Each year I look forward to writing my annual message for the Director’s Corner because it provides an opportunity for me to share the many exciting activities that have occurred in the Campus Honors Program (CHP). Although it was an unexpectedly difficult year due to the lack of a State of Illinois budget, we managed to continue with most of our programs while simultaneously adding new and exciting activities thanks, in large measure, to the generosity of our loyal donors. Although we were unable to offer an Intercultural Study Tour this year and will need to tighten our budget even more during the coming year, I am confident that we will continue to boldly move forward in an uncertain climate in order to nurture the enormous talents and intellects of our Chancellor’s Scholars. They are the reason it is such a pleasure to work in the Honors House. They challenge us to be our best and to provide an honors experience that is grounded in both depth and breadth.
We kicked off the year with our annual Convocation celebration in honor of Keith Kelroy. This year we decided to reach for the stars by inviting Chaz Ebert to speak at the event. As you may know, Ebertfest is one of the most important events hosted by our local community. For many years, hundreds of people would wait in line at the Virginia Theater in Champaign to view different movies selected by the late film critic Roger Ebert. Since many of our students have never had an opportunity to attend Ebertfest, we decided to bring a form of the event to our students. Roger’s wife, Chaz, spoke about her role in the film festival along with the book Life Itself that Roger finished writing shortly before his death. Since students had been provided with a copy of the book in advance, they were able to engage in lively discussion with Mrs. Ebert who graciously answered their questions and later joined us for a lovely dinner at the Illini Union where she was welcomed to campus by Chancellor Barbara Wilson. Like a good movie that draws the audience into the film through skillful cinematography and a creative, thoughtful, and well-written storyline, a good book draws the reader into the text through stories that spark the imagination and bring the words on the page to life. This year’s book, Life Itself, brought to life aspects of Roger’s experiences as a child growing up in Urbana, Illinois, as a student at the University of Illinois, as editor of the Daily Illini, as film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, and as an international television star who co-hosted At The Movies with Gene Siskel.
Another important undertaking related to making needed renovations to the Honors House. Although we are located in an older building, we firmly believe that our students deserve the best study and social environment we can provide. Thus, we purchased a large projection system for the classroom that facilitates PowerPoint and enables us to show movies on a high-definition screen. We also upgraded the library and lounge with new furniture, paint, and carpeting that are featured in pictures throughout this newsletter and on our website. Fortunately, students no longer have to sit on the floor in the lounge during Honors Student Council meetings because we now have enough furniture in the lounge to accommodate everyone. We also provided canvases, paint, and art materials to talented students who volunteered to create beautiful paintings that adorn the walls throughout the building. Our artists include Jessica Chen, Melody Chua, Sophia Garfias-Yi, Rianna Greer, Charlotte Hunt, and Hailey Weidner; all of whom are Chancellor’s Scholars. The popularity of this art project along with the high praise we have received for sprucing up the Honors House with colorful paintings made us decide this is a program that we plan to continue into the future. Although our artists emphasized their gratitude for providing the materials and venue where they could take a reprieve from studying to express their artistic talents, we are grateful for the beautiful artwork that has brought the house to life.
Once the renovations to the student lounge had been completed and the artwork hung, it was time for a big surprise. In honor of his many years of service and contributions to the CHP, we decided to name the lounge after the former director, Professor Bruce Michelson. We invited current students, faculty, friends, local alumni, and Bruce’s family members to the lounge dedication in order to surprise Bruce with this honor. He was upstairs finishing the last lecture of his class for the semester when we asked him to join us in the lounge for an important meeting. To his astonishment, everyone was waiting to celebrate with him. Afterward, he informed us it was only the second time in his life when he had truly been surprised!
The 2016-17 academic year is going to be particularly exciting for many honors students. For the first time in Illinois history, we are offering an Honors Living Learning Community that will house 240 Chancellor’s Scholars and James Scholars. The CHP and University Housing will jointly oversee the role of the new Director, Brian Moffitt. Brian has previously served as a live-in Residence Director at Illinois, and he brings a wealth of knowledge, enthusiasm, motivation, and many great ideas with him into the new program. He and other faculty will offer a one-credit required honors course for residents along with other honors courses that students will be able to take from the comfort of their new home, Nugent Hall. We welcome Brian into the position and look forward to witnessing many exciting plans that he intends to bring to fruition.
Finally, I hope you will read the full CHP Annual 2016 to learn more about our events and the achievements of our students during the past year. We have added new sections to the newsletter that we think you will find interesting. In particular, we have added sections that include information about the Honors Student Council, a student interview conducted with faculty member Ariana Trail, a report from the Environmental Sustainability Committee, an interview with Alumnus Steve Wooden, and an overview of Orientation. We know you will also enjoy an update in our CHaPel of Love section!
I would like to close my message by thanking the honors deans from across campus who collaborate closely with our program and help to ensure our success. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of our dedicated staff, Elizabeth Rockman, Julie Woolsey, Anne Price, and Margaret Cupps, who work extremely hard for our students with genuine enthusiasm. Finally, it is because of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of our program that make it possible for me to come to work each day with a smile on my face and a genuine dedication to making campus life for honors students the best that it can be.
Best wishes. I hope to see you at the 30th reunion.
Kim C. Graber, Ed.D.
Director, Campus Honors Program
Professor, Kinesiology and Community Health