Four members of NIU’s Supportive Professional Staff are winners of the 2021 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: Carolyn Law, thesis/dissertation advisor for the Graduate School; Dan Pedersen, director of Housing and Residential Services; Kristin Schulz, executive director of the Child Development and Family Center, and Jason Underwood, director of Instructional Design and Development, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.
Each will receive a check for $1,500 and a plaque and be honored at a virtual ceremony on April 15 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
As the thesis/dissertation advisor for NIU Graduate School, Carolyn Law plays a vital role in a graduate student’s culminating experience as they submit their thesis or dissertation for graduation.
Brad Bond, dean of the Graduate School, calls Law a “genius with the thesis/dissertation genres” and a “true educator” who devotes her time to teaching students and faculty advisors on the topic.
“Through workshops, one-on-one tutoring, departmental and college level seminars, she teaches about the genres, how to be successful in completing a thesis or dissertation, and how to meet Graduate School and Pro-Quest requirements for depositing documents,” Bond said.
Bond said Law has consistently been on the cutting edge of the genres. Back in 2008, under Law’s leadership, NIU was one of the first universities to shift to electronic submissions. In turn, she coordinated with NIU librarians to make paper-bound theses and dissertations available online through Huskie Commons.
Graduate students lauded her for her “unflagging commitment to NIU’s guiding principles, devotion to intellectual rigor and her generosity of spirit that suffuses her work.”
Faculty also sing her praises, citing her expertise, efficiency and dedication in working behind-the-scenes to ensure student success.
Dan Pedersen is described as “a forward thinker” who leads his department with transparency, passion, and a critical eye for improving services for NIU students. He is a respected supervisor, mentor, and friend who colleagues cite as “an exemplary professional who is entirely deserving of this recognition.”
Matt Streb, chief of staff to the President, called Pedersen a “Huskie through and through,” and an individual who is committed to NIU’s mission, vision and values.
“Dan represents the best of NIU,” Streb said. “He is selfless, hardworking, compassionate and empathetic. I am grateful to have him on our team.”
As director of Housing and Residential Services, Pedersen plays a crucial role in making sure that NIU students are healthy, safe and supported. It’s a complicated role in a typical year, and this year was anything but typical.
Under Pedersen’s leadership, students had a successful move-in amidst a pandemic. He also managed the quarantine and isolation of COVID-19 positive students who lived in residence halls, and consistently went above and beyond the call of duty to support students.
Pederson accomplished all of this while tirelessly working to maintain the morale of his professional and student staff, and demonstrating his commitment to student-centered service.
On a daily basis, Kristin Schulz is the kind of employee who demonstrates her willingness and dedication to assume tasks well beyond her job description. Currently the Executive Director of the Child Development and Family Center (CDFC), Schulz has been a key member of NIU’s childcare enterprise since 2004, working in roles ranging from teacher through administration.
Schulz is a strong and respected leader who is described by faculty, staff, parents and administrators as “kind, collaborative, accessible and unflappable.” She is a problem-solver who leads by example, demonstrating exceptional service to the center’s children, families and staff.
In turn, she is dedicated to the early childhood profession, both locally and nationally. She is an active member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), as well as the National Coalition for Campus Child Care.
Locally, she is a leader within the Northern Illinois chapter of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children and the Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C) director’s group. Under her guidance, the CDFC has received several external grants that benefit children and their families from the NIU and DeKalb communities.
“When I reflect on the totality of Kristin’s contributions to the School of Family and Consumer Sciences, the Northern Illinois University community, and to the residents of the DeKalb/Sycamore area, I cannot think of a person who better exemplifies the principles articulated in NIU’s mission, vision, and values,” said Thomas Pavkov, chair, School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
During a time when teaching and learning needs changed in an instant because of the pandemic, Jason Underwood stepped up to take responsibilities beyond the expectations of his position to support students, faculty, staff and administration.
As the director of Instructional Design and Development, Underwood oversees all aspects of instructional design and development initiatives for the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. His efforts over the past 11 years illustrate his tireless commitment to excellence and to the university’s mission.
Colleagues call him a “shining example of the attitude and work ethic that every Supportive Professional Staff should aspire to” and a “go-to resource for all things about teaching remotely.”
Underwood willingly took on the challenge to personally lead the configuration and implementation of a new campus video hosting platform (Kaltura) and singlehandedly developed all student, faculty and staff training and support materials. He also co-led the effort to redesign the Online Course Design Academy into a boot camp for training NIU faculty for emergency remote instruction.
“Jason is a real asset to NIU as he serves a vital role that’s critical to the success of our teaching and learning mission,” said Jason Rhode, executive director, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. “His significant contributions beyond the expectations of his position, his commitment to professional development, and his involvement in committees and organizations within NIU and outside NIU deserve recognition.”