Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Students find home away from home with Host Family Program

During his senior year, as he was beginning to explore options after graduation, UIS student Jeremy Winters was introduced to Darryl Thomas, who works for the government in an entrepreneurship program in Springfield.

“He took me in like family, invited me over for dinner, and I met his family,” Winters said. “I told him about how I want to start my own businesses and own some businesses. He really taught me how to network.”

The positive relationship between Winters and Thomas was created through the Host Family Program, which is part of the Diversity Center at UIS.

The Host Family Program was started last fall by Herb Caldwell, admission and community partner counselor for the Diversity Center. Caldwell said the concept of the program came from both his personal experience and programs he has seen as part of international student offices on other campuses.

“In the town I grew up in, when dorms would close, there would always be students from the local college at my home,” he said. “My parents would feed them meals, they’d come to church with us, we’d celebrate holidays when they couldn’t get back home, and they stayed with us for two to three weeks at a time. And then a lot of schools have something like this with international students, so I thought to combine the two elements.”

And so the Diversity Center’s Host Family Program was created to provide a home away from home for UIS students.

“We started the program in hopes of giving our students new opportunities to engage with people here in the Springfield community. It provides a link and helps with the transition process,” Caldwell said.

Winters, who graduated in December 2009, studied Communication at UIS and played for the men’s basketball team. He has family members who own businesses, and he’d like to go into business for himself one day. Caldwell saw Thomas and his family as a perfect fit for Winters’ host family.

“It’s just been a really nice experience,” Winters said. “Helping each other is the way we’re all going to get ahead.”

To become part of the Host Family Program, both families and students fill out an application and are then matched up. The students then are able to spend time with members of the host family, such as having dinner at their home or talking with them about future goals.

Currently, seven students at UIS are participating in the program. Caldwell said he sees the program as mutually beneficial for both the students and local families.

“Some of the people in these host families are alums or people who are doing well in the business community, and some of our students are trying to get to the places where the host families have already been,” he said. “So there’s the whole networking aspect and building connections that might help them with a job after they graduate.”

“And I don’t want to understate the fact that it provides comfort outside of the classroom, which helps with the transition and ultimately retention of students,” he added. “We’re always looking for solid families to participate; it makes the experience here at UIS stronger and better.”

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Monday, December 14, 2009

UIS students build positive relationships while mentoring at Harvard Park Elementary

A group of UIS students pulled out board games of all kinds in the Harvard Park Elementary School gymnasium on Friday morning and quickly paired up with their “Littles” to play.

The group is part of the mentoring program that UIS has in conjunction with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sangamon County that takes UIS volunteers to several elementary schools in the area once a week to interact with some of the children at the schools.

The program is mutually beneficial for both the elementary-aged students and the UIS students, said Harvard Park Principal Kim Leverette. She said she hopes that the relationships built with college-aged students will inspire the students at Harvard Park to continue their education.

“For many of our students, their background and the homes that they come from, that dream isn’t instilled in them of pursuing higher education,” Leverette said. “So this viewpoint is very instrumental in our kids turning their attitudes around and turning their grades around.”

“It may inspire UIS students to be education majors as well,” she added. “So while it impacts our students, it also greatly impacts students from UIS as well.”

Mark Frakes, a sophomore at UIS, enjoys playing cards games like Uno with his “Little” at Harvard Park.

“He’s pretty good; he beats me a lot,” Frakes smiled.

Frakes has been mentoring for more than a year at Harvard Park through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and has been able to see firsthand how beneficial his involvement is in the life of his Little.

“This gives kids a chance to talk out some of their issues and have a positive older role model because some of these kids don’t have that sort of support system,” he said. “I like coming here to hang out with him. When he has fun, I have fun.”

“I think I’m just as excited to come here and hang out as (my Little),” agreed senior Zach Berillo with a laugh.

UIS freshman April Fountain’s Little doesn’t have a brother or “anyone his age to sit down and play with him,” she said, and he looks forward to the one-on-one time with Fountain.

“He enjoys this every Friday. I think he gets a lot out of it,” she said.

Leverette hopes the program will continue to flourish and even to grow.

“The feedback I receive from the community, from the staff, from the parents is something that we want to build on and nurture, and we want all of those great things to continue,” she said.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Diversity Center helps campus celebrate differences

By Courtney Westlake

Snacks, comfortable couches, a big-screen television and a caring staff draw students into the Diversity Center – Student Life Building 22 – whether it be for studying, watching a popular TV show with friends or discussing the need for a particular service with a staff member.

“The Diversity Center is a space where students can come and be whoever it is they want to be,” said Herb Caldwell, admission and community partner counselor for the center. “But more importantly, we are made up of staff who are really student-oriented, who are really going to help the students get connected with other resources. That is really the strength of the Diversity Center - helping all students from all backgrounds and all cultures.”

The Diversity Center was created a year ago at UIS to develop the understanding of differences through educational, cultural and social activities. The opening of the center kicked off with an open house during Welcome Week 2008.

The Diversity Center fulfills a great need to the UIS campus, Caldwell said, helping students, staff and faculty to celebrate the differences between people.

“It's a diverse world; we come from so many different backgrounds - geographic, ethnicities, religious, cultural, how we identify sexually,” he said. “A lot of times, misunderstandings come from ignorance. So what the Diversity Center is really trying to do is bring all these different things together so we can celebrate these things that make us different.”

“You may not agree with everything, but you want to have understanding so there can be acceptance,” Caldwell added. “That is key, to not just have tolerance but acceptance.”

Many changes and progress have been made since the opening of the Center, Caldwell said, including the extension of the center’s hours, especially in the evenings and weekends.

“Being student-friendly, you have to be up and at 'em when the students are,” he said. “We try to really keep an open door policy in practical sort of way. Students rise late and are up late, so we try to be accessible to them.”

The Diversity Center is made up of staff members Caldwell, Jeannie Capranica, who is the program manager, Yolanda Beamon, the center's graduate assistant, and Dr. Clarice Ford, who is the associate dean of student support services and director of the Center. Under the Center also falls the Women’s Center – directed by Lynn Otterson –the LGBTQ Resource Office, and the Center for First-Year Students, Caldwell said.

“We make sure we have dialogue and co-exist peacefully in terms of unity as a campus,” Caldwell said.

The Diversity Center is offering several new programs this year, including the Necessary Steps mentoring program that connects first-year students with older students and the Host Family Program, which enables local alumni and community members to serve as models of success to students.

“Jeannie also runs the Cultural Dine-Out program, which is a wonderful program where students can meet and go feast out in the community at different ethnic restaurants,” Caldwell added. “It provides dialogue and an opportunity to learn and experience different cultures.”

Students are first priority at the Diversity Center, and the Center not only works with other offices in Students Affairs, but also on the academic and social sides as well, Caldwell said.

“We want to really meet students' needs on every level, always helping with the students,” he said. “And we do provide a lot of emergency assistance - students without books, a student living in the townhouses without food, or any services within the community- but there doesn't need to be any great need to come in and hang out.”

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Monday, May 11, 2009

New admissions counselor focuses on international students

By Courtney Westlake

More and more college students today are looking to go beyond the borders of their native countries to study abroad, and that has become a positive thing for United States and for UIS.

Though facts like the U.S. is one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to education can sometimes deter students from other countries from seeking to study here, universities like UIS also have a lot of offer, and that is what Samba Dieng is using to counteract those drawbacks.

Dieng arrived at UIS in December 2008 as the first-ever international admissions counselor who specializes in international recruiting. Dieng, who was born in Senegal in West Africa, received his master’s degree in international relations and political science from Indiana State University and decided to pursue a career working with international students.

“Recruiting international students is crucial to any institution,” Dieng said. “International students bring differing perspectives to the classroom and to the dormitories. They are great addition to any campus. International students also bring in tuition dollars, which is important.”

International recruiting had not been a priority at UIS in previous years due to the fact that UIS has only recently become a four-year institution, Dieng said, but that is changing. UIS now has an international recruiting taskforce on campus to discuss issues involving international students and recruiting strategies.

“A well-reasoned approach, especially for an institution that has not really been in this business before, is to target very specific areas, like Asia and Latin America, instead of trying to recruit from all parts of the world,” Dieng said. “Specializing in specific areas will help us not only with understanding the cultures there but also with our future and where we want to have a presence five or 10 years from now.”

Competing on the international scene can be extremely challenging, especially being in competition with countries like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, who are not only very aggressive in terms of recruitment but also have country support, Dieng said.

Additionally, the effects of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were tremendous as students found it difficult to get a visa to come to the U.S. and the U.S. lost much political credibility in other parts of the world, he said. More recently, the current economic crisis has also slowed down international recruitment because students are worried about the future of the U.S.

And soon, an initiative called the Bologna Accord in Europe will allow European students to move freely to any country in Europe – up to 40 different countries – to study, Dieng said, which could present another challenge in recruiting European students to the U.S.

“That being said, I think we have a whole lot to sell,” he noted. “I don't know of any other country that spends more on students’ success that the United States. You go to any institution and you see an advising center, a writing center, a diversity center - all sorts of centers and organizations focused on students’ successes.”

Part of Dieng’s job is finding out what matters to international students who are looking to study abroad and why UIS and its academic programs could be a good fit for them, which is key to UIS’ success in international recruiting.

“We need a more nuanced funnel when we’re dealing with international students,” he said. “We need better communication because they ask so many more questions than domestic students. We need to mention things like small class size – a 12 to one ratio with faculty – as well as location and safety.”

“The quality of education itself matters a whole lot to international students, and besides location and quality of education, safety matters the most,” he added. “I think any institution needs to put in the time, personnel and resources in order to be successful with the international recruitment initiative.”

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Monday, March 09, 2009

UIS students utilize spring break to help hurricane victims

The University of Illinois at Springfield’s Alternative Spring Break student organization will be taking a trip to Mandeville, Louisiana during the 2009 UIS spring break to assist victims affected by Hurricane Katrina.

For seven days and six nights, from March 15 to March 21, 24 UIS students will be residing at Camp Living Waters in Mandeville, Louisiana. The purpose of the trip is to rebuild and eliminate poverty housing by physically lifting materials and building homes in the Southeast Louisiana area.

“By planning this trip, we will be able to educate UIS students in disaster preparedness on a national level,” said Kelly Thompson, director of UIS’ Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center. “The students are excited to spend their spring break serving others.”

The UIS Alternative Spring Break student organization was formed during the current academic school year, and this is the first official spring break service trip being offered by the group.

The trip is coordinated through the Collegiate Challenge program within Habitat for Humanity. The Collegiate Challenge has provided volunteer trips for youth ages 16 to 25 across the nation for 20 years and has grown to include more than 15,000 volunteers each year.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Office of International Student Services brings students together

By Courtney Westlake

At this year’s International Festival, Rick Lane noticed that during downtime, members of the Students of African Descent group and the Indian group began to dance together and enjoy each other’s cultures.

That is exactly the environment Lane is working to create, with help from many others on campus, as the director of the Office of International Student Services at UIS.

Organizing the International Festival, held annually, is just one of the responsibilities of the office. Its primary duty is to assist international students with immigration issues, whether they are arriving as new students or maintaining their legal status, and the benefits of that status, in the United States, Lane said.

“We also do programming with the students and for the students, like the International Festival,” he said. “We assist them with tax workshops and cultural adaptation. I am also one of two advisers (along with Dana Atwell) for the International Student Association, so we do welcome parties and other activities to help them interact with each other and get to know the campus and Springfield.”

The Office of International Student Services works closely with numerous other offices on campus, including the Diversity Center, Housing, Student Life and the Admissions office. In fact, a new counselor recently started in the admissions office who is dedicated solely to international students.

“We know how important it is for international students to get a quick response when they’re trying to figure things out from many miles and many hours away,” Lane said. “We wanted someone who could understand their unique needs and questions and respond promptly to those, and dedicate himself to that.”

The Office of International Student Services is located in the Human Resources Building, in the same space as the Office of International Programs led by Jonathan GoldbergBelle. The student services office also includes office manager Sherri Boner, graduate assistant Jolene Vollmer and student worker Reid Johnson. A future goal for both offices is to rename the space the “International Center” to bring all programs together.

The international studentson the UIS campus, including U.S. lawful permanent residents and all non-immigrant visa categories, number around 500, Lane said, which is close to 10 percent of the campus population. The majority come to study at UIS from India, most of those in computer science. The office and the international recruiting task force, which is chaired by Lane, have plans to expand recruiting efforts to parts of Asia, as well as recruit students in a variety of majors and programs.

“We have many students from India, Korea, Japan, China, but we also have students from western Europe, Africa and the Americas – North, Central and South,” Lane said. “We are now going to be concentrating on Asia; that area of the world is sending the most students to the United States, and we would like to grow our international population very quickly. While we certainly want to continue welcoming students from India in computer science, we have a goal of diversifying to other parts of the world as well as what majors they are pursuing outside of computer science.”

While it’s the law to have such a department on campus to provide services regarding forms and legal status, Lane believes the office provides much more than that to the international students who come to UIS.

“I believe that interaction between international students and American students is crucial not only for education of those international students but for - dare I say it? - world peace,” he said. “I don't think there is anything that does as much to help foster good understanding of who were are as Americans, and understanding of the rest of the world, as having international students and American students interacting. They couldn't do that if we weren't here to help that happen; they need someone to be their advocate, their liaison.”

