We're proud of all of our graduating Huskies, and we wanted to take an opportunity…
Every student who graduates from Northern Illinois University takes a unique journey. Those journeys are filled with stories of success, tales of adversity overcome and experiences of personal growth. No two are alike.
It has become a tradition in recent years at commencement for the university president to share the story of one individual from each college as an example of the hard-working, successful students that typify the ranks of each NIU graduating class. This December, NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman shared the following Huskie tales:
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Glennita Williams was an accomplished young woman long before she arrived at NIU.
In fifth grade, she created America’s Guardian Angels, a not-for-profit foundation that has provided care packages to thousands of deployed soldiers and to veterans in VA hospitals.
For many people, that would be a full resume. For Glennita, however, it was just the beginning. Once at NIU, where she majored in political science, she traveled to Mexico and Africa on mission trips, volunteering in orphanages, schools and villages. On her trip to Africa, she met with the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya to speak about global aid and bringing her not-for-profit work to that nation.
Closer to home, she also worked with her state representative to draft legislation aimed at providing mental health education in grades K-12, and last year she served on a panel that worked on ways to attract more Illinois students to Illinois public universities.
With her degree in hand, Glennita hopes to attend the NIU College of Law and ultimately wants to become a U.S. Senator sitting on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
College of Engineering and Engineering Technology
Brandon Cuevas inherited a love of “tinkering” from his grandfather who believed in trying to fix things instead of throwing them out. That experience influenced him to major in electrical engineering technology.
At NIU, faculty and fellow students stepped in for his grandfather as he kept on tinkering as a member of the college’s robotics club. This past year he took things to a whole new level when he worked an internship at Sciaky, Inc. in Chicago, a worldwide leader in metal 3D printing and welding. There he assembled electrical control systems as part of the development of the world’s fastest metal 3D printing process.
What he learned at NIU, at Sciaky, and from his grandfather, will all serve him well as he pursues his goal of developing technology that supports the planet and its growing population. For instance, his Senior Design Project team helped create a vertical farming greenhouse that precisely controls the temperature, humidity and light spectrum to optimize growing conditions for micro-greens. The system uses about 90 percent less water than traditional field crops and allows a large amount of food to be grown in a small space, which could help keep up with growing global demand for food.
College of Business
When Zohra Firdose transferred to NIU in 2017, she was, by her own description, uncertain and lacking in confidence.
Despite her trepidation, she set a goal to not only become technically proficient in accounting but also to become a self-assured leader. Faculty, like Don Tidrick, Natalie Churyk, Ellen Stuart and Brad Cripe were instrumental in helping her work toward that goal, she says. They filled her with a sense of empowerment from the outset.
Before long, she was seeking out leadership roles, rising through the ranks of the campus chapter of the international accounting honors society, Beta Alpha Psi, where she served as vice president, president-elect, and finally as president. She also became president of the Accounting Leadership and Advisory Council and earned that organization’s Outstanding Service Award. Throughout, she maintained a near-perfect GPA of 3.9 in a program known nationally for its rigor.
Her accomplishments did not go unnoticed. This past year the Illinois CPA Society selected her for the Advancing Women in Accounting Award and she was named an NIU Outstanding Woman Student.
More importantly, she feels that she has become the person that she set out to be two years ago.
College of Education
When Angie Lobdell became a mother in 2001, she found a new calling, a responsibility to help shape a future that was different, one that was better, to counter the negativity she saw in the world.
When her kids started school in downstate Sterling, Angie started working there, first as a paraprofessional, later as a reading aid. She soon knew that her pre-motherhood career as a mortgage title closer was truly over. After completing some coursework at Sauk Valley College she was soon enrolled in the Department of Special and Early Education in the NIU College of Education.
She overcame many challenges, during her time at NIU, including a diagnosis last December of hypothyroidism, which finally explained her hair loss, weight gain and numbness in her hands.
Despite those obstacles, she never settled for doing the minimum required work. While earning a perfect grade point average, and garnering glowing reviews for her student teaching, she also conducted research with faculty and presented her findings on campus and in Hawaii.
College of Health and Human Sciences
As a teen, Monica Kowalczyk struggled to overcome addiction. She never considered herself college material, but her mother thought otherwise and filled out an application for her to attend NIU. Knowing how important it was to her mom, Monica decided to give it a shot.
Her first semester at NIU was going well, but then she learned she was pregnant, and she worried that she’d have to leave school. But three weeks after giving birth, Monica was taking summer school classes online and she returned to the classroom in the fall. She also became a peer advisor at NIU’s Career Services and volunteered at Hope Haven homeless shelter.
She graduated with a degree in Public Health and already has completed courses toward a master’s in public health here at NIU with the help of a scholarship from the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services.
“I’m passionate about getting people struggling with addiction and poverty to reach out for help,” she says, adding, “If I didn’t have the help I had, I wouldn’t be here today.”
College of Visual and Performing Arts
Ina Murphy grew up in Moldova, in eastern Europe, where her love of animation was kindled by American cartoons that had been dubbed into Russian. She wanted to study art and animation in college, but instead studied economics at a Romanian university in hopes of finding better job prospects.
Her summers were spent in Wisconsin, as part of her university’s Work and Travel program. In 2013, while working at a t-shirt store in the Wisconsin Dells she met a tourist named Wyatt Murphy, and within months the two were married. Together they began attending Illinois Valley Community College.
At IVCC, Ina was finally free to pursue her love of art, and after earning their associate degrees, both Ina and Wyatt transferred to NIU where she earned her degree in Time Arts from the School of Art and Design. She was a mainstay on the dean’s list and earned several scholarships. Her mastery of the art and technology that combine in 3D animation is so advanced that instructors often invited her back to demonstrate to students the innovative ways she’s found to use the software.
In January, Ina will begin work towards her Master in Fine Arts in Time Arts at NIU, focusing on three-dimensional computer gaming and virtual reality. She also will help create a 3D modeling project in artifact hunting for the Center for Burma Studies and help conduct NIU’s video game design camps.
Media Contact: Joe King
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 areas of study while serving a diverse and international student body.