Sharing and celebrating good news is always an inspirational focus of all-college meetings, and the Aug. 24 edition was no exception.
But the simple act of safely filling the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center that day – wearing masks, observing physical distancing and applying hand sanitizer if needed – offered the best news of all.
“Welcome back, or welcome – whichever fits,” Dean Laurie Elish-Piper told faculty and staff. “It’s so wonderful to see everyone here today.”
The morning began with a workshop on “Reconnecting Through Our Humanity,” delivered by J.Q. Adams, who is working to “repair the rift that concepts like race, gender, class and caste have caused.”
Adams spoke of “four pillars” that allow “pluralities of singularities” to accomplish incredible things together: dignity, respect, trust and safety.
Dignity “comes with being human. We’re born with it. It cannot be taken away, but it can be compromised,” he said, citing Nelson Mandela as an example of a person who achieved and lived a “consciousness” by refusing to surrender his dignity during 27 years of imprisonment.
Respect, meanwhile, is earned. So is trust, a product of consistency. Finally, he said, the sense of safety created by those first ingredients replaces fear and doubt and lays a solid foundation for reconnections.
Given that blueprint, randomly chosen groups – and, in the afternoon, departments – drilled further into discussions of reuniting the world’s “one human family” with raw and personal stories as well as ideas that could bridge the gap.
“Changing is really hard work,” Adams said in applauding the morning’s results. “I love the vulnerability. I love the unfinishedness. I love the ‘where do we go from here.’ ”
“I’m really heartened by the meaningful, honest and significant conversations that we had today,” the dean said, “and I look forward to the ways that we can use those conversations to fuel our work to improve the quality of the experiences, spaces and opportunities that we provide for our students but that we also build for ourselves as a team.”
- The Dr. LaVerne Gyant Alumni Mentoring Program will launch this fall for undergraduates and expand soon for graduate students. “We’ve had a really good response from some of our Black alumni who have volunteered to be mentors, so we’re really excited to get this launched and up and running this fall,” Elish-Piper said.
- The college’s Academic Equity Committee will facilitate a Racial Equity Academy that will deliver a year of professional development for 12 faculty and staff members, two from each of the six departments.
- The college’s PLEDGE initiative continues to flourish and grow, including the addition of Early Childhood Education and Special Education majors at Elgin Community College and the expansion of the Principal Prep cohort program to U-46.
- The college will participate in a university-wide initiative to review graduate programs to enhance programs and outcomes for graduate students.
- Working across campus, the college is exploring ways to better serve adult learners in the service region. The work begins with determining who those potential students are as well as thinking about ways to make degree completion programs and supports available to help adults with some college education but no degree.
- A “Strategic Innovation Team” is assembling with a cross section of people from across the college who will discuss and perhaps endorse the suggestions for innovation offered by faculty and staff. “Many times, those strategic ideas don’t see the light of day because they’re not shared,” Elish-Piper said. “This team will provide a mechanism to identify the most promising ideas and ways that we can leverage strategic innovation funds using donor funds to pilot and implement some of those different ideas.”
- Fall 2021 enrollment of new students, compared to last fall, is even for freshmen (171), up 6.3% (10) for transfers, up 1.5% (3) for master’s and down 6.8% (-3) for doctoral, despite the challenges of the pandemic. “Our hard work that we started here five years ago is paying off,” Walker said.
- Thirty-six percent of courses are being delivered face-to-face this fall, more than triple the number last fall. Hybrid and fully online courses each constitute 32%.
- Renovations and facelifts to the college’s facilities are welcoming students. “We’re trying to just add some pops of color here and there so that we can liven up our spaces and make them a bit more inviting,” Pitney said.
- Nine faculty members celebrated promotions and/or tenure: Melissa Fickling (associate professor, CAHE); Jacqueline Mac (assistant professor, CAHE); Gudrun Nyunt (assistant professor, CAHE); Melanie Koss (professor, CI); David Paige (professor, CI); Donna Werderich (professor, CI); Corrine Wickens (professor, CI); Jenn Jacobs (associate professor, KNPE); and Lisa Liberty (associate professor, SEED).
- Several departments welcomed new faculty and staff, including Melissa Plazola (administrative assistant, Office of the Dean); Quortne “Q” Hutchings (assistant professor, CAHE); Heather Korczak (academic advisor, CI); Chris Lowe (academic advisor, CI); Tina Heffernan (office manager, ETRA); Farah Ishaq (assistant professor, KNPE); Marissa Dordick (academic advisor, SEED); and Stephen Walker (assistant professor, SEED).
The college also celebrated recipients of the 2020 and 2021 Spring Awards.
Excellence in Research and Artistry: Natalie Andzik, SEED
Excellence in Teaching by Faculty/Clinical Faculty: Stephanie DeSpain, SEED
Exceptional Contributions by an Instructor: David Serowka, KNPE
Excellence in Service by Faculty: Kimberly Hart, CAHE
Exceptional Contributions to Diversity/Social Justice: Jenn Jacobs, KNPE
Exceptional Contributions by Staff: George Babos, Technology Innovation and Learning Services
Excellence in Outreach/Community Service Award: Zach Wahl-Alexander, KNPE
Excellence in Research and Artistry: Emerson Sebastião, KNPE
Excellence in Teaching by Faculty/Clinical Faculty: Pi-Sui Hsu, ETRA
Exceptional Contributions by an Instructor: Megan Gerken, CI
Excellence in Service by Faculty: Toni Van Laarhoven, SEED
Exceptional Contributions to Diversity and Social Justice: Natalie Young, SEED
Exceptional Contributions by Staff: Tony Calderala, KNPE
Excellence in Outreach/Community Service: Jesse “Woody” Johnson, SEED
The good news, along with the long-awaited reunion of the College of Education faculty and staff, provide Elish-Piper with optimism for the year ahead.
“We all are aware that we continue to face difficult challenges in our return to a more-traditional semester, and that more tests are likely coming this fall,” she said, “but witnessing the passion and strength of our team gives me all the confidence I need to know that we are ready and will succeed again through our independent will and our collaborative spirit.”
Ice Cream Social
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