Graduation Stories: Izabella Gieron, BM Music Education and Violin Performance, independent study orchestral conducting

Graduation Stories: Izabella Gieron, BM Music Education and Violin Performance, independent study orchestral conducting

Izabella Gieron was one of a brand new group of NIU alumni to be able to attend an in-person commencement ceremony. She earned her Bachelor of Music in Music Education and Violin Performance with independent study in orchestral conducting. She was also featured in the commencement ceremony video. Here’s her story.

Also featured in commencement videos were Art and Design’s Angie Redmond and Theatre and Dance’s Jill Belluomini.


Congratulations to the Class of 2021

Congratulations to the Class of 2021

Congratulations to all of the graduates in the class of 2021. NIU is holding in-person commencement ceremonies Friday, June 3, Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5 in Huskie Stadium.

Programs are available online for the June 2021 commencement, May and August 2020 commencement and August and December 2020 commencement.

In-person Commencement Ceremonies

Doors at Huskie Stadium will open one hour prior to ceremony and electronic tickets are required for all guests. See details about ceremony parking and seating information.

Doctoral Class of 2021 and 2020

Friday, June 4, 2021

  • 9 a.m. – Doctoral hooding ceremony (class of spring 2021 and class of 2020)

Class of Spring 2021

Friday, June 4, 2021

  • 1 p.m. – Graduate Commencement (Specialists, Master’s and Performer’s Certificates only)

Saturday, June 5, 2021

  • 9 a.m. – Undergraduate – College of Education, College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, and College of Visual and Performing Arts

Sunday, June 6, 2021

  • 9 a.m. – Undergraduate – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • 1 p.m. – Undergraduate – College of Business and College of Health and Human Sciences


The class of 2020 will finally have their opportunity to attend an in-person commencement with events Friday, June 25 through Sunday, June 27.

Friday, June 25, 2021

  • 10 a.m. – Graduate Commencement (Specialists, Masters, and Performer’s Certificate only)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

  • 1 p.m. – Undergraduate – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and College of Business

Sunday, June 27, 2021

  • 1 p.m. – Undergraduate – College of Education, College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, College of Visual and Performing Arts and College of Health and Human Sciences
NIU awards steelpan innovator Anthony Williams an honorary doctorate in human letters

NIU awards steelpan innovator Anthony Williams an honorary doctorate in human letters

One of the most unique and iconic aspects of the School of Music at Northern Illinois University, and the university as a whole, is the success and prominence of its Steelpan program. It is fitting that a man who has had both a direct and indirect influence will have his lifetime of accomplishment and impact on others recognized with an honorary doctorate from NIU.

Anthony Williams, a world-renowned innovator, performer, technician, band leader and arranger has been unanimously recommended and selected to receive an honorary doctorate in human letters from NIU.

During its embryonic stages, indigenous cultural forms of expression such as the steelpan, and its champions, were often relegated to second-class status. However, Williams and many of his contemporaries’ belief in the instrument’s potential could not be quelled—initially drawn to the instrument as a player, he subsequently evolved into one of the most celebrated innovative technicians, prominent band leaders, and arrangers.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1931, Williams, along with the late Dr. Ellie Mannette, was one of the first to experiment with fashioning abandoned oil drums into steel pans, an idea that other stakeholders in the fraternity initially rejected based on the size and weight of the pan. In 1951, he was selected for his multi-faceted skill set to join the inaugural Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), an ensemble which was comprised of some of the leading steelpan players and tuners of the day. They performed for the 1951 Festival of Britain, primarily, in what may have been the first time audiences outside of the English-speaking Caribbean were exposed to the steelpan’s versatility and profundity. The rave reviews that they received led many in Trinidad and Tobago to reexamine their views on the instrument’s true potential.

The following year, Williams was named the leader of one of the most prominent steel pan bands in the Caribbean, the North Stars. From there, he developed his international acclaim as a band leader and arranger.

By the 1970s, still committed to innovating with the steelpan, Williams began collaborating with scientists to understand the physical properties and acoustics of the pan.

Photo Gallery

Click on image to view a gallery of images of Anthony Williams (more story after the gallery)


As an innovator in the science and art of the steelpan, Williams has had a unique impact on NIU, contributing to the success of faculty, staff, and countless steelpan students.

