NIU hosts virtual commencement ceremonies this weekend

NIU hosts virtual commencement ceremonies this weekend

While the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us of many special moments, Northern Illinois University is determined that the graduating classes of 2020 will get the send-off they deserve.

This Saturday and Sunday, the university will host virtual commencement ceremonies to honor the accomplishments of those individuals, streaming  online ceremonies where students, family, friends, faculty and staff can gather in cyberspace to cheer as students’ names are called and an important milestone is marked.

Those wishing to attend the premiere showing of the ceremonies, where participants will be able to send well wishes through a chat box, must register by noon Friday, Dec. 11. The ceremonies will be available for viewing on YouTube (without the chat option) beginning Dec. 14.

“We realize that a virtual event could never replace the thrill of walking across that stage, but we want our students to know how proud we are of them,” said NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman. “We are determined to have an in-person ceremony sometime in the future, but we didn’t want to wait any longer to honor the accomplishments of all those who have graduated during these unusual times.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Ingram shared the president’s excitement at being able to recognize the achievement of graduates as soon as possible.

“I have always loved commencement,” Ingram said. “It represents the successful completion of our mission – helping students fulfill their academic dreams and sending leaders out into the community. I am excited that we were able to do something for them now, but I look forward to the day when we can all be together and shake hands for real.”

The festivities will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, with a ceremony honoring the doctoral class of 2020. All those who earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees will be celebrated Sunday, Dec. 13, with a ceremony for May graduates at 10 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. for August and December graduates. More than 4,000 people had already registered for the events as of Tuesday.

To make those events more manageable for viewers, separate ceremonies have been created for each college, meaning that 13 ceremonies were produced in all. Each will include many of the trappings of a traditional graduation, including the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the singing of the NIU Alma Mater and a roll call of all graduates. Each ceremony will also include comments from President Freeman, Provost Ingram and the dean of the college represented in the recording. Every ceremony will also include a video montage of happenings on campus over the last four years.

“A lot of people have really gone the extra mile to pull all of this together,” said Executive Assistant to the President Liz Wright, who has helped steer the process. “Everyone who has worked on this has been driven by the determination to show our graduates how proud we are of them and to make these presentations as special as possible.”

The roster of those who have pitched in has included the staff from Registration and Records, Marketing and Communications, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the President, the Graduate School, Admissions, college deans and many others.

Some of the most important and most difficult work fell to the Integrated Media Technologies team in DoIT, which created all of the ceremonies – recording comments, compiling music, editing together all of the pieces and, most importantly, working on the roll calls of students.

In larger colleges, such as Liberal Arts and Sciences, those lists approached 1,000 students for a single ceremony. The crew labored over getting pronunciations correct and trying to time the reading of names with the closed captioning on the screen – both tasks that are far easier said than done, especially with a small team of producers trying to squeeze the work in between football games, basketball games and the usual glut of end-of-semester projects.

“I am extremely proud of our team. They have been working their tails off,” said IMT Assistant Director and Producer Patrick Gorman. “Tony Del Fiacco, Kevin Meyer, Andrew Lira, Jim Barker and Len Lennergard  have put in a tremendous amount of work trying to make this as good as we possibly can. We really want to do right by the students. That is the most important thing.”

Sheri Voss, an events administrator at the Convocation Center is another individual who has been involved in the process.

After 18 years of coordinating commencement ceremonies at NIU, it is likely that Voss has seen more people graduate from NIU than anyone else in the 125-year history of the school. For her it never gets old.

“On commencement day last May, I came into the Convocation Center anyway, because I just needed to feel it,” Voss said. While the building was empty, it was still full of the memories of nervous graduates and proud family members, she said.

Voss has been involved in nearly evert aspect of the project: coordinating lists, finding readers to recite the names of students, putting letters into diploma covers and answering an endless stream of emails and phone calls from graduates and their families.

“Everyone I talk to asks me when they can come back for an actual ceremony, and I understand that. It’s disappointing that we can’t get together, but that is the world that we live in right now. Safety first.” Voss said. “And while it is not the same, I hope that all of the hard work and collaboration by so many people here on campus shows through. When students and their families watch the ceremonies online I hope they experience the same feeling of pride they would get in person.”

NIU educator-licensure programs rated highly in inaugural Illinois Preparation Profile report

NIU educator-licensure programs rated highly in inaugural Illinois Preparation Profile report

A first-time report released Dec. 7 by the Illinois State Board of Education gives high marks to Northern Illinois University’s educator-licensure programs.

The Illinois Preparation Profile (IPP), called a “continuous improvement and accountability system,” aims to strengthen the state’s more than 700 approved teacher-licensure programs statewide by improving how the ISBE collects, shares and reports data from 52 colleges and universities.

NIU offers 35 nationally recognized educator-licensure programs in four colleges – Education; Health and Human Sciences; Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Visual and Performing Arts – and each of the NIU programs that received a rating is categorized as either “Exemplary” or “Commendable.”

Earning the “Exemplary” designation are Foreign Language-Spanish, Library Information Specialist, Mathematics, Reading Specialist and Technology Specialist.

“The high scores received by NIU educator-licensure programs are a credit to our faculty and staff who provide quality experiences for our candidates,” said Jenny Parker, associate vice provost for Educator Licensure and Preparation. “We welcome and appreciate this additional validation from the state board, and we are committed to meeting and exceeding these standards in the coming years as this report develops.”

