Monday, March 31, 2008

New director has big plans for civic engagement

By Courtney Westlake

It’s only been about a month, but Kelly Thompson has big plans for her new position as the director of the Office of Student Volunteers and Civic Engagement.

“It’s a newer office; it’s only been around for a few years,” Thompson said. “Our whole goal is to foster volunteerism and civic engagement in the students. We want them to get involved early and get involved with community.”

Thompson came to her position at UIS from a strong background in and passion for civic engagement. She also has ties to the university having received her master’s degree in communication from UIS in 2002.

“So it's really such a good fit to bring my background in civic engagement to the university and help build the image of the university in the community,” she said.

One of the big projects Thompson is looking to take on next fall is called the American Democracy Project. It is organized through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and will be co-sponsored by the offices of academic affairs as well as student affairs, she said.

“We are one of four member colleges in Illinois, and we hope between student affairs and academic affairs to foster some civic projects that students can become engaged in,” she said.

Thompson also feels very strongly about the service wing in Lincoln Residence Hall, which encourages and helps residents to become more engaged in campus and volunteer activities. Thompson is already actively building up the service wing and hoping to encourage those students into leadership roles and service activities both in groups and as individuals.

And there is an important reason for the push toward volunteerism and civic engagement, Thompson said.

“We do know that research shows that a more actively engaged student both on campus and in the community makes for a more successful student,” she said. “Students who are tying in their academic experiences with their out-of-classroom experiences are more likely to be successful in their academic careers as well as their careers following college life.”

The university has realized the significance of service in one’s life, so much so that it is “one of the guiding principles of our entire curriculum,” Thompson said.

“It really signifies, even in our strategic plan, the importance of making a difference in the world,” she said. “It’s important in an early stage of a student’s life to experience different volunteer and civic engagement opportunities so they can begin to understand 'what is my role in the world? what is my role here on the UIS campus?' and really learn from that, learn some leadership qualities and traits they can take with them beyond UIS.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Faculty & Staff month-long Campaign comes to close

By Courtney Westlake

A month full of giving
Wasn’t it great?
And to end it just right,
Employees gathered to celebrate!

The annual month-long Faculty & Staff Campaign celebration, which kicked off on February 29, came to a close on Thursday, March 27 with an event in the Public Affairs Center Atrium.

Through the campaign, staff and faculty are able to give a gift to the university, choosing how their funds will impact UIS' quality academics, athletics or other important areas. Gifts made to UIS assist with scholarships, enhance research, improve programs and much more.

"This is our third year, and we are extremely positive about how things have gone this year," said Vicki Megginson, Associate Chancellor for Development and vice president of the University of Illinois Foundation. "We certainly have built a tradition. But as much as it can be about numbers and traditions, it's really about people."

This fiscal year, 46.6 percent of academic professionals have given to the campaign, in addition to 37 percent of faculty and 28.8 percent of civil service employees, Megginson said.

Megginson thanked all of the people involved with this year's campaign. It is not too late to still give, as the fiscal year runs until the end of June, she said. All gifts count toward this year's goal and campaign.

This year, at this time, 37 percent of all employees have made a gift to UIS; last year's total was at 35.6 percent at the same time, Megginson said. In numbers, 270 employees have given to the university this year, while 255 had contributed to the campaign at this time last year.

"So we are very encouraged that we have edged up," Megginson said. "That's a wonderful increase, and we are so delighted."

Provost Harry Berman said he really enjoyed the Dr. Seuss theme of this year's campaign with a focus on the book "Oh the Places We'll Go," which brings to mind the various places around the world that UIS has gone or will be going, he said.

Berman said he was very impressed with the campaign as a whole and the commitment of UIS' employees to the school.

"Thirty-seven percent is a wonderful accomplishment, and we should be so proud," he said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Professor changes focus to new program

By Courtney Westlake

Most people would consider getting a Ph.D. something of a "stopping point" in regards to formal education. But not Dr. Hilary Frost-Kumpf.

While Frost-Kumpf was on the faculty in the department of public administration at UIS teaching arts management three years ago, she began to have a change of heart about her educational focus, which eventually led to a change in her education.

"I realized that I wanted to get back to my roots in a way – I have a doctorate in cultural geography, and I wanted to get back to that – and I wanted to internationalize myself," she said. "I wanted to take what I was doing, particularly in arts management in the U.S. and ask, 'how I can look at things more broadly? How can I ask questions in other places outside of the United States?'"

So Frost-Kumpf applied for the master's program in international studies at the University of Iowa and took a leave from UIS to complete her studies. Since her degree was much like the Individual Option program at UIS, Frost-Kumpf was able to choose what she wanted to focus her education on.

"I love being a student, love the opportunity to be a student fulltime and to study things I didn't have time to do when working fulltime as teacher," she said. "I decided I wanted to focus on the arts in Africa: history, film, theatre and literature of Africa."

During her pursuit of a new master's degree, Frost-Kumpf jumped at the opportunity to travel in Africa and study one of its many languages, Swahili. Her Swahili teacher in the United States put Frost-Kumpf in contact with her cousin in Tanzania, a former director of the ministry of culture who provided important resources for Frost-Kumpf’s research over the course of her 9-week stay in the country.

"I had always had a long-term interest in Africa; I became fascinated with the diversity and complexity of it," Frost-Kumpf said. "There are hundreds of cultures and languages - 128 languages in Tanzania alone. It was a wonderful experience studying in Tanzania."

And not only did her new educational focus stimulate some of her lifelong passions, but Frost-Kumpf returned to UIS after the completion of her master's degree to use her new education to benefit the university.

"When I told Dean Pinky Wassenberg that I wanted to get another master's degree, she said 'A redesigned Hilary! You can come back and teach in our new major in international studies'," Frost-Kumpf said. "She told me that UIS was looking into expanding our current international studies minor to a global studies major. My new focus will allow me to work in that new degree."

Currently the proposal for a new global studies major is working its way through campus governance to see if the degree can be established. Dr. Stephen Schwark is heading the proposal for the major, which will allow students to "explore global issues and look at the world from a more global perspective," Frost-Kumpf said.

"The idea of a global studies degree fits very well with the direction the university is going in terms of our general education curriculum requiring all students who graduate to have a global awareness," she said. "This expands that further so students who find those topics interesting will be able to major in the subject."

Frost-Kumpf said she has high hopes for the global studies program and for students to discover the passion and thrill she has found in other cultures and languages.

"My hope is that students will come away from the program challenged to learn broadly about global issues and more specifically, about a particular topic that they're interested in," she said. "And as a geographer, my hope is for them to leave the program with a much better understanding of world geography and a more nuanced idea of different cultures throughout the world."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Faculty & Staff Campaign continues

By Courtney Westlake

A special Faculty & Staff Campaign event was held on Tuesday, March 18 from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. in the Lincoln Residence Hall Great Room.

Snacks and drinks were offered to all attendees, and there were also prizes and give-aways. In addition, those who attended had the opportunity to take a tour of LRH.

"This is midway through our campaign," said Vicki Megginson, Associate Chancellor for Development and vice president of the University of Illinois Foundation. "During this one month, we encourage everyone to tell each other why they should be supported. We encourage one month where everyone can 'market up' their departments, their needs and their goals with each other. Then at the end of the month, we'll celebrate where we are."

The Faculty & Staff Campaign kicked off this year on Friday, February 29 with a Dr. Seuss-themed lunch event. Through the campaign, staff and faculty are able to give a gift to the university, choosing exactly how the money will impact UIS' quality academics, athletics or other important programs.

The campaign is a vital part of UIS because it helps the employees get to know each other and learn about the various departments and programs at UIS, Megginson said. It also helps to encourage the faculty and staff to be ambassadors for UIS in the external community, she said.