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wing in LRH promotes leadership and service

By Courtney Westlake

Even before school started, students in the Leadership for Life Service Wing in Lincoln Residence Hall were lending a hand, volunteering for the local Special Olympics.

“Everyone is just genuinely interested in doing volunteer work,” said Charles Olivier, a sophomore who is the resident assistant for the wing.

The Leadership for Life Service Wing is the only living-learning community in LRH and provides residence to 28 first-year and sophomore students. The wing has a new focus this year on both leadership and service, said Kelly Thompson, director of the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center at UIS.

“They really go hand in hand,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to work with first-year students to help build their service and their leadership skills. We want our first-year students to feel comfortable and at home at UIS, and we want them to know that we're here to help them, as well as engage them with the campus and the community.”

Students living in the Leadership for Life Wing have service requirements that they need to complete, as well as several service programs to attend each semester, Thompson said. One of their first activities was a leadership retreat at Camp Cilca, which Thompson described as “very enlightening.”

Besides volunteering at the Special Olympics before classes started, the residents of the wing were also able to work together in service when Senator Barack Obama was in town to introduce his running mate.

“It really tested our bonds with each other; we were out there for seven hours in the heat, but it was a good experience,” Olivier said. “We also all came together in the first weeks and had a party for some of the residents who had a birthday after they moved in.”

To join the Leadership for Life wing in LRH, students fill out an application, explaining why they have an interest in service and what volunteer opportunities they have been involved in.

“The students all have a passion for volunteering and all have backgrounds in service and volunteerism - mission trips to other countries, activities in their communities, awards they've been given,” Thompson said. “They have a wide variety of interests they would like to explore, such as working with animals, children, the homeless and different special needs populations. Our job is to be that link and help them explore those options and feel that connection to the university as well as the community at large.”

Olivier lived in the service leadership wing last year and said he feels it is a very positive environment and brings students together with a common interest.

“You know that other people are involved in something you like doing,” he said. “We promote development of leadership through building connections with community organizations or having volunteer services on campus.”

Olivier has high hopes for his first year as a resident assistant and believes his residents will have a big impact on the campus.

“It's exciting; we have fun,” he said. “I believe volunteering is not a one-way street. Everyone who volunteers gets something back, even if it’s not money. You gain a sense of humility and gratitude. I think it's important and an important part of leadership.”

Research has shown a relationship between civic engagement and how well students do in school, and Thompson hopes to foster a sense of the importance of service and leadership in the residents of the Leadership for Life wing and all students at UIS.

“We want our students to be better informed about their own leadership skills and better informed about service opportunities, and what it means to them to be involved in service, how that might affect their major and even their course for what they do in their life after they leave UIS,” she said.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Career Center provides students with job search resources

By Courtney Westlake and Portia Kerr-Newman (Southeast High School senior)

Graduation, not to mention summer vacation, is looming in the very near future, and many students are still unsure of their plans, either for the next few months or for a full-time career path.

From numerous web-based programs to assistance in discovering an ideal career match, the Career Development Center at UIS is packed with resources for those involved in the job search process.

The Career Development Center offers a variety of quality services that use both online and face-to-face methods of service delivery. Career counseling is a primary service at the center, but they also offer assistance for those looking at career options, gaining experience, preparing for a job search, deciding about graduate school or making a career transition.

"The Career Center helps students with being prepared for job interviews," said Tammy Craig, director of the center. "It gives students the knowledge on how to wear the proper attire, impress the employer, and give a good first impression."

Many times, students believe the Career Development Center is only on campus for resume help and job searches, but the center's primary service is to teach career development as lifelong process.

"We want to educate students in their first and second years in order to really help them understand that whole process, so they can have plenty of time to prepare for careers and to set goals, so they will be successful when they transition into workforce," Craig said.

The Career Development Center also provides workshops and events like "Dress for Success," where students modeled the do's and don'ts of dressing for an interview or putting on a reality show that was a take-off of the actual reality television show called The Career Pursuit.

One of the center's newest features is called the GOALS program. People don't always like to read or be lectured to, so the center has incorporated YouTube videos, podcasts, worksheets and more to meet individuals' needs and provide a tool that faculty can incorporate into their courses.

"The feedback we hear from students is that they may not be able to come in and devote the time they need to, so we wanted to engage students, staff and faculty to help in the career development process and to integrate that into the curriculum or extracurricular activities," Craig said. "This goes back to the justification of starting early."

Due largely in part to the growth of UIS' online population, the Career Center has adapted all of their on-campus services to some method of online delivery service, Craig said. A tool called UIS-Success, a top resource used at the center, allows students to view job postings and internships profiles and to upload resumes, and another program, called FOCUS, offers career and personality tests where students can go online and take a test to help them find their perfect career match.

And because 80 to 90 percent of open jobs aren't even posted on sites like Monster or CareerBuilder, the Career Search program serves as an international job post for employees seeking jobs at companies that might not have a known posting.

The center also offers personality assessments to help students to decide exactly what they want to do in life, and the Perfect Interview program helps those students who haven't had a lot interview experience or have interview anxiety.

In addition to the abundance of job-related resources at the Career Development Center, Craig offered several pieces of advice for graduating seniors and others currently searching for a job. Of utmost importance is to make a good first impression and prepare before the interview, she said.

"I would highly recommend that you research the company thoroughly so you know what your strengths are and how you can contribute to the company," Craig said. "The more diversified your skill sets are, the better off you are. It's really knowing the company, knowing what your skills sets are and knowing how to articulate that to a recruiter."

Craig said a major concern the Career Development Center hears from recruiters is that students need to be proactive and know what they want.

"Know yourself," Craig advised. "If you don't really know what type of career or job position you want to pursue, then how can you expect to describe that in an interview with a potential employer? If you are still undecided or don't know what you can do with your degree, come see us because there is nothing worse that to partake in an interview when the recruiter asks questions and you aren't able to articulate what you want."

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Students enjoy spring break trip for Habitat

By Courtney Westlake

Students involved with Habitat for Humanity on the UIS campus took a different route in planning a spring break trip this academic year.

A group of ten students in the UIS Habitat for Humanity club, along with Beth Hoag, assistant director of student life at UIS, spent their week-long spring break in South Dakota, helping the local chapter of Habitat with various projects.

"I got involved in the Habitat club because I'm friends with Dan Bosomworth, who is the president," said Zach Berillo, a sophomore. "The club meets every Saturday, and we work on different houses in the area. We helped Dan with picking the location of our trip."

When Berillo mentioned the trip to his friends, Colin Samson decided he might like to join the group.

