Opportunity zone to support local economic development

Research Park on the SIU Campus

SIU remains attuned to ways we can support our regional and local economies. Being part of a newly designated “opportunity zone” will give us one more avenue to have a positive impact.

The new opportunity zone program is based on the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The act allows individuals and organizations to receive tax benefits for making a long-term investment in job creation in designated “zones.”

Governor Rauner recently announced more than 325 zones across Illinois, and much of SIU, including the Research Park, is located within one of them. This designation will allow us to work with local businesses to attract and support investors to our area.

While the details related to the process for investing in and seeking investments for opportunity zones are still pending, this is promising news for SIU and our region.

Other examples

There are many, many other ways we support economic development as we fulfill our mission as a regional economic catalyst.

Our Small Business Development Center has a long history providing local business owners with the tools and guidance they need for success. The center also advises people interested in starting or expanding a business. Last year, the center advised more than 222 clients and helped entrepreneurs create 28 new businesses.

SIU is currently partnering with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to assist with strategic planning for the World Shooting Complex and Pyramid State Park.

And our long-term partnership with the non-profit IMEC helps small- to mid-sized manufacturers in Southern Illinois improve operations, processes and training.

These are just some of the examples of the ways we support economic growth in Southern Illinois.

Partnerships like these can make a tremendous positive difference for our community. In fact, partnerships are key to fulfilling our vision for the entire university. Stay tuned for more on this subject next week.

A semester to remember

This weekend’s commencement ceremonies serve as our semiannual reminder to take a breath and reflect on the great things SIU is doing for its students and the community.

To all of our graduating seniors, congratulations and good luck. I hope that you leave us with a sense of purpose and fond memories. We look forward to seeing what you do with your potential.

Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on the spring semester. I talked about many of our achievements last week. But this was such a remarkable semester, I wanted to highlight a few other accomplishments.

New leadership helps SIU plan for the future

While we look toward SIU’s future, we’ve been working to appoint strong leaders to help us fulfill our mission. This semester, we filled four key roles:

SIU Research gets noticed

In February, SIU received what is believed to be the largest specimen of black carp ever analyzed from the Mississippi River. Our researchers are studying the invasive species to learn about issues like its range, health and reproductive potential.

Another SIU researcher analyzing the Mississippi River found that efforts to control flooding along the river have actually resulted in bigger floods. His findings were published in the prestigious journal Nature in April.

This important research could lead to new ways to preserve the river habitat for future generations, and SIU is leading the way.

Turning to the social sciences, a professor and his student in anthropology earned funding from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of Hurricane Harvey on Houston residents. They hope to show how socioeconomic status can affect the way people view disasters.

These are just a couple of the vital questions SIU faculty, graduates and undergraduates are looking to answer. Our research is helping to solve some of society’s most pressing problems, from sustainability to health and safety.

Day of Giving exceeds expectations

The community really went above and beyond in March to “Give the Gift of Experience,” during SIU’s annual Day of Giving. More than 1,800 donors gave more than $480,000 to students and programs during a 24-hour campaign.

Looking back at the amazing things we accomplished this semester, I am excited about what we can do in the upcoming school year. I hope you are, too.

Volunteer leaders help advance SIU

At commencement, our graduates celebrate their success and thank their families, professors and friends for making it possible.

Another group of people deserves thanks, as well: the alumni and donors who give back to the university. Among them are a very special group of volunteers.

Over the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting with our SIU Alumni Association board, the SIU Foundation board, and the committee leading the Forever SIU fundraising campaign. Working in partnership with our staff, these volunteer leaders meet regularly to provide guidance, share perspectives and offer ideas that help move their boards and the university forward.

Cheerleaders and challengers

While they are cheerleaders for SIU, our volunteer leaders also ask thoughtful, challenging questions that reflect their investment in SIU’s future. As representatives of our many alumni and friends, they want, quite simply, to help SIU be the best we can be.

While each member brings a unique perspective to the conversation, our volunteers also have much in common beyond their affinity with our university.

First, they model that hard-working, can-do attitude for which SIU is so well known. Many were first-generation college students who discovered themselves here. As one board member said: “SIU changed the trajectory of my life.” You could see heads nodding in agreement throughout the room.

