Ong establishes scholarships, brings academic competitions to SIU

By Jeff Wilson

Henry Ong has lived and worked all around the world, but he hasn’t forgotten the role SIU played in his life.

“I had an enjoyable experience at SIU and the wonderful outdoor experiences in Southern Illinois,” he said. “That was some of the best times of my life.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree and MBA from the College of Business, Ong spent many successful years working for Whirlpool. Then, in the mid-90s, he made a career change and began to focus on education.

“I wanted to create resources that would align with 21st Century learning concepts,” he said. “I have always been good at mathematical games. I started working with an educational supply company. I learned about the educational system.”

From there, he decided to develop his own mathematical competitions and founded the Singapore International Mastery Contests Center (SIMCC).

“We started in 2006, and it has grown quickly into one of the largest academic competitions in the world,” he said. “We’re now in 38 countries.”

Working with SIU’s Center for International Education, Ong has established two endowed scholarships for international students, and the SIMCC recently entered a partnership with SIU. The university will host future competitions.

“Beyond simply competing, we created a pathway for students to win awards through competition,” he said. “There are more than 200,000 students who take part in these competitions worldwide.”

A long journey

Like all young men from Singapore, Ong was required to serve in the country’s military. After that, he spent a year teaching and applied to SIU. He was accepted and came to Carbondale in January of 1982. It was then that he applied for and received a scholarship for international students.

“That helped me finish my degree,” he said. “SIU was very generous to me.”

He had a job offer from Whirlpool when he graduated but had to wait on his visa to be approved. For six months, he worked as an intern in the university controller’s office. Once he started working for Whirlpool, he rose through the ranks quickly.

Ong transferred from his U.S. position to a position in Hong Kong and later become managing director for Whirlpool in Malaysia and Singapore. He ended his career with the corporation as Asian Audit Director and took a job developing new appliances with a mentor of his in San Francisco.

“Not long after that, I decided Asia was much more attractive, so I moved back to Singapore to distribute products in Asia,” he said.

A few years later, he transitioned to the world of producing educational resources. Since founding the SIMCC, he’s seen the power of the academic competitions and is excited about bringing them and scholarships to SIU.

“We’re looking forward to this partnership,” he said. “I hope these students can also enjoy the same fantastic experience I had at SIU.”

Matt Solverson: A Lifetime Saluki

By Rebecca Renshaw

Ask anyone what they remember about their college years and chances are you’ll hear about unforgettable moments, lifelong friendships, and stories about memorable classes and professors. For Matt Solverson, SIU has played a prominent role throughout his entire life.

“I have always been deeply connected to SIU as my late father was an SIU professor teaching agribusiness economics for 32 years,” he said. “My mother earned her master’s degree in special education from SIU, and I met my wife, Christy, as we both earned degrees while at SIU. I attended Carbondale schools, so I was always on campus with my family.”

Solverson is a 1986 graduate of the College of Engineering and a member of the college’s Industrial Advisory Board. He is the Director of Research and Development Programs at General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, where he has been employed for over 30 years.

Solverson can point to several areas where SIU played a significant role in his upbringing. His family has held season tickets for SIU athletic events for many years.

“I remember being on campus as a young boy with my father, and he would take me to his office. We would go to the basketball and football games, and that is where my love of SIU Athletics began. I would say our blood definitely runs maroon” he said.

After serving on the SIU Foundation board for several years, Solverson will begin his tenure as president of the board on July 1, 2021.

“We have watched the SIU Foundation step up instead of sit down when the pandemic hit last year. Together, we have furthered our mission, and we stand eager to move forward together as we continue into this fiscal year,” he said. “I am so honored and excited to lead the board as president. The future looks promising for SIU, and I can’t wait to see where the next few months lead us.”

His wife, Judge Christy Solverson, a two-degree alumna of SIU, serves as Presiding Circuit Judge for Jackson County in the First Judicial Circuit. The Solversons have one adult daughter and reside in Carbondale.

