A leader on and off the field

Marnin credits scholarships with football and academic success

Jacob Marnin

By Rebecca Renshaw

On the football field, the center protects the quarterback and paves the way for the ball carrier. A good center is key to a strong, cohesive unit.

For SIU’s football team, Jacob Marnin plays that role. His on-the-field ability brought him to SIU on a football scholarship, but his academic accolades are even more impressive. He’s the first recipient of the Chancellor Carlo Montemagno Excellence Scholarship.

“None of this would be possible without the help of scholarships,” Marnin said. “The Montemagno scholarship has helped me pay for books and other fees, allowing me to put even more focus on my studies.”

Montemagno joined SIU as its chancellor in August 2017 but passed away on October 11, 2018. During his tenure, he was a fixture at athletic events.

“Chancellor Montemagno was a great supporter of Saluki Athletics,” Marnin said. “I remember seeing him around our facilities often. It means a lot that his family has honored his memory by helping students advance toward their goals.”

Marnin, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2018, is a graduate student in criminal justice. He anticipates graduating in May 2020, and he was recently named a Division I first team academic All-American, as selected by College Sports Information Directors of America.

With a perfect 4.0 GPA, he was the 100th player in Saluki Athletics history to earn Academic All-American status. He was also a member of the FCS ADA Academic All-Star Team and MVFC All-Academic Team.

“Everyone at SIU has been so supportive,” he said. “My professors and coaches have been great. They’re willing to go the extra mile for you.”

After he graduates, Marnin plans to go into the Army’s officer candidate school and spend five years serving in the Army. After that, he has his sights set on being a paramilitary operator for the CIA.

Support the Chancellor Carlo Montemagno Excellence Scholarship here: siuf.org/montemagno


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SIU alumna stars in ‘Hamilton’

Professors, theater program, scholarship pave the way

Zoe Jensen snaps a selfie outside the the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, the first stop of her ‘Hamilton’ production.

Zoe Jensen snaps a selfie outside the the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, the first stop of her ‘Hamilton’ production.

By Jeff Wilson

A couple of years ago, Zoe Jensen was an SIU senior pondering her future. Now, she’s playing Eliza Hamilton, the lead female role in a national tour of the world-famous Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

The path to her dream role started in Rockford, where she took violin lessons at a young age, participated in high school sports and the performing arts. She originally considered journalism as her college major but decided to apply to musical theater programs, too.

“I went to the annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival and decided to participate in auditions,” she said. “It was there that I met Tim Fink, the head of SIU’s musical theater department at the time. He told me all about the program, and I was sold pretty quickly. Tim explained to me how it was a small program at a big school, so I’d get a mix of a private and public school feel. This really appealed to me.”

Jensen received the Stuart Fischoff Excellence in Musical Theater Award, which is a $1,000 scholarship given to students who exhibit great potential for success in their careers. It was that potential Fink and J. Thomas Kidd, current chair of the Department of Theater, saw in her as well.

“Tom gave me my first professional job at the McLeod Summer Playhouse. I always enjoyed working with him because he would give me not only encouragement, but also things I should work on,” Jensen said. “As for Tim, I remember a time my senior year when he called me to his office, asking me what I was planning on doing after graduation. After telling him I wasn’t sure, he said, ‘You should go to New York.’ Before I could answer, he stopped me and said, ‘No, you need to go to New York.’ The confidence I felt from him at that time really impacted me and is partly responsible for where I am today.”

It wasn’t just Fink and Kidd who made an impact on her life and career, Jensen pointed out.

“I was so lucky to have so many supportive professors and mentors,” she said. “The great thing about a small program is that you really feel noticed by every professor. You don’t just blend into the crowd. The quality of SIU’s professors, students and productions is top-tier. My four years with them truly paved the way for my career today.”

A member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, Jensen has many fond memories of her time in Carbondale. She sang the national anthem at her 2017 graduation ceremony and received her bachelor’s degree in musical theater. “There are so many days that I miss walking through the nature-filled campus or exploring Giant City State Park,” she said. “I really enjoy getting to come back and see productions, whether through the Department of Theater or the summer productions at McLeod Summer Playhouse. I strongly encourage anyone with a love of music to head to one of SIU’s shows.”


After graduating, Jensen first worked as an actor at the Children’s Theater of Cincinnati. She moved to New York City shortly after and landed a role in the off-Broadway show “We are the Tigers,” a pop/ rock horror musical.

