Friday, October 26, 2007

Emiquon Provides Endless Opportunities for UIS

By Courtney Westlake

Strong gusts of wind swept over the lake and fields on a recent Saturday as Dr. Michael Lemke guided a group tour near Thompson Lake in western Illinois. Though the shallow waters are just starting to gain the appearance of a lake, the land’s new look is a vast improvement from the previous decades of farmland.

The 7,425 acres of land located near the towns of Lewiston and Havana (about 45 miles northwest from Springfield on the Illinois River), is known as Emiquon, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Emiquon is now in the beginning stages of a transformation from farmland to its natural state as part of one of the largest restorations in the country.

A century ago, much of the Illinois River’s floodplain was converted to agricultural lands. The changes that occurred to the land eliminated or changed the important ecological processes of seasonal flooding that sustained the productivity and diversity of the Illinois River ecosystem.

But the past few years have brought about plans to restore this area of land, Lemke said. Now, UIS is currently working on the construction of the Emiquon Field Station, which will provide the opportunity for UIS students and researchers, and the general public, to learn more about the restoration and the natural state of the land.

Lemke, an associate professor of biology at UIS, is now serving as the director of Emiquon and the field station, which is slated to be finished in the next couple of months. The field station will train students in field biology techniques, help students and the public to learn more about the natural processes of the floodplain, freshwater ecology and the restoration, and teach them how to research effectively.

There are a variety of ways for students to become involved with Emiquon and the future field station, Lemke said. Current projects include students studying water quality, and there are other projects “on deck”, Lemke said, including matching up students and researchers to conduct studies and take on various projects in the area. And volunteerism is always a great method of involvement.

“My vision for field station is that it will be a very busy place. Students who would like to go out and get their hands dirty and help take out species that are invasive could volunteer in that way – some different plants and so forth,” he said. “Besides volunteers, classes are another way to get involved.”

Hybrid courses and online classes will give students the ability to learn about topics online and conduct field studies, Lemke said.

“And we’ll be having more and more fieldtrips once the field station is done, as well as workshops,” he added. “This past week we had about 40 students go out and explore biodiversity out there.”

Eventually, the Nature Conservancy has plans to open up the Illinois River so that the floodplain lake can connect, which will add a whole new level of complexity and ecological function to study, Lemke said. UIS is providing key services in recording what occurs during the restoration, which could offer ways to conduct more restorations up and down the Mississippi River, Lemke said.

“I think not to tell the story of the Emiquon Restoration would be a real disservice to society,” Lemke said. “There are real lessons here. To take on a restoration project of this size and learn from that, and then use that as a blueprint for other restorations has implications not only for habitat and wildlife, but also for water quality and just sound environmental management.”

“We’re here on the ground level and we’ll be able to follow it, which makes this a wonderful opportunity.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UIS Chemistry Club Gets Creative with Celebration

By Courtney Westlake

Brightly-colored concoctions bubbling over in the Public Affairs Center on Thursday had many passerby stopping with interest, and members of the UIS Chemistry Club took the opportunity to educate their audience and showcase fascinating chemistry demonstrations.

"We are doing these demonstrations that anyone else could do with simple household chemicals," said Dr. Harshavardhan Bapat, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and faculty adviser of the Chemistry Club.

In honor of National Chemistry Week, the Chemistry Club planned an array of events, starting with the clebration of Mole Day on Tuesday, Bapat said.

"The mole measures a huge collection of either atoms or ions or anything like that; the mole is kind of like a chemist's dozen," Bapat said. "To remember the number, which is 6.022 x 10 to the 23, chemists try to remember it on the 23rd of October (the tenth month)."

The club held a presentation on Mole Day by making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, and then on Wednesday, Oct. 24, the Chemistry Club held a drawing for a free t-shirt.

The celebration of National Chemistry Week will be capped off on Monday evening, Oct. 29, with a program called "Is it Chemistry or is it Magic?," Bapat said. The free presentation will be held in Brookens Auditorium at 7 p.m. and will include unique and compelling chemistry demonstrations by nationally-known chemists from Illinois State University and Heartland Community College in Bloomington.

"The main idea is to make people aware that chemistry is an absolutely important and central science to our lives," Bapat said. "We really can't have all of the amenities and luxuries that we are so used to without chemistry. Chemistry is everywhere, and it plays an extremely important role in our wellbeing, as well as our lives."

PAC Echoes with Afternoon Music Concerts

By Courtney Westlake

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, the UIS Band, Chamber Orchestra and Chorus gave brief but impressive performances for the listening pleasures of UIS faculty, staff and students in the conference rooms of the Public Affairs Center.

The UIS Chamber Orchestra is a small ensemble open to all string, wind and percussion players. The ensemble performs everything from Renaissance dances to Argentinean tangos. The Chamber Orchestra often combines with the UIS Chorus to perform mass movements and other similar repertoire and breaks into smaller ensembles to perform more intimate chamber music.
On Wednesday, the Orchestra was missing about half of their members for the day but was able to grace the audience with a couple of well-played pieces. The Orchestra also noted that they have several positions still open for those who might be interested.

The UIS Band kicked off the show and performed several UIS fight songs to give listeners a taste of the enthusiasm and excitement of their music during UIS men's basketball Prairie Stars games.

The Chorus ended the performance with vocals that included upbeat songs, like "Drunken Sailor" and classic crowd favorites like "Amazing Grace."

The performances began at 12:15 p.m., with each of the groups playing or singing for about 15 minutes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Online Program Coordinators Offer Behind-the-Scenes Guidance to Online Students

By Courtney Westlake

When student Colleen Joyce began researching online programs nation-wide, she ended up choosing to "attend" UIS after talking with online program coordinator Andy Egizi. Being from New Jersey, Joyce found that Egizi provided a personal connection to campus for her.

The University of Illinois at Springfield currently boasts 14 online program coordinators for its 16 online degree programs. Though the specific work of the online program coordinators depends on the goals and strategies of the specific departments in which the programs are located, the coordinators bridge the gap for online students, making them feel comfortable with their situation, answering questions and working out any problems the students might face.

Egizi was the second online coordinator at UIS, hired in 1999 as the coordinator for Liberal Studies and Individual Option. Egizi is thrilled, he said, that online learning has become an integral part of the university.

“My role is to figure out ways students can use the energy they’re expending on their education toward learning rather than dealing with all the university issues,” Egizi said. “We try to make life simple for students and try to give the guidance in the right direction so they can make good decisions.”

Many times, online program coordinators act as a tie between the faculty and students, said Shari McCurdy, associate director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to answer the questions of our students. They are critical to helping our faculty understand what’s going on, what the students are saying,” McCurdy said. “They’re vital to our success; UIS’ online coordinators are what set us apart from other online programs in the country.”

Online coordinators are students' first point of contact and follow them through their entire career, said Barbara Cass, online coordinator for the economics and business administration programs, who previously coordinated the English online program in 2004.

"If they are having problems with Blackboard, or difficulty within a class, I work with them to tried to get that figured out," Cass said. "I try to make all the processes easier for them here at UIS: applications, admission, all of those kinds of things."

Contact with the students and making friendships are high points for Cass and Egizi. Cass said she enjoys when students are able to come to campus, and she meets them in person after complete correspondence by phone or email.

Egizi admits his favorite part of assisting students as an online coordinator is when students call him with absolutely no direction, he said with a laugh.

“My favorite thing without a doubt is when the phone rings, and it’s someone who has no idea how to get a degree; I just love that,” he said. “They call me and seem to think this is impossible. They don’t realize that I’m smiling, and I say ‘this isn’t a problem; we can do this for you.’”

As for the future, online coordinators have big hopes for both the success of both online learning and success for their students. As main contacts for online students, coordinators often help students realize that the demands of online learning are very similar to traditional classes.

