Points of Pride


Points of Pride

With 17 departments, two divisions, 33 degree programs and more than 6,000 students, Liberal Arts & Sciences is the largest of the six undergraduate colleges at NIU.

The College boasts 11 Ph.D.-granting programs and is home to 10 research centers.

The Chicago Tribune earlier this year ran a front-page story on members of the Sereno family. All six siblings are NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alumni and all now serve as professors at major research universities in the U.S. and abroad. They include Paul Sereno, the University of Chicago’s world-famous paleontologist.

The College sponsors the unique Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. It encourages faculty to engage undergraduates in one-to-one mentorships focused on faculty research, thus providing students with opportunities to work as collaborators in the search for new knowledge.

The College is helping lead university efforts to boost science, technology, engineering and math skills and interests of young people before they reach college age. Outreach activities include traveling science demonstrations and summer science camps for high school and middle school students.

Each Halloween season, hundreds of young people flock to NIU for the Haunted Physics Laboratory and Creepy Chemistry Lab. The effort sparks young people’s interest in science. The 2008 demonstrations, staged by departments within Liberal Arts & Sciences, drew a record 1,700 visitors.

Liberal Arts and Sciences External Programming

  • Every summer for more than two decades, high-schoolers have flocked to NIU for an intensive summer camp experience in forensics under the guidance of an award-winning director Judy Santacaterina. Many of her campers “grow up” to become NIU communication majors and camp counselors. Other academic camps offered every summer include science exploration, creative writing, journalism and film.
  • NIU has become a regular destination of Harry Potter fans, thanks to a number of creative “Muggle Academy” programs put on by the College. The programs bring children of all ages (and adults who still believe in magic) together on campus for hands-on activities, film discussions, scholarly lectures and Yule Balls.
  • Since the inception of Elderhostel International in 1974, the College has brought seniors from across the country to campus for week-long programs.
  • For 46 years, NIU has hosted the northern regional History Fair for middle school and high school students. About 300 entries each year are judged by NIU faculty, librarians and community volunteers.


  • It’s not unusual for NIU anthropology students to find themselves working alongside nationally recognized scholars who have made major discoveries attracting world attention.
  • Dan Gebo, a Board of Trustees Professor of Anthropology, led a team of researchers who discovered the fossils of 45-million-year-old, thumb-length primates. The find made the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and newspapers worldwide.
  • Anthropology Professor Susan Russell has spent the last six years working on projects designed to help bring peace to the war-torn southern Philippines. With more than $1.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of State, these projects bring young people from Christian, Muslim and Animist religious communities together to reconcile their differences and learn about U.S. institutions that promote tolerance and diversity.
  • Winifred Creamer, an NIU Presidential Research Professor of Anthropology, is part of a team of scientists who have determined Peru was home to the Americas’ oldest cities. Creamer takes students with her each summer to dig at these ancient sites. 

Biological Sciences

  • The Department of Biological Sciences offers a master’s degree with a specialization in bioinformatics, the blending of biology with computer science, as well as a specialization in the teaching of human anatomical sciences. Each program was a first of its kind in Illinois.
  • NIU is offering a new master’s specialization in biology teaching. Professor Jon Miller received a $1.2 million grant to develop the specialization, which enables biology teachers to receive advanced training while continuing to teach.  
  • With nearly 600 undergraduate biology majors, NIU boasts one of the largest biological sciences programs in the state. 
  • Anne T. Berg, a research professor in biological sciences, received the 2008 Epilepsy Research Recognition Award for Clinical Science from the American Epilepsy Society. The award recognizes Dr. Berg for her pioneering research in epilepsy and contribution to understanding the difference in how the disorder manifests in children and adults.


  • Professor Douglas Klumpp and students in his organic chemistry laboratory class made a discovery that might help fight cancer. They found a simple method for preparing a class of compounds possessing promising activity against certain forms of cancer. Their research was published, with all enrolled students listed as co-authors, in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.
  • The American Chemical Society (ACS) has ranked the NIU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry among the top producers of ACS-certified bachelor’s degrees.
  • Since fall 2000, the number of undergraduates majoring in chemistry and biochemistry at NIU has more than doubled, to 200 majors in the fall of 2008.


  • Department of Communication graduate student Andrew McCormick and undergraduate Steven Stein were awarded paid internships in Hollywood, arranged through the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation. McCormick interned this past summer with the Post Group, one of the largest post-production houses in the world. Stein interned with the Cartoon Network.
  • NIU’s student newspaper, The Northern Star, has twice won “Best Online Newspaper” in the nation for the Web version of its daily paper. The Star also holds two “Pacemaker Awards,” considered the Pulitzer Prize for college newspapers nationwide.
  • For more than a decade, students taking interactive media courses from Communication Professor David Gunkel have been creating Web sites for small businesses and non-profit groups. Their services are free in exchange for the experience. In all, the students have developed about 500 Web sites.

Computer Science

  • The Department of Computer Science is one of the top programs nationwide for training students to program the large mainframe computers that are the backbone of government and industry computing.
  • Computer science majors regularly compete in IBM’s Master the Mainframe contest. In the most recent contest in 2008, computer science undergraduate Bryan Weaver won first place, competing against more than 1,800 students from 325 schools across the United States and Canada.


  • The Department of Economics is known nationally for its strengths in the areas of political economy, public economics, labor economics and finance.
  • Through the Office of Economic Education at NIU, the Department of Economics supports and encourages economic education at pre-university institutions throughout Illinois.


  • English Professor Edward Callary, an expert on name studies, has penned a new book on the names that dot the Land of Lincoln. “Place Names of Illinois” unearths the origins of the names and occasional nicknames of nearly 3,000 Illinois communities and places – from Chicago, a Miami-Illinois word for striped skunk, to Carbondale, named for its rich deposits of coal.
  • NIU student Zach Sands, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in English, won a prestigious Fulbright fellowship to conduct research abroad this year. Sands is spending nearly 10 months in the Republic of Moldova, where he is working on a documentary film that explores Moldovan cultural identity.

Foreign Languages and Literatures

  • The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is one of the largest foreign language departments in the country, offering instruction in 14 languages, including Burmese, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Khmer, Russian, Tagalog and Thai.
  • The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures boasts an internationally recognized faculty in areas as diverse as Thai studies, Japanese linguistics, French or Italian women writers, the French graphic novel and the literature of Central America. 
  • For the past 36 years, the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures has sponsored the Foreign Language Residence Program (FLRP), housed in Douglas Hall. FLRP is the oldest academic residential program of its kind. About 50 students reside on the FLRP floors, where they have the opportunity to enhance their oral skills in one of five languages: Chinese, French, German, Japanese or Spanish. 


  • NIU’s undergraduate program in meteorology is the oldest undergraduate program of its kind in Illinois and one of the largest undergraduate-only meteorology programs in North America.
  • In terms of majors and undergraduate degrees granted per year, NIU’s Department of Geography is the largest geography program in Illinois.
  • The Department of Geography has hosted and operated the official DeKalb-area National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Station for nearly 40 years. Students help provide daily temperature, precipitation, snowfall and snow depth, soil temperature and evaporation data to local users and the National Weather Service.


  • NIU geology students who went hunting for dinosaur fossils in a remote area of southeastern Utah in 2008 discovered a Jurassic jackpot—an extraordinary “bone bed” that some believe will continue to yield fossils for decades to come.
  • Research efforts have taken NIU geology students across the country and nearly to the ends of the earth, where they have collaborated with and learned from top scientists. Among the places they’ve conducted research: Montana, Utah and Texas, as well as Peru, Antarctica and the Norwegian island territory of Svalbard.
  • NIU Geology Professor Ross Powell is one of the lead researchers on a $30 million drilling project known as ANDRILL, an international effort to recover geologic records buried beneath the Antarctic sea in order to gain a better understanding of contemporary global warming trends.


  • NIU’s History/Social Science Teacher Certification Program was recently judged one of the best in the nation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
  • NIU History Professor J.D. Bowers and Instructor Kathryn Maley are helping two of the state’s largest public school districts to make poor marks in history a thing of the past. Bowers and Maley are providing professional development to American history teachers in Rockford and Elgin public schools.
  • Among the world’s leading historians of tsarist Russia, Christine Worobec has won international praise for her work exploring the extraordinary history of Russia’s common folk in the 18th and 19th centuries. She has conducted pioneering work on women, folklore, peasants, family, religion and social life in tsarist Russia and Ukraine.


  • Mathematics Professor Gerard Awanou recently won an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the most prestigious award that a young mathematician or scientist can win.
  • The Department of Mathematical Sciences traditionally has been one of the country’s largest programs for certification of secondary mathematics teachers. The department also has one of the nation’s largest middle school mathematics endorsement programs.
  • The Department of Mathematical Sciences has launched a unique master’s degree specialization designed for certified teachers who teach, or intend to teach, middle school mathematics. It’s believed to be the first program of its kind in Illinois.

