February 14, 2020
The 2020 Forward, Together Forward Scholarship winners continue a 12-year history of celebrating and supporting students who not only succeed in the classroom, but also serve as leaders on campus and beyond.
This year's winners are Cristina Bravo, of Palatine, Arlene Elias, of Woodstock, Frederick McClure, of Orland Park, Kayla McTear, of Chicago, and Emily Staples, of Aurora. The five recipients represent four different colleges, are involved in multiple service organizations and dozens of volunteer activities, work jobs on campus and off, participate in learning opportunities across the country and abroad and have plans for careers ranging from teaching, to sales, to caring for those with mental illness.
Honorees are chosen through a competitive process which seeks to find individuals whose scholarship and service honor the memory of the five NIU students lost on Feb. 14, 2008: Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Dan Parmenter. The scholarships are funded by gifts from more than 1,800 individuals.
Learn more about the 2020 Forward, Together Forward Scholars:
Like the first class of aspiring teachers that enrolled at Northern Illinois State Normal School 125 years ago, Cristina Bravo is committed to becoming a complete educator.
Raised in a bilingual environment, Cristina knows that getting students to embrace a language requires more than teaching them how to conjugate verbs. So, rather than settle for a certification as a Spanish language teacher, she has chosen to pursue a degree in Spanish Education and a minor in Latino and Latin American Studies, which will prepare her to teach not just language, but also about the cultures and traditions of Spanish-speaking nations.
During her time at NIU, she has worked to eliminate language barriers and increase cultural understanding through her participation in the Foreign Language Residence Program and the NIU Conversational Club. She also created and presented a program at her high school alma mater, Palatine High School, where she taught Spanish-speaking parents about the college process so that they can better support their students as they pursue higher education.
That record of achievement and service makes her an excellent choice for the Forward, Together Forward scholarship, say those who nominated her.
"Cristina Bravo is among the most engaged, promising and talented students I have had in my classroom in years," says one of her instructors, Associate Professor Francisco Solares-Larrave. "Her motivations, achievements and drive to succeed make her a worthy candidate for this award."
Arlene Elias was attracted to Northern Illinois University because of its dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.
"From the moment I stepped on campus I saw reflections of myself everywhere – first-generation students, women of color and members of the LGBT community. I am proud to be part of an institution that does not fear diversity, but rather celebrates it," Arlene says.
Her personal commitment to diversity is evident in her activities on campus. She works with adults with disabilities through Best Buddies and serves the community through her work with the Sigma Lambda Sigma Service Sorority.
While doing all those things, Arlene has earned a GPA of 3.56, majoring in Rehabilitation and Disability Services and pursuing minors in Psychology and Counseling along with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies. Arlene is also a participant in the University Honors Program and a member of the Adela de la Torre Latino Honor Society.
Making her record of accomplishment all the more amazing is that, as an individual raised in the foster system, statistically speaking, Arlene had a 10 percent chance of graduating from college. While beating those odds, she is working to help others who share her background, participating in groups where she shares how she has overcome challenges and found success.
"I have been so very humbled by seeing Arlene grow and blossom into the woman she is today," says Dahlia Roman, an instructor and coordinator of NIU's Child Development and Family Center, who wrote in support of her nomination. "I look forward to her helping many others in the future."
Frederick McClure couldn't wait until after graduation to start fulfilling his dream of working with underprivileged youth.
An avid percussionist with a double major in Music Education Music Performance, he created "Music Education Agents," organizing a group of 10 of his peers to visit a low-income neighborhood in DeKalb where they performed and then gave children the chance to try their instruments.
The organization is Fred's way of paying forward the support that he received from many NIU alumni during the four years that he was a percussionist with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.
No doubt those mentors are proud of his other accomplishments on campus. Fred has served as the percussion section leader in the NIU Philharmonic, has played in the NIU Steelband and the NIU Percussion Ensemble and currently serves as president of the NIU Percussion Club. He also is a member of the John Henrick Clarke Honor Society and serves as a student advisor to the dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts
"Fred McClure is a caring and compassionate individual who wants to make a difference in the lives of others in his community," says Mary Lynn Doherty, director of NIU's Music Education program. "He is already fulfilling his mission to improve his community and the world through music."
When Kayla McTear thinks about Feb. 14, 2008, her thoughts turn to the parents of those who were lost.
She understands their pain, because she lost a child of her own to pneumonia. More than that, she understands the strength and resilience it takes to not only endure such a loss, but also the determination to commit oneself to being a positive light in the world despite those circumstances.
For Kayla, that has meant dedicating herself to a life of caring for others. She is enrolled in the NIU College of Nursing and is pursuing minors in Psychology and Community Health so that she can become a psychiatric nurse after graduation. She also plans to volunteer her time and talents at Veterans Affairs hospitals to care for those who risked their lives for their country.
Kayla has found a supportive community in the NIU School of Nursing to help her achieve her goals: "I have never been to a school that displays such gratitude to its students and gives back to them like NIU does," she says. "I am proud to be a Huskie."
Emily Staples started her college career at another university, but when she transferred to NIU, she knew she was where she belonged. Now, she works to welcome others to campus.
As a Northern Ambassador, she is one of the first people many future Huskies meet, and she is determined to help them get off to the best start possible. She doesn't just lead tours; she also tries to connect with prospective students, asking about their dreams and goals, and then explaining how NIU can help them attain those things.
Emily shows the same level of commitment in her work with the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, where she serves as philanthropy chair and recently helped raise $3,000 for the Special Olympics.
She also works hard in the classroom, as shown by her frequent appearance on the Dean's List as she pursues a degree in Business Administration. Recently, as part of her work to earn a certificate in sales, she joined a group of students on a trip to Silicon Valley to learn about careers in technology sales – a field she hopes to pursue.
"One of Emily's most impressive characteristics is the way she gets things accomplished, with tenacity and grace," says her sorority advisor, Ashley Kreh who wrote in support of her nomination. "Emily is a leader, and I look forward to watching her continued growth as an individual and a member of society."
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body of about 17,000.