April 14, 2011
DeKalb, Ill. — Four members of the Supportive Professional Staff (SPS) have been chosen to receive the university’s Presidential Awards for Excellence.
The recipients are Kate Braser, program coordinator for the Honors Program; Abby Chemers, associate director of budget and planning in Finances and Facilities; Dan Nichols, head of recording services in the School of Music; and Patricia Sievert, coordinator of NIU STEM Outreach in the Center for P-20 Engagement.
The quartet will be honored at a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center. The awards ceremony begins at 2:30 p.m. Each will receive a plaque and $1,500 in appreciation for their outstanding contributions to NIU.
SPS Council President Todd Latham, assistant to the chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, will receive the SPS Council Service Award.
Refreshments will be served, and the reception is open to all.
Kate Braser’s job description with the Honors Program is a fairly misleading document: Nowhere in it are most of the things she takes on.
As program coordinator since her arrival at NIU in 2008, Braser develops and organizes activities for the more than 900 students enrolled in Honors. The long list includes welcome-back barbecues, movie nights, flag football games, course previews at a local pizzeria, open mic nights, game nights, “Floor Wars,” and “Souper Wednesday” lunches.
She selects and oversees students who help her implement her work, including four Honors House leaders and four community leaders. She has facilitated a team for NIU Cares Day and served as a staff leader for Alternative Spring Break.
Consequently, participation in the Honors Student Association has grown from just eight members in 2008 to more than 60.
But Braser also has maintained and upgraded the program’s website, created and distributed a weekly newsletter, developed service projects for Honors students (including the popular Project Prom) and launched an alumni group and its Facebook page.
She co-chairs the program’s 40th anniversary committee, co-wrote a grant application to bring Honors-eligible high school students to campus for a summer camp and taught a section of UNIV 101.
“(Kate) helps to bring out the best in our students, and they, in turn, give the best of themselves back to the campus community,” her colleagues wrote. “She has performed each task undertaken with unwavering competence and enthusiasm. Student enthusiasm for the program and its programming is at a high.”
When it comes to numbers, Abby Chemers has a brilliant mind.
As associate director for Budget and Planning in Finance and Facilities, with 31 years of experience at NIU, Chemers coordinates the preparation of critical reports submitted to the Illinois Board of Higher Education and possesses a keen knowledge of its financial structure.
She thoughtfully guides individuals around the university regarding financial policies and procedures, recalling situations from the past and providing sage advice on how to handle current circumstances.
When urgent and often-complex requests for information arrive weekly (if not daily) from Illinois lawmakers or the governor’s office – How many tuition waivers did NIU issue last year? How much has NIU spent on unfunded mandates? – it is Chemers who reaches out across campus to collect the necessary data, assemble and draft responses and work with Executive Vice President Eddie Williams to finalize responses.
Chemers also served as assistant project manager for the implementation of the university’s financial management system, logging countless hours to ensure a smooth transition.
The longtime secretary of the University Benefits Committee and treasurer of the Supportive Professional Staff Council also serves on the Enrollment Management Task Force, offering unique and vital insight.
“Abby is always available to assist in the unexpected,” NIU Controller Keith Jackson wrote. “Her goal has always been to make it easy for a department to do its job and succeed at it. She (also) knows why we currently do something a particular way, and yet is completely open to re-engineering it.”
Many students in the NIU School of Music know Dan Nichols as their teacher for instrumental techniques for flute, clarinet, saxophone and double-reeds.
But to the faculty, Nichols is Mr. Audio-Video.
Prior to his arrival, “faculty were generally dissatisfied with the quality of (audio) support and recordings, and they were requesting funding to bring in outside professionals to do the work,” wrote Paul Bauer, director of the School of Music. “Currently, the quality of the School of Music’s audio recordings is the envy of many other institutions.”
Nichols, an NIU alum who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, began his work in audio recording as a student. He has tested hundreds of pieces of equipment and cables, overhauled the school’s recording facilities, trained and supervised student audio technicians and even constructed several essential recording components.
With the addition of video and live webcasts, it was the technical expertise and dedication of Nichols that vaulted NIU to national and global recognition. People in all 50 states and in more than three dozen countries and five continents have tuned in via Internet.
Most recently, his knowledge and tenacity has positioned NIU as a national leader in interactive video technology and Internet2.
Other colleges and universities consult him, as do several technical staffers from across the NIU campus; his suggestions from earlier work as a “critical tester” of new Internet2 software resulted in the late addition of those capabilities and features.
“Quite literally,” Bauer wrote, “(Dan) does the work of several people.”
When it’s time to “round up the usual suspects” for STEM activities, whether at NIU or across Illinois, Pati Sievert’s name is called.
As outreach coordinator for STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – Sievert plays a critical role in increasing the numbers and diversity of the future STEM professional workforce in northern Illinois, which is critical to the region’s vitality.
“In K-12 schools, science has been somewhat neglected during a decade of emphasis on high-stakes testing in reading and math. Worse, the pipeline of students interested in STEM subjects has diminished,” wrote Anne C. Kaplan, vice president for Outreach, Engagement, and Information Technologies at NIU. “This is where Pati Sievert comes in.”
It was Sievert who launched the Haunted Physics Lab in the Department of Physics, where her NIU career began in 2002.
As Sievert’s role at NIU expanded, so did the haunted labs. They are now a portion of STEMfest, for which Sievert organized NIU’s STEM departments to bring more than 100 hands-on STEM activities to thousands of children and parents in the Convocation Center last October.
While STEMfest might rank as the most visible of Sievert’s efforts to date, other items on her plate include physics demonstration shows for thousands of school children, summer STEM camps and middle school engineering clubs.
Sievert has served as chair of the Committee on Science Education for the Public of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and she regularly presents papers, posters and workshops for state and national science teaching organizations.
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Media Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Media Relations & Internal Communications