Category: Alumni

LEPF doctoral student leads multilingual efforts in Uruguay

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

Languages are deeply valued in Uruguay, where multiple tongues beyond the native Spanish are the norm.

“Uruguay is a country of immigrants,” Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says of his homeland.

“We have more than 120,000 Italian citizens living in Uruguay. We have British people. We have Spanish people,” Rodriguez adds. “We have German, Swiss and Portuguese cities settled by immigrants from those countries.”

People living near the country’s border with Brazil are generally also fluent in Portuguese, which is considered a regional language.

And everyone is expected to know English, which the country regards an international language. Students begin learning English in fourth-grade.

The man in charge of advancing the government’s language ambitions is none other than Aldo Rodriguez, the recently appointed national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“By 2030, we want a multilingual country,” he says. “For more than 40 years, our secondary school students have learned French, Italian and English. Authorities believe in the neurological benefits of learning multiple languages.”

Schools in this country should share that ambition, he adds.

uruguay-flag“I think U.S. schools will benefit by adopting these types of policies, first and foremost for the multicultural heritage the country has,” Rodriguez says. “It’s outstanding how diverse and culturally rich the United States is. Learning multiple languages will make people understand more about other cultures and people. When you learn a language, you learn its culture.”

Rodriguez, who is living and working in Uruguay while he completes his NIU dissertation, is responsible for crafting policy for all levels of education from first-grade through college.

His professional background fuels his passion for the job. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, a career he began in 1998. He’s also mentored dozens of teachers, designed educational materials, delivered workshops and seminars and served as the director of an institute for second languages.

Teaching also drives his Educational Psychology dissertation, which focuses on persistence in adult secondary school contexts.

“I started working at the adult schools. The population of this school is very unique since 100 percent of the students went through a negative experience with education, and they had to drop out of traditional education,” he says.

“Dropping out is something really common in this context. Sometimes you start with a class of 50 students, and only six or seven finish the school year,” he adds. “My questions were, ‘Who is successful? Who finished school? Why?’ ”

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Coming to NIU in 2010 on a Fulbright grant to pursue his master’s in Adult and Higher Education opened many doors.

“When I read the profiles of the professors I was going to have, and the expertise they had on adult education, I just loved it,” Rodriguez says.  “I had Dr. Jorge Jeria as my first mentor, and I think I couldn’t have made it to the end of the master’s course without his support.”

Staying at NIU for his Ph.D. brought the mentorship of Stephen Tonks, for whom Rodriguez became a three-year research assistant. Before returning home in 2015, he also worked as a TA and participated in a search committee.

“My experience at the LEPF department was one of the best in my life,” he says. “All the people who work there are just great, and they made me feel at home.”



CoE, NIU make good showing at MWERA annual conference

mwera-logoThirty-two NIU faculty, students, staff and College of Education alumni presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Mid-Western Educational Research Association (MWERA), held from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20 in Evanston.

MWERA is a regional educational research association modeled after the structure of the preeminent American Educational Research Association.

The MWERA mission is threefold:

  • to disseminate educational research conducted in the central states and provinces of North America;
  • to promote a collegial research culture in the region; and
  • to provide a forum for mentoring the research skills of graduate students and junior faculty members.

While MWERA featured presentations by affiliates of NIU’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Department of Counseling, Adult, and Higher Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Department of Psychology, faculty and graduate students from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment were particularly involved in the conference.

Associate Dean David Walker and Associate Professor Cynthia Campbell, both of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, are past presidents of the organization.

David Walker and Cynthia Campbell

David Walker and Cynthia Campbell

Many NIU faculty and students also regularly serve as session chairs and session dscussants during the meeting, and in other leadership roles within the organization such as webmaster, Association Council members and board members.

This year, several faculty also were recognized for their service to the organization in relation to recruitment of graduate students.

Current and past NIU affiliates who presented at the 2017 conference include Abdullah Albalawi, Farraj Alshehri, Youself Alshrari, Patricia Barton, Cynthia Campbell, Raye Chiang, Brad Cramer, Dustin Derby*, Anne Edwards, Khalifa Elgosbi, Joseph Ehrmann, Daniel Feller, Tawanda Gibson, Christopher Gonzales, Karen Higgs, Mary Hoyt and Naif Jabli.

Others were Ryan Kopatich, Melanie Koss, Nicholas Leonard, Rakez Mahmoud AL-ararah, Cornelius McKenna*, Jaclyn Murawska*, Elyzia Powers, Todd Reeves, Thomas Smith, Amy Stich, Tracey Stuckey-Mickell*, Victoria Therriault, Stephen Tonks, David Walker and Scott Wickman.