Division of Statistics

  • The Division of Statistics is now offering a bachelor’s emphasis in actuarial science for students who would like to pursue careers as actuaries, consistently rated among the top professional jobs in the nation.
  • The Division of Statistics’ master’s degree program in applied probability and statistics is one of only two such public-university programs in Illinois.


  • The Department of Philosophy is ranked among the top five departments nationwide among those offering terminal master’s degree programs, according to external rankings.
  • Over the past decade, the Department of Philosophy has awarded 89 master’s degrees. Seventy percent of the graduates chose to apply to Ph.D. programs in philosophy—and all gained acceptance.  


  • NIU physicists and students are playing key roles in one of the world’s most ambitious physics experiments: the “DZero collaboration” at Fermilab. The collaboration explores the subatomic universe using the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.
  • One of only three state-run universities offering a Ph.D. program in physics, NIU partners with two premier federal research laboratories: Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.
  • The Department of Physics now offers a Ph.D. specialization in nanoscience, an exciting new field that is developing materials, electronics and machines so small they approach atomic scale.
  • NIU’s federally funded Institute of Nanoscience & Engineering Technology collaborates with Argonne National Laboratory on basic research in nanotechnology. Many scientists believe the field will spur the next technological revolution.
  • More than 120 NIU physics students have worked with Fermilab’s DZero collaboration, which conducts experiments using the world’s most powerful particle accelerator in order to indentify and better understand the building blocks of nature.

Political Science

  • NIU boasts the only political science program in the country that offers politics and the life sciences (or biopolitics) as a distinct field of graduate study.
  • Three NIU political science students lived, learned and worked in the heart of the nation’s capital this past summer under a new university-established congressional internship program. Hunter Huffman, Nma “Winnie” Okafor and Matthew Venaas each won $5,000 scholarships to defray associated costs. Huffman interned with U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo, Okafor with U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski and Venaas with U.S. Rep. Bill Foster.
  • The NIU Department of Political Science is known internationally for its strength in Southeast Asian politics.

Division of Public Administration

  • NIU’s public administration program, a division within the Department of Political Science, produces about one-third of all Illinois city managers.
  • U.S. News & World Report ranks NIU’s Master’s in Public Administration program third nationally in the specialty field of city management and urban policy. That’s ahead of programs at all public and private institutions in Illinois and at such prestigious schools as USC, Syracuse and the University of North Carolina.
  • U.S. News &World Report ranks NIU’s public administration program 13th nationally in the specialty of public finance and budgeting.
  • Throughout its history, NIU’s public administration program has had nearly a 100 percent placement rate. That means that within six months of graduation, nearly all of the graduates have landed jobs.


  • NIU’s Department of Psychology directs a multi-million dollar innovative program funded by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). It provides comprehensive clinical assessments to children in foster care and their families and serves as a national model.
  • NIU’s Center for the Study of Family Violence and Sexual Assault is internationally recognized for its work investigating the causes and consequences of neglect, child physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and sexual assault.
  • NIU psychology professors specializing in neuroscience research received a major grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the link between depression and heart disease using an animal model. The project is designed to investigate the interactions among stress, emotion and the heart.


  • With colleagues from Ohio State University, Sociology Professor Kristopher Robison has received a $189,000 National Science Foundation grant for the study of how media coverage affects terrorist acts.
  • For 15 years, Sociology Professor Jack King has taken students on a spring break to Pensacola, Fla., to help build homes for low-income families, including many who lost houses during past hurricane seasons.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies

  • Founded in 1963, the NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies is one of only nine federally designated national resource centers for Southeast Asian studies.
  • NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies is known internationally for developing SEAsite (www.seasite.niu.edu), an interactive Web site that offers language and culture training programs in Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese.

Center for Latino and Latin American Studies

  • NIU’s Center for Latino and Latin American Studies is one of a handful of programs nationwide that combines the study of the Latino experience in the United States with the study of Latin American civilization.
  • The Center for Latino and Latin American Studies provides resources and services to faculty and students interested in the Latino experience in the United States and in Latin American Studies.
  • The Center for Latino and Latin American Studies has been involved in a variety of community outreach programs over the years, including a recent multi-year association with several regional high schools and community colleges to encourage Latino high school students to pursue careers in the health sciences.

Women’s Studies Program

  • Each fall, the NIU Women’s Studies Program sponsors a Conference for Young Women, introducing high school students to a variety of career areas, including professions where women have been historically underrepresented.
  • The Women’s Studies Program celebrates Women’s History Month each March with a full slate of events and guest speakers. More than 1,600 people attended this past spring events.