"It sounded like it'd be a fun adventure - a bunch of people helping out - and it sounded like something I'd like to do," Samson said.

The first day, the group helped to tear down a house that contained some pieces that Habitat wanted to salvage, like the circuit breaker, heater, vents, sinks and lighting fixtures. Those parts are then used in some of the new houses that Habitat will build, Berillo said.

The other three days the group spent in South Dakota included building a shed for a food pantry in the local town of Sioux Falls, Berillo said.

"It was too cold to build outside - 35 degrees - so we couldn't build a house or anything, but they had us build the shed inside a warehouse," he said. "It was really good because there were a lot of volunteers there, like some local guys who volunteer about 20 hours a week, so we got to work with them and talk with them, so that was really nice."

The students enjoyed getting to know each other better and learning about Sioux Falls and the people that live there.

"I liked it a lot. We managed to complete shed that we started; we stayed there a little longer," Samson said. "I hope it's in use."

The group is already looking forward to next year's spring break Habitat for Humanity trip.

"We're probably going to pick a place a little warmer so we can enjoy it a little bit more, but I think definitely for our first trip with Habitat for Humanity, it was a really good one," Berillo said.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Women's Center hosts annual Garden Party

By Courtney Westlake

The Women's Center held its annual Garden Party and Awards Ceremony on Thursday afternoon, May 1, at the Women's Peace and Friendship Garden at the campus pond.

The Center gave out two awards: the 11th Naomi B. Lynn Award for Contribution to Environment for Women at UIS and the 4th Women's Issues Caucus Student Activism Award.

Nominees up for the Naomi B. Lynn award were Dr. Heather Dell, associate professor of Women and Gender Studies, Amanda Page, student, and Dr. Kent Redfield, professor of Political Studies. Nominees for the student activism honor included Jimmy Brower, Amanda Looney, Katelyn Murray, Renee Rathjen and Ashley Rook.

Dell was selected as the recipient of the Naomi B. Lynn Award. She recognized that she could not have gotten the award by herself and thanked many of those who supported and encouraged her.

"Heather's work is deep in the core of human condition," said Lynn Otterson, director of the Women's Center. "Students respond well to what Heather Dell teaches, and how she teaches and mentors. The students I know never leave what they learn in Heather's class at the door."

Brower received the honor of the WIC Student Activism Award. Brower served as the chair of Queer-Straight Alliance, was involved with the Women's Issues Caucus and coordinated the Great Midwestern Wigout, among many other activism roles he held on campus.

"I think we can do great things at UIS; I'm committed to that, and I know all of you are," Brower said. "I couldn't be more honored to be one of the nominees with these five people. They're my peers, and I've worked with them so hard doing so many things over the past five years, and I owe a lot of that to all of you."

Before the awards were given, Otterson told the gathered crowd about the significance of the Peace and Friendship Garden, which was built in 1997. Many aspects of the garden, such as the chimes, bench, birdhouse and more, were added in honor of the recipients of the Naomi B. Lynn Award each year.

"This garden is a communal effort of the community; it's a wonderful thing," Otterson said. "It really does continue to grow every year."

Naomi B. Lynn, former UIS chancellor, was present during the event and commended the Women's Center for its work, as well as the efforts and dedication of the nominees.

"I wanted to congratulate each and every one of you," said Lynn. "You're our next generation; that's what it is all about, and that's why we're here."

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

UIS Cares event proves successful

By Courtney Westlake


A group of UIS students proved that college kids do indeed care about the well-being of the local community on Wednesday morning, and grateful community members who drove by and thanked them reinforced their efforts.

The group of UIS students and several staff members spent much of the morning on Wednesday, April 30, pulling weeds, planting flowers and partaking in other beautification projects at Jefferson Middle School as part of National Volunteer Week.

The day was just a part of an ongoing relationship with Jefferson Middle School, through which UIS students also mentor students from Jefferson.

"This is the 6th annual UIS Cares day, and we wanted to do a beautification project," said Kelly Thompson, director of the Office of Student Volunteers and Civic Engagement at UIS. "We wanted to show the students from Jefferson truly that we did care; we are using the name UIS Care by really showing them that we care about their school, both on the inside through our mentoring and on the outside."

UIS junior Adam Findley said he heard about the chance to volunteer during the UIS Cares event through his soccer coach and felt it would be a great opportunity for some of the student athletes.

"I felt that it'd be a great thing for us as athletes to do to really just give back to the community," he said.

A cleaner and more beautiful image is important to the community, Findley said.

"What I like to say is the first glance is always the best," he said. "When people come to Jefferson Middle School, they want to see a beautiful place, and they'll want to come back if they do."

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Disability Services holds open house

By Courtney Westlake


The 11th annual Disability Awareness Week at UIS came to a close on Friday with an Open House at the Office of Disability Services on campus, located in Human Resources Building 80.

"I think the week went wonderfully well; we've had lots of people attend the events, even those from outside our campus community," said Suzanne Woods, director of disability services.

Disability services at UIS provides academic accommodations to students with documented disabilities. Through inclusion, advocacy and support, the office strives to provide higher education and accommodation to all students by offering an environment that enriches their educational experience.

During the open house, the disability services staff gave tours of the office and showcased the various adaptive technology and services available through office.

"We are at the historic end of campus, and sometimes poeple don't come over here like they go to the library or the PAC," Woods said. "We wanted them to see where we are. We also wanted them to see our lab, where we have assistive technology, we have computers, and we have quiet rooms where students can come to take tests. And we wanted to see them in our own environment and see what a good place this is to come and work if you need a quiet place."

Woods said she was pleased with turnout from not only people from campus but the surrounding community as well during the Disability Awareness Week events. The office had a steady stream of people come through the open house between 12 and 2 p.m.

Woods thanked the campus for all its support this week and wants to leave Disability Awareness Week with the reminder that people can acquire a disability at any time due to an illness or accident.

"We just want people to be aware that people with disabilities are, first and foremost, people," Woods said.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Activities and presentations continue Disability Awareness Week

By Courtney Westlake


The second day of UIS' 11th annual Disability Awareness Week was full of presenters, a movie showing of "Kiss My Wheels" in Brookens Auditorium in the evening and a fun and insightful event called Color Me Blind in the afternoon.

In the morning, guest speaker Carol Schaefer discussed the topic of "Growing up with Asperger's Syndrome: A Family Affair." Schaefer is the mother of a UIS student with Asperger's Syndrome. She talked about the challenges she and other families have faced, specifically within the educational system, and the efforts and rewards of helping her daughter succeed.

"All I can say is find a group, find support, talk to people," Schaefer said. "Trust your instincts. With doctors and educators, find one you like and can believe in."