* Alumnus of the NIU College of Education



Vision Program alum rekindles love of ice skating with Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison had spent most of his young life on the ice in pursuit of one dream.

“I was always a figure skater. I was always training. I was getting my degree at the same time – my undergraduate degree – but I had no real direction,” says Allison, 28, a Wheaton native who was studying liberal arts at the College of DuPage.

Yet fate had a direction in mind for him, whether he wanted it or not. “I had a bad skate at Nationals, and skating sort of fell out,” he says. “I took time off to rethink my career, and my mom said, ‘Hey, you need to get a job since you’re not skating anymore.’ ”

So he went to work alongside his mother, Joan, at a suburban school for the visually impaired where she is employed. There – pun intended – his eyes opened.

“First week there, I fell in love in with it,” Allison says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

Allison transferred from COD to NIU, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He then enrolled in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education, where in 2015 he earned a master’s degree in the Vision Program and certification as an Orientation and Mobility specialist.

cps-logoWork is never hard to find for graduates of NIU’s program – most student have three job offers on the table as they complete their studies – and Allison promptly became an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and a certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist in the Chicago Public Schools.

He served in 25 different schools last year, teaching around 30 students how to use their white canes and how to navigate independently. This year, he is delivering that curriculum, as well as literacy in Braille, to four children at Mount Greenwood Elementary School.

Teaching is now his dream come true.

“I never thought I would be an educator,” Allison says. “I really do love working with kids. When I was growing up, I loved coaching them – I’ve coached figure skating for almost eight years now – and I just fell in love with it. It’s become a passion.”

But the ice retains its allure.

Allison is a coach of the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team, which boasts 20 players ages “4 to 30-something” with varying degrees of visual impairments.

blind-hockey-team

“When I first heard about this, I thought it was one of those things where they were just trying to get kids who were visually impaired to do something,” he says. “My life has always been on ice, so I brought my skates over to check it out. I saw that it was legit. I saw they had a goal and that they had a drive to make this work.”

The players were working on drills like a sighted hockey team, chasing and shooting a larger-than-normal puck made of steel with ball bearings inside that creates a hollow, tinny noise. At the end of their practice, they scrimmaged.

He knew he had to become involved. “I talked with the guy in charge; his name was Mike Svac. I told him, ‘I’m a TVI. I’ve been on skates my whole life. How can I help?’ ”

Part of the practice time is devoted to navigating the rink.

“We’re trying to get the skaters aware of the ice surface; its dimensions; its width; its length,” Allison says. “We do drills going up and down the ice, and they sort of build a visual map – for lack of a better term – inside of the brain. They figure out where things are. We do a lot of drills based around the net. We pass to the skaters, and then they circle back and shoot. We’re making them better skaters.”

NIU’s “phenomenal” preparation has served him well, he adds.

blackhawks-logo-2“The thing that made me notice how well I was prepared for this field was in seeing how other people who weren’t educated in this field try to instruct the visually impaired. They say, ‘Over here. Over there.’ It doesn’t work like that,” he says.

“I had great instructors at Northern who made certain that the content development was there, that we needed to teach these kids with concrete demonstrations that they’re able to understand,” he adds. “If a coach is explaining something, and they don’t quite get it, we use hand-over-hand technique to show how to move the puck, how to pass.”

That way, Allison says, the skater or the student learns those concepts that sighted persons develop incidentally.

Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the College of Education’s Vision Program, admires what Allison and his colleague are doing with the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team.

“Most of us blind people, if not nearly all of us, have never been on ice skates,” Kapperman says. “Kevin and his fellow coaches have developed a pretty innovative way in adapting the sport of hockey so blind people can play it.”

Blind hockey is growing in momentum across the country and to the north, says Allison, who credits Svac as the linchpin getting the organization going and growing.

Allison saw the sport played recently at the Disabled Hockey Festival in San Jose, Calif., where he also watched hockey played by people who are deaf and by people without legs. Meanwhile, he says, a group in Canada is working to develop better pucks for those with visual disabilities.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

“We’re just seeing that there’s a community beyond what’s in Chicago right now. We’re talking to people in Pittsburgh. We’re talking to people in Texas. We’re trying to make this bigger. We want to be a league,” he says. “Chicago is hosting the Disabled Hockey Festival in 2018, and we’re just trying to get the word out. That’s our big thing right now. Our goal by 2020 is to go over the globe.”

