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The latest issue of Catalyst is now available online in digital flipbook format. Our cover gives a nod to the University’s 170 years. Inside, President Fulcomer reflects on a busy spring and the and the conclusion of his first year in office, we celebrate our 2017 graduates and say thank you to several retiring faculty. Special features introduce two of the University’s outstanding students, Andie Bent and Zach Wallace, and a robust Faculty Notes & Student News section will catch you up on some of the exceptional activities happening on campus. 

See the full issue below!




As I reflect back on the last academic year, the first of my presidency, several words come to mind—words that you will see woven throughout this issue of the Catalyst. Words such as longevity, service, opportunity, and success. I trust that you will be impressed, as I am, by the individuals, events, and programs that are highlighted in the following pages.

Longevity and Service
On the evening before Commencement, we gathered to recognize our employees who had reached service milestones. In all, we celebrated 38 employees who had contributed 445 years of collective service to Rockford University. Some who reached significant milestones included Jeanne Grey, director of the center for learning strategies, with 35 years of service and Professor of Political Science Dr. Jules Gleicher with 40 years! We also took time to recognize our retirees, including the four retiring faculty who are featured in this edition of Catalyst. They have impacted generations of Rockford University alumni and prepared them well for the world beyond Rockford. These four retiring faculty, along with retiring staff member Sallyann Roberts, served a total of 160 years, 47 of which can be attributed to one person – Professor Emeritus Dr. Don Martin. We also bid farewell to two trustees who have served the university for many years, Don Patrick ’72 and Jim Whitehead. One anecdote about Jim Whitehead is the amazing record of Board service by his family, beginning with his greatgrandmother, Blanche Walker Burpee. Between Mrs. Burpee and her direct descendants, a member of that one family has served on the Board without interruption for 99 years. This is an astounding commitment to the life of our institution.

When I think about our students, I think about the opportunities that we provide to them for learning in and out of the classroom. You’ll read about students Andie Bent and Zach Wallace who have taken full advantage of the opportunities that were presented to them at Rockford University. You’ll also see the wonderful cultural opportunities that we will provide to our community in the coming year through our Forum Series and the Performing Arts Department.

There are lots of references to success throughout this edition of Catalyst. Our Commencement ceremony is all about success—a day to celebrate the academic accomplishments of our students. We also have highlighted a number of our fundraising successes over the last several months, including a wonderful Gala event that will provide enhancements to the dance studio, a Day of Giving that raised more than $50,000 for scholarships, completion of the Starr Endowment fund, and great progress on our Rock Solid and Ready Campaign that includes renovations to Starr Science that are underway as I write. We could not do what we do without the wonderful support of our alumni and friends. The opportunities that we provide and the successes that have been achieved are due, in large measure, to you. Thank you.

David Sytsma, Ph.D.

Harry Truman is credited with saying, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” For the last 32 years, Dr. David Sytsma made sure that his students continued to expand their knowledge based on thorough studies of the past.

When David Sytsma first came to Rockford College in 1985, he was also finishing his doctoral studies from Northern Illinois University, where he had earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees. His areas of concentration were in modern European history, particularly German, Russian and British history. His primary interests are in the history of ideas, which is reflected in his undergraduate philosophy major and graduate work in that field.

A small university and a small department demands a generalist, and Dr. Sytsma has taught almosttwenty different courses at Rockford University including all four sections of the Western Civilization sequence and upper level courses in British, French, Russian, German and Japanese history.

This diversity of his background helps, he believes, to tie things together in ways that make sense for students, re-enforcing that history is neither stagnant nor dull. Nor is it based on memorization, but instead on interpretation and analysis. Students have historically responded in-kind to Dr. Sytsma’s informative style where he stressed that understanding history involves integrating ideas and narrative, as well as a consideration of the influence of individuals and social forces.

