Four members of NIU’s Supportive Professional Staff are winners of the 2019 Presidential Awards for Excellence.
Each is an ambassador for the university in their own unique way, but all work to innovatively and professionally ensure the success of their departments, building programs and the campus as a whole. These SPS Presidential Award recipients play a vital role in the day-to-day life at NIU, and in the overall reputation of the university.
The recipients are: Jeremy Benson, STEM educator in STEM Outreach; Karinne Bredberg, assistant director for Commercialization and Innovation, Office of Innovation; Brooke Ruxton, executive director, Counseling and Consultation Services and Mary Strub, assistant director, Center for Governmental Studies.
Each will receive a check for $1,500 and a plaque.
The ceremony to honor them begins at 2 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, in the Altgeld Auditorium.
As a STEM educator for NIU, Jeremy Benson helps introduce thousands of elementary and high school students each year to the innovative programs happening on campus.
His work has brought more than 1,000 high school-aged campers to NIU each summer for the past five years, exposing them to the positive projects NIU is doing in the STEM field.
He’s also made a name for NIU’s STEM program by bringing awe-inspiring projects to elementary and middle schools, showing the wonder of STEM.
Benson’s engaging and enthusiastic presentations draw many back to NIU for summer camps session after session.
His colleagues say when he started, there were 32 campers in a session. Within three years, he brought that number to over 100.
Overall, he has helped build NIU STEM Outreach to its current level where educators interact with about 28,000 people each year, close to 20,000 of those K‐12 students.
“A large part of that growth has been due to Jeremy’s presence in the schools and at community events. His dedication and professionalism are as evident as his enthusiasm,” said Pati Sievert, NIU’s STEM outreach director.
One of the initiatives Benson took on shortly after starting in 2010 was to take a growing, but scrappy collection of hands‐on science displays from the Haunted Physics Lab and transform them to a quality suitable for school visits year‐round as STEM Exploration Labs, Sievert said.
He’s also used his own creations, including dragging his upright bass out to schools to present a demo on sound and vibration.
Benson says he takes pride in the success of the programs, and in coming up with ideas to engage campers and draw them back to NIU.
“My goal is to help as many students as possible to see the wonder of the world around us,” Benson said.
Karinne Bredberg’s dedication to creating innovative programs and nurturing partnerships is leading to life-changing experiences for many NIU students.
As assistant director for Commercialization and Innovation at NIU, she has spent years developing collaborations with businesses that result in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for NIU students, and likely will lead to hundreds more over the next several years.
Bredberg helped initiate a partnership with IDEAL Industries to create the IDEAL Intrepreneurship program.
Since its inception four years ago, 30 students from a variety of majors have been selected for the IDEAL program, in which they work in interdisciplinary teams to research markets, craft business plans and develop and commercialize products for ideas proposed by IDEAL.
It not only gives the students hands-on experience at problem solving and real-word scenarios, but it also gives them a chance for jobs with IDEAL after graduation.
Over a two-year period, she also led an initiative to bring Discover Financial Services to campus.
She coordinated all of the necessary groups to make the move into the 6,000-square-foot location in the Founders Memorial Library happen. Discover opened their doors to the code_orange space last fall and has hired approximately 70 students as interns who work wit the financial business creating software applications.
The partnership with the company is for 10 years, meaning hundreds of opportunities for NIU students in the future, as well as the prestige of having such a partnership right on campus.
“The partnerships she has nurtured and built have resulted in transformative experiences for our students now, and in the future,” Dr. Gerald Blazey, vice president of the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships.
In her 10 years in Counseling and Consultation services at NIU, Dr. Brooke Ruxton has seen the number of students in crisis rise.
Last year alone, 20 percent of visitors at their initial appointments at the Counseling and Consultation Services center reported that they had thoughts of harming themselves within the past week.
As the chief mental health officer at NIU, Ruxton is responsible for helping to ensure their wellbeing, and implementing a campus-wide approach to student safety and support.
“Dr. Ruxton has routinely demonstrated that she is up to this challenge,” said Michael Stang, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, when nominating her for the award.
Ruxton has created a network of help across campus, ensuring there is a safety net for students in need.
One way she’s done this is by seeking out grants to help fund needs. For example, she secured a grant that arms many facets across the campus to help educate Huskies on suicide prevention. She’s also worked to empower community members to help suicidal students, raise awareness amongst faculty and parents, and hosted depression screening days.
Ruxton also has highly trained staff to handle the rising number of clients and their needs. She also has a diverse staff, so all students will have someone to relate to when seeking help.
With grant funds, Ruxton started ProtoCall, a 24-hour hotline service for students in crisis. It allows them to get an immediate response to their calls, and allows staff to securely follow up and give the services needed for students.
“Dr. Brooke Ruxton is someone who cares deeply for the university and the students she serves,” Stang said. “Brooke has gone above and beyond to make Northern Illinois University a better place for more than a decade.”
Mary Strub’s daily responsibilities as the assistant director of the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) can vary from extremes, but no matter what lands on her desk each day, she handles them all with expertise and professionalism, her colleagues say.
At one moment she might have to be addressing a leaking roof.
The next, she could be helping an international student with urgent paperwork.
Whatever she does though, it is done calmly, professionally, and in an effective and efficient manner, said Diana Robinson, director for the Center for Governmental Studies.
“She has developed a prodigious network of NIU coworkers that enables her to know who to call for assistance, and maintains good relationships so help is always forthcoming,” Robinson said.
Robinson has known Strub for 10 years as her supervisor and colleague in the Center for Governmental Studies.
However, in that time, Robinson said Strub has also been invaluable not only at CGS, but integral to the success of the university’s entire Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development (OERD), and to the broader university community.
Within OERD, her responsibilities also are wide. She must support financial administration, personnel and contracts for 13 units, and develop working relationships with many campus departments needed to execute those responsibilities.
“The manner in which Mary [tackles] these myriad job responsibilities merits special mention,” Robinson said. “She is vigilant in ensuring accuracy and timeliness in all that she does.”