Saluki success

Everywhere I turn, I am hearing great stories about Salukis doing amazing things. Fostering student success is at the core of our mission, and our many student achievements demonstrate that we are achieving that goal.

Here are some recent examples.

Helping prevent a global food crisis

Student in a laboratory
Lindsey McKinzie working in a laboratory at SIU.

With the global demand for food higher than ever, Lindsey McKinzie knows that farmers don’t have time to struggle with plant diseases and crop failures. That’s why she is hard at work using drones to conduct cutting-edge research on plant diseases.

McKinzie, a first-year graduate student in plant, soil and agricultural systems, received her drone pilot license last year and is now set on making life easier for farmers. Working with SIU faculty members, she is using drones to fly over row crop plots and evaluate the rate of diseases in the plants.

While drones in agriculture are becoming more popular, this study is unique in its purpose and design. The Illinois Farm Bureau recently conducted a video recording of McKinzie and her work that will be aired at its annual meeting in December.

Internationally acclaimed filmmaker

Kelechi Agwuncha
Kelechi Agwuncha

Kelechi Agwuncha earned national recognition for a film she created as a class assignment.

Her film, “Super Predator: Preludes of the Black Fish,” was one of 25 independent short films featured in the 2018 PBS Online Film Festival. It was also a recent finalist in the Toronto International Film Festival’s TIFFXInstagram Short Film Festival.

The film, which was initially inspired by a photograph, explores prejudice in society.

Fishing revolutionized thanks to Saluki innovation

When Cain Hassim, an industrial design junior, first heard about the opportunity to design a product that would transform basic fishing practices, he was ready to jump in. Working with an idea from a local community member, Hassim experimented with 3D printing, metal casting and vacuum forming to perfect a light-up fishing line strike indicator.

The small device works rather simply. First, you strap the bite lite onto the rod, right under the first guide. After casting the line, you place the cast line in between the clamps. At this point, all you have to do is wait for the device to light up, and you will know you’ve got a fish.

Constantly striving for diversity and inclusion

Cynthia Sims and Eboni Moore
Cynthia Sims and Eboni Moore

Eboni Moore, a senior elementary education major, and recipient of the inaugural Dr. Cy

nthia Howard Sims Diversity and Inclusion Award, advocates for equality and social justice on campus and everywhere she goes.

Last summer, she taught math and reading to disadvantaged youth through the Memphis Teacher Residency Summer Internship program, and she’s currently completing her student teaching at Carbondale’s Lewis School. She plans to graduate in December.

Athletes of a higher caliber

Hanna Netisingha playing golf
Hanna Netisingha

Hanna Netisingha earned national recognition as a 2018 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar. She was one of just 20 female semi-finalists from across the country, selected from about 1,000 nominated athletes.

She graduated magna cum laude in May with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, earning a 4.0 GPA while serving as co-captain of the women’s golf team and twice earning honors as MVC player of the week her senior season.

She was also chosen to attend the University of Oxford, where she participated in a 1:1 fellow tutorial, receiving a top mark for “Genetic Mutations within Animals” and she donated numerous hours of community service to Toys for Tots, the Women’s Crisis Center and St. Francis Animal Hospital, also earning the MVC State Farm Good Neighbor Award. She is currently continuing her education in veterinary school.

Researching cleaner, more efficient energy

Nelson Fernandes
Nelson Fernandes

Nelson Fernandes is a new student who built an impressive research portfolio in high school. and earned the university’s first Energy Boost Scholarship for energy engineering to attend SIU.

He earned a gold award at state science fair competitions for two of his projects and was the Top Student in Research at Niles North High School for his class. As a sophomore, Fernandes was also a founding member of RISE, a STEM program for underrepresented middle school students.

During Nelson’s senior year of high school, he worked with SIU’s mechanical engineering faculty member Kanchan Mondal on a project to remove oxygen from carbon dioxide to reduce pollution while creating an alternative fuel source.

Research that matters

Sometimes it can be difficult for those outside of higher education to understand the different types of colleges and universities — two-year or four-year, liberal arts or research, national or regional, public or private.

One of the great attributes of U.S. higher education, in fact, is its variety. Different kinds of institutions serve different needs, giving students a range of options. All have different strengths, and all have value.

Obviously, a distinction of a research university is that we conduct research. Research is conducted at all types of institutions, of course. But at a research institution — as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — the creation of new knowledge is essential to our mission and complements another essential focus: the teaching of our students.

But there are many research institutions. What, then, distinguishes one research institution from another?

SIU’s strengths

We have long taken pride at SIU in our ability to involve students in research and creative activities as early as the freshman year. We deliver on this promise, and it distinguishes us from other, larger research institutions. Our students can work directly with faculty members who are leaders in their fields, and they have many opportunities to start and lead their own projects.

We have another strength that we should call out and build upon to make us stand out from other research universities: we conduct research that matters, research that improves everyday lives, research that addresses local and global challenges. In fact, we often leverage what we learn from our unique location to answer global questions related to water, agriculture, forestry and more.

Here are just a few areas our faculty and students have studied over the last couple of years:

  • The global food supply.
  • Flood control.
  • Effects of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Gun violence.
  • Impact of climate change on prairie grass.
  • Nano erasers.
  • Consumer behavior.
  • An undiscovered American fort.
  • Anxiety and depression intervention.
  • Plant ecology.
  • Pollinating insects.

All of these topics are important to our understanding of the world, past, present and future. All have real-life applications.

Multiplying our impact

SIU can stand out even further as we increase our focus on interdisciplinary research that addresses core, global challenges.

Imagine what will happen when we combine our strengths in aviation, automotive, engineering, computer science, agriculture, economics and geography, among other areas, to focus on transportation systems. Or what if the disciplines of medicine, psychology, computer science, engineering, sociology, food and nutrition, and rehabilitation expanded collaboration on research related to rural and remote medicine?

Multidisciplinary research can attract funding, engage faculty and students in new ways and, most importantly, impact lives. I look forward to faculty exploration of the many opportunities we have by combining our research strengths.

Teaching the science of brewing

Man stands in barley.
Matt McCarroll, director of the Fermentation Science Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, stands in a field of barley planted on university property last fall in anticipation of a new malting facility to be delivered to the FSI this year. The malting facility is just one of several major new developments at the fledgling program, which is aimed at training the professional brewers, vintners and distillers of tomorrow for key jobs in those growing industries. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

SIU’s mission statement covers a broad range of aspirations and goals. Whenever possible, we should design our programs, courses and extracurricular offerings to fulfill multiple aspects of this complex statement.

Today, I would like to talk about a particular program that blends different facets of our mission while still being relevant to the interests of modern college students: the Fermentation Science Institute.

This institute offers students the opportunity to learn about the business, process and science of creating beer, wine and spirits as well as foods that rely on the fermentation process. Now, I know many potential students may stop reading right there. “Beer? Sign me up!” At the same time, many parents may worry about how intensive or practical a bachelor’s degree in fermentation may be.

Multidisciplinary program rigorous and innovative

I would caution both groups to stop and take a serious look at our fermentation science program. It is intensive and interdisciplinary, involving faculty from the College of Science, College of Agricultural Sciences, School of Medicine and the College of Engineering.

Faculty and students in the program not only learn the ins and outs of creating delicious brews and managing a business, but they also actively participate in both hands-on practical and theoretical research.

Growing industry offers a range of job prospects

Jobs in this field are growing as interest in local and craft beer, wine and spirits has increased.

In January, The Atlantic explored the ways craft breweries have revamped an entire sector of the economy. In that article, the author cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the explosive growth of brewery jobs: “Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent.”

Career prospects for graduates are strong and expected to continue growing in the future.

Partnerships create economic boost

As I said earlier, the Fermentation Science Institute touches on multiple aspects of our mission statement, delivering on the promise of innovation in research and creativity and outstanding teaching focused on nurturing student success. In addition, it has tremendous potential to serve as a regional economic catalyst.

We recently announced that the institute hopes to add a production-scale brewery, which will help local craft brewers bring their creations to market while providing hands-on educational opportunities for students.

In addition, the service lab allows local fermentation-based businesses to access laboratory and analytical services from SIU and technical assistance for growers and producers.

This is just one of the many programs that will help SIU thrive as the economy grows and changes in the 21st Century. I hope you are as excited as I am to see what they have in store.

The benefits of attending a research university

Just in case you haven’t noticed, SIU has amazing students. Our mission is to give them equally amazing opportunities to contribute to the discovery of new knowledge through research and creative activities.

One way we support student research is through REACH grants and Tedrick Undergraduate Research Fellowships. These competitive grant programs provide undergraduate students with funding to complete research and creative projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

More than 30 students earn grants

Yesterday, we announced that more than 30 students have won these prestigious undergraduate research grants and will begin work on their projects this fall.

The topics of their projects are wide-ranging and impressive. Here are just a few:

  • “Arsenic Filtration from Contaminated Water”
  • “Veterans and Their Reintegration to Civilian Lifestyle: The Roles of Communities and Recreational Activities”
  • “Flash Drought in the United States: Drivers, Causes, and Predictability”
  • “Units: An Exploration of Modular Construction”
  • “Use of Combined DHF and Environmental Enrichment in the Treatment of Pediatric Frontal Brain Injury”
  • “Modulation of Bone Marrow Functions During Salmonella typhimurium Infection”

I encourage you to learn more about the proposals from these remarkable students. Each of them — as well as other students across campus who engage in research and creative efforts in our laboratories, classrooms and other facilities — will gain experience that will make them more competitive and successful after they graduate.

A personalized experience

Opportunities like the REACH grants and Tedrick fellowships demonstrate the value of attending a research university. Our students benefit from hands-on, experiential learning mentored by nationally and internationally recognized faculty. And they don’t get lost as they might at a larger institution. This is why I continue to say that SIU stands out because we can provide an elite, personalized private university experience at a public university cost.

We cannot do this without the commitment of our faculty and the support of our friends. The new Tedrick fellowships, for example, are possible thanks to a generous donation from SIU alumni Roger and Sally Tedrick.

I know you share my thanks to the Tedricks and my pride in our students.

Making a difference in Southern Illinois

When faculty research leads to community impact, everyone benefits. Two grants provide strong examples of how research supported by external funding helps us fulfill our mission.

Helping STEM teachers

A recent grant from the National Science Foundation will help SIU continue to enhance the teaching of STEM subjects to junior high and high school students in Southern Illinois and beyond. SIU faculty from multiple disciplines will work with selected teachers, who will conduct summer research projects and participate in other professional development activities.

The newly trained “master teacher leaders” will in turn share their knowledge with other teachers, expanding the number of content experts in schools. The ultimate goal is to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and draw students into STEM fields.

Karen Renzaglia, plant biology, is principal investigator on the grant. Her co-investigators include SIU experts in plant biology, zoology, teacher leadership, effective STEM pedagogy and sustainability and environmental science.

Reducing gun violence

Tammy Kochel sits near her computer
Tammy Kochel, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, receives a grant in partnership with the Springfield Police Department to start a focused deterrence program. The program works to decrease gun-related violence in the community. (Photo by Steve Buhman)

A joint, three-year grant to SIU and the Springfield police department addresses gun violence through a “focused deterrence” program that can serve as a model for other communities. The goal is to connect with individuals who are past or potential gun offenders and help them find an alternative path.

In June, following a year of research and planning by Tammy Kochel of SIU’s criminology and criminal justice faculty and her students, eight individuals participated in an interventional meeting and heard first-hand about the impact of gun violence. At the end of the meeting, they were given resources to assist them.

“That might be getting a GED, help getting a job, daycare, housing, mental health, substance abuse — a whole range of possible services,” according to Dr. Kochel.

Improving communities

Both of these projects improve our communities through the creation and exchange of knowledge – helping us fulfill the promise of our mission statement. These are just two examples of the outstanding work our faculty members undertake every day on behalf of Southern Illinois.

Fulfilling our mission through partnerships

Historically, public universities have received nearly 100 percent of their resources from state funds and tuition. Declines in state appropriations – more than 23 percent for SIU between the 2001 and 2018 fiscal years – have been offset over the years by increases in tuition and fees.

Clearly, this is a pattern that cannot continue. The future of SIU cannot rely on these two primary funding sources alone.

And while resources from our generous donors are critically important and make a very positive difference, their use is typically restricted to specific areas of the university that align with the interests of the donor. Private donations cannot fill the gaps made by declines in either state funding or tuition.

However, we have an alternative.

The value of partnerships

Strategic partnerships between SIU, industry and the economic development arms of our state and federal government can support academic programs and research to benefit faculty and students.

For example, partnerships with our incredible agricultural base have the potential to provide a capital investment in our farms in support of both teaching and research. There are similar opportunities in the STEM fields, the fine arts, health fields and many other areas.


University/industry/government partnerships have many benefits.

Industry and government partners can help ensure that future employees are well prepared. Partners also welcome access to extraordinarily well-trained graduates. They may also want to be on the front end of new discoveries that will change how they operate or better serve constituents. The university benefits by attracting and deploying resources that support its mission, its community, its faculty and its students.

Everyone wins.

We’ve already started

Last week, I wrote about existing and future economic development partnerships, but there are many other examples already in place at SIU.

The Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center has received $4.6 million in funds from the energy sector to better use coal resources and transition to new energy sources in Illinois.  The “energy boost” grant provides faculty and facilities support for energy/industry research and also trains our students through scholarships.

The Center for Embedded Systems is one of our best examples of a government/industry/SIU partnership that translates to instant jobs for our students. In fact, Intel is one of our top employers.

Like Intel, many industry partners are looking for ways to grow a pipeline of well-prepared future employees.

For example, Navistar International Corp. donated nine commercial trucks to our automotive technology program, and Rush Enterprises, Inc., supported the partnership by providing licenses to software that allows students to configure and program truck body controllers.

Michael Behrmann, chair of automotive technology, discusses the benefits of donations by Navistar International Corp. and Rush Enterprises, Inc. to the program.

Similarly, the U.S. Navy donated a Gulfstream III airplane to our aviation technologies program.

Identifying strategic partners

Partnerships can provide an influx of resources that will allow us to thrive and grow. I believe that we have the potential to grow the number of industry and government partnerships significantly to benefit our students and faculty while preserving the integrity of our mission.

We need to be intentional about identifying partners whose interests align with our mission and programs. We have several conversations underway now. I encourage our faculty to identify and work with the university to explore partnership opportunities that will help move us forward.

I look forward to hearing your ideas.

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.

Hands-on research and creative work at all levels give Salukis an edge

Student and teacher work at a lab

Ask any member of our faculty what they love about teaching at SIU, and I guarantee you’ll hear about their connection with students. Professors here have the immense advantage of working at a major research institution, and yet still having intimate classes that allow them to really bond with their students.

The result is amazing collaborations, not just between faculty and graduate students, but including undergraduates and members of the community.

Research links faculty, students and the community

Last month, the College of Applied Arts and Sciences hosted “Flashtalk 2,” a series of short lectures in which faculty from across campus introduced their research.

This great event not only introduced the attendees to the amazing research we do here at SIU, but provided opportunities for the community to get involved with these groundbreaking projects.

I love to see faculty members reaching out to form new partnerships and invite new ideas and perspectives. This sort of collaboration is what my proposed reorganization is all about, and is a way for SIU to remain relevant as the world advances.

Providing research opportunities starting freshman year

Small campuses across the country tout their small class sizes and individual attention. But few offer access to professors who are active, leading researchers in their field. SIU offers the best of both worlds.

This means that students are able to actively participate in meaningful, cutting-edge research from the very beginnings of their education.

SIU undergraduates are working to create more efficient renewable energy, develop better ways to make anti-venom, and determine the impact of invasive species on the Mississippi River, among many other projects.

Students are also taking the initiative to branch out into new areas. For instance, the Rocketeers of Southern Illinois just created a registered student organization dedicated to building and launching rockets. They placed second in their first Argonia Cup competition, and I expect they’ll continue to soar.

Creative opportunities abound

While I love STEM, I am also a firm believer in the importance of a comprehensive education. That means at SIU, we expand our research focus to include creative activities.

Our Department of Theater puts on six major productions a year, plus several smaller productions, allowing students the chance to perform, direct, design lighting and sets, and work on costumes and makeup.

Mass Communications and Media Arts offers students opportunities to produce films, photography, or a range of digital media.

School of Music lets students compose, perform, or teach a variety of musical skills, and School of Art and Design students work in more visual media than I can name, ranging from blacksmithing to water colors.

The outstanding work of our Art and Design students was on display in April, during the annual Rickert-Ziebold finalist exhibition at the Surplus Gallery. Congratulations to Kelly Carter, Timothy Miller and Lindsey Perry, who are sharing the prestigious 2018 Rickert-Ziebold Trust Award.

This all makes for a remarkable college experience with a variety of hands-on learning opportunities. Want to find out more? Take a virtual tour today.