Yet he knows that the goals for the players aren’t nearly as lofty.

“These kids are blind, and they’re around other kids who are blind,” he says. “They get to hang out with others who are exactly like them, and they get to do something they love.”



Athletics shares Jacoby Trophy during Anderson Hall ‘tour stop’

Mary Bell and Lou Jean Moyer

Mary Bell and Lou Jean Moyer

When Mary Bell came to NIU in 1957, she was told to spend 75 percent of her time teaching Physical Education and the rest leading intramurals and intercollegiate sports for women.

“Pretty soon, they took intramurals off,” Bell says. “I was excited about that. The intercollegiate role was what I was really interested in.”

Considered “the founding mother” of NIU women’s athletics, Bell soon accepted an offer to escort some female Huskie students to Illinois State University to play basketball against two other schools.

The schedule was standard for such “Sports Day” events then – one game in the morning, one game in the afternoon and lunch with the other teams and coaches in between.

Game rules in that era prohibited snatching the ball from another player’s hands, more than three dribbles and crossing the center-court line; women were expected, Bell says, to preserve their bodies for childbirth.

It all might seem archaic now, but coming 15 years before federal Title IX legislation, it was a good start.

“Back then, we didn’t have practices. We didn’t have uniforms. You just waited until another school invited you,” Bell says. “But I told the girls, ‘If you go with me, you have to practice at least once.’ ”

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Sixty years later, Bell happily applauded with several of her fellow retirees and successors from the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE) during a Sept. 27 celebration of the Jacoby Trophy.

Awarded to the top women’s athletic program in the Mid-American Conference, the Jacoby came this year to the Huskies for the first time in program history. NIU, which competes in 10 women’s sports, saw nine of those programs finish in the top half of the MAC during either regular season or tournament play.

NIU Athletic Director Sean Frazier and Chief of Staff Debra Boughton brought the trophy to Anderson Hall for the latest stop of its victory “tour.”

Visiting the College of Education with the Jacoby “just makes sense,” says Frazier, who holds two graduate degrees in education-related disciplines and is co-teaching a KNPE course this semester.

The NIU College of Education prepares and graduates leaders in the field – many Huskie student-athletes among them – who go on to create and maintain vital academic experiences, he adds.

“For us, it’s just a natural fit. It just works,” Frazier says. “It gives me a great sense of pride that Athletics is contributing to the college’s mission.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, is equally as grateful for the association.

“We’re very proud of our women student-athletes,” Elish-Piper says, “and this ceremony is a wonderful way to honor their hard work while acknowledging our longstanding relationship with Intercollegiate Athletics.”

Boughton, who is also NIU’s senior associate athletics director for Finance and Operations and senior woman administrator, told the room full of coaches, faculty and annuitants that she had carefully tracked the university’s progress toward the Jacoby win.

Chad McEvoy and Debra Boughton

Chad McEvoy and Debra Boughton

Near the end of the school year, with final results from softball and women’s track and field still pending, victory was in view – and a friendly trip to pump up the coaches was in order.

“I said, ‘We’re super, super close here. I need you not to screw this up,’ ” Boughton told the audience with a laugh, adding that NIU “is a great place to be right now, and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Lou Jean Moyer, who taught Physical Education at NIU from 1962 to 1992, would agree.

Moyer, the first head coach in the history of NIU Volleyball, led the Huskies to a 75-43 record in five seasons from 1970 to 74, including 26 wins during the 1973 season.

She also served in a number of leadership roles in the growth of women’s collegiate athletics, including as president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports and as Ethics and Eligibility chair on the Association of Intercollege Athletics for Women.

“When I was here, women’s sports were very limited,” Moyer says. “It’s wonderful to see how the opportunities for young women, not only in high school and college but also in the pros, allow them to test their limits. I never had that opportunity. I would much rather have been outside playing sports and having a good time than sitting inside.”

Moyer and Bell, who also coached field hockey, basketball, badminton, volleyball, swimming, and softball at NIU between 1957 and 1976, appreciate the modern landscape better than many.

Paige Dacanay was a member of the 2016 NIU women’s volleyball team.

Paige Dacanay was a member of the 2016 NIU women’s volleyball team.

Before Title IX became law, Moyer says, “the two of us were fighting” for equality in sports.

They received an updated look at the law – Title IX is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year – just before the Sept. 27 ceremony by attending the LESM 341: Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics class co-taught by Frazier and Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Guest lecturer Boughton described Title IX’s complicated parameters to remain in compliance, a task measured in accommodations of interests and abilities; athletic financial aid; and “other athletic benefits and opportunities” that include equipment, supplies, locker rooms, schedules and more.