"Students come sometime to online learning thinking it's going to be very easy and very quick to deal with, and it's quite a surprise to find it takes a lot of time and energy just like a traditional classroom," Cass said. "So what I hope is that students get more comfortable with the technology and with the demands of the class, and that we have more students successful in the programs."

UIS Receives National Award for Online Learning

By Courtney Westlake

From two classes with 30 students to 220 classes with about 4,000 students, the University of Illinois at Springfield has grown its online program by leaps and bounds since the program first began in 1998.

In recognition for the university’s leadership in the area of online learning, the Sloan Consortium announced Monday, Oct. 22, that it has selected UIS as the recipient of the Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching & Learning Programming award.

"I’m really excited about this award particularly because it’s a national award that recognizes excellence in teaching and learning online, and UIS is receiving this award among all the thousands of colleges and universities who teach online," said Ray Schroeder, director of the Office of Technology – Enhanced Learning.

"For our campus, this is particularly significant because we’ve been a leader in online learning, and we really were a pioneer in the late 1990’s in beginning to deliver our online programs," Schroeder added. "Now we have programs like philosophy, history, computer science and more that really aren’t represented in online learning at other universities."

The Sloan Consortium, comprised of more than 1,200 institutions and organizations of higher education engaged in online learning, is a national organization dedicated to quality online teaching. The award to UIS was among six given by the Consortium this year for exceptional online education, and UIS was the only institution to receive an award for institution-wide teaching and learning programming.

The award will be presented on Nov. 7 in Orlando at the annual Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning, which draws more than 1,000 attendees both nationally and internationally, Schroeder said.

"After we receive this honor, we'll present the award to Chancellor Richard Ringeisen and Provost Harry Berman because it truly is not an individual award, not a department award, but a university-wide award," Schroeder said.

UIS Online Programs Find Success with Students

By Courtney Westlake

Kaley Noel is busier than most college students are – working more than 40 hours a week at her two jobs – but fortunately for her, going to class doesn’t get in the way.

To submit her homework, take part in class discussions and even complete tests, she simply heads to her living room and turns on her computer.

The University of Illinois at Springfield began online learning in 1998 with just 30 enrollments in two classes, said Ray Schroeder, director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning. UIS now offers 16 bachelors and masters degrees completely online in areas that include English, computer science, public administration, history and more.

The online programs through UIS have grown tremendously in the past few years, with an increase of 11.5 percent of online students just from fall 2006 to fall 2007.

“UIS has a wonderful online program; we have more than a thousand online majors,” Schroeder said. “This semester, very nearly one half of all our students are taking at least one online class.”

Noel, who is originally from Monmouth, came to UIS her freshman year with uncertainty about what major she wished to pursue. By her junior year, she decided on mathematics, and after a couple of semesters, she found that the upper level math courses offered at UIS are primarily online. Now, as a first semester senior, Noel is taking four online classes.

“I like the freedom of not ever having to go to class and doing things on my own time,” she said. “There are still deadlines, but you just have more freedom to do your work whenever you want, wherever you want.”

Some students living on campus are in the same situation Noel is in, but many of her online classmates are from cities and states across the country, she said. Such is the case with Colleen Joyce, who connects to her classes, and the whole university, from New Jersey.

Joyce said she began searching online for universities that would allow her to finish her degree online, which she started at her local community college.

“My main focus was to find an accredited university that would offer a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies,” she said. “I looked at many universities, and my searches always came back to UIS. Once I called and spoke with Andy Egizi, online program coordinator for Liberal Studies, I was sold.”

Joyce agrees with Noel that freedom and convenience are the biggest perks of online classes. She said she has enjoyed each of her classes, especially one on the Chinese Century, which led her to travel to China.

“If I want to travel, I do not need to worry about missing my classes because my classes come with me,” she said. “Another great thing about online classes is the convenience that is offers. You log on and do your work, within a certain time period, of course, when you want to do it.”

Noel estimates that she spends about three hours working online each night. Different classes all have different deadlines for submitting homework assignments and discussion posts, she said, so it’s important to stay organized. Noel said she has just one piece of advice for her fellow online students.