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Craddock Facilitates Recruiting Trip to Hometown High School

Foundation Board Member Joins Chancellor Lane at St. Augustine

Chancellor Austin Lane (from left), Oyd Craddock, Tyrone Payne, Darren Dixon, and
Todd Bryson are pictured during the chancellor’s visit to St. Augustine High School in
New Orleans. Payne and Dixon are both SIU alumni and teachers at the school.

By Jeff Wilson

Talk to anyone around campus at SIU, and one topic is on everyone’s mind – enrollment.

Chancellor Austin Lane has spearheaded a fervent recruitment plan, which aims to raise enrollment as early as this fall. So, when the chancellor approached Oyd Craddock about a visit to his high school, Craddock was excited to help.

“St. Augustine is an African-American, all boys Catholic high school in New Orleans,” said Craddock, an SIU alumnus, Saluki Hall of Famer, and SIU Foundation board member. “Both St. Augustine and SIU played a major role in my life.”

On March 19, Chancellor Lane, Craddock, and Todd Bryson, SIU’s interim associate chancellor for diversity, made the trip to New Orleans and spoke to St. Augustine High School students.

“Chancellor Lane affirmed my emphasis on the value of an out-of-state experience and how it helps you grow as a person,” Craddock said. “It was clear he really connected with them. There was a buzz among the students, and there have already been at least six applicants.”

From philanthropy to campus involvement to recruitment and retention, every alumni and university supporter can make a major difference. “I wanted to have a hand in growing enrollment and raising awareness of SIU,” Craddock said. “It was a very special trip for me.”

Craddock attended St. Augustine in the 1970s and, along with four other members of his senior class, was recruited to play football at SIU.

“We had just won a state championship and were able to visit SIU,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful campus, and there was a great social environment. We had a lot of fun and had some great football teams. I only wish we had been able to win a conference title.”

Craddock led a stout Salukis defense in the late-70s. He was inducted into the Saluki Hall of Fame in 2004. He earned his bachelor’s degree in management from the College of Business.

“I worked for IBM for 31 years, and I was able to get started there with the assistance of the SIU Placement Office. They helped me with my résumé and interviews, and the director sent a letter of recommendation to IBM and other companies,” he said. “From start to finish, I had a wonderful experience at SIU.”

Two of the longest-tenured faculty members at St. Augustine are also Salukis. Tyrone Payne, ’81, and Darren Dixon, ’85, spoke to the students during the visit.

“SIU previously had a special connection with St. Augustine. Many student-athletes from my era attended SIU,” Craddock said. “This trip was an opportunity to reignite a relationship.”

St. Augustine commemorated its 70th anniversary this spring, and it’s been quite the celebration.

In February, two of the school’s alumni faced off in the Super Bowl. In March, its basketball team won the state championship, and its marching band was featured on “60 Minutes.”

Four St. Augustine graduates were nominated for Grammys, including PJ Morton, who won for Best Gospel Album. Jon Batiste, a St. Augustine alumnus, won an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Original Score.

“Plus, the Saluki football team beat Southeastern Louisiana University,” Craddock said. “SIU left a strong impression on the students at St. Augustine.”


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Spotlight on Dean Liu

This is a season of renewed hope and new beginnings, especially for the SIU College of Engineering. After a diligent search, Dean Xiaoqing “Frank” Liu was appointed as the new dean for the SIU College of Engineering in June 2020.

Liu was the professor and department head of the Computer Science and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Arkansas and held the college’s Rodger S. Kline Leadership Chair.

Meera Komarraju, SIU’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said Liu brings several strengths to the position.

“Dr. Liu brings teaching, research, and administrative expertise spanning two universities that would benefit our students, staff, and faculty,” she said. “He has a strong track record in promoting student enrollment, engagement and success as well as faculty development and research productivity.”

Extensive Experience

Liu also served as chair of the University of Arkansas’ Computer Activities Council, playing a leadership role in the governance of information technologies. Before joining Arkansas in 2015, Liu served as interim department chair and associate department chair in the computer science department at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Liu is an established scholar in service computing, software engineering, cyber argumentation, cyber manufacturing and applied artificial intelligence. He has participated in 29 sponsored research projects with $8.8 million in funding as principal or coprincipal investigator or faculty participant.

He has published 156 referred journal and conference papers and book chapters. Liu received his Ph.D. in computer science from the Texas A&M University in 1995.

Excited for the Opportunity

Liu said he is excited for the opportunity to serve as dean.

“The college is in a time of significant transformation. I appreciate the confidence given by the chancellor and provost and the trust given by the faculty, staff and students in my ability for leading this transformation,” he said. “I look forward to working with campus leadership, faculty, staff and students in the college and related disciplines to move this college to its next level of excellence.”

The SIU College of Engineering holds fast to a unique tradition of access and opportunity, inclusive excellence, and top-tier research. The faculty encourage creativity within a climate of outstanding student success-focused teaching. The college’s five departments offer a wide range of courses and promotes opportunities for students to participate in activities outside the classroom including research, design competitions, service-oriented projects and leadership development activities.

Growth Opportunity and Reorganization

Dean Liu‘s plan is to build a larger and higher-ranked college that is recognized for student success, excellent academic programs, strong research and a diverse and inclusive learning and working environment. The college has significant growth opportunities. The demand for engineering talents is strong. The student-faculty ratio in the college is low, which indicates that we have significant capacity for growth. The college is building strong academic programs with excellent faculty to educate and train our students to meet the demand. It will strengthen and develop clusters of excellence of teaching and research with national and international reputation.

The college is being transformed to achieve growth through both expansion and organic growth and is being expanded with additional programs, such as computer science and mathematics. The College of Engineering will become College of Engineering, Computing, Technology, and Mathematics due to the recent expansion in the campus reorganization.

Enrollment Turnaround

Enrollment management has been Dean Liu’s top priority since he joined SIU. The college developed an enrollment turnaround plan under his leadership and has been implementing this plan and is making excellent progress on enrollment growth for fall 2021. Still in the middle of the recruitment cycle, the number of complete applications grew 43% and number of admitted students grew 44.9% for fall 2021 compared to 2020. The number of complete applications is the highest since 2018 and the number of admitted students is the highest since 2017. To achieve this, the college revamped its recruitment process to improve its effectiveness, built an effective recruitment team, launched a digital marketing campaign, and reached out to high schools and community colleges. The college hosted many webinars, engaged prospective and admitted students through phone calls, emails, and webinars, hosted open houses, academic showcases, virtual tours, and campus visits.

If you would like to learn more about the SIU College of Engineering, visit

Renewed Spirit Behind Forever SIU Campaign

Through more than four years and one global pandemic, the Forever SIU fundraising campaign has persisted, raising more than $122 million.

“The dedication of SIU’s supporters is astonishing,” said Matt Kupec, CEO of the SIU Foundation. “The last year has been difficult for many people, but the Foundation hasn’t sat on the sideline. We’ve furthered our mission, and as things get back to normal, we’re ready to move quickly.”

The campaign was launched in 2017 with a goal of raising $75 million in three years. Because of the donor generosity, the Foundation sped past that goal seven months early, which prompted the decision to set a new goal of $90 million.

“At the end of 2019, we had already surpassed that new goal, and we knew it was important to keep this momentum,” Kupec said. “That’s when we set our sights on $200 million by June 2024.”

As the country recovers from many of the hardships brought on by COVID-19, the Foundation is redoubling its efforts to meet and exceed the $200 million goal. Despite the hardships, SIU alumni and donors raised nearly $3 million in 24 hours on the Day of Giving in March.

“The Day of Giving is a prime example of what we can accomplish. Our efforts never slowed down – in many ways they’ve increased – but it’s understandable for a fundraising campaign to face challenges during a pandemic,” Kupec said. “This is our opportunity to finish strong.”

Within Forever SIU, donors can choose from a great number of areas to support SIU. They can choose to support scholarships, research, facilities, programs, and faculty. By going to, donors can pick one or many areas to fund.

A recent highlight of the Forever SIU campaign, Saluki Athletics announced its $25 million goal for the Salukis Forever campaign. COVID-19 hit athletic programs especially hard, and there is great need for donor support as part of an overall plan to provide sustainability and success for Saluki Athletics.

“Whether a donor chooses a college, a sport, a scholarship, or a fund, every dollar makes an impact,” Kupec said. “We have just over three years to raise about $78 million. Our great supporters are going to carry us to the end.”

The campaign will feature a new logo, new promotional materials, and much more. Visit for more information or to make a gift.

Dunbar Leadership Society Supports Diverse Students, Thoughts

by Jeff Wilson

SIU’s commitment to diversity is represented through the Dunbar Leadership Society.

Named after Paul Laurence Dunbar, a turn-of-the-century poet and novelist, the society was established in 1904 to organize the activities of African American students. It served as the precursor to the university’s Africana Studies program and the Black Affairs Council. Recently, through the SIU Foundation, the Dunbar Leadership Society has been reintroduced.

“I see great potential at SIU. We’re just scratching the surface,” said society chair Kennard Tucker ’91. “Having engaged and involved alumni is crucial.”

Through the Dunbar Leadership Society, Tucker hopes to reinvigorate SIU’s diverse alumni and create opportunities for current and future Salukis. It’s his plan to raise scholarship funds and host events that resonate with members of a multicultural campus.

“As Black alumni, we want to create a society that is synonymous with the SIU we knew and loved and share that experience with the next generation of leaders,” he said. “There are important conversations happening around the country right now, and campus is a microcosm of what’s happening nationally. We hope to provide the construct so that dialogue can exist and thrive.”

While there are mechanisms in place at the state and federal level to help low-income and minority students, the Dunbar Leadership Society seeks to fill some of the gaps.

“It’s important for students to have support services and social opportunities. There needs to be that balance,” said society board member Dr. Carl Flowers ’75, MS ’85, Ph.D. ’93. “The Dunbar Leadership Society can lead to more access for students who fall in the middle.”

Beginning a college career can be a difficult time for any student, but that can be especially true for students who feel like they don’t belong.

“SIU has been good to my family, but when I started, I was the only Black student in many of my classes,” said society board member Dr. Linda Flowers ’78, MS ’88, Ph.D. ’06. “It’s important for students to see people who look like themselves.”

Having a diverse campus goes beyond the vital step of ensuring equality for Black students, it provides a richer, more fulfilling experience for every member of the campus community.

“Diversity is important for students of all races and ethnicities,” said society board member Susan Smith Ross ’79. “For many, college is the first time you’re included with people who aren’t like you. A diverse campus is an opportunity for all students to gain respect and knowledge of others.”

With the assistance of the SIU Foundation, the Dunbar Leadership Society hopes to raise enough money to endow scholarships, host speaker series, and support diversity initiatives. Gifts of any size are welcome and can be made at

“We want to galvanize the alumni base and create a source of pride for all alumni,” Tucker said. “The program was created to promote and encourage African-American philanthropic giving at the leadership level of $1,000 or greater. Our plan is to support significant scholarship funds and implement important programming. The opportunities are nearly unlimited.”

To donate to the Dunbar Leadership Society or for more information, contact Kevin Clark, director of development, at 618-453-6742 or

A family legacy of teaching

Marilyn Black smiles as she signs her gift agreement for the Marilyn A. Black Scholarship in Elementary Education.

The legacy of teaching runs strong in Marilyn Black’s family. Black, a 1960 alumna from the SIU College of Education, learned about the value of teaching from her parents, who were themselves graduates of the SIU College of Education. Black’s father was a school superintendent and her mother was her high school English teacher. “Education was important to them,” said Black.

At SIU, Black benefitted from a scholarship that helped her reach her goal of becoming a teacher, ultimately teaching in the Carbondale elementary school district for over 20 years. Black and her late husband, Frank, had three children who all attended SIU.  Marilyn loved teaching and inspired two of her children to become educators as well.

In recognition of the importance of teachers, she recently established the Marilyn A. Black Scholarship in Elementary Education, saying simply, “Somebody helped me, so I want to help now.” Her scholarship will support aspiring elementary education students to reach their goals of becoming teachers, just as Black did.

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SIU Foundation purchases new laptop in appreciation for WSIU’s Day of Giving assistance

Male student smiles as he uses the new Mac laptop purchased by the SIU Foundation. Next to him is a podcast microphone.

Blake Schultz, at student majoring in information technology, works with the new computer to record Illinois Law Makers, a program produced by WSIU that provides in-depth coverage of the state’s General Assembly.

(The following article was initially published March 9, 2021. Read below for new update.)

This year, the foundation was faced with the dilemma of trying to host another SIU Day of Giving during a pandemic. The foundation team asked themselves how they were going to capture people’s attention if they could not gather or engage with students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community across campus. Thanks to some creative thinking, the foundation determined it would use a livestreaming platform to capture the needed attention. As the details of what was needed emerged, the foundation’s marketing staff quickly realized this would stretch their capabilities to the limit. In short, they worried if they could pull off an eight-hour livestream featuring dozens of deans, heads of units, the chancellor, and several foundation development officers.

That’s when in walked WSIU and extended a helping hand. WSIU’s Interim Executive Director Jak Tichenor, Larry Hunter, Darryl Moses, Mark J. St George, Abby Asher and several other team members, graciously agreed to help co-produce the event at their WSIU station located in the SIU Mass Communications building. Known as the largest station south of Chicago, WSIU helped the foundation staff deliver a professional, polished production that rivaled any fundraising event airing anywhere on television.

Now, For the Rest of the Story

In appreciation for WSIU’s assistance, the SIU Foundation purchased a new laptop for students to use while working at WSIU. Larry Hunter, the director of development for WSIU, says the staff is very excited to receive the laptop.

“This is the first new equipment they have had in a long time and it will really help with producing programs at the WSIU studios. The WSIU staff appreciates the reciprocity the foundation has brought and is grateful the foundation is acting as an accelerator in helping students collaborate across the university,” said Hunter.

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Chancellor’s Scholarship Program nurtures special connections

Donors encouraged to get involved

By Jeff Wilson

The Chancellor’s Scholarship Program offers a special opportunity to select SIU undergraduates.

The full scholarship, valued at over $102,000, covers in-state tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board charges for four years. Beyond the monetary benefit, the scholarship has great value to students and the university.

“The Chancellor’s Scholarship Program allows students to pursue their passion,” said Dr. LaShonda Stewart, director of the program. “They work with esteemed professors, have the chance to study abroad, and complete 20 hours of community service. They are constantly engaged.”

The program creates a community of support and engagement. The graduation rate for recipients of the scholarship is nearly 100 percent, and most stay connected to the university and one another for years.

“We’re truly teaching the leaders of tomorrow,” Stewart said. “They make the best ambassadors for the university, both as students and later as alumni.”

Even the process of selecting recipients creates a buzz around SIU among prospective students.

“In the past, we’ve hosted about 260 students and their parents for our CSP events,” said Amber Rivers, program coordinator for academic scholarships. “This year, the chancellor went to some local schools and personally informed students about their scholarship. That really built great excitement.”

Currently, the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program works as a tuition voucher program, which means the university simply allows those students to come to SIU and live on campus for free.

Now, the university is offering alumni the opportunity to support and potentially expand the program through donations.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” said SIU Foundation CEO Matt Kupec. “By financially backing the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, our alumni can put their stamp on one of the university’s most prestigious programs.”

The plan, which is in its early stages, wouldn’t change much about the program, but it would give the university a financial boost and add to the impact of these scholarships.

Dozens of students are offered Chancellor’s Scholarships each year, and there are hundreds of alumni around the country. Here are few of their stories:

Mason Higgins, 2018 graduate

Nearing the end of his high school years in Oregon, Wisconsin, Mason Higgins said he was “throwing darts” when it came to choosing a college.

“All I knew is, at that time, I wanted to get away from home, and then I received a letter from SIU,” he said. “I decided to stop by on my way to some other places.”

Having never been to Southern Illinois before, Higgins didn’t know what to expect. At the time, he was interested in theater, so he stopped by the RSO fair.

“I asked a student at the booth whether I could join the program even if I wasn’t a theater student, and he didn’t know,” he said. “I walked from the Rec Center to Starbucks at the Student Center and found that Tom Kidd had followed me all the way there. I walk fast, and he caught me and told me to join.”

Kidd, who recently passed away, was the director of SIU’s theater department, and his persistence impressed Higgins.

“After that, I really fell in love with campus, the greenery, the beauty,” he said. “Everybody at SIU loved SIU. There was a lot of positivity in the air. It really is a small school with big opportunities.”

Receiving the Chancellor’s Scholarship allowed Higgins to pursue many goals and flex his academic muscle. He earned three bachelor’s degrees – music, Spanish, and criminology – and even took 30 credit hours his last semester.

“I was able to learn about who I am,” he said. “The program offers so much mentorship, and you’re being constantly challenged. SIU decided to invest in me, and it paid dividends.”

After graduating, Higgins worked for about a year and half as a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, until he decided to pursue a law degree from the University of Wisconsin.

“Like SIU, the Madison police officers all love their jobs and their community,” he said. “I just thought I’d be happier as an attorney. I know I want to be a litigator, work as an advocate, and focus on civil rights.”

He gives the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program credit for shaping him and said he believes the program is a perfect choice for those with a philanthropic spirit.

“I had a family in that program. It helps you to be your best person,” Higgins said. “I’m looking forward to the day I have money to give back.”

Britt Peyton, 2021 graduate

Britt Peyton, who is graduating from SIU this spring, clearly remembers the moment she found out she had received the Chancellor’s Scholarship.

“My dad brought it to softball practice, and he said, ‘You got the letter,’” said the Norris City, Illinois, native. “It’s not an opportunity a lot of students get. It was amazing because I didn’t have to do it by myself.”

A third-generation Saluki, Peyton made the most of her experience in Carbondale. She earned her bachelor’s in biological science, worked as a Saluki ambassador, and was a member of the Marching Salukis. Next, she’ll start the BSN program at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis.

The financial relief provided by the scholarship allowed her focus on furthering her education and gain experience in her field by working as a CNA at a local nursing home and compiling patient contact hours.

“I want to convey how amazing the opportunities are at SIU,” she said. “The Chancellor’s Scholarship helped me make many important connections. The more scholarships the better, and coming from alumni, it would mean that much more.”

Luis Prado, 2019 graduate

It didn’t take long for Luis Prado to see that SIU was the right place for him and receiving the Chancellor’s Scholarship made it that much more special.

“My heart was split about where to go,” he said. “I was invited for a visit and when I got here, I immediately thought, ‘What is this place?’ I was taken by how beautiful campus is.”

Prado had already decided on SIU and was ready to join the Marching Salukis before he first learned about the Chancellor’s Scholarship.

“I started college with 200 friends because of the Marching Salukis,” he said. “I was prepared to work while going to school, and then I learned about the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program.”

When the Westmont, Illinois, native was notified that he’d been selected for the scholarship, he was overjoyed.

“All that extra time I was going to spend doing other things, I was now able to put into organizations and research,” Prado said. “I was able to change my major three times. I feel blessed.”

He decided to focus on geology and is now working on his master’s in environmental sustainability at SIU while working as a teaching assistant. Prado chalks much of his success to the opportunities afforded to him by the scholarship.

“Students can explore their passion outside and inside the classroom,” he said. “You’re part of a community of excellence. There are resources that allow you to flourish.”

Elijah Henson, 2021 graduate

An Albion, Illinois, native Elijah Henson was considering moving away for college until his little sister was born.

“After that, I didn’t want to move too far away,” he said about deciding to come to SIU. “I’ve been really happy with my decision.”

After being accepted, Henson received a Chancellor’s Scholarship. Coming from a family of five the financial support was important.

“It gave me the opportunity to explore,” he said. “My scholarship made college what it was for me.”

Henson was an active member of Alpha Sigma Phi and part of the Saluki Student Investment Fund, which allows business students hands-on experience in portfolio management and investment research.

“(The SSIF) really opened up my eyes,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot more and gotten ahead in my classes.”

After graduating this spring with a bachelor’s in accounting, Henson will begin working as an audit associate at Grant Thornton Public Accounting in St. Louis.

Grace Vargas, 2019 graduate

Growing up in Logan Square in Chicago, Grace Vargas went to a competitive high school. While many of her classmates were exploring Ivy League options, she found everything she was looking for at SIU.

After finding out about the Chancellor’s Scholarship and attending a Scholarship Weekend event on campus, she was convinced.

“I was excited to find a state school with so many options,” she said. “I knew I wanted to grow here and be changed by this place.”

Receiving a full scholarship offered the ability to explore options, and eventually she settled on anthropology as her major. She also studied marketing, Spanish language, political science, and Latino studies.

“The scholarship gave me freedom to pursue things I cared about,” Vargas said. “I found people who were so warm and curious. I am so blessed to have gotten this scholarship.”

While at SIU, she interned for state Rep. Will Guzzardi and helped bring him to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Vargas went on to work as his chief of staff for about a year.

During the pandemic, she’s been working in communications and marketing for state Rep. Delia Ramirez and finding success with remote work options.

“I’m a go-getter and being at SIU was about being that person,” Vargas said. “My experience at SIU was about holistic development.”

By supporting the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, Vargas said alumni and donors have the chance to make a major difference.

“You can be who you needed when you were younger,” she said. “If you’re blessed enough to help, do whatever you can. It’s not just an education. It’s not about getting the degree and leaving.”

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Saluki bond strengthened through scholarships

Abbie Young, SIU Saluki Swim team member stands in pool.

For Saluki swimmer Abbie Young, her SIU experience has been about making connections.

“I’ve made lifelong friendships with people from all over the world,” Young said. “Being part of the Saluki community means you’re surrounded by people who want you to succeed.”

Young, a senior from Fort Wayne, Indiana, has received an athletic scholarship, a Dean’s Scholarship and the Carol Lee Swim Memorial Award, which is given to a female Kinesiology major at the senior level.

“My scholarships have allowed me to gear all my focus on school and swimming,” she said. “They definitely had an impact on my decision to be a Saluki.”

One of SIU’s most consistent swimmers, Young competes in the freestyle and butterfly events. An MVC Scholar-Athlete, she’s studying exercise science with the hopes of becoming a physician’s assistant.

“SIU has amazing pre-health course studies that allowed me to get my pre-requisites and offered challenging courses that will prepare me for PA school,” she said.

Saluki Athletics takes pride in the volunteer hours and community service performed by its student-athletes. Young volunteered more than 100 hours last year, earning the Top Community Service Award.

“Being a Saluki has been an impactful journey. I have grown as a person and have learned so much about myself and what it takes to work toward my goals,” Young said. “My experience as a student-athlete, especially as team captain, has helped develop my leadership abilities.”

As she makes her post-graduation plans, Young knows her time in Carbondale will stick with her forever.

“Some of my fondest memories are from being part of the SIU Swimming & Diving team. Our team bond is unexplainable, and it became my instant family while away from home,” she said. “My time at SIU may have only been four years, but I know I will be a Saluki for life.”

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