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Council President’s Address to SPS

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Deborah Haliczer
President, Supportive Professional Staff Council

Deborah Haliczer
Deborah Haliczer

Star Date, May 2014

The 2013-2014 academic year has been one of change. Bold futures, new leadership, proposals to help create a “cool college town,” new and transparent budgetary processes, and energy all around. It has also been a year of intense anxiety about pensions, new pension laws, and the departure of colleagues and friends through retirement or other separations. Your SPS Council has been working on your behalf, whether through recognition of SPS accomplishments, participation in every aspect of shared governance, advocating for employee rights and work conditions, and offering many opportunities to network and learn together.

I can personally attest to the energy and creativity of your SPS Council colleagues, who have worked tirelessly on everything from creating new recognition awards to leading us to go behind the scenes through engineering clean rooms, or biology specimen labs, interpreting surveys, to organizing “bring your own device” group learning exchanges, or getting together for social occasions. We all know that we go through exciting and challenging times with the support of friends and colleagues.

The SPS Council completed its SPS Survey and the Workplace Issues Committee is busy working on developing actions based on what you told us. So many comments were very positive about the benefits and satisfactions of working in a university, of working with students or the community, and the benefits of furthering our education through the employee tuition waiver, workshops offered on campus through Human Resources or Faculty Development, or other learning opportunities. We also heard the concerns expressed by many of you about the need for more training, for effective supervision and leadership, for regular evaluations and accurate job descriptions, and for respectful work relationships. We heard many respondents express concern about workloads, particularly in anticipation of impending retirements and departure of colleagues.

As we finish this academic year, we welcome new Council representatives and thank those representatives who have gone off Council or retired. We invite all of you to get involved. We send out announcements and post our activities on the SPS Council website. At our recent awards event, I asked for a show of hands and we all showed how very involved Supportive Professional Staff are in the provision of services to our students, faculty, staff, and our wider community. Our new Council year begins July 1, and I can assure you that SPS Council will be there for you. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead this excellent group of colleagues, and am looking forward to the next two years of service to NIU. NIU’s Supportive Professional Staff are truly engaged!

Deborah Haliczer, President
SPS Council

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Big Bold Event and Bold Futures Workshops

Gail Schumacher

Gail Schumacher
Academic Advisor, College of Education

Attendees watch and listen to presentations at the Big Bold Event
The campus community gathered for
presentations during the "Big Bold Event."

If you were unable to attend the Big Bold Event, you missed one heck of a party. The Holmes Student Center changed from an ordinary array of lounge areas to a collective of extraordinary club settings with different styles of jazz and food items to enhance the music: New Orleans jazz band in the Duke Ellington Ballroom, Latin jazz band in the Gallery, a contemporary jazz combo in The Grind, and the Steel Band in Ellington’s. The extraordinary talent showcased was from students of NIU’s School of Music.

There was plenty to celebrate. This event was a culmination of work among over 1,200 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community people who participated in the Bold Futures Workshops last fall and this spring. The workshops brought different constituencies of NIU together to discuss various priorities and issues that NIU is facing. The three main objectives in these workshops were to have participants make connections with each other, become informed about the various resources and initiatives across campus, and to unleash ideas for creative solutions to support Student Career Success and the other pillars of the president's plans: ethically inspired leadership, thriving communities, and program and financial viability.

The Bold Futures Workshops in the fall asked participants to rank 10 priorities and decide what they considered the most important and least important for NIU to tackle. There were over ten sessions of 668 participants who shared their ideas including 174 staff members from combination of SPS and Operating Staff.

From those who participated in the fall, 284 participants returned to participate in the five spring workshops and there were five more sessions of 402 new participants. The spring workshops continued the conversation and gave participants a challenge. Each team was requested to interview students about priorities and to summarize the information in reports that offered creative ideas for solutions and initiatives across campus. Over 100 reports were submitted on behalf of teams. To view these reports online visit: http://niu.edu/president/bold_futures.

