When they were theater students at NIU, Jaymie and Harry Simmon were more concerned with hitting their marks and memorizing their lines than they were with participating in research.
However, thanks to their gift of $25,000, undergraduates participating in the Research Rookies program will have the opportunity to work alongside professors to research everything from potential cures for cancer to the daily life of Native Americans who lived hundreds of years ago.
Research Rookies pairs freshmen, sophomore and transfer students with professors who mentor them, including them on research teams, or assisting them with their own original research projects.
The Simmons’ gift will support the work of five Research Rookies each year. That group will be known as Simmons’ Scholars.
Jaymie and Harry Simmon both graduated from NIU with degrees in speech, with an emphasis in theater (Harry in 1969 and Jaymie in 1970).
Their son, Grant, followed in their footsteps, earning a degree in theater in 2000.
They have remained active members of the NIU community and generous supporters of the university.
Jaymie Simmon is currently vice chair of the NIU Foundation and also served on a panel that provided input for the university’s Vision 2020 plan. The couple has created scholarships for theater students. They also support a partnership with the Organic Theater in Chicago and were contributors to the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.
Their gift for Research Rookies was made as part of the NIU Foundation’s True North campaign.
They were undecided on how they wanted to direct the money, however, until they visited campus last spring for Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day.
“When we learned about Research Rookies we knew that is where we wanted to put our support,” Jaymie Simmon says. “The students were so bright, articulate and engaging. We wanted to be a part of that, and we liked the idea that our gift will not only make a difference in some lives, but also help get an important program off of the ground.”
The Simmons are hopeful that their gift will not only give a boost to young scholars, but hopefully also pay bigger dividends down the line.
The initial group of Simmons’ Scholars say they are grateful for the support.
“Being a Simmons’ Scholar is amazing,” says Shamika Olivares, a freshman from Chicago. “Knowing that there are people that support you in what you love to do is a great feeling. Being a Simmons’ Scholar opens the door to a better future.”
Research Rookies among the first class of Simmons’ Scholars are:
- Justin Durancik: He is investigating fungal global genetic regulators that someday could help reduce the risk of food by carcinogenic mycotoxins or increase production of beneficial fungal compounds for medical applications, particularly antibiotics. His mentor is Ana Calvo.
- Dan Jeffries: He will explore ways to create a more selective and efficient delivery system for drugs used in boron neutron capture therapy – a promising cancer treatment that allows for the precise targeting of radiation. His mentor is Narayan Hosmane.
- Shamika Olivares: Her research is aimed at creating a better understanding of protein-protein interactions and protein stability using a model antibody-antigen complex. Her mentor is Jim Horn.
- Isha Vaishampayan: Her research will focus on measuring the impact of breathing and voicing to different emotional responses. Her mentor is Miriam van Mersbergen.
- Garrett Wise: His research could one day contribute to the creation of effective hydrogen sensors, which would be an important step toward hydrogen becoming a clean and abundant source of fuel. His mentor is Zhili Xiao.