UIndy Feb. 6

Amid the ongoing conversation about inclusivity in academics, a theatrical performance raises timely questions about the disparity of women pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The Portland, Oregon-based Portal Theatre brings “No Belles: Legends of Women in Science” to the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, Feb. 6, 2019, to explore the stories of female scientists who have and have not received the Nobel Prize.


The University of Indianapolis is co-hosting the event with the Indiana local section of the American Chemical Society. The evening includes a reception in the lobby from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m., followed by the performance at 6:30 p.m. and a chance to meet the cast from 7:30 to 8 p.m. Admission is free for this public event and registration is required.

With just 19 women represented among more than 600 Nobel Prize recipients in physics, chemistry or medicine over the years, “No Belles” focuses attention on female scientists’ work – and how to create more opportunities for women in STEM fields. The Portal Theatre, which created the original work, describes the performance: “‘No Belles’ makes visible the significant contributions of women in science and serves as a powerful catalyst for increased interactions between the sciences and the community.”

Michael Phillips, Portal Theatre artistic director, explained the show is aimed at anyone with an interest in science.

“We want the audience to know who these scientists were. The reason we chose storytelling as the primary mode for the show was so that we could, simply and directly, explore the lives of the women, and understand all they had to overcome to reach their goals,” Phillips explained.

“We wanted to bring this performance to the University of Indianapolis to highlight the contributions of women in science and the value of inclusivity,” said Debra Feakes, dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences.

“No Belles” explores the careers of Rosalyn Yalow, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Rosalind Franklin, merging science, storytelling and broader discussions of equal treatment in academics and the workplace. Creating opportunities for women in science to become role models and act as mentors to those who follow them is a big part of the story.

“The UIndy Chemistry Department is pleased to be able to offer this play, ‘No Belles,’ to the University and general community. It brings to the forefront the particular struggles of female scientists who may not benefit from the same level of support and mentorship as their peers.  The commitment and dedication of these women is an inspiration to all, and I would encourage everyone to go share this experience,” said Kathy Stickney, associate professor of chemistry and executive committee member for the Indiana Section of the American Chemical Society.

The American Chemical Society hosted a performance of “No Belles” in 2017 at the Fall National Meeting as an adjunct to a symposium on the under-representation of women in chemistry. The Portal Theatre debuted the performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2014 and the Canadian Fringe Festival in 2015 to rave reviews.

Register here for free tickets.


University of Indianapolis names Dean of the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences

Feakes-LargeThe University of Indianapolis announced today the appointment of Dr. Debra A. Feakes as Dean of the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences. Her appointment follows an extensive national search.  Feakes, a tenured full professor, is the associate chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas State University (San Marcos) and interim associate director of the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research. She begins her role July 1, 2018.

“Dr. Feakes brings to this role a reputation as a strategic and collaborative leader and an extensive record as a scholar, researcher, mentor and stellar teacher,” said Dr. Stephen Kolison, executive vice president and Provost at the University of Indianapolis. “These are the attributes and leadership experiences that will influence the momentum of the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences, inspiring our students and supporting our faculty.”

In her role as Dean, Dr.  Feakes will oversee nearly 150 faculty from undergraduate and graduate programs in 16 departments, as well as the R.B. Annis School of Engineering. She has authored and co-authored numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals and received more than $3 million in grants/funding for several research projects and protocols including from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Feakes has served on regional and national boards for professional organizations in her field and presented at numerous scientific conferences.

The Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences encompasses bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in disciplines including Anthropology, Art & Design, Biology, Chemistry, Communication, English, Engineering, History & Political Science, Mathematics, Global Languages, Multidisciplinary Programs, Music, Philosophy & Religion, Physics & Earth-Space Science, Sociology, Criminal Justice, and Theatre. Nearly half of University of Indianapolis undergraduates will choose majors in those departments, which also provide important core courses and a liberal arts foundation — and enriching electives to students majoring in professional fields such as Health Sciences, Education and Business.

Dr. Feakes completed her undergraduate degree in Mineral Engineering Chemistry at the Colorado School of Mines (1986) and a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry from Utah State University (1991). Before entering the academic ranks, she served as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California at Los Angeles. She is a recipient of numerous honors and awards for her commitment to undergraduate teaching and was named a 2016 Piper Professor and a 2017 Regents Teacher; and was named the 2015-2016 Presidential Fellow at Texas State University (San Marcos).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to serve as the Dean of the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences and look forward to joining the dedicated faculty and staff as we provide core knowledge to our students and advance the mission and goals of the university,” said Feakes.