The 2018 winners of Northern Illinois University’s Forward, Together Forward Scholarships once again embody the…
The 2021 recipients of the Forward, Together Forward Scholarship demonstrate that whether you come from the western suburbs or western Bengal, India, you can exemplify what it means to be a Huskie.
This year’s winners – Anjishnu Chakrabarti, from India, Ling Sirivong, from Laos, Janai Crumbley of Rockford, Kat Hahn-Boisvert of Plainfield and Shandiez Holmes of Chicago – uphold the high standards set for Forward, Together Forward scholars, excelling not only in the classroom but also in the community. Whether serving as mentors, club presidents, community advisors, or in student government, each has worked to make NIU a better place, not just for themselves but for all members of the campus community, enriching the university through their leadership and service.
These students, each of whom will receive a $5,000 scholarship, exudes the qualities that the award was created to honor and each stands as an outstanding tribute to those for whom the award was created: Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Dan Parmenter – the five Huskies lost on Feb. 14, 2008.
Get to know this year’s winners below.
Childhood lessons lead to Forward, Together Forward honor
Anjishnu Chakrabarti’s father instilled in him the importance of the Three Ds: Determination, Dedication and Diligence as he grew up in West Bengal, India. It has proven to be a winning formula.
Anjishnu had the second-best score of the nearly 1.2 million who took the required standardized tests his senior year in high school. That positioned him well to attend just about any school he wanted, and he chose NIU because of the opportunity to pursue research in psychology during his undergraduate studies.
When he arrived on campus, he was interested in pursuing a career in clinical psychology but has since changed his focus to industrial psychology, with an ambitious goal in mind. “I want to help find a solution that can help people effectively manage their stress and lead happier lives,” Anjishnu says.
He wasted no time throwing himself into his work, immediately becoming involved in the Student Psychological Society (where he now serves as president). He participated in research with Dr. Mahesh Subramony, in the Management Department of the NIU College of Business, and was accepted into the Research Rookies program, where he worked with Dr. Lisa Finkelstein, who helped inspire his switch to industrial psychology.
“Anjishnu is a model student,” Finkelstein says. ”He is extremely bright, curious, proactive and a joy to talk with.” The two are collaborating on a research paper to be published next spring, and she will supervise his honors work beginning this spring.
As a member of the University Honors Program, Anjishnu has pursued an intensive course of study that has helped expand his horizons. He has taken classes in computer science, biology and social entrepreneurship as well as an art history seminar that he particularly enjoyed because it augmented so much of what he learned studying classical Indian music for 14 years. As challenging as his coursework has been, he has maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average, an accomplishment that he credits in part to the strong relationships that he has built with faculty across campus.
That support is one reason, he says, that he has always felt at home at NIU. Another important reason he has adjusted so well has been his involvement in a wide variety of organizations and activities, including serving as a University Honors Fellow, volunteering at the Huskie Food Pantry and participating in the Indian Student Association. During the pandemic, he has missed socializing with friends, especially all those he met at the Friday night buffets for international students hosted by DeKalb residents through the Network of Nations organization.
While still relatively new to the NIU community, Anjishnu is familiar with the sad history behind the Forward, Together Forward Scholarship and says that the honor will motivate him. “This honor means a lot to me. It will really help me pursue my dream of getting a good education and, hopefully, I will make contributions to the world someday thanks to the knowledge I have acquired at NIU.”
Forward, Together Forward recipient dreams of a career in politics
After graduating from Auburn High School in Rockford, Janai Crumbley was drawn to Xavier University of New Orleans, eager to learn more about herself and other Black people by attending an Historically Black University. But she didn’t feel connected there. So, she returned home, only to discover that what she had been looking for had always been just an hour away at Northern Illinois University.
“When I got to NIU, I felt like I was home,” Janai says. ”Everyone had this drive to succeed that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I found a group of people who really want to be successful and do some things in their life.”
She found those people not only in the classroom, where she is double-majoring in philosophy and psychology, but also in a variety of campus organizations that allow her to live out her commitment to helping those in need. Those efforts include getting her hands dirty – literally – working in the campus plot managed by the DeKalb County Community Gardens, growing food that is distributed to the hungry across the county.
She also has worked for the betterment of campus as a member of the Student Government Association, where her accomplishments include spearheading an effort to reduce the stigma among Black students regarding mental health care. She is also active in the Philosophy Club, where she enjoys sharing her passion for exploring the works of the great thinkers, such as Plato and Aristotle, and the Pre-Law Society where, as a member of the executive board, she has worked to increase the diversity of the organization.
In the little spare time she has, she is launching her own company, Eboni Allure, which sells skincare products. She handles not only marketing, customer service and order fulfillment, but also makes some of the products herself. On top of that, she works 10-or-more-hours a week at Kohl’s.
It is an ambitious schedule, she admits, but she is motivated by role models who have set the bar high for her – her mother, who holds two master’s degrees, and her grandmother, who has one of her own.
Janai hopes to make both very proud as she pursues her goal of becoming a lawyer and then pursuing a career in politics, where she has her sights set on becoming a U.S. senator. In that role, she says, she would work to address major societal issues, including affordable housing. Janai’s commitment to such causes is already apparent to those who know her.
“In terms of her character, I greatly appreciate Janai’s commitment to empowering the powerless,” says Alicia Finch, an associate professor in philosophy who wrote in support of Janai’s nomination to receive the Forward, Together Forward scholarship. “She passionately believes that all human beings should be treated with dignity and respect, and she is willing to throw herself into the cause of promoting justice.”
Forward, Together Forward honoree serves residence hall students at NIU and beyond
Katherine “Kat” Hahn-Boisvert arrived on campus with a dream of being a pediatrician.
Then Chemistry 101 happened.
She comfortably passed the class, but she didn’t love it, and that was concerning to her as the path to medical school was filled with many more chemistry classes. “Whatever I do, I want to do it with complete confidence and passion,” Kat says. “If I was a doctor, I would want to be able to look my patient in the eye and say, ‘I know everything about this medicine. You are in the best hands possible,’ and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do that with complete confidence.”
So now she channels her passion for helping others into pursuit of a career in human resources, majoring in organizational communications with minors in counseling and social change leadership. The latter has proven fascinating at a time when social justice issues have surged to the fore.
“I really fell in love with social change leadership,” she says. “It is a space where I can ask questions that I genuinely don’t know the answers to, and I can get educated. I think it will benefit me both in my career and in my life. The issues surrounding equity and inclusion aren’t going away any time soon and we need to address them.”
She is getting a head start on managing people as a residence hall community advisor in Stevenson Towers. The job has provided a plethora of hands-on opportunities to learn about conflict resolution, team building, motivation and much more. “This has not been the college experience that anyone expected,” says Kat, who has helped her residents battle isolation by conducting physically distanced tours of campus and showing her residents how to navigate the university digitally.
Students beyond her floor in Stevenson, and even beyond NIU, are benefitting from her devotion to advocating for the welfare of residence hall students. Since her freshmen year, Kat has been deeply involved in the Residence Hall Association, both on campus and nationally. She served two years as national communications coordinator for the RHA; is currently the coordinating officer for Relations and Inclusion for the Great Lakes Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls; and is a member of the National Residence Hall Honorary. Those activities, and a long list of her volunteerism on campus, including serving as a Northern Ambassador and as an Honors Fellow, helped her earn the Kevin D. Knight Sophomore Leadership Award.
That commitment to students makes Kat an excellent choice for the Forward, Together Forward Scholarship, says NIU Associate Director of Admissions Tressman Goode. “Kat has always stood out as the ideal example of what it means to be a Huskie,” he says. “She is a model citizen and represents this campus in the brightest light.”
Forward, Together Forward recipient dreams of a career in business and service to others
Growing up in the Morgan Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Shandiez Holmes realized at a young age that education was her best path forward.
Still, like any college freshman, she was nervous about being on her own for the first time. Those nerves quickly disappeared, however, as she found a home-away-from-home with the friends she made on her residence hall floor. In fact, those new friends helped inspire her award-winning essay in the “Make Your Home Amongst Strangers” writing competition her freshman year.
Her comfort level increased even more as she discovered the social and academic opportunities available through the many Black student groups on campus and forged relationships with faculty and counselors who both advised and inspired her.