In the afternoon, Suzanne Woods, director of Disability Services at UIS, led a session called "How to Be Assertive without Being Aggressive." Woods, who has a 29-year-old son with several disabilities, discussed advocacy and bringing about necessary change.

"We all have a voice and need to use our voice, and we have to make changes that will impact everyone," Woods said. "You need to be assertive without being aggressive; you need to learn what battles to pick."

And in the Lincoln Residence Hall lounge at 3 p.m., Color Me Blind allowed participants a first-hand perspective into the life of someone who is blind or has vision impairments. The activity gave participants an opportunity to experience art on an entirely different level by envisioning a subject, then painting it without physically seeing.

"We have blindfolds, and you have to remember the different paint colors that you are using and then paint whatever you're thinking of," said Chrisa Potthast, disability services specialist in the Office of Disability Services at UIS. "It's an experience in itself, and it's very fun. And it's creating awareness for our office on campus and for our disability services."

A similar event, called Model Me Blind, will be held Thursday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m., also in the Lincoln Residence Hall lounge.

"You'll basically have to sculpt something blind-folded," Potthast said. "We're just raising awareness at how hard it is to paint or model or just do everyday things with a disability."

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Disability Awareness Week kicks off

By Courtney Westlake

This week marks Disability Awareness Week at UIS. From a wheelchair race to presentations on assistive technology, advocacy and accessible fitness equipment, the events are all focused on raising awareness about disabilities.

Disability Awareness Week kicked off on Monday morning with the annual Youth Transition Fair in the Public Affairs Center concourse. The fair provided an opportunity for students, families, school staff and service providers to learn more about planning the transition to life as a young adult.

"We've had some parents come by and UIS students come by who didn't realize we have a disability services office on campus, and we've had groups from various schools from around the county and in town," said Suzanne Woods, director of Disability Services at UIS. "It's all different agencies that have services for kids as they transition from high school to college."

This is the 11th year that Disability Awareness Week has been held on campus, and the first year it's been held in conjunction with SpringFest. Woods advised anyone with any questions or concerns to contact the Office of Disability Services at UIS and encouraged the whole campus community to come out and enjoy the events planned for the week. (To read more about the events, go here.)

"We have a comedian, Color Me Blind, Model Me Blind, a wheelchair race and an open house on Friday," Woods said. "What we want people to realize is that disability is the only minority you can join at any minute. I'm not going to wake up male tomorrow, I'm not going to wake up African-American, but I could wake up with a disability due to an accident or illness."

Disability Awareness Week is important at UIS, Woods said, to give people a better insight into the lives of those living with a disability.

"It's important because a lot of people don't know much about disabilities. One out of every five Americans has a disability of some kind," she said. "This is really to bring awareness to people about the challenges of people with disabilities but also the successes they have."

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Monday, March 31, 2008

New director has big plans for civic engagement

By Courtney Westlake

It’s only been about a month, but Kelly Thompson has big plans for her new position as the director of the Office of Student Volunteers and Civic Engagement.

“It’s a newer office; it’s only been around for a few years,” Thompson said. “Our whole goal is to foster volunteerism and civic engagement in the students. We want them to get involved early and get involved with community.”

Thompson came to her position at UIS from a strong background in and passion for civic engagement. She also has ties to the university having received her master’s degree in communication from UIS in 2002.

“So it's really such a good fit to bring my background in civic engagement to the university and help build the image of the university in the community,” she said.

One of the big projects Thompson is looking to take on next fall is called the American Democracy Project. It is organized through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and will be co-sponsored by the offices of academic affairs as well as student affairs, she said.

“We are one of four member colleges in Illinois, and we hope between student affairs and academic affairs to foster some civic projects that students can become engaged in,” she said.

Thompson also feels very strongly about the service wing in Lincoln Residence Hall, which encourages and helps residents to become more engaged in campus and volunteer activities. Thompson is already actively building up the service wing and hoping to encourage those students into leadership roles and service activities both in groups and as individuals.

And there is an important reason for the push toward volunteerism and civic engagement, Thompson said.

“We do know that research shows that a more actively engaged student both on campus and in the community makes for a more successful student,” she said. “Students who are tying in their academic experiences with their out-of-classroom experiences are more likely to be successful in their academic careers as well as their careers following college life.”

The university has realized the significance of service in one’s life, so much so that it is “one of the guiding principles of our entire curriculum,” Thompson said.

“It really signifies, even in our strategic plan, the importance of making a difference in the world,” she said. “It’s important in an early stage of a student’s life to experience different volunteer and civic engagement opportunities so they can begin to understand 'what is my role in the world? what is my role here on the UIS campus?' and really learn from that, learn some leadership qualities and traits they can take with them beyond UIS.”

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Student's volunteer trip moves her to action

By Courtney Westlake

It started out as a joke between friends but eventually led Shana Stine to experience a trip that would change her life.

Stine, a junior at UIS, repeatedly told a friend and former co-worker, mostly kidding, that she wanted to accompany him when he returned to his native country of Kenya in Africa. As time drew nearer to his return though, she began to make tentative plans to go as well.

“I’d always wanted to go to Africa since I was little,” Stine said. “So I decided to go. And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought that I didn’t just want to go as a tourist; that would seem really empty. So I thought I would do two weeks traveling with my friend and two weeks volunteering at an orphanage.”

A little research put Stine in contact with a Kenyan volunteer organization called Fadhili Helpers. When she arrived in Kenya, Fadhili placed her at Gathiga Children's Hope Home, outside of Nairobi in Kenya. She made all the arrangements herself, received the required vaccinations and filled out her visa. And when she got to Gathiga in June 2007, she didn’t want to leave.

“I got to Kenya and fell in love with children at the home, so I actually stayed about three weeks there,” Stine said. “Because I went on a mission trip to Mexico, I knew it was going to be hard, and I would see kind of the worst of humanity. But I wasn't prepared completely for it. It was rough to say the least, a pretty hard experience.”

Although the poverty broke her heart, the bright spots in Stine’s work at the orphanage were the children. She became especially fond of an eight-year-old boy named Joel, whom she later found out has HIV. Joel’s situation, as well as the other children’s, moved Stine into action.

“Joel is easily a favorite; you can't not like him,” she said. “When I found out he has HIV, that just broke my heart again, as if the poverty wasn’t enough. So Jump for Joel is a project I started in his name to help the orphanage there.”

With help from other friends and family members, as well as the campus community, Jump for Joel has taken on a life of its own since its beginning, Stine said.

Through the organization, Stine has been able to raise more than $5,000 for the children’s home, providing food, a second toilet for the residents, a roof over one of the “sleeping” rooms, assistance to get some of the children back in school and more. Jump for Joel was also accepted through the Applied Study Term at UIS to allow Stine to earn academic credit for her work on the project.

Stine said she is so grateful to the support Jump for Joel has received. And she can’t wait to do more.

