Friday, February 23, 2018

UIS honors alums Kathy Best and Mary Mitchell Beaumont for achievement and service

The University of Illinois Springfield honored the significant contributions of Kathy Best and Mary Mitchell Beaumont during the university’s annual Alumni Gala on Friday, February 23, 2018, at the UIS Student Union.

The 2017 Alumni Achievement Award for outstanding success and national or international distinction in one’s business, profession or life’s work was presented to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathy Best, who earned a master’s degree in public affairs reporting in 1990.

Best has covered news from the Statehouse to the Capitol, and from the digital domains of Seattle, Washington to the big skies of Missoula, Montana. Best grew up in a small-town Illinois newspaper family.

“Mom was editor, Dad was publisher, and my brother shot pictures,” she says. “When news happened—like on my 16th birthday when somebody set the jail on fire—everybody got up from dinner and left me sitting there.”

Best didn’t sit for long. After a false start in pre-med at Illinois, she transferred to SIU-Carbondale and graduated in 1979 at the peak of a recession. Graduate school seemed like the best bet, and her parents, who knew public affairs reporting program founder Sen. Paul Simon and Statehouse reporter Mike Lawrence, recommended the public affairs reporting program. Her degree led her to covering the Statehouse for media company Lee Enterprises and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

From there, it was a natural transition to the nation’s capital. “D.C. was a great place to work, but I missed feeling connected to a community,” Best explains. She was dating a reporter who relocated to Oregon, and on a visit, she fell in love with the state’s natural beauty. She arranged for a get acquainted cup of coffee at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at 9 a.m., left the building at 6 p.m. and was hired an hour later.

Best made her mark at the Post-Intelligencer’s rival, the Seattle Times, where she was hired as a managing editor for digital news because the editor said Best was the only person to have ever beaten him on a story. Under her watch, the Times staff won 2010 and 2015 Pulitzer Prizes for breaking digital news, and its investigative team won a 2012 Pulitzer for investigative reporting. Best became editor of the Times in 2013 and left in 2016 because she felt Seattle’s population boom had made it unlivable. Plus, the decline of legacy media meant drastic cutbacks. “I didn’t want to be the editor who dismantled the newspaper,” she says.

Best now serves as the editor of the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic in Missoula, Montana. She’s fallen in love with big sky country, but she hasn’t slowed down. “Between having a congressional candidate on the eve of the election beat up a reporter to having a million acres burn this summer,” she notes, “I do not lack for news.”

The 2017 Distinguished Service Award for extraordinary commitment, dedication and service to the advancement of the University of Illinois was awarded to Mary Mitchell Beaumont. She earned a master’s degree in communication in 1989.

Beaumont came to UIS as a non-traditional student. She moved to Springfield with her journalist husband Jim and sons Mitchell and Matthew in 1972 so that Jim could cover the Statehouse for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Before his family joined him, Jim began taking classes at UIS (then Sangamon State University) and received his master’s degree in public administration in 1974. “I went back to school to keep up with the rest of my family,” Beaumont says. “My husband had three degrees, we had two children in college, and I thought, ‘Hey, they’re going to be ahead of me.’”

Jim and Mary soon became fixtures at UIS. They frequented the library, attended art openings and auditorium events, and cheered at pep rallies and sporting events. Few things happened without them. When an event called for catering, Mary cooked. When WUIS, the UIS-related NPR affiliate, held pledge drives, she answered phones. “I’m proud to say I even judged a homecoming parade,” Beaumont says, laughing.

Beaumont was a founding steering committee member of the SAGE Society, the University’s group for alumni and friends aged 50 and better. SAGE has offered “lunch and learn” events and dinners before Sangamon Auditorium events.

As a longtime member and past president of the Springfield Branch of the American Association of University Women, Beaumont has promoted UIS’s interests. In recognition of her leadership, AAUW Springfield Branch established a scholarship in her honor that benefits UIS female students returning to their education after an interruption. The Beaumonts later endowed the AAUW scholarship and also established the Jim and Mary Beaumont Endowed Scholarship for Public Affairs Reporting.

Beaumont also has been a champion for UIS causes dear to her heart. Jim—who died in 2013 due to an accident early in their marriage—negotiated the world from a wheelchair, with Mary as his primary caregiver. The couple advocated for accessibility on campus, as well as family-friendly restrooms. Mary also crusaded for the education and development of women as leaders.

