SJR Column: Commencement, May 2017
Today’s UIS Perspectives column appears just hours after the 2017 UIS Commencement. With 1,250 students crossing the stage at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in two separate ceremonies, the 46th Commencement of the University of Illinois at Springfield celebrated the largest graduating class in school history …. and was a memorable day for graduates and their families. Like every other faculty and staff member, I’m proud of our graduates – each of whom has worked with such determination to earn their University of Illinois degree.
Among the many smiling graduates shaking my hand on the commencement stage was Jeremy Embalabala, who is now a two-time UIS graduate in Computer Science. Jeremy completed his Master’s degree online at the same time he was employed at Horace Mann as a member of the corporate security team.
“I decided to pursue my Master’s degree,” says Jeremy, “because I wanted to challenge myself from a technical perspective.”
“The flexibility of online was key for me,” he continues. “I appreciated being able to take courses from professors with real-world experience who are on the cutting edge of implementation and execution.
Thanks to the online program, I could go to work, come home and play with my kids, and then work on my online coursework.” Jeremy recently accepted a new position at Hub International in Chicago (a global insurance broker) where he is Director of Security Architecture.
Audrey LeVault from Edinburg, Illinois, a member of the Capital Scholars Honors Program, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. “I loved the Social Work department,” she says. “The professors are great and we had a real sense of camaraderie in my class.”
Audrey lived on campus all four years of school and worked as a Resident Assistant in a UIS apartment complex. “I’m proud that, as an RA, I had an opportunity to work with a resident who was visually impaired,” she reports.
“I learned a lot from her and we even created a program together to teach other students how to interact with visually-impaired people.”
Audrey has been accepted into the prestigious Master’s in Social Work (MSW) program at UIUC and plans to become a school counselor.
Nathan Hoffman, a Political Science major from Springfield, and Noah Sisson, a Business Management major from Virden, may not know each other but they have more in common than being in the same graduating class. Both came to UIS looking for opportunities to pursue their passions – Nathan for public service and Noah for business entrepreneurship.
“I owe much of what I’ve learned at UIS to several outstanding professors,” says Nathan, “including Dr. Adriana Crocker and Dr. Richard Gilman-Opalsky.” Noah echoes that same sentiment. “Professors Nathan Steele and Bruce Sommer are both great teachers,” he reports.
“Dr. Steele’s class on negotiations helped me successfully negotiate the purchase of a piece of land and I’ve worked with Bruce to develop the concept for a firefighter accountability system – new technology to track a firefighter’s location inside a burning building.”
Besides being a fulltime student, Noah is a farmer, small business owner and EMT/firefighter.
After completing his term as UIS Student Trustee on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees this month, Nathan will continue working for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce while attending law school at St. Louis University. Noah plans to continue his passions – farming, small business development and firefighting.
The phrase “Leadership lived” is often used to describe UIS – a reputation that is infused throughout the student experience. No graduate exemplifies that reputation more than Alicia Woodman from Shipman, Illinois, who graduated yesterday with majors in Communications and Legal Studies. Alicia has been an active student leader throughout her undergraduate career, serving in student government and residence life as well supporting other students through her work in the campus advising center. She is currently Chairing the Student Organization Funding Association – an important group that allocates financial support to various student organizations.
“My most positive UIS memories involve meeting and working with so many different people,” says Alicia. “I’ve learned a lot and developed expertise in social media marketing – a field I’d like to pursue as a profession.”
Alicia was recently named Ms. Wheelchair Illinois USA and will be competing in the national pageant in Ohio this summer.
The mission of the University of Illinois is to “transform lives and serve society.” I am confident the lives of Jeremy, Audrey, Nathan, Noah and Alicia have, indeed, been transformed by their UIS experience. I’m also confident they, like the thousands of other 2017 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