Developed with the support of the Partnership for Educator Preparation, a committee of diverse stakeholders that represents educators, principals, district administrators and higher education institutions as well as other experts throughout the state, the IPP is intended to provide a holistic view of a program’s ability to recruit and train effective educators aligned to state needs.

Information was organized across four scored domains: Candidate Selection and Completion; Knowledge and Skills for Teaching; Performance as Classroom Teachers; and Contribution to State Needs. A domain can have up to four indicators, each of which has a minimum standard and a state target on a 100-point scale.

Scores from each domain then were tabulated to determine the overall ratings, which also include “Developing” or “Needs Improvement.” None of NIU’s rated programs fell into those lower categories.

Beth Ingram, NIU’s executive vice president and provost, is proud of the high ratings received by the university’s educator licensure programs.

“NIU began as a Normal School to prepare educators, and in this, our 125th year, it is wonderful to see the sustained quality of our programs reflected in this report,” Ingram said. “We always commit ourselves to continuous improvement, and to remaining flexible, responsive and proactive to the needs of our students and the profession, which has kept us as a university on the cutting edge of educator preparation.”

This year’s inaugural Illinois Preparation Profile is for informational purposes only, but the 2021 IPP report and those that follow it will have formal regulatory consequences for the renewal and continued approval of teacher-preparation programs.

For that reason, Parker said, leaders of four Illinois education associations – the Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the Illinois Association of Deans of Public Colleges of Education, the Illinois Association of Teacher Education in Private College and Chicago Area Deans Association – will continue to meet with ISBE representatives.

“We are urging further refining of the metrics and domains contained within the report,” she said. “When the report is linked to program re-authorization, it is critical that the data included, and the metrics used to calculate scores, fairly and comprehensively represent all preparation programs statewide.”

NIU is one of the largest educator-preparation providers in the Land of Lincoln, enrolling more than 1600 students and recommending around 400 candidates for licensure each year.

The College of Visual and Performing Arts offers bachelors programs in Art and Design Education and Music Education, masters programs in Art and Design Education (including an online offering) and Music Education.

Equipped with intensive preparation in their content fields and effective pedagogy, more than 25,000 NIU graduates with Professional Educator Licenses are currently teaching or serving in other positions in Illinois elementary and secondary schools.

Thousands Strong kickoff video features CVPA talent

Thousands Strong kickoff video features CVPA talent

The NIU Foundation kicked off its annual Day of Giving with a Thousands Strong video event, Wednesday, November 18, and the video featured a number of students and alumni of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

The video is hosted by Kate Drury, a B.F.A. candidate in acting. The music for the video was performed by the NIU Jazz Orchestra and the celebrity interview was Joe Minoso, a 2004 M.F.A. acting graduate and the star of the NBC series “Chicago Fire.”

The Day of Giving runs through November 19. Gifts of all sizes will go a long way to helping ensure the next classes of Huskies have what they need to make the most of their time on campus.

NIU’s “Thousands Strong” Virtual Events Celebrate Huskie Pride

NIU’s “Thousands Strong” Virtual Events Celebrate Huskie Pride

In celebration of our positive impact throughout the world, Northern Illinois Huskies and friends of the university are invited to participate in the NIU Foundation “Thousands Strong” virtual events, which will take place Nov. 18-20.

From 7-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, NIU will commemorate all that makes NIU extraordinary. The Opening Night kickoff show will include an inspirational and entertaining lineup on YouTube Live, with NIU President Lisa C. Freeman and special celebrity guest Joe Minoso, M.F.A. ’04, who plays firefighter Joe Cruz on the NBC drama “Chicago Fire.” Minoso’s unique NIU story and post-graduate experience in theater and television make him an ideal as star for this tribute to Huskies’ success.

This event, which borrows its name from a famous line of “Hail NIU,” the University’s alma mater, will honor the outstanding alumni and donors who help make NIU an engine for innovation, creativity and social mobility. It will also feature inspiring stories of scholarship recipients who are making their dreams come true.

If the kickoff show reaches 1,000 total views, it will unlock $100,000 towards student scholarships, thanks to a special giving challenge instituted by NIU Foundation board member John ’74, M.S. ’75, and Anne Landgraf, ’73.

Beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and going through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19, the Huskie community will come together for an online Day of Giving, supporting the NIU Foundation’s incredible scholarship and fundraising opportunities.

Alumni and friends are asked to dig deep and pull together to show that we are truly “Thousands Strong” by making a donation or being a champion for this important day of philanthropy. Gifts of all sizes will go a long way to helping ensure the next classes of Huskies have what they need to make the most of their time on campus.

Additionally, if 2,000 people donate, at any amount, during the Day of Giving, it will unlock another $400,000 challenge towards student scholarships, courtesy of the Landgrafs.

In addition, over the last few weeks, alumni and friends of the University had the opportunity to upload videos of themselves describing why they are proud to be among the “Thousands Strong” who represent NIU. On Nov. 20, the NIU Alumni Association will select video submissions to include in a special “Thousands Strong” highlight reel on its social media pages, which will also include some exciting celebrity messages.

To learn more about how you can take part in this special event and change NIU history for the better from your favorite spot on the couch, visit

Scenes from Black Lives Matter street mural painting

Scenes from Black Lives Matter street mural painting

Students, faculty, staff and community members joined together on Thursday, Oct. 1 on Castle Drive to enjoy music from the NIU Black Choir, percussion and jazz ensembles of the NIU School of Music and a performance by students in the NIU School of Theatre and Dance, and to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the street between Davis Hall and the east lagoon. The event was presented by the NIU Center for Black Studies and the College of Visual and Performing Arts.