“Words are great, but if you're not going to back it up with action, what's the point?” she asked. “I came back from Kenya knowing I couldn't just tell the stories; I needed to do something. I couldn't sleep in my dorm bed with my own bathroom when there are kids sleeping 20 to a room with one toilet for 96 kids. I think Kenya changed me in that way; it solidified that I need to do.”

For more information about Jump for Joel, visit www.jumpforjoel.org.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Native speaks about the crisis in Sudan

By Courtney Westlake

Simon Aban Deng, a refugee from Sudan and survivor of child slavery, spoke to the UIS community on Tuesday afternoon, February 26, about his experiences and the troubles in his native country.

Deng was born into a large family, and his village of Tonga was a peaceful farming community, despite frequent raids by the Sudanese army. But when Deng was eight years old, the Sudanese army swept through his village, burning huts and brutally murdering the residents.

"What came in my mind was 'today I am going to die'," he said.

The raid displaced Deng's surviving family and neighbors, who took refuge in the city of Malkal. Then Deng was kidnapped while living there and forced into slavery. He eventually escaped and later went on to work as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and then became a national swimming champion.

Today he is an American citizen, working as a lifeguard on Coney Island and leading the struggle to stop genocide in Sudan. He has addressed audiences across the nation about human rights.

Originally, after he became free from slavery, he vowed to never talk about what he had experienced, he said. But after reading about his fellow Sudanese people being sold for $5 or $10, he knew he had to tell his story.

"To me, it was a turning point. I have to come out and tell the world that when they are talking about buying a human being, yes it is true; I was one," he said. "I have to do the right thing and be the voice for those who have no voice. We are all entitled to the God-given right of freedom."

The crisis in Sudan is not new, Deng said. Murder and slavery have been occurring since 1956, when the country gained its independence from Britain.

"The Sudan you know today became known in 2003 because of what is happening in the western regions of Darfur," he said. "What happens in Sudan is not new to me."

No human being should be subjected to the slavery and violence that is occurring in Sudan, Deng said.

"Slavery still exists, and I am standing before you as living proof of slavery in Sudan. Every pain that they are going through, I know those pains," Deng said. "This is the Sudan you are probably not aware of. This is the Sudan I'm aware of and those who come from Sudan are aware of. Today we are coming together and saying that we are not going to be bystanders."

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Student Life offers unique experiences to students

By Courtney Westlake

From hosting speakers and showing films to putting on comedy shows and ice cream socials to planning homecoming and involvement expos, there truly is never a dull moment in the Office of Student Life at UIS.

Student and campus participation in Student Life activities has continuously been on an upwards trajectory since the arrival of Director Cynthia Thompson in 2002 and then later Assistant Director Beth Hoag. Through their leadership, the office has grown tremendously in terms of programs, activities and traditions on campus.

Thompson, who was originally a school teacher, decided to started working in career counseling for a change of pace, and she realized she loved being around college students. And because she likes the historical connection of Springfield and the fact that it is fairly close to her hometown in Iowa, Thompson accepted the director of student life position at UIS.

“It’s a great campus with great people who are very down to earth and modest; I love that,” she said. “Everyone is very willing to work together to make things happen. Whenever I've suggested something new, they are supportive and make it happen."

Thompson acknowledges that while academics are certainly important in providing the educational component to students' lives, Student Life provides the “laboratory to carry that out,” she said.

“We can provide opportunities for students to try out the skills and things they are learning in their classes,” Thompson said. “Students learn very important leadership skills and qualities through running organizations, participating in activities, planning the activities. It's an exciting mix; you've got students planning programs while learning from the content of what they're attending. Plus you can't beat the social aspects, the stress relief and the fun that is a necessary part of college.”

Many studies have shown that students who are active on campus, whether through participating in organizations or going to events, are “much more likely to succeed academically,” said Hoag, who has been at UIS for about a year and a half.

“We look at student affairs as developing the student as a whole, to teach them, outside of the classroom, the skills that they really need when they get out into the ‘real world’,” Hoag said.

Thompson, Hoag and the Student Life office, with help from students, have implemented many of the traditions students now take part in on campus.

“We do the Homecoming parade and the Involvement Expo, which was very popular at campus I came from, so we implemented it here,” Thompson said.

Thompson and Hoag agreed that they would like to expand on the programming that the Office of Student Life is currently doing.

“I’ve really seen programming board develop; we’ve come from doing a couple of events a semester to an event almost every week,” Hoag said. “And that's obviously helped Student Life on this campus really grow.”

A Student Organization Center is the most recent project for the Office of Student Life, which will give student organizations the ability to have their own space as well as have more opportunity for various event planning experiences.

"The Student Organization Center is the focus of this semester and next, and we want to bump up the number of activities and events we have on campus and empower our student organizations more," Hoag said. “I’m not as concerned as much with quantity of organizations as with quality and being able to support them better and help them to achieve their goals and motivate them to do what they want to do on campus.”

“There is a lot of flexibility and room to grow,” she added. “It’s really exciting how we’re a young campus and there are lots of different ways we can go.”

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Students get involved with UIS

By Courtney Westlake

Students packed through the concourse of the Public Affairs Center's lower level on Wednesday evening to get an idea about what opportunities UIS offers in terms of clubs, organizations and more.

The semi-annual Involvement Expo allows campus clubs, departments and groups to set up booths in the PAC, showcasing their missions and activities to interested students.

"The Involvement Expo is a very exciting event; it's probably one of our most successful events of the year," said Cynthia Thompson, director of the Office of Student Life, which coordinates the Expo. "It's an opportunity for campus departments, student organizations and local businesses to showcase what they've got to the new students. The students get very excited; it really gives them a chance to show off their organizations."

The Involvement Expo takes place twice a year, in the beginning of the fall and the spring semesters, Thompson said.

"Every time during First Week we do this," she said. "Each semester, we have new students, and we want to introduce them to Student Life and student activities."

Ashleen Woods, co-president of the Vegetarian Club at UIS, said the club has become very active in the last couple of years and wanted to showcase itself at the expo.

"The main thing we like to do is provide information for people if they're interested in vegetarianism," she said. "We're always welcoming members; it doesn't matter if you're a vegetarian or not. We welcome everybody, and it's just a great way to be part of student activities."

Ana Morales, president of ESCAPE, or Entrepreneurs of Space Concepts and Planet Exploration, said the club is currently working with the Entrepreneurship Club at UIS to give students the opportunity to gain business experience and form possible entrepreneurship opportunities.

Morales said the club was very interested in having a booth at the expo to share information about ESCAPE. ESCAPE had a game set up at the Involvement Expo to engage passing students and give out prizes, along with information about the club.

"It's a very good way for students to see what's out there," she said. "A lot of people don't know how maneuver through the Web sites. This is a good way to attract students and let them know what we're doing."

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Project Vote Smart educates UIS

By Courtney Westlake

Project Vote Smart rolled onto the UIS campus on Tuesday morning, making a stop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in front of Lincoln Residence Hall to encourage members of the campus community to learn about the project and about making the best possible choices when it comes to voting in elections.

Project Vote Smart, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, has been in existence for about 16 years, but only about 10 percent of the public is aware of it, said Tony Boehm, a project representative. Members of the project are traveling around the country on a bus to raise awareness, currently moving through the Midwest before heading west to California at the end of January.

"We basically try to educate voters on all issues, all candidates, all elected officials," Boehm said. "We feel the more that people are educated, the more they'll know about the issues and not be influenced by the media and candidates' negative campaigns."

The project has a tie to UIS through Dr. Anthony Sisneros, associate professor of public administration at UIS who also serves as an adviser to Project Vote Smart. This was a major factor in the bus having the opportunity to stop on campus, Boehm said.

The Project Vote Smart bus holds a small movie theater that can fit 22 people. Those interested in learning about the project are shown an introductory video and given a tutorial of the Project Vote Smart Web site. There are computers available for students to explore themselves or Project Vote Smart representatives can showcase the site and its features via a projection screen.

Project Vote Smart is also toting along a giant, inflatable ball with the American flag, on which people can sign or write a short message to politicians.

"We're taking it everywhere we go and delivering it to Washington before the election," Boehm said.

To learn more about Project Vote Smart, call 1-888-vote-smart or go online here.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Global Experience Takes Students Across the World

By Courtney Westlake

The Program:

Student Experiences:

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience right out of National Geographic for graduate student Melissa Smith when she spent three weeks over the summer in Australia with one other student studying at Charles Darwin University.

"It was so much better than I ever thought," Smith said. "We got to camp out in the Outback for five days and learn from the Aborigines. You see that kind of stuff on National Geographic, but it was amazing to be able to go there and do that."

The Global Experience program at UIS offers students the opportunity to spend time furthering their education in another country and to experience that country's culture. The summer programs are oldest and most popular, said international programs director Jonathan GoldbergBelle, and in summer 2008, UIS will offer summer programs in Jamaica, Australia, Quebec, Japan and more, as well as an internship program in Romania.

UIS also has exchange agreements with universities in Japan, Mexico and Australia - and is in negotiations with China and the United Kingdom - to allow UIS students to study at those partner institutions for the same tuition paid at UIS.

"We didn't have Global Experience when I first came (nine years ago), so just the fact that we have an exchange program shows tremendous growth," GoldbergBelle said. "What we've seen is an increase of faculty who are interested in taking trips, and we've been seeing more interest from faculty and students in exploring different exchange programs overseas. We will work with a student to get them almost any place they want to go."

Leslie Reutter, a sophomore at UIS, said she jumped at the chance to study for two and a half weeks in Ashikaga, Japan. Her group, which studied Japanese language while there, stayed with a host family and traveled around the area, including Tokyo for two days.

"The people are very kind; they'll talk to you about anything," she said, adding that the Japanese enjoyed practicing their English with the UIS students. "The history was very eye-opening. We went to museums, city halls, shrines and temples; it was very different than anything I'd learned about."

The impact of studying abroad through the Global Experience program is extremely positive, GoldbergBelle said.

"The benefits are really gaining an understanding of the world; the state of Illinois has tremendous international connections, and it's important for our students to have some understanding of that, both on the economic side and on the cultural side," he said. "And what students come back and say is 'I really learned a lot about myself; I became interested in things I didn't know existed before'."

Both Reutter and Smith had no hesitation as they answered a resounding yes when asked if they would recommend the experience to other students.
"To be able to have that kind of opportunity to go to Australia, while you're still in school, I'd suggest to anybody to jump at the chance; whether it's Australia, Europe, Japan or any other place," Smith said. "Just the opportunity to travel while you're in school, I'd take the chance and do it."

To learn more about the Global Experience program, click here.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

WIC Takes a Stand for Women

By Courtney Westlake

If there is any doubt about the vitality and success of the Women's Issues Caucus on campus, you just need to look at the wall in the Women's Center, which is lined with recognition.

Most recently, the UIS Student Government Association has awarded the club the President's Award for Best Student Event for the Rising Up of the Springdale Ladies Aides Society performance, as well as two other President's Awards for the production of the Vagina Monologues. The SGA also gave WIC the recognition of Outstanding Student Organization on campus.

The active Women's Issues Caucus at UIS seeks to raise awareness, encourage leadership and be a voice for women on campus. In the past couple of years, the group has brought nationally-known presenters to speak to the campus community, held a Day of Action for a Student Senate Bill and become involved in the annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet, with this year's theme being "Poverty Has a Woman's Face."

"One thing I was most proud of was our pay equity bake sale, where we pointed out the wage disparities for men and women," said Amanda Looney, who is also the graduate assistant for the Women's Center, which allows her to serve as a liaison between the Women's Center and WIC. "We then donated the money we raised to a local women's shelter, which was wonderful."

The Women's Issues Caucus also recognizes the student leaders within the group with a Student Activism award, said Ashley Rook, the current chair of WIC.

"It gives really amazing female leaders a chance to have a forum, to be involved and to be recognized," Rook said. "I think it really helps them to develop their leadership skills."

Hanna Collier, who is the chair of finance, is finishing up her first semester in WIC. She said she wanted to get involved in a group where she felt the issues were meaningful and important, and the experience has motivated her to want to get involved in a non-profit sector that deals with women's issues upon graduation in May.

"We try to counter images about what feminism is and how it's perceived on this campus," Collier said. "It's important to have this group to show that gender issues and women's issues are really important and shouldn't be as controversial as it is. We do need to deal with things like sexual assault, women in the media and pay equity."

Collier, Rook and Looney agreed that being members of the Women's Issues Caucus has not only strengthened their leadership skills but also helped them to make new friends.

"I really like being able to help the women on campus through advocacy, and I also like the social aspect of being in WIC," Looney said. "It's really helped me to meet other women with similar interests to me, and also to help women on campus with issues and educate women and everyone about what is a women's issue and what we can do about that."

WIC is an extremely collaborative effort between its executive board and general members, Rook said, with time split between coordinating events, addressing needs of women on campus and much more.

"There are so many issues that pop up between all of our programming, and it's really great to be organized and have a forum to speak out," Rook said. "Lynn (Otterson, Women's Center director) likes to compare our organization to a car with the key in the ignition; it's not on, but we're ready at any time."

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Housing Director Enjoys Challenges in Position

By Courtney Westlake

He might not be here at 8:30 in the morning, but you can probably find him on campus at 8:30 at night. And getting a page at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning isn't atypical either.

John Ringle has been the director of housing and residential life at UIS for five years, coming in with the second class of Capital Honors students. Since arriving, he has seen tremendous change throughout the campus in terms of residential buildings.

"Every year since I've been here, there has been a new construction project in housing on campus," he said.

Ringle became involved with housing while working at a job moving furniture into overflow spaces as a temporary employee at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He became a resident director there, which also led him to Utah State and Boise State in directing positions, before coming to UIS.

"UIS fit what I was looking for in terms of a growing program and getting the opportunity to be a part of something that was growing over the next decade," he said. "And we're still growing."

UIS housing services includes the townhouses, apartments and Lincoln Residence Hall, in addition to the new residence hall currently under construction, Founders Hall, which will include a new bookstore, cafe and even classrooms. There is also a future goal for another residential building in 2010, compliant with the university's strategic plan, Ringle said.

"UIS' mission is to become one of the best small, public, liberal arts universities in the state, if not the country, and our job as housing is to make sure that mission gets supported," he said.

Though his day often runs anywhere from 9-12 hours, and he maintains constant communication with on-call staff, Ringle said he enjoys the challenges the job brings. He is quick to give recognition to his staff members, whom he says are very reliable and competent.

"I think probably the thing I like best is that it is ever-changing and ever-evolving," Ringle said. "No day is every the same. There is always a new challenge every day of the week, and sometimes the weekends."

One of the main reasons Ringle decided to get into the housing field was to have an impact on students, he said.

"Research shows that students who live on campus tend to persist to graduation, have higher GPA's and have a greater experience as a part of living on campus," he said. "You can't beat the fact that you're closer to faculty, staff, athletics - all the things that make the traditional four-year campus experience remarkable in terms of a student development perspective."

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Gay Moralist" Challenges Arguments Against Homosexuality

By Courtney Westlake

Imagine an activity that takes place between consenting adults, doesn't hurt anyone and results in a great deal of pleasure for the people involved. Also imagine this activity is an avenue of meaning and communication in the people's lives, which is usually something that is celebrated.

But when this activity involves two men or two women, some might not only condemn it but call it a "moral abomination," says Dr. John Corvino.

Philosopher, moralist, and gay rights advocate Corvino, also widely known as the "Gay Moralist," spoke on Wednesday afternoon, December 5, in Brookens Auditorium on the topic of "What's Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?" Corvino holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wayne State.

Corvino has traveled the country for more than 15 years speaking on gay rights. He uses humor as he dismantles common arguments against homosexual conduct, including those based on nature, harm and religion.

"Homosexual relationships make some people happy," Corvino emphasized. "And I don't just mean they are pleasurable, but they can be an important avenue of meaning and fulfillment in people's lives. If we're going to deny that to an entire group of people, or say 'that's wrong,' we should have a darn good reason."

One of the primary reasons many argue that homosexuality is immoral is that the Bible condemns it, Corvino said. But the Bible also says that eating shellfish and wearing clothing of mixed fiber are abominations unto God, according to the Book of Leviticus, and that slavery is acceptable, Corvino said.

"What I'm saying is that if you're going to use the Bible as a source of moral revelation, you have to pay attention to context to understand what it's really saying; if you don't do that, you commit yourself to some pretty strange views about slavery, women's roles and a whole host of other things," he said. "If you're going to use the Bible, you need to be consistent about it, and if you're going to take context into consideration, you need to be consistent about that."

Other arguments Corvino has heard is that homosexuality is unnatural or is a threat to the traditional family. Corvino admits he still cannot understand the latter argument.

"Do we think that if we support gay and lesbian relationships, straight people will stop having heterosexual relationships and all go gay?" Corvino said. "Do we think that if we support same-sex marriage, straight people will give up on the institution of marriage? Not only do I think this argument is a whole lot of smoke, I actually think it does more harm to the traditional family than anything it's trying to target."

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women's Center Director Makes Big Things Happen

By Courtney Westlake

Upon entering the Women's Center, located at one end of the Student Affairs Building, a visitor can't help but feel welcome by the colorful decor and comfortable furniture throughout the room.

It's a feeling that director Lynn Otterson wants to be sure to convey to the campus community, especially the women, who come through the door.

Despite a small space and a limited budget, Otterson and the Women's Center have reached out to the campus time and again through a vast array of social events, programming and education efforts to promote important women's issues and safety.

Otterson first started with the Women's Center in 1995, a year after the center opened. Currently, she works with one graduate assistant, Amanda Looney, in running the center, and receives additional help and support from the Women's Issues Caucus, which is a separate organization but still works closely with the center. And the Women's Center is never lacking in activity.

The Rape Aggression Defense program, in coordination with campus police, and the WhistleStop program are two efforts currently at the forefront of the center to educate the campus about sexual assault. Last year, for the first time, the Women's Issues Caucus Club teamed up with the Women's Center to put on a play, and the center also hosts many social events, including the UIS Women's Holiday Party, which is very popular with the women on campus, Otterson said.

In the spring, the Women's Center is planning a large campus event called "Take Back the Night," which is also a national event, Otterson said. In connection with Lincoln Land, the two schools will host the first-ever LLCC-UIS Take Back the Night.

"We'll start at one school and have a rally and then we'll do the march and probably have a party at the end to signify taking back the night," Otterson said. "So women can be free in the night to have fun or go to school or whatever they want."

The Women's Center also recognizes the efforts of others on campus with the annual Naomi B. Lynn Award for Outstanding Contributions to Women at UIS, through which each recipient is given a certificate and plaque, as well as something placed in the Peace and Friendship Garden in their name, such as a tree, bench or birdhouse.

In future semesters, the Women's Center hopes to add space to the program as well as the program called CARE - Campus Acquaintance Rape Education. With UIS growing not only in numbers but also adding freshmen and sophomores to campus, a program like CARE is essential to campus, Otterson said.

"It's so positive because they can talk freely with peers," she said. "It's really state of the art; it's really the bottom line for good schools now to have an intensive peer educator- acquaintance rape education right at the front for all the students."

Otterson said she sees every day how important the Women's Center is to UIS.

"I have a great time in here just about every day," she said. "A lot of people come in and out. Sometimes they're needing connections or a sense of community, and sometimes they need something specific or just wanting to find copacetic people to be active with or be in a club with and share ideals."

"I try really hard at getting good students in here," Otterson added. "The right kind of people, as with my current graduate assistant Amanda, that if I'm not here, and someone comes in and says "I've been raped," they can, first of all, be the right person but then turn around to our referral books and give them the right advice, people to talk to and resources. Sometimes our women just need a lot of support, and I think we do well with that."

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