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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
November 5, 2008
DeKalb — Northern Illinois University President John Peters has won “The President’s Award” from a Midwest-based regional chapter of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
Peters was honored Sunday at the organization’s Region IV-East conference in Indianapolis. Brian Hemphill, vice president for Student Affairs, nominated Peters and accepted the award on his behalf.
“I am honored and humbled to receive the President’s Award from this Midwestern region of NASPA,” Peters said. “I accept this honor on behalf of all the dedicated Student Affairs staff at NIU who work so tirelessly to provide a world-class student life environment for our students.”
“John displayed such leadership and courage in the midst of everything that we experienced during Feb. 14 that it was very much clear to me that there was no one more deserving of this award than President Peters,” Hemphill said.
“It says to so many of our colleagues across the region that we have a president who is extremely student-centered,” Hemphill added, “and committed to doing what is in the best interest of the university community.”
The newest and first-time honor from NASPA IV-East, the President’s Award is a special recognition given to a college or university president in the region who has enhanced the quality of student life on campus by supporting student affairs staff and student programs and services.
Nominees must have a strong record of improving the quality of the student experience on campus, involving students and staff in university decision-making and making valuable contributions to the student affairs profession beyond an individual campus.
In addition to the regional recognition, the recipient is automatically nominated for the national NASPA President’s Award. The winner is named in January.
“We think Dr. Peters is a wonderful recipient who represents the great gifts that a president can give to the students of the institution,” said Peggy Burke, associate vice president for student development at DePaul University and chair of the awards committee.
“His name came to the top in a number of cases. There are a variety of programs and services he has supported that have enhanced the NIU student experience. He has supported Student Affairs. That was there long before Feb. 14,” Burke added. “Then, the awful tragedy really exemplified just how much Dr. Peters keeps students at the heart of his mission and his leadership. We’re proud, for the region, that we get to recognize Dr. Peters.”
Peters’ colleagues at NIU were honored to write letters of support, Hemphill said.
“The response I received from all of the individuals was absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “They were very supportive and excited that Dr. Peters would be considered for such a prestigious award.”
Letters included praise for his participation every August during Welcome Days, especially during the move-in process, as well as his leadership efforts on initiatives that better prepare students for success in higher education and that encourage students to study abroad.
Every letter, of course, touched on Feb. 14, not only the immediate heartbreak but the grieving and recovery process in the following months.
Peters called or visited all the families who lost children, comforted students, attended every funeral and led candlelight vigils and memorial services. He authorized the establishment of the Office of Support and Advocacy. He worked with state executives and lawmakers, as well as campus leaders, to create a plan for Cole Hall and a lasting memorial that would be fiscally acceptable and emotionally sensitive.
Hemphill’s letter detailed how NIU students have named Peters “the students’ president.”
“Dr. Peters cannot take a walk across campus without students stopping him for a conversation or a handshake,” Hemphill wrote. “Sometimes these conversations are about sports or light topics, but often a student will bring a concern to Dr. Peters’ attention. To President Peters it does not matter; he lends his ear to every student, whether the student is engaged in praise for a sports team or concerned about some aspect of our shared governance system.”
“With President Peters, we have found a sincere friend and ally. He personally is always open and accessible to students, and his dedication to shared governance is genuine,” Student Association President Brent Keller wrote. “At Northern, we employ the term ‘Communiversity’ to describe this blend of students and staff, and with John Peters’ administration, it has found actualization.”
Jesse Perez, assistant director of labor relations in Human Resource Services, included information in his letter about his term as student trustee.
“The State of Illinois was experiencing a severe budget crisis in which universities statewide were forecasting major changes to available resources. During this critical time, Dr. Peters hosted regular student leadership sessions in which he personally met with key student leaders to share and gather input,” Perez wrote.
“Dr. Peters responded to the students’ concern with several creative solutions to ensure that, despite a budget crisis, students were on schedule for timely graduation, received competitive tuition rates and continued to receive the resources necessary to have a successful college experience.”
Provost Ray Alden, who served in a similar capacity at the University of Nevada Las Vegas when UNLV President Carol Harter won the national President’s Award in 2004, wrote of Peters’ dedication and courage during Feb. 14.
“President Peters made the difficult decision to shut down the campus for a week to permit students time to go home and deal with their fears, grief and stress,” Alden wrote, “as well as to prepare for the issues associated with their return to campus.”
“Dr. Peters recognized that we would be indelibly marked by this horrific event, but he refused to acknowledge that NIU would be defined by that horror,” Hemphill wrote. “He has set himself as a model of understanding, compassion and hope, and has sought and endorsed multiple healing initiatives to move the entire NIU and local community forward. NIU draws its inspiration and strength from the spirit of this fine leader.”
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