Those three words reflect the transformative power of higher education to equip and elevate dreamers and doers into the places where they can make profound marks on the world. They reinforce our mission and remind us of why we’re here.
But, as educators, we know that every passion harnessed and nurtured and every goal accomplished is due in some part to the skilled faculty and mentors working behind the scenes.
Look at gymnast Simone Biles, who’s leading her team to the Olympics in Brazil while her face and image grace television screens, magazine covers and newspaper pages around the world. She has captured the hearts of a nation of fans rooting for gold medals.
With Simone in some of those triumphant pictures is her coach, Aimee Boorman, the woman who trained her since the first day she arrived at the gym at the tender age of 7 – the woman whose dedicated teaching and mentoring helped a little girl transform into a remarkable world champion at the top of her sport.
Aimee, I’m proud to say, attended NIU. And the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team is not the only Huskie thriving on an international stage in Rio.
Communication alum Patrick Sandusky, a member of the Class of 1998 and a center for the NIU Huskies football team, serves as the chief external affairs officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
He joined the USOC in 2009 after working on Chicago’s bid for these very games – and now is in Rio overseeing a communications staff that numbers around 80 while he also serves as chief spokesperson.
Dreams of a career in sports journalism took a turn when his football practice schedule prompted him to enroll in Public Relations 101. He liked the idea of working collaboratively to shape organizational messages.
Meanwhile, his professor, the late Al Walker, enforced the value of getting outside the classroom, of making connections and gaining real-world experience – and Patrick listened. He worked seven or eight internships during his undergraduate days, forging professional networks that helped him race up the ladder to where he is today.
Such learning continues to be a strong predictor of Student Career Success.
That’s why we’re committed to making sure that any NIU student who wants an internship will get one. That’s why our future educators and health care professionals complete clinicals. That’s why our students in the arts perform in professional orchestras and theater companies or exhibit their works in professional galleries.
We’re also committed to the concept of mentoring, whether between alumni and students, professors and students and even students and students.
Patrick embraces this concept as well; he “paid forward” his own experiences with Professor Walker when former NIU women’s soccer player Cori Frankenberg scored an internship with the USOC media relations team.
Cori is now a baseball communications assistant with the Minnesota Twins, carrying the torch from Patrick while she blazes her own trail.
NIU Director of Track and Field Connie Teaberry, who competed for the United States in Atlanta during the 1996 games, is similarly able to mentor her athletes from the perspective of someone who’s reached that pinnacle.
As you enjoy the Olympic games these next few weeks, remember that NIU is playing a role in Rio through the hard work and talent of Aimee Boorman and Patrick Sandusky – and that they offer living proof that our mission matters.