Next, they attribute much of their ability to succeed at SIU to faculty and staff members who welcomed and supported them. The personal attention we give each and every student – past and present – is another hallmark of our university.

And finally, their commitment runs deep. When I first came to SIU, a number of people told me our alumni and friends are among the most loyal in higher education today, and I believe it. Our volunteer leaders and those they represent are willing to give back because they bleed maroon and love SIU.

A new generation

As a new generation of alumni walks across the stage this weekend, we should remember that each graduate is beginning a new phase of what we hope will be a lifelong relationship with SIU. Their success is made possible because those who came before them believe in this university.

I thank each of our volunteer leaders for your insights and dedication. We couldn’t do it without you.

A week in the life of SIU

In the wake of all of the noise, it might be easy to miss hearing about all of the great things happening at SIU. Here’s a sampling of good news from the last week alone.

Team paddles cardboard boat
The Plant & Service Operation team paddles their boat to shore during the 45th Annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta on Campus Lake Saturday.
  • Men add a weight to a model of a steel bridge
    SIU’s team took second place in the steel bridge competition last week.
    Last weekend, we wrapped up a multi-day, student-led event hosting 400 engineering students from 15 universities for the Midcontinent Student Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers. SIU teams won first place in the technical paper competition, second in the concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions, and third in the GeoWall competition.
  • We also announced student winners in the statewide Radiologic Sciences Scholar Bowl and the Louis Regional CFA Institute Research Challenge.
  • Thursday, we held the 2018 Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards, honoring Qingfeng Ge (Scholar Excellence Award), John D. Mellinger (Teaching Excellence Award, tenured and tenure-track), Gail Thomas (Teaching Excellence Award, non-tenure track), Trent W. Ford (Early Career Faculty Excellence Award), and Richard Cole and Emily J. Spann (Staff Excellence Award).
  • On Friday we celebrated our commitment to sustainability, recognizing individuals for their dedication and awarding Green Fund grants.
  • Also on Friday, we honored three distinguished alumni who serve as role models for all of our students. In addition, we hosted a meeting of our SIU Alumni Association board, a group of individuals dedicated to engaging alumni in the life of the university.
  • Chancellor Carlo Montemagno shakes hands with Ralph Becker
    I had the great privilege to dedicate the newly remodeled Ralph Becker Pavilion with Mr. Becker on Saturday.
  • Saturday was another great day. We dedicated the beautiful new Ralph Becker Boathouse and Pavilion in honor of a stellar and generous alumnus and brought the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta back to campus lake.
  • Saturday was also the launch of SIU Presents with Ice Cube, an event we will build upon as we revitalize student life and community engagement.
  • The week also gave us the 2018 Student Showcase and Runway Fashion Show, the theater production of Gem of the Ocean, American Airlines Career Day, a guest lecture by Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times,and many more activities and opportunities that benefited our students, faculty, staff and community.

And that’s just one week! The activities and celebrations continue as we head toward commencement in just two weeks.

There’s a lot happening at SIU. I encourage you to get engaged and help spread the word of the many great opportunities here.

SIU programs enrich the entire community

Children with books at a park

As a comprehensive research university, we are tasked with offering a well-rounded education to all of our students. But our commitment goes beyond just our students to their families and the entire Southern Illinois region.

We are not only an economic engine that provides jobs and attracts people to shop at local businesses, but a cultural and educational center. With that in mind, I want to highlight a few of the programs we provide to the youngest members of our community.

Research shows that early educational opportunities for children in a variety of areas not only help individual children develop necessary skills, but result in higher graduation rates, lower crime rates and a number of other societal benefits.

So, I am very proud to say that these programs not only serve the children of our faculty, staff and students, but are also open to the public. As summer approaches, I urge you to explore the wonderful programs offered around the campus.

Summer camps galore

Summer break can be a mixed blessing. It provides lots of additional time with the little ones, but the threats of boredom and wasted days are a constant drag. That’s not to mention the relatively recent revelation that children lose important educational gains while studies lag over the summer.

SIU is here to help. We’ve got a long list of academic, athletic, art and music summer camps to keep children of all ages entertained, engaged and learning through the summer months — including exceedingly popular LEGO camps.