President Baker felt the entire process of the Bold Future’s Workshops energized the campus community and brought focus on the goal of Student Career Success. "Starting these conversations really helped develop culture and reinforce the sense of caring we have for students," he said. The president further added, "If we continue to look at things through the eyes of students and how they view life, we can work and help them be more successful. We can enhance their learning and help them be more prepared for the world of work."

Ron Walters, the workshops’ consultant and facilitator said he was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm that everyone had in approaching the tasks. Out of all the different groups, SPS members stood out to both him and the president as being extremely dedicated in their participation. There were more volunteers from SPS than slots to be filled for the teams that were organized. President Baker continues to be impressed with the positive energy of SPS staff and their efforts to help our students.

People who participated in these workshops are encouraged to take initiative as a result of the ideas in whatever capacity they can to further the objectives of Ethically Inspired Leadership and Thriving Communities. Walters commented that “Everyone has opportunity to keep the conversation going by talking with students and staff to move forward.”

Jazz Ensemble
One of the many bands that performed
as part of the "Jazz Alley"

The Big Bold Event received a great response and there was tremendous energy in the room. Walters said he and President Baker were overwhelmed with the quality of work in the reports and the four reports presented at the event were inspiring and creative. He also stated that “the live music in HSC was an example of what is possible for the future and that we need to take advantage of great resources around NIU and offer programming that engages students, faculty and staff.”

So, what’s next? President Baker said that his office is reviewing all the reports submitted to synthesize the ideas and report back to all participants of the workshops. Based on recommendations, they will identify offices that will work on some initiatives and also facilitate how all members of the NIU community can work together. Additional training may be provided on how to better serve our students and to avoid the “Huskie Shuffle.”

President Baker observed, “It was fun to see the Huskie spirit carried on in the celebration of the jazz bands. The music students reinforced just how many talent and resources we have in our students. The Huskie Spirit was on parade. Wouldn’t it be great to have live music in the HSC every weekend?”

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Supportive Professional Staff Dependent Scholarship Update

Anne Hardy

Anne Hardy 
SPS Scholarship Committee 

In 1995, two NIU colleagues from Sycamore gave birth just months apart - one to a daughter and one to a son. They later enrolled their children in the same classroom at the NIU Child Development Lab, which provides exemplary care and education for children from families whose parents or guardians are NIU students or staff, or community members. Both children also attended summer camps and other programs at NIU.

Fast forward 18 years. Mason Bross, now a freshman pre-computer science major at NIU, and son of Lori Bross, Research Associate for the Department of Biological Sciences, was honored as the 2013-14 inaugural recipient of a $1,000 SPS Dependent Scholarship. A few months later, Lydia Moore, daughter of Janet Love-Moore, Application Support Specialist for ITS, was named as the 2014-15 recipient of the scholarship.  One might say that NIU was their destiny, even before they were born!

Mason credits his mom for leading him to value and respect NIU as an excellent institution of higher learning. He selected NIU because of the location, affordability, quality of education, and available opportunities in which he could participate. In his first year, Mason has become involved in many activities through the STEM Living Learning Community, and he also serves as a volunteer equipment manager for the Huskies football team. 

President Doug Baker and Janet Love-Moore
Janet Love-Moore accepts her daughter
Lydia's scholarship award from President
Doug Baker at the SPS Council Awards
ceremony in April.

Lydia is also a freshman, and is studying pre-physical therapy. Lydia is involved in the NIU Leadership Academy, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, Research Rookies, and the University Honors Program, to name just a few. Lydia credits her mom for encouraging her to pursue the endless opportunities that NIU has to offer. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to attend NIU; Lydia plans to attend graduate school here as well.

Mason and Lydia are exceptional examples of the dedication, commitment, and pride that our dependents have for NIU. With special thanks to all of our generous donors, many of whom are current SPS, we were able to celebrate Mason’s and Lydia’s excellence at the awards ceremony on April 15, 2014. To date, we have raised over $4,000 for the scholarship fund. We hope to grow this expendable fund to an endowment, so that we can continue to provide financial support for our amazing students. In tough economic times, this is one way that the Council can provide support to our staff and their families. On behalf of the Council, we ask for contributions of $30 to help meet our goal of an endowment. Donations can be made on-line or by check; instructions can be found at www.niu.edu/spsc/scholarship. For more information, please contact Anne Hardy at ahardy@niu.edu or 815-753-0143. 

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2014 Supportive Professional Staff Elections

Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Catalog Editor and Curriculum Coordinator

The annual Supportive Professional Staff Council (SPSC) Elections were held this past spring to elect new members for terms running from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016, as well as SPSC president.

How Elections Work

Every spring, nominations are solicited from SPS employees for candidates from each of the six SPS Divisions. Nominees are then confirmed for eligibility and interest and become candidates. Candidates receive votes from their fellow SPS employees in their division via an online ballot. At the end of the voting period, the candidates are ranked in descending order of votes received and assigned to Council vacancies (with representative vacancies taking priority over alternate vacancies and two-year vacancies taking priority over one-year vacancies). Any relevant ties are manually resolved.

The Divisions

All SPS employees are members of one of the six SPS Council Divisions. The assignment placement of SPS employees into the divisions is determined from their department. (A list of the departments belonging to each Council division can be found online at http://www.niu.edu/spsc/membership/sps_divisions.shtml).

The Council consists of 24 representatives, 24 (non-voting) alternates, and one president. The president is elected at large and does not represent any particular division. Each representative is elected from and represents his or her division. Each representative also has a single designated alternate (also elected from the specific Council division).

The proportion of the 24 representative seats across the six divisions is based upon the proportion of all SPS employees in each Division. Every few years, the Council reexamines the proportions to ensure the Council membership reflects the base employee ratios (although there is a two-representative/alternate minimum for all divisions).

The SPS divisions and their current associated Council composition are detailed in the following table entitled “SPS Divisions.”

SPS Divisions
Division Number Division Name Seats
1 Academic & Student Affairs - Provost’s Office 2
2 Academic & Student Affairs - Student Services 4
3 Academic & Student Affairs - Liberal Arts and Sciences 3
4 Academic & Student Affairs - Other Colleges and Graduate School 5
5 Finance and Facilities - General Administration/Development/President 8
6 Intercollegiate Athletics 2

Election Results

For president of the SPS  Council, Deborah Haliczer was elected to a two-year term, July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016. The members elected to the SPS Council are detailed in the following table entitled “Elected Council Members.” Newly-elected members and alternates are as follows:

Division 1, Randi Napientek, representative; Dana Gautcher alternate

Division 2, Mike Stang and Victoria Livingston, representatives; Christine Kipp and Anne Hardy, alternates.

Division 3, Catherine Doederlein and Sandy Lopez, representatives; Melissa Burlingame and Susan Oppenborn, alternates.

Division 4, Eric Biletzky and Kristin Duffy, representatives, and Karinne Bredberg, alternate.

Division 5, Rachel Xidis, Dena Funkhouser, Diane Alberts, and Nicholas Piazza, representatives; and Lesley Gilbert, Patricia Anderson, Sabrina Hammond, and Matthew Parks, alternates.

Division 6, Debra Boughton, representative.

In addition, at the May 15 SPS Council meeting, the following individuals were appointed to fill vacancies that were not filled with the election or that were the result of SPS retirements or other appointments:

Division 1, Debra Miller was appointed as an alternate.

Division 4, Marti Jernberg was appointed as an alternate.

Division 5, Lesley Gilbert was moved to a representative position and Roselyn Snell was appointed as an alternate.

Division 6, Eric Schultz was appointed as an alternate.

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How to Retire

Deborah Haliczer

Deborah Haliczer
President, Supportive Professional Staff Council

Everyone’s talking about retirement. Should I be thinking about it? If I think I want to retire, what should I do? The question of how and when to retire is a complicated one. Most university employees have heard that the pension law was scheduled to change July 1, but has been delayed possibly until July 2015. What does this mean for me?

When can I retire?

That depends on several factors. If you started participation in the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) as a state university employee prior to January, 2011, you can retire at age 55 if you have 8 or more years of service, though there will be a reduction/penalty in the pension annuity if you retire before age 60. Or, if you are 62, you can retire with 5 or more years of service. Anyone who has 30 years or more of service can retire at any age without the age-related penalty. (The so-called “30 and out” possibility does not, however assure that you reach maximum retirement benefits.) These employees would be considered part of Tier 1. Those employees who started employment and participation in SURS after January, 2011 (Tier 2) can retire at age 62 with 10 or more years of service, with an age reduction, or at age 67 with 10 or more years of service, but no reduction. (Source: www.surs.org.)

How do I know if I should retire?

The decision to retire is a very personal one, and depends on how many years of service you have completed, your age, your life situation and career plans, and the retirement plan you selected at the time of hire. There are a number of differences between the Traditional Plan, the Portable Plan, and the Self-Managed Plan. That plan decision is irrevocable once elected, even if you go to another state university in Illinois. To better understand your plan, go to www.surs.org and review the extensive materials posted there, including several videos on each plan, member guides, and FAQs, as well as participate in one of the member webinars that further explain your benefits. The changes in the Pension Law that were scheduled to take place on July 1 do not generally affect members in the Self-Managed plan (also known as the Defined Contribution Plan). Since the law’s implementation has been delayed due to an injunction filed to delay the law’s implementation until the law’s constitutionality has been determined, there is more confusion on the part of employees.

SURS has prohibited university benefits offices from offering retirement counseling, particularly in light of the current changes in pension law. Employees who think they should retire need to seek advice from SURS resources. (See the Human Resource Services website for specific information and updates.) SURS has also offered a number of Pension Reform webinars that explain the changes in the law and offer some guidance to its members. The webinar handouts can be downloaded from the SURS website. Human Resource Services has posted informational materials on its website on how to retire, resources and forms to use when making a retirement application, benefits for retirees, and other resources that can assist in planning for retirement.

SURS offers individual retirement counseling in person, or by phone, or will prepare a written estimate. In light of the high volume of interest in having an estimate, SURS has not been able to accommodate all requests for individual counseling prior to the change in the law. Contact SURS at 1-800-ASK-SURS for questions on the availability of services.

Human Resource Services has scheduled group meetings to assist anyone who is filing a retirement application.

So I have decided to retire. What do I have to do?

  1. Familiarize yourself with information on the SURS website and learn all you can about your benefits. SURS has posted a useful “Retirement Preparation Checklist” on their site. Complete your research and planning.
  2. Log onto your own Personal Account on the SURS site. Review your beneficiary information, check to see if you need to provide a copy of your birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, or any other required information. Review your benefits statement, which will indicate whether the advantageous retirement calculation is “General Formula” or “Money Purchase,” and see what your expected annuity would be.
  3. Review your status with Social Security and learn what benefits you may be eligible to receive. Review your eligibility for Medicare (parts A and B).
  4. If you are eligible to purchase any other service credit (i.e., graduate assistant time, prior service, military service, other public employment, etc.) make arrangements with SURS about buying time prior to retirement. You can pay by check, or use other retirement funds, such as a 403(b) or IRA transfer of funds.
  5. At least 60-90 days prior to the date when you want your retirement to start, file your SURS application. There is a different form for each of the three retirement plans, found at the SURS website. You can file a retirement application when you want, but it will take 60-90 days potentially for the calculation to be completed. When you are paid, it will be retroactive to your first date of retirement.
  6. It is customary to designate your last day of work as the last day of a given month, with retirement beginning on the first day of the month following your last day worked (e.g., May 31 last work day, June 1 first day of retirement and first day of annuity payment).  Employees are reminded that they are covered by health insurance until their last day of work, and retiree health insurance, if elected, begins the first day of retirement. In recent webinars, SURS has indicated that an employee can make their last day any day of the month, with a retirement date when they choose. The pension annuity would begin on the first day of the month when retirement begins. The employee making this kind or arrangement risks a period without health insurance and should ask the NIU Employee Insurance and Benefits Office about this.
  7. Filing a retirement application with SURS is only the first step to retiring. The employee must also RESIGN from NIU. Faculty and SPS need to write a letter of resignation to their departments, stating that they are retiring, designating their last day of work at NIU and the start date of their retirement. Operating Staff must go to HRS to complete a resignation form. Human Resources asks that these resignations be completed 30 days prior to retirement in order to avoid overpayments and potential complications with the retirement annuity.
  8. Employees who retire need to complete resignation procedures, including returning all NIU equipment to the department, turning in all keys and other materials. Employees must also complete a final Salaried Benefits Usage form to their department, before their last work day. Unused vacation days will be paid to those employees who are eligible (regular SPS), and any unused, compensable sick leave will also be paid out on a final check. Employees should also complete a final SOEEA time report online by the last work day.
  9. Employees who are eligible for refunds of unused vacation and compensable sick leave may consider deferring a portion of this time to a 403(b) or a 457 plan. Contact Human Resources (815-753-6000) to discuss deferrals.
  10. Speak with SURS about your insurance choices in retirement. NIU’s Employee Insurance and Benefits Office is not the benefits office for retirees, and SURS has asked that employees who are retiring speak with them about retiree insurance choices.

