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On the morning of Jan. 11, I woke early, poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to reflect. It was an important day, one that had the potential to significantly impact my scholarship and teaching. I wanted to get it right. I was about to join the ranks of nearly 200 other graduate students who, over the last ten years, had participated in the Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy. Their engagement work — which ranges from collaborating with incarcerated Iowans to creating public art to coordinating disaster relief — both excited and intimidated me as I thought about my own project.

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Some believe new technologies are powerful forces that dictate social, cultural and political relations. These “technological determinists” focus on the technology itself, questioning whether it produces positive or negative outcomes in society. Others believe people use technologies in ways that suit existing goals and interests. These “social constructionists” think about new technologies as tools that can be seized, adapted and appropriated by the public. While there is plenty of middle ground between these two perspectives, this dichotomy draws attention to a key question in the study of new technologies. Who has the most power: technology or people? This question, and how it has been answered throughout history and around the world, will be central to an upcoming WorldCanvass discussion, featuring University of Iowa faculty from Communication Studies, Journalism & Mass Communication, and Computer Science. The program, “Encountering New Technology,” will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Iowa City’s nonprofit cinema arts organization FilmScene on 118 E. College St. The program is free and open to the public.

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If the phrase "academic research" brings to mind tweedy professors poring over rare manuscripts or bespectacled scientists in lab coats examining glass beakers — you’re probably not alone. Nor is the stereotype entirely wrong; I’ve certainly dressed the part of rumpled geek during my career, to the occasional chagrin of my family. The prolonged and often unglamorous work of studying how social, economic and political forces shaped history, or how the universe operates down to the subatomic level and out at the furthest edges of space can seem mysterious, tedious and irrelevant to people outside of academia.

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As we celebrate the 25 year anniversary of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research it gives us the opportunity to reflect on how the issue of climate change has evolved.

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2015 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of "Don Quixote," volume two. Cervantes’ masterpiece is widely considered to be the first novel, but is best known for the comic duo of the crazy knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his chubby squire, Sancho Panza, whose down-to-earth simplicity makes his master’s flights of fancy even more ridiculous. Centuries after they first appeared in print, these two characters continue to inspire new artistic production throughout the world, in art, music and film. The digital age has only enhanced their popularity, as a new generation re-envisions the knight and squire in video games and graphic novels.

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As has been the case since the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and social media have played a key role not only reporting on these transformative events, but also providing radically different narratives about events in each country depending on the sectarian and ideological backgrounds of various actors. The complex relationship between the media and social change movements are receiving increased attention from academics and researchers, and the University of Iowa will introduce some of these scholars to the public in late April. In just over a month, Iowa City will welcome one of the nation’s most pre-eminent Middle East scholars, Dr. Mohammed el-Nawawy.

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A European study of the effects of study abroad on employability shows that experiences abroad enhance skills such as acceptance of unfamiliar cultures and attitudes, openness and adaptability, awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, ability to make decisions, and ability to solve problems.

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In 2014, major airline crashes killed more than 760 people and, understandably, raised concerns over safety issues and the risks of flying. Less understandably, tobacco use prematurely killed 480,000 people in the U.S. and about 5 million people worldwide but engendered little debate. People hear these figures, shrug and turn away — tobacco death fatigue?

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Since the start of the protest movement widely known as the Arab Spring, in 2011, conditions in most Arab countries have spiraled out of control. With the notable exception of Tunisia, which just held its last round of successful parliamentarian and presidential elections, other Arab countries that were affected by the protest movement have fallen into a vicious cycle of violence that is threatening other countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

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The University of Iowa’s Food for Thought Theme Semester is a program that will launch Tuesday and run throughout the spring semester. It will connect academics, local communities and individual Iowans through something we can all relate to: food.

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