For children who are more comfortable in the great outdoors, our own Touch of Nature has a wide range of outdoor camps for young explorers, including a number of camps especially for Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois.

Camps can be one or multiple days and some have day or overnight options. Whatever your child’s interest, ability or motivation, you can find a camp they’ll enjoy.

Touch of Nature’s camps also serve individuals with special needs throughout its accessible environment, and they are currently accepting registration for Camp Little Giant, an opportunity for people with mental, physical, or cognitive disabilities to get in touch with nature in a safe yet exciting manner.

Giving kids a Head Start

SIU is also home to Head Start, a federally funded program to help low-income families provide high quality preschool for children aged three to five. The program has centers in Carbondale, Marion and Murphysboro.

Children enrolled in this program have language and literacy skills that consistently score at or above national averages, and are taught by highly qualified preschool teachers.

Children’s families must meet income requirements, but the half-day sessions are offered free of charge. For more information, call 618/453-6448 or use their contact form.

High quality child care

Rainbow’s End Child Development Center, located behind the Student Health Center, provides licensed child care for children ages six weeks through second grade, including summer programs for school-age children.

In addition to providing high quality early childhood education, Rainbow’s End offers a number of programs that sets them apart from other child care centers in the area.

“Stretch-n-Grow” teaches children ages 2 and up about the importance of nutrition, fitness and overall wellness in a fun and interactive way.

The center also partners with the nationally recognized Rehabilitation Institute to provide behavioral analysis and targeted interventions to help teachers better manage their classrooms and provide one-on-one assistance with children who may need extra help.

Help with challenging behavior, picky eaters and more

Speaking of the Rehabilitation Institute, their Child Behavior Research and Training Laboratory offers local parents a variety of services to help navigate some of parenting’s roughest waters.

They offer social skills groups; assessment and treatment options for challenging behavior; a feeding clinic to help with food refusal and selectivity; and more.

Erica Jowett Hirst, an assistant professor in the Rehabilitation Institute, also offers monthly parenting workshops at the Carbondale Public Library.

So, whether you need a hand with a tricky behavioral problem, or just need to keep your kid entertained over the summer, come see what SIU has to offer.

Alumni and our academic mission

Meera-KomarrajuGuest blog post by Meera Komarraju, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, SIU Carbondale



On most campuses, faculty members welcome alumni to their classes to talk with students about their careers and expertise. At SIU, alumni also regularly volunteer to serve as mentors to our students in multiple ways. Sometimes these activities happen on an ad hoc basis, and sometimes they occur more formally. For example, the SIU Alumni Association offers a formal “extern” program in which alumni and others host students in their workplaces over spring break.

Most faculty simply informally ask a graduate to come to class to speak. At SIU, we also have a formal policy to grant adjunct status to a “professional person engaged in instructional and research programs of the university but who is not employed as a member of any educational unit of the university.” These individuals in no way replace our faculty. They enhance our programs by offering the opportunity to consult with our faculty, to mentor our students, and to support our academic initiatives.

In some cases, a qualified individual is invited to participate as part of a graduate student’s master’s or dissertation committee – usually because of particular expertise that is of benefit to the student’s research or creative endeavors. Such an individual must be approved for adjunct graduate faculty status. The Graduate School’s operating paper states: “Individuals who can fulfill a specific need in the department’s graduate program but who are not eligible for regular membership in the Graduate Faculty are eligible to be appointed adjunct members of the Graduate Faculty by the Graduate Dean.”

These individuals, whether or not they are alumni, must meet the same academic standards as any member of the graduate faculty. Unless they are SIU professional staff members with terminal degrees and appropriate qualifications, they are not eligible to direct dissertations. Adjunct faculty have been appointed routinely through these processes in the past in support of our students’ academic success.

Valuing alumni contributions

Before I go further, I think it is important to emphasize that engaging our alumni in the academic life of the institution benefits our students in multiple ways. Alumni serve as role models, mentors and subject experts who show our students what success looks like after graduation. In fact, our goal is to graduate students who are well equipped with strong, relevant professional skills and experiences. Connecting them with outstanding, knowledgeable, successful alumni is a powerful contribution toward this goal.

