Dance minor Jill Belluomini chosen as NIU’s Lincoln Laureate

Dance minor Jill Belluomini chosen as NIU’s Lincoln Laureate

Jill BelluominiJill Belluomini can gracefully conquer both a molecular dynamics simulation and a pirouette.

Her major and minor at NIU—chemistry and dance—represent her two passions. As different as they may seem, to her, they’re intertwined.

For Belluomini, life is all about learning, discovering, inspiring.

“Being able to continue dancing here is amazing. They treat their minors like majors,” said Lincoln Laureate Jill Belluomini, shown here at NIU’s 2018 Spring Dance Concert. Source: Northern Illinois University

“I think she feels it’s her responsibility to make the most of what she has around her,” says her friend and mentor Robin Marchiori, a 1995 NIU graduate and co-owner of Cary-Grove Performing Arts Centre, where Belluomini began dancing at age eight.

“Plus, she’s just funny, kind and brilliant.”

Belluomini, a 22-year-old Cary native, will graduate this May as NIU’s 2020 Student Lincoln Laureate, an honor reserved for the university’s top senior. The Lincoln Laureate Award is given to an outstanding senior from each of Illinois’ four-year universities for excellence in both curricular and extracurricular activities.

You could say Belluomini hit the ground running—and dancing—upon transferring to NIU from Harper College in Palatine.

She’d always planned to major in chemistry, but sought a university where she could also minor in dance. She threw in a couple more minors of biology and mathematics along the way.She’d run across campus between dance classes in Gable to her science classes in Faraday Hall, often arriving at organic chemistry in a leotard, her hair in a bun.

“I always loved science, and I always had a knack for it,” Belluomini said. “I wanted to go a little deeper to understand why things work the way they work. I knew I wanted to do research. I wanted to help discover things and learn more. It was more about never wanting to stop learning and helping other people learn.”

She remembers being assigned famed scientist Maria Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, as part of a “really big terrifying” fifth-grade project at Saints Peter & Paul School in Cary. Students pretended to be part of a wax museum, reenacting their famous characters.

Belluomini chose Curie for another project in seventh grade and has looked up to her ever since.

After grade school, she homeschooled with the support of her parents, Brian and Diane. She took a couple classes through a homeschool cohort, but said, “For the most part, I taught myself.”

A rare find

Applying to graduate schools now, Belluomini aims to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry and says she likely will remain in academia. Whatever path she takes, she hopes to mentor and inspire more women to pursue the fields of science.

Those who know her say she’s already doing that.

“She is not only a brilliant classroom student, but she is also uniquely creative in research,” said Ralph Wheeler, professor and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry chair. Wheeler nominated Jill Belluomini for the Lincoln Laureate Award. Source: Northern Illinois University

Among an endless list of activities and involvement on campus, Belluomini has served as a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) tutor as part of ACCESS Tutoring and Support Services. A University Honors student, twice awarded as an Honors Scholarshe’s also part of NIU’s Belong in STEM Scholars Program. She’s volunteered for STEMFest and serves as president of NIU’s Alpha Chi Sigma Delta Nu chapter and as a member of the NIU Chemistry Club.

She’s done all this while not only taking dance classes, but also performing in several shows. Having grown up dancing at Cary-Grove Performing Arts Centre, she taught there after high school. The studio became “her second home.”

“More impressive than simply being the top student in several classes is the range of fields she has mastered,” Sunderlin said of Belluomini, who has a near-perfect GPA. “Even in the sciences, it is rare to find a student who is equally adept at the biological side of chemistry and the mathematical/physical side.”“I don’t know where Jill finds the time to do her highest-quality classwork, involvement in departmental activities with both chemistry and dance, and her outreach activities (not to mention a job),” said Lee Sunderlin, Ph.D., associate professor and director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

‘Uniquely creative’

Sunderlin and Belluomini’s research mentor, Ralph Wheeler, Ph.D., professor and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry chair, nominated her for the Lincoln Laureate Award.

Wheeler asked Belluomini to join his research team during her first year at NIU. Interested in computational chemistry, Belluomini’s research involves analyzing the structure of a protein and its mutation.

“That’s the bare bones idea of what I’m doing,” she said.

There’s so much more, though.

“I wanted to help discover things and learn more. It was more about never wanting to stop learning and helping other people learn,” Jill Belluomini said of her decision to pursue chemistry at NIU. Source: Northern Illinois University

“Jill Belluomini owes her success as a student and a researcher to hard work, an excellent memory, exceptional problem-solving skills and extraordinary creativity,” Wheeler wrote in his nomination.

“She is not only a brilliant classroom student, but she is also uniquely creative in research. As a second-year college student, Jill already showed skills that I would expect from a mature graduate student.”

While dance naturally allows her to express herself, so does her research, she said.It’s that hard work and creativity that connects Belluomini’s two loves.

“With research, you have to be really creative, and I don’t think people realize that as much,” she said. “You have to think about a problem in one sense and then you have to think about how you want to solve it. There are a lot of things that don’t go right. Dance has helped my creativity grow.”

Encouraged to go to NIU by Marchiori, who doubled majored in performing arts and communications at NIU, Belluomini said she’s felt as valued in NIU’s School of Theatre and Dance as the chemistry department.

“Dance is more than just a hobby to me,” she said. “It really is a part of who I am. Being able to continue dancing here is amazing. They treat their minors like majors.”

Although the Lincoln Laureate Award came as a shock to her, those who know her say it’s no surprise really. “I think the discipline and hard work is really naturally to her,” Marchiori said. “It’s just who she is.”

