Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

SPS announces 2008 recipients
of Presidential Awards for Excellence

March 31, 2008

Four members of the Supportive Professional Staff (SPS) have been chosen to receive the university’s Presidential Awards for Excellence.

The recipients are Margaret M. “Margie” Cook, director of the LGBT Resource Center; Daniel J. Ihm, project manager in Information Technology Services; Jennice O’Brien, assistant director for Web communication in the Office of Public Affairs; and Judy Santacaterina, academic adviser in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Although all four played critical roles in the response to NIU’s Feb. 14 tragedy, it is important to note they were nominated in December and chosen in January for recognition. Their biographies are based on their nominations and do not reflect their work and service Feb. 14 or during the difficult days and weeks that followed.

Cook (1987), Ihm (’88), O’Brien (’96) and Santacaterina (’78) share another common bond: All earned their bachelor’s degrees at NIU.

The quartet will be honored at a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, 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.

University Counsel Norden Gilbert and Jonathon Ostenburg, helpdesk support manager in Information Technology Services, will receive SPS Council Service Awards.

Refreshments will be served, and the reception is open to all.

Margaret M. “Margie” Cook
Director, LGBT Resource Center

Margie Cook, director of NIU’s LGBT Resource Center since its establishment in 2003, is described in many ways by colleagues: forceful and firm. Mentor and friend. Sensitive and tactful. Honest, courageous, humane and compassionate. Patient, understanding, generous and tireless. Pioneer.

Margaret M. 'Margie' Cook

Her creation and development of the resource center, along with its support services, educational programming, consulting and advocacy, has profoundly impacted countless lives. An NIU employee since 1994, her “official” advocacy for the LBGT population began three years later as a half-time position.

Since then, Cook has assisted students and colleagues with personal crises and academic needs. She has transformed hundreds of colleagues into allies for LGBT students. She has helped faculty integrate LGBT issues into their teaching. She has advocated for students who experience discrimination and harassment.

The Advocate College Guide recognized Cook’s role as a “central, consistent driving force behind the transformation in the services and climate” at NIU, among its top 100 campuses for LGBT students. Prism members honored Cook by affixing her name to their annual leadership award.

“Margie does what she does to promote social justice and to make the world a better place for all,” said Norden Gilbert, chair of the Presidential Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. “We have Margie to thank for developing a program that in its effectiveness, its responsiveness and its richness has had a profound impact on the university community as a whole.”

Daniel J. Ihm
Project Manager, Information Technology Services

Since 2003, NIU’s use of Blackboard has exploded from a few hundred users and courses to nearly 23,000 users and 1,900 courses.

Daniel J. Ihm

Yet the man who coordinates the Blackboard system on campus – along with WebCRMA (NIU’s primary content management system) and several other information systems – works in relative anonymity while patiently ensuring smooth operations.

Daniel J. Ihm, project manager of the Campus Web Services team in Information Technology Services, is anonymous no more.

“I intentionally do not publicize his name to protect him from being bombarded with e-mail messages and phone calls about the various systems he is in charge of,” said Murali Krishnamurthi, director of Faculty Development. “My staff and I contact him day, night or weekends about issues related to various systems, and he is always prompt and responsive.”

When work began on NIU’s Web Presence Project, Ihm attended meetings to prepare for redesign of the templates and quickly became a facilitator who organized the group’s work on Web design, standards and accessibility, and enabled successful collaboration. When leaders of the university’s strategic planning process needed a Web-based application for entering and maintaining information, Ihm and his team responded in record time. 

He also displays professionalism through participation in the Midwest Blackboard Users Group and other technology committees.

“Dan is unruffled by difficult project developments,” said Diana L. Robinson, assistant director for NIU’s Center for Government Studies, “and always prepared to think constructively.”

Jennice O’Brien
Assistant Director for Web Communication, Office of Public Affairs

When the Internet began to blossom in the late 1990s, it was Jennice O’Brien who drove NIU onto the so-called information superhighway.

Jennice O'Brien

And as the technical and graphic savvy of Web architects and visitors soared, O’Brien stayed ahead of the traffic as she launched a complete overhaul of NIU’s Web presence, not only on the homepage but across campus.

Her command of language and technology, and her understanding of NIU’s strategic themes, has built a front door to the university that is responsive, dynamic, functional and, of course, unified.

And, for most prospective students and their parents, it is O’Brien’s online vehicles that generate their important first impressions of NIU.

“It is difficult to overestimate Jennice’s impact on NIU’s image, identity and reputation,” said Melanie Magara, assistant vice president for public affairs. “Jennice plans, writes, creates and manages the most critical sections of NIU’s most important communications vehicle with near-complete autonomy.”

When the new Web site launched in October of 2006, the work was truly just beginning.

O’Brien leads a team that meets with university units interested in “moving” to the new templates. To date, 122 sites have been transformed and another 20 are in progress.

Clients praise her collaborative spirit and her commitment to excellence along with her talent, creativity and patience.

“Cloning Jennice and placing her in many of our public offices,” said Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver, “would greatly improve our image.”

Judy Santacaterina
Academic Adviser, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

To some, she is the coach of NIU’s forensics team. To others, she’s the 30-year instructor in the Department of Communications who teaches freshman honors public speaking and senior-level performance.

Judy Santacaterina

But to most, Judy Santacaterina is the force behind the bachelor of general studies degree program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“When off-campus BGS students attend commencement ceremonies, sometimes arriving in DeKalb for the first time, Judy welcomes them with roses, hugs and tears that celebrate the long journey she’s traveled with them, often one course at a time,” said Sue Warrick Doederlein, associate dean.

Santacaterina’s on-campus BGS advising reaches “an eclectic group” that includes clerical staff, student-athletes and students displaced from other programs.

Every summer, she runs a speech camp for high schools and speaks at orientation programs. Every fall, she joins the Honors Program retreat. During every athletic season, she’s a fixture in the cheering section.

She received the Dennis/Ross Coaching Award from the Illinois Intercollegiate Forensics League, the American Forensics Association’s Distinguished Service Award and the Larry E. Norton Award from Bradley University. Her former competitors – “the Kids” – donated $3,000 as seed money for an NIU forensics scholarship and planted a tree in her honor at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.

“Judy Santacaterina came to Northern as a transfer at the age of 19, and she’s never left,” Doederlein said, “and we are all richer because of that.”