Tag: graduation

Pomp and circumstance: NIU marks spring commencement

commencement-spring-18-1NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight over the weekend during the spring commencement ceremonies.

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman told the audience at the May 12 undergraduate ceremony about Elizabeth Hipskind, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education.

During the May 11 Graduate School ceremony, Freeman spoke about Rachel Morrison, who earned a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

Here are President Freeman’s comments.

Elizabeth Hipskind

October 24, 2017: a date Elizabeth Hipskind will never forget.

Elizabeth Hipskind

Elizabeth Hipskind

She was in Rockford, completing a clinical in a secondary classroom of students with low-functioning autism. During an art activity, Elizabeth briefly turned her back on a 17-year-old girl.

It was then that she felt the bite, teeth piercing her right arm. Elizabeth instinctively tried to pull away, allowing the girl’s bite to drag four inches higher above the elbow.

NIU Health Services prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection and physical therapy for loss of mobility.

During two months of PT, with relentless fever and limited use of her dominant hand, she overcame academic challenges through speech-recognition software and understanding faculty.

And talk about resilient! During this difficult period, Elizabeth never missed one class, kept a 4.0 grade point average, remained active in extracurriculars and maintained a positive attitude about everything.

Most importantly, she realized something amazing: Classrooms like that one in Rockford are where she truly belongs, not those that match her original goal of K-2 students with mild disabilities. Rockford fueled her purpose and passion for special education, the only career she’s ever wanted.

Elizabeth comes from Oklahoma. A young woman of deep faith, she grew up teaching Sunday School. Five years ago, she connected with a second-grader with autism and found her future.

She combined 19 hours of Advanced Placement credit with six consecutive semesters of heavy course loads to graduate in three years.

It’s hard to believe now, but Elizabeth almost returned home after her freshman year. I’m happy she stayed.

Here she’s tapped great opportunities. Teaching in Houston! Mentoring adult performers with special needs on the Penguin Players stage!

She’s also turned curiosity into research, including an 11,000-word paper on how college students with mental illness respond to characters in film with corresponding diagnoses.

I’m thrilled that her parents, Stefan and Stephanie, and other loved ones have made the 670-mile trip to see her dream come true. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

commencement-spring-18-615

Rachel Morrison

Rachel Morrison wears many hats. She’s a mother of two, a military spouse, a preschool teacher and today, a Huskie graduate.

Rachel Morrison

Rachel Morrison

The road to earning her master’s degree in early childhood education began three years ago when she and her family moved to DeKalb from the Fort Stewart in Georgia.

“Coming here, and having the kids in school full time, I just really wanted to do something for myself,” Rachel said. “I wasn’t sure if I could balance everything but I wanted to give it a try.”

And she did.

In 2015, Rachel became a full-time student at NIU, and in 2016, she began taking classes in the evening while working part-time as a preschool teacher in DeKalb. Then in 2017, her husband, Jay, a colonel in the United States Army, was deployed to Kuwait. That didn’t deter Rachel from pursuing her master’s degree.

“I would put in a full day of work, go to class, come home and put my kids to bed. Then I’d start my homework,” Rachel said. “Finding a balance with all the different roles I played was a challenge.”

But Rachel proved she was up for the challenge. While earning her master’s degree and raising her two boys, she has maintained an impressive 4.0 grade point average.

She said she is grateful for the support she received at NIU, especially from Professor Myoungwhon Jung. “I took two of his classes and he has been my supervising teacher through all of my student teaching,” Rachel said. “He really went out of his way to help me, and I know he gives a lot of his own time on weekends and evenings to help his students.”

Col. Jay Morrison said this about his wife via email from Kuwait. “Too often people confuse me as a hero because of the uniform I wear,” he said. “When I am asked who my hero is, it is Rachel.”

Her two sons, ages 7 and 11, share the sentiment. “They would tell me that I was doing a great job and that they were proud of me,” Rachel said.

Rachel said she is proud of herself too, and is looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life. Her husband finishes his tour in July and the family will be moving to a military base outside of Tacoma, Washington, in August. “My goal is to teach full time there,” Rachel said. “And I am really looking forward to spending more time with my kids and having my husband back.”

Our hats are off to Rachel. You worked hard and deserve to be recognized for your efforts.

Please enjoy this photo gallery from Spring 2018 commencement!



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.



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: