CVPA faculty serve as mentors on College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Senior Design Day projects

CVPA faculty serve as mentors on College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Senior Design Day projects

Every year seniors in NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology engage in a year-long design project that involves creating or improving commercial products or industrial processes. They are mentored by faculty and industry professionals to get hands-on, real-world experience. This year, three of those projects were the result of proposals written by College of Visual and Performance Art faculty who then served as project mentors.

Gregory Beyer, professor of music and director of percussion studies worked with “Team 35” as they designed a berimbau, an Afro-Brazilian percussion instrument, traditionally made with one string.

Yuko Asada, musical instrument technician, assistant director of the NIU Steelband and director of the Community School of the Arts Steelband worked with “Team 51” as they sought to create a method to mechanically forge the construction fo the steelpan, a process that when done manually can be physically taxing.

Kelly Gross, instructor in the Art Education department in Disability Studies and Technology, mentored “Team 44” on creating a photography system for persons with physical differences.

Design of Berimbau Instrument

“I am delighted to report that the year of work in pursuit of developing a two-string model of an Afro-Brazilian berimbau, a traditional one-string musical bow, has produced remarkable results,” Beyer said. “Not only have we created an instrument that allows one performer access to a wider and more complete compass of pitches, we have also developed an instrument with a unique timbral profile.”

Team 35 was made up of CEET seniors Michael Joseph Abukhader, Matthew J Hasto, and Clayton Lee Smith.

Mechanical Forging for the Construction of a Standardized Steelpan Instrument

Part of NIU’s world-renowned Steelpan Studies program involves the actual building of the instrument, and Yuko Asada sought help from Engineering to help automate the process. “Steelpans are all hand made,” she said. “The most high tech tools we use are pneumatic hammers. It takes a long time for us to create steelpans, and it also causes a lot of strain on the wrists, hands, arms, really the entire body to make them. An automated process would make it faster and easier, and it would also cut down the time that we’re exposed to the noise and vibration as we make them.”

The design team created a machine that used an increment forming process to build one of the small pans. Asada was pleased by the results, though the process still needs some fine “tuning.”

“The issue we encountered is that each note isn’t isolated, so when you strike a note the surrounding area rings,” she said. “So there are some things that can be improved, but as a first step it’s very exciting.”  She said she hopes next year another senior design project team will take on the next step in the process to get closer to the long-term goal of being able to mass produce steelpans which will allow us builders to concentrate on tuning the instrument.

Asada said she was very impressed by the knowledge of the Engineering students and how easy they were to work with. “Being able to work with students from another college and work with those who have the knowledge I don’t have was something I really enjoyed.”

Team 51 was made up of CEET seniors Gabriel Gandara, Nicholas Grimes,  and Josefina Buan.

Photography System for Persons with Physical Differences

Gross submitted a proposal for a senior design project to create an adaptive tripod for wheelchair users. Gross helped set up interviews with the design team and wheelchair users to provide specifics about the factors to consider in developing a tripod that meets the users exact needs.

She worked to familiarize the design team with the kinds of equipment the photographers would be using and the challenges that issues with lack of hand strength or range of motion provide and would need to be factored into the design.  The design team used all of that information to create a prototype mount for a tripod controlled by a remote.

Camera Mount

Gross said the next step in the process will be to create functionality to control the tripod’s movements through a phone app instead, similar to the way users are able to control their DSLR phones.

“One of my goals with this project, which was met was to open their minds in terms of engineering in terms of accessibility,” she said. “The conversations they had with wheelchair users and people with physical disabilities really helped them understand limitations. In terms of moving forward as engineers and thinking of accessibility in the arts and in all aspects of life, I think the project was really successful.”

Team 44 was made up of CEET seniors Daniel Avila, Daisy Hernandez, and Malak Zayed.

CVPA’s Jessica Labatte and Paula Frasz among this year’s winners of Deacon Davis Awards

CVPA’s Jessica Labatte and Paula Frasz among this year’s winners of Deacon Davis Awards

The Presidential Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE), formerly the Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities (PSCM), has reimagined the annual Diversity and Inclusion luncheon as a virtual summit. The event will take place on Wednesday, April 14 beginning at noon.

The summit offers three programs including an afternoon awards ceremony, and afternoon program for students, and an evening town hall titled Policing on Campus in America. The town hall will feature Professor Rashawn Ray from the University of Maryland, Deputy Chief Darren Mitchell, and City of DeKalb Chief David Byrd. Dr. Simón E. Weffer-Elizondo, associate professor from the Department of Sociology will facilitate the discussion.

The afternoon awards ceremony will honor six McKinley “Deacon” Davis Award recipients and acknowledge their contributions towards building and sustaining an inclusive campus. The recipients are Jasmine Ivy, an NIU graduate student; Jessica Labatte, associate professor in the School of Art and Design; Paula Frasz, professor in the School of Dance; Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center; Jocelyn Santana, director of Social Justice Education; and President Lisa Freeman. Students, staff, faculty, and members of the community are welcome to attend the event and can register at http://go.niu.edu/1nlfbm.

Jessica Labatte

Jessica Labatte, an associate professor in the School of Art and Design, and two student photographers created an extraordinarily moving project, Faces of Belonging, which can be viewed on Huskie Line buses within the DeKalb community and online at www.belongingdekalb.com.

Additionally, her nominator added, “Her work in the classroom focuses on access and empathy. She makes sure all her students have the best equipment possible, regardless of economic status. Jessica encourages, in fact requires, an inclusive approach to the art of photography, in which students are challenged to question not only what is photographed, but by whom and how. She was interrogating the dominant practices well before the current attention on such things.”


Paula Frasz

Paula Frasz

Professor Paula Frasz from the School of Dance is a legendary dance performance educator in the City of Chicago and at NIU.

Her nominator states, “her philosophy is to unite her community by bringing the art of dance performance to a myriad of audience members, illustrating that dance can universally convey ideas with compelling, creative and lasting images. In her research, she has voiced issues of BIPOC populations and those who have been silenced for so long. She has implemented her philosophy as founder and artistic director of DanszLoop Chicago, a not-for-profit dance company. For 14 years, DanszLoop showcased her choreography locally and nationally. DanszLoop audiences represent all strata of society, from a gymnasium full of African-American third-graders, to 250 artistic elites at the Manhattan Center for Movement and Music in New York City.”


Jasmine Ivy

Jasmine Ivy

Jasmine Ivy is engaged student leader who recently moderated a virtual Diversity Dialogue Series program on race-related trauma and was selected as the 2021 Phyllis Cunningham Social Justice Award winner for her efforts to pursue and support social justice initiatives.

Her nominator wrote: “Jasmine Ivy has been an exceptional student leader for her entire tenure at NIU, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. As an undergraduate student she was very engaged in service and promoted programs that uplift and empower students. She is a very talented, well-rounded young lady with a strong work ethic and is forthright in her pursuit of solutions. Jasmine is a leader that is committed to public service.”


Michelle Bringas

Michelle Bringas

Michelle Bringas has served as the director of the Asian American Resource Center for the past 19 years.  She has built sustainable programs that uplift, support and empower students of Asian descent while engaging and educating our campus about Asian American heritage and culture.

Her nominator states, “Michelle has been an exceptional alumna and leader on our campus for years. She has been engaged in advocacy for many groups which is demonstrated by her standing with Black students and advocating for the original erection of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bust in the MLK Commons; walking in protest alongside students; and without recognition speaking up for those who have been silenced, especially in difficult moments. Michelle plays a major role in developing and sustaining an inclusive campus.”


Jocelyn Santana

Jocelyn Santana

Jocelyn Santana serves as director of NIU’s Social Justice Education program.  Her work extends across and beyond our campus and has helped develop programs, education and discussions that are transforming the climate at NIU.

Her nominator says, “Jocelyn is considered the staff expert on our campus because of her knowledge, willingness to engage in education and healing, and her enthusiasm and personality. Jocelyn works literally day, night and weekends to help provide the support, expertise, engagement and education for our campus and community to ensure we can enhance participants’ cultural competence, understanding and ultimately create environments that encourage conversations and cultural change.”


President Lisa Freeman

President Lisa Freeman

As our thirteenth President and first woman in the role, President Lisa Freeman truly leads our campus and community by example. She continues to lead our university with her consistent engagement, vision and efforts to create a community of inclusivity where all are welcomed and valued.

Her nominator shares, “Dr. Freeman is dedicated to ensuring our students, staff and faculty have the support they need to succeed on all levels. I have observed Dr. Freeman attend difficult meetings and conversations and address students with an empathetic and listening ear and then energize senior leadership to make immediate and lasting changes to meet the needs of students. Her personal engagement with students, her vision even through a pandemic and her relentless efforts to develop a campus that is a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, technology and beyond is commendable.”

For more information, contact PCORE Chair Felicia R. Bohanon at: (815) 753-1868 or fbohanon@niu.edu. To attend for the Annual Summit, registration is required at http://go.niu.edu/1nlfbm.

NIU Foundation launches crowdfunding campaigns, including one to support graduating artists

NIU Foundation launches crowdfunding campaigns, including one to support graduating artists

Those looking to make a difference at NIU have a new tool to help raise much-needed financial support. NIU Impact, the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program at http://crowdfund.niu.edu and features ten campaigns.

One of those campaigns is “Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects” to assist with the funding of capstone projects and industry standard portfolio and audition materials for students in the College of Visual Performing Arts as they prepare to start their exciting careers in the arts.

Here’s an example of just one of the senior arts projects funding could benefit.

The crowdfunding campaign for supporting arts students will run through May 10, with a goal of raising $2,000 for students in each of three schools that makes up the College of Visual and Performing Arts (College of Art and Design, College of Music, College of Theatre and Dance.)

The NIU Foundation has experienced significant growth in its digital giving program, seeing an increase of over 100% from fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2020 in dollars raised. “In 2018, we raised nearly $290,000 through digital giving ,” shares Michael Adzovic, Director of the Northern Fund. “Last year, in 2020, we raised $580,000.  Already, in fiscal year 2021, we’ve raised $683,000.”

Much of this growth can be attributed to the NIU Foundation’s Day of Giving program implemented in 2019, but other factors have fueled growth as well.

“The pandemic has been a factor,” shares Adzovic. “We’ve relied more on digital giving opportunities during this season and have found that many people are comfortable and prefer giving online. This is the future of our direct response program.”

That growth has inspired the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program.

How Crowdfunding Works

Crowdfunding is not new, of course. This method of raising funds has been common for years, popularized through sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe.  However, it has just recently become popular in higher education fundraising.

“We see great potential in crowdfunding at NIU,” shares Adzovic. “The platform allows us to work with campus partners to conduct targeted, goal-oriented and time-sensitive campaigns that harness the power of volunteers and their individual networks.”

A key difference between crowdfunding and the NIU Foundation’s traditional methods of fundraising is that crowdfunding is driven primarily by volunteers reaching out and amplifying a cause to their individual networks, as opposed to communications being institutionally driven.  The dollar goal for crowdfunding campaigns tends to be smaller—commonly between $3,000-$5,000. These funds usually support very specific initiatives, such as student travel to conferences, research projects, and scholarships.  The duration of a typical campaign is four weeks.

“We see crowdfunding being a great fit for many of our campus partners to fund needs for which we wouldn’t normally fundraise through traditional methods,” shares Adzovic. “We also view it as an excellent way to attract new donors to NIU.”

Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects

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.