Tag: commencement

Pomp and circumstance: NIU hosts spring commencement

grad-commence-18Three NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last month during the spring commencement ceremonies.

NIU President Doug Baker told the audience at the May 13 undergraduate ceremony about Tyler Hayes, who earned a bachelor’s in Kinesiology.

During the May 12 Graduate School ceremony, Baker spoke about Kai Rush, who earned a doctorate in Instructional Technology, and Natalie Tarter, who earned a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Here are President Baker’s comments.

Tyler Hayes

Tyler Hayes

Tyler Hayes

Every graduate is filled with a well-earned sense of accomplishment. That is particularly true for Tyler Hayes because of what it took to get here.

She arrived at NIU from Peoria filled with a desire to improve her life, but without a lot of money in the bank.

Every semester, she says, was a “guessing game” of whether or not she would be able to keep chasing her degree. She is grateful to those in the financial aid department who repeatedly helped her find financial assistance.

She can also thank her powerful work ethic. While at NIU, Tyler worked as a community advisor to cover room and board costs, spent time as a student orientation leader and earned money working in the sports information department.

It wasn’t always easy, but somewhere in her journey she recognized the power of her own positivity as a stabilizing force. She became a go-getter unwilling to wait around for things to happen.

That’s not to say she did it alone. She praises the “great motivators” she found among her classmates, for keeping up her spirits. She credits professors for their accommodating support. And she gives props to her teammates on the women’s rugby team for keeping her grades on track with study table sessions.

Tyler graduates today with a degree in Kinesiology. After a final summer working on campus, she will head off to Georgetown University this fall to pursue a master’s in Sports Industry Management.

Tyler says she will miss the caring, amazing people she met during a great NIU experience. Given her spirit, I have no doubt she has many memorable moments to look forward to in her future.

Kai Rush

Kai Rush

Kai Rush

Based on his SAT scores, Kai Rush had a 10 percent chance of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Today he graduates with his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology.

This is his second NIU degree. His master’s in Instructional Technology allowed him to climb the ladder from teacher to instructional coach to director of technology for West Chicago schools. Then he realized he was born to be a teacher not an administrator.

As Kai wrestled with that dilemma, Dr. Wei Chen Hung suggested he consider teaching classes here at NIU. He embraced the challenge and discovered that, after 15 years as an award-winning teacher at the K-12 level, he also loved teaching college students. Much to his surprise, he also discovered a passion for research.

Dr. Hung’s intervention, he says, was just one of many examples of how NIU faculty helped him find his current path.

Dr. Rebecca Hunt devoted hours last summer lending advice on his dissertation; Dr. Pi-Sui Hsu challenged him to explain his research in greater detail; Dr. Thomas Smith turned his dislike into enjoyment for math and statistics; and Dr. Nick Omale taught him how to plan and deliver a university-level lesson.

Thanks to the nurturing and cajoling of those professors, and to the help of many others here at NIU, the high-schooler who wasn’t supposed to go to college is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. There he helps prepare others for careers as teachers and does research on using technology to motivate minority and English language learners.

In a note he sent to me this spring, Kai said of his journey, “Test scores mean nothing if you have great teachers, professors and staff to support, assist and motivate students! That is NIU!”

It is my sincere hope that all of you in this room had an experience here at NIU to rival his.

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter

Natalie Tarter’s star rose as a track athlete at Batavia High School.

  • A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles;
  • Illinois record-holder in the 100-meter hurdles;
  • Twice the state runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles.

She went off to a Big 10 university on a full ride – and with legitimate Olympic hopes.

Then came the injuries – and three hip surgeries.

No longer able to compete at that high level, Natalie felt lost and lonely. It was a challenging period in her life, one that changed her outlook on sports.

Natalie fashioned quite a comeback, however.

She transferred to NIU, focused on academics and walked on the track team, finding success in a new event, the heptathlon.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in general studies, she stayed here. Today Natalie earns her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, with a graduate certificate in sports and exercise psychology.

The last two years, she worked with – and learned from – our Office of Student Academic Success, where Natalie provided academic coaching and leadership training to our students.

