Five NIU students who excel in their academic and humanitarian pursuits were honored during a Sunday luncheon for the 2016 Forward, Together Forward scholars.
Each receives a $4,000 non-renewable scholarship for the coming academic year.
As a member of the NIU Women’s Golf Team, Peyton Gunnison has more than a casual interest in the sport. In fact, she says, it is one of the primary forces that has helped to mold her character.
The game, with its tremendous reliance upon sportsmanship from its competitors, has taught her about honesty and integrity.
The obstacles built into every hole of every course have taught her about perseverance, tenacity and hard work. And the grueling five-hour tournaments have sharpened her focus and honed her mental acuity.
All of those factors pay off in the form of low scores on the golf course and high scores in the classroom. A junior majoring in industrial engineering, she boasts a GPA of 3.6 and membership in several academic honors societies.
Despite the time commitments (up to 30 hours a week during the season) of being a Division I student athlete, Gunnison still finds time to be involved on campus and in the surrounding community.
She conducts campus tours, volunteers at a local soup kitchen, collects food for food pantries and meets weekly with a young woman from a DeKalb middle school to serve as her mentor. Last summer, she squeezed in an internship with Rockwell Automation, where she helped redesign a shop floor layout, which will save the company more than $20,000 a year.
That combination of excellence on the course, in the classroom and in the community has helped her earn numerous honors based upon her involvement and scholarship, including awards from NIU Athletics and the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
She has cherished her time at NIU. “Being a member of the NIU Huskie community has been the best experience of my life,” she says. It has also instilled within her a belief that she will find success beyond college. “I believe, I truly believe, I will be a person who will go out and make a difference in the world.”
In high school, Bethlehem “Betty” Hailu, landed an internship working in a fifth-grade classroom. The teacher she assisted was so impressed that she helped Hailu earn an internship at an orphanage in Ethiopia.
For Hailu, it was a homecoming of sorts, as she had emigrated from that battle-scared country with her parents when she was 7.
While there she looked on amazement as four women struggled to meet the needs of dozens of infants each day, and teachers were often out-numbered 70-to-1 by their students. Most heartbreaking of all, however, was the drab, toyless room filled with children deemed “unadoptable.”
Since that trip, she had dedicated herself to getting an education that will help her improve the lot of those children. In the meantime, she has also made it her mission to reach out to recent African immigrants. She works as an interpreter, collects winter clothing for them and helps them apply for jobs and insurance.
Currently a junior majoring in family and child studies, Hailu, who is from Wheaton, is also working he way through college, paying tuition through a collection of part-time jobs, including working in the campus Writers’ Workshop.
“She provides an invaluable resource for those at sea in this sometimes overwhelming campus ocean. Never does she judge their circumstance. Always does she reach out to understand, to counsel them, to guide them to resources that only a student who has learned the ropes can do.”
All of those qualities, Coffield says, make Hailu an ideal candidate for the mantle of Forward, Together Forward Scholar.
“Her degree will prepare her to serve the children she loves, and her heart and courage will give her the strength to make a true difference in their lives,” Coffield says. “Truly, Betty Hailu will make this world a better place, and in doing so, honor the five students whose spirits still define Northern.”
As the first member of her family to attend college, Erin Hernandez felt like she was playing catch-up when she first arrived at NIU – always running to keep up with her peers.
A year later, not only is she a leader among her peers, she takes great pride in working to help others get up to speed.
“Everyone needs someone to encourage them and help them when they reach a new milestone,” says the junior from Sugar Grove. “This is especially true of first-generation students who may not know how to navigate the higher education system.”
Hernandez has thrown herself into her work as an Academic Career Exploratory Scholars (ACES) House leader, assisting freshmen as they transition to university life, helping them with time management, sharing campus resources with them and planning floor activities.
She also has joined the ranks of Huskie Service Scholars where she works with a team of other mentors and with the Academic Advising Center to assist with training and orientation.
She is also an officer in DREAM Action NIU, an organization dedicated to helping others recognize the dignity, struggle and contributions of undocumented young people and their families via workshops, educational training and events.
Despite all of that, she has never let her focus on academics slip.
While pursuing a grueling double major of Spanish language and literature and international politics, she also is earning a minor in Latino and Latin American Studies, and is doing so while maintaining a grade point average of 3.8. Her freshman year, she also participated in the exclusive Research Rookies program.
Along with her desire to help others fit in on campus, Hernandez is driven by another factor: she hopes to inspire her two younger brothers to follow in her footsteps and pursue their own dreams via a college degree.
One of her professors, Mandy Faretta-Stutenberg, wishes she had more students like Hernandez.
“She is a fantastic role model for her classmates,” she says, “both in terms of maturity and scholarship.”
To be selected as a community adviser in a Northern Illinois University residence hall is an honor. The responsibilities are many and the competition for the spots is intense. Many are called, only a few dozen are chosen.
The odds get even stiffer for those students who set their sights on becoming an NIU Orientation Leader. Each year, dozens apply, but in the end only 10 are chosen for those coveted jobs of making that first good impression upon incoming students and their families.
Laura Lorenzen has achieved both of those goals, and those who worked most closely with her will tell you that she has set the bar high for all others who come behind her.
“As an active member of the NIU Equestrian Team, Orientation Leader and an active community adviser, she is classified as part of the top 1 percent of student leaders on campus,” says Rachel Stice, who has supervised Lorenzen in her role as a CA. “The level of passion and care that Laura puts into everything she does is absolutely unparalleled.”
Such dedication has earned her a number of impressive awards including the Strategy of the Year Award for Contributing Responsibly to the Community, which she received for planning a Valentine’s Day party at a local nursing home, where she and her students socialized with residents and helped them make Valentines.
In 2015, she also received the Huskie Impact Award for Exceptional Student Service, an honor bestowed each year on a community advisor who demonstrates exceptional professionalism and goes above-and-beyond expectations to care for their residents.
While extending that superlative level of service, the junior from Tinley Park has managed to maintain a grade point of 3.5 in the university’s highly regarded nursing program while maintaining her membership in the University Honors Program.
In addition to all that she has done for current students, Lorenzen also is helping future Huskies by serving as part of Community Adviser Training Committee. Her work in that role is bound to pay big dividends, Stice says: “Laura is the quintessential example of a leader because her leadership comes not from a place of self, but from a dedication to others.”
Those who don’t know Rachel Shapland very well might be forgiven if they were to mistakenly believe that her last name is “Volunteer,” because it is probably on the back of half the T-shirts she owns.
A quick glance at her resume and one wonders how she has time in her life for anything else. During her first three semesters at NIU she has volunteered to help out at job fairs, STEMfests, wellness fairs, Corn Fest, blood drives, the Chicago Marathon and several other events.
“All of my life I’ve felt a calling to serve others,” she says.
And her dedication to helping others isn’t limited to pitching in at events.
As a freshman, when she and her classmates found themselves overwhelmed by a biology class, she started helping out her friends.
That grew into an online video chat page where they all shared videos explaining concepts that others were struggling to grasp. Eventually it grew into a Facebook page/support group for the entire class. Many classmates said that it was the difference between passing and failing the class.
She has displayed similar leadership on the Student Health Advisory Council, where she collaborates with other board members and the group’s adviser to improve the quality of health services available to Huskies. She also has worked as at UNIV 101 Peer Instructor, serving as a mentor to incoming freshmen, linking them up with resources and advice as needed.
When she’s not busy volunteering, she finds time to work multiple jobs on- and off-campus, including as a dance instructor working with young students.
Despite those demands on her time, the sophomore nursing major from Germantown Hills maintains a grade point average of 3.75 and is a member of the University Honors Society, where she serves as vice president of the Honors Student Association, and serves as house leader for the Honors House in New Hall.
“Rachel is not only focused on her academics but also on supporting other NIU Huskies in their growth and development, academically, personally and professionally,” says Missy Lugo, a student success specialist in the Office of Student Academic Success. “I have no doubt her pride in NIU will continue when she becomes an alumna.”