Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Northern Today - June 1, 2009

Walking backward, looking ahead

Orientation gears up for another busy summer

NIU is never a ghost town, not even in the summer.

Amidst all the construction projects and the youth camps are daily orientation parades of new students and their families. By early August, an expected 10,000 visitors will have explored campus by following closely behind the red-shirted backward walkers.

In its 35th year, NIU’s orientation is a well-oiled – and always evolving – machine.

More than 300 people are needed each day to guarantee orientation success. Buildings including Altgeld Hall, the Campus Life Building, Founders Memorial Library, Neptune Central, Wirtz Hall and, of course, the Holmes Student Center generously open their doors.

The Northern Pact, and its value of NIU being a caring community, provides an underlying theme for the day.

“It really does take a village. It takes a university to do this. The day is really about helping new students understand how they can be successful at NIU, both academically and beyond the classroom,” said Denise Rode, director of Orientation and First-Year Experience.

“We all feel we can really make an impact on new students and their family members at a very important time. A lot of research points to the fact that the entry point is very important to how they encounter the university,” Rode added. “At the end of each day, when you see how much more comfortable and excited students and family are after this experience, it’s so rewarding.”

Orientation begins Wednesday, June 10, and runs Monday through Thursday through the middle of July. After a short hiatus, it resumes for three days during the first week of August to accommodate those families unable to attend the earlier dates.

Days alternate between new freshmen and transfer students. Nearly all of the fall’s new crop bring at least one family member or friend along for the day.

Families park on the top three levels of the parking deck and then make the short walk to the student center’s Carl Sandburg Auditorium, where the day starts at 8:45 a.m. Either Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver or Brian Hemphill, vice president for Student Affairs, welcomes the crowd.

Ten orientation leaders – those typically extroverted and effervescent students in the red shirts and khaki shorts – quickly take over and whip up enthusiasm for the day.

The orientaiton leaders were hired through a rigorous selection process in January. They spent the spring meeting once a week in preparation. They’ve also attended a week-long seminar and a weekend retreat. Their room and board in Stevenson Towers is free.

By summer’s end, they’ll have gained confidence, sharpened their communication skills and become backward-walking-and-talking encyclopedias of NIU knowledge.

“I loved working with the new students. It’s fun to joke around with them,” said Ben Thanepohn, a 2008 leader who now helps to coordinate the team with Caley Lanahan and three others.

“The second I was done with my orientation, I wanted to be an orientation leader,” said Lanahan, a junior psychology major. “It’s something right up my alley – the interactions with people, getting to help people.”

“My orientation leader was really funny, a really cool guy,” added Thanepohn, a senior accountancy major. “When I saw the flier looking for orientation leaders, I thought it would be fun to share my NIU experience with others.”

For new students, the morning is occupied with presentations on requirements for the baccalaureate degree. They also have time to talk with their leaders about life at NIU and to meet the others in their group to launch possible friendships for the fall.

They take a short campus tour to gather their bearings. They glimpse typical first-year schedules. They receive translations of higher education jargon. They hear about academic advising and all of the other valuable resources provided by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.

“They’re also learning the MyNIU system,” Rode said, “so that later they can log on with their Z-ID and register.”

A relatively new component is Northern Neighborhood, a small expo where representatives from about 25 departments and organizations such as Housing and Dining, Student Financial Aid and the Student Association distribute information and answer questions.

After lunch with their families at Neptune Central, freshmen spend the afternoon in meetings with their colleges. Those who are undecided about their majors gather in the Academic Advising Center.

Registration for fall semester courses is available. So is placement testing. Freshmen receive their OneCards and can set up banking accounts if they wish. They also complete the freshmen survey, which provides a snapshot of the group’s characteristics and demographics.

“We pack a lot into that one day,” Rode said. “Usually by the end of the day they’re very tired but they’ve accomplished a great deal. They are prepared for life at Northern when they return in August.”

“Students are so overwhelmed coming in. They have so many questions,” Lanahan said. “The whole orientation process helps them acclimate to campus. It gets them really excited about coming to campus.”

“I see a lot of people leave orientation,” Thanepohn said, “and they can’t wait to come back in the fall.”

Family members are kept nearly as busy.

In the morning, they hear from a dean or another representative of their students’ colleges. They meet with leaders from Student Affairs who teach them how to support their children. They also converse with faculty who share NIU’s academic expectations of students.

“In the afternoon, they meet with the orientation leader their student had in the morning. That’s the best part of the day for the family members. It’s a great time for them to ask questions about student life and to hear about it from the student’s perspective,” Rode said.

“We take the family program pretty seriously. We know they’re such an important part of their students’ success at NIU,” she added. “Parents want to be more involved with their children’s college experiences, and we want to provide them with the information and the strategies they can use to help.”

Their short tours of the central campus area bring them to the ballroom of Altgeld Hall, where they engage in a lively contest called “The Huskie Throwdown.”

“Our student leaders prepare them for this. It’s like an NIU version of ‘Jeopardy’ that really reinforces what they’ve learned throughout the day about the university,” Rode said. “For example, we show a picture of John Peters; the team that responds quickest with the right answer gets the points. The teams become very competitive and have a lot of fun. It’s a very enjoyable way to end their day.”

Students and families are reunited by 3:30 p.m. but their day is not truly over.

A reception awaits them at the student center that will feature campus leaders and celebrities, including Victor E. Huskie, as well as representatives from various resource centers such as the Asian-American Center, the Center for Access-Ability Resources, Commuter and Non-Traditional Student Services and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center.

They also can tour the Student Recreation Center and the residence halls. Transfer students are welcome to visit the Northern View Community.

It starts all over the next morning.

“I get to be the first person who officially welcomes them, and it gives me such a thrill to do that every day,” Rode said. “It’s such an upbeat time.”

Southeast Asian Studies reaps benefits
from $110,000 Thai government grant

NIU students and faculty are benefitting from a new grant award aimed at bolstering education, research and exchange programs focused on Thailand.

The Royal Government of Thailand awarded $110,000 to NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies late last year. It’s believed to be the center’s largest grant ever from a Southeast Asian government.

Most of the award is being used to establish an endowment that will ensure annual funding for Thai-related studies.

Nearly one-third of the funding, however, is supporting activities this coming year, including undergraduate scholarships, library acquisitions, a Thai conference, travel for visiting Thai scholars, development of an alumni network in Thailand and faculty and student travel to the country for research and language study.

Funds for travel to Thailand already have been awarded to three graduate students: Aaron Johnson and Punchada Sirivunnabood, who traveled to Bangkok earlier this month; and Dan Pojar, who will go to Bangkok in December. Professor Catherine Raymond, director of NIU’s Center for Burma Studies, received a travel award as well.

“This grant will provide many wonderful opportunities for our faculty and students, including scholarship opportunities for undergraduates studying the Thai language,” said Professor James Collins, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“I want to commend NIU Political Scientist Danny Unger, whose hard work resulted in this award from the Royal Government of Thailand,” he added.

Unger, a faculty associate of the center, worked closely with Thai officials for more than a year, paving the way for the grant.

“We want to help folks within our community and beyond understand Thailand and develop opportunities to expand their exposure to the country, whether through cultural, economic or other means,” Unger said. “This grant will also help us continue to attract good students from the United States and around the world.”

Unger said he is particularly grateful for assistance of Thai officials and NIU faculty who helped with the grant and endowment proposal. Faculty members included Professor John Hartman (Foreign Languages), Grant Olson (Foreign Languages), Ete Olson (University Libraries), Andrea Molnar (Anthropology) and Ann Wright-Parsons (Anthropology).

NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies coordinates an undergraduate minor and a graduate concentration in studies of the diverse sub-region of Asia.

At any given time, about 60 NIU undergraduates are working toward a minor in Southeast Asian studies, while another 50 graduate students are specializing in the area of study. In all, more than 2,000 students each year take courses offered in the region’s languages, literatures, anthropology, geography, history, religion, music, art history and government.

The center also is known internationally for developing SEAsite, an interactive Web site that offers language and culture training programs in Thai, Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

More information on the Thai scholarships and travel grants is available online.

Baccalaureate Review group begins
drafting report, planning for next stage

Members of NIU’s Baccalaureate Review Task Force will have a preliminary report of the spring semester forums and surveys in their hands by July 1.

Two final versions of that report – a two-page executive summary and a longer, more-detailed account – will become public Sept. 1.

Its release will launch the planning and implementation stage of the group’s work to define the meaning of an NIU bachelor’s degree and then set a course for self-analysis of how an NIU education achieves those goals.

Their data set is a large one, including responses from more than 45 focus groups and more than 900 visitors to an online survey.

In the meantime, committee members are reviewing a booklet titled “What I Will Learn In College” and a short book titled “Revising General Education – And Avoiding the Potholes” to fuel more discussion among themselves.

Among their conversations are how high school students narrow their choices when looking at colleges. Studies show prospective students are mostly interested in the outcome of their time in college, Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver says, whereas a school’s academic reputation is the least of their concerns.

Faculty buy-in is key to any overhaul of undergraduate curriculum, group members agree. Faculty should look at changes as a multi-year evolution and not a revolution, they say.

Greg Long, a professor of allied health and communicative disorders who chairs the group, already is planning several September visits to groups such as the Faculty Senate, the University Council and the Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum.

“Fall will be a good time to take the temperature of the faculty,” Seaver says.

Members of the steering committee also include David Changnon, Jes Cisneros, Carolinda Douglass, Barbara Fouts, Elisa Fredericks, Omar Ghrayeb, Jeff Kowalski, Michelle Mingas, Paul Stoddard and Lucy Townsend.

Rural Health Careers Camp returns June 11

Cleaning brick walls with a solvent that contains muriatic acid is dangerous enough without a nervous maintenance worker at the top of the ladder.

Sure enough, something startles him and he jumps.

The acid-laced cleaning product tumbles, spilling onto the coworker who’s on the ground to steady the ladder. As the acid begins to burn his upper arm, he stumbles backward over the other supplies, twists his ankle and breaks an arm in the fall. Meanwhile, the panicky man from atop the ladder has inhaled the toxic fumes, scorching his nose, throat and lungs.

It’s a frightening scenario that will play out at NIU next week for nearly 50 students from small-town high schools who are coming to campus for the fifth annual Rural Health Careers Camp.

Alan Robinson, director of outreach for the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences, said recently obtained input from last summer’s campers prompted the organizers to replace their traditional mock car crash.

“We pulled them in and asked questions about what they remembered,” Robinson said. “We learned the car crash simulation is passé for them because they see it every prom. The police in almost every community are doing that to scare the teenagers into not drinking and driving.”

But NIU’s simulation – car crash or hazardous chemical spill – is not to scare but to teach.

These campers are recruited and invited from rural communities across northern Illinois to glimpse jobs in health care in the hopes they will pursue those avenues and then return home to live and work.

“High school students from small, rural high schools do not apply for degrees in the health area. A few do, but not very many, and there’s a major need for that. Twenty percent of America is still rural,” Robinson said.

“Students in rural areas don’t have a lot of role models. There are not a lot of hospitals. They don’t see a lot of places to work. They don’t ever think about these types of careers,” he added. “We want to tickle their brains a bit and say, ‘Hey, there are a lot of opportunities here. You really should think about this.’ ”

The camp’s concept was developed during a 2004 summit in Rockford at the University of Illinois National Center for Rural Health Professions, a co-sponsor. Other sponsors are the NIU colleges of Health and Human Sciences and Education and the Northern Illinois Area Health Education Center. NIU Student Affairs also sponsors students.

Students ranging from incoming high school freshmen to high school juniors will sample clinical laboratory sciences, communicative disorders, dietetics, nursing and physical therapy. They will tour the clinics housed at NIU’s Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center and visit NIU’s cadaver lab.

Campers are identified early in their secondary school lives by teachers and guidance counselors as having the potential to pursue health-related careers. If they enjoy the camp’s exploration of those careers through simulations and lab experiences, they still have time to enroll in additional years of health-related sciences such as biology and chemistry.

The camp schedule includes computer-driven career guidance and, when parents arrive Saturday morning for the camp finale, counselors from NIU’s offices of admissions and financial aid will speak to them about the steps their children must take for a smooth path to college.

Lighter educational activities also are planned: a tournament featuring trivia questions from Robinson’s popular Acuity game and public health pandemic game that demonstrates how germs are shared and spread.

“Martin McDowell, who’s the assistant director for curriculum development at the National Center for Rural Health Professions at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford, is probably going to use the H1N1 swine flu as an example,” Robinson said.

“He engages the students in moving around the room, meeting a person, passing off something, then getting something, and then going to meet someone else.”

Other changes to this year’s camp including the overall timing (now Thursday morning through Saturday morning rather than Friday through Sunday) and the schedule of the session where the camp counselors talk about their academic lives to the young campers.

“Our counselors are majors in health career areas. We have three from NIU and six from the College of Medicine in Rockford, including medicine, pharmacy, nursing,” Robinson said. “We’re moving this panel discussion right up front so the campers can meet the counselors and know them as people.”

Huskie Pup Camp continues
to accept summer registrations

NIU Recreation Services continues to accept registrations for Huskie Pup Camp.

Sessions begin Monday, June 8, and run through Friday, Aug. 7, and take place at the Student Recreation Center. The camp is designed for children ages 6 to 12 and offers a variety of exciting events and activities to keep the children engaged, having fun and learning all summer long. 

More information about Huskie Pup Camp is available online or by contacting camp coordinator Ashlea Wilson at (815) 753-9360 or Details on all other NIU-sponsored summer camps also are online.

CSA Band in the Park
to perform three concerts

High school band students will enjoy playing lively and fun music in a band at the Hopkins Park Band Shell this summer.

CSA Band in the Park rehearses in the NIU Music Building for three consecutive evenings and performs an hour after the third rehearsal at Hopkins Park in DeKalb. This program is offered by the NIU Community School of the Arts.

CSA Band in the Park is directed by Mike Kasper, spring band director at Sycamore High School. The band is offered in three sessions, and students can sign up for all three or for any one of the sessions.

The dates of the sessions are June 15 to 17, July 6 to 8 and July 27 to 29. 

Each session features a different style of music. The material chosen for the June session focuses on music from around the world and features every continent. The music chosen for the first July session has a patriotic flair, and the final session features pops and film music.

The band meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Concerts at Hopkins Park in DeKalb begin at 7:30 p.m.

More information about this and the many other summer offerings for children and adults at the NIU Community School of the Arts is available by calling the office at (815) 753-1450 or online at

Free seminar to explain
use of Word 2007 Citation

A free seminar on how to use the Word 2007 Citation application will be offered from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18, at the Learning Center located in the lower level of Gabel Hall, Room 01D.

Using this function makes writing research and other papers much easier. This seminar is especially valuable for those who might have several papers to complete in a single semester. Staff members and faculty also are encouraged to attend.

The seminar is sponsored by NIU’s Commuter and Non-Traditional Student Services and the Writing Center.

Annuitants to visit museum,
mansion, Illinois State Fair

Members of the NIU Annuitants Association and guests plan to attend the Illinois State Fair and visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in honor of Lincoln’s 200th birthday year. 

The group also will visit the historic Hegeler-Carus Mansion. Reservations are now being accepted.

The group departs DeKalb at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, and will depart the state fairgrounds in Springfield around 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17. Travelers will spend the night in the unique Chateau Hotel in Bloomington.

Space is available and information is available from Steven Johnson, More details about the NIU Annuitants Association can be found at

Free ‘Huskie’ T-shirts await
new Alumni Association members

Each alum and friend of the university who joins the NIU Alumni Association before June 30, 2009 will receive an exclusive members-only “Alumni. Employee. Huskie For Life” T-shirt.

The membership program launched last July is an excellent way to show support for NIU and pride in the university. Members enjoy many benefits on campus and in the community. Membership opportunities are available at two levels: Cardinal & Black and Legacy. Visit for more information.

Faculty Development to offer
Teaching Effectiveness Institute

The Fall 2009 Teaching Effectiveness Institute is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 13, and Friday, Aug. 14, in the Capitol Room of the Holmes Student Center. The event is sponsored by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

Day One is designed to introduce faculty to basic principles of teaching, offer information about support resources related to teaching and discuss how faculty deal with students’ needs. It is geared toward an audience who is new to teaching and to those wanting to refresh their knowledge of teaching fundamentals.

Participants will have opportunities to network with both new and experienced faculty at NIU. This institute will include interactive presentations by NIU faculty and staff.

Among the day’s 10 topics: “Planning an Effective Syllabus,” “Strategies to Energize the Classroom Experience,” “Managing Academic Integrity,” “Students with Emotional and/or Behavioral Concerns,” “Accommodating the Needs of Students with Disabilities.”

Day Two – “Teaching Strategies to Help First-Year Students Do Their Best” – will feature speaker Constance Staley, professor of communication at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

According to recent reports, many new college students accept disengagement over engagement and less academic investment over more. When faced with a demanding course, the easiest solution is often to give up or change majors. What can those who value higher learning do to help students with lower expectations dig in and grapple with the challenge? How to raise the bar?

Some of the day’s six topics include “Understanding General Principles of Engagement and Disengagement,” “Introducing Initial Teaching Strategies that Generate Motivation and Engagement” and “Designing Specific Hands-on Teaching Strategies for Kisesthetic Learners.”

These workshops are open only to NIU faculty and staff.

Registered participants will receive workshop materials, lunch and refreshments and certificates of participation. Advanced registration is required by Friday, July 24, and early registration is encouraged. Register online for Day One and/or Day Two.

Call (815) 753-0595 for more information.