Amazing discoveries and thought-provoking lectures

There’s no shortage of excitement on the SIU campus. Whether we’re organizing an interactive university experience for local high school students, hosting Saluki families from across the globe for an event-packed weekend, or revving up the Saluki Spirit for homecoming, we’ve always got something happening.

With so much to see and do, it’s easy to overlook some of the more thought-provoking lectures and speakers who come to campus. But I highly recommend taking time to hear about some truly awe-inspiring experiences.

Finding a lost city and surviving the Honduran jungle

Steve Elkins in Honduran jungle

After starting his career at SIU, Steve Elkins traveled to Honduras to find a legendary city lost to the jungle. His documentary and best-selling book about the expedition have earned him international recognition, and he’s coming back to SIU to tell his story.

Elkins will be presenting at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the SIU Student Center Ballrooms. The event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will follow the presentation in the Student Center International Lounge.

He will also take some time to speak to the students in the geomythology and geographic information system classes at SIU.

Focusing on Illinois and its history

From around the world to our own backyard, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute has an impressive lineup of speakers and presentations focused on Illinois history and the role of leadership in our state and nation.

Coming up next is the Morton-Kenney Public Affairs lecture featuring Ira Shapiro. Shapiro is a former U.S. trade ambassador and author of “The Last Great Senate” and “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?”

His talk, beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Student Center Auditorium, is titled “Where Have All the Statesmen and Stateswomen Gone?”

One-time-only performance of ‘Churchill’ comes to SIU

Ron Keaton as Winston Churchill

Ron Keaton earned national acclaim for his one-man performance of the play “Churchill,” both in New York and Chicago. His performances, which depict Winston Churchill shortly after the Allied victory in Europe during World War II, often played to sold-out crowds.

Tuesday, he will give a free performance of the play at Shryock Auditorium on the SIU campus. The performance starts at 7 p.m. and registration is not required to attend.

Helping Salukis build careers

People reviewing a resume

I strongly believe that the college years are about finding your passion. SIU provides lots of opportunities to explore multiple disciplines as well as to learn new skills that will serve students well whether they go on to a job or graduate school once they earn an undergraduate degree.

And while we recognize that not every passion can or should make a career, we also know that our students cannot live their best lives without ultimately finding the right opportunity that provides financial support for their dreams.

That is why we have the Career Development Center. The wonderful staff there help students and alumni achieve their career goals through education, assessment and counseling, assistance with resumes, graduate and professional school applications, mock interviews and more.

Upcoming events

Want to connect with employers? Need to update your professional wardrobe? Interested in polishing your interview skills? The Career Development Center sponsors events throughout the year to help in a variety of ways.

In September and October alone, the center has plans for job fairs, walk-up resume critiques, workshops, and a “Suit-Up” event at J.C. Penney. It also runs the Professional Clothing Closet, where students can get an outfit for attending interviews at no cost.

Saluki Mentor Network helps students and faculty connect

The center just launched the Saluki Mentor Network, a new program that helps students connect with  faculty, staff and alumni who can provide guidance and support with their studies and while building their careers. In October, it will also host the Extern Program.

If you’re interested in being a mentor, or finding a mentor, sign up at

Support on-campus and beyond

This support doesn’t end once you earn your degree. Alumni have access to the same career assistance available to current students, including advising and assessment, access to Handshake, our job search and recruiting tool, workshops and career fairs.

So, whether you’re a current student or alumnus don’t miss out on these great opportunities to develop professional skills and land a good job.

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.

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.