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2013 Inaugural Commencement Speaker Competition

 To promote EIU's commitment to strengthening the academic and personal experience for our students and to showcase examples of exemplary writing and speaking, Eastern Illinois University introduced the Student Commencement Speaker Series. This program replaces the former student and faculty speaker traditions at Eastern. The Student Commencement Speaker Series will be introduced during the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 Commencement Programs and will showcase 6 students eligible for graduation.  Student Speakers representing the Graduate School will be featured for the first time during the Fall 2013 ceremony Saturday, December 14, 2013.

Announcing the 2013 selected students and their essays :

David Closson, master of science in Technology- speaking at the 10:00 am ceremony, he will be introduced by his faculty mentor Mr. Ken Baker.

From College Student to College Cop

Eastern Illinois University is not just a college; it is the starting block towards success. Let me tell you why I first chose Eastern. Throughout my life, I have learned from many ordinary people who attended Eastern and went on to accomplish extraordinary things. My father is an ordinary man with an exceptional work ethic who was honored with EIU’s Distinguished Alumnus Award following his retirement. Growing up, I heard my parents recall the stories of how they met each other and made life-long friends at Eastern. I knew Eastern was a special place, and I wanted to be a part of it. My appreciation for Eastern grew throughout my undergraduate career, especially as I was deployed to Iraq my junior year as a member of the Illinois Army National Guard. Preparing for a deployment can be a little stressful. Eastern provided significant support throughout my deployment. My chemistry professor, Dr. Mark McGuire, took time to sit down with me and outline a way that I could complete the class even though I was leaving in the middle of the semester. My co-workers and supervisors at the Rec Center quickly stepped up to take care of my responsibilities so that I could focus on what lay ahead. That support continued while I was overseas. I received care packages, letters, and toys that I could pass out to the Iraqi children from my friends and mentors at EIU. I was eager to return to Eastern upon the completion of my deployment. Eastern was still my home. The Rec Center and the Department of Biological Sciences welcomed me back with open arms. While finishing my bachelor’s degree, I was offered both support and academic rigor. In my upper division classes, I was excited to move from the classroom to the field to conduct stream geomorphology studies in central Illinois. I also appreciated the opportunity to work with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Conducting DNA sampling in search of a pure cutthroat trout population in the mountains of Colorado was an integrated learning experience I will never forget. I entered graduate school and continued to evolve from a student to an adult. I was a non-traditional student in more than just one way. I was a student-veteran and working full-time as a university police officer. The School of Technology valued my diverse life experiences and welcomed me to the program. Eastern offered me a great opportunity to work full-time and complete my master’s degree. I am standing here today thanks to help from the Graduate School and School of Technology which gave me many options for taking classes. They have helped me succeed by offering online classes, evening classes, and even some off-campus classes. I first choose to pursue a master’s in technology due to the versatility and variety of opportunities it would give me. From day one in my first graduate class with Dr. Thomas Hawkins, I saw my paradigm shift. Not only did I learn the coursework, I began to learn a new way of thinking. As my professors continued to work with me, I was able to discover my true passion of working with students. Throughout graduate school, I developed the skills needed to combine my passion and my profession. I saw myself applying what I was learning in class to my every day duties as a university police officer. Eastern has continued to be a special place for me. I am now living my passion every day. Applying the skills I’ve learned and developed in graduate school allows me to give back to the students. As a police officer, I have the opportunity to take a proactive coaching and mentoring approach to policing on campus. When the students can see that I’m not necessarily there to arrest them, but more to help them make good decisions, it’s a win/win for everyone. Another way I have applied my graduate training is through co-teaching classes with the Office of Student Standards. In those classes I have developed my skills of motivational interviewing and am currently working to teach those skills to others. Teaming up across campus on the EIU Mayhem Prevention Team gave me the chance to star in several social media campus safety campaigns and even rappel off Khelm Hall while wearing a 3-piece suit! There no such thing as an average day! The fun and excitement of my job, coupled with the fulfillment that comes from applying my education, pave the way for a rewarding future. I would like highlight three main points that can help us all achieve this. The first would be relationships, build good relationships with the people around you as those are the people who will be there to help you, encourage you and support you on the journey through life. The second would be integrated learning. It’s not just some fancy buzzword; it is the heart of learning. Taking what you have learned and applying it outside of the classroom is what makes these years of hard work well worth it. The last thing I would like to speak about is bringing your passion and your profession together as one. This isn’t always easy, but through those strong relationships and valued integrated learning experiences new ideas and opportunities will arise. They certainly didn’t cover teaching college students, public speaking, or even social media campus safety campaigns at the police academy. That came from bringing my passion into my profession. I strive to be one of the many ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things thanks to EIU and I believe each and everyone one of you can too. Thank you Eastern and congratulations on graduating everyone!

Brittany Zaring, master of science in Dietetics- speaking the 1:00 pm ceremony, she will be introduced by her faculty mentor Dr. Melanie Burns.

EIU’s Footprint on my Future

            In the future when I reflect back on my time at EIU, I will have zero regrets. I will remember walking through campus when the leaves began to change; the close relationships I was fortune to have with my professors; the friendships I made; my mentor, Dr. Melanie Tracy Burns whose red ink pen is never without ink, the research I was able to do, and the passion that was sparked in me while I was here. I ask you to reflect back on your experiences as you made EIU your home. Think about your mentors, friends, and activities while I share some of my experience with you today.

            In 2009, I graduated from the Art Institute in Nashville, TN with my Associate’s in Culinary Arts. After graduation, I had only a few prospects of employment; none of which would provide me with a salary to sustain my life nor did they have very appealing work hours. I decided to further my education and pursue something that would be the 9-5 and provide a steady income for myself and potential future family. However, I was not willing to let go of food; so, dietetics it was- as I decided am good with food and chemistry. Dietetics was the reasonable choice. I chose Eastern Illinois University because it was close to home and they offered a degree in dietetics through their School of Family and Consumer Sciences; it fit the purposes I needed it to.

            I am not sure what brought you to EIU, but EIU was my first choice for my undergraduate degree based on location and convenience. However, the ending was completely different. My first and second semester on campus provided me with a nice introduction to what I could expect. It was when I came back for that third semester and my final year of undergraduate studies; Dr. Melanie Burns asked me if I was interested in working with Peace Meal Senior Nutrition and doing a research project as part of my undergraduate internship. Peace Meal, then housed under the School of Family and Consumer Sciences it was an easy choice to be my place of internship. However, due to recent state budget cuts Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System has assumed management of this wonderful program.

            In the Fall of 2011, I met with Barbara Brown, the assistant director of Peace Meal and started the groundwork for my undergraduate research I was undertaking- testing the acceptability and preference of a researcher-developed oral nutrition supplement. My final semester of undergraduate I worked at Peace Meal Senior Nutrition ten to twelve hours a week. I would do office work that was needed, go on site visits, review menus, and do my research during my internship.   My research consisted of administering a Triangle Test that had two one-ounce servings of Ensure and one one-ounce serving of the research-developed oral nutritional supplement. The seniors identified which supplement was different, stated their preference, and which of the supplements they found acceptable.

            In addition to doing research while in my internship, I was fortunate enough to assist at Peace Meal. One day I went on a site visit with Blake Sanders, a home delivered meal coordinator. We travelled from Charleston to Bethany to meet with a fantastic, upbeat blind woman in her eighties or nineties with end-stage cancer. Blake told me that site visits normally last twenty to thirty minutes; we were in this particular ladies house for over sixty minutes. I had the privilege to silently listen to this woman describe how she lived out her days in her house, the visitors that would stop by, and how the Peace Meal volunteers would deliver her meals. She told us what those meals meant to her and how nice it was to have a daily volunteer checking on her and to ask how she was doing. It was in that moment that I knew nutrition has a significant impact on people and most do not realize its importance. That experience, provided through my undergraduate internship, solidified my passion and my drive to try and change the world and help the helpless.

            Since then, I applied for and was accepted into the dietetic internship at Eastern Illinois University. I was fortunate enough to have a graduate assistantship teaching the foods lab, working with students while they developed their culinary skills and learned about food principals. I chose to throw myself again into research and take on a master’s thesis that focused on providing nutrition education through Facebook to college students. I have also taken all opportunities that have been presented to work with the most deserving populations while in my graduate dietetic internship as to have no regrets while at EIU. I have volunteered at organizations such as WIC, Bread of Love (a senior nutrition program), and various day cares. I have worked at food banks and a mobile food pantry helping families load their cars with much needed groceries. I continue to seek out those opportunities. It is my desire to locate a job upon graduation working with deserving families involved in the aforementioned programs. Nutrition helps children perform better in school, help heal the sick, and can nourish the soul.

            Other students here at EIU can have similar experiences that I was fortunate to have. Peace Meal can always use volunteers. Students can help deliver meals, observe assessments, or help serve at congregate meal sites. Hearing about the need and experiencing it for oneself are two completely different worlds. EIU and its professors present students with opportunities throughout the year to be involved, volunteer their time, and help change the world a little bit at a time. Experiences such as I was fortunate to have while attending EIU help to remove the local perspective and move towards the global perspective. They can spark passion and guide students into directions they never knew they wanted to head, just like it did for me.