Looking for an opportunity to pay forward some of the support she received, Shandiez volunteered to tutor students in English and has become a mentor to students entering NIU through the CHANCE Program (which supports students who show promise for succeeding in college despite limited preparation and resources). “I chose to join the CHANCE Mentor program because I wanted to see more incoming students take advantage of all of NIU’s resources and make connections along the way to help them in the future,” she says.
Opportunities she has taken advantage of include participating in a Huskie Alternative Break trip to Selma, Alabama, last spring. There she helped paint houses and read to children while also visiting several museums focused on civil rights. The trip, she says, provided many lessons in the importance of perseverance. She also has completed internships at Nuveen and the MacArthur Foundation.
That level of involvement, along with her performance in the classroom, helped her obtain membership in the Chi Alpha Epsilon honor society, where she serves as treasurer.
In the midst of all of that, Shandiez is also running her own company built around skincare products and distressed clothing. She is involved in all aspects of the business (including formulation of products and customizing clothing), which is allowing her to apply many of the skills she is acquiring as a marketing major in the College of Business. Ultimately, she hopes to earn an MBA and make her business successful enough that she can create community centers in neighborhoods like the one where she grew up so that members of the people have someplace safe to gather and learn.
Those who know her best say that Shandiez epitomizes many of the qualities that the Forward, Together Forward Scholarship was created to recognize. “I have been impressed with Shandiez as a student and young woman,” says her CHANCE Counselor Katie Stoddard. “She is highly motivated, conscientious and sincerely cares about her academic, professional and personal success.”
Improving her homeland begins with a trip halfway around the world to NIU
Like many NIU students, Vilaya “Ling” Sirivong made her first trip to NIU as a 17-year-old high school student. Unlike most of those students, however, she had to travel 8,000 miles from her home in Laos to get here.
Her visit was part of the Southeast Asian Youth Leadership Program, which each year brings 60 outstanding high school students from that region to NIU to learn about a variety of topics including community action and activism. As part of the program, she created a community service project when she returned home, recruiting friends to travel with her to a nearby village to teach grade-schoolers about sanitation, hygiene and environmentalism.
The two experiences were the turning point in her life.
“I realized that the thing I am most passionate about is education and that the many opportunities I have had were because I attended a good school,” Ling says. “I realized that I wanted to extend those opportunities to other students in Laos by creating a school of my own.”
The best place to begin that journey, she decided, was right back at NIU, where she enrolled in the College of Business to study management. That’s right: management.
“A lot of people ask me why I’m not studying education, but to open a school I will have to do many jobs, and it might involve opening a not-for-profit organization, so I may have to manage many things, not just a classroom,” she says.
While she is focused on her studies at NIU, she is not neglecting her love of serving others. She has served as the outreach director for NIU Camp Kesem, which operates summer camps for the children of cancer victims; has held two leadership positions (including president) in Circle K International; serves as a board member and mentor for the Management and Business Administration Student Advisory Board; is outreach chair for the National Society of Leadership Success; and works as a residence hall community advisor. That resume of involvement helped her win a Kevin D. Knight Leadership Award.
Ling also serves as secretary of the Southeast Asia Club, which, along with her host family in Oswego, keeps her from getting too homesick.
She credits her family for inspiring her and supporting her throughout her journey.
“My parents are my biggest fans. They have always been supportive and present in everything I have done. They are my parents, my best friends and my role models. My younger sister also plays a very important role in making me who I am today as she makes me want to be a better person,” Ling says. “I am grateful for all of them for always being there and making things work.”
Things can get a bit exhausting, she admits, but it is all worthwhile as it is preparing her to achieve her goals. “I always keep in mind that I only have four years of college, and in America, and I want to make those years count,” Ling says. “Whenever I do something good for the community, I can go to bed and have a good night’s sleep. And then I have another reason to wake up tomorrow and do my best again.”
That attitude is part of what makes Ling an outstanding choice to receive the Forward, Together Scholarship, says Department of Communication Instructor Madelyn Anderson, who has known her since her first trip to campus. “Ling is a gifted and giving young woman, whose character is well-reflected every day in every way,” Anderson says. “She was courageous in coming to our university, is fully immersed in her life at NIU, and is investing in her future as a woman in global leadership.”