Category: Alumni

Double-alumna wins Fulbright

Barbara Abromitis

Barbara Abromitis

Barbara Abromitis wanted to become a teacher.

That goal brought her to the NIU College in Education, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 1983.

Life had other plans, though.

“When my kids were young, I started doing grant-writing because I could do that from home,” Abromitis says.

She had found her unexpected niche, and two decades later, became director of grants at the College of DuPage.

“I work closely with faculty to develop program ideas, write proposals, find funding for them and then oversee the management of those projects and troubleshoot,” she says. “I work with pretty much every department of the college, and I know a little about a lot of things. It’s interesting for me to see what they all do.”

Now the two-time NIU College of Education alumna is the thrilled recipient of a Fulbright grant.

Abromitis is among six Americans chosen to attend a two-week seminar in Moscow for community college administrators. Six counterparts from Russia also will participate.

Fulbright’s International Education Administrators (IEA) seminars help U.S. international education professionals and senior higher education officials create empowering connections with the societal, cultural and higher education systems of other countries.

Grantees can learn about the host country’s education system as well as establish networks of U.S. and international colleagues over the course of an intensive two week grant duration. They return with enhanced ability to serve and encourage international students and prospective study-abroad students.

globe“My understanding is that it’s basically an opportunity to share how we develop our programs, how we address issues such as student completion, how we help people with their career paths,” she says. “We will share what we do and learn from each other. The most interesting part of visiting other parts of the world is that people have such different perspectives.”

Other activities of the seminar, scheduled from March 31 through April 14, are field trips to Russian universities and technical colleges.

She wants to return with ideas that will benefit students and faculty at the College of DuPage.

“I’m very poised to take what I learn to the faculty – ‘Can we do this?’ What makes sense for us?’ Not everything is going to translate perfectly,” she says. “I’m hoping to make different connections and see what applies to us here.”

Those conversations will allow her to continue putting to good use her 1999 Ed.D. in Reading Education with a cognate in Educational Psychology and extensive coursework in Curriculum and Supervision.

“My doctoral program at NIU was wonderful. Even though I’m not working in the field of literacy right now, I feel like I use those skills all the time,” Abromitis says.

“I’m looking at statistics, working to analyze what’s happening in the situation, knowing theories about how people learn and the best way to teach,” she adds. “Even in just trying to build a case for why a funder should support a program, I’m using those things very often. One of our biggest grants is an Adult Education/Family Literacy Grant, and I enjoy working closely with those program people and looking for additional funding for literacy.”

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Cream, sugar, skills: Café 432 coffee vendors strut their stuff for future special ed teachers

coffee-cart-1

Barista!

Every Monday and Wednesday, the crew of Somonauk Middle School’s Café 432 Coffee Cart makes the morning rounds, selling hot cups of joe to caffeine-craving faculty and staff.

Mondays are for James R. Wood Elementary School. Wednesdays are for their own school, home to fifth- through eighth-grades, and the nearby high school. The prices are unbeatable: 50 cents for black coffee, $1 for coffee with mix-ins, 75 cents for a plain hot chocolate and $1 for hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Sometimes, these students who are all in the Life Skills program don their blue aprons to serve coffee to local veterans. Sometimes, it’s to the village’s firefighters.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the cart came to Gabel Hall 100 in the NIU College of Education.

“The coffee cart is a great way to teach the kids to be employable,” says Amanda Jungels, a Special Education major from Sugar Grove who spent her fall clinical placement at Somonauk Middle School. “It’s life skills with academics mixed in.”

Her analysis is spot-on, confirms Tim Ulrich, director of special education in Somonauk Community Unit School District 432, who calls the initiative “academics masked as a coffee cart.”

coffee-cart-6

Greeter!

“We’re really focused on what our students are going to be able to do when they graduate, and we want to give them skills that will translate to the workplace,” Ulrich says. “We start them at an early age. The sooner we give these skills to kids, the more employable they’ll be.”

Jungels has been working with Somonauk Middle School special education teachers Kara Scott, an alumna of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, and Jessica Plante. She will stay under their wings next semester during the first half of her student-teaching placement.

Bringing the coffee cart crew to NIU provided not only a stage to demonstrate “the different things they can do,” Jungels says, but also a good chance “to branch out and serve at a different place.”

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” she says. “They seem really excited about college in general.”

NIU Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven volunteered her classroom for the on-campus sale; she and her students became happy customers, as did Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker.

“Kara and Jessica made packets of information for our current Special Education majors that could assist them in developing a similar business in the future. They shared budgeting information and forms, gave a great presentation and shared a great video,” Van Laarhoven says.

“I love that Kara is an alum who was interested in giving back to NIU,” she adds, “and sharing wonderful strategies with our current and future special educators.”

Van Laarhoven also was impressed by the coffee cart initiative: “This is a great example of embedding all kinds of life skills in a functional activity.”

coffee-cart-575

Café 432 workers rotate between four jobs – cart operator, greeter, barista and cashier – in which they interact with customers, take orders, measure and pour coffee, make change and clean up.

Job expectations are clearly defined. For example, the greeter will “smile and make eye contact with the customer, start with a form of greet statement, end with a departing statement and will keep a positive attitude.”

During their shifts, they develop independence while focusing on their math, language arts and social skills. Afterward, they discuss how each morning went.

“We started this at the beginning of the year,” Scott says. “We’re making a budget. We’re learning how to greet. We’re taking time to reflect on the different stages.”

Meanwhile, Ulrich says, the coffee crew has made many friends inside and outside the school walls. “Our students are members of the community,” he says. “Everyone knows our students.”

Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott

Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott

“These guys know more of the people in the district than any other of the kids,” Plante adds. “They know their names. They know their coffee orders.”

Justin Snider, principal of Somonauk Middle School and a double-alum of the NIU College of Education, is proud of the Café 432 students.

“I like to see them out and interacting with new people and new spaces,” Snider says. “It’s a way to enhance their skills. They practice those skills every day, but usually with students and teachers they’re already comfortable with.”

Laura Hedin, an associate professor of Special Education at NIU, calls the coffee cart “a tremendous opportunity” for the Somonauk students.

“Students with disabilities need to understand appropriate social communications, whether it’s just with people they meet out at the mall or in a job setting,” Hedin says. “We need to provide a context in which students can learn what is appropriate. They really need opportunities to go out with new people and to practice those skills.”

coffee-cart-4

Ah, coffee!

Visiting NIU could prove aspirational for the middle-schoolers.

“Everybody has to kind of see themselves in that setting and decide, ‘Is this something I want to have in my future? How do I get there?’ ” Hedin says.

“Some of these student may come to community colleges if appropriate for their own goals and ideas about what they want their future to be,” she adds. “There are also an increasing number of opportunities at four-year colleges as well – specialized programs so persons with disabilities can have undergraduate experiences. Those are expanding all over the country.”

Future teachers like Jungels, who Hedin believes is more than “just a buddy” to the middle-schoolers, can help to make those dreams come true.

“Amanda is an outstanding student, and she’s going to be a wonderful teacher. She already is a wonderful teacher. Kara Scott told us that it hasn’t been like having a clinical student; it’s like having a co-teacher who’s already licensed,” Hedin says.

“Amanda is very creative and a wonderful problem-solver with a heart for working with students with significant disabilities,” she adds. “She has this ability to make these really strong connections with her students but at the same time working toward the academic or social goals they need to be working on. She’s not setting the bar low.”

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NIU teacher-licensure candidate Amanda Jungels (right) joins
the Somonauk Middle School coffee cart crew for a group photo.



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.”