SJR Column: Commencement, April 2019

Today’s UIS Perspectives column appears with finals week fast approaching, students completing end-of-semester assignments and, by last count, 1,273 students eligible to participate in the 48th University of Illinois Springfield commencement ceremonies in a few weeks.

This will be my eighth UIS commencement and, like every faculty and staff member, I’m proud of our graduates – each of whom has worked with great determination to earn their University of Illinois degree. There is no greater satisfaction for me, as Chancellor, than meeting students the fall of their first semester, observing the transformative experience that UIS provides and ultimately sharing with them that special “handshake moment” on the commencement stage.

This year, Tiffany Wentworth and I will share one of those moments – with her entire family, including her beloved grandmother, proudly witnessing her achievement. A soon-to-be graduate of the Capital Scholars Honors Program and a member of the Prairie Stars volleyball team, Tiffany has had a memorable four years at UIS.

“When I visited campus, Coach Salinas told me I could be an impact player,” says Tiffany. “Now, a few years later, my teammates have become my family away from home and winning the conference championship this year was the ‘cherry on top’ for me.”

“The small community at UIS has a nice feel,” she continues, “and I’ve especially appreciated Elise LoBue, who taught several of my Honors classes. Professor Marcel Yoder in Psychology also helped me figure out how to balance academics, athletics and the social aspects of school.”

Tiffany is graduating with honors as one of the first students to complete the new Exercise Science major. She has been accepted to the prestigious University of Kansas Physical Therapy and Rehabilitative Science program where she will pursue her doctorate in Physical Therapy.

Eric Myers has followed a less traditional path. After earning bachelors and masters degrees in business and working in the health care sector, Eric realized he really wanted to be a teacher.

“I did some research, and the UIS teacher certification program appealed to me,” says Eric, “in part, because it offers an online option that would enable me to continue working and remain close to my family.”

Eric is completing his student teaching this spring at Richwoods High School in Peoria and has already accepted a teaching position for next fall at Morton High School in Morton, Illinois. “I’m so excited about this new direction,” says Eric. “I learned to ‘think outside the box’ from UIS professors like Jennifer Martin, and my new employer is looking for exactly that.”

According to a recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, professional positions that require a masters degree continue to grow at a significant rate. Professionals with this advanced degree often benefit from higher salaries and more opportunities for career advancement.

Madhuri Podipireddy, a graduate student from southern India, is well aware of those benefits.

“My research on top graduate schools for technology-related degrees led me to the Management Information Systems program at UIS,” she says.

While enrolled in the MIS program, Madhuri has served as president of the Indian Student Organization and participated in the Graduate Public Service Internship Program as a business analyst for the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology. “The GPSI program has been very important for me,” she says. “It taught me what I need to excel in and what I need to do.”

“I have never done a graduation walk and I’m so excited to participate in Commencement,” she adds. “UIS has been a great platform to help give me my skills and I look forward to what my future holds.”

Eight 2019 Commencement participants will be graduating with the doctorate in Public Administration. One of them is Sophia Gehlhausen-Anderson. Sophia earned undergraduate and masters degrees in plant biology at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and, in 2000, moved to Honduras where she spent 14 years immersed in the culture – teaching school and working in international development.

After moving back to Illinois in 2014 with her husband and two children, Sophia became Coordinator for Programs and Outreach for Hispanic and Latino students at UIS. She is now Assistant Director for Academic Affairs at the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“My mom has always been a huge inspiration to me,” says Sophia. “She is from Finland and she always loved to study – earning four masters degrees.”

“Balancing work with family and my studies has been the biggest challenge” Sophia continues.

“I really appreciated the cohort model in the doctoral program. Members of my class got to know each other well and, with guidance from wonderful faculty, we all learned from everybody. I learned so much.”

Sophia has already purchased her cap, gown and doctoral hood and looks forward to sharing the upcoming commencement celebration with her husband and two sons – now 12 and 9. You can bet her mother will be there, too!

The vision statement for the University of Illinois Springfield declares UIS will provide a “pathway to opportunity”. I’m confident we have fulfilled that promise for Tiffany, Eric, Madhuri, Sophia and all the others who will participate in the 2019 commencement ceremonies.

Congratulations, graduates. I’ll see you on stage!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois at Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch