University Park, IL,
10:07 AM

Gov. Pritzker Welcomes New Academic Year at GSU

At a landmark celebration that filled nearly every seat in the Center for Performing Arts, Governors State University’s 50th Anniversary Convocation Ceremony launched the 2019-20 academic year with advice to students from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, the first chief executive to visit the university in over a decade.

“Ask questions while you’re here, [and] when you get out too, because you should always be learning. There’s so much more to know your entire life,” he said. “You’ll be the one in the room who knows the most if you ask the most questions.”

Pritzker’s remarks drew waves of applause as he acknowledged the important role GSU has played in the field of higher education and the Southland since its founding in 1969, and again as he announced increased funding both for students and for the university.

“In just 50 years, Governors State has pioneered education and powered the Southland,” Pritzker said. “And you've done it all while putting nontraditional college students at the forefront, opening up the doors to higher education here in Illinois. That’s a mission that our state should hold up as a point of pride.”

Pointing to the state’s recently-passed bipartisan balanced budget, the governor said it expanded merit-based scholarships and college tuition grants to nearly 10,000 additional students (some of whom attend GSU) and provided $33 million to GSU to improve buildings and campus facilities, part of an overall $3 billion capital plan to improve public universities in Illinois.

“When we invest in higher education, we’re supporting innovative communities. We’re supporting the future of our state,” he said. “When we invest in higher education, we're preparing our workforce for the next 50 years, the next 100 years. You are our future and we’re investing in you.”

In introducing the governor, Governors State President Elaine P. Maimon dubbed Pritzker “Illinois’s Teacher-in-Chief” for “promoting education as essential to democracy.” She said, “Because of the new educational momentum in the Pritzker administration, we are pleased to welcome the Class of 2023 as the largest freshman class in GSU’s history.”

President Maimon reiterated the importance of the governor’s advice for students. “Ask questions. Never forget we believe in you. J. B. Pritzker is here because the state of Illinois believes in you,” she said.

She also offered a supportive twist on the adage often shared at university convocations, urging the students, “Look to your right. Look to your left. Make friends and walk together with them at Commencement 2023.”

Convocation, designed for new and returning students, also drew dozens of alumni who represented each of the five decades of scholarship since GSU’s founding in 1969. Among honored guests were members of the GSU Board of Trustees as well as several elected officials who were inspired by moving songs, speeches, and military salutes.

In addition to kicking off the academic year, GSU faculty and staff gathered to celebrate excellence during the previous academic year. This year’s prestigious Excellence Award winners, presented by students Deborah Burk, Miracle Cole, and Karen Todd, were:

Leanne Cambric, Associate Professor of Visual and Performing Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, Josh Sopiarz, librarian and Associate Professor, GSU Library, and Renee Theiss, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy in the College of Health and Human Services.

Cambric was the first winner announced. The nominating committee noted her service projects include creating original art cups for the Nate fundraiser and Empty Bowls, a fundraiser that addressed hunger on campus at GSU.

In 2017-18, Cambric presented her work at a solo exhibition, four invitational or juried group exhibitions, and her work received first place at the highly regarded Strictly Functional juried competition. As a member of the graduate and general education councils, she also served the GSU Community as a member of her division curriculum committee. Most notably, Cambric was instrumental in creating the new MFA in Studio Art at GSU. “I am honored to introduce to you today Professor Leanne Cambric. I have been privileged to know Leanne as her student and graduate assistant, and to work along side her on projects,'' Burk said to the audience.

Josh Sopiarz, librarian and Associate Professor of the GSU Library, received the second Excellence Award for outstanding service to the community and research during academic year 2017-18.

That year, Sopiarz published two peer-reviewed articles, one book chapter, a review essay, and three book reviews. He also presented at regional conference and national conference for Popular Culture research. He became the head of Public Services for the GSU University Program Elimination Review Committee, and the Institutional Review Board.

“The Excellence Award Committee feels that Josh Sopiarz is a wonderful representative of the Library as a central Hub for the GSU community,’’ Cole read from the nomination letter.

The third Excellence Award went to Theiss, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy in the College of Health and Human Services. In addition to serving as co-chair for the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, Theiss served as Chair of the GSU Institutional Review Board and, during academic year 2017-18, she oversaw the conversion of the submission process to be completely online.

In addition, Theiss’s teaching evaluations are superior, with students commenting on her approachability and willingness to go the extra mile. Most notable, she has secured more than $400,000 in total research grant funding since earning her doctorate.

“The Excellence Award Committee feels that this faculty member represents the GSU spirit of putting students first with a focus on research and service," Todd read from the nominating letter.

A second award category honors the late GSU Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Gerald C. Baysore with the highest honor GSU gives employees.

Joshua Young, a GSU alum who is now program director for Digital Learning and Media Design, received this year’s award for demonstrating the qualities Baysore exemplified—absolute integrity, total competence, generous dedication, and unfailing civility.

Dr. Maimon quoted the nomination directly. “His creativity in his craft is shown and I see him light up about the work he is doing because he truly loves this place,” one wrote. “He is so dedicated that there have been times I’ve had to tell him to leave and get rest,” another offered.

“He was a student advisor and helped to develop This Week at GSU (TWAG). Every time he speaks to a prospective student or to our student workers, he always tells his GSU story. I was one of those students who heard his story and now I am a staff member and adjunct professor,” wrote nominator Uriah Berryhill, an alumnus and now TV Director-Producer, Digital Learning & Media Design.

Young “started in the program as a student worker and now mentors countless GSU students to participate in the world of 21st century media,” Dr. Maimon said. “We are proud of Josh and so glad you are here, Governor Pritzker, to hear about his accomplishments.”

Guests were treated to a light lunch and ice cream bars following the ceremony.