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Northwestern Goes to Washington

President, professors meet with Congressional members on debt, nanotechnology and music

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University was well represented in Washington, D.C., recently, as President Morton Schapiro and two other faculty members met with congressional members on Capitol Hill to discuss higher education issues critical to the nation’s future. 

President Schapiro met with members of Congress about the importance of student financial aid programs, federal funding for research and development, and other issues of priority to Northwestern’s students and faculty. Professor Mark Hersam testified before the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology on the need for sustained funding for nanotechnology research; and Professor Nina Kraus met with members of Congress and their staff on the biological reasons why music training should be part of every child’s education.

Morton Schapiro, Northwestern president and professor of economics:

President Schapiro and Illinois State University President Larry Dietz met with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., last week to discuss congressional efforts to help students manage student loan debt. Durbin is a co-sponsor of a bill that would allow current federal borrowers to refinance their loans at lower federal interest rates and allow private borrowers to refinance into federal loans.

“We risk creating a generation of young Americans weighed down by the burden of student loan debt if Congress doesn’t act soon,” Durbin said. “I was pleased to meet with Presidents Schapiro and Dietz today to discuss these issues and others important to higher education in Illinois.”

A photo from the meeting with President Schapiro is available here.

Mark Hersam, the Bette and Neison Harris Chair in Teaching Excellence, professor of materials science and engineering, chemistry and medicine and director of Northwestern’s Materials Research Center:

In his congressional testimony Hersam pushed for “coordinated, predictable and sustained federal funding” for nanotechnology research and development. He said that sustained support is particularly needed for fundamental research because of its potential for “unanticipated breakthroughs.”

The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology examined the current state of nanotechnology research, development, opportunities and challenges during a hearing on Tuesday, May 20, titled “Nanotechnology: From Laboratories to Commercial Products.” Hersam was invited to testify before the committee by Congressman Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.-3rd District, a Northwestern alumnus.

Hersam testified before the committee that fundamental research should be fostered by expanding the National Science Foundation Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers and that applied technology development would be accelerated by supporting the National Science Foundation Nanosystems Engineering Research Centers.

Hersam, whose research has been mainly funded by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), also testified about the importance of federal funding for nanotechnology research and development through the NNI.

Video of Hersam’s testimony.

Full story about Hersam’s testimony.

Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication and director of the  Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in the School of Communication at Northwestern:

Kraus long has argued, based on a body of research done through her lab, that music training profoundly shapes the sensory system and, thus, learning -- and should be a mainstay of K-12 education.

As part of a group sponsored by the NAMM Foundation, Kraus spent the day in Washington

meeting with members of Congress and their staff to try and shift the emphasis of the national dialogue on education from “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering arts and math education). 

She presented three briefings titled “The biological benefits of music education” to the House education staff, the Senate education staff and the U.S. Department of Education.

“I focused on our community-based research projects in L.A. gang reduction zones and Chicago public schools that have shown biological benefits of music training in improving the neural encoding of speech and strengthening communication skills, including hearing in noise, auditory working memory/attention and reading skills.”

She discussed the biological consequences of growing up in poverty and suggested that music education could improve impoverished neurological function.

“My goal was to make the point that music strengthens fundamental skills for learning -- and their underlying biology -- and should be a part of every child's education,” Kraus said.