”Don't procrastinate,” she laughed. “I was really bad about that when I first started, but you get a little more responsibility as you go and learn to not wait until 10:00 at night when things are due at midnight.”

With so much success in online learning, Schroeder said the university is now looking into “blended learning” programs, in which some of the class sessions are online and the rest are traditional, “face-to-face” classes.

“We have developed a large cadre of online learning programs, and now we’re beginning to look at blended learning programs, so that we can better serve our local community by reducing the number of visits they have to make to campus,” he said.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Washington Post Reporter Discusses National Leadership During Series

By Courtney Westlake

"Where are all the leaders?" is a familiar question to David Broder.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Washington Post political correspondent has heard many comments and questions on the leadership of the United States.

On Thursday evening, Oct. 18, Broder addressed the topic in a presentation in the Sangamon Auditorium as part of the annual Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation's Jim Edgar Lecture Series. The program was sponsored by the Foundation and University of Illinois at Springfield.

Broder, who Jim Edgar himself called "the best in his profession," reports on the national political scene for The Washington Post and writes a twice-weekly column that covers American political life. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for distinguished commentary and has been named "Best Newspaper Political Reporter" by the Washington Journalism Review.

As a reporter, Broder said he believes in "traditional reporting" and spends time each day listening to people's questions and worries face-to-face. Four major concerns in the country today include illegal immigration, the rising costs of healthcare, energy prices and shortages and the war in Iraq, he said.

"What those four issues have in common is that when you ask what has Washington done in recent years to solve these problems, the answer is not very much," Broder said. "There is reason for dissatisfaction, and it is cause for concern about the leadership in the nation's capital. I hear people saying that there are real problems in the country, and they're frustrated. The public senses there are challenges that are big and growing and need to be met."

Today, Broder said, political parties are so evenly balanced that even the slightest change can have huge consequences. The parties now in the capital are very differently composed than they were when Broder first worked in Washington D.C., he said. Broder also suggested that the generation of Baby Boomers has "special problems" in providing leadership for the nation.

Broder noted that his dicussion is largely speculation on his part, as to why leadership in the country is lacking. Whatever the reason, however, the people are beginning to grow restless, he said.

"Historically, the American people have been optimistic," Broder said, "but in recent years, they have said they see things going in the wrong direction. Along with that pessimism comes a persistent question: where are the leaders who will seize control of this situation and set things right?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Professor Heads to Yellowstone when Summer Comes

By Courtney Westlake

On a typical day during the school year, Dr. Gilbert Crain can be found in his office, writing for the monthly newsletter, Governmental Accounting and Auditing Update, or in a classroom, teaching students about the finer aspects of accounting.

But when the summer moves in and school lets out, Crain packs up his books and heads to Yellowstone National Park, where he spends his days as a park ranger, primarily directing “bear jams” to ensure that Yellowstone’s bears can get safely across the roads, while leaving the park-goers and their vehicles unharmed as well.

It’s a double life that isn’t for the faint of heart.

Born in Urbana, Crain obtained his Ph.D. in accountancy from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the spring of 1974, he left Illinois to teach at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.

It was several years ago, while still living in Bozeman, that Crain stumbled upon an opportunity that fulfilled a life-long dream of working outdoors.

“When I first started at Southern (Illinois University at Carbondale for undergraduate), I had my sights on being a forester, but I’m not a science guy,” he said. “That was really always where I wanted to be, was outdoors. About eight years ago, I had the opportunity to quit teaching some continuing education courses in the summer and started volunteering with Yellowstone.”

Crain spent several years working to keep unwanted plant life in the park to a minimum before he found his niche. One weekend, he ventured to Yellowstone for his typical activities, fishing and hiking, when he came across an enormous bear jam and a lone park ranger to handle it.

“I stopped and asked if she’d like some help; I’d done a couple bear jams before,” he said. “I started working jams with her that day, continued throughout the whole weekend and continued every weekend that fall.”