“From that, we recorded an official cast recording, which has definitely been a highlight of my career so far,” she said.

She made her Broadway debut as a cover for the two principal girls in “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won the award for Best Musical at the 2017 Tony Awards.

“A few days into my first week at ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ I found out I booked Eliza Hamilton, the female principal role, in the national tour of ‘Hamilton,’ which is arguably the biggest and most impactful musical in the world right now,” Jensen said. “To say that I was honored, emotional and so grateful would be an understatement.”

Currently, there are two tours of “Hamilton,” and Jensen is on the Angelica tour, named after another prominent female character in the play, which has done more 1,000 shows nationwide.

“It’s the same production, music and choreography as the Broadway show, we just put it in a few trucks and are bringing it to cities around the country,” she said.

Her tour travels across large swaths of the country, including a six-week stop in May 2020 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

“I am so excited to be able to bring the show to St. Louis, because not only is it a few hours from home, but it’s so close to my alma mater,” she said.


With music and lyrics written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton” became a cultural phenomenon shortly after its 2015 debut.

Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, the show uses hip-hop, R&B and soul, along with traditional-style show tunes. In 2016, it garnered a record-setting 16 Tony Award nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical.

“It’s the most beautiful, touching, difficult, intricate production I’ve ever been a part of,” Jensen said. “We at the company lovingly call it a ‘monster’ because it’s incredibly difficult with its many moving parts, but so, so worthwhile. This production has really taken the world by storm. It is a perfect mix of telling a story of someone incredibly important in American history while also staying relatable and giving it a fresh look with its hip-hop music and dance.

“It is a story of an immigrant who came to this country with a dream of success, worked his way to the top, had a family, made a handful of mistakes along the way, and finished his life with a legacy. That kind of story isn’t just touching in the 1800s.”

“Hamilton” is also well-known for its diverse casting choices; which Jensen believes has only increased the show’s impact.

“I am a proud half-Filipino woman, who as a kid, didn’t really see a ton of actors who looked like me on stage,” she said. “It is an absolute honor to be representing diversity in our theater community alongside my castmates.”

Tickets to any national “Hamilton” performance can be purchased at hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour/tickets.


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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Ameren Corporation Frankie Muse Freeman Trailblazer Scholarship

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Longtime civil rights leader, lawyer and activist Frankie Muse Freeman passed away earlier this year at the age of 101.

Freeman, whom some would later call “Frankie Freedom” became a civil rights attorney who fought to end segregated housing and promoted equal rights in St. Louis and nationwide during the civil rights movement.

Upon her passing, Ameren Corporation established the Ameren Corporation Frankie Muse Freeman Trailblazer Scholarship. In October 2018, Ameren contributed $5,000 to the SIU School of Law. This will be the first of four payments of $5,000.

The scholarship specifications stipulate that the award be given to a full-time third-year law student in good academic standing, with specific preference given to a student who identifies as a female from an under-represented community with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and social justice.

The first recipient of this award is SIU law school student Adaku Oti. Oti is a third-year SIU law school student from Toronto who is deeply committed to humanitarian efforts. She was nine-years-old when she created a foundation in support of orphanages along the coast of West Africa. The foundation’s most recent donation has gone to the Children’s Home for the Deaf and those with Mental Disabilities in Accra, Ghana in January 2018 in hopes to advance the quality of life for the children and young adults that reside there.

“Receiving a scholarship from a company such as Ameren encourages me tremendously,” said Oti. “I am humbled they thought enough of my humanitarian efforts to help. Receiving this from Ameren makes me realize that everyone can contribute something small and it just might end up becoming something bigger.”

“We are very proud of the work of Adaku Oti, whose passion for helping those less fortunate embodies the founding mission of the SIU School of Law, which was “created in the public interest to serve the public good,” said Cindy Buys, interim dean for the SIU School of Law.  “We also are grateful to Ameren Corporation for their support of our law students. These types of scholarships facilitate our students’ success in law school and beyond,” Buys said.

To learn more about how you can give to the SIU School of Law, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/law.php.To learn more about the Forever SIU campaign, visit www.foreversiu.org.

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: The power of “just a thought”

Group of donors to Balancing Education, Experience and Reality Scholarship.

“Any interest in this group in starting up a scholarship fund to help current students? (Tuition is a lot higher than it was when we were there and I am sure that some students could use the help.) Even if we averaged just a $10 donation per member, that would still be a decent amount of money. And just think of the name(s) that we could assign to the scholarship fund. Just a thought.” – Dan Giedeman, Facebook comment on January 29

“Any interest in this group in starting up a scholarship fund to help current students? (Tuition is a lot higher than it was when we were there and I am sure that some students could use the help.)
Even if we averaged just a $10 donation per member, that would still be a decent amount of money.
And just think of the name(s) that we could assign to the scholarship fund.
Just a thought.” – Dan Giedeman, Facebook comment on January 29, 2019

By Rebecca Renshaw

In January 2019, Dan Giedeman, a three-degree SIU alumnus, posted this now-famous comment in the private Facebook group called “Carbondale in the ’80s and ’90s.” The group, started by Craig S. Wilson in November 2018, swelled to nearly 15,000 members within three months.

Giedeman’s idea to raise money for a scholarship dovetailed perfectly into SIU’s Day of Giving on March 6. With the added excitement of the university’s 150th anniversary kickoff celebration, members of the group banded together and donated. The outpouring was phenomenal.

Jim Raffensperger, a member of the Facebook group, named the scholarship as a joke that brought a smile to many alums — The Balancing Education, Experience and Reality (BEER) Scholarship.

“I mean, what college kid doesn’t drink beer?” Raffensperger joked. The name stuck, and the group rallied behind it in a viral fashion. Nearly 1,100 people from the group donated more than $50,000 to create two endowed scholarships for students.

A ceremony on the steps of Shryock Auditorium held Friday, March 29, commemorated the creation of the scholarship. Many members of the group traveled from other states. One person who hadn’t been back to campus in over 28 years traveled from South Carolina to be part of the ceremony.

Giedeman, who traveled from Michigan, presented Chancellor John M. Dunn with a check for $50,000 from the group. Weeks after the presentation, donations continued to pour in.

Dunn presented the group of about 100 people with the Day of Giving trophy for most individual gifts for a non-academic unit. Dunn said he has always been impressed by the amount of pride at SIU, and it was evident in this group’s turnout.

“In the history of humankind, the really great people — the Mother Theresas, the Albert Schweitzers — have always reminded us that true happiness can only be obtained through giving,” Dunn said. “You represent that in spades, and I’m very, very proud of you. Thank you.”

Raffensperger said alumni came to the university for the education but left with memorable experiences, lifelong friends, and sometimes their soulmates.

“We’re all back because we came to love SIU and southern Illinois,” Raffensperger said.

Many who came to witness the celebration also took a tour of the campus, and some brought their high school children to take a look at all that SIU has to offer. That evening, a group took the trophy to several Carbondale establishments for bragging rights.

As well as raising funds for the university, Giedeman and Raffensperger said the Facebook group created a space for alumni to find opportunities to support current students with mentors and internships. The group also encourages former students to finish their degrees at the university.

The trophy will be shared among the group throughout the upcoming year. The trophy was scheduled to travel to SIU Days at Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field in June.


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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Scholarship continues service and teaching legacy of Dr. Barb Brown

barb brown scholarship recipients

By Rebecca Renshaw

On Saturday, June 8, the family of Barb Brown held the annual garden party at the Leavitt family farm in Ellis Grove to raise funds for the Barb Brown Memorial Fund. Proceeds of the fund will be used to continue the service and teaching legacy of Dr. Brown.

Mikayla Cain was a recipient of the scholarship and attended the event. “It was a lovely event and it was nice to get to know Barb Brown’s sons and learn more about Dr. Brown,” Cain said.

The scholarship recipients received a DVD which contained a documentary about Dr. Brown’s run for state senate. Brown passed away May 5, 2016.

“Dr. Brown was a force to be reckoned among women and in southern Illinois politics. I feel so honored to receive her scholarship,” Cain said.

A senior, Cain is majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. Her plan after graduation is to serve as a congressional constituent caseworker where she will act as a liaison between constituents and federal agencies.

Cain says the scholarship will make a big difference in her life. “Since I am an independent student, this scholarship will help me tremendously. I won’t have to take out extra loans to get by,” Cain said.


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150 Stories of Philanthropy: How encouragement changed the life of an SIU Carbondale alumnus

ryan gougisWelcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Ryan Gougis is living proof of the adage, “Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” Raised in south Chicago, Gougis did not come from a wealthy background.

“I faced adversity growing up and there weren’t a ton of resources in my community to help. But inside my household, my parents encouraged me. They always told me that education is the key to escaping hardship so they were very supportive of me attending SIU Carbondale,” he said.

