University Park, IL,
16:56 PM

Convocation 2020 Kicks off Academic School Year

In a conversation with Psychology major J. Latrice Koger, Governors State University President Cheryl Green shared that her favorite comfort food is pizza, her ideal vacation would be somewhere in the Caribbean islands, and that her theme song (if she had one), would be “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston.

The Q&A session took place as part of a pre-recorded Convocation 2020 that premiered on Sept. 3, and gave the Governors State community a chance to get more familiar with the university’s new president, both personally and professionally. Dr. Green joined the university on July 1 as academic institutions faced the unprecedented challenge of educating students during a global pandemic.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for GSU,” she said, acknowledging that the academic term is commencing “under unique and challenging circumstances” with 90 percent of learning occurring away from campus this fall.

Hosted online for the first time as a Facebook Virtual Watch Party, Convocation welcomed new and returning students and kicked off the 2020-21 academic year. It also featured a virtual visit from Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, advice from Mark Tyler, president of the Student Senate, and the presentation of GSU awards.

In Koger’s talk with Dr. Green, she asked the university president how she remains hopeful in the face of economic, healthcare, and racial crises.

“Throughout history, and the history of higher education, there have been conflicts. At first, women couldn’t go to college. Then it was people of color. Then they couldn’t go to school at the same college,” said Dr. Green, the first woman of color to lead Governors State.

“I really do believe in the human spirit and in a higher power. What we have to do is work together toward the greater good. I’m very optimistic about the future, and about the future of Governors State.”

In her inaugural address to the Governors State community, Dr. Green shared good news from each of the four colleges before she outlined her vision and its three main elements: enhancing Governors State’s image, deepening its commitment to academic excellence, and creating a more holistic experience for students.

To help spread the word about the university, Governors State has already broadcast a television commercial that has been seen in more than four million households across the Chicago area, she said. “And I intend to organize a GSU Capitol Day in Springfield that brings students, faculty research, alumni and campus leadership together to promote our campus highlights,” she said.

To enhance academics, Dr. Green wants to explore the development of a three-year baccalaureate degree to draw motivated students and trim college costs. Additionally, finding a “sister university” in another country could help Governors State augment current study-aboard programs and establish an exchange site for students and faculty when travel restrictions are lifted.

And expanding operations for a Social Justice Institute will enable Governors State to address societal issues in the community. “This is especially relevant given our MSW, social justice and policy studies and criminal justice majors,” she said.

To boost the student experience, Governors State should strengthen its recruitment of veterans and implement a more robust Greek life on campus for social and academic fraternities and sororities, Dr. Green said.

“Together, we will overcome any challenges ahead that we may face,” she said. “Together, we must!”

 In a video message, Lt. Gov. Stratton reminded students of the university's founding principles and  encouraged them to persist in the face of challenges. She also reflected on the 2019 Convocation.

"When Gov. Pritzker spoke to you last year, he talked about Governors State students taking different pathways, different than most. This was an acknowledgment of Governors State's proud history of educating nontraditional students. Now you are going to be on pathways that are not only different, but perviously unimaginable. ... Your courage and commitment show your dedication. By earning your degree, you’re securing your economic future. Things will get better if we work together and we’re all in it for Illinois. …Your education is worth it.”

The idea was echoed by Mark Tyler, a Psychology major and future doctorate of physical therapy student. “While so many parts of our lives have changed, one thing remains the same—our responsibility to move forward, to press toward the mark of excellence. Education is still the great equalizer in our society,” he said.

He urged his fellow students to participate. “If your class meets remotely, log on. If your class meets in person, show up,” he said. “You can’t excel if you don’t attend class. Think like Drake: ‘Everybody has an addiction. Mine happens to be success.’ “

Convocation also celebrated faculty and staff excellence exhibited during the previous academic year. This year’s Excellence Award winners, announced by 2019 winner Josh Sopiarz, associate professor in the University Library, were Amy Bala, University Lecturer, Senior Status, in Physical Therapy in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS); Shirley Comer, University Lecturer, Senior Status, in Nursing, CHHS; and Stephen Hyzny, University Lecturer, Senior Status, in Information Technology, College of Arts and Sciences.

Sopiarz said Bala’s nominators wrote about her excellence in teaching and her ability to balance that responsibility with her duties as the Lead Co-Director of clinical education for the DPT2 and three students. When the COVID pandemic affected the students’ clinicals, Bala “worked tirelessly with the PT program director to figure out the impact on the students’ eligibility to graduate and take their national PT board exams.” The nominators also described her vision and daily commitment to excellence, “elevating the hopes and dreams of her students into reality by providing them with quality and innovative instruction.”

The second Excellence Award went to Comer. Sopiarz quoted her nomination which pointed out that Comer serves as the unofficial simulation coordinator for the Nursing Department and has developed several scenarios for nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy students to help them prepare for their clinical experiences. It was noted that Comer also co-organized a simulation for 100 local high school students participating in the 3 Seeds Honors program. The Committee recommended Comer “based on her extensive internal and external service efforts above and beyond what is required of her position in addition to her heavy and varied teaching load.”

Sopiarz said many on campus know the third Excellence Award winner, Hyzny, as the partner of Sandy, the therapy dog that regularly visits with students in the library and provides much-appreciated stress relief. It was one of many examples his nominator described of the “innovative and effective services” he provides to the university as “he consistently works to bring people together.” Hyzny not only plays an active role in Governors State’s IT accreditation, he provides expertise to the American Council on Education, Sopiarz said. The Committee said Hyzny’s dedication to students was exemplified by his role as faculty advisor to the U.S. Cyber Challenge and Collegiate Cyber Defense Teams.

Cynthia Matthias, an office support specialists in the College of Business (COB), received this year’s Baysore Award for demonstrating the qualities Baysore exemplified: absolute integrity, total competence, generous dedication, and unfailing civility. Announced by previous winner Joshua Young, program director for Digital Learning and Media Design, he said “Cynthia’s character is sterling, her work ethic is impeccable, and her kindness to all is readily apparent.”

Young shared glowing comments from nominators. Matthias “firmly adheres to her clear values of hard work, honesty, and commitment to her work at GSU,” and is “honest, forthright, and completely trustworthy,'' Young quoted from the nomination. During her time at Governors State, Matthias' job has changed “dramatically” and there have been continual changes in administrative requirements and technology, all of which she embraced, according to the nomination.

Finally,  another nominee wrote that Matthias is “always ready to provide helpful advice and guidance,” and her historic knowledge of GSU and the administrative operations at COB is “unparalleled.”

Director of University Events Karen Caesar served as Mistress of Ceremonies, moving the hour- long ceremony along with heart-felt reflections and well wishes for the new academic year.

“I invite you to please share the link to Convocation far and wide – tweet it, post it on Facebook and LinkedIn – let’s spread the word about the fantastic things happening right here at GSU!”

She closed the ceremony with her signature line:

“Be well. Be safe. Be engaged! Be encouraged!

Click here to watch Convocation 2020.