During a bear jam, when bears get too close to the road or cross the road, rangers work with three objectives: keeping the bear, and cubs, safe, keeping the people safe and lastly, keeping the vehicles safe, Crain said.

“Fortunately the bears along the road are really habituated and not aggressive, but they are still bears; they can run a hundred yards in 6 seconds,” he said. “I can tell you that in a situation like that (a complex bear jam), by the time it’s over, my adrenaline is well up there. I’ve decided that is a lot of why I do it - it’s an adrenaline rush.”

Now, Crain is taking a new step in his life: moving back to Illinois to become a new associate professor of accountancy at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

“Part of it was a little bit of ‘going home’,” Crain said, adding that he knew his predecessor, Dave Olsen, very well. “To me, the most important things are the camaraderie of my colleagues and the work ethics of the students. I got good evaluations from Dave on both, and so far, that seems to be accurate.”

But although he is back in his home state, many hours from Yellowstone, Crain does not anticipate giving up on his second life anytime soon. And he encourages anyone else interested in volunteering at Yellowstone to talk with him.

“It’s exciting. It’s almost a spiritual thing, even though that sounds kind of hokey, but if you’ve ever been out on a jam with me, you’d understand,” Crain said.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series Pays Tribute to Founder

By Courtney Westlake

In memory of the late Professor Phillip Shaw Paludan, a highly respected Abraham Lincoln scholar, hundreds of people took part in the Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series on Thursday evening, October 4, which contained laughter, moments of respect and the sharing of knowledge and memories.

The Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series was started by Paludan, Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at UIS, who had served as host of the series and who passed away on August 1. Paludan's wife and two daughters were present on Thursday in his honor.

"In the all too short period, six years, that Professor Phil Paludan was (here at UIS), he immeasurably enriched our lives and stimulated our minds," said Cullom Davis, UIS professor emeritus of history, during a tribute and dedication to Paludan. "This is an evening of poignant memories, interesting coincidences and notable milestones. Aptly named the Lincoln Legacy Series, it also stands conspicuously as the Paludan Legacy."

The annual Lincoln Legacy Lecture Series brings nationally renowned scholars to Springfield to present lectures on public policy issues that are of contemporary interest and that also engaged Abraham Lincoln and the citizens of his era, said Barbara Ferrara, director of the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership, which co-sponsors the program.

Thursday's focus was on "Lincoln and the Law." Featured speakers included Dr. Mark E. Steiner, who spoke about "'The Sober Judgement of Courts': Lincoln, Lawyers, and the Rule of Law," and Dr. Brian R. Dirck, who discussed "Abraham Lincoln: The Lawyer in the White House." Davis served as the moderator for the event.

Steiner and Dirck, both published authors with books on the topic of Lincoln and the law, said they believe that Lincoln's law practice is a very relevant issue in today's society, especially in Illinois.

"I think you have to remember that he spent a significant portion of his life as a lawyer," Dirck said. "In fact, I think he's the most experienced trial attorney we've ever put in the White House. He practiced law for 25 years, litigated several thousand cases, and it had to have a tremendous influence on the way he approached leadership issues and what he did during the Civil War."

The Lincoln Legacy Series is held each year in the Brookens Auditorium and is free and open to the public. The two speakers said they were thrilled to be invited to UIS for the event.

"I was honored to be asked; I was asked last spring by Professor Paludan, and it meant a lot professionally to be asked by him," Steiner said. "Through my discussion, I hope to be able to bring out the variety and depth of Professor Paludan's scholarship."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Students Beat Alumni by 3 in Annual Game

By Courtney Westlake

Even with UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen on their team, the alumni of UIS couldn't pull off a victory against the team of current students.

Tuesday night's Student vs. Alumni basketball game proved close though, with a 3-point win by the students. The final score: 35 to 32.

The two teams started out with warm-ups and introductions in front of a small crowd of students, faculty, staff, friends and family. Several UIS men's and women's basketball players served as the referees for the friendly event.

Alumni, staff and faculty of all ages came out for the game, which was played in two 15 minute halves.

