Thursday, September 22, 2005

Teaching at a university fulfills a life-long dream for Helton

By Melanie Cain

In an effort to learn more about some of UIS’ newest faculty members, we will be interviewing some of them and asking them to share their stories.

Tena Helton’s journey to UIS, where she joined the English faculty this fall, has been a remarkable -- and very busy -- trip. Along the way she overcame a number of hardships and barriers and is now fulfilling her life-long dream of teaching at a university.

Helton grew up in the Appalachian foothills in Polk County, North Carolina. “We were quite poor,” she says. “Without scholarships and my guidance counselor’s great connections, I would never have gone to college.” Enrolling at North Carolina State University, she began studying aerospace engineering but quickly figured out that was not where she should be. “I eventually found my way back to English, my first love and where my greatest strengths were.”

Helton graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration and certification in secondary education in 1993 and did substitute teaching for a couple months before getting a job as a writer for agricultural trade magazines. After a year of writing for the magazines full-time, she went back for her master’s in English, again with a concentration in secondary education. In 1997, Helton received her master’s degree and began teaching freshman composition and British literature as a lecturer at NC State. Two years later she transferred to Louisiana State University to pursue a Ph.D. in American literature.

While at LSU, Helton received the Regent’s Fellowship for four years, as well as a fellowship to complete her dissertation. “I managed to serve both academia and the community by teaching classes, publishing articles, obtaining outside funding for and organizing a conference, and running a seminar at a local library – all while taking care of my two children and writing my dissertation,” she says. Helton completed her doctorate in May 2005 and feels that reaching this goal, despite many obstacles, is her greatest accomplishment.

When it came to decide where to teach, Helton says that selecting UIS was easy. “I chose UIS because it provides an environment in which I can teach well, commit time to research, and raise a family without going completely crazy,” she says. She adds that even at her interview she could see that UIS was committed to service in ways that many other universities are not. Access to the U of I system’s first-rate library and archives was another plus.

During her free time, Helton enjoys a variety of activities. “I love going to the zoo and learning about animals. When I retire from teaching, I want to volunteer at the zoo,” she says. “I also like racquetball and photography. My own children are usually the subjects, but any child makes for a fantastic picture.”

When asked what part of being a professor she enjoys most, Helton responds, “Hands down – teaching. That’s why I got into this field in the first place, and teaching truly is exciting, important work. Students help make me a better scholar.”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

“Mini Peace Corps” in Jamaica is an Amazing Experience

By Melanie Cain

This summer Professor Jan Droegkamp led several UIS students to Jamaica for a three-week program that allowed them to interact with the local community, tour the country, and learn about its culture. It was an experience that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

“I designed this trip as a service-learning course, a ‘min Peace Corps’ experience,” explained Jan. “Students work side-by-side with Jamaicans in community organizations and schools. Most of the students lived with families and spent their free time with Jamaican peers or family members. Every day the students worked in their assignments and served the organizational needs, whether that was hurricane relief, teaching, craft demonstrations or computer instruction.”

The students attended seminars twice a week to discuss concepts of culture, politics, religion, and their personal experiences and also took field trips to view some of the natural Jamaican surroundings. “The area where we lived was off the beaten path, and it allowed the students to experience the real Jamaican hospitality and community development,” said Jan.

Jan explained how she got the idea for the course: “I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica in 1972 and have traveled there on vacation in the past four years. Once I was on the beach talking to a Jamaican woman, and she asked me why I didn’t bring students.” Jan took her first student group in 2004 and plans to take another in 2006 as part of the UIS Global Experience Program.

One of the students on this year’s trip was Kevin Parker, an undergraduate Political Studies major and recipient of the first Global Experience Scholarship. Kevin described the trip as “a program designed to promote a better understanding of Jamaican society through various community service opportunities.”

Kevin said, for him, the best part of the trip was his host family. “I loved living with the Holmes Family in Malvern. From the moment I met them, we clicked. They were a very affectionate family who made sure I was comfortable. My experience with them truly enhanced my time in Jamaica and was certainly the most enjoyable part of the trip.”

He added, “I strongly suggest to anyone who visits Jamaica – don’t spend your time strictly at the resorts on the beach. The country and citizenry extend well beyond the beach communities most people visit. I had a great time studying in Jamaica, and I encourage all students to consider taking this course.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

Education background assists Bogle

By Melanie Cain

In an effort to learn more about some of UIS’ newest faculty members, we will be interviewing some of them and asking them to share their stories.

Leonard Bogle, now an assistant professor in the EDL program at UIS, has an extensive background in education. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Education from Eastern Illinois University, then enrolled at Illinois State University where he earned a master’s in Educational Administration, a superintendent’s endorsement, and a doctorate.

Recently retired as a school superintendent, Leonard served in that capacity for a total of nine years, the last six in Cerro Gordo, Illinois. Before that, he was a principal for 18 years in Jacksonville and, before that, he spent six tears as a middle school science and physical education teacher in Sparland. He also coached basketball and track during that time.

For the past three years, Leonard has served as an adjunct professor at UIS. “Many of the classes I taught were online, and I developed an online class for bargaining,” he explains. “The position I now fill became available, and I was fortunate enough to be selected to join the EDL faculty.”

For Leonard, the opportunity to become involved in a department for new leaders in education is what he enjoys most about being a professor. “I have always loved teaching and welcome the challenge this position affords me,” says Leonard.

In his free time, Leonard enjoys a variety of activities. “I like to run, lift weights, read, attend concerts and plays, and hit golf balls – occasionally straight,” he says. “I’m also a huge Illini fan. I have season tickets for football and get to as many basketball games as time and money allow.”

Leonard has two grown children, Michael and Stacy. Michael graduated from ISU and now works at Disney World. Stacy graduated from the U of I, lettering two years as a swimmer, and is currently a teacher in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Leonard had two distinct things in mind. “In my personal life, it would be helping raise two great children and seeing them become successful adults,” he says. “As far as my professional life, it would be helping pass a building referendum in Cerro Gordo and working with the teachers and principals to increase achievement levels to the point that the district recently received the Bright Star Award. Only 10 percent of Illinois schools achieve this honor.”

“What I am most looking forward to this year at UIS is getting to know my colleagues on a more personal level and growing and improving as an instructor,” says Leonard. “My goals are to work with the staff and other faculty members to develop new, and enhance existing, online classes in such a manner that UIS will become a national lighthouse for online university classes.”