For more information on the awards, contact Chuck Schrage, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, at 217/206-7395 or

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Four to join the UIS Legislative Internship Hall of Fame during an induction ceremony

The Samuel K. Gove Illinois Legislative Internship Hall of Fame at the University of Illinois Springfield will honor four individuals who have served as legislative interns at the state capitol. Mark Denzler, Marcilene Dutton, DeShana Forney and David Joens will be inducted during a ceremony at the Old State Capitol on Monday, March 12, 2018. Inductees are selected based on their contributions to Illinois and its citizens. The Hall of Fame is also recognition of the important role that public service internships play in developing public sector leadership.

Mark Denzler is vice president & chief operating officer for the Illinois Manufacturers' Association (IMA), a statewide advocacy organization representing nearly 4,000 member companies and facilities. Denzler assumed his current post in January 2006 and is responsible for all government affairs, membership and human resource activities. Prior to IMA, Denzler served in various posts including overseeing Illinois government affairs for State Farm Insurance, a Fortune 50 company headquartered in Bloomington. He served as director of government affairs for the IMA and was a legislative analyst in the General Assembly focusing on taxes, education and transportation. Denzler was appointed by Governor Pat Quinn and reappointed by Governor Bruce Rauner to Illinois Workers' Compensation Advisory Board. He serves on the Board of Directors for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois, Sangamo Club, and sits on the National Public Affairs Steering Committee for the National Association of Manufacturers. Denzler is a 2015 selection as an Edgar Fellow at the University of Illinois and a graduate of the inaugural class of the Crain's Chicago Business Leadership Academy. Denzler is a 1993 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and currently lives in Springfield with his wife and son.

Marcy Dutton serves as general counsel to the Teacher’s Retirement System of Illinois (TRS) which is a $6.4 billion pension fund providing financial security to retired public-school teachers employed in school districts outside of the City of Chicago. Prior to joining TRS, Dutton worked for eight years at the Illinois State Board of Education as its deputy general counsel although she pitched in and served as general counsel twice when called upon to do so. The majority of Dutton’s professional career has been public school and public service focused. Dutton graduated from Millikin University with degrees in political science and English. After completing the legislative internship program in 1986, she attended Louisiana State University where she earned a Juris Doctor degree. A lifelong learner, in 2010 she completed the Chief School Business Official endorsement program offered by the University of Illinois Springfield. Since 2007, she has taught school law classes at UIS on a part-time basis. Dutton and her husband live in Chatham.

DeShana Forney is senior director of government and community relations for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, subsidiaries of WEC Energy Group. In this role, she is responsible for leading the company’s Illinois government and community relations strategy. Prior to joining Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, Forney was the associate director of governmental relations for the University of Illinois. She has more than twenty years of legislative, budgetary and management experience, which includes leading the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) as its executive director, serving as the director of public safety and house legislative liaison in the Office of the Governor, and working on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s issues development staff. In addition to her government affairs work, Forney has held numerous senior political campaign positions in races for state legislative, constitutional, Supreme Court and countywide offices, and formerly served as the Democratic Party of Illinois’ deputy executive director. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and a master’s degree in political studies from the University of Illinois Springfield. She was born and raised in Springfield.

David Joens, director of the Illinois State Archives, worked on the Illinois Senate Democratic staff for seven years. A U.S. Army veteran and former newspaper reporter, he was a press secretary for Democratic members of the Senate, including the Senate’s Black Caucus. In 1996, he began work as the assistant director of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he authored two “Almanac of Illinois Politics” books. In 2000, he moved to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, where he worked for four years on the policy staff. In 2004, he was picked by Secretary of State Jesse White to serve as the fifth director of the Illinois State Archives, a position he holds today. Joens has an undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University, two master’s degrees from the University of Illinois Springfield and a doctorate in Illinois history from Southern Illinois University. In 2012, he authored the book “From Slave to State Legislator: John W. E. Thomas, Illinois First African American Lawmaker.” Joens is married to Mona Martin, who is also a former legislative staff intern and who was inducted in the Samuel K. Gove Hall of Fame in 2013. They live in Springfield.

