NIU, KNPE dedicate M. Joan Popp Lab

NIU President Lisa C. Freeman
NIU President Lisa C. Freeman

Beaming at what she proudly called a “Huskie Hall of Fame” of distinguished coaches, teachers and supporters, NIU President Lisa Freeman saw in the audience at the new M. Joan Popp Motor Behavior Lab reason for great confidence.

Freeman, along with NIU College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education Chair Chad McEvoy and NIU Foundation President and CEO Catherine Squires, had come to celebrate what can blossom from donor support.

And the potential of such gifts was more than evident in the beautifully renovated space of Anderson 213.

“Thanks to Joan Popp and others like her, NIU is on the path to becoming everything we – collectively – envision for its continued success,” Freeman told a standing-room-only crowd at the Oct. 2 ribbon-cutting event.

“Private support helps fuel our progress as we become a university that empowers students to work hard, take risks and achieve their full potential,” she added. “Our donors are helping NIU become a first-choice destination for smart, determined young people who come with grit, imagination and a hunger for learning, much like the generations of students who passed through Dr. Popp’s classrooms during her career.”

Opened this fall in what once was a small gymnasium, the boldly painted Popp Lab now hosts classes in areas such as biomechanics, kinesiology and motor control. It also provides robust hands-on learning and faculty research opportunities through its state-of-the-art equipment, including a motion capture, gait analysis and force plate technology.

Renovations were made possible through a contribution from the estate of Popp, who taught exercise science and motor behavior at NIU from 1959 to 1995. She died Sept. 13, 2017, at the age of 88.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, NIU President Lisa C. Freeman, Joan Popp estate executor Linda Conrad and KNPE Chair Chad McEvoy
From left: Dean Laurie Elish-Piper; NIU President Lisa C. Freeman; Linda Conrad, friend of Joan Popp and executor of her estate; and KNPE Chair Chad McEvoy

Elish-Piper saluted Popp’s “profound mark on education,” calling her “a great professor and, obviously, a strong and caring friend to, and supporter of, students, especially those deserving of the financial help she was kindly able to provide.”

“Dr. Joan Popp’s career at NIU ended at exactly the same time as mine began – in August of 1995 – but her legacy, influence and generosity clearly live on a quarter-century later,” Elish-Piper said.

“With the dedication of this lab, she continues to achieve a dream shared by many if not all of us in education, and that is to touch the lives of students who come after, and even long after, our teaching days are over.”

Many NIU faculty make financial commitments to students, Squires said.

Catherine Squires
Catherine Squires

NIU Foundation fundraising activity reached nearly $22 million in Fiscal Year 2019, she said, and “about one-third of that total represents the generous gifts of current and retired faculty and staff members, like Dr. Popp. Many of you in the audience are part of that great success, and today we celebrate you all for your life-changing contributions.”

Yet “it’s really no surprise that our faculty and staff give back in such great measure,” Squires added. “After all, they work daily to provide our students knowledge, direction and inspiration. They know better than anyone how NIU changes students’ lives.”

For McEvoy, who worked closely with Linda Conrad, a longtime friend of Popp’s and executor of her estate, the ceremony represented “a landmark in KNPE’s history with the opening of this state-of-the-art laboratory, our first named laboratory in the department and college.”

“Dr. Popp’s generous gift has allowed us to truly transform this old activity space into a modern laboratory, fitting for the high-quality teaching and research conducted in KNPE,” McEvoy said. “This amazing space will allow us to continue to move forward in this regard.”

Emerson Sebastião, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, demonstrates some of the new technology with kinesiology major Becca Backeberg, president of the Exercise Science Club.
Emerson Sebastião, an assistant professor in KNPE, demonstrates some of the new technology with kinesiology major Becca Backeberg, president of the Exercise Science Club.

With that, McEvoy was ready to “cut the ribbon” – but not in the familiar way.

“Fitting with our mission, we are putting a unique twist on the practice of cutting the ribbon that represents KNPE’s work in the exercise and sport sciences by having our students run through the ribbon as a runner would run though the tape at the end of a race,” he said. “Thank you to Becca Backeberg, president of the Exercise Science Club, and Pablo Valencia-Garcia, president of the Northern Illinois Athletic Training Student Association, for helping us celebrate this occasion today.”

Pablo Valencia-Garcia, athletic training major and president of the Northern Illinois Athletic Training Student Association, and Backeberg ran through the ribbon rather than cutting it.
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