Beyond the classroom, Dr. Sytsma chaired the Academic Standards Committee and the Curriculum Committee and served on a wide range of other faculty committees. He organized the Rockford University chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honors society, and served as the department chair from 1998- 2010.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Sytsma worked for many years in book selling, is an excellent photographer and loves to read across a broad range of subjects and genres. He has traveled extensively, especially in Europe. He is married to a philosopher and has three daughters—an art historian, an M.D., and an artist. During the University’s 2017 Commencement ceremony, Dr. David Sytsma was conferred with the official designation of Professor Emeritus of History in recognition of his 32 years of meritorious service. The University wishes Dr. Sytsma the very best in his retirement.

Don Martin, Ph.D.

Don Martin cannot tell you why he was first swept away by ancient Latin and Greek, the classics and antiquity—only that “there was some bug in me all along that got me going in this direction.”

“It was always somewhere with me because even when I was very small, I was interested in languages,” Dr. Martin says. “I spent a lot of time by myself, and I would invent languages for the grasshoppers when I was walking across the field. I would go home and write out strange words.”

He pauses for a laugh and adds, “This sounds absolutely insane … but I was probably no more sane then than I am now.”

The Loves Park, Ill., native bought a book and started teaching himself Latin in high school, something a less brave soul might call crazy. But the way he explains it—that Harlem High School suspended its Latin program the year before he attended, only to continue it a year after he graduated in 1953—is merely matter-of-fact.

“Anybody can do it if they feel like it. It depends on what you want to do,” he posits. “And this is what I wanted to do, and so I did. Simple as that.”

Today, even after a 47-year-career with Rockford University, Dr. Martin is far from done with his work. Though he retired this year, he has taken on the intensive project of translating an anthology of Greek poetry by Angelos Sikelianos.

“I got into this like everything else— by accident. It seemed like a fun thing to do, so I got into it, and then I discovered that it was all work and no play,” he jokes before insisting again, “Everything happens by accident, you know.”

Prof. Martin had expected to teach high school Latin after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, but he went on to earn his master’s and Ph.D. in classics from the University of Cincinnati. He met the woman who would become his wife in the program and also spent extended residencies in Greece. It was here that he was first hit with an urge to translate texts into English after picking up George Theotokas’ novel “Leonis.”

He came to Rockford in 1975 and spent nearly a decade as a cataloguer at the Howard Colman Library before joining the Department of Languages, Literature and Cultures as a professor of classical languages and civilization. Ask him to recall his favorite memories and what he will miss the most, and you will get the same answer.

“Oh, the students, always. I miss them already,” he says. “Not having my classes is probably going to be the toughest assignment as a retiree, but I’ll be all right.”

He identifies one friendship after another after another, speaking of past pupils’ blossoming careers and families as though they are his own children. Dozens of students have stayed in touch with him via email or even old-fashioned letters after leaving Rockford University. Prof. Martin prefers to write to them with pencil and paper, and has a box stuffed with letters from past and present pen pals.

“They all get very, very busy, and finally, the correspondence seems to dwindle,” he says with an understanding chuckle. “But that’s okay. That’s the normal process of things.”

Aside from the translation project that has his own home life humming along, Prof. Martin hopes to read as much as he can, keep company with Cleo the cat and enjoy operas with his wife, Sherrilyn, who is still on the faculty as a Latin teacher at Keith Country Day School in Rockford.

For an accomplished classicist who has learned multiple languages, helped expose the work of Greek authors to English speakers and touched countless lives in a nearly five-decade career in higher education, Prof. Martin is endlessly self-effacing—as though he is still the little boy creating insect dialects.

“I had a congenital interest in languages, even though I have no talent for the thing,” he says. “I’m not a ready speaker, even in English. I don’t have a good ear either … But I’ve always been interested in languages. I’ve always been fascinated.”

For that, Dr. Martin, we are grateful.

Jeff Fahrenwald, M.B.A.

As Jeff Fahrenwald puts it, “I have a weird family.”

In a nearly three-decade career with Rockford University, the Puri School of Business’s outgoing MBA Program director estimates he and his wife, Linda Ballou, have hosted about a dozen college and high school students from Europe, Asia and the Americas in their home.

“I have one son who’s adopted from Mexico, but then I’ve got all these other ‘children’ who call my wife and me ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad,’” Prof. Fahrenwald says, recounting a multicultural Easter celebration at his home this year that included three of his former houseguests.

The couple adopted the mindset of opening their own home to others while Prof. Fahrenwald was teaching and Ballou was a student for two semesters of an academic program through Iowa-based Central College in Merida, Yucatan.

“When we went and taught in Mexico, people were just so nice to us and, you know, had us into their house at Christmas and everything else,” Prof. Fahrenwald recalls. “We always figured we should probably pay that forward.”

Prof. Fahrenwald has left his mark on the greater community, too, as a 2014 Rockford Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year and one of the city’s inaugural 20 People You Should Know. Over the years, he received the Service Above Self award from the Downtown Rotary Club, Spirit of Caring Award from Crusader Clinic and the community service award from the Rockford Park District. Formerly the chief operating officer and vice president of organizational development for SupplyCore in Rockford, today Prof. Fahrenwald performs similar work for Saudi-based Arwadh Trading. Although he has stepped back from his leadership post after 29 years with the University, he is not ready to say goodbye to higher education. He has remained with RU as an adjunct professor teaching business and management classes.

His favorite business thinkers on leadership span about a century, from “father of scientific management” Frederick Taylor all the way to contemporary Tom Peters—whose book, “In Search of Excellence,” Prof. Fahrenwald recommends.

As for his personal leadership style, Prof. Fahrenwald says he has ended up in leadership roles serving on various boards and in career posts because “I have a strong bias for action.” But as a manager, he says he favors a hands-off approach so his staff can learn to be innovative and get credit for their successes, while he can take the heat if things don’t go to plan.

Whether forming global ties or forging local partnerships in the name of Rockford, plurality is a theme for Prof. Fahrenwald. It was his wife who pushed him to teach abroad in their days at Central College, he says, and he similarly attributes any success he has had in life to surrounding himself with innovative people.

“It’s not me, it’s we,” he insists. “We’ve been able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

After building a local-to-global family during his time leading the MBA Program, now Prof. Fahrenwald is ready for an even more familial focus—enjoying being a grandparent to his son Andy’s children, Angel and Andre—which has come with some new challenges.

“We adopted my son when he was 5, so we never had a baby,” he says. “So I had made it to past 55 before I had to change a diaper. All of a sudden, I get to start changing diapers.”

Proof, perhaps, that you are never too old to learn something new?

*President Fulcomer and Board of Trustees Chair Jim Keeling with Dr. Belinda Wholeben at this year’s commencement ceremony.

As I prepared to write my last newsletter article to the RU community, I reread my previous newsletters and several of the talks that I have given over the years. I discovered that hope was a recurring theme. I will say farewell by reworking (with slight modifications, deletions, and updates) a talk that I gave at the 2010 Baccalaureate ceremony. While this talk was directed to the graduating students, I believe that it has relevance in this time of my leaving. It is a message about hope.

Charles Richard Snyder, a social psychologist, developed a theory of hope that has three components: goals, pathways, and agency. These components involve the ability to conceptualize your goals, to develop pathways to achieve your goals, and to remain motivated (to have a sense of agency) so that you can follow pathways leading to your goals. Snyder and Lopez (2008) found that college students who maintain higher levels of academic hope experience a higher level of academic success. It was determined that students with high levels of hope may realize that there are multiple pathways to their specific goals, while students with low hope may become frustrated when a pathway is blocked because they fail to recognize alternate pathways. I believe that this study parallels my experience as an undergraduate. I had planned since I can remember that I was going to be a teacher. But, we have plans in more than one area of our lives. I fell in love at the end of my junior year and married earlier than planned when my boyfriend, who was a civil engineer, was transferred to the Chicago area.

I was the first in my family to go to college, so I was rather naïve about college policies and practices. I thought that with my strong GPA and memberships in the honors program and honors societies that any school would be glad to enroll me. I was in my final year with only a semester of classes and student teaching left. I was wrong. I was considered a risk for student teaching because I was too far along in my program and wouldn’t be taking enough courses at my new college. I applied to more than 20 colleges in the area, all of which rejected me. Finally, I met with a dean at a small liberal arts college who was willing to take a chance on me.

