Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Coal Valley man has murder conviction vacated thanks in part to the Illinois Innocence Project

A Coal Valley man’s 2008 murder conviction was vacated Tuesday, thanks in part to the work of the Illinois Innocence Project.

Newly discovered evidence showed that Nathaniel Onsrud was not responsible for the death of his four-month-old son. Onsrud was released from the Illinois Department of Corrections Tuesday.

Onsrud is the 15th Innocence Project client to be released or exonerated. The project, founded in 2001, is housed at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Exculpatory documents were not disclosed to defense counsel. The Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s Office supported the request of the Innocence Project and a Chicago law firm to vacate Onsrud’s conviction, though the State’s Attorney cautioned that charges against Onsrud have not been dismissed.

“Our client maintained from day one he had nothing to do with the tragic death of his infant son,” said Innocence Project Chicago Legal Director Lauren Kaeseberg. “For the past 13 years, Nathaniel has fought to clear his name and has been through the unimaginable ordeal of losing his baby and then being wrongfully convicted of murdering him.”

This article was published in The State Journal-Register on June 24, 2020.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

UIS soccer relieved and excited for upcoming season

A reduced season beats nothing.

The University of Illinois Springfield men’s and women’s soccer teams applauded the upcoming schedule for the 2020 regular season, which were released this past week.

Although shortened by four games without any nonconference matchups per the NCAA Division II Presidents Council decision in May downsizing sports events across the board due to COVID-19, they will still get to compete against every team in the Great Lakes Valley Conference as usual.

The postseason, including the GLVC tournament, also remains the same for the moment.

“I was so excited when I found out we’re still going to have all of our conference games,” said UIS women’s soccer player Emma Little. “I’m content with whatever soccer I can play. Hopefully there’s a good turnout at those high level games at home.”

Both teams begin the soccer season on Sept. 6 at University of Missouri-St. Louis and each will play seven home games at Kiwanis Stadium.

“I was pretty sure we were going to have a season, so I’m not really shocked,” said UIS men’s soccer player Lorenzo Bacchetta. “I’m happy it’s confirmed and that for sure we’re going to have 14 games.”

“I’m just delighted that we’re going to have the opportunity to be able to compete again,” UIS men’s coach Adam Hall said. “They shortened the season by four games, but the conference games are much heavier at the start of the season if you look at the traditional top eight teams in the conference. We play the majority of those teams in the first half of the season, so we have a really difficult start. If we get out of there, we’ll be set up nicely.”

“My first reaction was relief because it meant that we get some sort of season,” UIS women’s coach Erin Egolf said. “There was worry that the season would be canceled or pushed to next semester. Having any game is preferable to none at all. We got a pretty good deal to play 14 games. I’m excited for our players and just ready to get going.

A couple of exhibition matches will likely be in the offing. The upcoming schedule will regardless present unique challenges ahead.

There may be less preparation time but also less room for error.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on June 22, 2020.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Ben Paoletti joins Downtown Springfield Inc.

Ben Paoletti has been hired as a program coordinator for Downtown Springfield Inc., the first time in the organization’s history there have been three full-time staff members.

Paoletti graduated in May from the University of Illinois Springfield and served as the Student Government Association President. He recently completed an internship as a grant writer with the Downtown Heritage Foundation and also worked as a government affairs intern for Illinois Policy Institute.

This story appeared in the Springfield Business Journal on June 17, 2020.

Fall semester at UIS will be mixture of in-person, online classes

On-campus educational activities will resume this fall at the University of Illinois system’s three universities in Urbana, Chicago and Springfield with a hybrid mixture of in-person and online classes.

The announcement was made in a letter Thursday from system president Tim Killeen. It was also signed by Barb Wilson, executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs, and the system’s chancellors.

Plans to restore in-person instruction were developed through weeks of exhaustive review that brought together literally hundreds of key stakeholders and considered every available option, from a full return to traditional instruction to remaining fully online, Killeen noted.