The Hall of Fame is hosted by the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The Hall of Fame is named for the late Samuel K. Gove, founding director of the internship program and one of the founders of Illinois Issues magazine. Established in 1990, the Hall of Fame, including this year’s inductees, now numbers 68 individuals, among them a former governor and several former and current state and federal legislators. The names of the Hall’s members are inscribed on a plaque that hangs on the fourth floor of the Illinois Statehouse.

The event on March 12 will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m. at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, followed by the induction ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 per person and may be purchased online at The deadline to register is March 7, 2018. Reservations are required. For more information, contact Rob Fafoglia with the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership at 217/206-7163 or

Leadership lived: UIS student educates peers about gender and sexuality

Mel Clark admits to having “grown up a lot as a person” since enrolling at the University of Illinois Springfield. As a freshman, Clark got involved with the Gender and Sexuality Student Services Office, formerly the LGBTQA Resource Center. Now, as a senior on campus, Clark is helping to education fellow students.

Clark is a member of the InQueery peer education team and works for Gender and Sexuality Student Services helping to plan events. The InQueery team provides workshops and other activities to classes and student groups in order to combat homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism.

“Having your peers come in and talk is a little more relaxed, it’s a little less stressful, you feel like you can talk to somebody,” said Clark. “You can know that they’re not giving you crap about anything, so it’s all genuine. We share our stories and everything, so I think it’s just an easier way for people to digest it, especially if they’ve never been exposed to things like that.”

Clark, an information systems security major, chose the University of Illinois Springfield because the academic programs were recommended by a teacher. Clark grew up in Riverton, Illinois, only about 15 minutes from campus.

“I used to always go to the Sangamon Auditorium when I was a kid,” said Clark. “My grandma and I always got season tickets, so we would come through this campus a lot when I was younger.”

Clark says the University of Illinois Springfield has come to feel like a second home. Clark regularly participates in events, such as LGBTea, a weekly social on campus where LGBTQ+ students can come together, share stories, support each other and have fun.

“I mean, I have my house over in Riverton, but here is also my home,” said Clark. “It’s nice to have people you can talk to and things you can get off your chest and ask people about all kinds of issues you’re having.”

Following graduation from UIS, Clark plans to earn a master’s degree in computer science at UIS. The student hopes to one day work for the FBI and help fight cyber-crimes.

“A lot of people have said I’ve changed so much since I was a freshman,” said Clark. I used to be really shy and wouldn’t speak up about anything, but now, since I’ve been in this role, in InQueery and everything I’ve really blossomed as a person.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Leadership lived: Sophomore takes on multiple leadership roles at UIS

Nick Zambito came to the University of Illinois Springfield ready to be a leader. As a freshman, he helped start the Habitat for Humanity Club on campus and was recognized for outstanding leadership by the Capital Scholars Honors Program.

Now, as a sophomore dual majoring in criminology & criminal justice and psychology, Zambito serves as the external vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and a mentor for the Leadership for Life Service Program.

“I decided to come to UIS because I thought it was an amazing university with a lot of potential and room to grow and for myself to grow as a person as well,” he said.

Zambito says being an elected student leader on campus has taught him many lessons about leadership. As external vice president for the SGA, he’s responsible for making sure student’s voices are heard outside of the university, when it comes to higher education funding and other matters that are important to them.

“Being the student’s voice means a lot to me and I’m very proud to have been picked for this position and trusted to carry out the role I’ve been given,” he said. “I’m approached by students, I would say almost daily, talking about some of their concerns, their needs, and their wants.”

Zambito also went on the 2017 Alternative Spring Break volunteer trip where he helped with outdoor eco-restoration projects along the Florida Panhandle Gulf Coast. As part of Leadership for Life, in January 2018, he participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service where he took part in a community forum and volunteered.

“I wanted to get involved in Leadership for Life because of the multiple opportunities to volunteer and help the community,” he said.

The Granite City, Illinois native says he’d like to enter the law enforcement field following graduation from UIS. He hopes to specifically join a special taskforce that works to combat human sex trafficking in Illinois.

“My first semester here at UIS, I took a human identity course where it talked about the victims of human trafficking and it hit me on a personal level and taught me something I could be passionate about stopping,” he said.

Zambito credits UIS for helping him grow his leadership abilities and feels well prepared to make a difference in the world.

“I feel like UIS has taught me to go out help others, help the community and more importantly that it only takes a couple of minutes a day to make a difference.”

