Experience the Power of Possibility
What is even possible? We don’t know yet, but we’re excited to find out.
In November 2023, eight of our faculty presented at POP Talks on the “Power of Possibility.” They helped us explore beyond the known world and unmask new features of the world we thought we understood. They made us question everything we thought we knew. Problems we thought solved. Questions we didn’t know needed answering. Even what we thought possible.
A live vote from the audience resulted in Omi Hodwitz winning the first POP Talks competition for her presentation on the Prison Education Initiative. Videos of all the presentations will be uploaded shortly.
2023 Winner: Omi Hodwitz
Justice is complicated, and Omi Hodwitz’s expertise sheds light on the nuances of terrorism and crime. Before joining University of Idaho, she worked as a researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at University of Maryland. Hodwitz’s research interests include the role of non-combatants in the escalation of terrorist activity, and she has conducted fieldwork in conflict regions such as Pakistan and Turkey.
Hodwitz, Ph.D., also provided the spark for getting U of I involved in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program. The worldwide program allows U of I students to experience education in our prison system and correctional residents a glimpse at their own potential. As of 2022, thanks in part to Hodwitz’s leadership, incarcerated individuals in Idaho now have greater access to higher education, using the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell Experiment.
Greetings, earthlings! Meet Jason Barnes, Ph.D., the physicist who’s taking the study of planets and planetary systems to new heights. As a renowned expert in his field, Barnes is not afraid to boldly go where no one has gone before.
His current quest? Unraveling the mysteries of Saturn’s moon Titan. Barnes is the deputy principal investigator on the Dragonfly mission, an endeavor to send a robotic rotorcraft lander to Titan’s surface as part of the NASA New Frontiers Program.
Named for its insect shape, Dragonfly is set to launch in 2025 and arrive at Titan in December 2034. Its primary mission will last a little over two years. With eight rotors, the dual-quadcopter will fly from site to site on the alien moon and sample the icy crust and hydrocarbon sands. It is outfitted with a vacuum to suck up samples, a drill for coring and instruments to perform chemical analyses.
Brian Johnson is a man of power — literally! As a renowned expert in power system applications, he knows how to keep our energy flowing smoothly. From power system protection to energy storage systems, Johnson’s got it covered. And let’s not forget his work in cybersecurity and intelligent transportation systems.
Johnson is a big deal in the world of power engineering, and he’s got the credentials to prove it. He’s a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and he’s held leadership roles on various technical committees. Plus, he is the Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Endowed Chair in Power Engineering.
Oh, and did we mention he’s a total student advocate? Over the past 27 years, Johnson’s advised an impressive 248 grad students in Moscow and beyond, many through the College of Engineering’s Engineering Outreach online education program. Plus, he advised 190 students completing graduate certificates.
Shelley McGuire is a force to be reckoned with in the world of maternal and infant nutrition. As a leading expert in her field, she's been inducted into the prestigious National Academy of Medicine — University of Idaho’s and the state of Idaho’s first inductee.
McGuire’s primary focus is understanding the impact of maternal diet and nutritional status on human milk composition and health outcomes during breastfeeding. Her team’s groundbreaking research has spanned the globe, and she found the composition of human milk varies greatly based on where the mother lives and believes these differences likely prime babies to thrive in their specific environments.
What sets McGuire apart from other scientists? Her passion for her work and her ability to make complex concepts accessible to everyone. When it comes to maternal and infant nutrition, she has the skills, the knowledge and the dedication to make a real difference in the world.
Sydney Freeman Jr.
Sydney Freeman Jr., Ph.D., is revolutionizing the way we think about higher education. With a focus on Black student and employee experiences in higher education, the faculty career-cycle and higher education, Freeman’s research is breaking down barriers and pushing boundaries.
At 36 years old, Freeman made U of I history as the first African American man to achieve full professorship at the university. He’s also the director of the university’s Black History Research Lab, which was founded in 2021. His appreciation of Black history fueled his desire to help share stories of past Black students and faculty members on a college campus where those groups may feel under-represented. And recently, he founded the Black Research Institute for Flourishing and Thriving an initiative that develops scholarship that leads to effective policy and practice prescriptions that facilitate a wholistic sense of belonging and joy for the Black community.
Jaap Vos has a passion for strengthening local rural economies and protecting agriculture, and he’s on a mission to help rural areas retain their unique identity. His research focuses on finding ways to maintain rural communities’ distinct character while also embracing that Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the nation.
Vos argues that understanding change is more relevant than understanding growth. Past census data shows Idaho is one of the nation’s fastest-growing states. Looking deeper, Vos says, at who Idahoans are now, what they want and how they live, will provide valuable insight into how areas are changing, what residents need and how to shape communities to reflect local values.
In the classroom, Vos inspires students with courses on community planning, sustainable communities and rural planning issues. He’s also the founding co-chair of APA Idaho's Ag Chat, a group of planners and stakeholders who tackle emerging planning issues in rural communities.
Renee Love has made a name for herself in the field of geology, and her research projects have taken her on a journey through time, exploring the diversity of life on Earth and the conditions under which it thrived.
She has studied ancient pollen and plant fossils and how they can help scientists understand the history of how biota both recorded and responded to climate change 16 million years ago, including the Clarkia Fossil Beds of North Idaho. With her background in petroleum geology, she has extensively worked on understanding Idaho’s only producing oil and gas field in southwestern Idaho. She has also looked at how different types of ancient plants and animals lived together in Western Washington and southern British Columbia 50-60 million years ago and what they can tell us about changing climates.
She’s even been known to study mammoths of the last ice age!
During summer, Ryan Long’s desk often gathers dust as he hightails it to Gorongosa National Park in Africa’s Mozambique. There, you will find him chasing after the region’s antelopes and elephants, as he explores how the varied ecosystems within the park influence its large mammal community.
Long was instrumental in studying the elephants of the region, which are some of the world’s most elegant examples of human-induced evolution. Poachers battered the local herds during a civil war, and Ryan and his research partners found that the spate of violence led to the evolution of tusklessness in female elephants. The number of female elephants without tusks tripled in the park following the war.
He hopes that new insights into these charismatic creatures, whether the antelopes’ eating habits or elephants’ love of gobbling up people’s crops, will facilitate improved management of these beloved species and improve human-animal interactions in Africa.