“What I appreciate the most, which comes after many decades, is that women have an opportunity to practice, to learn and to get to be good,” says Bell, for whom the NIU softball field is named. “It’s not just to play around. It’s about improving your skills.”

Other alums, annuitants and special guests joining the class and the Jacoby Trophy presentation were Dee Abrahamson, Linda Conrad, Ruth Heal, Tony and Carolyn Kambich, Donna Martin. Judy Sisler, Sally Stevens and Nadine Zimmerman.



Destination Huskie Nation: CoE celebrates Homecoming 2017

homecoming-logoThe College of Education enthusiastically joined in Homecoming 2017.

We started the fun with Tailgate Tuesday, which coaxed students, faculty and staff to the courtyard between Gabel and Graham halls for some free lunch. During Saturday’s festivities in the Alumni Village outside Huskie Stadium, we welcomed plenty of friends old and new to spin the fabulous Wheel o’ Prizes and pose with our cool frame.

Check out some photos from our Homecoming celebration!



College of Ed royalty remember 1957 Homecoming celebration

David Taylor and Marjorie Brazzalle Meanger

David Taylor and Marjorie Brazzalle Meanger

During the spring of 1957, country-and-western singer Marty Robbins topped the Billboard charts with his timeless ode to a white sport coat, a pink carnation and a lonely prom night.

That fall, it was College of Education student David Taylor’s turn to wear an ivory jacket as the proud and handsome Homecoming king at the newly named Northern Illinois University. Unlike the lovelorn Robbins, however, Taylor had a beautiful date for the dance: Beverly, who would become his wife in 1962.

And on Taylor’s arm during the Homecoming parade College of Ed classmate – and Homecoming Queen – was Marjorie Brazzalle Meanger.

“I loved my years at Northern,” says Meanger, who went on to a thriving career as a kindergarten teacher in St. Charles. “I entered in 1955, when it was Northern Illinois State Teachers College, and I watched the change to Northern Illinois State College and finally NIU. There was a lottery to see which girls would go from the largest freshmen dorm, Neptune, to Williston Hall.”

For Taylor, the journey to DeKalb followed the footsteps of his older brother, Richard.

Both brothers came from the South Side of Chicago with state teacher’s scholarships in hand. Both studied education – Richard bound for a career as a teacher and counselor at Homewood-Flossmoor – and enjoyed four years of covered tuition.

Neptune Hall “had a good organization to get out the Homecoming vote,” says Taylor, whose career in Student Services took him from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., to Western Illinois University and Boise State University.

Photo courtesy NIU Regional History Center

Photo courtesy NIU Regional History Center

 

Sixty years later, as NIU prepares for the 2017 Homecoming celebration, recollections of college come easily for the man and woman who wore the crowns in 1957.

Meanger became “a town girl” during her sophomore year and soon met her future husband, Don, who lived across the street. They married in 1960.

“We built many friendships at Northern that continue today,” says Meanger, who lost Don 14 years ago to cancer. “We had two children who kept us busy, along with teaching kindergarten and being involved with our church, community activities and travel every summer.”

Their daughter, Melanie, also attended NIU to earn her degree in physical therapy. Like her mother, Melanie worked the sidelines as Huskie cheerleader – and was able to cheer during the 1983 California Bowl victory over Cal State Fullerton.

Now retired and a grandmother of four, Meanger is “busier than ever” traveling, volunteering and “paying back to the community.”

NIU Homecoming Parade, 1957

NIU Homecoming Parade, 1957
Photo courtesy NIU Regional History Center

“Northern has remained at the top of the list,” she says, “because it gave us both the well-rounded educations needed to do our best in our careers. Go Huskies!”

Taylor remembers fondly an Alpha Phi Omega victory party dance after Student Stunt Night. It was the night the active fraternity officer met Beverly, who studied elementary and special education with an emphasis in speech therapy.

He stayed busy outside his classes by serving as chair of the Homecoming and Winter Carnival committees, president of Alpha Phi Omega, president and R.A. (then called Precinct Captain) of Gilbert Hall and playing intramural sports.

It served him well during his career: Upon his retirement from Boise State, school officials decided to name a residence hall – Taylor Hall – in honor of his dedication to their students and the university while serving as vice president for Student Affairs.

Parents of two and grandparents of two, the Taylors now are enjoying the freedom of retirement by traveling and thinking back to their professional launching pad in DeKalb.