NIU is one of the leading universities in the world for steelpan/pan studies. The steelband program was initiated by the late G. Allan O’Connor in 1973, who subsequently brought on board the late Clifford Alexis—himself a 2017 NIU honorary doctorate recipient—to build and tune instruments for the NIU Steelband, as well as arrange, compose, and, eventually, co-direct the band. The program has attracted students, celebrated performers, composers, and lecturers from many sectors of the globe, including the birthplace of the steelpan, Trinidad and Tobago.

The NIU Steelband has performed at a host of international and national venues, and even captured second place at the 2000 World Steelband Music Festival held in Trinidad—no small feat for a collegiate ensemble. NIU Steelpan graduates continue to leave their mark as educators at the University of the West Indies, University of Trinidad and Tobago and many other institutions of learning around the world. They also consistently appear at respected concert venues, and their creative works are routinely featured at events such as the Super Bowl of steelband competitions, Panorama.

Anthony Williams’ impact on the steelpan art form cannot be overstated. Many of his groundbreaking innovations were realized during a period which brought about significant challenges to the steelpan’s forefathers; indeed, the steelpan universe owes a great debt of gratitude to visionaries like Williams.

For Liam Teague, Presidential Research, Artistry and Scholarship Professor, Professor of Music, Head of Steelpan Studies and Director of the NIU Steelband, himself a native of Trinidad and Tobago, the opportunity to honor Williams means even more.

“I’m in awe of these pioneers, like Dr. Williams,” Teague said. “Because the period that they grew up in, especially when Trinidad was still a colony of Britain, many of them didn’t get support by the public at large. People looked at the instrument more as a novelty and those in the steelpan fraternity were subjected to constant disrespect. For most of us, if we’re doing something that we’re passionate about and day in, day out, people are saying that you’re wasting your time and just get a real job, I think most of us would go elsewhere. I’m just in awe that these pioneers could maintain that focus and have that vision. People like myself are really the beneficiaries of so much of their hard work, sacrifice, and fortitude.”

The steelpan is now recognized as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and it continues to captivate the hearts, souls and imaginations of people globally. Without the unwavering perseverance and fortitude of Anthony Williams and many of his contemporaries, the steelpan’s legitimacy and profundity, in such an astronomically short period, would never have come to fruition.

One of Williams’ innovations was what was then broadly known as the Spider Web pan.

Teague explains the innovation. “Prior to Anthony Williams, the note placements on most tenor pans (actually in the soprano range) were random probably because the majority of the steelpan pioneers didn’t have formal training in music, and much of what they were doing was by intuition.  Williams created a design which was informed by the circle of fifths that brought about a greater sense of uniformity; at that time, because the notes were all connected to each other, they looked like a spider’s web hence its nickname. Williams’ 4ths and 5ths tenor pan design remains the most popularly played in the world- and that’s just one of his key innovations.”

In 1968, Williams and North Stars performed with Trinidad-born Winnifred Atwell, an internationally acclaimed piano virtuoso, in the Bahamas and New York, and produced the album Ivory & Steel, the first ever recording of its kind. These kinds of collaborations attracted of large group of new admirers and served as sociological and musical barrier breakers. Additionally, North Stars engaged in several tours, including an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which allowed them to showcase their eclectic programming- such as Voices of Spring by the classical composer Johann Strauss III, and earn the praise of notable musicians, including the conductor Leopold Stokowski.

North Stars on Ed Sullivan
Watch: Footage of Anthony Williams’ North Stars appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

The pioneering work of Williams directly resonates in the research and experimentation of Dr. Thomas Rossing, former NIU physics professor.  Rossing’s curiosity about the acoustics of the steelpan led to frequent collaborations with O’Connor and Alexis, and many of his findings were significantly featured in his book-length publication The Science of Percussion Instruments, as well as in scholarly journals and presentations at national conferences.

“A lot of what we do here at NIU, is directly influenced by the barrier-breaking philosophy of people like Anthony Williams,” Teague said. “Their vision, and what they brought to the table.”

NIU students partner with WNIJ reporters to tell stories with data

NIU students partner with WNIJ reporters to tell stories with data

A collaboration between public radio station WNIJ and students in NIU’s data visualization courses helps to build student portfolios and improve reporting in the region.

In 2020, NIU graduate student Bharat Kale prepared graphics to accompany WNIJ reporting in collaboration with the ddiLab joint effort of the Department of Computer Science and School of Art and Design

In early 2016, local public radio station WNIJ obtained a data set related to overdose deaths in a northern Illinois county. WNIJ reporter Jenna Dooley (who has since become the station’s news director) recognized that the data was important but was unsure how to make sense of it and use it to inform the station’s reporting on the issue.