Ending employment at NIU

If you have not already done so, join the State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA). For a modest membership fee, which is deducted from the pension annuity (and directly from active employees’ payroll if they are members), you will be kept informed of pension changes, benefit changes and the status of all things affecting annuitants (that’s what retirees are called when they collect an annuity). The University Benefits Committee advocates that all active employees and retirees join the association. Your contributions help the efforts to have a voice for retirement issues, and help keep you informed. A benefit of membership is the newsletters and information on activities and lobbying efforts done by SUAA and Northern Illinois University Annuitants Association (NIUAA). Among the other benefits of membership in the SUAA/NIUAA, members are invited to an annual meeting and dinner in the first week of June each year (June 4 this year), and an NIU e-mail account.

If you are asked to return to work part time after retirement, be especially careful to pay attention to the legal restrictions on state employment after retirement, and to your personal pension earnings limitations, which will be written in your retirement letter from SURS.

Now That You Are Retired, What’s Next?

For the first few months, the SURS annuity will be an estimated payment, as SURS does its final calculation. After a period of a few months, SURS will issue a letter indicating your final rate of pension earnings, and refund any funds owed to you that are more than that estimate, and will also issue a check for any excess contributions if you worked past when you reached the maximum earnings. This situation primarily occurs in the case of long-term employees who have worked well over 30 years.

One of the changes in the pension law is that retirees will no longer receive the 3% automatic annual increase (AAI, formerly called the COLA), as that formula has changed. Retirees will have to “skip” a year of the new AAI, based on formulas described in materials on pension reform. For details, see the SURS materials at www.surs.org.

NOT retiring? Take the opportunity to consider contributing to a deferred compensation plan: 403(b), 457, or Roth 403(b). All of these plans help you take charge of future retirement earnings. If the pension law is implemented and still contains a decrease of 1% of your SURS contributions, this would be an ideal way to defer 1% of your earnings into a supplemental retirement annuity, and you might not notice its absence in your pay.


Visit the Human Resource Services website for current information, go to www.surs.org, and visit the Social Security website for information specific to your situation.

Then? Explore your options for activity in retirement. Travel. Volunteer. Explore. Join the Annuitants Association. If you are living in the neighborhood, join the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI). Go forward into your own bold future, (but don’t forget to turn in your NIU keys), and keep in touch! 

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FY14 Recap - Supportive Professional Council Events

Melissa Burlingame Janet Love-Moore 

Melissa Burlingame, mburlingame@niu.edu
Janet Love-Moore, jlovemoore@niu.edu
Co-Chairs, SPS Council Events Committee

2014 Fall Tailgate
Making connections at the Annual SPS
Tailgate event

The past year has been exciting for the SPS Events Committee, having planned a variety of successful events.

There were an ambitious 8 events planned for fall of 2013, ranging from talks to tours to tailgating. In September, SPS toured Gilbert Hall and learned more about the roles of the Ombudsperson and the Faculty & SPS Personnel Advisor. The Office of Student Support Services was highlighted in October and we had the largest turnout for the Annual SPS Tailgate with 65 attendees when NIU played against Eastern Michigan. There were two popular tours in November of the Biology Specimen Lab and the Microelectronics Research and Development Lab. November also highlighted the Center for P-20 Engagement and December rounded out the semester with a Lunch and Learn focused on cloud technology.

Spring is always busier on campus, so the Events Committee planned fewer events. The semester kicked off with the well-attended Holiday Celebration in February. The committee encouraged SPS to support NIU Cares Day by helping the SILD office to find partner sites and to volunteer at the registration on the day of the event. In April, the first Monthly Mixer was held at Rosita’s and the event was a big hit with over 40 people attending and making connections with others across campus. In an effort to include more service opportunities, the committee ran a pilot event with the VAC Meals on Wheels program and considered it a great success. The semester is ending with another technology Lunch and Learn, which has an amazing 80 people registered to listen to the new CIO talk about technology and information services at NIU.

SPS visits the Biology Department Specimen Lab
“Look” at all the awesome specimens in
the Biological Sciences department

This summer should continue this great momentum with more monthly mixers and campus tours in the planning process. The next monthly mixer will be on May 22nd and will be at the Mikimoto Japanese Steakhouse. Some tours that we are organizing are of the Google Model used moving OSEEL and FYE to Altgeld 100, a tour of campus outdoor sculptures on bike, and an evening at the NIU Observatory.

We love to get ideas from others on campus and help to make them happen. If you have some thoughts or want to help plan an event, please do not hesitate to contact Melissa (mburlingame@niu.edu) or Janet (jlovemoore@niu.edu) to make it happen. Have a great summer!

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Sick Bank Time Contributions

Kathy L Smith

Kathy L Smith
Managing Director of Payroll

The university has established a Sick Leave Bank program in which regularly appointed faculty, supportive professional, and civil service employees are eligible to participate. Regularly appointed employees may elect to join the sick leave bank during the Benefits Choice period, May 1 through May 31. 

For FY15, current participants will not be required to donate additional sick days to maintain participation due to the adequacy of donated sick days remaining on balance as of this date. Otherwise, participation in the Sick Leave Bank program requires an employee to donate at least one day of accrued sick leave prior to the end of the annual “Benefits Choice” period.

Consistent with the Illinois Sick Leave Bank Act, the Sick Leave Bank program is designed to assist NIU employees who face major health crises and who have exhausted all other available benefits.  To register for participation in the Sick Leave Bank program for FY15, please complete the enrollment form which is available on the HRS web site.

All forms must be received in the Payroll Department by May 31, 2014.  If you have any questions regarding the Sick Leave Bank program, please feel free to contact Human Resource Services at 753-6000.

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Captain Fun and the Endless Spring Break

An SPS Investigative Report by Gillian King-Cargile

Gillian King-Cargile

Gillian King-Cargile
Outreach Communications Coordinator

Jack King on the job site
Jack King sports one of his many Habitat
for Humanity T-shirts at the building site.

They call him Captain Fun. They say he knows where to find the best raw oysters and cheapest T-shirts in the Florida Panhandle. For 20 years, SPS employee Jack King, internship coordinator for the Department of Sociology, has played the part of the pied piper of Spring Break, leading NIU students, faculty, SPS employees, and alumni south for a week-long trip to Pensacola Beach, Florida. But it’s not all seafood, white-sand beaches, and souvenirs. King and his group spend the week working with Pensacola Habitat for Humanity.

The 2014 spring break trip this March marked the 20th year of NIU’s partnership with the non-profit organization. NIU’s team usually constructs at least two houses on each trip. They take building sites from a flat concrete slab to a fully-framed house complete with windows, doors, and a roof over the course of four work days. Throughout the years, NIU’s groups have built over 30 homes for people in need.

Jack King has coordinated the trip all 20 years and has a lot of great memories and a drawer full of Habitat for Humanity T-shirts to show for his efforts. He says that community service has always been an important component of the trip, but he also thinks that traveling to Pensacola provides valuable opportunities for students to experience different cultures and perspectives.

Students who usually don’t interact with many people outside of their majors find themselves hammering alongside students, alumni, faculty, and staff from across the campus. They also meet volunteers, home owners, and retirees who work for Habitat. “Students develop intergenerational relationships, which are nothing but important for student career success,” said King.

“Having SPS people on the trip gives students an opportunity to have casual conversations about different career paths,” he continues. “It has led to informal mentoring opportunities between students and supportive professional staff members.”

King says he’s proud to have worked with so many SPS employees over the years and he notes that they use their personal vacation days to volunteer for the trip. “SPS employees have stepped up and volunteered and illustrated their commitment to interacting with students and helping them have a memorable experience that ties them to NIU for life.”

Teri Schmidgall, a career counselor at NIU Career Services, was one of the SPS employees who traveled with King this year. Schmidgall said that she always encourages students to get engaged in university activities. “I always encourage students to volunteer for a trip like this. It’s a way for them to build their resumes, grow their networks, develop skills, and make a real difference in someone's life,” said Schmidgall.

She said that going on the trip was equally important for her as a member of the NIU community. “My recommendations to students may have more meaning when I can speak of real experiences I have had,” said Schmidgall. “Also, the partnership I have with the Sociology Department is a highlight of my tenure at NIU and this trip has strengthened it even more.”

Day 3 of the build
“Watching the two building sites go from
concrete slabs to having a full foundation,
roof, and even windows and doors within
such a short amount of time was amazing!
It showed what a major difference we all
can make if we work together.”
- Destiny McDonald.

This year, Huskie Alternative Break (HAB) students also joined in the fun. The group has been sending students throughout the country to assist non-profit organizations during NIU’s spring break since 2009. When SPS employee Destiny McDonald heard that the NIU Habitat Trip was celebrating 20 years of service, she wanted her participants to be a part of it.

McDonald, the assistant director of Community Service from NIU’s Student Involvement and Leadership Development, said the students who participated were excited to be a part of something with such a rich history on NIU’s campus. “This trip embodies NIU's commitment to service and tradition. It encourages students to not just think about the social issues within their own town, but within the nation and even around the world.”

According to McDonald, many of the current students who went on the trip bonded with alumni who were also on the trip. “The students were extremely inspired by NIU alumni's commitment to service. They really appreciated meeting individuals who have been a part of the Habitat trip for over 10 years.”

McDonald said that many of the HAB participants are now interested in joining Americorps to work with Habitat for Humanity when they graduate.

Some students who have gone on the trip start to see NIU as a place where they can build a career. Jessica Ibares has participated in the Spring Break Habitat Trip four times, twice as an undergraduate student and twice as an SPS employee. “The trip helped me appreciate NIU as a whole,” said Jessica. After graduating, she stayed at NIU and is now a financial aid counselor in NIU’s Student Financial Aid Office. “I feel proud that I am part of a university community that values volunteering. The trip also helps me interact with current students so that I can stay relevant with what they want from NIU and improve as a resource to them.”   

This year, after the last day of building, the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico and NIU students, faculty, staff, and alumni sat on the sandy-white beach recovering from a hard week of hammering. Jack King looked out over the waves and mused about the long-term success of the trip. “It’s been 20 years, we’ve built over 30 houses, I have 45 Habitat for Humanity T-shirts,” he said. “It might be time to hang up my hammer.”

From somewhere down the beach, an alumni yelled, “Same time next year, Captain Fun?” Jack King laughed and shrugged and said, “Let’s talk about it over some oysters.”