Awards & Recognition

2008-2009 Academic Awards and Graduation Ceremony

As we do each spring, the department gathered to honor its award-winning students and graduates. The ceremony took place on Saturday, May 9 in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall. Here are some brief highlights of the event.

Jones Opens Ceremony

Professor Chris Jones

Department Chair Chris Jones began the day by welcoming the students, family, and friends in attendance and introducing the members of the faculty. Jones also thanked Allison Boccia who played Pomp and Circumstance on the organ as the faculty and graduates entered the auditorium.

Professors Rebecca Hannagan, Barbara Burrell, Mike Wyckoff, and Heidi Koenig

(L-R) Professors Rebecca Hannagan, Barbara Burrell, Mikel Wyckoff, and Heidi Koenig.

Professors Kikue Hamayotsu, Ross Corbett, and Michael Clark

(L-R) Professors Kikue Hamayotsu, Ross Corbett, and Michael Clark.

NIU Political Science Faculty

Top: (L-R) Dustin Berna, Kurt Thurmaier, Mike Peddle, Daniel Kempton, Ross Corbett, Curt Wood, Michael Clark, Kikue Hamayotsu, Gerlad Gabris, Mikel Wyckoff. Bottom: (L-R) Rebecca Hannagan, Artemus Ward, Heidi Koenig.

Kurt Thurmaier, Matt Streb, and Casey LaFrance

(L-R) Professors Kurt Thurmaier and Matt Streb congratulate Casey LaFrance on his Ph.D.

Professors Gerald Gabris, Barbara Burrell, Matt Streb, and Mike Peddle

(L-R) Professors Gerald Gabris, Barbara Burrell, Matt Streb, and Mike Peddle.

Joe Bustino

Joe Bustino, Ph.D.

Mahalas Earns Wilkinson Award

Christine Mahalas

The Wilkinson Award was established to honor the memory of Professor Joe Wilkinson, who joined NIU’s Political Science Department in 1968 after a distinguished career in the U.S. Department of State.  Following Professor Wilkinson’s death in 1971 at the age of 39, his family and friends established this memorial award to honor the graduating senior majoring in Political Science with the highest cumulative grade point average. This year’s recipient of the Joe R. Wilkinson Memorial Award is MS. Christine Mahalas.

Christine is a political science major with a public law emphasis.  She completes her coursework at NIU with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.  Based on her academic accomplishments, Christine was initiated as a member of the Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honor Society and the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society.  In fall 2008, she was one of two students representing NIU at the Student Conference on United States Affairs at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY.  She is pursuing a career in government, hopefully with the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI.  

As the Department’s 2009 recipient of the Joe R. Wilkinson Award, Ms. Mahalas will receive a certificate of achievement and a check for $250.  In addition, her name has been engraved on a permanent plaque that hangs in the Department’s main office.  Congratulations, Christine!

Dinneen Named Graduate Teacher of the Year

Nathan Dinneen

Nathan Dinneen, pictured above with his daughter, received the Finkelstein Graduate Teacher of the Year Award. During his 20 years of teaching international relations at NIU, Professor Lawrence Finkelstein, who retired in 1995, demonstrated an extraordinary dedication to his students.  In many ways, he helped instill in his students an understanding of international relations and a true love of learning.  Given Professor Finkelstein’s effectiveness in undergraduate teaching, it is fitting that the Lawrence S. Finkelstein Graduate Teacher of the Year Award be granted to the graduate student instructor in political science who has best demonstrated excellence in undergraduate education.  

Nathan earned his BA in Philosophy and MA in Philosophy and Environmental Ethics from the University of North Texas.  He came to NIU in fall 2005 to study for his Ph.D. in Political Science with fields in Political Theory and Politics and the Life Sciences.  His sterling academic record in the program has been matched by his outstanding performance as a graduate student instructor.  His teaching evaluations have been among the best in the department and students have consistently spoken of his dedication, approachability, rigor, and his empathy for students.  We are pleased to recognize his efforts with this year’s Finkelstein award.  

As the 2009 recipient of the Lawrence S. Finkelstein Graduate Teacher of the Year Award, Nathan will receive a certificate and a check for $100.  His name will be engraved on a special plaque that hangs in the department office.  Congratulations, Nathan!

Hee-Jin Han Receives Dubin Scholarship

Professor Daniel Kempton and Hee-Jin Han

Professor Daniel Kempton presents the scholarship to Hee-Jin Han. The Martin David Dubin Memorial Scholarship in International Relations honors the memory of Professor Dubin, who taught in the department for over 30 years. Among his many contributions to the department and the university, Professor Dubin created the emphasis in international relations and coordinated it for many years. Professor Dubin was well-known for his keen intellect, sense of humor, academic rigor, creativity, and flair for lively political debate.  

All of these qualities are shared by MS. HEE-JIN HAN. She has maintained an impressive 4.0 grade point average since coming to NIU where she began her study in political science with an emphasis in international relations.  She has applied the knowledge and analytical skills acquired from her studies to specific areas of interest including Chinese foreign policy and East Asian security issues.  Hee-Jin expects to complete her dissertation, “Between Development and Conservation: Politics of Coalitions Surrounding the Nu River Hydropower Development Project in the Yunnan Province of China” in February 2010.  

We are pleased to present Hee-Jin Han with this year’s Martin David Dubin Memorial Scholarship.  For her achievement, Ms. Han will receive a check of $500 and a certificate of award. Congratulations, Hee-Jin!

Huffman and Szydlowski win Peters' Scholarships

Meagan Szydlowski and Hunter Huffman

The Presidential Award for Outstanding Public Service was created by NIU President John Peters and will henceforth be known as the John G. and Barbara C. Peters Scholarship for Outstanding Public Service, as President Peters has now made a large personal contribution toward the award which is currently building toward an endowed status.  These scholarships are given to students who “have made an outstanding contribution to public service through their work in a public service related internship, political campaign, government, or student government.”  This year we have two recipients.  In addition to a certificate award signed by President Peters, the recipients will each receive a $1,000 scholarship.

This year, we have two recipients, Hunter Huffman and Meagan Szydlowski. Hunter Huffman is a political science major with an emphasis in International Politics. Hunter has been extremely active in the anti-genocide coalition, STAND, serving as the NIU chapter’s treasurer and lobbying on its behalf. Hunter was also recently named one of three inaugural NIU Washington, D. C. congressional interns.  He hopes to earn both a master’s in international studies and a law degree, focusing on international conflict resolution and combating human rights violations occurring around the world.

Meagan Szydlowski is a political science major with a politics emphasis.  After serving as the president of the NIU College Republicans and working on numerous campaigns, Meagan was elected in February of 2008 to be Chair of the Illinois College Republican Federation.  In this role, Meagan oversees the 39 College Republican chapters throughout the state and acts as a liaison between the College Republicans and the Illinois Republican Party State Central Committee. Additionally, she was an alternate delegate at the 2008 Republican National Convention.  Closer to home, she has served as the President Pro Tempore of the Student Association Senate and this past year was a member of the Political Science Student Advisory Committee.

Our congratulations to the Peters’ Scholarship recipients!

Weidl and Marks Earn Departmental Honors

Professor Artemus Ward and Danny Marks

This year our departmental honors students are John Weidl and Danny Marks (pictured above with Professor Artemus Ward). On the basis of their high cumulative grade point average, they participated in a special departmental honors seminar held during their senior year and wrote honors theses. Each graduate was awarded a special honors cord of gold color that identifies a student as someone graduating with departmental honors. On the basis of their cumulative grade point average and the quality of their senior theses, both John’s and Danny’s final transcript will bear the inscription of “Graduated with High Honors in Political Science.” Congratulations, John and Danny!

Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society Initiates

Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society Initiates

The purpose of the Pi Sigma Alpha National Honor Society is to promote the study of political science in the United States through the encouragement and recognition of excellence in scholarship.  The Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society was founded at the University of Texas in 1920 and has grown to chapters in 420 universities and colleges nationwide and has a current membership of over 120,000 persons.

The new members of NIU’s own chapter, called the Epsilon Zeta chapter, were selected because they met the following standards of academic excellence:  they are all political science majors or minors who have achieved a grade of “A” or “B” in all of their 12 or more political science courses and their overall scholarly record placed them in the upper third of their collegiate class. Each received a certificate of membership in the Pi Sigma Alpha National Honor Society for Political Science.

Graduating Seniors

Graduating Seniors

The graduates begin lining up before their processional into the auditorium to receive their certificates.

Professor Peddle presenting awards

Professor Mike Peddle presented the graduates with their certerficates.

Weidl Wins Dean's Award

Professor Andrea Bonnicksen Presents the Dean's Award to John Weidl

Professor Andrea Bonnicksen Presents the Dean's Award to John Weidl. The purpose of the Dean’s Award is to honor a graduating senior in our department who has achieved both a strong record of scholarship and made outstanding contributions to the university community. John Weidl hails from DeKalb. His emphasis within political science was public administration and service. He graduates with a stellar 3.91 grade point average.

While at NIU, John was especially active in the political science department. He spent two years on the Political Science Student Advisory Committee, serving this past year as Chair. He was also an active member of the NIU Model United Nations club, winning the Outstanding Delegate Award at NIU’s 2008 Model UN mini-conference. In spring 2008, John was one of two students representing NIU at the Student Conference on United States Affairs at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. In the fall, John will begin working toward his Masters in public administration here at NIU. As the recipient of the department’s Dean’s Award, Mr. Weidl will receive a certificate of achievement and a check for $100. Congratulations, John!

Holloway Wins Maryanov Award

Adrienne Holloway and Professor Heidi Koenig

Professor Heidi Koenig presented the Maryanov Award to Adrienne Holloway. This award has been given annually since 1976 in memory of Gerald Maryanov, a specialist in Southeast Asian politics.  Professor Maryanov died in 1975 after an extremely distinguished career that was tragically cut short by cancer. This award is designed to honor those characteristics that Professor Maryanov himself so clearly embodied:  intellectual capacity, commitment, and character.

Adrienne is currently a Ph.D. candidate in political science, specializing in public policy.  Prior to coming to NIU, Adrienne obtained a masters degree in Public Administration from Baruch College in New York.  She is the recipient of an Early Doctoral Student Research Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to study the availability of affordable housing in the suburbs of Chicagofor her dissertation.  Adrienne is a research associate at the Center for Governmental Studies where she leads a project on interrelating housing research into the center’s research agenda.  She is a member of the university’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and a faculty associate in the Women’s Studies Program where she will also receive a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies.  Adrienne has been a mentor at the Latino/a Resource Center and served on NIU Advisory Committee for Salary Equity and theCollege of Liberal Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Search Committee.  

As the 2009 recipient of the Maryanov Award, Adrienne will receive a certificate of achievement and a check for $500.  In addition, her name will be engraved on a permanent plaque that hangs in the Department’s main office.  Congratulations, Adrienne!

Rogal Named Graduate Teaching Assitant of the Year

Geoff Rogal

This highly competitive award recognizes the outstanding graduate teaching assistant who has made significant and effective contributions to the teaching mission of Northern Illinois University.  This year’s recipient is Geoff Rogal. Geoff earned a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and holds Masters Degrees from the University of Illinois at Springfield and Claremont Graduate University. His is currently a Ph.D. student with emphases in American Government and Biopolitics.  

While at NIU, Geoff has taught numerous independent sections of Introduction to American Government and the Presidency. His students consistently note Geoff’s ability to engage them in class as well as his passion for teaching on evaluation.  He is a previous winner of the political science department’s Finkelstein Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.  His nominator, Director of Undergraduate Studies Matthew Streb, says about Geoff, “The department is quite comfortable having Geoff teach our students and, indeed, we have a better program because of him.  He has tremendous professional promise as a collegiate educator.”  

Geoff was honored at a special university-wide ceremony on April 22nd and received a plaque.  However, the department wishes to recognize his achievement here today.  As the 2009 recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award, we are happy to present Geoff with a certificate of achievement.  Congratulations, Geoff!

Ebel Wins Outstanding Woman Student Award

Emily Ebel

Every year, NIU recognizes its Outstanding Women Students at an awards ceremony.  We are pleased to announce that one of our Political Science students, MS. EMILY EBEL, has been elected. Emily hails from Algonquin, IL.  She is a political science major who graduates with an impressive 3.86 GPA.  Emily has been extremely active in the Political Science Department during her time at NIU. She was a member of the Political Science Student Advisory Committee for two years, serving as Vice-Chair this past year.  She is also a previous recipient of the John G. and Barbara C. Peters Scholarship for Outstanding Public Service.  Her nominator, instructor Geoff Rogal, described Emily as being “very strong in character and intellect.”  Emily will attend JohnMarshall Law School in the fall. Congratulations, Emily!

Garee Wins McKeough Award

Professor Mikel Wyckoff and Phillip Garee


Professor Mikel Wyckoff presents the McKeough Award to Phil Garee. During his 30 years of teaching in the department, the late Kevin McKeough inspired literally thousands of students with his humor, dedication, and passion for politics.  He had a story to illustrate every point, and many of those stories came from his own years of involvement in the political process.  After his retirement, the department established the McKeough Award for Outstanding Participation in the Political Process to be awarded to a political science major or minor who has made an outstanding contribution through work in political campaigns, interests groups, governmental agencies, or election to public office.

The department is pleased to announce that the 2009 recipient of this award is Phillip Garee. Phil is a graduating senior and hails fromNaperville.  Phil was chosen as the McKeough Award recipient based on his involvement with Model Illinois Government, his internships with a congressional campaign and a member of Congress, and his honors thesis which focused on political participation.  As the recipient of the Kevin McKeough Award, Mr. Garee will receive a certificate of achievement and a check for $200.  Congratulations, Phil!

Huffman, Okafor, and Venaas Named Inagural Washington, D.C. Congressional Internship Scholars

Professor Matt Streb and Matt Venaas

We are excited to have three students who will live, learn and work in the heart of the nation’s capital this summer under a new university-established congressional internship program.  President John Peters, a political scientist by training, specializing in studies of public policy and Congress, champions the value of experiential learning. A committee consisting of Dr. Peters, political science department Chair Christopher Jones, Kathryn Buettner, Vice President of External Affairs, and myself worked to design a program that provides an opportunity unmatched in the classroom.  

Over 20 highly-qualified students applied for three internship positions this summer. This year’s scholars are MR. HUNTER HUFFMAN, MS. NMA WINNIE OKAFOR, & MR. MATTHEW VENAAS (pictured above with Professor Matt Streb).

Hunter Huffman, a 21-year old junior honors student majoring in political science with an emphasis in international politics, will intern with U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo.  Believing that words in a textbook can never match the educational experience of participating firsthand in our country’s political process, he views this internship experience as a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Born in Minnesota and raised inNigeria, Nma Winnie Okafor is a 19-year old junior honors student who began her career at NIU at the age of 16.  She is a political science major, a member of the NIU debate team, and has been active in tutoring and peer advisory. Coming from humble means herself, Winnie is focused on giving back to the poor, with a special interest in politics in Nigeria where she hopes to someday change the political system through grassroots involvement, and advocate for development in Africa as a whole, through microfinance and similar programs.  Winnie will intern with U.S. Representative Daniel Lipinski.

Matthew Venaas is a 21-year old junior honors student majoring in political science. He will intern with U. S. Representative Bill Foster.  He has been actively involved in the NIU Student Association and is the current speaker of the senate.  This spring he was elected to serve as the student member to the NIU Board of Trustees.  His interest in politics began in high school and believes the opportunity to see how things work behind the scenes and experience the legislative process firsthand will be an amazing experience.  

Our three congressional interns will each receive a $5,000 scholarship to defray the costs associated with the internships. Congratulations, Hunter, Winnie and Matt!

Lowery Wins Outstanding Undergraduate Paper Award

Nick Lowery

Twelve years ago the Department coordinated what has become a longstanding and popular competition.  We solicited entries for an undergraduate paper competition and three members of the Undergraduate Committee judged papers based on originality, clarity, analytical, or methodological rigor, strength of argumentation, and writing style.  This year, the Outstanding Paper Award is presented Nick Lowery. Nick is from Woodstock,  Illinois, and is a Political Science major with a politics emphasis.  In the fall semester of 2008, Mr. Lowery wrote an excellent paper for Professor Christopher Jones’ U. S. National Security Policy course entitled, “Iran’s Atomic Ascendency: A Threat to Stability, the NPT, and Vital U.S. Interests.”  Mr. Lowery will receive a certificate and monetary award of $50 for his accomplishment.  Congratulations, Nick!