NIU Board of Trustees Chair Wheeler Coleman has never forgotten how instrumental the CHANCE program was in putting him on the path to success.
On Oct. 12, as part of an ongoing effort to pay forward the opportunities the program provided him, Coleman and his wife, the Hon. Sharon. J. Coleman, announced a $25,000 gift specifically to support students in the CHANCE program. CHANCE identifies, recruits and assists students who show promise for succeeding in college despite limited preparation and resources.
Wheeler Coleman graduated from NIU in 1983 with a degree in computer science and went on to hold several senior executive-level positions within Blue Cross-Blue Shield, including serving as senior vice president and chief information officer for Blue-Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. He currently serves as CEO of EC United, a Chicago-based executive consulting firm. Judge Coleman graduated from NIU with a degree in political science in 1981.
“CHANCE not only made a college education an attainable goal for me, it also prepared me for success,” he told a crowd of more than 100 alumni gathered at Gallery Buichard, in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. “In addition to allowing me to learn my craft as a technologist, it also taught me how to be a better leader and a better man.”
The gift announcement came during an event hosted by NIU’s Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to highlight the many ways that office supports students on campus. The guest list at the event included NIU alumni whose graduation dates spanned 50 years.
“Many of them shared stories of the organizations that helped them succeed when they were on campus – whether it was CHANCE, a Greek organization, a diversity resource center or some other group,” said NIU Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden. “We let them know that not only are those organizations still helping students today, but that we also have many additional supports in place through our cultural resource centers, academic diversity programs, academic assistance programs and other offerings.”
In announcing his gift, Coleman shared the story of a coincidental encounter earlier this year during a trip to Africa. One of his fellow travelers turned out to be an NIU alumna, Anita M. Black (’68), who had participated in sit-ins during the 1960s that helped pave the way for CHANCE. The meeting reminded him, he said, that many of his predecessors at NIU had worked, protested and sacrificed so that he and others could succeed.
“I know that as an alumnus, and as a trustee, I don’t stand alone. I am standing on the shoulders and in the footprints of those who came before me; giants who opened doors and created opportunities for people they didn’t know,” he said. “And it reminded me that we all have an obligation to give back.”
The assembled crowd responded by making gifts and pledges of more than $7,500. The generous outpouring did not surprise Edghill-Walden. The NIU Foundation continues to accept matching gifts and pledges to support scholarships for the general scholarship fund, undocumented students, diversity resource centers and CHANCE.
“Many alumni of color share stories of how much NIU means to them,” she said. “Their NIU education transformed their lives and gave them the ability to be successful. This event, and Wheeler Coleman’s story, rekindled in them memories of the help and support they got while they were at NIU and reminded them that students today need their help.”
The gifts come in the midst of a major push by the NIU Foundation to raise money for scholarships.
“At a time when we are working harder than ever to raise scholarship dollars for our students, Chair Coleman’s willingness to step up, share his inspirational story and lead by example is invaluable,” said NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman, who was among the NIU leadership attending the event. “His generosity should serve as an inspiration to all NIU alumni.”
The Black Alumni Council used the occasion as an opportunity to present Coleman with an award recognizing his service to the university as a member of the Board of Trustees for the past five years, including the last several months as chair.