Friday, February 21, 2020

Seven UIS alumnae honored for achievement, service and loyalty during annual celebration

The University of Illinois Springfield honored seven alumnae for their achievement, service and loyalty during the annual Alumni Gala on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, at the UIS Student Union.

The 2020 Alumni Achievement Award for outstanding success and national or international distinction in one’s business, profession or life’s work was presented to Nina Burleigh of New York, New York. A 1984 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting program, Burleigh has covered stories on six continents and has achieved critical acclaim as an award-winning author, journalist and feminist cultural critic. She is a New York Times best-selling author of six lively, acclaimed works of creative nonfiction and has written hundreds of works on topics ranging from culture and politics to gender issues, science and the environment.

The 2020 Distinguished Service Award for extraordinary commitment, dedication and service to the advancement of the University of Illinois was awarded to Springfield resident Janice Spears. She has earned three degrees from the university, and had a remarkable career as a school administrator, which included national recognition for environmentally friendly school buildings. Upon retirement, Spears has focused her time and energy on UIS and has become an invaluable, “go –to” alumni volunteer leader whose actions have made significant, notable impact on the institution’s overall welfare and the advancement of its mission.

Five Loyalty Awards for Exceptional Alumni Service were presented to Carolyn Berning, Karen Fifer, Carol Kerins, Marilyn Lawler and Lois Strom (posthumously). Established in 1957, the award honors alumni who have consistently demonstrated notable loyalty, commitment, dedication and service in support of UIS, the Alumni Association and/or related organizations. The five have donated countless hours of time via the UIS Alumni SAGE Society, which offers opportunities for enrichment to alumni and friends aged 50 and better.

Berning of Springfield earned her master’s degree from the university. She worked in consumer services for the Illinois Commerce Commission, retiring in 2002. In addition to her involvement with SAGE, she has served on the Friends of Brookens Library Board, assisted with the Springfield Marathon, volunteered for fundraisers for the public radio station and assisted with the planning of UIS’ 40th anniversary celebrations. She also was a member of the team that offered a series of technology lecture programs open to alumni of any UI campus. She and her husband, Richard, often attend public programs and lectures on campus, as well as athletic events and performances at the Sangamon Auditorium. They financially contribute to important UIS priorities through their charitable giving.

Fifer of Springfield earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university. She spent much of her career working at UIS, including in the budget and planning office. She retired in 2009. In addition to her involvement with SAGE, Fifer frequently attends performances at the Sangamon Auditorium and UIS Prairie Stars athletics events. She is a past member of the Friends of Sangamon Auditorium Board and as a former university employee, she also volunteered for the UIS Faculty and Staff Campaign. She has financially contributed to important UIS priorities through charitable giving.

Kerins of Springfield holds two degrees and her teaching certificate from the university. She spent years with Springfield School District 186, teaching mainly second grade at Laketown Elementary School before retiring in 2006. In addition to her involvement with SAGE, on campus she has volunteered to assist at the Springfield Marathon and UIS graduation. Carol and her husband, Tom, often attend performances at Sangamon Auditorium as well as many of the public programs and lectures on campus. They financially contribute to important UIS priorities through their charitable giving.

Lawler of Springfield holds a master’s degree from the university. After teaching for 5 years in the Springfield School District as a homebound teacher, she taught in the Williamsville school district for 13 years and was a principal at the Waverly Elementary School for 12 years. She retired in 2006. In addition to her involvement with SAGE, her volunteer service on campus includes helping out at UIS graduation and the Springfield Marathon. Marilyn and her husband, Dennis, attend the many public programs and lectures on campus, as well as frequent many Sangamon Auditorium performances. They financially contribute to important UIS priorities through their charitable giving.

Strom of Springfield, who passed away in January, was honored posthumously. She earned a master’s degree from the university. She spent many years working at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, retiring in 2009 as the administrator for the chairman of the Department of Surgery. In addition to her involvement with SAGE, her volunteer work on campus included volunteering at UIS commencement, the Springfield Marathon and with the public radio station. She and her husband, Bruce, attended many Sangamon Auditorium Performances, as well as public programs and lectures on campus. The couple also gave to important UIS priorities through charitable giving.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

UIS Illinois Innocence Project executive director John J. Hanlon named to the Governor’s Task Force on Forensic Science

Gov. JB Pritzker has named John J. Hanlon, executive director of the University of Illinois Springfield’s Illinois Innocence Project, as one of 15 members to the Governor’s Task Force on Forensic Science, created in August 2019 through Executive Order 19-13.

“I am extremely honored to accept the Governor’s appointment to the Task Force on Forensic Science,” said Hanlon. “Proper understandings and applications of forensic evidence are absolutely crucial toward a more fair and reliable criminal justice system.”

The group is tasked with analyzing the operations and oversight of critical Illinois State Police laboratories, ensuring they use the latest forensic technologies to solve crimes and protect the public, and make recommendations to the legislature and other stakeholders as forensic science continues to evolve.

“With over 70,000 forensic assignments each year, the Illinois State Police operates one of the largest lab systems in the nation, and this task force will ensure it operates at its best and truly delivers justice,” said Gov. Pritzker. “The experienced leaders serving on this task force will take a systematic and proactive approach to further reducing backlogs and support public safety and first responders.”

The Illinois Innocence Project praised Gov. Pritzker for placing Illinois among just a handful of states taking the initiative to look at forensic science policy and practices.

“This task force is a critical first step toward increased understandings and fairness pertaining to forensic sciences processes and applications in our criminal justice system. Hopefully, the development and implementation of best practices will serve to provide justice for the guilty and at the same time reduce and even prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people in Illinois,” said Hanlon.

The University of Illinois Springfield, which serves as the home office of the Illinois Innocence Project, is one of just two higher education institutions represented on the Task Force.  

“John Hanlon’s input on this task force will help to bolster the important work already being done by the Illinois Innocence Project,” said UIS Chancellor Susan Koch. “The Project is an important part of UIS’ commitment to providing students with real-world experiences and to serving the public good.”

This new task force follows national calls for the establishment of scientific standards for forensic evidence. A 2009 National Academy of Science report, now considered groundbreaking, concluded that numerous forensic disciplines lacked scientific validation and acceptable standards. The report called for strengthened oversight, research and support to ensure an increased reliability of testing, analysis and conclusions.

The 2016 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report concluded two important gaps that warranted attention: 1) the need for clarity about scientific standards for validity and reliability of forensic methods; and 2) the need to evaluate specific forensic methods to determine whether they have been scientifically established to be valid and reliable (i.e. bitemark comparison, hair microscopy, blood spatter analysis, ballistics).

Illinois State Police (ISP) Director Brendan Kelly will chair the Governor’s Task Force on Forensic Science.

Other members include:
  • Megan Alderden – director of criminology, DePaul University; former executive director, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority
  • Dr. Ponni Arunkumar – chief medical examiner, Cook County
  • Amy Campanelli – Cook County public defender
  • Major Jeff Connor – Madison County chief deputy sheriff
  • Brendan Deenihan – deputy chief of detectives, Chicago Police Department
  • Claire Dragovich – executive director, DuPage County Crime Lab
  • Phil Kinsey – executive director, Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Lab
  • Judge Heidi Ladd – circuit judge, 6th Judicial Circuit (Champaign)
  • Holly Lemons – Montgomery County circuit clerk, president of the Illinois Association of Court Clerks
  • Cathy MacElroy – St. Clair County public defender
  • Sarah Toney – managing partner, Toney Law Firm, LLC
  • Carrie Ward – executive director, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Amy Watroba – assistant state’s attorney, DuPage County
  • Robin Woolery – ISP assistant deputy director, Division of Forensic Services
The Illinois Innocence Project, founded in 2001 at the University of Illinois Springfield, provides pro bono legal advocacy and guidance to those who have been wrongfully convicted in Illinois but have credible claims of actual innocence; educates students and the public about criminal justice system failures that lead to wrongful convictions; and works with policymakers and law enforcement to change rules, laws and practices to minimize wrongful convictions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Two UIS students win awards at the National Mock Trial Invitational

University of Illinois Springfield students Joseph Partain and Cedric Birgans earned awards at the 32nd annual National Mock Trial Invitational at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa during the Jan 25-26, 2020 competition.

Partain, a junior political science and legal studies major from Iuka, Illinois, received an individual outstanding attorney award.

Birgans, a freshman political science major from Beecher, Illinois, won an individual outstanding witness award.

The UIS Mock Trial team heads to its regional tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana on Feb. 8-9 having earned the most single-season individual awards in UIS Mock Trial team history.