“The good thing about Northern is that it gave you lots of opportunities for involvement,” Taylor says. “They were good times at Northern – good friends and good involvement with all kinds of campus life.”



Alumni Accomplishments

Peggy F. Bradford

Peggy F. Bradford

Congratulations to these College of Ed alums!

Peggy F. Bradford (Ed.D, ’00) was named president of Shawnee Community College. Bradford was previously provost and vice president of academic affairs at the State University of New York Westchester Community College. In returning to her alma mater, where she earned an associate of arts degree, she plans to advance the college by encompassing a student-centered approach to enrollment, retention and culture.

Sherry Eagle

Sherry Eagle

Sherry Eagle (Ed.D, ’94), was appointed in February to the Illinois Board of Higher Education by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Eagle is currently the executive director for the Institute for Collaboration Emerita at Aurora University, where she leads the collaboration work of the university between school districts, corporations, not-for-profits and the community at large. Eagle was previously superintendent of the West Aurora School District.

Heather Friziellie

Heather Friziellie

Heather Friziellie (Ed.S., ’11) became superintendent of Fox Lake School District 114 in July. Friziellie most recently served as director of educational services at Kildeer Countryside Elementary District 96 in Buffalo Grove and principal at Kildeer Countryside Elementary School and Twin Grove Middle School.

Todd Garzarelli

Todd Garzarelli

Todd Garzarelli (M.S. Sport Management, ’06), was named athletic director at UW-Whitewater in July. Garzarelli most recently served as senior associate athletic director for external affairs at State University of New York at Buffalo. From 2004 to 2008, he worked in NIU Athletics as associate athletic director for Marketing, Broadcast and Corporate Relations.

Rich Harvey

Rich Harvey

Rich Harvey (M.S.Ed., ’02) will join the Millikin Athletic Hall of Fame this fall for his accomplishments in football and wrestling. Harvey was a three-time CCIW Champion wrestler and a member of the 1989 CCIW Champion Big Blue football team. He currently serves as the assistant principal at Rochelle Township High School, where he also is the head wrestling coach and an assistant football coach.

Jamie Hooyman

Jamie Hooyman

Jamie Hooyman (M.S.Ed., ’86), was named interim provost of Northwest Missouri State University in June. She began serving as vice provost in 2016. Hooyman served in various roles during the last decade at North Central Missouri College in Trenton, where she spent the last two years as its vice president of institutional effectiveness

Kristen Mattson

Kristen Mattson

Three-time alumna Kristen Mattson (B.S.Ed., ’06; M.S.Ed. ’12; Ed.D, ’16) was awarded the John Laska Distinguished Dissertation Award in curriculum from the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum. Mattson has been invited to present her dissertation, “Moving Beyond Personal Responsibility: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Digital Citizenship Curricula,” at the October AATC annual conference in Denver. She is the High School Library Media Director in Indian Prairie School District 204.

Alex Nelson

Alex Nelson

Alex Nelson (B.S.Ed., ’06) was inducted in June to the Portage High School Hall of Fame in his native Wisconsin. Nelson, a two-time Wisconsin state champ with back-to-back Division I, 145-pound titles as a junior and senior, wrestled for the NIU Huskies. Nelson, a P.E. teacher at North Grove Elementary School in Sycamore, is the head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Sycamore High School.

Renee Payne

Renee Payne

Renee Payne (B.S.Ed., ’81), was named principal of St. James and St. Bernadette schools in Rockford. Payne previously served as an elementary school principal at St. Alphonsus/St. Patrick School in Lemont from 2008 until 2017. She also taught at Durken Park Elementary School in Chicago and, from 1996 to 2006, she serve as principal at St. Cajetan School in Chicago.

Paula Sochacki

Paula Sochacki

Paula Sochacki (Ed.D. ’16) has joined the faculty at Benedictine University for the 2017-18 academic year. Sochacki is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and program director for the undergraduate Nutrition and Dietetics major. Before joining Benedictine, Sochacki was an assistant professor of Nutrition at Dominican University, an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University and a clinical dietitian.

Jim Suttie

Jim Suttie

Jim Suttie (B.S.Ed, M.S. ’70) has added Park City, Utah’s Jeremy Ranch Golf Course as one of three academy locations in the country where he offers golf lessons. Suttie, a native of DeKalb, is regarded as one of the world’s best and most respected golf instructors. He played and helped to coach golf at NIU, where he is a member of Huskie Hall of Fame.

