Spotlight: News Briefs

Challenging Assumptions

ReelAbilities Film Festival Logo.

Montclair State will be an official host of the ReelAbilities Film Festival — the largest disability film festival in the country — in November. Fran Karen Prezant, a festival organizer and professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, has received a Special Initiative Grant from West Orange-based Kessler Foundation to support the festival.‌

“ReelAbilities promotes awareness of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities by challenging assumptions and generating discussions about abilities, differences and similarities, and inclusion in society, while busting stereotypes and attitudes that can be discriminatory, restrictive and limiting,” says Prezant.

Since its founding eight years ago in New York City, ReelAbilities has grown to include more than 15 venue cities nationwide. Montclair State previously served as a site venue in 2013 and 2014.

Actress and Jersey native Ali Stroker will appear on a post-film discussion panel. Although Stroker is best known for her role in the hit TV show Glee, she is also the first actress in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway (appearing in Spring Awakening ) and a leading advocate for people with different abilities.

Preserving Sicily’s Past

Dilapidated monument in Sicily.

With support from the Cali Family Foundation and the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, History Professor Dawn Marie Hayes has embarked on an ambitious digital conservation project to document the cultural heritage of Sicily.

The Norman Sicily Project focuses on the transformative period in the 11th and 12th centuries, using print, photographic, web and geolocation technologies to identify and explicate dilapidated, at-risk and hard-to-access monuments.

Hayes and her computer programmer spouse, Joe, are compiling a database of Sicily’s hundreds of historic Norman monuments — from monasteries and bridges to palaces and even a laundry. While information is already up on, it will ultimately be available as an app.

“We hope the site will appeal to students, visitors and scholars, attract positive attention to the island and challenge the negative stereotypes by which, unfortunately, Sicily is often characterized,” says Hayes.

Greener Water Reuse Solutions

Water flowing from wastewater treatment plant.

Doctoral candidate Lei Zheng wants to develop greener technology for water reuse at wastewater treatment plants. With the supervision of Earth and Environmental Studies Professor Yang Deng, Zheng has recently received a one-year student research grant from the New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute to do just that.

“This research will advance the fundamental understanding of phosphorus removal by ferrate and potentially lead to a reuse technology that will recycle phosphorus from sludge for such beneficial applications as use as fertilizer,” he explains.

An added benefit to this process is that reducing sludge lessens the landfill burden.

Zheng’s funding began in March and he has begun preliminary studies to evaluate phosphorus removal performance. “Further investigations on the mechanism and recovery will be conducted throughout this summer,” he says.