Alumni also benefit from engagement with students by giving back to their alma mater, sharing their knowledge, and in some cases building a network of potential future employees. The university and its faculty also benefit, since student interaction with alumni can support retention and lifelong engagement with SIU.

A pilot project

About a year ago, the SIU Alumni Association started an initiative to identify alumni who might be interested in giving back to the university in multiple ways – from recruiting students to volunteering at our food pantry. One focus of the effort involved an alumni-initiated proposal to create an alumni professional network that would engage well-qualified graduates as occasional lecturers and mentors of our graduate students.

The pilot program emerged from the commendable commitment of our alumni to give back to SIU and to support the next generation of scholars and researchers. The goal was to build a pool of interested, volunteer alumni who were keen on giving back and give them the opportunity to do so. The proposal was well received by former provost Susan Ford, and I continue to support it in my current role.

A common question when talking about bringing anyone into the academic realm relates to qualifications. As noted earlier, we already have policies and procedures in place to evaluate an individual’s qualifications for adjunct appointments. We are applying our existing standards and procedures to the pilot project. Because we wanted to ensure that alumni weren’t making an indefinite commitment, consideration was being given to a three-year term.

As part of the effort to gather the names of potential participants, we invited department chairs in three colleges to identify alumni who may be interested in being part of the pilot program.

Intent vs. perception

Unfortunately, the outreach to engage the campus in a voluntary, good-will initiative proposed by our alumni was misunderstood as an effort supplant the work of our excellent faculty with “unpaid labor.” This perception tapped into understandable national concerns related to adjunct faculty.

Replacing the work of our faculty was never the intent, and it will never be our goal. We deeply value and respect the work of all of our faculty members, who deliver every day on our mission as a national doctoral research university.

This was not a project that was initiated to save money, to address budget shortfalls, or to undervalue or replace the work of others. Instead, the intent was to formalize something we already do – engage our outstanding alumni in the academic work of the university and in our student success mission. The goal, in fact, was to make it easier for faculty to identify qualified alumni who might provide an occasional guest lecture, mentor current students or provide specialized expertise on a thesis committee. The project simply makes what we are already doing more intentional.

This misunderstanding has sparked thoughtful conversation on our campus that will help us refine, clarify and improve upon the pilot project. I am grateful to all who have reached out, as well as to the alumni who have proposed the pilot project. Our faculty are the heart of all we do academically, and our alumni are a valuable resource. We will continue to identify ways they can collaborate to benefit our students.

A special tie to the Special Olympics

I have spent a lot of time recently talking about the future of SIU, but I have also been impressed by the amazing things this institution has accomplished throughout its past.

For instance, you may know Special Olympics is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, a celebration that kicks off Friday at Touch of Nature. But I recently learned that Special Olympics might never have happened at all if it weren’t for the contributions of SIU.

How Special Olympics is linked to SIU

Here’s a little information about how it all started. The university “loaned” faculty member and recreation pioneer William Freeberg to the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation by special request of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Freeberg taught workshops showing people how to work with individuals with disabilities. One of the participants was Anne McGlone, now better known as longtime Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne McGlone Burke.

She was so enthused she returned to Chicago and began planning a citywide track meet. Freeberg helped, securing funding from the Kennedy Foundation and permission from the International Olympic Committee to use part of its name. On July 20, 1968, the Special Olympics was born at Soldier Field with 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada participating.

Don’t miss Friday’s kickoff celebration

Burke and Freeberg’s granddaughter, Brittney (Freeberg) McGovern will be special guests and speakers at Touch of Nature’s Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Kickoff Celebration.

Opening ceremonies are set for 10 a.m. Friday at Touch of Nature, located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road.

Activities will include free food, sports, crafts, backyard games, exercises, camp songs and dance, musical entertainment and much more.

Join me to help celebrate a big milestone for an amazing organization at my favorite university.

Big things are coming April 7

The Big Event: A Saluki Day of Service April 7

This Saturday, hundreds of Salukis will fan across Southern Illinois to participate in community service projects. The Big Event started last year as a way for the SIU students, faculty and staff to further our mission of making our community a better place.

Community service is at the heart of SIU’s mission

SIU is already a major economic driver for the region, providing jobs and attracting people from around the country to study, live and visit.

Our students also contribute more than 30,000 hours of community service every year through registered student organizations, coordinated drives and individual volunteerism. That’s in addition to the time our faculty and staff contribute on their own time.

The Big Event is a way to celebrate and expand that commitment to our community.

Making the Big Event even bigger

During last year’s Big Event, 772 Salukis served 2,316 hours for 15 local non-profit agencies. They helped agencies such as The Boys and Girls Club, Keep Carbondale Beautiful and the Jackson County Humane Society.

For many participants, this was their first exposure to volunteerism, and many also continued their service long after the day ended.

This year, our goal is to recruit even more volunteers to serve at least 16 nonprofits. Even one additional volunteer can go a long way.

Step up and help out

You can still join the excitement. They will be taking walk-in registrations the day of the event. Volunteers will be taken on a first come-first served basis.

Any student, faculty or staff member who is at least 18 years old is welcome.

Join me on April 7 to make BIG things happen.

Celebrating the University Museum

People looking at an exhibit in the University Museum

Thank you to all who donated to yesterday’s Day of Giving. While totals are still being finalized, we exceeded last year thanks to your commitment.

Today, I’d like to talk about one of the many things that make SIU worthy of your donations.

Today we celebrate the reopening of the University Museum with a reception from 4 to 7 p.m.

The museum has a long history at SIU. A 1978 book, The First Hundred Years: The University Museum, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, tells much of the story.

The University Museum was planned by Dr. Cyrus Thomas, an entomologist and attorney who was also the brother-in-law of General John A. Logan. He was the museum’s first curator when it opened in 1874 – nearly 145 years ago

Since then, the museum has survived two fires, seven moves, financial challenges and more than one temporary closure. At one time, following the burning of Old Main, it was housed in a large van and traveled throughout Southern Illinois.

In spite of all of these challenges, the museum — like SIU itself — has survived.

Contributing to a comprehensive education

Within the last 10 years, the museum’s collection has grown to include more than 80,000 objects. They cross a range of subjects, from art and architecture to anthropology, botany and zoology. They include the work of Andy Warhol, political memorabilia, Nigerian crafts, Nepali treasures and much more.

The museum itself is a treasure for SIU. We reopened it so that you and many others in Southern Illinois can enjoy and learn from it.

As a comprehensive university, we must embrace the arts, humanities and sciences — all represented in the museum’s collection — along with the many other areas we focus on. If we want well-rounded graduates, we must give them access to a well-rounded education.

The museum helps us do this. It is also an important connection for our region, including area schools.

The University Museum deserves our continued support, and I hope everyone will help us make sure it never closes again.

A day and a year of giving

03.07.18 Give the Gift of Experience | #SIUDay of Giving | siuday.siu.edu

This Wednesday, March 7, is the second SIU Carbondale Day of Giving, a focused effort to encourage private donations in support of our students and programs. Last year’s inaugural day of giving exceeded expectations by raising more than $340,000.

The Day of Giving is also about building awareness of the importance of philanthropy and welcoming new donors, including students, into the fold. I know that many of our colleges are very engaged in encouraging their stakeholders to be a part of the Day of Giving. In addition, the Carbondale community is also engaged – including local businesses and the City Council, which passed a resolution in support of this great event.

I encourage you to let people know how they can be a part of the Day of Giving (#siuday). This year’s theme is “Give the Gift of Experience.” See the video highlighting the experiences of our students and learn more at siuday.siu.edu. Thank you to all who are making the Day of Giving a success.

A proud history of philanthropic support

Research has shown that giving can become a habit that that will continue throughout the donor’s life, so any gift of any size at any time can lead to a lifetime of support for SIU. We can see this in action with the success to date of the three-year, $75 million “Forever SIU” campaign.

In its first year, the campaign raised more than $56 million, or 75 percent of the goal. Many donors have supported SIU for many years, while others are stepping forward because of their excitement about the university’s direction.

The campaign leads us into 2019, our 150th anniversary. I’m excited to see how it evolves as we define the future of SIU.