“Since we’re located here on NIU’s campus, I decided to draw on our connections with the university. I contacted Michael Papka, who specializes in data visualization, to ask for his help,” says Dooley. “We met several times over the course of the semester to explore the data, and I used that to inform the questions we asked during the newsgathering process.”

This semester-long collaboration resulted in a series of on-air reports, accompanied by a digital presentation of user-friendly graphs, maps and other data visualizations. But even more importantly, it marked the start of a partnership between WNIJ and the data visualization courses first taught in NIU’s Department of Computer Science, and later in the School of Art and Design, as well.

Taught by Joe Insley (School of Art and Design) and Michael Papka (Department of Computer Science), these interdisciplinary courses teach students to transform data into images, applying programming, art and design skills across a wide range of domains. The partnership with WNIJ allows students to use their knowledge in a real-world setting and build their professional portfolios.

“Working with Jenna and her team of reporters has been a great experience for our students,” says Insley. “They get to see their work have a positive impact in a professional setting. Not only do they see how their final visualizations provide insight to the reader, but also how their exploratory visualizations can help inform the reporters as they are developing the story. Contributing to an interdisciplinary team is a valuable real-world experience.”

Speaking of real-world experience – it turns out that working with real data can be a complicated and messy process.

“The stories Jenna (and now a wider WNIJ team) bring us are timely and contain all the things we expect our students to see when doing data visualization outside the classroom,” says Papka. “This means the students see how messy data can be, how it can be formatted wrong or be incomplete. They can see that the answers are not known in advance, and that unexpected results can guide the news team but also require verification that the results are correct.”

In recent years, students have worked with WNIJ reporters on a wide range of stories that are enhanced by the use of graphics. Topics have included local voting trends, video gaming revenues and traffic stops. During the course of the semester, students are given a project outline and a data set. They develop graphics, and the WNIJ reporters and students explore the data together. WNIJ shares the students’ final products on the station’s website, crediting the students so the work becomes part of their professional portfolio.

While the NIU students gain real-world experience, learning to communicate effectively and see a project through from start to finish, WNIJ also benefits from the collaboration.

“The marriage of data visualization and journalism increases accuracy and makes the story more relevant,” say Dooley. “The ‘why’ is often the most compelling aspect to the narrative version of the story. Data visualization helps identify the ‘what,’ which enables the reporter to ask their sources ‘why’ the topic matters in their lives.”

For example, in the spring semester of 2021, WNIJ Reporter Chase Cavanaugh reported on the loss of revenue many Illinois cities experienced due to the closure of video gaming terminals during the pandemic. NIU students put municipal revenue numbers into graphics that showed just how dramatic this decline was. Cavanaugh joined the virtual class on several occasions to offer feedback on the graphics and then shared with the students what he had learned after interviewing several local officials, who described how this affected their bottom lines.

The finished product hit the airwaves on March 16 and included a digital slideshow featuring the student-produced graphics.

“Although traditionally public radio is an audio medium, more and more listeners are coming to us through our website and mobile app,” says Dooley. “This data visualization partnership allows us to make better use of all the tools at our disposal to communicate clearly with our audience.”

The partnership also includes the NIU Data, Devices and Interaction Laboratory (ddiLab), where art and computer science students work side by side on data visualization projects, and it has influenced the Journalism 354 class Dooley teaches in NIU’s Department of Communication, where she shares the data visualizations to show students how to use data to inform stories and better communicate with audience members.

Dooley and Papka both emphasize journalistic ethics and standards of accuracy in their teaching because, in the words of Papka, “Data visualization provides a way to convey a lot of information in a condensed and concise way, but also provides an opportunity to mislead people.”

“If a visualization seems too good to be true or includes too far an outlier, it is incumbent upon the reporter to double check for accuracy,” Dooley tells her students. “Maybe there is an explanation for the outlier and that becomes the focus of the story. Just as often, a piece of the data is incorrect or missing and needs to be updated in order for the visualization to be correct.”

WNIJ 89.5 FM is one of two non-commercial public broadcasting radio stations managed by Northern Public Radio, the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University, and provides independent, local, national and international news. The mission of Northern Public Radio is to enrich, inspire and inform adults in northern Illinois through programs and services that share ideas, encourage thought, give pleasure and create community.

Learn more at

This story originally appeared in the May 18, 2021 edition of NIU Today

Thank you for your support of Curtain Call!

Thank you for your support of Curtain Call!