I graduated full of hopes and dreams only to find that in the early ’70s there were few jobs for elementary teachers. My planned pathway to becoming a teacher was blocked. So, I worked at a retail store selling tires (how unlike me) while I applied to every school district in the area, with no success. Through an unexpected move, I found myself in Savannah, Ga., where in November, there were still teaching jobs available.

I thrived in a challenging year as a sixth-grade teacher. Returning as planned to the Midwest the next year, I thought that surely there would be a job for me now, I had experience! Wrong again. I found that the door to a teaching job remained closed. Taking an alternate pathway, I found a position as a teacher’s aide. It took two years, but finally, through connections between my school district’s superintendent and the superintendent of a neighboring district, a first-grade teaching position was found for me.

The story goes on with high points, low points, and some surprising twists and turns during my eleven years of teaching and in my personal life. The point that I would like to make is that there was always hope. Executing a plan to meet my goals often came against seemingly insurmountable obstacles—no school would accept me, there were no jobs. But, when one pathway was blocked, I searched for an alternate route. I could have written Winston Churchill’s famous line, “Never, never give in.”

I didn’t achieve my plan alone. I achieved it through connections— connections with a dean willing to take a chance on me, a benevolent superintendent, and family and friends constant in their support of and belief in me. The 21-year-old, turned away many times at the door to college, never gave up hope. That hope was realized in a successful elementary teaching career and, now, retirement after 23 years at Rockford University.

I retire with new hopes—not just hope for my personal future, but also with hope for each of you on your professional and personal journeys, and, finally, hope for the future of this beloved university.

—Belinda Wholeben, Ed.D.
Professor Emerita of Psychology

Andie Bent had not experienced much outside her “vinyl-sided neighborhood” in small-town Roscoe, Ill., when she enrolled at Rockford University. Now a senior, she has visited more than 20 European cities in the past year, spending her last two semesters abroad at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

“I knew from the beginning of college—the idea was in my head,” Andie explained chatting via Skype in an interview from her apartment. “My mom kind of put it in my head, because she knew about the opportunity to study in London when my brother went to Rockford University. He didn’t take the opportunity and she was always mad at him secretly.”

A marketing major and graphic design minor, Andie started pondering the idea more seriously while she was enjoying her experience in a Spanish class. She talked to RU Director of Global Affairs Sam Bandy, who spent about six years studying abroad and teaching in Ecuador, where he also met his wife and started a family.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you go to Spain and learn a second language while you’re at it, instead of going to London?’”

After a brief introduction to international travel—thanks to a two-week field experience in Madrid through a Spanish theatre course—Andie was hooked. She is even considering a second major, Spanish, “if I can complete it all in time.”

Learning to adapt
In addition to trekking across Spain, she has since visited neighboring Portugal, as well as Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom—yes, her trip to London happened, after all. Pressed to pick a favorite, she would choose Barcelona—where by happenchance she took a tour throughout the city of architect Antoni Gaudí’s work. She was swept up by the creatures, colors and curved lines of his creations, as well as his polarizing legacy.

“Being an artist, a graphic design artist, I’ve heard it before—if your work isn’t controversial, then you’re not doing something right,” she said. “Gaudi’s architecture is unique, and kind of weird. He is the heart of Barcelona.”

Pushing the limits has been a sort of theme for Andie in her travels, who adopted the phrase “your comfort zone equals your success zone” early on when she was constantly adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings. Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Spain’s northwest Galicia region, has its own dialect of Spanish, and the university boasts more than 40,000 students.

“I told myself that all the time,” she said. “You’re going to be uncomfortable, but you’re going to make it work.”

Day in the life
Her first trip out to dinner, Andie and a roommate were perplexed to find not a single open restaurant kitchen around 5 p.m., an hour when many Americans traditionally are feasting on their supper but most of Spain is taking a break for its “siesta” period. Now, Andie and her roommates—Rockford University classmate Bianca Martinez-Franco and a Chilean exchange student —live like locals, “not eating dinner until 9 o’clock, even in the house.”