Mock Trial is an academic competition that provides students with the opportunity to hone valuable skills, including critical thinking, active listening, public speaking and teamwork through trial simulations. Competitors are also judged on their knowledge of legal practices and procedures.

For more information on the UIS Mock Trial team, visit Questions may be directed to coach Rex Gradeless at

Friday, January 17, 2020

Two UIS faculty to present their work at the “Night of Ideas Chicago 2020”

Two University of Illinois Springfield faculty will present their work at the “Night of Ideas Chicago 2020” event on Jan. 30, 2020 at the Chicago Field Museum. The event is being sponsored by the Consulate General of France in Chicago and is one of many being held around the world.

UIS Assistant Professor of Management Carolee Rigsbee will be discussing benefit corporations and UIS Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Anne-Marie Hanson will present on plastic pollution and environmental justice.

According to the invitation, the event is free and open to the public and will include bright minds from academic, artistic, scientific and civic communities for a six-hour marathon of ideas on this year’s theme “Alive!”

The two UIS faculty members will present along with professors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago. They’ll be joined by presenters from Northwestern University, Indiana University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Purdue University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Fermilab, Argonne National Laboratory, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, Black Thread Agency, Science Riot, WBEZ, ADA25 Advancing Leadership, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Core Power Yoga, Poems While You Wait and more.

According to the Consulate General, the “Night of Ideas Chicago 2020” is part of La Nuit des Idées, a global series of intellectual marathons coordinated worldwide by the Institut Français, which will take place this year (Jan. 25-Feb. 2) at more than 120 locations around the world, including seven major cities in the United States.

Tickets for the free public event may be obtained online at

Thursday, January 16, 2020

UIS professor honored with a national dissertation award from the Association of Teacher Educators

Meghan Kessler, assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Illinois Springfield, has been honored with the 2020 award for Distinguished Dissertation in Teacher Education from the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE).

Her dissertation, “Teaching for the Test: Social Studies Student Teacher Perceptions and Enactments of High-Stakes Performance Assessments,” examined secondary social studies teacher candidates’ perceptions and enactments of teacher evaluation during one student teaching semester. The qualitative, multi-case dissertation study provides a new perspective on the complex and dynamic negotiation of preservice teacher learning and evaluation during the student teaching semester.

“I’m extremely honored to have my dissertation recognized by the Association of Teacher Educators,” said Kessler. “This organization plays an important role in teacher education research and practice in the U.S., and has been instrumental in establishing high quality teacher preparation. Winning the Distinguished Dissertation Award from ATE truly inspires me to keep pursuing new lines of inquiry in teacher education practice and policy in Illinois.”

Kessler earned a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education from Augustana College, a master’s degree in teaching and leadership from St. Xavier University in Chicago and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to working in higher education, she taught high school social studies and speech.

Kessler will present her dissertation and receive the award at the Association of Teacher Educators annual meeting Feb. 15-19, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

UIS professor pens book about the environmental and human rights impacts of Kenyan rose farming

Springfield native Megan Styles, an assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, has written a new book investigating how the floriculture industry shapes Kenyan livelihoods, landscapes and politics.

“This book tells the story of one of many global commodities that we purchase and use daily without thinking about who made or grew them, how far they have traveled, and how they connect us to the world,” said Styles.

“Roses from Kenya: Labor, Environment, and the Global Trade in Cut Flowers,” explores the experiences and perspectives of the many people who work in the fresh cut roses industry; low-wage farm workers, farm managers and owners, Kenyan officials and the human rights and environmental activists advocating for reform. The lucrative and controversial industry employs approximately 90,000 workers, mostly women.

“Roses from Kenya isn’t just about cut flowers, it is also about Kenyan aspirations for development and the particular place, Lake Naivasha, where most of these roses are grown,” said Styles. “I wanted to tell this story from the viewpoint of people living and working in Naivasha, through their eyes and words. My hope is that once readers understand the deeper history of the Kenyan rose, they will want to know more about the people and places that provide us with chocolate, coffee, tea and all of the other everyday luxuries that enrich our lives.”

Styles is a Springfield native, who graduated from Southeast High School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Washington. Styles is also the co-editor for Culture, Agriculture, Food, and Environment (CAFÉ), a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Anthropological Association and helped to start the Community Garden at UIS.

“Roses From Kenya” is available for purchase online from the University of Washington Press at and locally at Barnes & Noble in Springfield.