INA, Ill. (May 12, 2020) — Rend Lake College acknowledged the achievements of its employees Tuesday during the annual RLC Faculty and Staff Awards.
The ceremony was held online this year in a continued effort to practice safe social distancing, and the awards will be distributed at a later date.
If there was a way to make the learning experience better for students at Rend Lake College, Dr. Barb Hampton was going to try and find it. The Developmental Reading and English Professor showed a dedication to helping her students and helping improve Rend Lake College during her 13-year teaching career.
Starting full-time in August 2007, Hampton has worked to enhance the Developmental Reading program at RLC by streamlining the courses into a more manageable load for students, so they did not fall behind at the college level. She provided interventions with her pupils when needed and worked with Disability Services to make sure student needs were being met. And she has earned some accolades for her efforts along the way. In 2011, Hampton was presented the RLC Foundation Assessment Award for using data to improve college-preparatory learning in English, reading and study skills. In 2015, Hampton earned the Agriculture Program’s Doug Leeck Service Award for providing exceptional service to her students. And it was just this month she was named the May 2020 Employee of the Month, where her nominating peers highlighted her dedication to her craft.
"When it comes to her students, Barb is ‘all in’ and seeks, not only to educate but also to empower. She has a way of lifting and encouraging students who might not have had a great start in their academic careers by demonstrating her genuine care and belief in their abilities," her colleagues said.
Hampton also served on RLC’s Academic Council for numerous years. She earned her Doctor of Education degree from Oakland City University and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vermont College.
Her current title at Rend Lake College may be Learning Resource Center Specialist, but Sue Cunningham wore many hats during her 13-year career at RLC. In all her roles, Cunningham was there to help students.
Starting at the college full-time in August 2007, Cunningham has helped hundreds of students feel welcome at RLC through learning support and disability services among many other endeavors. Her support of students who needed help in any way did not go unrecognized. In 2017, Cunningham was presented the RLC Foundation Outstanding Staff Award after she was nominated for her work on campus overseeing the Learning Enhancement Center, Tutoring, Disability Services, and the Health Studies Student Success Center. She also coordinated and hosted the Transition Summit for local high school students and helped teach First-Year Experience.
“Students of all walks of life see Sue as a valuable resource and someone they can trust. She will always make time for a student who has an issue, needs help, or simply needs to talk. We have witnessed Sue skip her lunch hour numerous times because she was spending time with a student… If all other avenues have failed, Sue will personally tutor students,” her peers said.
Cunningham has worked tirelessly to develop skills needed to meet students learning needs. During her time at RLC, she has also served on the Academic Council and the Biomedical Advisory Council. She holds a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa.
Outstanding Faculty Award
She organizes campus-wide cooking competitions. She started a project that allows people to buy gifts for students who may not receive any for the holidays. And on top of everything, she is a dedicated and innovative educator.
For all her efforts, Rend Lake College is pleased to recognize Dr. Jeannie Mitchell as the 2020 Outstanding Faculty Member. She was nominated by her peers for her continuous dedication to her students and their welfare.
“Professor Mitchell has a genuine concern for the well-being of others that is shown time and time again both in and out of the classroom. Her dedication to student engagement and success is to be commended,” said RLC Vice President of Instruction and Student Affairs Lori Ragland. “All colleges need a Jeannie Mitchell!”
Rend Lake College has been reaping the benefits of Mitchell’s work for more than two decades. Dr. Mitchell currently works as a Professor of Psychology, but she got her start at RLC in 1997 initially working as the school’s AmeriCorps Director and as an academic advisor. Mitchell’s teaching career started in 2002 when she was hired as a full-time professor. She said her first teaching experience was an introductory psychology course on Saturdays. And it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with the profession and make a move into teaching full-time.
Mitchell would go on to earn a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership from Oakland City University. Coupled with a Master of Science in Counseling from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Mitchell combined her clinical training and employment history as a counselor with her newfound love of teaching to create an engaging environment for students at RLC.
“I incorporate real-world experiences and personal stories to bring concepts to life and I strongly encourage dialog in all my classes,” Mitchell said. “Students learn topical components from each other, but more importantly, they learn empathy, perspective-taking, and that they do, in fact, have a voice.”
Mitchell said teaching in a community college environment allows her to help students through a transitionary period in their lives. As they go through the process of learning and self-discovery, a main objective for Mitchell is to help her students achieve their educational goals.
“That moment of seeing the ‘lightbulb’ go on is truly a joyous accomplishment,” she said. “My philosophy strongly relies on the concept of humbleness. As education evolves so should I.”
And the ever-changing world of education has not been too daunting for Mitchell. Just one example of her innovative ideas was to combine a class with Criminal Justice Professor Ron Meek. This allowed students from both classes to interact with their peers and gain insight into overlapping issues in their fields, such as mental illness, social organization, economic disparity and more.
“Both her students and mine benefited greatly because they got to see the practical application of the curriculum from me and the science part of the topic from Jeannie,” Meek said. “I couldn’t think of a more deserving person for this award. Students truly enjoy her classes.”
Mitchell’s contributions at RLC don’t stop in the classroom though. She has been ardent in her efforts to raise awareness for National Child Abuse Prevention Month every April. Students in her Child Psychology course wear blue t-shirts and help spread information about the issue around campus. She has also initiated the Angel Tree project on campus. The project is for students who may not receive gifts during the holiday season. Those students are assigned an “angel” who purchases gifts for them.
Mitchell’s efforts to help students also shine through her organization of cooking competitions on campus. These competitions allow faculty and staff to bring in their entries and students, faculty and staff can sample and vote for a small donation. The proceeds from these competitions benefit the Student Emergency Fund. Mitchell was also played a vital role in starting the RLC Food Pantry, which is offered to students through RL-Cares — a student support service.
“In all that Jeannie brings to our campus, her desire to help students and promote their self-worth is by far the greatest gift she gives,” said RLC President Terry Wilkerson. “She is a tremendous asset to our institution.”
In more leadership roles, Dr. Mitchell has served on RLC’s Higher Learning Commission steering committee. This committee is integral in helping the college through the accreditation process, and RLC received its full 10-year Reaffirmation of Accreditation in December 2018. She has been the college sponsor of both Phi Theta Kappa and the Society of Leadership and Success. And outside of RLC, she currently serves on the boards for Spero Family Services and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Franklin County and works with various pet rescue organizations.
Outstanding Staff Award
It was mid-March when Rend Lake College students learned the rest of the semester would move entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition to virtual learning could have been a rocky endeavor for faculty and staff but RLC had its “go-to person” to help lead the charge.
For all her efforts, Shari Carpenter has been named the winner of the 2020 Rend Lake College Foundation’s Outstanding Staff Award. Carpenter, Director of Instructional Design and Assessment, was nominated for the honor by her colleagues who put an emphasis on how supportive she is in almost any situation.
“I have found Shari to be extremely helpful and responsive to any inquiries. She goes above and beyond in being sure that her explanations are absolutely clear and then follows up afterward to see how the implementation is going,” wrote Christine Emling, Adjunct Nursing Faculty. “Rend Lake College is blessed to have someone of her caliber, especially at this critical time for the faculty and students. She has made online teaching and learning much easier because of her expertise.”
That work included helping create videos for nursing lectures and helping access online learning materials. Emling said Carpenter has been integral in helping instructors make the switch to Canvas and into an all-online learning environment in the Spring semester. Director of Nursing Nancy Buttry added Carpenter’s efforts with the ACEN accreditation visits have been very beneficial to the nursing program and acknowledged she was able to make all of these accomplishments while helping out all around campus.
“With knowing how much she assisted us on numerous occasions, I know that we were not the only ones at the college that she assists,” Buttry wrote.
Carpenter is no stranger to accolades at RLC. In 2016, she was the Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Member Award winner for her work as a computer science teacher. She also won an Outstanding Staff Award in 2000 in the “Office Support” category when she was working as a Title III Assistant. She was the winner of the 2011 Rend Lake College Foundation Assessment Award for improvements made in the computer science program. Carpenter has worked at RLC since 1995, serving in a variety of roles on both the administrative and instructional sides of education.