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kcott1@uis.edu

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Idealism in Action Award recognizes UIS commitment to civic engagement initiatives

April 20, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The University of Illinois at Springfield has received the first-ever Idealism in Action Award presented by the Campus Outreach Opportunity League. The award was made at the organization’s annual conference, the largest national event of its kind, held March 12-14 at the University of Pennsylvania and attended by some 2,000 students, campus administrators, and nonprofit organizations. 

COOL’s mission is to educate, connect, and mobilize college students and their campuses to strengthen communities through service and action. The Idealism in Action award recognizes efforts in community service, activism, service learning, and socially responsible careers. Materials submitted in nomination cited the great strides UIS has made in a short time in all four areas.

In March 2002, using a $50,000 grant from the Illinois State Board of Higher Education, UIS established an Office of Student Volunteers and Service Learning on campus and hired Karin Cotterman as the first director. Though the grant has since expired, the office remains and today is a central location for community and service learning resources and provides a mission and vision for civic engagement initiatives.

Dana Goodrum, a third-year student in the Capital Scholars program, attended the COOL conference in 2003 and made a presentation at the 2004 conference along with two other UIS students. Goodrum shared her perspective on the growing activism at UIS: “Last year I think there were five students who went to the COOL conference in Cleveland, and each of us came back with a new perspective on how things needed to change here.  This year 14 students went and three of us presented our own workshop.  It was amazing to see such an increase in involvement and watch people grow.

“I think UIS still has a long road to travel to reach the point where many of us wish we were civically, but this award shows the work that has been done, and the long way we have already come.  I think it’s fabulous that we were recognized for our work, and Karin really deserves it.  She has helped to shape this campus and our students into a place where activism can be shared and accepted.  She’s an amazing woman.”

James Korte, assistant dean of students, notes that while the Division of Student Affairs, where the OSVSL is housed, has seen significant budget cuts in recent years, nevertheless funds have been reallocated to support and expand initiatives. “This is not only a reflection of the campus’ overall commitment,” said Korte, “but also a recognition of the value that the administration places on these efforts.

“I have clearly seen a reawakening of campus spirit and attitude relating to the spirit of activism and involvement over the past several years,” Korte adds.

Terri Jackson, coordinator of the UIS Office of Multicultural Affairs, agrees. “The opportunity to participate and encourage students to become involved in the projects coming out of the Office of Student Volunteers and Service Learning has been a breath of fresh air. The energy and enthusiasm our students are putting forth, the collaboration of students, faculty, and staff, and the satisfaction of completing the projects has breathed new life into the campus. The opportunity to have students work toward meeting the needs of a community, in essence, to give something back, has allowed for a renewed sense of purpose, not only for the students, but for those of us who have had the pleasure of working with them.”

Various community service programs and events have sprung up and taken root on campus in the past two years, such as UIS Cares Day, which recently sent more than 80 members of the campus community to Springfield’s Washington Middle School for a Saturday morning of grounds beautification. Other efforts include collaborations with The Springfield Project as well as participation in national programs like Make a Difference Day, National Campus Compact’s Raise Your Voice Campaign, and Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week which has featured events such as a “hunger banquet” and which collected more than 350 pounds of food for local charities this fall.

A campus chapter of United Students against Sweatshops was formed in 2002 and also that year five faculty members received awards to develop service learning courses. As a result, students have twice traveled to Nicaragua with a delegation of Witness for Peace and, as part of their coursework, met with workers there to study the impact of global labor policies. This summer the campus’ first international service learning course in Jamaica will pair students with community organizations in Treasure Beach on the island’s southern coast. Closer to home, students in public speaking courses work in Springfield schools to help fifth and sixth graders overcome their developing fears of speaking in front of groups.

At the campus Career Service Center, the focus has shifted to encourage students to become more aware of their own interests, values, abilities, skills, and lifestyles. First-year students now have a community service requirement built into their curriculum. UIS students and faculty who volunteer as teachers at Springfield’s Heartland Peace Academy and the campus’ active Community Outreach Partnership Center are further evidence of the increased commitment to various aspects of civic engagement.

Margie Coleman, a graduate student in the Human Services program and graduate assistant in the OSVSL, summed up her thoughts: “I arrived on campus three years ago expecting to experience the ‘excitement’ of campus life and to get involved in volunteering and service learning; it wasn’t really happening! It took the vision of Chris Miller (UIS vice chancellor for student affairs), the hiring of Karin Cotterman, the support of Cynthia Thompson (director of student life), and the commitment of a few very passionate students for that excitement to culminate into an Idealism in Action Award.  Congratulations to UIS, the students, Dr. Miller, Cynthia, and of course Karin ... you deserve this award.”

COOL was founded in 1984 by Harvard graduate Wayne Meisel, who began a symbolic call to action on college campuses by walking from Maine to Washington D.C. Along the way Meisel visited more than 70 campuses, urging students to get involved in their communities and counter the then-prevailing perception of students as apathetic and materialistic.

For more information, contact Cotterman at 206-7716 or go to www.cool2serve.org.

    The University of Illinois at Springfield, one of three U of I campuses, is a small, public liberal arts university that offers 40 degree programs – 20 bachelor’s, 19 master’s, and the Doctorate of Public Administration. UIS has a special mission in public affairs and service and is known for extraordinary internships, a wireless campus, extensive online offerings, and a commitment to teaching.
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