SJR Column: Commencement, May 2016

As I write this column, we’re just days away from the end of the university semester. By last count, 1,716 UIS students are slated to complete their University of Illinois degree at the Springfield campus – making this class the largest graduating class in our history. We’ll celebrate this milestone on Saturday, May 14th at Springfield’s Prairie Capital Convention Center when graduates, along with faculty, staff, family members, dignitaries and friends, convene for the 45th UIS Commencement.

Commencement at any university is always a very special day and, in 30 years at three different institutions, I’ve never missed one. Like every other faculty and staff member, I’m proud of our graduates – each of whom has their own unique story.

Among the many smiling participants shaking my hand on the commencement stage will be Faith Hook. An Honors student from Effingham, Illinois, Faith has had an unusually busy four years at UIS. Besides completing her coursework for a major in Sociology and Anthropology and a minor in Criminal Justice, Faith has played throughout her undergraduate years on the Prairie Stars Division II Women’s Tennis Team.

Faith has also been active on the Mock Trial team, volunteers with the Illinois Innocence Project on campus, and traveled to New York City twice for Model United Nations. “Being a student-athlete has really taught me time management and how to keep my things together,” says Faith; “but being involved in the Innocence Project changed everything for me.”

After volunteering many hours working on his case, Faith had the opportunity this past January to witness Innocence Project client Teshome Campbell walk out of the Danville Correctional Center a free man – after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment.

“I feel like UIS has done a good job of exposing me to opportunities and different experiences that fit me the best,” reports Faith.

She plans to continue to work for the Innocence Project this summer and then prepare for law school.

Kowsalya Viswanathan traveled a little further than Faith to attend UIS – about 8,600 miles further! Kowsalya is from Tamil Nadu in southern India and is graduating with a Master’s degree in Computer Science. Kowsalya learned about UIS from a friend in India who had studied here and who recommended the Computer Science program.

“I wanted to earn a degree from the University of Illinois,” she says. “Faculty members at UIS have been knowledgeable and helpful and, thanks to them, I’m confident I can crack my interviews and get a wonderful job.”

What was the hardest part about moving so far from home to pursue her studies at UIS? “The weather!” says Kowsalya. “I arrived in Chicago in January and it was quite a shock!” She plans to resolve the climate problem by moving to Salt Lake City after graduation, where she will join her husband who is already working there.

Soon-to-be UIS graduate Katie Kleinhample won’t be able to make it to commencement; but she’ll be with us in spirit. She completed her undergraduate degree a few years ago at the UI Champaign-Urbana campus and currently teaches French at William Howard Taft High School, the school on the north side of Chicago that served as the inspiration for the musical Grease.

Katie started pursuing her Masters degree in Education from UIS online in 2014. “The UIS online program has been great,” says Katie.

“I like the convenience of it and I’ve been able to go at my own pace, taking a couple of classes each semester. I feel like I know my professors and, with the weekly participation requirements, the online courses have helped me to share my opinions and be part of the discussions. My classes have really challenged me and made me try new things with my students.”

With Masters degree in hand, Katie hopes to be better prepared to pursue leadership opportunities in her profession.

The mission of the University of Illinois is to “transform lives and serve society.” I am confident that the lives of Faith, Kowsalya, and Katie have, indeed, been transformed by their UIS experience. I’m also confident that they, like the 20,000-plus other Spring, 2016 graduates of all three University of Illinois campuses, will serve society in productive ways across Illinois and around the world for many years to come. Congratulations, graduates. We’re proud of you!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch