SJR Column: CAP Scholars, September 2014

A front page headline a few days ago in Springfield’s State Journal Register announced a record enrollment at the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois. That’s great news for both the campus and for the larger Springfield community – where UIS students live, work, volunteer and contribute to the local economy.

I’m pleased, most assuredly, with our continued growth; but it is equally gratifying to know that the reputation of UIS across the region continues to advance.

Achieving excellence has been a consistent strategic goal for the faculty and staff at UIS and one of the best examples of that excellence is the Capital Scholars Honors Program.

Established in 2001 when the UIS campus first admitted freshmen, the CAP Scholars program welcomes about 120 highly-qualified and motivated students each year who have been selected to participate in a unique and challenging residential college experience.

At the heart of the CAP Scholars program is an understanding that the problems facing today’s world are complex and solutions often require the application of knowledge from many different areas of study. For that reason, the program is centered on an engaging interdisciplinary curriculum where exceptional UIS faculty challenge students to investigate, debate and think critically about the complexities of today’s society.

The development of leadership skills – what Honors Program Director Mark Klingshirn calls “finding their inner leader” – is also a major emphasis of the honors experience. An Honors Global Awareness requirement encourages participants to gain an appreciation of cultures other than their own and enables students to study abroad and learn other languages.

CAP Scholars has served as a launching pad for many talented students since that first class arrived on campus over a decade ago. Mark Frakes is a good example. A Chemistry major from Champaign, Illinois, Mark was president of the Chemistry Club, a leader of the Christian Student Fellowship Team and a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters. He graduated with honors in 2012 and is now a third-year medical student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford, Illinois.

Priyanka Deo (from Chicago) is another great example. While at UIS she was captain of the UIS Women’s Varsity Tennis Team, participated in Model United Nations (chairing the national Model UN General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York), was named a Student Laureate of the prestigious Illinois Lincoln Academy, and was student commencement speaker in 2010 when she graduated with honors. Priyanka is now pursuing two Masters degrees – one at the London School of Economics and the other at the USC Annenberg School of Communication.

Matt Dobill, who is from Bloomington, Illinois, helped found the award-winning UIS Forensics (Speech) Team while pursuing his undergraduate degree in Legal Studies. He also studied abroad in Argentina (becoming fluent in Spanish) and volunteered with the UIS-based Illinois Innocence Project to gain practical experience in preparation for law school. Matt graduated just a few months ago and is now studying at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Political Studies alum Holly Fowler, who was in the third class of CAP Scholars, may describe the experience best when she says:

“The CAP Scholars program provided me with incredible connections that I never could have made otherwise – connections to ideas, to questions, to understandings, to opportunities and to friends who remain an important part of my extended family today.” I’m proud to say Holly now works for UIS as our Alumni Relations Officer.

The UIS Capital Scholars Honors Program is a central element in our growth as one of the nation’s premier public liberal arts universities and one of the three campuses of the world-class University of Illinois. I’m grateful to the many UIS faculty and staff who have contributed to the development of this exceptional program and I look forward to the many contributions our CAP Scholars graduates will make to communities in Illinois and beyond.

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch