reporting pixel for marketing campaign

Campus News / News


One of the great joys of serving this wonderful institution as its 18th president is the regular interactions I have with alumni and friends. We have great supporters spread throughout the world and I have had an opportunity to visit with alumni and friends throughout the United States – from Massachusetts to California, from Florida to Minnesota, and many points in between. A common refrain is that the time spent here by our alumni had a significant positive impact on their lives and vocations.  This impact is shared through stories – most often related to the difference that our faculty and staff, past and present, made in the lives of students.

A natural impulse of those whom I meet is to want to continue to support this institution that means so much to them. That support generally manifests itself through financial giving, whether to operations, scholarships, or special projects. We are grateful for all gifts – and we need them. As our campus continues to age, there are a multitude of needs related to upgrading and maintaining our facilities and infrastructure. And as the higher education student market becomes more competitive, the need for scholarship and operational support is critical. 

As we prepare to successfully close out our Rock Solid and Ready Capital Campaign, one of my ongoing foci will be to encourage alumni and friends to consider a regular, annual gift to Rockford University. In particular, my goal is to increase the number of those who give at least $1,000 per year. We recognize those giving at that level (or above) as members of the Jane Addams Society. This number currently stands at less than 150, while many schools our size have several times this number. If you are a Jane Addams Society member — thank you for your significant support of Rockford University. If you are not yet a member, please consider joining this important group. Your financial support will allow us to invest in making this institution one that continues to thrive in its 172nd year and beyond.

Dr. Orhan Erdem

Puri School of Business 

The University officially opened its Bloomberg Business Lab featuring the Bloomberg Professional service at the start of the 2018 spring semester. Now two semesters into its use, faculty and students alike are excited about how the lab is benefiting the business curriculum. The Bloomberg Business Lab features 11 state-of-the-art terminals and is the only lab offering this level of global business resources in the Rockford area. Students are able to use the Bloomberg Professional service to further develop industry leading skills for careers in finance, economics, accounting and business; and directly linking them to the more than 320,000 leading business and financial subscribers worldwide.

Orhan Erdem, Ph.D., visiting associate professor in the Puri School of Business explains, “The Bloomberg Business Lab introduces students to real finance industry that encompasses high volatility and enormous risks. The undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to apply theoretical information they gain during their classes. The Lab provides them with applicable skills and hands-on experience to prepare them for a global business environment and a competitive job market.”

The Bloomberg Professional service, Bloomberg’s core offering, is a software platform that provides trusted real-time and historical data, market moving news and analytics to help business and financial professionals make better informed investment decisions. The service also features execution platforms for every asset class, research and a global network to communicate securely and reliably. The University’s subscriptions to the Bloomberg Professional service is a tremendous resource for both students and professors. It enables students to become familiar with tools used in financial services, thereby reinforcing classroom theory, while professors can use it to further their own research.

Puri School of Business Chair John Gunyon, Ph.D., adds, “The addition of the Bloomberg Business Lab is proving to be an incredible asset to our growing business curriculum. The technology brings together all of the data, news and analytics to provide the kind of complete understanding of companies, industries and markets that are critical to finding successful entry into today’s financial job market.”

The Bloomberg Business Lab was made possible by Rockford University alumnus Sunil Puri and his contributions to establish the Puri School of Business. The business school is home to the Department of Economics, Business and Accounting, including the Master of Business Administration, Executive Development and Adult Accelerated Degree Completion programs. The academic programs offered by the department are accredited by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).

Meet Tracy Wang 2018 Lincoln Laureate

Rockford University senior Tracy (Hanqing) Wang from Jiangsu in the People’s Rebublic of China, has been named as a 2018 Lincoln Laureate by The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Each year, the annual Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Ceremony recognizes excellence in curricular and extracurricular activities by seniors from each of the state’s four-year, degree-granting colleges and universities, and one student from the community colleges in Illinois. This year’s ceremony took place Saturday, November 17, in Springfield. President Eric Fulcomer, Ph.D., accompanied Wang for the ceremony.

Tracy attended Pine City High School in Pine City, Minn., and will graduate from Rockford University in 2019 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Math. After completing her degree, she plans to attend law school to achieve her professional goals.

When asked about this opportunity Tracy stated, “It is a great honor to be selected as Rockford University’s Lincoln Laureate. I feel very thankful that the institution has recognized all of my achievements. Four years ago, I had the decision of where to go to college and I can proudly say that every day I am glad that I chose a university that values its students above all else. Rockford University has supported me both in and out of the classroom, provided mentoring for my future career, and taught me lessons that have broadened my perspectives.”

Tracy has participated in the Washington Semester Program for Justice and Law at American University and is currently serving as the President of the Rockford University Student Government Association. Tracy excels in her studies and has been named to both the Dean’s and Distinguished Scholars lists. In addition to her work in Campus Activities and Student Government, Tracy has served as an Orientation and Welcome Week Leader for Rockford University’s new student programs for the past two years, and through this has inspired new students to look for opportunities to become involved and encouraged them to consider serving as student leaders. Leading by example, Tracy has been a member of the Rockford University Facility Committee, the Multicultural Club, and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She is also a student-athlete competing on the Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams. Tracy is currently serving as the student representative to the University’s Board of Trustees.


Excellence breeds excellence

Five of Rockford University’s own received Golden Apple Recognition

Recently, billboards appeared around the Rockford area featuring the 2018 Golden Apple winners. The Golden Apple Foundation is a volunteer-driven organization that celebrates, inspires and supports educational excellence in the community. Since 1997, the Golden Apple Foundation has grown from honoring teachers in one school district to honoring teachers, principals and volunteers in more than 140 schools, both public and non-public, in Winnebago and Boone counties. Today, the Golden Apple Foundation continues its mission of inspiring, celebrating and supporting educational excellence in the community through four core programs: Awards & Recognition, Teacher Academy, Classroom Grants and Community Engagement.

Five teachers and one principal received the Golden Apple award for their excellence in teaching, their dedication to their students and the positive impact they make in the classroom every day. If you’ve driven around the Rockford area, you’ve probably seen the billboards, but what you might not know is that four of the five teachers recognized and the principal awardee are Rockford University alumni.

Of course, it really comes as no surprise that so many of the Golden Apple recipients are Rockford University graduates. Since our founding in 1847, we have been preparing education majors to be outstanding teachers. In fact, it’s safe to say that there are more than 1,200 teachers in the Rockford and surrounding area who have received their undergrad, graduate, or both degrees here. Since 2009, 29 alumni have been Golden Apple Award winners, two alumnae have been recognized as Illinois Teachers of the Year (2006 Jacqueline Bolger ’83 MAT, and 2008 Ruth Meissen ’98 MAT), one alumnus has been honored as 2015 North Carolina Teacher of the Year (Rockford native James Ford ’09 MAT) and one alumna, was named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2014 (Anne Hasse ’96).

The 2019 group of Golden Apple nominees was just announced in early November. More than 420 nominees, with an estimated 25 percent being RU alumni, will go through a comprehensive process of evaluation, narrowing the field to just 20 finalists, and then to the final five awarded in May. All deserving and all inspiring, we are immensely proud of the amazing contributions made by these dedicated educators in classrooms throughout our region. We reached out to some of our most recent Golden Apple winners to find out how their time at RU prepared them for a career in teaching and gave them the edge they needed to excel in the classroom.

—As a mom of a special needs son, Rachel Huetson knew she needed to stay close to home as she pursued her degree in Education. Location and the fact that her sister, an RU graduate had a wonderful experience here, made it easy for Rachel to decide to enroll. From the minute she started classes, she knew she had made the right choice. “There is such a hometown and welcoming feel at Rockford University,” Rachel said. “The small class sizes were ideal and to this day, I meet regularly with my classmates who have become great friends.”

When she won the Golden Apple, Rachel was teaching first grade at Nelson Elementary in Rockford. This school year she has taken on a new role at Seth Whitman in Belvidere teaching math, science and English to second graders for whom English is their second language. It’s a new challenge for Rachel, and one she credits RU with helping to prepare her. “One thing I dreaded as a student was having to attend forums each semester,” Rachel said. But one particular forums changed Rachel’s perspective. “I attended the forum featuring Mark Zupan, one of the stars of Murderball,” said Rachel. Murderball is a documentary about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs and overcome unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. “To this day I talk about that forum and his message about overcoming odds, it made such an impact on me and that will resonate with me always.”

Despite her initial reluctance to attend the forums, Rachel now credits them as part of her well-rounded education. That, along with the excellent professors and a student teacher semester program that allowed her to really immerse herself in the classroom. “The professors really value the students and wanted us to succeed,” Rachel said. “I stay in touch with them and love to have that connection.”

—Small class sizes, clinicals, and a small professor-to-student ratio are all things Katherine Koehler lists as helping her become the teacher she is today. Katherine teachers first grade at Ledgewood Elementary School in Roscoe. “RU prepared me through the clinicals I completed and the small class sizes which allowed me to build strong relationships with professors,” Katherine said. “There were multiple people who made a significant impact on my teaching career. Professors like Dr. Feroli who taught us with intention and prepared us on teaching reading methods in the classroom.”

Katherine also cites her student teaching supervisor, Wes Morgan, as someone who made the biggest impact in her teaching career. “Mr. Morgan pushed me, encouraged me, gave me the best advice and tips, and taught what it meant to be a quality educator,” she said. “Mr. Morgan continues to influence my teaching simply from the things I learned from him during my student teaching. He is an exceptional mentor and someone to whom I will be forever grateful!”

Support was also found outside of the classroom, on campus and in her role as a student worker in the Student Administrative Services office. “I loved the community feel,” Katherine said. “Classes were small and personal. I worked in the student admissions office which I LOVED. Stacey Simms and Daryl Bickford were a great support during my student-worker career.”

Overall, it was RU’s exceptional education program that Katherine said prepared and challenged her and other aspiring teachers. “I was provided a strong foundation of teaching practices and principles that I have carried with me throughout my career,” she said. “I will always be grateful to the staff at RU for preparing me to do what I love each day. I love everything about what I do and hope to give my students the best instruction and love they deserve!”

—For Ashley Schwabero, her master’s in teaching gave her the practical strategies she needed to provide excellent instruction in the classroom and one project really brought learning to life. “The teacher demonstrated how powerful instruction can be when students are fully immersed in an interactive project while practicing their skills,” Ashley said. “We were assigned to plan a party and we had to compare the prices for the supplies at several local grocery stores. Given that purpose for learning, all of the students were fully engaged. I think back on that lesson often when I am planning for my own classroom and try to incorporate that type of hands-on learning for my students.”

As a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Hill School in South Beloit, Ashley is always looking for ways to make a positive impact on her students and she credits RU as a place where she was able to hone her skills. “My experience at RU has added a huge amount of instructional strategies that I currently use in my classroom,” she said.

Katherine M. Koehler ’11 BS Elementary Education teaches First Grade at Ledgewood Elementary School in Roscoe

“Teaching has taught me how to love unconditionally, how to put others before myself, how to continually find new ways to get to know that student who is struggling in school, and how to lead by example. It is my hope that my students will remember their first grade teacher as someone who was committed, loving and a person who they could depend on. Teaching has brought me direction and purpose, and for that I am grateful.”


Rachel Seipts Huetson ’09 BS Elementary Education taught First Grade at Nelson Elementary School in Rockford and is now at Seth Whitman Elementary School in Belvidere.

“It is my job to allow my students to express their learning through a variety of multiple intelligences so that they become lifelong learners.” 



Ashley Schwabero ’08 MAT teaches Fourth Grade at Prairie Hill Elementary School in South Beloit.

“The field of education is one in which a teacher’s job is ever-changing. I will never stop adjusting, growing, and learning along the way. I believe I could not have chosen to dedicate myself to a more significant and rewarding profession, as it is educators who help build the foundation for the impact that each child will make in our world.”


Lance Tuula ’04 BS Elementary Education teaches Fifth Grade at Whitman Post Elementary in Rockton

“I want my students to know that no matter their performance level, the entire arena will always be cheering for them in the end. I try to stop at some point every day, take a breath, and realize that there’s no place I’d rather be than in our arena, on our stage.”




2018 Golden Apple Puri Outstanding Principal

Amber Miller ’05 BS Elementary Education

Maud E. Johnson Elementary School, Rockford.

Photo of Alumni going through book2018 Alumni Award Recipients

12/28/2018 9:40 am

Golden Grads: Class of 1968


Awards of Distinction

Courtney Geiger ’02. Courtney is an active and visible community member in Rockford who for more than 11 years has served on the leadership team at Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois as Director of Mission Services. Beyond her role with Goodwill, Courtney is deeply involved in programs and volunteers her time for a wide variety of area non-profits. Her passions include community outreach efforts that help to alleviate poverty, develop and foster area youth, and improve financial literacy, just to name a few. Through both her role at Goodwill and her tireless dedication to the community she loves, including serving on the University’s Alumni Association Board, Courtney has distinguished herself as a compassionate leader and caring advocate in all that she does.

Kathy Hackwith Groth ’72. Kathy wrote the original federal grant that created the Food Bank of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. Her vision back in the late 1970s to minimize food waste was to eventually have a fleet of trucks, a large warehouse, and the resources to make sure food wasn’t wasted and hungry people were fed became a reality. She continues to distribute leftover food from smaller food banks in her Volvo every week. Today, Colorado’s largest human services nonprofit, provides more than 134,000 meals a day to people in need.

Brooke Larson-Moore ’01. As a manager of Global Regulatory Affairs, Marketed Products at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Brooke is responsible for oversight of global regulatory maintenance activities for a portfolio comprised of over 3,000 unique licenses in more than 100 countries, including Japan, Europe, and Latin America. She was named an Access to Medicines Fellow to Haiti, 2017.  Brooke is a rare blend of talents and skills — a skilled scientist and leader in her field, as well as an avid volunteer and activist for multiple causes.


Talcott Cross Award

Susan Wheeler-Johnston, Ph.D., ’07 L.H.D. Dr. Susan Wheeler-Johnston started at Rockford College as a faculty member in the Department of English. During her tenure, she served as the Department Chair of English, Associate Dean, advisor for several student clubs and was the Associate Dean of Regents College. Dr. Wheeler-Johnston  remained devoted to Rockford for several years beyond her employment as a member of our Board of Trustees and also served as our commencement speaker in 2007. She currently is the President of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).


Karl C. Williams Award

John McNamara H ’89 LL.D. This former Rockford mayor served the University in many capacities and roles from 2004 through 2017, including Special Assistant to the President, Development Officer and Vice President for Institutional Advancement. His work to provide support for technological infrastructure and campus programming for business, the arts, and volunteer networks is noteworthy as is his service with the Office of Institutional Advancement where he worked to secure planned gifts through the Mary Ashby Cheek Society.


Outstanding Young Alumna/Alumnus

Heather Goodrich Lindgren ’11. As a math teacher at Luther North College Prep, Heather changed the curriculum and brought AP Calculus to their school. With her MsEd., she now teaches AP Calculus to her high school students as dual credit through Concordia University and serves as an adjunct professor. She started a math team at Luther North and coaches the WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering team) and serves as the head volleyball and head basketball coach. She was the 2010 Lincoln Laurette, and continues to serve Rockford University by speaking to classes for the math department and is involved in alumni volleyball events.


Alumna/Alumnus of the Year

Tom Muldowney ’74. Tom began his service on the Board of Trustees in 2010, serving as Board Chair from 2014 to 2017. He is a firm believer in the life-long value of a liberal arts education provides and credits his alma mater for providing the foundation that led to the many successes in his life. Tom is quick to give credit to the University for teaching him ‘how to think’ and not ‘what to think.’ Tom remains an active and fervent supporter of Rockford University, continuing to serve as a Trustee. He is also known for his extensive board leadership work and generosity throughout the community. Tom founded Savant Capital Management in 1986.

More Reunion & Homecoming photos at:


As she begins her fourth year as an associate professor of physics at Rockford, Dr. Deepshikha Shukla is inspiring students — both college and otherwise — to discover the possibilities the world of science has to offer. Her passion for teaching has propelled her to look beyond the walls of the university to reach younger Rockford-area students who may never have given science a second thought. And while Dr. Shukla has been here a relatively short time, her dedication and outreach efforts are a testament to Rockford’s rich history in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with names like Anna Peck Sill, Jessie Spafford, A. Frances Johnson, John Schumaker, Alan Hutchcroft, Mary Jeffreson, and G. Lawrence Forman; some of the notable science and mathematics professors who preceded her.

Dr. Shukla’s enthusiasm for physics is contagious and she is inspiring students to think differently, all while providing learning opportunities that are applicable to their lives. “By putting concepts into perspectives that will help them later in their career, students have a better opportunity to grasp complex concepts,” Dr. Shukla said.

Juliana Theodorakis pictured with her award winning poster presentation at the 2018 Signma Xi annual meeting.

For Dr. Shukla it’s all about “experiencing physics.” She cites a recent example of one of her students who has a goal of becoming a high school physics teacher. The assignment she gave him? Create experiments using a smartphone sensor. “We know that for the most part, high school science departments are lacking in current equipment,” Dr. Shukla said. “But we all have smartphones. And smartphones have sensors that can do a lot of physics experiments. By giving him an assignment based on a perspective that was meaningful to him, he was able to learn practical applications that will help him later in his career.”

Senior Juliana Theodorakis has found new passions in areas she never imagined would be part of her academic experiences. Although a Spanish major, a physics class with Dr. Shukla has turned into numerous exciting opportunities for Juliana who has a real knack for coding. Juliana uses a wheel chair and has taken some of her personal experiences and interests to create online courses that are accessible to students with various disabilities. Her work is impressive and caught the attention at the 2018 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference held in San Francisco, California this past October.

Sigma Xi is an Honor Society for scientific research. Approximately 125 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students competed in a research poster presentation competition at the conference, which was held in conjunction with the Sigma Xi Annual Meeting. According to Sigma Xi’s website, members, who were elected to membership because of their research accomplishments, served as judges and evaluated each student’s presentation. Judges evaluated whether the student clearly stated a hypothesis and the significance of his or her research as well as goals and objectives. Judges also assessed a student’s use of the scientific method and ability to answer questions.

Juliana attended the conference with Dr. Shukla and had the opportunity to present her research where she won the award for the best poster in her category of Physics and Astronomy. Juliana devised an experiment to measure the rotational inertia (a measure of how hard it is to turn/rotate) of her wheelchair as it should be an important consideration for wheelchair design. Manual wheelchair users can suffer from shoulder and back problems if the wheelchairs are difficult to maneuver. Her recognition included a medal, monetary award, and a year of free membership dues in Sigma Xi.

Juliana’s growing confidence to take on research projects and her resulting successes are proof of the simple premise Dr. Shukla practices, “Again, if I can find a perspective that matters to the student, the student will most likely grasp concepts more readily and be excited about it.”

And interest is growing. Enrollment is rising as the program becomes more relevant and students are sticking with it. Currently there are three declared physics minors, two of whom would like to major in physics. Offering physics as a major is something Dr. Shukla would like to see as well. “As interest grows, we definitely need to look at adding the physics major back into the RU offerings,” she said.

Dr. Shukla is also going outside the University to get younger students interested in not only science, but the entire college experience. As a relative newcomer she wasn’t sure where to begin so she turned to fellow professor, Mary Weaks-Baxter, Andrew H. Sherratt College Professor and Professor of English, who oversees community-based learning projects.

So far, Dr. Shukla, with help from several colleagues, has developed programs at Washington Park Community Center, Carlson Elementary School, and with Spectrum School, which recently moved to a location near the University. At Washington Park Community Center, Shukla reached out to Director Nicki Lynch and discovered that all of their after-school programs were geared towards sports. “There is a severe need for STEM-based activities so kids can get exposure to these fields,” Shukla said.

Most of the programs were held at Washington, Carlson or Spectrum and twice, students came on campus for an English and STEM Workshop held last fall, and the RU STEM and Savvy Skills Workshop held last spring. “The workshop was not just about physics, it was a program designed to help the participants develop critical thinking skills and give them an overall holistic experience,” Shukla said.

“The idea is to make kids excited about learning,” Shukla said. “Yes, we can go and give them workshops at their school or community center, but for them to come to a higher-ed environment and see what college is like, it makes it more real for them.”

In fact, Dr. Shukla is currently envisioning a program connecting Rockford students with schools like Spectrum with curriculum that would benefit both groups of students. “So many of our students eventually want to teach, and I think a program connecting our students with the elementary students would provide amazing learning opportunities,” Shukla said. It’s just one of the many ideas Shukla has as she thinks of ways to make Physics engaging and fun for everyone.


“You can really make a difference in their lives.”

That’s Performing Arts Professor Jeff Hendry reflecting on how he has made an impact as a teacher, mentor and guiding force for countless Rockford University students in the Performing Arts department. For 36 years, he has helped students find their passion, whether it’s on, near or off the stage. “Seeing students grow, especially in this field is so rewarding,” Hendry said. “They may come in from high school thinking ‘that was fun and I had a great time’ and not realize there are career opportunities in this field they can consider. On the other hand, they may realize performing arts isn’t their thing and find another direction. And that’s equally rewarding. Having another interest is not a bad thing — I started out as pre-law!”

His students can see how he would have excelled as a lawyer. “They say ‘oh wow you would have made a great lawyer when I argue in class,’ but I always liked theater and I couldn’t see myself spending my life as a lawyer.”

As a performing arts student at the University of Arizona, Hendry had intentions of becoming an actor. But a required costume design class and a natural aptitude for sewing had him considering a different path. “My mom always sewed and I grew up watching her sew all the time,” said Hendry. But he didn’t just observe. “You know when you’re a kid and they buy your clothes one size too big so you’ll grow into them? Well I would sneak into my mom’s sewing room and alter them so they wouldn’t be so loose on me.”

While Hendry had a knack for sewing, the required costume design class wasn’t something he was overly enthused about taking. “I was terrified to take the class because I thought I couldn’t draw,” Hendry said. “But the instructor had an interesting mantra. She would say, ‘anyone can be taught to play the piano. If you’re going to be a concert pianist that’s one thing, or just playing for fun, but either way you can do it.’ It made me realize I could do this.”

Hendry’s professor ignited a passion for costume design that has led to a career not only as a well-respected and beloved professor, but as a gifted and sought after theater costume designer with myriad awards under his belt. Last year, he received the award for Best Costume Design for his work on Mamma Mia! and in 2015, he won the same award for The Music Man and Sister Act. All three of those shows were produced at the Maine State Music Theatre, a professional musical theater organization located on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick, Maine. Over the years, he’s designed for productions at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and Madison, Fireside Theatre, Circa’ 21 Dinner Playhouse and Little Theatre on the Square. His work has been featured in Chicago at the Northlight Theater, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Drury Lane Water Tower and Drury Lane Evergreen Park.

And of course, there are the productions at Maddox and Cheek Theatres where Hendry oversees costume design and often directs the student productions. There have been some amazing costumes and productions through the years, including this past April when Hendry took on one of the biggest and most elaborate yet — Leonard Bernstein’s epic musical masterpiece, Candide. The show was presented as part of the Leonard Bernstein at 100 Festival, a two-year celebration of the Broadway legend and, in addition to massive three-story stage sets and musicians from the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, the show included more than 153 lavish costumes, all created by Hendry. For Hendry, taking on Candide was something he was incredibly excited about and at the same time, scared to death to attempt. “It’s a huge production, boarding on an operetta,” said Hendry. “But the opportunity came up to work with the Rockford Symphony and I knew we had the students who could handle it, so I said ‘if we’re going to do it, let’s go for it!’”

Hendry was right. The production was a beautiful collaboration between RU’s performing arts department and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and the costumes will go down as some of the most amazing in RU’s history. This Fall, Hendry tackled a completely different type of production, Carrie, The Musical, based on the Stephen King novel.

Having directed and created costumes for so many RU productions, Hendry finds it difficult to name his favorites, but sites Into the Woods and A Little Night Music, for their complexity. “Roshman was definitely one I was most proud of,” Hendry said, “Also Pericles and Antigone because with those productions I was able to do something I don’t normally get to do. I was really proud with how they turned out.” Outside of Rockford, his work on Sophisticated Ladies, at the old Drury Lane South and Grand Hotel at Theater at the Center in Munster Indiana and the Drury Lane Water Tower Place are most memorable to him. “Sophisticated Ladies is so rarely done and it’s mammoth costume-wise. There are 30 musical numbers and it’s so huge people normally don’t do it,” Hendry said “Grand Hotel is 1920s Berlin and you have to do clothes, not costumes. There’s a difference.”

With such an extensive body of work, Hendry may be thinking of slowing down a bit, but for now what keeps him going is seeing students grow and mature during their time at RU and sharing in that moment when the proverbial light bulb goes off in their mind that may lead to a career direction they might not have considered.

While a degree in design typically has very few students, Hendry says even at large universities there are typically only a handful of students who focus on costume design, and most usually do find work in the field.

“We have design graduates who have worked at Milwaukee Children’s Theater and currently the Chicago Lyric Opera,” Hendry said. “One of my former students, Darrin Pufall ’04, is teaching costume design at Boise State. Typically, what happens is they can work in the field while they’re auditioning and trying to get acting gigs. It’s a way to work their way into the business and network.” And sometimes, they go all in and make costume design their full-time career.

Take for example, Ryan Moller ’15, who was nominated for the same award Hendry won in 2017 and 2015. Moller was nominated for his work on Guys and Dolls at the same theater where Hendry’s work was recognized. Ryan’s success is just one example of what truly matters to Hendry — his students. “When Ryan was nominated for the award it was very much like a passing of the torch,” Hendry said.

photos of Dr. Walker and Stephen TaylorPaving a Path to Persistence

12/28/2018 9:20 am

Dr. Karen Walker and Stephen Taylor


Stephen Taylor is in his junior year and majoring in Sport Management. Looking to the future, he says it’s pretty simple, “I want to be able to take care of my family. If I have kids someday, I want to be an example for them, and to have the money and resources to pay for them to go to college, too.” It’s an important point for this first-generation student, the first male in his family to go to college, and for whom this accomplishment came dangerously close to not happening at all.

Stephen will tell you there was a period during his first year at Rockford where he believed that his college reality would be like that of so many other young men he knew — failure. Overwhelmed and faced with an academic dismissal, he found himself struggling with virtually every aspect of college life. He was ready to accept that he was done and walk away, but then, Dr. Karen Walker literally came knocking at his door and Stephen’s reality began to change.

At the time, Dr. Walker was heading up the Office of Student Success and Retention. She was there to personally assist students in any way she and the University could to help them persist to graduation. She knew first-hand, and further supported by dismal state and national statistics, that minority males struggled the most. Dr. Walker was determined to reverse this trend at Rockford and found additional valuable support through the Associated Colleges of Illinois (ACI), a statewide collaborative of 26 smaller, independent liberal arts-based colleges and universities that has made increasing college graduation rates among low-income, first-generation college students and students of color a top priority.

Dr. Walker spent a year putting additional structure and resources to her efforts, but she knew more was needed. She then applied to ACI’s Peer Mentoring Program, which supports students who arrive at ACI-member institutions with risk factors that could prevent them from staying in school and reaching graduation. To counter those risks – from financial and educational inequities to lack of family experience with higher education – the ACI grant supports programming that matches at risk students with trained peer mentors who have faced similar challenges.

Stephen was one of the first to become involved in the program, admittedly due to Dr. Walker’s unrelenting influence. She believed in him, and slowly, Stephen began to understand that he too, could believe in himself. She helped him file a petition to re-enroll and supported him with her personal recommendation to return to his studies. Stephen went from being a mentee to serving as a dedicated mentor, providing a genuine example of what it means to truly persist.

Rockford University is in its second year of participation in ACI’s Peer Mentoring program, along with 10 other ACI-member institutions in Illinois. It’s making a notable difference in the lives of RU students. Stephen and seven of his fellow peers were recently asked to share their stories. Stephen, Thery Simms, Tyree Ahrens, Ajibola Oke-Diran, Christopher Honnou, Jeremiah Camphor, and Jesus Campos all sat down in front of the camera with Leslie Millenson, Director of Special Projects for ACI, and eloquently and honestly told their stories. Each unscripted interview revealed a recurring commonality of how having no study habits, poor self-discipline, a lack of positive role-models and financial pressures began to derail their ability to succeed. Many were reluctant when they were first approached to participate in the mentoring program. Dr. Walker and her small original group of students who she had so directly influenced were diligent in seeking out those students most at risk. Recruits soon began to understand the importance and value gained from a peer who had been there. With a growing arsenal of tools at their disposal, this impressive group of young men also learned that they were ultimately the best advocates for their own accountability. A common theme echoed by several Minority Male Mentoring students is that they simply didn’t have the foundation to know how to succeed. One by one, those obstacles to success are being removed.

Above: Mentors AJ Oke-Diran graduated in May and is now attending graduate school to earn his MBA; Jesus Campos (also featured on the Catalyst cover) is an active and visible presence on campus and served along with Stehpen (pictured below at right) as Welcome Week leaders. 


The Athletic Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner and Induction held on November 3, 2018 brought together family and friends, as well as former coaches and teammates for a memorable night in honor of our current Hall of Fame members, and to welcome four new members into the Chuck DeWild Athletic Hall of Fame. The shared stories echoed the value and impact that a Rockford University education and collegiate athletics participation has brought to our student-athletes at Rockford University. Congratulations to our Hall of Fame Class of 2018!


From left: Marcus Howard, Jimmy Dercks, Reggie, Heidi Burkhart and Troy DeCook.

2018 Inductees:

Heidi Burkhart ’02/’09 entered the Chuck DeWild Hall of Fame as one of the top female athletes in Rockford University history, and was a major reason behind the turnaround of the women’s basketball program in the early 2000s. Rockford won 49 games and posted back-to-back second place finishes in the Northern Illinois Iowa Conference (NIIC) during Burkhart’s three years as a Regent, after winning just six games in the previous three seasons combined. In the 2000-01 season, the Regents earned their second ever berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament, with their other trip coming during the 1986-87 season. Burkhart’s accolades extend over all three of her seasons as a Regent. Heidi currently serves as a teacher in the Harlem School District in Loves Park, Ill.

Troy DeCook ’03/’06 became the first member of the 2002-03 men’s basketball hall of fame team to be individually enshrined in the Chuck DeWild Hall of Fame. DeCook was a four-year member of the Rockford University men’s basketball program which steadily improved in each of his four seasons. DeCook was a focal point of the 2002-03 team that went 24-4, including a perfect 12-0 mark in conference play. DeCook made a profound impact on the Rockford University men’s basketball team and was a key reason why the Regents won back-to-back NIIC Championships and hosted an NCAA Division III Tournament game. Troy currently serves as a Sales Manager for TTI in Houston, Texas.

Marcus Howard ’05 became the first member of the Rockford University football program to be enshrined in the Chuck DeWild Hall of Fame. Howard played on the inaugural football team in 2000 and was a major reason for the program’s early success. In his senior season in 2003, the Regents posted a 7-3 overall record, a program-high for wins in a season, and finished second in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference South Division. To this day, Howard remains one of the most decorated football players in school history. Marcus currently serves as a Behavioral Specialist for at Risk youth in Kennewick, Wash.

Jimmy Dercks ’12 entered the Chuck DeWild Hall of Fame following a highly-successful four-year career as the starting shortstop for the Rockford University baseball program. The Regents posted a 72% winning percentage in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) during his four years as a Regent.  Dercks is one of the most decorated four-year RU baseball players in recent history, earning awards and honors throughout his entire time as a Regent. Jimmy currently serves as a Mental Health Specialist in Appleton, Wis.


Current Hall of Fame members at the event:        

  • Ray Eissens ’70 – Basketball/Baseball
  • Jeff Wirth ’78 – Basketball
  • Mark Bernhardy ’79 – Baseball
  • Gayle Strang ’68 – Coach, Professor
  • Bill Langston ’05H – Athletics Director, Coach, Professor
  • Lee Carley ’98H – Coach, Professor
  • Josh Balcitis ’03, Troy DeCook ’03/’06,
  • Billy Lewis III ’05, Nicolas Newson ’05
    – members of the 2002-2003 Men’s Basketball team


A full listing of Chuck DeWild Hall of Fame members can be found at: