On Campus: Harper's Top 10 (And Then Some) Moments of 2011

As we get rolling in 2012, we recap some of Harper College's most notable achievements and memorable moments of 2011. And since it was tough sticking to just 10, we added a few extras.

It’s not easy crafting a Top 10 list – especially when it entails sorting through the Harper College headlines of 2011 and prioritizing the year’s most significant accomplishments and notable moments. 

Having so many achievements from which to choose is a good problem to have, of course.

The last year saw the induction of five more Distinguished Alumni – former Harper students who have made significant strides in their careers and contributions to their communities – a slew of professional achievements from our top-notch faculty and staff, and a number of developments that tied directly into our goal of ensuring student success as we move forward in the 21st century.

We launched new programs – many of which, like our Pharmacy Tech course, can lead students straight to good jobs – and served a growing number of community members through our Career Stimulus job-hunting club (more than 754 people participated). We remembered the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks with an observance that drew dozens to our campus to plant flags in the ground in their honor, creating a landscape of red, white and blue that waved in the breeze as a solemn pledge for hope. We forged a partnership with DePaul University that made it even easier for students to transfer to complete a bachelor’s degree, and expanded our truck driving training program through the addition of a donated tanker trailer that makes students more marketable in a job-heavy industry.

Those all are significant accomplishments that contributed to a banner year.

Below are 10 others (in no particular order) we think deserve special acknowledgement as we sign off on 2011 and get rolling in the new year.

#1: Students Nab Top Honors We had several groups of students perform impressively well in 2011, and this will serve as their collective, deserved recognition. Our perennial powerhouse Speech Team finished third at nationals – the best final placement in the team’s already impressive history, thanks to the guidance of great coaches like professors Jeff Przybylo, Margaret Bilos and Josh Sunderbruch. A trio of our fashion students edged out competitors from four-year colleges and universities to take home top honors at the Fashion Group International competition in Chicago, and our Culinary Bistro Team whipped up tantalizing dishes under high pressure to best students from the Army, Navy and Military Sealift Command at a live cooking competition reminiscent of the Food Network’s Iron Chef. (In related celebratory culinary footnotes, our students broke bread with Travel Channel personality Andrew Zimmern, host of “Bizarre Foods,” and President Kenneth Ender suited up to wait tables at Chicago Prime Steakhouse to raise money for a new Culinary and Hospitality Scholarship. The effort netted more than $10,000.)

#2 Partnerships Aid Student Success: Months after Motorola Solutions joined forces with us to make our summertime Choice Scholars Institute – a program aimed at ensuring the success of new freshmen in college and beyond – a continued rousing success, the company handed over $30,000 to fuel scholarships for future Institute participants. The program, which helps participants refresh basic skills before starting at Harper in the fall, aims to reduce the overall time they spend in developmental courses. The best part: The students love it. Meanwhile, the Alexian Brothers Health System donated $100,000 to establish a scholarship program to train bilingual nurses. The cash brought big smiles to the faces of our nursing students, one of whom said his ability to speak Spanish will help him communicate with a broader range of patients and save critical time in emergencies.

#3: Harper Student is an American Idol: Love it or hate it, American Idol is a pop culture phenomenon, and Harper jazz student Haley Reinhart used it to catapult her name to household status. Reinhart, who studied jazz with Instructor Ken Spurr, soared all the way to the top three on the popular FOX show, and her rise to fame brought Harper with her, earning us mentions in a slew of national media. Plenty of Harper folks – including Spurr – were in prime seats for her televised hometown concert,She didn’t win the singing competition, but it was certainly fun to watch old videos of her performing with our Jazz Ensemble and know that we played a role in getting her her start. The aftermath: Harper staged our own Hawk Idol competition (revealing some other promising vocals) and we’ve beefed up our jazz studies options, offering instruction in a variety of new instruments.

#4: Student Chosen for NASA Projects: Not even the sky is the limit for Kristen O’Mara. Her hard work technically has taken her there and beyond. O'Mara, whose passion for astronomy was ignited in a course taught by Professor Bhasker Moorthy, was one of only 48 students nationwide – and the only one in Illinois – chosen for an elite NASA summer project that ended with her creating a prototype Mars rover and presenting that project, along with a full-fledged, multi-million dollar plan for a mission to mars, to NASA engineers. A couple months later, NASA announced she was part of a team chosen for a prestigious reduced gravity student flight project that requires undergrads to propose, design, fabricate, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment. O’Mara, who has been accepted at Northwestern University – her next step toward an eventual Ph.d. – will use Harper lab space and work with Harper students as she pursues the project.

#5: Men’s Cross Country Team is National Champion Our men’s cross country team started its last meet of the season as contenders, and finished – for the first time ever – as national champions. Our Hawks beat out 20 other schools to clinch the NJCAA title this fall in Massachusetts. (As part of that effort, the team handily bested State University of New York-Delhi, which had claimed the seven previous national titles.) The win brought Harper’s overall national athletic championships count to 13; our Hawks also have earned titles four times each in wrestling and men’s track, three times in football and once in women’s track.

#6: Associate Professor is Fulbright Scholar: Associate Anthropology Professor Patricia Hamlen spent a month in Brazil over the summer, representing Harper and the United States’ higher education system as a recipient of a Fulbright grant aimed at equipping American educators with an understanding of daily life, culture and society in the South American (and future Olympics host) country. An animated advocate of using such experiences to bring classroom lectures to life, Hamlen was one of only 15 academics selected for the July Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program. She spent 30 days investigating the cultural, economic and social aspects of Brazilian life, researching the interaction between tradition and modern society and dialoguing with scholars, government officials and others in five states, including Rio de Janeiro. Hamlen is a Harper alumna, and is Harper’s second Fulbright recipient in as many years; International Student Coordinator Jill Izumikawa received a Fulbright grant to spend two weeks in Korea in 2010.

#7: Small Business Development Manager Earns State Star: Under Bonnie Richter’s guidance, the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Harper College last year delivered 1,300 hours of one-on-one advice to more than 350 clients, lead 42 training events for more than 700 attendees and helped create 131 jobs in the northwest suburbs. Significant achievements in and of themselves, and the work didn’t go unnoticed. Richter, our Small Business Development Manager, was honored with a 2011 State Star – an award from America’s Small Business Development Center Network honoring her commitment and contribution to Illinois’ small business development program. She was Illinois' only state star.

#8: First-Ever College and Career Expo Draws Crowd: At Harper, we make it a goal to inspire children to pursue higher education. Last spring, we tried something new: a first-ever just-for-kids College and Career Expo that boasted hands-on activities, tours and demos for fourth- through eighth-graders. The event, which focused primarily on science, mathematics, engineering and technology, drew an estimated 400 people – pretty impressive for a first-time event and certainly worthy of a Top 10 mention. The Expo was intended to inspire (there’s that word again) young students to recognize the value of higher education and, as importantly, understand the careers that can result from it. This spring, we'll offer an even bigger Expo full of activities perfect for the entire family. AND … while we’re on the subject of inspiration, we can’t forget our summer InZone program, a sports and enrichment camp that this year served more than 4,500 students ages 8 to 14. That’s a 17 percent increase from 2010.

 #9: College Sees Record Number of Graduates: In May, on a sunny day that threatened (but never delivered) rain, we graduated the biggest class in Harper’s history. Particularly given our mission to increase the number of students who graduate with a degree or certificate, this was a triumphant achievement for us in 2011. In all, about 3,500 students – roughly 1,000 more than the year before – collected associate degrees or certificates, and a record number participated in the ceremony. The increased numbers came amid a renewed collegewide emphasis on getting students to the finish line – a response to President Barack Obama’s challenge to community colleges nationwide to produce 5 million more graduates by 2020. We’re on track to make our share of the goal, and we’re committed to it.

#10: Chemistry Research Program Touted in Washington: Student Jim Tufts spent the last two years in our chemistry labs, working on a project he admits is a little complex to understand unless you’re a researcher yourself. This fall, he stood at a podium on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and explained how it changed his life. Tufts joined Provost Judy Marwick at a briefing aimed at convincing lawmakers of the importance of community college research programs like Harper’s, and he made a convincing case – saying the work has focused him, reenergized him and inspired him to eventually earn a Ph.D. in the subject. Research programs like Harper’s are a rarity in community colleges. Over the years, our student researchers have analyzed dietary supplements and blood-clotting enzymes and examined the quality of water in local creeks, reservoirs and ponds. Nearly 75 students have participated since the program's 2005 inception, and all have gone on to pursue four-year degrees in chemistry or related disciplines.

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