The decision assumes that Illinois stays on track to meet Phase 4 requirements established by Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan that allow reopening of classrooms.

Currently, UIS starts classes Aug. 24.

“UIS is still going to be providing details of our unique campus-based plan within the next couple of weeks, including starting dates and calendars for the fall semester,” said Derek Schnapp, a spokesman for UIS.

The plan, Killeen said in the letter, is “a thoughtful, science-based approach that will bring our universities back to life, with a campus experience that will look somewhat different.”

In-person courses and classroom schedules will be adjusted appropriately to ensure physical distancing and safer traffic flow.

There will be accommodations made “where possible” for students and faculty in vulnerable and at-risk groups, and for students who cannot come to campus due to travel restrictions or other considerations.

Campus classrooms will be cleaned and disinfected daily. High-touch surfaces, including door handles and elevator buttons, will be disinfected multiple times daily.

All students will be provided reusable, washable masks which will be required in all classrooms. Hand sanitizer will be widely available in all buildings.

Outside visitors to the campus will be asked to follow physical distancing and wear masks in public places. The size of gatherings on campus will be based on standards under the state reopening guidelines in force.

Schnapp said there a “very limited” number of workers on campus. Remote work, he added, “remains appropriate for employees who can complete the essential functions of their job or effectively perform their job duties while working remotely to the satisfaction of their supervisors.”

A system-wide coordination committee assisted steering committees and planning teams at each of the three universities.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on June 18, 2020.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

UIS moves next star party online

Virtual star parties continue at the University of Illinois Springfield.

The next star party will be broadcast live on Zoom (rain or shine) from 8:30-9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 27. Originally scheduled to be held in-person, UIS decided to hold it online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The link for the Zoom event will be posted at and @UISObservatory on Twitter. Three other star parties are planned but at this point, those are set to be in-person.

This story aired on WICS Newschannel 20 on June 16, 2020..

Monday, June 15, 2020

Susan Koch: Grateful for the opportunities

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on June 13, 2020.

Shortly after becoming Chancellor of the University of Illinois Springfield in 2011, I had lunch at a favorite Chinese restaurant near the UIS campus. When the traditional fortune cookie arrived, the slip of paper inside offered the following prophecy: “You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you.”

That slip of paper has been taped to the screen of my computer ever since — reminding me daily to pursue every opportunity (and embrace every responsibility) that would best serve the interests of UIS and the public good of our community and our state.

As I compose this 90th UIS Perspectives column, the last before my retirement at the end of June, I find myself reflecting on the many ways that prophecy has been realized during the past nine years. Thanks in part to the many students, faculty, staff, community leaders, donors and alums who have contributed in so many ways, we can be proud of the opportunities we have made real ... together.

The addition of new academic programs such as Education, Data Analytics, Exercise Science, Biochemistry, Theatre, and a BSN in Nursing (in partnership with Memorial Health System and the University of Illinois Chicago) have made our young university more attractive for prospective students and produced more graduates who are contributing to their communities in meaningful ways.

The University of Illinois System’s Distinguished Faculty Hiring Program has brought new and outstanding teacher-scholars, while more UIS faculty than ever have earned Full Professor rank — confirming their excellence and enabling them to contribute more fully to their academic disciplines and the reputation of the university. At the same time, many young professionals have chosen to advance their careers at UIS — faculty and staff who are “rising stars” both on campus and in the community.

The opening of the Student Union on January 14, 2018, was a decisive moment for the university. This award-winning $21 million building has become the heart of campus life and a valuable resource for the entire community. A sustainable building with a green roof, the Student Union project was successful thanks to determined student body leadership and the generous support of donors who understood what it would mean for the university and for the student experience.

Infrastructure, including campus beautification, is so important. It is vital for student recruitment and retention but also because it creates campus pride and a positive environment for staff, faculty and visitors. I’m especially grateful for private support from the University of Illinois Chester Endowment that enabled us to commission “The Young Lawyer,” a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln that has become a campus landmark. The fund also helped create a beautiful and much-beloved Shakespeare Garden as well as supported the purchase of two prominent works of art for the Student Union.

Before I assume my new title as Chancellor Emeritus at the end of this month, I’ll tuck that slip of paper into my pocket — inspiration, perhaps, for new opportunities to come. But I’ll always appreciate my time as Chancellor of UIS.

Friday, June 12, 2020

UIS drops standardized test scores as part of fall 2021 application

The University of Illinois Springfield will not require college bound high school seniors to submit standardized test scores as part of the application process for the fall 2021 semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Illinois Board of Trustee’s Executive Committee earlier this week approved a one-year moratorium on the entrance requirement because large numbers of high school students have not been able to take standardized tests, due to school closures and the unavailability of SAT or ACT tests since March.

“Test-optional is an opportunity to meet the needs of Illinois’ citizens, economy and civic landscape by facing today’s challenges using both, the tried and true and the new,” said Natalie Herring, UIS associate provost for enrollment management. “This benefits students and families by removing pressure, cost and barriers. Our diverse state deserves and requires diverse options for post-secondary education and credentials aimed at keeping Illinois talent in Illinois.”

UIS currently reviews prospective freshman applications through a holistic admissions process. For those applicants who still choose to submit test scores, those scores will be considered.

This story appeared in The State Journal Register on June 11, 2020.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Small central Illinois communities stepping up with protests, actions

While peaceful protests were staged by two different Black Lives Matter groups in Springfield last weekend, actions also have surfaced in smaller cities and towns across central Illinois.

University of Illinois Springfield Coalition Builders will host “Breathe: Virtual Listening Tables in Response to Racism & Protests) at noon Thursday.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on June 8, 2020.

Monday, June 8, 2020

U of I makes top 15 in best public college list

The Business Journals ranked the University of Illinois as one of the top 15 public colleges in the United States.

Other central Illinois schools also made this list. The University of Illinois Springfield ranked No. 88, Illinois State University was placed at No. 128 and Eastern Illinois University ranked No. 151.

This story aired on WAND 17 on June 4, 2020.

Meet the interim chancellor for the University of Illinois Springfield

WTAX’s Dave Dahl talks with the interim chancellor for the University of Illinois Springfield, Karen Whitney.

This interview aired on WTAX on June 5, 2020..

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Former president of Clarion University named interim chancellor at UIS

Karen Whitney, president emerita of Clarion University in Pennsylvania who recently served as interim chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, was named interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield Wednesday. 

Susan Koch announced on Feb. 7 that she would retire as UIS chancellor effective June 30. She had served as chancellor since 2011 and was the longest serving chancellor in the University of Illinois system. 

U of I System President Tim Killeen said Whitney will bring a wealth of relevant experience to UIS and its more than 4,200 students and more than 1,100 faculty and staff. 

“Karen has deep experience working with higher education boards, administrative leaders and faculty, building consensus around common goals,” Killeen said. “At Clarion, she led an institution that is very similar to UIS in size, scope and mission. She is an ideal choice to build upon Susan’s work, which strengthened UIS and put it on the road toward becoming a regional force for progress.” 

Whitney’s appointment is pending approval by the Board of Trustees. She is expected to begin at UIS June 8 allowing her to work alongside Koch before assuming the interim chancellor role on July 1.
“I’m thrilled and honored to come to Springfield to lead a university at this incredible moment in time,” Whitney said. “I am drawn to the mission and vision of the institution, the way UIS has positioned itself to be the capital city’s university with an emphasis on leadership development, that is, I think, an extremely import role in American society today.” 

A nationwide search for a permanent chancellor is expected to begin later this year. Whitney’s appointment is for one year or until a permanent chancellor is named. 

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on June 3, 2020.