Honorary degrees and service awards recognize leaders

Janice L. Jacobs, Richard W. Peck and Bob Gower
(From left) Janice L . Jacobs, who received a doctorate of public service; Richard W. Peck, who received a doctorate of literary arts; and Distinguished Service Award recipient Bob Gower at the 2018 commencement ceremony in May.

At our May commencement, we had the pleasure of honoring an outstanding group of alumni:

  • U.S. Diplomat Janice Jacobs, who received an honorary Doctorate of Public Service.
  • Award-winning children’s novelist Richard Peck, who received an honorary Doctorate of Literary Arts.
  • Actor Richard Roundtree, who received an honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts.
  • International business leader Bob Gower, who received a Distinguished Service Award.
  • Former SIU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harvey Welch Jr., who received a Distinguished Service Award.

It was a proud day that showcased outstanding graduates who have made a difference in their fields.

Honorary degrees and distinguished service awards give us an opportunity to recognize individuals for professional achievements and service. They help us highlight successes across a range of professions, and they connect to our academic and service mission.

Time to nominate

As we look toward next spring’s commencement, it’s time to nominate potential honorary degree and distinguished award winners who will be recognized. Here’s what you need to know:

Honorary degrees are reserved for outstanding scholarly contributors and for persons of considerable renown in any field of activity. They do not have to be alumni.

Distinguished Service Awards are reserved for individuals who have contributed significantly to southern Illinois, the state or the university.

Anyone – faculty, staff and interested community members – can nominate someone for either honor. Nominations are due October 24. You can learn more about criteria and how to nominate someone for an honorary degree or Distinguished Service Award online.

Nominating individuals for these awards takes commitment and time, but as those who have done so in the past will tell you, it is also very rewarding.

By recognizing leadership and commitment, we are sending a clear message about our values. We can also highlight our academic strengths and our graduates, and we can help our graduates see the possibilities for success.

I encourage you to consider nominating a worthy recipient who will help us make all of these important connections.

The campus visit: Seeing is believing

The campus visit is the most important factor that influences college choice. The visit helps students learn about academic programs and campus life and envision themselves at SIU.

Because the campus visit is so critical, we must do everything possible to get students to come see our beautiful campus and make sure they have a positive experience before, during and after their visit.

It’s especially important to bring students who are from Southern Illinois to campus so they can see the many opportunities that are available to them in their own back yard.

I’m pleased that we have been expanding efforts to reach out to students in the region with some significant results. Of course, we always welcome students for open houses and personal campus tours, but with additional outreach, we are bringing even more prospective students to SIU.

Connecting with area schools

For example, recently we held our first open house at the Transportation Education Center for students who might be interested in automotive or aviation fields. It attracted more than 200 students from nine area schools and was so successful we’re doing it again this year.

We also welcomed students from two schools to Morris Library to learn about what it’s like to do research in a university library. We’ll welcome more schools this year. Faculty librarians will work closely with teachers on lesson plans that make use of library resources. Students will then come to get hands-on experience with library research for real class projects.

Another new initiative is SIU day on Sept. 19. We have invited high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from about 60 neighboring school districts and expect hundreds of them to be on campus to learn about everything from engineering and business to English and psychology.

These efforts are in addition to inviting Southern Illinois students and families on Sept. 29; the Leaders and Scholars event for high-potential students on Nov. 9; and upcoming invitations for high school guidance counselors and administrators.

Outreach and effort

None of this is happening by chance.

It’s happening because of increased outreach to school administrators and teachers. It’s happening because a number of offices, including admissions, community relations and academic affairs, are building connections on and off campus between regional schools and SIU programs. It’s happening because our faculty and staff are stepping up to the plate to help students see the opportunities available to them at SIU.

Every one of us must continue to go above and beyond to bring prospective students to campus and make sure they are welcome when they get here. Thank you to all who are doing your part to make a positive difference in our enrollment trajectory.

Here’s a final, important note: If you see a group of students – possibly with family members — walking around with black and maroon cinch sacks, they are probably visiting campus. Please say “hello,” ask them if they have questions, or simply engage them in friendly conversation. Making them feel welcome will go a long way to helping them see themselves at SIU.

International partnerships give Salukis a global perspective

In an increasingly global society, SIU’s mission of inclusive excellence and creating and exchanging knowledge takes on a new meaning. In order to fulfill that mission and prepare our students to compete in a worldwide economy, SIU has partnered with universities around the globe.