Friday, February 09, 2018

UIS Master's Thesis awards presented to two recent graduates from Sangamon County

Dennis Papini, UIS vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, presents the Outstanding Master's Thesis Award to Jonathon Mark Redding.
The University of Illinois Springfield Research Board has honored two former graduate students, both from Sangamon County, with awards for their master’s thesis projects for the 2016-2017 academic year. The awards were presented during a ceremony on February 8, 2018.

The Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award was presented to Jonathon Mark Redding of Springfield. Redding graduated from UIS in December 2016 with a master’s degree in history. His thesis was entitled “Benjamin Chew – Loyalist or Patriot?” His thesis chair was Kenneth Owen, UIS assistant professor of history.

Redding grew up in Chicago and says his parents instilled in him a love of books and education from an early age. Although interested in history, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Greenville University and pursued a career as a computer systems administrator. Later, he obtained an MBA from Benedictine University.

After relocating to Springfield, he decided to formalize his knowledge of history by pursuing a master’s degree in American History at UIS.

“The night classes offered at UIS were a perfect match that allowed me to continue my daytime career as a computer systems administrator,” he said. “My newly acquired interest in colonial American history was a ‘happy coincidence’ stemming from a class assignment in Dr. William Siles’ Archival Management course and the arrival of Dr. Kenneth Owen on the UIS History Department faculty. Dr. Owen specializes in colonial American history and ‘converted’ me to that era.”

Courtney Cox, a Chatham native, was honored with the English and Modern Languages Department award for her master’s thesis entitled “Applications of Creative Writing Methodology: A Paired Meta-Reflection of Researcher Subjectivity in Qualitative Composition Inquiry.”

Cox graduated from UIS in May 2017 with a master’s degree in English. Her thesis chair was Stephanie Hedge, UIS assistant professor of English.

During her time pursuing her master’s degree at UIS, Cox says she discovered her passion for composition pedagogy, publishing and technical writing. While at UIS, Cox was managing editor of campus publications “Uproot” and “Alchemist Review,” as well as an executive board member of the Graduate Public Service Internship Program Association. Cox is now pursuing a Ph.D. in English Studies with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition.

The Outstanding Master’s Thesis/Project Award is funded primarily through an endowment established by Nancy and Charles Chapin, along with gifts from other donors. In addition to providing funding for the Outstanding Master’s Thesis/Project Award, Charles and Nancy Chapin have provided support for Brookens Library, the Chancellor’s Fund for Excellence and scholarships.

For more information on the awards, contact Keenan Dungey, UIS associate vice chancellor of research and institutional effectiveness, at 217/206-8112 or

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Leadership lived: International student founds student organization aimed at fighting discrimination

Suparna Banerjee says she’s glad she came to the United States to earn her master’s degree in computer science at the University of Illinois Springfield. The Kolkata, India native has only been on campus for a short amount of time, but is already making a difference.

Banerjee recently founded a new student organization on campus called the Hostility Elimination Liaison Program (HELP). The program aims to address discrimination and hate against minorities based on their social and political identities.

“What we expect from HELP is that we can find a beautiful concoction of people from all over the world who can come, communicate, talk, and know each other and make this society, this community, a better place for everybody,” said Banerjee.

Banerjee says she feels empowered by faculty, staff and fellow students at UIS to speak her mind and to stand up for what she believes is right.

“UIS has given me a platform to showcase all of the things that I stand for, all of the things that I believe in,” she said. “They gave me a chance to put my foot forward and let me pursue the things that I want to do later in life.”

On campus, Banerjee also serves as an event organizer for the International Student Association and works at the Office of International Student Services. She is the traditions coordinator for the Student Activities Committee where her job is to plan one of the campuses biggest events.

“I get to plan Springfest, which is a fun thing,” she said. “It’s probably the biggest event on campus. It’s a week-long program with a lot of different activities, involving almost the entire student body, so it’s huge and I love doing that. I love planning events. I love bringing people together.”

Banerjee says she chose the University of Illinois Springfield for the high-quality academic programs and the student experience.

“I chose UIS because of the size of the community here,” she said. “It is small and it’s not overwhelming for international students and it gives you a chance to know people on a one-on-one basis.”

Banerjee is still deciding what she wants to do following graduation from UIS, but says she feels well prepared thanks to her UIS education.

“I would totally say that UIS is an amazing place for international students,” she said. “The professors here are amazing. They take very, very good care of international students.”