Vatthana Thammavongsa

Vatthana Thammavongsa

Vatthana Thammavongsa (B.S.Ed., ’06; M.S.Ed., ’10) was installed with his wife, Donna, as leaders of the Salvation Army chapter in Wausau, Wis. Both are teachers and immigrants from Laos, Vatthana arriving in 1989 and Donna in 1986. Thammavongsa previously served in a full-time ministry position in the Salvation Army Tabernacle Corps in Rockford and most recently worked as an elementary school teacher.

Litesa Wallace

Litesa Wallace

Litesa Wallace (Ed.D., ’13) is running for lieutenant governor of Illinois alongside gubernatorial candidate and Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss. Wallace, of Rockford, has represented the 67th District in the Illinois General Assembly since 2014. Before becoming chief of staff in 2011 for former State Rep. Chuck Jefferson, whom she replaced in office, she spent more than a decade counseling children and adults in need of mental health services, including child abuse victims and families in crisis.

Douglas Wildes

Douglas Wildes

Douglas Wildes (M.S.Ed., ’07) is the new principal at Elmwood Park High School. His career with DuPage High School District 88 began as a student teacher at Addison Trail High School in 2002, followed by department chair and assistant principal positions at Addison Trail and Willowbrook. He is currently working on his doctorate in the NIU College of Education.

If you’re a COE grad with news to share, please let us know – and send a photo! Our email address is ceduednews@niu.edu.



College of Ed alumna shares KNPE instructional philosophies with P.E. teachers in Chicago

Yara Santillan

Yara Santillan

Yara Santillan traded her sneakers for high heels, her gym for a cubicle and her whistle for a smartphone.

What the new coordinator of Physical Education for the Chicago Public Schools hasn’t given up is her drive and ambition to make a positive difference for children through sport.

“I look at my own personal experience,” says Santillan, a two-time alumna of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “I’ve always noticed that, in the times when I’ve really needed something, sport has always been there. It’s always been there for me. Sport kept me out of trouble.”

Growing up in suburban Aurora during the 1990s – she was born in Mexico but moved with her family to Kane County at the age of 18 months – Santillan glimpsed the danger lurking on the streets but wisely chose kickball and basketball over “the wrong crowd.”

Her decision to stay on the straight path, along with her K-12 academic success, resulted in a scholarship to attend NIU. Without a clear career path in mind, however, Santillan couldn’t find her footing in DeKalb and soon left for home.

One year later, she returned as a commuter student, earning straight A’s. Her unease lingered, however, and she became “a two-time college dropout.”

“I knew that college was important, and I was trying to get myself through school,” she says, “but I hadn’t found something I was truly passionate about. I was out of school for the next seven years.”

During that time, she worked at a restaurant. In 2009, she donned the Huskie red-and-black again – and the third time was, of course, the charm.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, she secured a position as a graduate assistant and began work toward her master’s in Exercise Physiology.

cps-logoSantillan crossed the NIU Graduate School commencement stage on a Friday evening in May of 2014. Less than 72 hours later, on a Monday, she sat for an interview with the Chicago Public Schools. Hired on the spot, she began work immediately to complete the school year for a P.E. teacher who’d taken a leave of absence.

By the end of her temporary gig in June, a full-time position with CPS was hers.

“What I love the most is getting kids to set goals. When we work on a skill, a lot of kids think immediately that they can’t do it, or they try not to do it, but then they get very excited when they see they can do something,” Santillan says. “And when they do that in P.E., they’re going to be able to transfer that and do it another part of their life.”

Part of that philosophy – life lessons through P.E. – is a gospel evangelized by Paul Wright, NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“When I supervised Yara’s secondary clinical placements for the P.E. licensure program, I found out she decided to teach because she had a deep belief in the potential of physical education and sport to have a positive influence on children,” Wright says. “In particular, she said she had a passion for reaching children and youth who might be struggling due to circumstances in their lives and their communities.”

Following the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model on which Wright focuses his scholarship, Santillan worked alongside her professor for several semesters in an after-school program for “at-risk” youth in a DeKalb middle school.

Her hands-on learning included promoting responsibility and tailoring programs to youth with more social and emotional challenges

Paul M. Wright

Paul Wright

“This approach really fit her existing values and commitments, but gave her some new strategies, structures and concepts to integrate into her teaching. She went on to apply these ideas, while making them her own, in her very successful career in CPS,” Wright says. “She is proof that the best theories and ideas are ones that can be put into practice.”

In her new role with CPS – leaving the gym “was one of my most difficult decisions but worth it,” she says – Santillan works with all of the district’s P.E. teachers to boost their productivity and, by extension, enhance student outcomes.

Serving as a “cultural mentor,” she ensures that the teachers are following standards, writing and implementing lesson plans, practicing concepts of Social and Emotional Learning and conducting assessment.

Meanwhile, she stresses to her teachers that P.E. is “not just inside the four walls of school” but also something that can empower students, parents and siblings through newsletters, after-school programs and family nights.

“Overall, I’ve had really positive response from the teachers,” Santillan says. “I tell them, ‘I know what you’re doing is important and meaningful, and I’m with you.’ They know I genuinely care about what they’re doing – that I care about their success, the kids’ success and that P.E. is one of the most important content areas in school.”

For her own role in extending P.E. beyond the school grounds, Santillan has volunteered with Beyond the Ball, “an organization that uses the power of sport to change lives, give hope, reclaim space and develop a culture of opportunities for youth and families in Chicago.”

She plans a 2020 run for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. She also is contemplating a return to college for a doctorate and perhaps a career teaching in higher education.

Yara Santillan

Yara Santillan

At this point, however, her future is in the Windy City.

“I’m increasing teacher effectiveness in the City of Chicago, and I see myself doing that for quite some time,” she says. “I still have the same passion, but instead of teaching 600 students in my school, I have the opportunity to reach 381,000 students in CPS.”

Wright applauds her commitment, calling its beneficiaries fortunate. That group soon will include current students in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education after Santillan returns Monday, Oct. 9, as a guest speaker.

“The students she has worked with in the schools, our current students at NIU and P.E. teachers throughout Chicago are lucky to have Yara as a champion and a role model for doing what you believe is important and right, for yourself – and for others,” he says. “It’s been my pleasure to work with her and follow her success.”



Come, Look, See: Blackwell celebrates classic book series

Yvonne Johnson

Yvonne Johnson

Familiar faces – at least to those of a certain age – are taking root throughout the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum and the Learning Center.

Dick, Jane and Sally, along with their parents and pets, are the stars of a sprawling new exhibition highlighting the classic “Dick and Jane” book series that helped multiple 20th century generations learn to read.

Yvonne Johnson, a longtime Sycamore educator who holds two degrees from NIU, including a 1960 master’s in Elementary Education, graciously and generously donated her vast collection of the famous and influential books to the Blackwell.

“We want to put out as many of the books as we can, and we tried to open up as many as we could,” says Steve Builta, director of Technology Innovation and Learning Services in College of Education Technology Services. “People will remember the pictures.”

Rich Casey, instructional designer in the Learning Center, heard of the opportunity from Cindy Ditzler and Lynne M. Thomas of the NIU Libraries. With the help of the NIU Foundation, the gift was completed in November 2015.

Casey and Ditzler soon visited Johnson in her Sycamore home.

Johnson taught in a one-room school for two years after earning her NIU bachelor’s degree in Home Economics Education in 1951.

Johnson chats with DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith.

Johnson chats with DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith.

Her career in Sycamore’s District 427 began in 1953, when she joined the staff at West Elementary School. She closed the book on her career 58 years later, and in 2013 was inducted to the Sycamore High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.

“She showed us the collection, and I was amazed. I was thrilled,” Casey says. “I’m hoping to hear people say, ‘I remember that story.’ I’m hoping we’ve done some justice to it.”

Builta and Casey have accomplished just that, displaying books, framed images and enlarged prints throughout their facility in the lower level of Gabel Hall.

One glass case shows pages from Dick and Jane stories side-by-side with nearly identical words and illustrations of African-American siblings Mike and Pam – their family arrived in the 1960s amid the civil rights movement – or within religious school contexts.

Many cases are dressed with objects that vividly evoke the period of the books’ greatest popularity: wood clothespins, a rolling pin, a mop, an iron, a game of jacks, stuffed dolls, a baseball glove, a toy airplane.

“Frankly, ‘Dick and Jane’ is a real part of pop culture,” Builta says, “and this really is about bringing back some memories for some folks. ‘Reminisce’ is a great word. We’re giving people an opportunity to see this again.”

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and Johnson enjoy the exhibition.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and Johnson
enjoy the exhibition.

“Dick and Jane” was the creation of Zerna Sharp, a reading consultant one-time kindergarten teacher who called the main characters “my children.”

According to a 1994 article in the Chicago Tribune:

It was in the late 1920s that Sharp, who died in 1981 at age 91, came up with the concept of an illustrated primer with simple text and repeated words mimicking the speech patterns of her young students.

