Monday, October 31, 2011

UIS honors donors and alumni during celebration of Brilliant Futures campaign

The University of Illinois Springfield celebrated the accomplishments of the University of Illinois Foundation’s Brilliant Futures fundraising campaign with an evening gala celebrating the difference donors have made on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011.

The evening began with a reception, followed by an “Appreciation and Accolades” ceremony in the Sangamon Auditorium where donors were celebrated for the difference their gifts have made to the university’s growing success. In addition, several awards and honors were presented.

The four-year Brilliant Futures Campaign helped raise $26.7 million to date to support students and programs at UIS. The donations came from graduates, corporations and the university’s many friends and supporters in the Springfield area. The resources generated through this campaign will ensure that UIS continues to create a better world through our teaching, research, and public engagement.

While the Brilliant Futures Campaign will soon be ending, U of I President Michael Hogan has launched Access Illinois: The Presidential Scholarship Initiative, a crucial initiative for the campuses of the University of Illinois. The initiative is to help ease the financial burden of a growing number of students and their families. The goal is to raise $100 million or more over the next three years.

“Many students do everything right to prepare for college,” said UIS Chancellor Susan J. Koch. “The greatest barrier to their enrollment is the cost. With more scholarships, we can make the valuable UIS experience available to all students who deserve that opportunity.”

Award Recipients

As part of the evening gala, four awards were presented, one by the University of Illinois Foundation (UIF) and three by the University of Illinois Alumni Association (UIAA).

The UIF honored Leonard Branson, chair and professor in the UIS Accountancy Department with the William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership. In 1998, Branson headed a fundraising drive for the UIS Donald Stanhope Scholarship fund. His personal gift, energy and commitment to the fund were inspiring to his peers and alumni and raised over $100,000 for the scholarship. As part of that fundraising effort, Branson developed a campaign committee of alumni, which identified alumni interested in further engagement. Now, Branson has launched a new campaign, to raise money to endow the Donald O’Neal Scholarship for UIS Management students. “I’m honored to receive the William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership,” said Branson. “It’s important that students have the financial support they need to attend college and achieve their dreams.”

Don Johnson,’82, retired Chairman of the Board from ATC Technology Corporation recieved the Alumni Achievement Award from UIAA. The award is the highest honor bestowed upon graduates of the University. It is given to those who have attained distinction and success in one’s profession or life work. Johnson earned most of the credits toward his bachelor’s degree by attending courses at the UIS Peoria Center. “The convenience and format was great for someone who was working full time,” he said. He joined ATC in early 2004 and held the position of President, CEO and Chairman through 2008. ATC is a publicly traded corporation that provides supply-chain solutions through both logistics and refurbishment services to the consumer electronics and automotive markets. Prior to ATC, Johnson held global executive positions with Ford Motor Company (5 years), and with Caterpillar and CAT Logistics.

The Distinguished Service Award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional commitment and service to the University. Ray Schroeder, professor emeritus of communication was the recipient of the 2011 Distinguished Service Award from UIAA. UIS is recognized as a leader in online education and that is due, in large part, to the work Schroeder. He founded the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning (OTEL) and the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service (COLRS) at UIS, is a beloved member of the UIS community, and has been part of it since 1977. His work in online education has brought the University a number of accolades and grants for him and his colleagues to continue pursuing their work, but he is quick to spread the praise: “Our success in online [education] is really due, first, to the faculty, second, to the staff members who support those faculty, and then, of course, the students and their dedication as online students,” he said.

Suzanne Brown received the Alumni Humanitarian Award from UIAA, which recognizes alumni who have made great contributions of leadership and service to improve the lives of others. After earning her M.A. in Legal Studies, she worked as a Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative, which allowed her to represent people during legal proceedings in front of the Immigration Service. Having been involved in the Central America solidarity movement, Brown was “interested in the plight of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees arriving in the United States.” During this time “I was interested in helping refugees adjust to life in the U.S.,” she said. Eventually she was offered an opportunity to help the Illinois Conference of Churches (ICC) set up its Legalization Program, which over the years, evolved into the Immigration Project.

In addition, two alumni loyalty awards were presented, one to Grace Wenz ’73 during the alumni association lunch held earlier on October 28 and one to Victor Juarez ’87 during a special celebration in Washington, D.C.

Wenz is one of the Alumni Association’s most reliable volunteers, and attends nearly every event sponsored by the UIAA or UIS. Wenz is a founding member of the UIS Alumni SAGE Society Coordinating Committee, and has served in leadership roles with the SAGE Society. She says she enjoys staying involved with the University because it serves as the center of her and her husband’s cultural and intellectual interests. She said the two of them drive to UIS often for meetings and events. “I just feel compelled to give to UIS because it is helping me fulfill my intellectual and cultural goals,” she said. “[Volunteering is] my way of giving back.”

Juarez, who works as a taxpayer advocate for the Internal Revenue Service, was voted the Best Dressed Fed in 2010 through a poll conducted nationally with federal employees. However, more important than his keen sense of style is his loyalty to UIS and his interest in reaching out to the Hispanic community. Juarez earned a degree in accountancy from UIS and as an alumnus, he has answered the call to serve as leader in alumni affairs. He served more than eight years as a member of the UIS Campus Alumni Advisory Board and served on the National Commission for the Future of Alumni Relations in 2006. “If it wasn’t for the campus, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he said.

For more information on the Brilliant Futures Campaign or on the Access Illinois Presidential Scholarship Initiative, contact Vicki Megginson, associate chancellor for development, UIS, and senior vice president, University of Illinois Foundation at 217/206-6058 or email For information on the alumni awards, contact Chuck Schrage, UIS Office of Alumni Relations at 217/206-7395 or email

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