New faculty report first impressions of UND

Seven new members of the UND community talk about their work, living in Grand Forks

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

UND welcomed several new tenure-track faculty members this fall, and UND Today visited with seven new faculty researchers.

From excitement about Space Force connections and interdepartmental collaborations to wondering about the winter that lays ahead, they shared their first impressions about the University.

Ray Mitic, assistant professor of education, health & behavior

Ray Mitic

Ray Mitic hit the ground running. During his second week at UND, he received a grant to conduct a pilot study of students in space studies that looks at race and women in the program.

“I was a first-generation college student,” he said. “I’m interested in higher education and civic outcomes, what the experience is like for first-generation college students, equity within graduate education, and ways to support students who are from groupls that have been historically excluded from higher education opportunities.”

He has found that college graduates tend to be more engaged in the community, and are more likely to vote, volunteer, and donate.

Grand Forks reminds him of home, said Mitic, who grew up outside Chicago.

“I come from a working-class background, and like the hard work mentality of UND,” he said. “I’ve lived in New York City, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Washington, D.C., and wanted a more homey environment.  I wanted a place where I would feel supported and able to grow. UND has a research commitment, but not at the expense of students. There’s a balance here between research and supporting students.”

Mitic added that as a Star Trek fan, working on a campus with a space studies program piqued his interest. He also enjoys astronomy, running, travel and wine tasting.

Min Seok Kim, assistant professor of electrical engineering & computer science

Min Seok Kim is also enjoying Grand Forks. Born in Korea, he moved to Canada for high school and an education at the University of Toronto.

“I’ve always wanted to live in a smaller community and college town,” he said. “Every person I’ve met has been super helpful and friendly.”

He enjoys movies and riding bike, and described UND as “amazing.”

“I expected some help from senior faculty, but this has gone beyond my expectations,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the senior faculty in my department, as well as the Alice Clark Mentoring Program. I can’t express how thankful I am to the mentors and the program.”

Kim teaches courses in electric and magnetic fields, noting that the development of cell phones, computers and tablets all have roots in that area.

He describes his research as similar to trying to build the invisibility cloak in the Harry Potter movies, and is especially interested in engaging students.

“My work uses the laws of physics and engineering,” he explained. “Light scatters off an object, and eyes collect the light. We can fool the eyes into thinking the object doesn’t exist by suitably engineering these scattered rays. My work focuses on coating the object with very small meta-atoms, and engineering how the light scatters off them.”

Bo Liang, assistant professor of biomedical engineering

Bo Liang

Bo Liang is also a new member of the School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and comes to UND from the NIH, where he worked on developing optical methods to study the brain’s reward and motor behaviors.

He teaches biomedical optics and imaging, and has a close collaboration with the School of Medicine & Health Sciences and biomedical sciences, where he is using a tool he developed to study questions related to brain disorders.

“Biomedical engineering is the future,” Liang said. “We have a strong team and a lot of expertise in optical and electrical engineering.”

He said he saw opportunity at UND, and moved to Grand Forks last December. He’s especially enjoying meeting colleagues and students in person.

“My colleagues are nice and helpful,” he said, adding that he’s finding that UND has good students. “I like meeting in person, and am looking forward to having a ‘normal-ish’ semester that allows me to interact with colleagues and students.

“I especially enjoy the evenings here, along with hiking and biking,” he said. “The evenings are similar in northern China, where I’m from. My wife and I are enjoying our new son, and I spend much of my time with him.”

Joonkil Ahn, assistant professor of teaching & leadership

Joonkil Ahn

Joonkil Ahn turned down an offer from a competing institution to come to UND.

“I strongly leaned toward UND because of the positive climate of my department and college, and the strong support for my research,” he said.

He examines how K-12 school leadership enhances staff development and student learning. He’s especially interested in how teacher collaboration, the leadership of principals, and student learning intertwine.

Originally from South Korea, Ahn was a high school English teacher for 17 years before becoming licensed as a principal in Illinois and then advancing his education. He teaches the internship in educational leadership for principal and superintendent candidates, as well as the advanced curriculum for doctoral students. He is also interested in teaching quantitative research methods.

He enjoys playing tennis, guitar, and walking along the Greenway with his wife and daughter.

“I’m very much enjoying the professional relationships with colleagues, the collegial department climate, and support from the college for my research,” Ahn said. “I really like the people here in Grand Forks. They are nice and always approachable.”

Lavinia Iancu, assistant professor of criminal justice

Lavinia Iancu found out about the kindness of the UND community firsthand. She flew to Grand Forks from Romania and started teaching almost immediately. Jet-lagged and exhausted from the eight-hour time difference, she got lost on campus with a low phone battery. Someone stopped to ask if she was okay, helped her get her bearings, and gave her a ride home.

“People here are really nice and helpful, and that gives me a sense of comfort,” Iancu said. “Grand Forks is nice, and I enjoy the houses, streets and people.”

Iancu also directs the forensic science program. Her research focuses on forensic entomology and microbiology involved in the decomposition of human or animal carcasses to estimate time of death, or the postmortem interval.

“It’s among the nastiest jobs on the planet,” she said, adding that someone needs to do it, and she wants help people who can no longer help themselves.

Originally from Romania, Iancu earned her degrees from the University of Bucharest, and served as a Fulbright senior scientist at Sam Houston State University.

“UND seems to focus on both research and educating students, as well as providing them with hands-on experience,” Iancu said. “That was one of the main reasons I applied for the job.”

She enjoys visiting new places, as well as the theatre, classical music, and meeting new people.

Binglin Sui, assistant professor of chemistry

Binglin Sui

Binglin Sui enjoys the friendly people and peaceful environment of UND, and sees the University as a perfect place for his research.

“Everyone has been supportive of me,” he said. “As a new faculty member, whenever I need help with something, I can get it from my colleagues. The University is very considerate of new faculty. All kinds of assistance and support are offered in orientations, training, workshops to help us grow.”

Sui teaches organic and materials chemistry, and has joint research interests in organic chemistry and biomedical science. He’s working to develop nanomaterials and smart nanosystems to diagnose and treat diseases that include cancer and neurological disorders.

Originally from Shandong, China, Sui earned his doctoral from the University of Central Florida.

He’s enjoying Grand Forks.

“It’s a small, safe and beautiful town,” he said. “Everything is convenient. I like cool weather, and am looking forward to winter.”

Laura Link, assistant professor of teaching & leadership

Laura Link

Laura Link has spent more than 30 years in education. A former Teacher of the Year, she taught English and other subjects in K-12 schools for 14 years, and was one of the first nationally board-certified high school teachers in the country. Additionally, she has served as a teacher mentor, school leader, professional development director, and assistant superintendent, as well as chief of talent and chief academic officer for some of the largest school districts in the nation. She was also one of seven executive committee members charged with leading the largest school district merger in United States’ history.

She shifted to higher education, and earned her degrees at Florida State University, North Georgia College and State University, and the University of Memphis. At UND, she teaches legal issues in education, along with other educational leadership courses, and directs the Masters in Teaching and Leadership program. Her research focuses on K-12 classroom assessment and grading.

“Classroom grading practices continue to be the Wild West of teaching and learning, and an often overlooked component in teacher and principal preparation programs,” Link said. “Teachers spend one third of their professional time assessing students’ work, so ensuring that our classroom assessment and grading policies and practices are fair, accurate, and meaningful is so important.”

Link is especially impressed with the new Gershman Graduate Center.

“The Gershman Center is like no other,” she said. “I have the wonderful opportunity to teach graduate students here at UND, and it’s the perfect place to host students and dissertation defenses. It’s not common to have such a historic and useful space dedicated specifically for graduate students. We’re fortunate.”

Link is looking forward to her first hockey game and her first winter in Grand Forks.

“The campus is gorgeous, with well-appointed architecture, stately buildings, trees and flowers,” she said. “It’s a beautiful setting to teach and learn. And the people in Grand Forks are friendly and welcoming. Where else can you get a world class University, top-notch K-12 schools, noteworthy healthcare, super cool space innovations, ever-present kindness, and the best Chippers ever? Only in Grand Forks. It’s a great place to call home.”