"Our faculty and staff are our greatest assets and our greatest ambassadors," she said. "Many of our supporters come from the community, from our alumni and from local businesses. And as people become partners with us inside our house, they also become partners with us when they travel outside our walls to neighbors, friends and places they travel to in their own work and personal life."

"And the support helps us do things," she added.

Last year, 270 employees, or 41.99 percent, made a gift to UIS to assist with scholarships, enhance research, improve programs and much more. This year's goal is that 42.5 percent of staff and faculty will give a gift.

"It's a happy time for us," Megginson said. "To me, it's just like investing in your home, your family, your community. This is our community, and it makes me feel good when I and others invest back in it so it's better for all of us."

Click here to read more about the Faculty & Staff Campaign, and go here to watch the Campaign video on YouTube.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Online course receives Humane Society award

By Courtney Westlake


Throughout history, human beings have defined our humanity primarily in reference to animals. After all, Psalm 23 in the Bible begins “The Lord is my shepherd…,” making it necessary to understand the relationship between shepherds and sheep to understand the passage.

“Without animals we could not be ‘human’,” said Dr. Boria Sax. “They have given us a repository of vivid metaphors, images, relationships, aspirations and ideals that pervade human culture. But to preserve its vitality, culture must retain contact with that source.”

Sax, an adjunct faculty member in the philosophy department at UIS, had written many books on human-animal relations before he was asked by Dr. Peter Boltuc to design an online course for UIS focused on philosophy and animals in 2006. In 2007, he revised the course to a broader focus and renamed it “Animals and Human Civilization.”

In recognition of academic excellence of the course Sax created focusing on the relationship between people and animals, the course won a Distinguished New Course Award in the national Animals and Society awards program of the Humane Society of the United States in December. Selections are made based on depth and rigor within the topic, impact on the study of animals and society, and originality of approach.

“I was extremely pleased; no external vindication can ever substitute for a personal faith in what one does, but, in any case, I am deeply honored to receive the award,” Sax said. “Human-animal relationships are getting a lot more attention recently in almost all fields from social work to computers and philosophy.”

Sax said he believes it is extremely important to study the relationship between humans and animals in order to get a better sense of who we are as humans. His course examines social, religious and philosophical perspectives on animals from pre-Biblical times to the present, especially the ways in which animals have provided essential metaphors for social divisions along lines of tribe, gender, class, race and other categories, he said.

For example, as Sax points out, warriors have always identified with predators such as the lion, but in Christianity, God is symbolized by the sacrificial lamb. Also, wealth in the Bible is measured by herds of animals, not money.

“Human relationships with animals are characterized by an extraordinary combination of passion and intellectual complexity,” Sax said. “That makes these relations an ideal subject for reflection by students who are developing their analytic and writing skills.”

For receiving the honor, a monetary award will go to UIS. Sax said he hopes UIS will bring in speakers, such as Native American storyteller Joseph Bruchac, who might provide interesting perspectives on human-animal relations.

“Over a decade ago, I started an organization called NILAS (Nature in Legend and Story). I would be especially pleased if the speakers and the prize money might be used to establish a presence for NILAS on the campus of the State University of Illinois at Springfield,” he said.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Speaker discusses financial innovations

By Courtney Westlake

Dr. William Poole, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, spoke to campus and community members on Thursday evening, March 6, on the topic of "Financial Innovation: Engine of Growth or Source of Instability?" in Brookens Auditorium. Poole's presentation was part of the ECCE (Engaged Citizenship Common Experience) Speakers Series at UIS.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is one of 12 regional Reserve banks, serving the Eighth Federal Reserve District. Regional Reserve banks, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., constitute the Federal Reserve System.

In his current position with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Poole directs the activities of the Bank's head office in St. Louis, as well as its three branches in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. He also represents the bank on the Federal Open Market Committee, the Federal Reserve's chief monetary policymaking body.

"The markets, as we're all aware, have been pretty upset," Poole said during his presentation. "Distress in home mortgage markets, falling new home construction and falling home prices in many areas have been a focal point in the outlook for the U.S. economy for at least the past nine months."