But sports remains a central theme in her work.

Natalie once presented a professional development session for her officemates, setting up hurdles outside their building and teaching them jumping techniques. When co-workers expressed embarrassment and doubt in their abilities, Natalie likened it to the frustration and uncertainty that students can feel as they navigate college.

It’s a lesson they won’t forget.

While interning at a private practice, Natalie created counseling groups for athletes at West Aurora High School and facilitated high school workshops on mental health and sports.

Athletes are often neglected in the mental health realm, Natalie says, and she wants to change that.

Additionally, the depth of her experiences has included working with young people who are non-verbal and autistic, as well as young women who have attempted to take their own lives.

It’s not surprising that Natalie has been asked to join the private counseling practice where she interned, and she has plans to continue her important work there with athletes and others.

We think Natalie Tarter never really needed an oval track to shine.

Please enjoy these photographs from the May 12 and 13 ceremonies.

 



NIU holds fall commencement

capThree NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last weekend during the fall commencement ceremonies.

President Doug Baker told the audience at Sunday’s 2 p.m. ceremony about Luis Hernandez, a graduate from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

During Saturday’s Graduate School ceremony, the president spoke about Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, who earned master’s degrees in Early Childhood Studies.

Here are President Baker’s comments.

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez sees the world differently than most – and in more ways than one.

Talk to him and you’ll hear about the infinite complexities of everything around us. Of questions for which there are currently no answers. Of the lack of enough lifetimes to understand, or even solve, just a fraction of the puzzles of the universe.

Or the endless possibilities to unlock some of these solutions through simply improving mathematical literacy.

“It’s mindboggling,” Luis says, “how complicated reality is.”

He graduates today with a degree in kinesiology, a fascinating field that drew him in through its beautiful combination of sciences and disciplines.

To many, it’s all about exercise. To Luis, though, it’s math. It’s physics. It’s biology, chemistry and even philosophy.

Raised in Chicago Heights since fourth-grade, Luis has spent his time at NIU nurturing a deep passion for research.

Working with dollars provided by our undergraduate research programs, he’s completed two projects, he has another in progress – and he has appreciated the autonomy provided by faculty mentors.

One study explored lower-body strength. The other examined how video game-based exercise can improve balance and reduce falls in the elderly. Now he’s looking into possible benefits of working out more often than generally recommended.

Next month, Luis begins courses in the College of Education’s graduate program in Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership on his path toward a doctorate and work in research or higher education.

That decision keeps him among faculty who know and respect him – and on familiar ground, something important for Luis, who is visually impaired.

Born with no sight in his right eye and an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye, he is legally blind though he can still “see” to a limited degree. He’s never considered it a deficit, though, because he’s never experienced “normal” visual acuity.

Luis relies on other senses, including hearing and touch, to maneuver his surroundings and expand his mind. You also might spot him using the camera on his phone to zoom in on the chalkboard.

Congratulations, Luis! I’m excited to glimpse our vivid tomorrows through your eyes.

Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima

Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima

Kaneez Fatima
and Sadia Qamar

For Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, the walk across this stage today is paved with self-awareness, passion, commitment and courage.

As trainers of teachers in their native Pakistan – and as talented and devoted teachers themselves – Kaneez and Sadia realized that to make a greater impact on elementary education in their homeland, they needed to enhance their knowledge.

They dedicated themselves to securing that opportunity, and beat out thousands of applicants to secure two of only 27 scholarship offered by the United States Agency for International Development.

They applied themselves relentlessly. They completed six months of English training in half that time; they attended every day of their College of Education classes; they not only joined student organizations, they became leaders.

And they bravely rose above their country’s male-dominated culture to make independent decisions – decisions to not only travel but to live abroad … by themselves – for the purpose of advancing their own higher education. Such choices are not made lightly.

Now, as they earn master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, they soon will return to Pakistan to reunite with loved ones and to resume their work.

Beyond the lessons they impart about American ways of learning – of teachers who empower students to facilitate their own discovery, who function as partners in that journey – they will quietly demonstrate the magnitude of what they have undertaken.

