Friday, September 28, 2007

Student Government President Has Big Plans for His Term

By Courtney Westlake

Every meeting, before President Bob Skorczewski calls for new and old business, he asks the members of the UIS Student Government Association and meeting attendees to stand and honor their country by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

He realizes, as most involved in politics do, that the political system wouldn’t be where it is today without the basic principles the nation was founded on.

Skorczewski, who is originally from Nashville, Ill., first became interested in politics in high school, and after serving his first term for the Senate-at-Large, Skorczewski said he began to find that politics and government contained many more “niches that needed to be filled” than he originally thought.

Skorczewski then ran for vice president his junior year and served as Sergeant-at-Arms his senior year. Now, as a graduate student in political studies, he has stepped up into the role of president.

“When you study politics you learn about agenda setting; the president has a lot ability to influence what gets discussed,” he said. “It also allows me to be in a position to talk to other student government presidents around the state about legislative issues we want to work together on.”

The student government association is made up of 16 main positions, 14 of those being voting positions. There are also 20 committees, subcommittees and councils.

Skorczewski said his decision to attend UIS rested largely on the excellent “public affairs package,” and the opportunity to get to know his professors and mentors on a more personal level.

“It really helps, with the small class sizes; I didn’t realize how great it would be until I got here,” he said. “I think I know the faculty here better than my teachers in high school.”

As president of the student body, Skorczewski said he has many plans for not only the government and the students, but for the university as a whole.

“This year already, we are talking with the Springfield Mass Transit District to try to get more bus service to UIS,” he said. “In a campus setting committee, we’re working on revising the UIS academic integrity code, and in the Student Government Association, we’re working on a student Bill of Rights.”

And in working with other student government presidents this term, Skorczweski hopes that a coalition called the Illinois Students Coalition will be formed that will be able to lobby the state and federal governments as a voice for students, which he believes is a part of the population that is often overlooked.

When he’s not governing the student body or attending classes, Skorczewski serves as a research assistant for the Center for State Policy and Leadership, locating and researching grants and implementing forums for the center.

Through each of his roles, Skorczewski is hoping to get students at UIS more involved in the center and politics in general.

“We’re always looking for ways that people can get involved,” he said. “We have a number of committees; even if you don’t want to serve on the actual board, you can serve on a committee. And a personal goal is to try to get people involved in government on any level. Raise your hand and let us know what you think.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Campus Celebrates TRAC Dedication

By Courtney Westlake

An emotional event. A blessing. A symbol and a metaphor. Students and staff each had varying descriptions for the opening of the new recreation and athletic center, but each agreed on one thing: they are proud.

On Wednesday, September 26, the University of Illinois at Springfield held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the state-of-the-art recreation and athletic center (TRAC) in front of a packed crowd of campus and community members.

The ceremony was part of a full day’s worth of events at the new facility. The morning kicked off with the Sam Madonia Show broadcasting live from the atrium of TRAC, complete with interviews from Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, JT Timmons, director of recreational sports, Cynthia Thompson, director of student life, and more.

TRAC also held an open house Wednesday morning so that students, faculty, staff and members of the Springfield community could view the $16.2 million center that boasts a 3,000-seat performance arena, which converts into three basketball and volleyball courts, a multi-purpose exercise room, a suspended running track, new exercise machines and new televisions throughout.

The construction of the TRAC was made possible through student fees and a generous $1 million donation by the Hoogland Family Foundation of Charles and Kathleen Hoogland.

Several students and staff stood up to speak at the dedication.

"It's more than a recreation center; it's a symbol," said Bob Skorczewski, a graduate student and Student Government Association president. "And it's not only a symbol of the way UIS is moving, but for the youth in the state and the country. Whether it's something small like starting a small club on campus or building a new recreation facility, the students of UIS are doing things."

Ali Janezic, a third year volleyball player, was part of the first team to play a match in the new gymnasium.

"All of us student athletes have been looking forward to getting in here for a long time," she said. "Walking into TRAC is really a dream. I know that playing here is an honor for every student athlete. The opportunity to continue on with something we love in the midst of such growth on a campus that we love is truly a blessing."

A dedication picnic took place after the ribbon-cutting, with refreshments and music. More tours were also given of the facility and its impressive features.

"This is an institution that is rooted in its past, proud of its presence, and excited about its present," Ringeisen said.

Friday, September 21, 2007

New Professor Uses Religion as Way to Explore World

By Courtney Westlake

Dr. David Bertaina has found that more can be learned from the study of religion than most people think, from understanding wars and historical events to comprehending and appreciating differences between various cultures.

Bertaina, a new professor to the University of Illinois at Springfield this fall, is the history department's first specialist in comparative religion. He received his Ph.D. in Semitic Languages and Literatures from the Catholic University of America in 2007 and previously taught courses on Islam at California State University in Chico.

Bertaina said he has always held a fascination with history, especially with both of his parents being teachers, and first studied traditional Western history. As he then began to study Christianity’s presence in the Middle East, he also became interested in languages in that particular area of the world.

“For my doctorate, I studied many Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic and Greek,” he said. “Plus some French and German had to be done for all of the reading. So I had an opportunity to delve into the literature and appreciate the historical development of the cultures.”

The history and literature of the medieval Middle East with an emphasis on Christian-Muslim dialogs is now Bertaina’s forte. Through extensive research on these subjects, Bertaina said he found his professional interest begin to expand into personal interests in other cultural aspects of the Middle East, primarily music.

“From the languages, I had an appreciation for the way of life and how they express themselves,” he said. “Expression relies on language, art and music, and I gained an appreciation for the many forms of music. It’s a way to look back into time.”

Bertaina is teaching two classes this semester. One of them is an online course on Islamic history. The other, called “Scriptures and World Religions,” teaches religion from the historical perspective and examines how religion developed in history, he said.

Bertaina said he hopes his students develop an understanding and appreciation for religion on a deeper level: each religion’s history, scriptures, culture and the way its followers view the world.

“I want my students to take away from my classes an understanding of a particular religious tradition – each religious tradition in its own right,” he said. “Every religion has a world view that is how they identify themselves and look at the world based upon their identity as a religious person, so it’s important to step into this religious world view.”

While UIS doesn’t have a specific religion department, Bertaina anticipates filling that void in the department of history.

“The University of Illinois at Springfield was interested in having someone in comparative religion because they saw a need for not only studying politics, but also the fact that religion is a reason and driving force behind politics today, behind issues of culture and behind issues of cultural wars,” Bertaina said. “(I want) to communicate to the students the complexity of each individual religious tradition, and also how they interact with one another and with other areas, such as the area of intellectual life or literature or gender issues.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NPR Host Speaks to UIS community

By Courtney Westlake

Supporters of public radio came together on Wednesday to celebrate WUIS-FM radio station and listen to the thoughts of a highly-regarded National Public Radio host.

University of Illinois at Springfield staff and faculty and members of the community took part in a luncheon focused around a lively discussion between Rich Bradley, news director of WUIS, and Liane Hansen, who has been the host of National Public Radio’s award-winning program called Weekend Edition-Sunday since 1989.

Hansen, who hails from Massachusetts, first began in public broadcasting as a co-host for WSKG in Binghamton, New York, before coming to the NPR as a production assistant for the program All Things Considered in 1979.

Hansen has filled a variety of hosting roles for NPR shows, included Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Weekend All Things Considered and Performance Today. As a seasoned radio host, Hansen said she has many lessons about telling the true story.

“Every news story involves human beings – this affects someone’s life,” she said. “I’ve realized it’s more important to be right than to be first.”

In between discussing personal experiences as a host, Hansen fielded questions from audience members. Though she was playfully boo’d for admitting to be a Yankees fan, Hansen received applause as she discussed some of the things she has experienced and enjoyed in Springfield, including the Dana Thomas House and Cozy Dog drive-in restaurant.

When asked about her format for interviewing guests on the air, Hansen emphasized that she believes in drawing her audience into the guests’ stories, not her own words.

“It’s not about me; it’s not about how much I know or don’t know,” she said. “You really want to hear the person being interviewed. It’s my job as a host to get them to tell their story to you.”

New Recreation and Athletic Center Opens Its Doors

By Courtney Westlake

The day before the University of Illinois at Springfield’s new recreation and athletic center opened for the first time, its staff decided to take polls on the number of people they expected to come through.

“If it keeps up like it is, I think I might win,” laughed JT Timmons, director of recreational sports, who was excited on Tuesday morning not only because his prediction seemed to be on the mark but because the numbers were steady during the first few hours of the facility’s opening.

On Tuesday, September 18, the new recreation and athletic center (also known as the TRAC) opened its doors to the campus community after several years of planning. In 2003, students passed a referendum to build the new state-of-the-art center, Timmons said, and over the last several semesters, students have been paying a fee for the facility’s construction.

The recreation facility is part of the university’s strategic plan to create a more exciting campus for its students and employees. Timmons gives credit to the university administration for looking ahead to the mission of the university, which includes a component of wellness, recreation and athletics.

“To truly commit to that mission statement, such a facility was definitely needed on this campus,” he said, adding that there are two more phases for the center in the future. “There is tremendous growth going on, which further strengthens the need and support for a facility like this.”

Junior Erin Evangelista was one of the TRAC’s first users on its opening day. Evangelista, who is on the cheerleading squad for UIS, said she works out twice a day to get in shape for cheerleading season. She is impressed with the amenities the center has to offer, she said.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “There are a lot more machines, especially the adductor and abductor, which I love. And it’s brighter, which is what I really like when working out.”

The recreation and athletic center is located on the southern edge of campus, just west of Kiwanis Stadium. With 72,000 total square feet on two levels, students are able to enjoy three basketball and volleyball courts that can convert to a 3,000-seat performance arena, a running track, two racquetball courts, a large multi-purpose aerobics and exercise room, and cardiovascular and weight training areas.

Additionally, the TRAC’s gymnasium is now the new home to the Prairie Stars varsity men's and women's basketball teams and women's volleyball team. The volleyball team broke in the new gym its opening day with three matches throughout the afternoon and evening.