There is "nothing fundamentally new" about the recent subprime mortgage "debacle," Poole said. There are many examples in history of innovations that led to instability, at least initially, he said, but in general, economists agree than financial innovation plays a big role in economic growth, such as the long-term amortizing mortgage, money market mutual funds and credit cards.

"Financial markets are always innovating," Poole said. "Some innovations, such as credit cards, reflect technological advances. Clearly some people borrow more than they can afford. Credit cards, however, like many other payments and credit innovations, have lowered transaction costs, improved resource allocation and thus contributed to economic growth."

Subprime mortgage lending took off in the 1990s, but default rates on subprime mortgages began to rise in 2006, when the growth in house prices began to slow down, Poole said. He claims there are five major mistakes that led to the "meltdown," with plenty of blame to go around.

But there are lessons to be learned from this occurrence and other cases of instability, he said.

"For the individual or the firm, the lessons are clear: educate yourself about the potential risks of any investment or financial transaction, understand the incentives of counterparties in those transactions and avoid putting at risk money you cannot afford to lose," he said.

Above all, the importance of financial innovation in promoting economic growth shouldn't be forgotten, Poole emphasized.

"Successful financial innovations - those that meet the market test over the long term - promote the efficient allocation of capital and contribute to raising our standard of living," he said.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Student's volunteer trip moves her to action

By Courtney Westlake

It started out as a joke between friends but eventually led Shana Stine to experience a trip that would change her life.

Stine, a junior at UIS, repeatedly told a friend and former co-worker, mostly kidding, that she wanted to accompany him when he returned to his native country of Kenya in Africa. As time drew nearer to his return though, she began to make tentative plans to go as well.

“I’d always wanted to go to Africa since I was little,” Stine said. “So I decided to go. And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought that I didn’t just want to go as a tourist; that would seem really empty. So I thought I would do two weeks traveling with my friend and two weeks volunteering at an orphanage.”

A little research put Stine in contact with a Kenyan volunteer organization called Fadhili Helpers. When she arrived in Kenya, Fadhili placed her at Gathiga Children's Hope Home, outside of Nairobi in Kenya. She made all the arrangements herself, received the required vaccinations and filled out her visa. And when she got to Gathiga in June 2007, she didn’t want to leave.

“I got to Kenya and fell in love with children at the home, so I actually stayed about three weeks there,” Stine said. “Because I went on a mission trip to Mexico, I knew it was going to be hard, and I would see kind of the worst of humanity. But I wasn't prepared completely for it. It was rough to say the least, a pretty hard experience.”

Although the poverty broke her heart, the bright spots in Stine’s work at the orphanage were the children. She became especially fond of an eight-year-old boy named Joel, whom she later found out has HIV. Joel’s situation, as well as the other children’s, moved Stine into action.

“Joel is easily a favorite; you can't not like him,” she said. “When I found out he has HIV, that just broke my heart again, as if the poverty wasn’t enough. So Jump for Joel is a project I started in his name to help the orphanage there.”

With help from other friends and family members, as well as the campus community, Jump for Joel has taken on a life of its own since its beginning, Stine said.

Through the organization, Stine has been able to raise more than $5,000 for the children’s home, providing food, a second toilet for the residents, a roof over one of the “sleeping” rooms, assistance to get some of the children back in school and more. Jump for Joel was also accepted through the Applied Study Term at UIS to allow Stine to earn academic credit for her work on the project.

Stine said she is so grateful to the support Jump for Joel has received. And she can’t wait to do more.

“Words are great, but if you're not going to back it up with action, what's the point?” she asked. “I came back from Kenya knowing I couldn't just tell the stories; I needed to do something. I couldn't sleep in my dorm bed with my own bathroom when there are kids sleeping 20 to a room with one toilet for 96 kids. I think Kenya changed me in that way; it solidified that I need to do.”

For more information about Jump for Joel, visit