Kaneez knows from encounters with teachers in Pakistan that they want to deliver innovative and impactful instruction – but that they need professional support to do so. She will provide that, taking home with her influence and ideas not only from classmates in the United States but from many other countries, including China and Nigeria.

Sadia, who has found within herself a confidence, is eager to evangelize for the profound value of early childhood education – of the foundation it sets for future academic achievement. It’s not generally acknowledged in Pakistan, but she will change that.

Both women want teachers to know that a lack of resources cannot overpower passion for the job and solid educational strategies. That students with special needs are capable and deserving. That parents should encourage and accompany their children in learning, literally going hand-in-hand on educational adventures in and out of the classroom.

Their message to teachers back home – and to the children they teach – is forceful: Believe you can do something.

And, in their lives, they already have – not only for themselves but for generations to come. Congratulations!

James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony. Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s recognition.

James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) the NIU College of Education’s Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and NIU President Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony.
Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s CEDU-rooted recognition.



Silicon Valley social entrepreneur to receive honorary NIU doctorate

Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to James Fruchterman, who has devoted his career to bringing “Silicon Valley’s technology innovations to all of humanity, not just the richest 5 percent.”

The CEO and founder of Benetech will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, in the NIU Convocation Center.

A former rocket engineer who also founded two successful for-profit, high-tech companies, Fruchterman grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.

He is also a MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and winner of the 2013 Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor in the United States for service to the field of blindness.

“We are privileged to recognize Jim Fruchterman,” NIU President Doug Baker says. “He applies his skills in engineering and physics to discover, develop and deliver technology that helps people around the world to lead better and more-productive lives, and he has accomplished this in a selfless way.”

“Mr. Fruchterman is truly a model of innovation, social justice and interdisciplinary problem-solving,” adds Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, which houses the Visual Disabilities Program. “What a wonderful model for our NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to see that such a gifted individual has used his immense talents for the greater good.”

Called Arkenstone from 1989 to 2000, Benetech “combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs.”

  • Global Literacy. People with visual and other disabilities have access to technology-based literacy solutions. Benetech also promotes systemic change to make its tools unnecessary in the future.
  • Human Rights. Benetech software, services and training keep human rights defenders safe. Its software also has become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice and begin the process of reconciliation.
  • Environment. Ecologists and conservationists are given tools to plan and manage their global efforts to protect natural resources.

braille-3Gaylen Kapperman, who led NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program for decades and nominated Fruchterman, is a grateful beneficiary of Fruchterman’s legacy.

“Jim established Benetech, a groundbreaking, nonprofit company, to provide the software which people who are blind could use to convert printed material into a form that they could read without the help of sighted individuals,” says Kapperman, now a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Special and Early Education.

Kapperman subscribes to Benetech’s Bookshare, which serves 425,000 members with an online library of more than 490,000 accessible books and periodicals – available free of charge for all U.S. students with qualified disabilities including blindness, vision impairment or another disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia.

“As a blind person,” Kapperman says, “I use that source of information on nearly a daily basis.”

Stacy Kelly, associate professor in NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program, calls Fruchterman’s honor “richly deserved.”

“Jim is a person whose efforts have resulted in the provision of social good on a large scale,” Kelly says. “This is an opportunity for NIU embrace the remarkable work of one of ‘our own’ Illinois natives.”



63 years later, Korean War veteran finally receives education diploma

(This story originally appeared on the NIU Newsroom)

The life Robert Roy “Gus” Trantham launched here at Northern in 1949 has taken him around the world –  from serving in the Korean War as a U.S. Navy lieutenant, to conducting business in China, to raising four children in suburban Glen Ellyn. His journey came full circle when he returned to NIU Saturday to pick up the diploma he earned 63 years ago.

“Sometimes you feel like you didn’t do it if you weren’t there,” said Trantham, 85.

But he was there Saturday. With his service dog Henri, his grandson U.S. Navy Captain Michael Guare by his side, over 25 family, and the entire Convocation Center cheering him on, Trantham accepted his diploma from NIU President Doug Baker at the College of Education Commencement.

Diploma in hand, Trantham said: “This was the best day ever!”

Check out some of the coverage of Gus’ big day: