This week, the UI recognized outstanding individual and group outreach efforts with the 2010 Campus Awards for Excellence in Public Engagement.
George F. Czapar, UI Extension educator in the Springfield office, provides statewide leadership in issues of water quality in Illinois. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
The reception, which took place Feb. 2 at the Beckman Institute, honored Reginald J. Alston, a professor of kinesiology and community health; George F. Czapar, an educator with UI Extension; Rebecca Ginsburg, a professor of landscape architecture; graduate students Laura M. Fierce, civil and environmental engineering, and Maren L. Somers, agricultural and biological engineering; and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center.
The award recognizes faculty members, academic professionals and students who have consistently applied their knowledge and expertise to issues of societal importance for the public good.
Each faculty member and academic professional received $1,500 and a permanent $1,500 salary increase. The students each received $1,500 to be used for professional development or other educational activities. A $5,000 award also was made to the unit honored.
This year’s awards review committee had tough choices.
“We had so many strong (nominations) and the decision-making, especially among the finalists, was difficult,” said Clarence Lang, a professor of African American studies in the department of history and a member of the awards committee.
Rebecca Ginsburg, a professor of landscape architecture, has shown outstanding leadership in community engagement, primarily through a program that provides higher education to eligible men incarcerated at the Danville Correctional Center. | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
The committee received 28 nominations, which included 10 faculty members, five academic professionals, six students and seven programs, said Tschangho John Kim, an Endowed Professor of Urban and Regional Systems in the department of urban and regional planning.
Both Kim and Lang served on the committee for the first time this year.
“As a group we seemed to gravitate toward civic engagement work that went beyond people’s job descriptions, or activities that fell within the scope of course work,” Lang said.
“We had a lot of nominees doing fantastic work as part of their paid employment and so forth, but we tended to reward people who went the extra distance. We also tried as best we could to gauge how demonstrable an impact nominees’ civic engagement work had on the communities they were engaging. Issues also mattered, too. Projects dealing with health and incarceration among people of color certainly caught my attention.”
Committee chair Nancy O’Brien, the head of the Education and Social Science Library, has served on the committee for two years.
“This year’s award winners were notable in the broad impact of their work,” she said. “Each year there is a different focus to the awards that is based on the types of nominations received. This year the focus seems to be on social justice issues, sustainability programs, and health policy and issues. It’s really inspiring to see how many university students, staff and faculty members participate in public engagement programs that make a difference.”
Committee members also reviewed letters of support from communities and individuals affected by the projects, a process O’Brien called “definitely inspiring.”
In the future, many other projects and individuals also will be recognized once their projects develop.
“We were overwhelmed by an embarrassment of riches,” Lang said. “We simply could not award every candidate, even though I didn’t see a packet that didn’t deserve recognition.
“There was a whole category of nominees that will probably have a much stronger candidacy next time around,” Lang said, “after their projects have had the chance to develop and mature.”
Reginald J. Alston
professor of kinesiology and community health
Alston is a nationally and internationally renowned advocate and scholar for individuals with disabilities. His work has taken him to the Institute of Medicine as a Congressional Fellow. Alston worked closely with Sen. Tom Harkin and helped to craft major disability legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Upon returning from his fellowship in Congress, Alston joined the board of directors of the Community Health Improvement Program, which oversees the Frances Nelson Community Health Center in Champaign.
Alston has a high commitment to public engagement, primarily in the area of improving the lives of persons with disabilities through promoting their full participation in society. To that end, he serves on the governing board of the Illinois Assistive Technology Program, a statewide initiative that offers consultation to individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, on the availability, affordability and proper use of adaptive devices for independent living. As a board member, Alston helps to establish policy promoting the integration of assistive technology in home environments, classrooms, medical settings and employment sites throughout Illinois.
