Part 62: Educators who made a difference

Part 62: Educators who made a difference

With the UI turning the big 1-5-0 this year, we caught up with 1,000-plus graduates from across the globe who have gone on to big things. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales, which are all housed at uofi150.news-gazette.com. Today in Part 62: educators of influence.

Good friend that she was, SHERI SHAW dropped her friends off at Noyes Lab while she went and searched for a parking space — an agonizing exercise even back then, in the late '90s.

After she finally found one, in front of the Swanlund Administration Building, she began a "mad dash" to chemistry class, which was about to start without her.

That's when she heard the voice

"Hey, hey, young lady! Where is your bookbag? You should never be on campus and not have a bookbag!"

"I stopped, ran back to the gentleman and explained to him what was going on," says Shaw, who had given her friends her bookbag so they could reserve her seat. "He said, 'Well, when you finish the class, come back to my office, I want to see that bookbag.'"

And thus began a lasting friendship between Shaw and CLARENCE SHELLEY, the UI's Chancellor's Medallion-winning former dean of students.

"As promised, after chemistry class, I walked into Swanlund for the first time and went to Dean Shelley's office on the first floor. I not only showed him my bookbag and class schedule, but we also discussed my pre-med career interest," says Shaw, a two-degree UI grad who's now the assistant dean for student success at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

"Well, I spent the next two hours learning about Project 500 and the campus climate and at that time, Dean Shelley presented me with a challenge ... to make sure that the degree I am earning will make a difference for future generations and to the Illinois campus. I took that challenge literally, and that interaction changed my career trajectory. The highlight of my undergraduate experience was serving as the student speaker for Dean Shelley's Chancellor's Medallion ceremony.

"I had many accomplishments as an undergraduate student leader, but my campus legacy is creating and establishing the MANNIE L. JACKSON Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) in the College of Applied Health Sciences during my graduate study. My initial encounter with Dean Clarence Shelley changed my life and moved me into educational administration and not medicine. I-LEAP is 10 years old and over 300 students have benefited."

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DONNA COX (National Center for Supercomputing Applications, left) unknowingly influenced PAUL ZINNES ('92, right) to change career gears — from chemistry (undergrad degree) to industrial design (master's) to animation (his employer since 2006: Lucasfilm Animation, of 'Star Wars' fame). Animation "was all very new back then but with groundbreaking films like 'Terminator 2,' 'Jurassic Park' and 'Toy Story' disrupting the industry, it made for a very exciting time to be a student in the field," Zinnes says.

After taking Cox's classes, Zinnes, an Urbana Uni High grad, submitted a few frames for a competition at the industry's premier conference. On the verge of giving up after months passed with no word, he was informed via letter that he'd been selected to present.

"I spent the next few months working day and night to (finish). I would often leave the lab in the early morning hours to sub-zero temperatures hoping my car would start. There were several times late at night when I would grab all the computers in the lab to render frames of animation. I even had my friend run frames on the supercomputer during off hours to help out."

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MICHAEL RAYCRAFT (Recreation, Sport and Tourism, left) "made learning fun," says Super Bowl XLIII-winning running back CAREY DAVIS ('03, right), now the sideline reporter for Illini football broadcasts. "One thing I remember him telling us was to always treat people with respect. You never know who you're speaking to.

"He'd tell us: 'The person sitting next to you in class may be the owner of the company you're trying to get a job from 10 years from now. How will they remember you?' It's one of the reasons I treat everyone I meet with respect — not because I may need a job from them in 10 years, but because it's the right thing to do."

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