Five Northern Illinois University students who excel in their academic and humanitarian pursuits have been chosen to receive the 2013 Forward, Together Forward Scholarships.
The recipients – Taylor Bogan, Caitlin Cavannaugh, Guadalupe Lopez, Sarah Pollack and Evan Wittke – each will receive a one-time scholarship of $4,000 for the 2013-14 academic year.
“As educators, we are accustomed to seeing and experiencing the enormous generosity of spirit among this generation. Our positions here afford us a front row seat to view their ambitions, their selflessness and their drive to make their world a better place for everyone through what they achieve in and out of the NIU classroom,” Provost Ray Alden says.
“We are fortunate that these annual awards given in memory of the students we lost Feb. 14, 2008, provide us the opportunity to share this source of Huskie pride with the community,” he adds. “Moreover, I can say with confidence that these five exemplary scholars have plenty of civic-minded peers on our campus.”
Thirty-seven students applied. Each wrote short essays on what it means to be an NIU Huskie; on leading lives of character; and about their dreams for positively impacting their communities.
They were also asked how they will honor the memories of Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter.
Anne Hardy, director of the NIU Scholarship Office, said this year’s winners truly understand the magnitude of these awards.
“They are so humble, so genuine and so determined in their goals. I know they will make a difference in the world,” says Hardy, who calls herself “amazed” by the quintet. “They’re so dedicated to the service that they do. They believe in what they do. They’re not doing it because they think they should. They’re doing it because they love it.”
Funding for the scholarships was provided by an unsolicited outpouring of generosity by friends of the university who wanted to memorialize the fallen students. About 1,800 donors helped build the scholarship fund to more than $700,000.
Here is a closer look at the five Forward, Together Forward Scholarship recipients.
Taylor Bogan understands adversity. More importantly, she understands how to rise above it.
The sophomore from Crete maintains a 3.5 grade point average in the difficult field of biomedical engineering, with an equally challenging minor in applied mathematics. She works as a residence hall community adviser. Away from her studies, she travels across the globe to help less fortunate children.
Bogan does all of this while battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a life-threatening form of cancer.
“Taylor is an amazing individual who has overcome a lot in her short time. She is an example to her residents and others of how dedication, persistence and passion for life can prevail,” says Lauren Teso, coordinator of the Neptune Complex where Bogan works. “She goes the extra mile, helping students find resources on campus, providing academic assistance and always making herself available as a sounding board.”
While her residents know her for small acts of kindness, such as offering tutoring sessions, or even doing laundry for a student whose life was in turmoil, she also knows how to effect change on a larger scale.
As a member of Engineers Without Borders, Bogan spent time in Tanzania last year. There, she and classmates brought running water to a school kitchen, installed a solar water heater, improved solar panels and built a more efficient stove – all so the school could provide three meals a day to the 600 students it serves.
Even as she battles her own health problems, Bogan is planning a career as a biomedical engineer, with dreams of improving health care for others and taking care of her mother. She realizes that doing so will not be easy, but she has come to embrace adversity.
“I know that anything I have to go through is only going to help me as a person in the future,” she says.
Caitlin Cavannaugh is an artist.
But whether she’s strumming the strings of a harp, writing award-winning plays or performing opera competitively, she doesn’t lose sight of what matters most: sharing her talent for the benefit of others.
When the Willow Springs native was just 12, she began playing the harp for her grandmother’s friends who were ill. By 2008, her passion for playing for the elderly led her to create Healing Harps, a volunteer organization to provide music for people in nursing homes, retirement homes and hospices within her community.
“I never understood the power of music until I started Healing Harps,” the BFA acting major says. “I suppose I caught the community service bug.”
Three years later, while on a church mission in Williamsburg, Ky., she was inspired to found the 4U Benefit Concert, an annual fundraiser for mission centers and homeless shelters.
“Caitlin is an individual of the highest moral integrity,” says Patricia Skarbinski, an instructor in the NIU School of Theatre and Dance. “She has finely attuned her moral compass for ethical and selfless behavior without ever falling into the trap of playing the martyr.”
Although school, charitable efforts, internships and side jobs keep her busy, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA each semester since arriving at NIU in 2010.
Cavannaugh recently spent three months in Russia at the world-renowned Moscow Art Theatre School. She also serves as member of her school’s Faculty-Student Grade Advisory Board and Student Advisory Council.
Although she will pursue her aspiration to become an actress after graduation, her ultimate goal is to work as a theater therapist in an orphanage in Africa for children whose parents died of AIDS.
“I know I will make it to Africa someday,” she says. “Once I get something like that in my head, something that I’m passionate about, I find a way to make it happen.”
Ask Guadalupe Lopez about dreams, and the junior will need to clarify the question.
Personal dreams? To teach. She’s an elementary education major.
The DREAM act, proposed federal legislation that would provide qualified undocumented youth a conditional path to citizenship including a college degree or military service?
Lopez is co-coordinator of DREAM Action NIU. “Every day,” she says, “I strive to help this small population of students’ transition to a new life at NIU while still celebrating their unique identities.”
What about the place where these dreams overlap?
“As a young adolescent, I had my whole life planned with countless dreams that I was ready to achieve. However, I discovered that I was an individual who had limited resources,” says the Glendale Heights native.
“Nevertheless, I still hold the same long-term goals of becoming an advocate for our oppressed community that has no voice, and for the students that are in need of a teacher that provides them with quality education.”
Lopez has volunteered at local schools in bilingual classrooms and with the CHICAS program, which prompts young girls to start thinking about college.
She’s vice president of NIU’s new chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, is a peer leader for an NIU Themed Learning Community and serves as a Northern Lights Ambassador.
Meanwhile, as a Huskie Research Rookie, Lopez created a case study on a single Latina mother and her perspective on her child’s special education.
“Lupe has worked hard to not let her undocumented status hold her back from academic opportunities,” says Julia Spears, director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning. “She has a steadfast commitment to her education and to the education of others like her. I know that she will change the lives of students she works with when she becomes a teacher.”
Whether it’s with a hug or a helping hand, Sarah Pollack stands ready.
Pollack saved a life on an Evanston beach during her high school years. She volunteered in New Orleans to rebuild a house ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. She demonstrated leadership skills to children inside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
She’s traveled with NIU Alternative Spring Break groups to Oklahoma to care for wild and abandoned animals and to Florida to continue oil spill restoration along the Gulf Coast. This spring, she’ll lead a group.
Last year, the junior Spanish major from Skokie realized a longtime dream.
“I volunteered with friends at the Special Olympics, taking down times and being a ‘hugger’ while encouraging the athletes,” Pollack says. “I will volunteer at the Special Olympics every year.”
Her interest in the Spanish language inspired her to study abroad in Spain and to participate in activities of the Latino Resource Center and the NIU Spanish Club.
NIU’s diverse campus offers a rich foundation for a career in helping immigrants to integrate into U.S. society, she says.
“I aspire to work for an organization in which I can combine my Spanish-speaking skills with my passion for helping others,” she says. “I hope to use these things that I learn here to help close many of the cultural barriers that exist even in our country, as well as internationally with the many Spanish-speaking countries of the world.”
Pollack also belongs to the NIU American Correctional Association.
“She and members of her group tour correctional facilities to learn how they work, investigate injustices and discover what can be done to make things better in our prison systems,” says Patricia Gingrich, Pollack’s supervisor in the Student Involvement and Leadership Development office.
“Sarah has compassion beyond measure, and it warms my heart to see her putting that to work through volunteerism and service.”
Evan Wittke’s dreams of becoming a research physician were challenged last year when he suffered a devastating personal loss.
His mother died in March from complications after suffering a stroke.
“I was devastated,” Wittke says. “The experience called into question my resolve and passion for medical practice and research.”
Wittke turned to a close friend, who helped him through the crisis.
“I realized that even though I had experienced a terrible loss, I still had a burning passion for helping people in their illnesses and an unmatched curiosity for understanding the world around me,” Wittke says. “The experience gave me a reinvigorated zeal for being the best I can be. I also learned that accepting counsel from a friend is not a sign of weakness, but that of wisdom.”
He joined Research Rookies his freshman year and continues to make substantial contributions to a cancer research team in the laboratory of Biological Sciences Chair Barrie Bode. Wittke’s research has won grant awards, and his work has been presented on- and off-campus. He has won several scholarships, is a member of the NIU Phi Sigma Biological Honors Society, works as a Northern Lights Ambassador, mentors NIU Honors students and holds down a job with NIU Catering.
Professor Bode calls Wittke “a model student in every sense of the word” and “a sterling representative” of his peers.
“Evan challenges himself not only in the classroom, but also in the laboratory, where he has become an integral member of our cancer research team. His knowledge and calm, personable and mature nature have allowed him to now supervise and train other students,” Bode says. “I cannot think of a more deserving student.”