Thank you to everyone who helped support the College of Visual Arts first crowdfunding campaign. Donations to Curtain Call! totaled more than $2,000 and will help fund seniors in the Schools of Art and Design, School of Music and School of Theatre and Dance for the capstone projects they completed this last semester.

Your support is greatly appreciated.

First-Generation Huskie Daniil Krimer, grows Kane Repertory Theatre

First-Generation Huskie Daniil Krimer, grows Kane Repertory Theatre

When Daniil Krimer graduated with his M.F.A. in acting in 2019, he had no way of knowing the kinds of changes that were on the horizon.

When he founded the Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois, in 2019 and became its artistic director, he had no idea that the world—and particularly the theater arts world—would grind to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic soon after. But through creative adaptation, Krimer and his partner, Managing Director Avery Bowne, M.F.A. ’19, have found new and impressive ways to deliver fine theater to audiences during this unprecedented time.

“My job as artistic director is one that is often sporadic and doesn’t have a set schedule,” Krimer said. “It usually involves Avery and I, starting the day with a phone call, talking through everything that has to be done for the day. Some days that includes being on the phone with agents, sometimes that’s reading a bunch of new plays, and sometimes that is putting together marketing and press release materials.”

But in a new virtual world, the work of an artistic director has had to be even more reactive and flexible than ever.

“There is such a long way to go, but I do think Avery and I did something which was deemed impossible by most performing arts organizations—we grew during COVID,” he said. “We were able to innovate ways to grow the size of our network, audience reach, and donors, all during this awful period of COVID-19. I think that is definitely an accomplishment.”

Attracting up-and-coming playwrights and Oscar-nominated stars has been one way Krimer and his company have maintained success during a challenging time.

Running from April 10-May 2, the Kane Repertory Theatre hosted the world premiere online production of Hammaad Chaudry’s “Security. The cast included Academy Award and three-time Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts, as Homeland Security agent Brian, playing opposite Harsh J. Gagoomal’s Riaz. When 17-year-old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian, the experience changes his life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him, returning the favor.

The online production was a blend of film and theatre. Green screens and professional film set-ups will be sent to the cast in their individual locations, and with  the work of a top-notch video editor, the final production will look and feel as if both actors are sharing the same space.

Krimer credits NIU with helping him build his acting skills as well as his ability to ignite passion for the arts in others, even in the face of adversity.

“One of my favorite memories from my time at NIU is teaching the THEA 110 Acting Fundamentals for the non-major students,” he said. “I got to teach acting to a lot of non-majors, and it was always so exciting to inspire passion for the art form to someone who registered for the class just to get a general education credit out of the way.”

Krimer went to graduate school because he wanted to be in control of his craft as an actor.

“I wanted my craft to be tangible, offering strong performances with consistency,” he said. “NIU provided me with the classes and learning opportunities to develop that skill. It really was in some ways the perfect place for me to grow. I don’t know that there is another M.F.A. acting program in the country that would have resonated with me the way NIU did.”

Krimer is clear that he chose to attend NIU because of Patricia Skarbinski, the head of the University’s M.F.A. acting program.

“After I interviewed with her and took a workshop with her in New York City back in 2016, I knew NIU was the school for me,” he said. ”Patricia Skarbinski is more than a teacher. She is a guru. I learned so much from her I don’t know where to start. She and a handful of other professors taught me the craft of acting, and I left school being confident that you could give me any play, TV or film script or commercial copy, and I would be bring that text to life. What those professors did for me is no small feat.”

Krimer also said his graduate school allowed him to form deep bonds with his classmates, which proved to be a great beginning for the theater.

“Considering I spent all three years of graduate school with the same 15 people, a majority of the classmates I graduated with are my dear friends,” Krimer said. “Starting a theater company with my classmate, Avery, grew from this foundation. The reason we are compatible professionally is because our time in graduate school together has instilled a deep understanding of one another’s artistic, entrepreneurial and societal sensibilities.”

So, after such surprise success, what is Krimer’s advice to other actors who may be discouraged in their careers by this difficult moment in history?

“Do not put yourself in a box. Do not live your life thinking there is a ceiling for your future,” he said. “So many people create boundaries for themselves without letting themselves actually take risks. Challenge yourself to apply for that scholarship or fellowship that you think you might not be worthy of. Challenge yourself to reach out to one of your industry idols and try to set up a meeting. We only have one shot at this thing called life, and every opportunity you don’t take a chance on is an opportunity wasted.”