Friday, November 18, 2005

Amazing journey leads El Akrich to UIS

By Melanie Cain

The journey that has brought international student Driss El Akrich from his native Morocco to has been nothing short of amazing. Along the way, Driss has taken advantage of some great opportunities and has added an impressive set of programs, honors, and activities to his credentials.

Though he has always been interested in government and public administration, Driss earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Moulay Ismail University and a certification in Communication from Mohammed V University & Rotary Clubs. He moved from Morocco to the United States in January 2002 as part of the Fulbright exchange program, becoming the first Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Arabic in the history of the U.S.

After coming to this country, Driss began to pursue his life-long interests in government and public administration. “From my earliest years, I have avidly followed political developments through newspapers, magazines, and television,” he says. “This area of study is crucial to the development of any country, including Morocco. Morocco is embarking on long-overdue reforms. It is important for the next generation of Moroccans who want to influence new policies and benefit from them to be prepared for this significant task.”

Accordingly, Driss attended Arkansas State University and earned two master’s degrees while he was there. In May 2004, he graduated with a master’s in Public Administration, and in May 2005, he added a master’s in Political Science.

During his time at Arkansas State, Driss also participated in a number of extracurricular organizations and programs. He was a language instructor in Arabic, became heavily involved with the Student Government Association, worked with the Office of International Programs and the Middle East Studies Committee, and participated in the Model United Nations group, as well as a number of other campus and community activities.

Leaving ASU, Driss knew he wanted to continue his education and involvement with political and international activities. Then he heard about UIS from a friend who worked at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and subsequently enrolled in the Doctor of Public Administration program. “As one of the leading educational institutions in the U.S., UIS is uniquely positioned in the state capital to provide me with cutting-edge educational knowledge and skills in my area of interest,” says Driss.

Driss also feels that the experience he is gaining from his studies at UIS will benefit him in his future endeavors. “The DPA program is enabling me to work with specialists and policy makers in the field of public administration. It’s helping me acquire the crucial skills to assist the specific needs of my country in remaining an active member in the international arena,” he explains. “My ultimate goal is to serve in government and to devise new and improved ways of better serving the public.”

Driss couldn’t be more pleased with his decision to come to UIS. “What I enjoy most about UIS is the high caliber of the faculty, the research-oriented mission of the institution, and its highly valued academic freedom in helping students get the expertise needed to make them better leaders,” he says. “I also like how much the university invests on its students, faculty, and staff to equip them with the cutting-edge information to compete not only nationwide, but in the international arena as well.”

“Being an international student at UIS is very rewarding,” says Driss. “I get to make new friends almost on daily basis. I also have the opportunity to share and exchange ideas and thoughts with highly cooperative and understanding faculty, students, and staff. It’s a great place, and I am very thankful to be within a community that embraces diversity and promotes respect for everybody.”

Friday, November 04, 2005

Graduate assistantship provides networks and experience for the future

By Melanie Cain

Last spring, when Lara Stremsterfer was enrolled in a painting class, the professor, Mike Miller, approached her about applying for the graduate assistantship as manager of UIS’ Visual Arts Gallery. “This offer enticed me because I have always loved art, and I create my own art from time to time, though I never saw myself pursuing art professionally,” says Lara. “With my education background in communication and visual arts, along with my AST internship experience in event planning, I could not have chosen a better fit for an assistantship!”

Lara was born and raised in Springfield and received her A.A. degree in Liberal Arts from Springfield College in Illinois, where she played volleyball and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She graduated from UIS in May, with a bachelor’s degree in Communication and a minor in Visual Arts. She is currently enrolled as a full-time graduate student and serves as the graduate assistant of the Visual Arts Gallery.

“Every day brings a new task at the gallery,” explains Lara. “I am usually preparing for exhibitions by contacting artists, writing press releases for upcoming shows, speaking with local media about the gallery, preparing postcards and mailings to be sent around the area, or just answering questions that guests have about the featured artist’s work. I also work closely with my supervisor, Visual Arts faculty member Jonathan Perkins, on preparing for shows.”

“My favorite thing about being the gallery manager is getting to enjoy art while engaging in all the behind- the- scene action in preparation for our monthly shows,” says Lara. “Working with artists, faculty members, students, the UIS family, and the Springfield community will, I hope, open doors toward a career in event planning.

“I feel very fortunate to be a part of the graduate assistant program here at UIS,” says Lara. “In addition to easing the tuition burden, being a GA has already provided me with great work experience and has introduced me to a network of professionals, on campus and in the Springfield area.”

The gallery’s current show, “Digital Environments” by Mike Miller, is on display through November 23. The gallery will host an evening with the artist on Thursday, November 10, beginning with an artist’s talk at 5:30 p.m. followed by an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The talk, reception, and exhibit are free and open to the public. Miller is chair of the Visual Arts Program at UIS, where he teaches painting and drawing. His work combines the unique appearance of digital imagery with traditional painting and printmaking processes.