Partnership with NENU provides joint degree

Students from Northeast Normal University in China
Students from Northeast Normal University in China visited the SIU campus for a two-week long summer program to experience the region, test out business classes and get a feel for what the university has to offer.

You could see the fruits of those partnerships this summer. In July, 63 students from Northeast Normal University in China visited campus for a two-week long summer program. These students took some business classes and explored all the wonderful opportunities our campus and region have to offer.

At least 20 of them will go on to earn a joint degree in accountancy from both universities. It’s an amazing program that expands educational opportunities and brings a welcome diversity to campus.

PDPU students gain valuable cultural development

Students from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University
Students from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University gather for class at SIU as part of their summer economics and cultural experience. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

Also this summer, students from Pandit Deendayal Petreoleum University (PDPU), Gujarat, India, spent four weeks in Southern Illinois to learn more about international economics.

In addition to taking economics classes on campus, the students participated in cultural experiences outside the classroom, including day trips to St. Louis and Chicago, participating in Independence Day celebrations and meeting with local officials.

This program has been so successful in two years, we are looking for ways to expand it to allow SIU students to travel to PDPU.

Nagoya University welcomes SIU students to study automotive industry

In addition to welcoming international students to Carbondale, our partnerships with foreign universities let local students gain important international experience as well.

For instance, Madeleine Meyer, a senior in our automotive program, recently spent six weeks in Japan to expand her knowledge of the global automotive industry. The Nagoya University Summer Intensive Program featured lectures from university experts, automotive manufacturers and other leaders in the industry.

These partnerships, combined with our robust study abroad programs, add a beneficial element to our students’ education, one that will become vital as technology makes the world smaller. I look forward to expanding these programs and creating new partnerships in the future.

The student-centered university

Students playing in boats
Incoming new students play a real-life game of Battleship during Dawg Days last week.  The four-day, three-night retreat for new SIU freshmen and transfer students is filled with fun team activities led by returning SIU students.

There’s nothing like hearing from happy students and families as the school year begins. Last week’s move-in earned positive reviews, as usual, and welcome events such as “Light up the Lake” and the convocation for new students were full of positive energy.

As a campus and community, we have started the year by communicating strong and positive messages to students: We’re glad you’re here. You are important and welcome. Let us know how we can help.

These welcoming messages contribute to student success and retention. Let us all remember to thoughtfully and intentionally communicate these messages as the academic year progresses, even as we become focused on the demands of our work within or outside of the classroom.

Students are the reason each one of us is here. It is essential that we keep them firmly in our focus and remain student-centered throughout the year.

What does it mean to be student-centered?

I’ll offer my ideas and welcome yours. (Please note that I know that many of you already do these things every day.)

I think it means that we listen and respond, whether the question is about how to improve a grade or how to get a parking decal.

It means that we help students expand their knowledge by facilitating their participation in research, creative activity, internships, study abroad, community service opportunities and much more.

It means that we welcome their feedback, whether it comes to us in person, by email or through a course evaluation.

It means that we support them with services that address individual needs and concerns, whether they are homesick, struggling academically or seeking career advice.

It means that we engage them in campus life, whether they live in a residence hall or off campus, by encouraging them to participate in student organizations, attend a concert or cheer on the football team.

It means that we celebrate their personal and academic successes and help them learn from their failures.

It means that we tell them throughout the year that we are glad they are here.

What else?

I could go on, but I’m hoping I’ve sparked your own ideas about what it means to be a student-centered university, what we can do to deliver on the promise, and how you can adopt or build on student-centered practices in your own role. Please send your ideas and feedback so we can continue this important conversation related to retention and student success.