George F. Czapar
UI Extension educator (integrated pest management), Springfield office
Czapar provides statewide leadership in issues of water quality in Illinois. He is the center coordinator for the Springfield Extension Center and co-chair for the Integrated Pest Management Team. He also was appointed by the governor to serve on the Groundwater Advisory Council. The nine-member panel reviews, evaluates and makes recommendations regarding state laws, regulations and procedures related to groundwater protection.
Czapar also has helped organize the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, a coalition that assists and encourages adoption of best management practices to protect and improve water quality in Illinois.
More recently, he helped develop the Illinois Watershed Management Clearinghouse, a Web site to provide resources and support to individuals and local watershed groups.
In addition, Czapar has been active in the off-campus graduate studies program in the department of crop sciences. In 2007 he was invited to join the ACES Academy for Global Engagement, a yearlong program that includes a series of scholarly and experiential activities designed to prepare participants for international engagement. As a result of this experience, he successfully received external funding to develop collaborative partnerships with Zhejiang University in China and the University of Leeds in England.
professor of landscape architecture
Ginsburg has shown outstanding leadership in community engagement, primarily through the Education Justice Project, which provides higher education to eligible men incarcerated at the Danville Correctional Center. The project has made a dramatic impact on an underserved community by extending university knowledge and expertise beyond the campus.
Ginsburg solicited assistance from people from a variety of disciplines and began an education program for a population largely ignored by society. Reaching out to potential allies on campus and in the community, she formed a small group that conducted research on prison education programs in North America and worked on establishing a university-based higher education program to be delivered at an Illinois penitentiary.
Ginsburg states that her motivation for this initiative is based on her conviction that the university as a land grant institution has a responsibility to reach out to the state’s most disadvantaged residents and to make the resources of the university readily available to them.
The program has emerged as one of the most innovative prison education programs in the U.S.
National Great Rivers Research and Education Center
The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center is a unique partnership among the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the UI, Lewis and Clark Community College, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Natural History Survey.
The center’s mission is to advance the understanding of the great rivers, their floodplains and watersheds for the purpose of sustaining the plant, animal and human communities that depend upon them.
Center staff members work with and provide outreach to many organizations, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Upper Mississippi River Forestry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other groups.
One of the vehicles for engaging the needs of the state is the Illinois River Watch Network. This program trains citizen volunteers in basic stream- and river-monitoring techniques. The citizens monitor stream quality based on protocols consistent across the state. The information is compiled in a database and used to monitor stream quality throughout Illinois. They also have developed a new program called the River Watch Discovery Program, geared toward K-8 teachers and students.
The center also supports internship opportunities, research projects, student symposia and collaborative partnerships between community and four-year colleges, all centered on water quality issues in Illinois.
Laura M. Fierce
civil and environmental engineering
Fierce has been involved with Engineers Without Borders since her undergraduate days in mechanical engineering when she worked on project teams. Her teammates soon recognized her leadership and conviction and elected her president. Last year, Fierce was offered a position at a major U.S. engineering firm in a highly sought summer internship program. However, she declined the offer and instead worked the summer in Enugu, Nigeria, on the EWB-Illinois Water Project. At the conclusion of the summer, she canceled her fall schedule so that she could continue working in Nigeria at a local college. During this time, she continued to oversee the water project through to its completion of the well-drilling stage, returning to the U.S. in November.
Maren L. Somers
agricultural and biological engineering
Somers became involved in the Engineers Without Borders project through an energy project in Orissa, India. As a first-year graduate student, she has become an immediate asset to the organization by coordinating the EWB-Illinois Water Project in Enugu, Nigeria. She has helped to direct the activities of many student volunteers. She has also worked for the organization in the area of fundraising.
Somers has an interest in using her engineering skills to address issues such as water, health and lighting. She also is interested in working on preventable diseases, specifically related to safe and adequate water.
Somers also has been a leader in exploring curricular routes for training students in sustainable engineering. She is involved in all of these activities while pursuing a rigorous curricular path: two majors, a minor and the environmental fellow program.