University Park, IL,
17:44 PM

Convocation 2017 Kicks Off a New Year

In the crowded green room, the backstage holding tank, of the Center for Performing Arts (CPA) at Governors State University, students exchanged greetings and chattered. Divided into groups—freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and DDP transfer students—they waited for their collective cue to quiet down and stand ready, but their excitement bubbled over the call when it came. Administrative staff and faculty members stood on hand, guiding and good-naturedly hushing them. In the auditorium, other faculty, staff, and family members chatted as noisily while an upbeat soundtrack played against a film roll of GSU students and promotional slides for the university. All were waiting for Convocation 2017 to begin.

Convocation, the official start of the academic year, was held Friday, August 25. Steeped in tradition, it is a time when students come together with faculty and staff members to formally begin the new year and to honor outstanding members of GSU's professional community. And at GSU, it's always followed by an ice cream social.

At 3 p.m. sharp, the doors to the CPA closed, and Student Senate President Justin Smith delivered the opening remarks.

"I remember walking into this auditorium three years ago as a member of GSU's first freshman class," he said. "...GSU has been my home for three years, and in those three years, the support from GSU's faculty and staff has made all the difference in my success."

Smith then welcomed the DDP students and each class, led by Student Senate representives. The new freshmen—the fourth freshmen class in the university's history—received a standing ovation.

As the gonfalons, cloth standards representing each graduating class, were placed on the stage, the students took their seats, and Provost Deborah Bordelon addressed the crowd.

"Welcome to 2017 Convocation. We are so excited to have you here today to celebrate the start of the 2017 - 18 year. I'd like to start off by saying thank you to all of you for your commitment to the success of GSU. At GSU, we embrace challenges ... We're resilient ... Now more than ever, I encourage everyone to get involved with university life ... Governors State University is celebrating the start of a new academic year with a completely reimagined brand identity. While our commitment remains strong to you and the communities we serve, the new brand identity more clearly defines the university's values," Bordelon said before showing a brand new video to the Convocation audience.

In the clip, GSU students, faculty, and staff members are shown working and engaging one another on campus while a voice-over touted and revealed GSU's new platform and tagline:

"Passion is what gets you through the door. Wakes you up first thing in the morning. Rattles your heart and stimulates your mind. Purpose is what you take with you. It carries your work forward. It leaves a mark on the world. Purpose is why you persist. It lasts forever. At Governors State University, we take passion and purpose personally. We're invested in your forever. Here, you are not just a student. You're hard work in motion. A dream coming true. Here, you are."

Afterward, GSU President Elaine P. Maimon took to the podium.

"Good afternoon, everyone ... What a thrill it is to see all of you here today... GSU's first freshmen class has just completed its final convocation march; the next time you march it will be at May commencement. I now hereby declare the opening of the 2017 - 18 academic year. It's going to be a great one," she said.

A tradition at Convocation is the awarding of the three Faculty Excellence Awards and the Dr. Gerald C. Baysore Award. Dr. Maimon announced the winners.

"We believe very much in mentoring at this instiution. (The Faculty Excellence Award recipients) are researchers, they're mentors, and each recipient is a true exemplar. They say that there are no secrets on university campuses, but I think we do a pretty good job of keeping these names secret," Dr. Maimon said.

She revealed the winners in alphabetical order.

DeLawnia Comer-HaGans, Assistant Professor of Heath Administration in the College of Health and Human Services was awarded for her "teaching and reserach accomplishments." Dr. Maimon said Comer-HaGans was recognized for being a "student-centered" professor who "creates an environment where all students feel comfortable enough to share and actively participate."

Natalia Ermasova, Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences was recognized for her demonstration of "excellence in teaching and research," her "innovative teach methods," and for being a "highly productive scholar who has  published multiple peer-reviewed articles in both English and Russian."

Jason Zingsheim, Associate Professor of Communication – Visual and Performing Arts also in the College of Arts and Sciences was awarded his second Faculty Excellence Award for making "first rate contributions to GSU in teaching, research, and service." His colleagues nominated him for his "highly innovative techniques in teaching" and said he "blends experiential leanring at cultural locations with highly effective online practices."

Each Faculty Excellence Award winner received $6,000. Dr. Maimon went on to introduce the final award of the afternoon, the Dr. Gerald C. Baysore Award, which grants top honors and $750 to the winner each year.

"Universities are all about traditions, about carrying forward a history into an innovative future. The Baysore Award is the highest honor GSU can bestow on an employee. I want to thank everyone for the wonderful letters with inspiring details of the qualifications of your colleagues," Dr. Maimon said. "This year, the committee felt truly uplifted by the stories. The decision was not easy."

Giving the audience "clues," Dr. Maimon said this year's winner was "an upbeat, helpful, optimisitic hardworker ... a selfless and giving person" who "constantly pushed herself to do more, learn more, and serve students as best she could."

Bonnie Gregg, academic advisor in Pychology and Counseling, was the recipient of the 2017 Dr. Gerald C. Baysore Award, and she received a standing ovation from the Convocation crowd.

Dr. Maimon continued, "Bonnie's nomination letter was signed by 36 of her colleagues. As an exemplary mentor, Bonnie has made a huge impact. She's an avid Sox fan, she loves Star Wars, and the nomination letter makes it clear that The Force is strong with this one.

"In years past, in the bad old days, university presidents would say, 'Look to the right of you, look to the left of you. Only one in three will march in graduation.' GSU has devoted much thought and effort to the timely completion of GSU degrees. Make friends with those sitting next to you, because you will be marching together at graduation. Welcome class of 2021 ... It's going to be a great year. Now let's go eat some ice cream."