NIU’s 2020 Lincoln Laureate finalists and nominees:

• Matt McCoy of Downers Grove, first finalist. Double-major of mechanical engineering and music performance-jazz. McCoy excelled both inside and outside the classroom as part of NIU’s nationally ranked Supermileage team, the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology’s 3D Maker SpaceNIU’s Jazz Ensemble, the McKearn Fellows Program, the Mechanical Engineering Honors Society Pi Tau Sigma and more. McCoy’s nomination included nine recommendation letters from faculty both in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and the NIU School of Music, as well as his academic advisor and professional connections he’s made through an internship and his extensive involvement on campus. “Clearly it takes something special to be able to do all of that academic, technical, artistic, research and professional work simultaneously,” wrote Nicholas Pohlman, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

• Brooke Lavite of Waterman, finalist. Double-major of English with a literature track and philosophy. Among her many achievements, activities and awards, Lavite has earned numerous scholarships and won the Baker Prize for Best Undergraduate Essay twice. She has served as treasurer of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, editor-in-chief (2019-20) and managing editor (2018-19) for the student-run Stonehouse Academic Journal and a member of the Committee to Improve Undergraduate Academic Excellence. “Occasionally a department is gifted one of those students whose dedication, drive and knowhow make her essential to the connectedness, production and well-being of the student-body as a whole. How, we find ourselves asking, will we get on without her? Brook Lavite has most definitely become that student for the English Department over the past several years,” wrote Ryan Hibbett, assistant professor of English.

• Claire Miller of Rockton, finalist. Double-major of political science and philosophy, double-minor of history and communications. An NIU Presidential Scholarship winner in 2017 and awarded the NIU Congressional Internship Scholarship in 2020, Miller has been part of the University Honors Program, the NIU Competitive Debate Team, the Competitive Forensics Team, the NIU Federal Relations Intern program, the Model United Nations and more. She also serves as the undergraduate representative on the NIU Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. “Her academic record is as strong as they come; she has an extensive record of co- and extracurricular successes; and she has been a humble and selfless leader on campus in ways that could be, but should NOT be, overlooked,” wrote J. Mitchell Pickerill, chair of the Department of Political Science.

• Brad Beyer of McHenry, nomineeEconomics major, biological sciences minor. Speaker of the Student Government Association Senate, Beyer’s involvement and service to the community stand out, along with his academic record. He’s the Balanced Man Scholarship Chairman for Sigma Phi Epsilon, ambassador for the NIU Foundation’s Huskies United, vice president of the Economics Student Association and the Economic Department’s representative to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Council. “Brad has demonstrated a great deal of commitment and loyalty to NIU by his efforts to enhance the experience for students here,” wrote  Carl Campbell III, professor and chair of the Economics Department.

• Mark Raupp of Crystal Lake, nomineeHistory major and part of the Secondary Educator Teacher Training Program. Raup served in the U.S. Navy from 1992-98. A returning student after working as a development manager for an insurance company for six years, Raupp came to NIU to “realize a dream of becoming a teacher, of mentoring students to appreciate the value of history and helping them to connect past and present,” wrote Rosemary Feurer, associate professor in the History Department. He was a student teacher at Woodstock North High School this year and provided seminar and ongoing instruction on tactile learning for visually impaired student in his teaching cohort at NIU. He won NIU’s Student Engagement Fund Award and the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society Golden Key Award in 2019.

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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.”

Watch the premiere of Michael Barnes’ artist talk on lithography, Dec. 10

Watch the premiere of Michael Barnes’ artist talk on lithography, Dec. 10

Join Michael Barnes, Northern Illinois University School of Art and Design Professor of Art, Head of Printmaking and 2020 Presidential Research, Scholarship and Artistry Professor as he discusses lithography history and historic prints for the NIU Art Museum. The video can be viewed here, or on YouTube beginning at 7 p.m., Central Standard Time, Thursday, December 10.

You can also watch Barnes’ previous artist talk for the NIU Art Museum:

Professor Michael Barnes lectures from his home studio as he discusses lithography history and prints from his recently completed series. The Steindruck Müchen series was completed during a residency in Germany. Two of these prints were included in the Faculty Biennial Continuum exhibition and the full set is on view at a solo show at Brumfield Gallery in Astoria, Ore. View a video of Barnes printing work from the series.

Researching the Reverse Glass Painting Tradition Across Buddhist Southeast Asia with Dr. Catherine Raymond

Researching the Reverse Glass Painting Tradition Across Buddhist Southeast Asia with Dr. Catherine Raymond

Catherine Raymond, Director of the Center for Burma Studies at NIU and Professor of Art History in the School of Art and Design presented an online lecture for the NIU Art Museum, November 19 titled, Researching the Reverse Glass Painting Tradition Across Buddhist Southeast Asia.

The unique Burma Art Collection at Northern Illinois University encompasses one of the best assemblages of Burmese reverse glass painting from the 19th to 21st century outside of Southeast Asia. This imported art form —which originated earlier in Europe and was highly refined there— became very popular throughout Asia in the 18th century; first among the ruling elites, and then as an important cultural commodity, initially for an export market and subsequently for serving local religious purposes. In this lecture, Catherine Raymond will retrace her journey as an art historian researching the arrival and evolution in Mainland Southeast Asia of this challenging and evidently vanishing technique, yet finding it still widely produced in Burma for devotional artifacts in service both to Buddhism and the cult of the Nat Spirits.

Professor Raymond’s research was funded by a Rakow Grant from the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY

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.