During his junior year at SIU, Gougis came into contact with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute when someone encouraged him to apply for an internship. He knew it would be a great way to get a feel for the workforce and build up his resume, so he applied, interviewed, and ultimately accepted the Gene Callahan internship.

“The internship involved working at the state capitol in Springfield to gain experience working in state government. From day one, I was thrown into the mix of actual work. I would draft press releases, write letters to constituents, and assist in the process of government before legislation would be sent to the governor. It was eye opening and exciting,” Gougis said.

After graduating in May 2016 with a Criminal Justice degree, Gougis accepted a job as a program specialist with the Illinois House of Representatives. “Because of my affiliation with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, I am always running into a fellow Saluki in Springfield. It gives me a real sense of connection knowing that I am part of a family.”

Besides his parents support, Gougis credits the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute with giving him the keys to opening doors of opportunity for his career.

“There are so many students who are pursuing success but they just don’t have the key. Paul Simon Public Policy Institute gave me that key. The people there were and still are supportive of my career. It’s like a family model. Once you are a part of them, wherever you are in life, even outside the walls of SIU, they are always there to support you. I still get calls from people like Dr. Baker or Carol Greenlee checking in to see how I’m doing.”

Gougis is also active with his fraternity, Phi Rho Eta, a group that promotes the principles of pride, respect, and excellence. Their national program, Mentor Teacher Brother engages youth from single-parent homes or disadvantaged backgrounds and helps mentor them to set the standard of manhood and exemplary positive behavior.

“I really want to pay it forward and give to those who may not have come from the best environment. Because I had encouragement from my family and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, I am a living testament as to how philanthropy can change the life of a young man. I would highly encourage donors to give to the Institute.”

To learn more about the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, visit http://paulsimoninstitute.siu.edu/. To learn more about the needs of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/paul-simon.php.


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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Forever SIU campaign exceeds $75 million goal

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s student-focused Forever SIU campaign has surpassed its $75 million goal with seven months to go.

More than 26,000 donors have made more than 60,000 individual gifts since the three-year campaign launched in January 2017. Of the $75.3 million raised to date, nearly $40 million supports student scholarships and $33 million has been committed to academic programs. The balance goes toward facilities, technology, faculty initiatives and more. The campaign is scheduled to continue through December 2019.

Chancellor John M. Dunn said the success of Forever SIU: The Campaign for Students speaks to the loyalty of SIU’s alumni and friends.

“During our 150th year, we are celebrating the tradition, pride and promise of SIU,” he said. “The investment of our loyal donors in our students and our future reflect all three: the Saluki tradition of giving back, pride in our university and the promise of things to come.”

Dunn said the university will continue to reach out to donors during the remaining months of the campaign and beyond.

“We view the goal as a floor, not a ceiling,” he said. “We will continue to welcome support that will help us attract and retain students and ensure that our academic programs remain strong.

Dan Korte, a member of the SIU Foundation Board who is co-chair of the Forever SIU campaign committee, said the board had several goals in mind when it worked with the university to launch the campaign.

“We wanted to demonstrate our commitment to SIU and the region. We also wanted to make a statement about the university’s momentum by launching a campaign that would culminate during SIU’s 150th year,” said Korte, a 1985 graduate of SIU’s College of Engineering. “In addition, many donors and members of the board wouldn’t have been able to attend SIU without financial support from donors. We wanted to pay it forward.”

Rae Goldsmith, chief executive officer of the SIU Foundation, described the campaign as a partnership between the university, the foundation, and alumni and friends who care about SIU.

“Many people want to contribute to the university’s success, but they may not always know where to start,” she said. “The campaign helps build those connections. The university’s role is to identify and support the needs of its students and programs.  The foundation’s role is to connect those needs to the interests and passions of donors. The donors are at the heart of the partnership making a positive difference. Every connection, every gift, matters.”

To learn more about the Forever SIU campaign, visit foreversiu.org.

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Mother shows appreciation for daughter’s scholarship

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Jeff Wilson

Dailey Wilson, J.D. ’05, received the $500 Harold Hannah Scholarship during her time as a student. She has gone on to a successful career in law, working with her father and two brothers at Wilson Law Firm, PLLC, and as the assistant county attorney in three Kentucky counties.

“That scholarship was very appreciated,” said her mother, Laura, in a letter recently sent to SIU School of Law. “At that time, we had three children in college with one attending another law school.”

With that letter, Laura sent the SIU School of Law a check for $1,000. The first $500 was earmarked to repay the scholarship, and the other $500 was meant as a thank-you for giving Dailey the opportunity to pursue her ambition.

“I think SIU’s determination that Dailey would be able to succeed in the practice of law has come to fruition,” Laura Wilson said. “I know (the school) will put the donation to good use to help someone else achieve their dream.”

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: SIU Scholarship Recipient LilyAnne Poole

SIU Scholarship Recipient lilyanne poole

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

LilyAnne Poole is a senior from Maeystown, Illinois, studying zoology.

Why did you choose SIU?
I chose SIU because it was relatively close to home, had the major I was interested in and was more affordable than some other universities in the area. I also love the atmosphere on campus and the opportunities available through SIU that other universities did not offer.

What inspired you to choose your area of study?
I have always wanted to work with animals. As a kid, I would do all of my school projects on different animals and visit the St. Louis Zoo as often as possible. Over the summer, I shadowed at a veterinary clinic and I knew that I wanted to focus in pre-vet and make that my career path.

What was your reaction when you received the Bertrand scholarship?
I was extremely happy. It gave me hope that I would be able to manage the financial cost of my education.

How will the Bertrand scholarship help you make a difference in society?
I would not be able to help animals in the future without an education and the Bertrand scholarship has helped make it possible that I get an education.

Do you have a message that you would like to share with Mr. and Mrs. Bertrand?
I am extremely grateful for being a recipient of the Bertrand Scholarship. Thank you for your generosity, I am very appreciative of your willingness to help students such as myself.

Why should donors consider establishing a scholarship fund for students?
The cost of tuition is extremely high and continues to rise, a scholarship fund for students helps to lower that cost. Many students cannot afford to attend college without scholarships.

Has receiving this scholarship inspired you to give back to SIU in the future?
I hope to be able to give back to SIU in the future in order to help other students afford college in the same way the Bertrand Scholarship has helped me.


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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Chris Edwards — Saluki Booster Club Athletic Scholarship recipient

Chris Edwards — Saluki Booster Club Athletic Scholarship recipient

Welcome to a series of stories celebrating SIU’s 150th anniversary.

By Ron Reeves

Chris Edwards, a junior on the men’s cross country and track & field team from Columbia, Missouri, received the Saluki Booster Club Athletic Scholarship for the 2018-19 academic school year. Edwards is one of the leaders of the SIU track program and a philanthropist in the community.

Chris has worked very hard for his opportunities, and he started out as an underdog.

“I was not heavily recruited out of high school,” said Edwards. “In fact, I did all of my own recruiting – most schools were not interested in a guy who had only run a 4:50 1600m going into his senior year.”

Edwards is the definition of determination and being a team player. By the end of his senior year of high school, he would go on to push nearly 29 seconds off his 1600 time and earn himself a scholarship to SIU.

“Running for a Division I school has always been a dream of mine,” said Edwards. “I will work harder than anyone; I would do anything for the team.”

Just like during his high school career, he promises to work his hardest and to bring excellence to everything that he does. Chris is also the top male volunteer in the athletic department during the NCAA Service Challenge and is on the Executive Board for SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee).

“I am very impressed with his commitment and how willing he is to help out in the community,” said Raluca Mita, academic coordinator who oversees the SAAC and the NCAA Service Challenge. “Chris has done a great job in SAAC by bringing in new ideas to every meeting and being available when help is needed at events.”

On the track, Edwards has contributed to the success of the Salukis. During the 2018 season, he helped the team by scoring in both the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor and Outdoor Championships. Edwards was part of the indoor 7th place distance medley relay, and in outdoor finished 6th (9:16:40) in the 3000 steeplechase.

“Chris is one of the best teammates that you could ask for as he puts the team first in each of his decisions,” said Kevin Cataldo, head cross country/assistant track & field coach. “This has helped him develop as a runner and leader on the team because he is willing to put in the extra work to become a better athlete while pushing his teammates to do the same.”

Edwards will continue to help his team in the classroom, in the community and on the track. He is proud to be a Saluki and proud to have received the Saluki Booster Club Athletic Scholarship.

“My work is not finished though. While here at SIU the goal is to win a conference championship as a team,” said Edwards. “One day it will pay off.”

To see a full list of athletic endowments, click HERE.