Although there were some delays with the recreation center, Timmons said that’s to be expected with a project of that size. Now that the facility is open for use, Timmons hopes students, faculty, staff and the public take advantage of the new machines, running track, gym and more.

“The response is hard to judge right now because the size of this facility is so much larger than the current Student Life Building center, but we've already seen an increase in memberships,” he said. “There is a lot more equipment in here; there are 17 TVs that are wired into cable. In general, I think people are really pleased with the aesthetics in here.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

UIS sets new enrollment records

By Courtney Westlake

The University of Illinois at Springfield is experiencing new records as the numbers of students enrolled continue to jump from years past, according to the Office of Admissions.

“We hit another record enrollment this fall at UIS with 4,855 students enrolled, an increase of 3.8 percent over last fall’s record of 4,761 students,” said Dr. Marya Leatherwood, Director of Enrollment Management and Associate Vice Chancellor. “Most of the gain was at the undergraduate level; there are 2,863 undergraduates at UIS this fall, compared to 2,758 last fall.”

Diversity seems to be a major trend in the incoming classes, Leatherwood said. Forty percent of the freshman class this year is made up of underrepresented groups, and geographically, the numbers are spreading from outside of the immediate area.

“Over 65 percent of the student body at the freshman level is from outside of Springfield area which is tremendous in terms of gains for housing prospects,” she noted.

Online student enrollment has also increased this year, Leatherwood said; 1030 students are enrolled in the 16 online degree programs offered at UIS, which is up 11.5 percent from last year.

Each of these major steps in student enrollment brings the University closer to achieving its vision, she said.

“Part of strategic plan includes attracting and enrolling 6,000 students by the year 2012,” Leatherwood said. “And of those 6,000, we expect 4,000 of them to be taking courses on campus with 2,000 living in the residents’ halls and campus apartments.”

Workshop brings out float creativity for students

By Courtney Westlake

Who knew that spray paint would disintegrate Styrofoam?

Students got their fair share of tips and advice on constructing and decorating a parade float on Monday, September 17, using materials like Styrofoam, chicken wire, garbage bags, paint and more.

A Build a Parade Float workshop was held in the Student Life office and was the second program of its kind this school year. The Student Life office decided to coordinate these workshops in hopes of inspiring more students and staff to build floats for the October 6 homecoming parade.

“We wanted to make sure our students could get some idea of how to build a float, or even just decorate a car, to make it easier for our student groups to enter things into the parade,” said Beth Hoag, assistant director of Student Life. “It’s fun and just casual to get people interested in the techniques and also to talk about cost-saving methods because that’s usually a concern with our student groups.”

Participants were given booklets with information on materials and pricing and practiced creating floats by stapling chicken wire on a wooden box and using paper mache and pieces of garbage bags, folded to look like flowers, to decorate.

UIS freshman Charles Olivier said he was intrigued by how parade floats are constructed, so he decided to come find out for himself. Since the deadline is looming for float applications, Olivier said he doesn’t think he will be able to pull together a float for this year’s parade, but he is excited to get some friends together to create a float for next year’s homecoming.

“I thought (the workshop) was great; they had a lot of creative ideas that you wouldn’t regularly think of,” he said.

Last year was the first year that UIS held a parade in conjunction with homecoming, and floats ranged from a fire truck to a decorated red wagon, Hoag said. She hopes the numbers of floats will begin to increase with each homecoming celebration.

“We hope to get more each year and have it build, and also get floats from the community as well,” Hoag said.

Applications for parade floats are available in the Student Life office.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Students Remember 9/11 on Sixth Anniversary

By Courtney Westlake

Tuesday’s cool and calm night provided a serene backdrop for UIS students to pay tribute to the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives six years ago during the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a plane crash in Shanksville, Pa.

At a 9/11 Remembrance Event on Tuesday evening, small, tea light candles were available for students, staff and passerby to light in memory of those who were affected by the tragedy. The candles were placed around the Colonnade and fountain, lighting up the Quad area and providing a peaceful atmosphere for people to reflect and pray.

The remembrance event, which occurs on each anniversary of the attacks, was sponsored by the resident assistants of the townhouses.

“We decided that something needed to be done; something needs to be done every year to commemorate and remember 9/11 and what happened,” said Heidi Fisher, an RA for the west side townhouses. “It’s something that really shouldn’t be forgotten. We need to have an active effort to remember it.”

Seniors Laura Strum and Kathleen Knolhoff spent some time reflecting by the fountain and sharing their thoughts with each other. Strum said she has family members who live in New York, and the events of the day were very personal for her.

“It was the experience that we heard about from them that really touched me,” she said. “It means a lot to come out and honor them and everyone that died that day.”

“I came out for support and remembering that very tragic day,” Knolhoff added. “It was just an eye opener.”

Blank poster boards were also provided to attendees who wished to express their thoughts in the form of a poem, picture or, for some, a simple phrase or quote.

“This is still a major event in the life of our students here at UIS,” said Loni Oehlwein, Resident Director for West Campus Apartments. “The event was just something calm and interactive for students to stop by for.”