SJR Column: Employees Outside Interests, August 2019
Each of the more than a thousand faculty and staff at the University of Illinois Springfield contributes in myriad ways to providing pathways of opportunity for students that prepare them for success. But as musical artist Dolly Parton once said: “You should never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” As Chancellor of UIS, I’ve found it fascinating to discover the many ways valued employees “make a life” outside their work. This UIS Perspectives column provides a glimpse into some of their stories.
The performing arts is a passion for many UIS employees including Linda Schneider and Steve Marvel. Linda, whose day job is office administrator in Academic Affairs, has been involved in community theatre for many years – combining her acting talent with her love of history. Linda has portrayed many historical figures including Nellie Grant Jones (daughter of Ulysses S. Grant) for the annual Oak Ridge Cemetery Walk sponsored by the Sangamon County Historical Society. “My most memorable experience thus far,” says Linda, “was portraying Mary Lincoln for an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show.” Linda’s next “gig” will be playing Susan Lawrence Dana at an upcoming event for the local Dana Thomas House Foundation.
It’s not unusual for Steve Marvel to be stopped by students, faculty or staff on campus with a request to pose for a selfie …. probably not because he is a building services supervisor. In his off hours, Steve is rocking out as keyboardist and vocalist with “Off the Wall,” one of the most popular pop/rock bands in Central Illinois. Steve studied classical music beginning at age four – eventually earning a college degree in music. “I’ve played in bands since I was fourteen,” says Steve, “and what I enjoy most about making music is being able to entertain people of all ages.”
Not many can claim to have a national champion in the family – but Doug Brackney, administrative aide in the UIS Career Development Center, has several! Doug has been showing champion Persian cats for more than 20 years. His silver Persian named Romeo is not only a national champion but has also been “spokes-cat” for Royal Canine Persian cat food – landing him and his human companions an all-expense paid trip to New York City that included a limousine, a stay in a posh Madison Avenue hotel and a photo shoot with international fashion photographer Platan.
“We enjoy presenting our cats as well as the travel, the friends, and the excitement that competition brings,” says Doug. “I sometimes think my own resume is pale in comparison to our beloved cats.”
The avocations of other UIS employees also extend beyond the borders of Illinois. That is certainly the case for Alan Freedman and Julie Close. Alan is an assistant professor in the Exercise Science and Athletic Training programs. In addition to teaching students in these rapidly growing programs, Alan serves as an athletic trainer for USA Fencing, the national governing body for the sport of fencing. “I’m part of a multidisciplinary health care team at national and regional fencing competitions,” says Alan, “providing care that ensures the health and well-being of competing athletes.”
“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with highly skilled health care providers in this unique setting,” adds Alan, “an experience that enables me to pass on new skills and techniques to my students.” Alan also conducts research on the epidemiology of fencing injuries to identify trends and ultimately improve safety for fencing athletes.
When not working in Facilities and Services, Julie Close volunteers as a member of the Critical Response Childcare Team of Children’s Disaster Services, an organization that provides support for traumatized children in the midst of natural or human-caused disasters. Julie was deployed in October, 2017, to Las Vegas following the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – a tragedy that resulted in the deaths of 58 people and the injury of hundreds more.
“Establishing a steady routine as soon as possible after a traumatic experience is so important for children,” says Julie, “and in the busyness after a disaster, they are sometimes pushed aside and their needs ignored.” CDS volunteers are trained to engage with traumatized children in therapeutic play activities that relieve stress, provide a listening ear, and calm fears. “Though we make due with cots and go without our usual pampered existence for a while,” she adds, “I do it for the opportunity to give back and help people.”
Julie also notes knowledge gained at UIS over almost 30 years – how facilities operate, networking with service providers, etc. – has been extremely useful in her work as a CDS volunteer. She anticipates answering the call for CDS volunteers more often when she retires.
It is a privilege to work with so many talented and dedicated faculty and staff every day at UIS. With their many contributions both on campus and off, they’re not just making a living. They’re making a difference … and making a life.
Susan J. Koch is Chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield.