SIUE IRIS 2015-2016 Users & Groups

We proudly present the 2015-2016 IRIS users and groups! Stay tuned for 2015-2016 project updates and IRIS users’ first hand accounts on their research, tools, trials, and triumphs.



Introducing the IRIS Lab Technician, Kayla Hays


Hello, IRIS Lab community. This is just a quick blurb to introduce myself and let you learn a bit about where I’m from, how the IRIS Lab and I can assist with your projects, and some of my goals during my time here.

Who am I?

I completed my BA in English with a minor in Mass Communications right here at SIUE. My undergraduate experience here was invaluable and had a substantial impact on the type of student and professional I am today.

In fact, my interest in the world of digital humanities was fostered here in the IRIS Lab. In 2011 I began working with Dr. DeSpain as a volunteer on The Wide, Wide World Digital Edition project. I continued working on the project as an URCA Assistant and then as an Editorial Assistant for a semester following graduation.

This past August I finished graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for library and information science. During graduate school, I worked as a graduate assistant in the Main Library in the Scholarly Commons and as a marketing and outreach assistant for the Student Life and Culture Archives.

How Can I Help?

If you’re interested in starting a grant-funded project, I’d be happy to meet with you to discuss potential options. I’m also available to provide guidance if you’ve already begun the grant writing process or if you’re considering resubmission.

I’m also here to provide a face for the IRIS Lab. If you’re curious about the opportunities and services this space can provide for you and your students, I’m here to answer your questions as well as assist with current and ongoing IRIS related projects.


  • Provide advice and tutorials/workshops to faculty on digital projects.
  • Cultivate faculty projects and provide assistance with each step of the grant application process: Let’s chat about the ways in which the IRIS Lab can help support that project you always wanted to tackle.
  • Develop a social media plan: It would be great to see regular posts on the blog and to consistently share our day-to-day activities in the lab! All (directly or indirectly involved with the lab) are welcome to contribute.
  • Find and research new, open source tools for the lab.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any IRIS related questions. You can also just stop in, say hello, and have a look at the space (PH 0226).

Coding for Community

Middle School Students Feature Local Culture and History Through SIUE “Digital East St. Louis” Project

Rachel Pehle works with two participants to upload photos for the walking tour of East St. Louis.East St. Louis middle school students are looking at their city through a camera lens, capturing images that help provide a deeper understanding of the culture and history embedded in their local streets. Their photographs will be one portion of a website that includes content-rich digital maps the students are creating through Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s “Digital East St. Louis” project.

The three-year project, which began this summer, is using digital humanities, a field that uses digital technologies to study questions related to history and culture, to generate interest in computing and information technologies among minority middle school-aged students. It is supported by an $846,000 Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant awarded to SIUE from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The multidisciplinary effort is being led by Sharon Locke, director of the SIUE Center for STEM Research, Education and Outreach; Jessica DeSpain, English professor and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship (IRIS) Center at SIUE; and Liza Cummings, professor of curriculum and instruction at SIUE.

“Research shows that middle school is when children begin to lose interest in STEM fields,” said Locke, principal investigator. “This study is examining out-of-school learning and what role it can have in shaping students’ STEM interest, attitudes and educational choices.

“The average American spends less than five percent of their life in a classroom,” she continued. “We need to understand what types of programs best complement classroom learning and promote lifelong learning in STEM. Our research will examine changes in student interests as well as their gains in technology skills over time.”

Students will gain knowledge and experience relative to careers in a variety of fields including IT, web development, information science, graphic design and mass communication.

During the project’s tenure, participants will produce a comprehensive website of artifacts that will be an ongoing resource for the community. They will use GIS (geographic information systems) technology and database design and management to create content for the site, including a walking tour of East St. Louis neighborhoods. Students will also interview community members, photograph historical sites, write stories about the region and film important cultural events.

Amanda Garner-Brooks instructs “Digital East St. Louis” students.“Our research goal is to gauge whether the use of humanities-based and place-based learning will increase student interest in technologically advanced fields,” DeSpain said. “We also hope to encourage students to take ownership and develop pride in their community and motivate them to pursue a college education in a STEM field.”

“The students will feature their project at Coding for Community Showcases,” Locke added. “We also will have a parent advisory group that will help us connect to individuals in the community who can contribute their time and expertise.”

Area middle school teachers and an after-school/summer program coordinator are teaching the curriculum. Their participation allows for the spreading of the humanities-based approach to STEM learning in other academic environments. The program model will be made widely available to educators nationwide.

“This project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when people from different disciplines come together to tackle a problem,” Locke said. “We have faculty and staff with expertise in STEM, digital humanities, history, African American studies, curriculum and instruction, K-12 teaching and informal learning.

The three-year program will run all week for four weeks through the summer, as well as 15 Saturdays during the school year. Through the NSF grant, up to 50 students can participate. Students receive breakfast, a snack and lunch, along with free transportation to a local middle school.

Interested sixth through ninth graders can apply for the “Digital East St. Louis” project by contacting Dr. Liza Cummings at

Photo: Rachel Pehle works with two participants to upload photos for the walking tour of East St. Louis.

Amanda Garner-Brooks instructs “Digital East St. Louis” students.

The Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House and the IRIS Center

Howard Rambsy II

Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House

As part of my work with the Institute for Urban Research, I received a small grant to begin scanning hundreds of photographs documenting activities of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, a social service organization in East St. Louis. The organization began in the early 1900s, and the photographs span much of the 20th century.

When I first received the batch of photo albums, I was excited about the possibilities. Early during the Fall semester of 2014, I met with SIUE’s metadata librarian Mary Z. Rose and then Digital Imaging Specialist Virginia Stricklin to get a sense of direction and guidance on how I might approach organizing and labeling the digital files. I was almost ready I thought, but I was concerned that I might not have a place on campus where my graduate student Jeremiah Carter could devote the necessary time to scan the documents. IRIS Center to the rescue.

Kristine Hildebrandt gave Jeremiah and me a brief lesson on utilizing the equipment and software that would relate to our current project. Later, after Jeremiah and I had a couple of strategy sessions on his approach, he set about the task of scanning documents. Each week, during the Fall semester and over the first month when we returned, Jeremiah spent hours in the IRIS Center scanning and producing notes and preliminary metadata for the images.

So far, we’ve expanded a collection of photo albums into more than 500 scanned images with corresponding images. And there’s much more to do. Next up, we’ll have to transfer and label slides. We also want to figure out how to utilize some of the items for public humanities programming.

The IRIS Center will serve as a vital space and base for our preparations and next steps.

The Gyalsumdo Language Archive: Have a Look!

Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt and URCA Assistant Tiffany Downing have been working to upload and encode content and also technical and thematic metadata for several transcribed and translated videos of the Gyalsumdo language, a highly endangered variety of the Tibetan language spoken in central Nepal.


These videos were recorded by SIUE Geography professor Shunfu Hu (with help from Dr. Hildebrandt’s fieldwork team) in the summers of 2012 and 2013 in Nepal. These videos will be permanently stored, and publicly available in a special archive at the University of Virginia’s Tibetan and Himalayan Library, specifically from their SHANTI platform (Sciences, Humanities and Arts Network of Technical Initiatives).gyalsumdo

Dr. Hildebrandt plans to archive with THL and SHANTI similar materials from three other languages of the same region of Nepal: Manange, Gurung and Nar-Phu.

SIUE IRIS Users & Groups 2014-2015

We proudly present the 2014-2015 users and groups of IRIS.