As we begin a new academic year, it’s refreshing to look at the positive signs that our revitalization has traction. Here are just a few:

  • Our alumni and friends contributed more than $25 million last year, a 25 percent increase in giving over the previous year; this is a sign of confidence in the university’s future.
  • Our incoming new freshman class is strong based on test scores and high school grade point averages. We’ll have more detail when we have official enrollment data in a couple of weeks.
  • Participation in our July open house for students considering enrollment in fall 2019 increased by 17 percent over last year; this follows the year-to-year growth we saw in our spring open house numbers.
  • Proposals on new schools are moving forward through the review process, thanks to the hard work and engagement of our faculty.
  • We have expanded the REACH program with private support, providing more opportunities to engage students in research and creative activities, a key part of our mission.
  • The provost’s office has committed to the strategic hiring of about 25 new faculty members after several years of cutting faculty positions due to budget constraints.
  • We have renovated the pavilion thanks to a donor and added a bicycle lane through campus – just a few of many initiatives reinforcing our reputation for being a green university with a beautiful campus.
  • The Diversity Council has developed a plan, to be rolled out shortly, to support our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence.
  • We have streamlined the application and admissions process and revamped recruitment strategies and materials to benefit future enrollment.

This is just a small sampling of what we’re doing, with much more in the works.

More to come

Our revitalization is a long-term effort. We know it won’t happen overnight, but it WILL happen with continued diligence.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that will lead to additional progress – from additional recruitment strategies to completely revamped marketing materials to new student engagement initiatives, including e-sports and a makerspace designated for the Student Center.

People across campus are working hard, and people off campus are cheering us on and lending support. There will be times when we may get discouraged, but positive signals like those mentioned here, as well as those to come, should reinvigorate us and keep us focused.

Let’s look forward with optimism. Let’s keep going.

Plan now for great fall events

Part of our mission to nurture student success involves creating a vibrant campus life for our students. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to look ahead to two really great fall events that help connect Salukis to their campus and encourage school spirit— Family Weekend and Homecoming.

While you might think it’s a bit early to be talking about events for late September and October, people are already making their travel plans. I encourage anyone from out of town to book their reservations early — hotels and other accommodations consistently sell out every year during these events.

Family Weekend, Sept. 28-30

Family Weekend is an annual event that allows current students to show their families all the wonderful things Southern Illinois has to offer. While planning is still in the works for this fun-filled weekend, there are two major events already scheduled:

On Sept. 29, the Saluki football team will take on the Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent and 2017 NCAA Football Championship subdivision playoff qualifier University of South Dakota Coyotes.

The 2018 Saluki Comic Con will also take place over the weekend. There is already an amazing lineup of presentations and speakers, including Samantha Newark, the voice of Jem and Jerica from the classic Jem and the Holograms cartoon, and Trevor Von Eeden, the co-creator of the first original black superhero to have his own title.

Homecoming Week, Oct. 14-20

Later in the semester, SIU will host Indiana State University for its annual Homecoming game on Oct. 20. The week leading up to the game will be full of fun activities, including a parade, tailgating and more.

This year, Jason Seaman, a four-year Saluki letterman and elementary education graduate and heroic teacher who received praise for his actions during a school shooting in Noblesville, Indiana, will return to SIU to serve as grand marshal.

I’m already updating my collection of Saluki gear so I can show my pride in this great institution and have a little fun with the Dawg Pound. I hope to see you there.

What’s with all the mission statements?

Visitors to campus — and those of us who are here every day — may notice framed versions of the mission statement popping up inside entrances to our academic and office buildings.

These serve as a friendly reminder of our core values, our purpose — of what we are here to do. The mission statement speaks to our commitment to our students and region, of the importance of research and creativity, and of our commitment to inclusive excellence and the creation of new knowledge.

As I’ve written before in this blog, we are accomplishing our mission in many ways. It doesn’t hurt to make sure that the expression of our mission — our mission statement — is always before us as we go about our business. It should influence every decision we make and how we talk about ourselves as an institution.

A banner approach

As the academic year gets underway, you’ll see other reminders of our mission with the installation of new banners in parts of campus. The banners highlight some of the concepts of our mission statement in pictures or words. I also hope they help us take even more pride in our beautiful campus.

Our focus on the mission statement seems to be taking hold. Since it first started appearing in buildings, a number of people on campus have requested smaller versions for the lobbies of their office areas. We’re glad to share. Please email universitycommunications@siu.edu with your requests. (And thanks to the teams in Plant and Service Operations, Administration and Finance and University Communications and Marketing for their work on these projects.)

Core values

The mission statement must be our touchpoint when we reflect on our core values: supporting student success through experiential learning, ensuring that every graduate is emotionally intelligent and culturally competent, developing knowledge that addresses real issues, and serving as an economic driver and partner within our community.

Every action we take must be put within the context of our mission. That’s worth remembering, every day.