Sharp had difficulty at first convincing Scott, Foresman’s editors to abandon the more stilted reading books of the era, most of which lacked illustrations. But when a University of Chicago authority on education, William S. Gray, endorsed her methods, the publisher embraced her “picture-story” method.

“She heard kids talking the way Dick and Jane would – ‘Look! Look! Look!’ – and thought that maybe the dialogue should reflect that kind of language,” Casey says.

“With the illustrations, she thought that maybe those would help kids understand what they were reading,” he adds. “There were illustrated primers, such as the New England Primer, but the difference was having the images mirror the action.”

“ ‘Dick and Jane’ were the first set of books that really utilized that concept,” Builta says.

dick-jane-4Regardless of the affection and nostalgia held by many 20th century children, however, the “Dick and Jane” books were not universally beloved. Legendary author Dr. Seuss, for example, said in 1983 that his “The Cat in the Hat” was “the book I’m proudest of because it had something to do with the death of the Dick and Jane primers.”

And although Casey was never a fan himself, he will acknowledge that the series made a huge impact on baby boomers, their parents and their children.

“Personally, I think that kids learned how to read in spite of ‘Dick and Jane.’ Our nuns were very big on phonics. I remember being in second-grade and trying to sound out ‘refrigerator,’ ” he says. “Nonetheless, ‘Dick and Jane’ was very successful.”

The Learning Center is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday. For more information, call (815) 753-1241 or email learningcenter@niu.edu.

Rich Casey, Johnson, Margaret Thacker and Steve Builta

Rich Casey, Johnson, Margaret Thacker and Steve Builta



Alumna Alexandra Wulbecker shares wisdom with KNPE 583

Alexandra Wulbecker

Alexandra Wulbecker

Just two years after Alexandra Wulbecker completed her days in Anderson Hall, she returned to the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education with an unexpected message for the students who are following her.

It’s OK to not know where you’re going, as long as you’re passionate about what you do and prepared to do it well.

Wulbecker, who earned an M.S.Ed. in Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2015, found employment at alma mater Hoffman Estates High School as a special education teacher’s assistant. She then began to coach volleyball, girls basketball and softball, a sport in which she also offers private lessons.

Speaking July 20 to graduate students in Jenn Jacobs’ KNPE 583 class – Psychology of Coaching – Wulbecker explained how her passion for helping athletes boost their mental game put her NIU education to work while also illuminating a different career direction.

“There is no real clear path in sports psychology. It is what you make it,” said Wulbecker, who played for the NIU Huskies softball team. “There is no right or wrong, but just what works for you.”

For Wulbecker, that has meant striving to develop a new position as a “mental training consultant” for high school athletes.

wulbecker-alexandra-softball

Alexandra Wulbecker waits for the pitch
during her NIU Huskie softball days.

Drawing from her six undergraduate and graduate years at NIU, two of which were spent guiding and comforting new Huskies and their parents as part of the Student Orientation Staff, she combined her interests and talents in counseling, psychology and sports.

Next, Wulbecker began to replicate a graduate school project in which she collaborated with athletes one-on-one for a year. Three Hoffman Estates High School student-athletes – two girls and one boy – took part.

Athletes define what they want to accomplish. They list the things they most respect. Each determines a motivational “power word” for inscription and placement somewhere frequently visible – maybe on a locker door, she said, or maybe on a shoe.

They rate themselves, complete online surveys for further personal reflection and seek the feedback of family and friends. They then examine a list of their top 24 strengths, answering questions of whether they agree, what surprised them and what they think of the input of others.

Customization is crucial, Wulbecker told the KNPE students, and organization is key.

“If the athletes don’t believe in it,” she said, “they’re not going to want to participate or put their time and energy into it.”

Volunteers for the counseling are more interested and more willing to open up than are those students who are referred, Wulbecker said, but providers who are flexible, patient and good listeners are likely to succeed with anyone.

wulbecker-alexandra-2She also offered good advice.

Make each session a conversation. Use “relatable examples” and activities suited to individual learning styles. Change things up with meeting locations and agendas. Allow athletes to vent.

“What I ultimately realized is that these teenagers just wanted to be heard,” said Wulbecker, who is about to begin study in Chicago toward a master’s degree in Counseling with a specialization in Sport and Health Psychology.

Wulbecker’s presentation also focused on her professional endeavors as a coach, including her motivational philosophies and strategies, something valuable to many of the graduate students who already are working as physical education teachers and coaches.

After earning her next degree, she will become a licensed professional counselor.

She plans to continue working with athletes, including those at the professional and collegiate levels, and hopes to complete post-graduate training that would qualify her to counsel Olympians.