The game started with the students leading most of the first half, but the alumni came from behind to lead at halftime. The second half proved exciting, and the students were named the winners in the end.

Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour Motivates UIS Students

By Courtney Westlake

Sheena Lindahl clearly remembers leaving for college with one half of her first semester paid for and $30 in her pocket. But she was determined to make it, and through ambition, action and some good fortune along the way, found a job and earned her way through school.

Lindahl is now one of the co-founders, along with Michael Simmons, of Extreme Entrepreneurship Education and authors of The Student Success Manifesto and All or Nothing, Now or Never. The pair is 2005 graduates of New York University and now travel the United States as part of the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour.

The Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour made a stop on Wednesday afternoon, October 2, at UIS while visiting colleges nationwide to inspire students to dream big and take action.

"There are a lot of reasons that having a vision is important," Simmons told the crowd on Wednesday. "Even though it's way in the future, what you want to accomplish in your life and the legacy you want to leave, it immediately starts guiding your decisions now."

The tour also brings together young entrepreneurial speakers who have made, earned and sold their company for millions and made a huge impact before 25. UIS’ panel of speakers included Joe Kim of Springfield’s Design Ideas, Michelle Tjelmeland of e-Websmart in Springfield and Mary Byers, a local author and motivational speaker.

"Act like the person you want to be," Byers advised the audience during the panel presentation. "If you want to be a successsful CEO, you need to dress like one, you need to act like one, you need to respond to phone calls like one, you need to be a continuous student like one. Whatever it is you want to be, ask yourself how does this person act, and then act that way, and you'll be successful."

Throughout the afternoon and evening, booths were set up in the Lincoln Residence Hall entry from a variety of vendors around the area, including the UIS College of Business and Management, Career Development Center, and Center for Entrepreneurship, SCORE, LLCC Small Business Development Center, State Farm Insurance, Illinois Entrepreneurship Network, e-Websmart, Chamber of Commerce Young Springfield Professionals Network and Design Ideas.

Several workshops, speed networking and an “inspirational” keynote introduction were also offered as part of the tour’s stop. During the Dream Action workshop, participants were asked to write down their goals in life, how they might accomplish those and what obstacles they might face, and were left with the challenge of taking action on their goals.

"If you're really committed to a vision, and you're willing to take action steps, you'll have all of the resources - like research, marketing, networking - available to you," Lindahl said. "It sounds so simplistic: to take action. But if you're taking action on your vision, you can't go wrong."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Homecoming Kicks Off with Pep Rally and Bonfire

By Courtney Westlake

The University of Illinois at Springfield kicked off the 2007 Homecoming festivities with a Monday evening bonfire and pep rally. A few hundred students gathered near the campus pond to make s'mores, get their UIS Homecoming T-shirts and cheer on the Prairie Stars athletic teams.

Senior Rachel Dasenbrock, president of the student activities committee, said she was impressed by the turnout of students at the bonfire and pep rally.

"It gets students out and active and excited about homecoming," she said. "The bonfire is meant to be the kick off and start of the week to get students thinking about homecoming even though the game isn't until Saturday. So it just gets us in the mood to have school spirit."

Mary Umbarger, a sophomore who is coordinating many of this year's student homecoming activities, said a lot of work goes into planning and preparation for homecoming events.

"We moved things around a little bit, but we kept pretty much the same general line-up," she said. "We did add some of the other teams coming to the bonfire to give it a stronger kickoff. I think a lot more people stayed around this year to support our teams."

During the pep rally, students gathered around as each of the Prairie Stars teams were introduced, and the cheerleading and dance teams performed. Several nominations for homecoming court representatives were also announced.

Students said they enjoyed the night out on campus and the opportunity to celebrate the new tradition of Homecoming at UIS.

"I decided to come out because it's a good opportunity to show my support for UIS programs," said junior Ian Beall. "I like the overall atmosphere of all the students coming out. I think the turnout was pretty good from past years; now that I'm a junior, it's interesting to see how the campus has grown and become more involved."