Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Northern Today - June 9, 2009

Public Affairs wins nation's top PR award for handling of 2008 campus tragedy

The Office of Public Affairs received the nation’s top award for public relations at a ceremony last week in New York City. The office was honored by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for its work following the tragic February 14, 2008, campus shooting that brought intense public and news media attention to campus. NIU won both a category award – Best Crisis Communications – and the overall Best of the Silver Anvil Award. President John Peters and Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Melanie Magara accepted the awards on behalf of NIU.

“A tragedy was met with the best of human nature and the best in public relations practices at Northern Illinois University,” said PRSA Chair and CEO Michael Cherenson. “The NIU Public Affairs office shared information, inspiration and compassion as quickly and completely as possible. Their amazing work is what the Best of Silver Anvil was created to recognize, and we salute their efforts.”

Shortly after 3 p.m. on February 14, 2008, a gunman burst onto the stage of a large NIU lecture hall and began firing into an audience of nearly 150 undergraduate students. When his rampage was over, six people lay dead and 19 others were injured. The Office of Public Affairs immediately went into crisis mode, handling everything from emergency alerts, news conferences and message development to media relations, event management and speechwriting.

“The preparedness and response to this tragic occurrence reflect the highest level of performance in our profession,” said James J. Roop, Silver Anvil Committee Chair. “We’re proud to recognize the team at NIU with our Best of Silver Anvil Award.”

“Last year’s tragedy was the darkest day in our university’s history, yet it brought out the best in so many members of our campus community,” said Peters. “The tireless efforts and outstanding skills of our Public Affairs office were nothing short of inspiring, and it is tremendously gratifying to see their work acknowledged with this award.”

When the eyes of the world were focused on DeKalb, Illinois, NIU’s public relations department “consistently provided a story of preparedness, transparency, compassion, courage and healing,” said PRSA officials. “One year later, campus, community, media, government and professional audiences call NIU’s response exemplary, and they single out the university’s communication practices for special praise. More importantly, NIU has emerged from crisis with its reputation as a safe and caring institution intact, and inspired by an increase in applications from prospective students.”

“From the beginning, we committed ourselves to sharing everything we knew as quickly and completely as possible,” said Magara. “We approached the news media as partners rather than adversaries, and took advantage of their platforms to send messages of hope and healing. But most of all, we were prepared: We had a plan, we had practiced that plan, and we had learned from the experiences and generous advice of others, including our counterparts at Virginia Tech.”

Magara credited the work of her staff – Jennice O’Brien, Joe King, Pat Erickson, Mark McGowan, Tom Parisi, Rachel Xidis and Katy Whitelaw – for keeping worried parents, students, faculty, staff and alumni informed from the very earliest minutes of the tragedy through last spring’s anniversary observance.

“They were incredibly well-prepared and dedicated to doing things the right way,” Magara said. “These awards recognize a snapshot in time, but all of them bring the same level of professionalism to their jobs every day, and I’m very proud to work with such a great group of people.”

PRSA is the world’s largest organization for public relations professionals, and its prestigious “Silver Anvil” awards are considered the icon of the industry’s best practice. Nearly 900 entries from business and industry, PR firms, independent practitioners, government, hospitals, schools, non-profit corporations and the military were considered for this year’s award competition.

For more information, visit the PRSA website at:

Project REAL camp returns for fifth year

Some high school students will design lessons,
‘teach’ incoming Rockford Jefferson freshmen

Last fall’s end of the federally funded “Project REAL” partnership between NIU, the Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College hasn’t deterred Judy Cox-Henderson’s mission.

Cox-Henderson, coordinator of clinical experiences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, devoted much of her involvement during Project REAL’s five years to exposing Jefferson High School students to the benefits of a college education.

Her prime audience: students with college potential but without college on their radar. Her prime vehicle: the REAL NIU Experience, a week-long summer camp on the NIU campus that has provided a good taste of college, including courses from several disciplines, a “UNIV 101” class and life in the residence halls.

Thirty students from Jefferson, ranging from this fall’s sophomores to recent graduates, will return to campus Sunday, June 21, for the fifth Project REAL camp.

An initiative grant from NIU’s Strategic Planning process is providing the financial support.

“We’re trying to keep it going,” said Cox-Henderson, who also has supervised an extracurricular club at Jefferson for veteran campers who held fundraisers to fund additional DeKalb trips. “Some of this year’s group have come to camp since they were freshmen, and it’s really important for them to go this final time.”

The camps have proven successful.

Some REAL NIU Experience “graduates” have enrolled at NIU, and others are pursuing higher education by starting at Rock Valley or at Highland Community College in Freeport. Although Cox-Henderson is pleased, she credits an overall “change in culture” at Jefferson for the results.

“There is much more of a focus now on the idea of college as something students should plan for,” she said. “Ours is just one among several good programs going on.”

Project REAL campers can take classes in English, both reading and writing. They can create video games with a professor from the College of Education and design roller coasters with a high school physics teacher. They will investigate and solve a public health mystery – most likely based on the H1N1 swine flu pandemic – with faculty from the College of Health and Human Sciences. They have their pick of three art courses taught by faculty in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Camp counselors will lead the “UNIV 101” courses about college life and college-level study skills.

And, for the first time, Cox-Henderson will offer an “Introduction to Teaching Methods” course with strategies for secondary schools. “A lot of the campers are planning on going into teaching,” she said.

“Even though our primary emphasis was supposed to be the math- and science-related fields, our camp counselors are pre-service teachers. The campers are interacting with students who are planning on going into teaching. That’s pretty important,” Cox-Henderson added. “If I had to do it all over again, that probably would’ve been one of my main focuses. That’s one place we could’ve made a big impact.”

Those campers in the “Teaching Methods” course will design a lesson plan for a class of eighth-graders and then have the chance to actually deliver it.

Some recent graduates of Rockford’s Flinn Middle School and the Rockford Environmental Science Academy (RESA) are spending the week of June 15 at a similar camp at Rock Valley. Those students who complete all four days are invited to NIU to spend the night Thursday, June 25, and sample the REAL NIU Experience the next day: Part of their Friday would include the lesson plan taught by Jefferson students.

Cox-Henderson has replicated her popular “College to Career Club” at both Flinn and RESA, and has been met with good participation. Bringing some of those incoming freshmen to NIU for a night and a day can provide the kind of interaction with older teens that will make them more comfortable when they start at Jefferson this fall.

Jefferson students already have accompanied Cox-Henderson into the middle school to attend and run meetings of the clubs there, and the contact between the schools grew even more with a “shadowing” project where eighth-graders spent a day at Jefferson in the company of a high school student.

“All the principals were very enthusiastic,” she said. “It’s had positive effects.”

In new book, NIU professor warns parents
to ‘watch it’ on kids’ TV, video game time

NIU communication professor Mary Larson isn’t out to frighten parents, but she is urging them to “watch it” when it comes to the amount of time their children and adolescents spend in front of TV sets, video games and computers.

Consider these startling findings:

  • More than 3,500 scientific studies have looked at the relationship between media violence and violent behavior. Only 18 of those studies failed to find a relationship between the two.
  • Children, who don’t really distinguish between fantasy and reality until about the age of 8, see an average of 25 to 30 acts of violence – in just one hour of watching cartoons.
  • Studies have demonstrated that playing violent video games correlates with an increase in aggressive behavior. Researchers believe that violence in video games is more powerful than watching television or film violence because the games are interactive.
  • In 2002, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry announced to Congress that watching violent entertainment can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.
  • The average adolescent is exposed to 15,000 sexual references on television per year, and 29 percent of teens report that TV is their most important source of information about sex.

Larson identifies and examines the effects of “screen time” on children and teens in her new book: “Watch It! What Parents Need to Know to Raise Media-Smart Kids” (June 2009, Rainbow Books, Inc.).

For the past two decades, Larson has been researching and teaching a graduate course on the effects of the mass media on children and adolescents. She argues that parents need to both limit and better monitor children’s time in front of the TV and other screens.

Children and adolescents spend enormous amounts of time in front of screens. In fact, kids’ exposure to TV, DVDs, computers, computer games and the Internet totals about 4.5 hours a day. Larson says kids end up learning from TV how to behave in families, courtships, sexual relationships, conversations and gender roles.

Most parents recognize the powerful influence of TV on children but fail to see the influence in their own homes.

“It’s comforting to think your kids know better, but how is it possible that almost all parents say TV affects other kids but not their own?” Larson says. “That’s how adults rationalize TV and video games.”

Larson’s new book points to study after study chronicling the vast amount of sex, violence and commercialism in the media and its effect on kids. She dissects TV shows and their characters, from “Sex in the City” and prime-time professional wrestling to Cliff and Clair Huxtable and Homer and Marge Simpson. The latter, she says, are actually better role models.

“The Huxtable kids’ were running the household,” Larson says. “Homer and Marge, even though they are stumblebums, they are steering the ship.”

“Watch It!” also examines mature-rated video games, many of which are loaded with sex and violence. “In some games, the level of violence increases as you get further into the game as if it’s a reward for good play,” Larson says. “This also makes it harder for parents to monitor the games’ contents.”

Larson’s new book points to studies that have shown three basic effects of high levels of exposure to violence in the mass media: Viewers tend to behave more violently or aggressively, they become desensitized to the violence and they develop a fear of the world around them.

“For a lot of people, their earliest memories of violence date back to scary films or TV shows they viewed at an early age. The effect of fear lasts a long time,” Larson says. “At the same time, kids become desensitized. As they get older, they don’t even bat an eye at seeing real-life violence.”

Indeed, Larson notes in her book, children’s brains are wired by their experiences from birth to about 10 years of age. Children who are getting “simulated reality” from television, film and computers – rather than real-life experiences – risk lack of development in areas of the brain that control thinking, learning, self-control and decision-making. Some researchers believe heavy screen time might be linked to Attention Deficit Disorder.

Larson’s book offers parents guidance and practical tips on how to counter the effects of the barrage of mass media.

“It’s important for adults to open a dialogue about media with their children and adolescents,” she says. “But if I could give parents just one piece of advice to follow it would be this: Do not put a television or computer in your children’s bedrooms. Parents would find much of even daytime programming objectionable – from news shows to ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ to sexy soap operas.”

“Watch It” ultimately aims to help parents teach their children to become “media literate” so they can fully distinguish fantasy from reality and recognize commercial manipulation. Media literacy, Larson argues, ought to be taught in schools.

“We analyze poetry and prose in school. Why not screens?” she says. “It certainly would make sense, given the amount of time kids spend nowadays with mass media as compared with books.”

Larson’s new book can be purchased at or by contacting Rainbow Books at 1-800-431-1579. To learn more about Mary Larson, visit her Web site at She also is available for speaking engagements. Contact her at or (815) 991-5101.

NIU will screen documentary
on 1960s purge in Indonesia

The public is invited to a free screening of the new film, “40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy,” a moving feature-length documentary about one of the darkest chapters in the Southeast Asian country’s history.

The screening will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 22, in the Heritage Room of the Holmes Student Center.

Directed by Anthropologist Robert Lemelson and edited by two-time Academy Award-winner Pietro Scalia, “40 Years of Silence” follows the compelling testimonies of four individuals and their families from Central Java and Bali, two regions heavily affected by the 1965-66 purge of suspected communists throughout Indonesia.

An estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were secretly and systematically killed.

As they break their silence publicly for the first time in the documentary, each family provides an intimate and frightening look at what it was like for survivors of the mass killings.

In chilling detail, they describe the events of 1965, reliving and reflecting upon the stigmatization and brutalization that they continue to endure on both the village and state levels. Over time, the survivors and their families attempt to find ways to deal with a tragedy that was not openly recognized by their neighbors, government or the world.

“What’s happened in Indonesia has long been overlooked when it comes to discussing mass violence,” says NIU History Professor J.D. Bowers, an expert on the history of genocide and human rights. “At the time, the regime in Indonesia kept the world from knowing what was happening. Dr. Lemelson is one of first to expose the real story.”

Faculty members from NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Chin Rodger, a member of the production team for “40 Years of Silence,” will be on hand during the NIU screening to answer audience questions.

The film is being shown in conjunction with the 2009 Southeast Asia Summer Institute: Teaching about Genocide and Human Rights in Southeast Asia for K-16 Educators. The institute is organized by the NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies, a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center.

For more information about the documentary, see

NIU Art Museum prepares
to rent artworks for offices

It is time once again for the NIU Art Museum’s annual “Art to Lend” exhibition. Works from this exhibition from the permanent collection are available to hang in secure campus offices.

Those who are interested in considering the selections should stop by the Altgeld Gallery (first floor, west end) between Monday, June 29, and Thursday, July 9. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. As in previous years, works will be assigned by lottery-based preferred selections. The lottery drawing will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday, July 9.

There are nominal fees for this service to cover part of the Art Museum’s incurred costs and for the direct care and maintenance of the collection, including matting and framing to make new selections available.

Check for more information on the rental policy. For any other questions, contact Pete Olson at (815) 753-7867 or via e-mail at

Alumni Association hosts family fun
at Kane County Cougars game

Join the NIU Alumni Association for a Kane County Cougars game Saturday, July 11, at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva. Tickets are $17 and include lawn seats, a hot dog and a small drink.

More baseball fun is scheduled later in the month: a Cubs game event Friday, July 24, and a Chicago White Sox event Friday, July 31, both in Chicago. Visit for more information about these games.

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.