A vegetarian, Andie has found options for her diet and favorite restaurants even in a place where fresh cuts of ham hang in storefront windows and you can buy “pulpo Gallego” (Galician octopus) on just about every corner. A couple of her go-to dishes have included “caldo,” a traditional soup usually made with white beans, and a tapas bar staple—a tortilla stuffed with eggs and potatoes. But her favorite Spanish comestible?

“Chocolate con churros is at every café, and I struggle saying no to those,” she said. “Their hot chocolate isn’t watery like ours—I don’t know what we’re doing in America!”

Into her own
Early on, Andie relied on her membership in the local chapter of the Erasmus Programme for international students to meet people at weekly mixers and get ideas on where to travel through organized overnight and day trips. Now, on a whim she’ll backpack solo for a week across Brussels, Amsterdam and Germany. Her adventures among new faces and places have sparked not only wonder about the rich histories around her, but about her own story.

“I started to think about, what’s American culture?” she said. “What’s my Italian, Irish, English heritage, and where does that fit into that?”

With some help from her mother, Andie traced the lineage of a great-grandfather back to Pescocostanzo, a town of 2,000 in central Italy that makes Roscoe look big. Inspired by her family’s past, she decided to join a class from Rockford University about to embark on a post-semester trip to Rome. She covered all of her transportation costs for less than $170, spending two nights in Milan, two in Florence and three in Rome. At her last stop, she regaled the new travelers in the RU student group with tales of making friends throughout the week with a Scot, New Zealander and Frenchwoman.

“I encouraged them all to take on a solo trip, even if it is in the U.S.,” she said. “I have learned that it is really empowering to go to a foreign place and figure it out.”

‘A good journey’
Andie dreams of someday rounding up her family and returning to Pescocostanzo to “walk the streets of my great grandpa,” but once she graduates, she is hopeful to stay in Rockford to launch her career.

“I really love Rockford, and the University. Entering that community and getting involved outside of campus as well, I’ve met so many passionate people who are proactive about changing the world, changing our city,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I suspect I’ll be in the Rockford area for a while because I have built up such a great network of colleagues and friends. I’m really passionate about the transformation that’s occurring in the city.”

As far as where she would like to settle long term, Andie figured she would have narrowed it down to fewer options at this point, but she had discovered the more she sees, the more potential she finds.

“I thought traveling would help me, but it’s made it worse because there are so many beautiful places, people and cultures,” she added. “Now I have no idea where I’ll end up, but I’ll have a good journey figuring it out.”

Commencement ’17

08/03/2017 3:34 pm

Rockford University awarded undergraduate and graduate degrees to more than 350 students from 18 states and six countries at its 163rd Commencement on Saturday, May 13, at the Coronado Performing Arts Center in downtown Rockford. Barbara Pierce Bush, CEO of Global Health Corps and daughter of former President George W. Bush, gave the keynote address to graduates.


Photo courtesy of Natalie Mork, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Cum Laude


Left: Nursing graduates Peace Nayiga, Rachel Oppold and Brittney Phothiboupha are greeted after the ceremony by faculty, family and friends. At right, Drs. James Marshall, Sean Beckmann, Deb Breiter, Matthew Bork, Caleb Lewis and Troy Skwor take the opportunity to catch a special selfie.
Left: MBA graduate Josh Patterson. At right, History major Ariana Sanders shows off her special graduation message.
Left: Maria Aracely Perez helps fellow MBA graduate Chad Pickens with his tassel prior to the ceremony. At right, Barbara Pierce Bush addresses the graduates.

Zach Wallace has known most of his life — “since I was little”— what path he wanted to pursue into adulthood, but it may not be what you’re thinking. The Rockford native says his formative moment was visiting his uncle’s Elgin law office as a boy.

“History was always my favorite subject, and then I got into government,” he said. “My uncle would always get me books to read, and finally I actually got to go to work with him at his office.”

Zach graduated from Rockford University with a degree in political science in May, and is headed to the Chicago-Kent College of Law this fall. That’s his dream – “as nerdy as it is,” Zach suggested modestly in a short interview the week after graduation. After breaking records and earning dozens of recognitions as a star forward for the Rockford Regents Men’s Basketball team, he is ready to trade the hardcourt for another kind of court.

“I always wanted to play, but I didn’t necessarily want to go far away to play, if that makes sense,” he said of his decision to be a student-athlete. “When I came here and saw that there would be the opportunity to have a balance between having a life and being a student and also playing sports, that kind of made the decision for me.”

Zach, a standout basketball player at Belvidere High and Berean Christian schools, made up his mind to attend RU after visiting campus, sitting in on some classes, and chatting with professors and coaches who “really seemed to care about the students.” Four years later, he is leaving with friendships formed through both academics and athletics, along with fun memories of having lunch with his entire class and picking up on-campus games of disc golf with friends.

“I’d say my favorite thing about Rockford University as a whole is just the community,” he said. “Whether it was basketball, classes, or activities we had around campus, you get to meet a lot of people because it’s smaller and everyone’s really friendly.”

His last season playing for the Rockford Regents, Zach scored both his 1,000th and 1,500th career points, while also making repeat appearances to the dean’s and distinguished scholars lists those final two semesters. Even as he was lauded for his performance on the court, Zach studied his way onto the athletic director’s and National Association of Basketball Coaches’ honor rolls, received the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference’s Scholar-Athlete Award and was named to the Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society. Asked how he managed the heavy workload, his reply is characteristically humble.

“It definitely got challenging at times, but what I found was everybody gave you opportunities to manage it,” he said. “My teachers were very understanding, and they kind of knew what we were going through. And the coaches—‘school first’ is what they always said, and they made sure before we did anything athletically, we were squared away academically first.”

Just in his last year at RU, Zach was named a Jostens Trophy finalist, First Team Academic All-American, Second Team All-Central Region, First Team Academic All-District, First Team All-NACC, NACC Defensive Player of the Year, NACC Men’s Basketball Student-Athlete of the Week and D3 Men’s Basketball HERO of the Week. He led the NACC in scoring, rebounds and shot blocks in his final season, and is leaving RU as the holder of three school records—career field goal percentage and blocked shots in a season and career. With one accolade after another, it must be hard to pick a favorite, but Zach doesn’t hesitate.

“The one recognition I received that I was proudest of was when I got the Academic All-American Award, because I wanted to be the best student I could be and the best athlete I could be,” he said.

After law school, Zach says he is considering work as a criminal defense attorney, but at the moment he is more sure of where he wants to practice than what.

“Ideally Rockford,” he said. “This is where I grew up—pretty homey.”

Watch an extended interview with Zach Wallace on our Rockford University YouTube page:

Free frozen treats added fun to the day, thanks to the generous support of a donor.

On Wednesday, April 26, Rockford University held its third annual Day of Giving. Through social media and email outreach, alumni and community members again came together in a unique way with tremendous impact. This year’s Day of Giving supported Rockford University’s participation in the Rubin Education Challenge.

Tracing back to December 2015, Rockford University and the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL) announced the University’s participation in the Rubin Education Challenge, a challenge grant offered by CFNIL to build scholarship endowments benefiting local students with financial need. Together, Rockford University and CFNIL will build a $3 million endowment, with CFNIL matching every dollar contributed by the University’s donors to the fund by January 2018. The program is named after Dr. Louis and Violet Rubin whose $24.5 million gift to CFNIL made the matching endowments possible.

During this year’s effort, the Rockford University community raised $25,600! Combined with the match from the CFNIL, our Day of Giving realized more than $51,000 towards the University’s participation in the Rubin Education Challenge. This amazing feat would not have been possible without the dedication and support of our alumni and community members.

To date we have raised just under $1 million; with the CFNIL match that makes $2 million. We are continuing with efforts to raise the remaining $500,000. Every gift makes a direct impact, creating opportunity for students who may not be able to consider a college education without a scholarship!

If you’d like contribute to the Rubin Challenge, with an outright gift/pledge, or if you are 70½ years or older and would like to make a tax free distribution from your IRA (see pg. 27), please feel free to use the envelope enclosed in this issue, noting the Rubin Challenge Fund. Thank you for being a Rock Solid Regent!