Live Long and Prosper

Robert and Patricia Dennis

By Rebecca Renshaw

“Live long and prosper.” Most people are familiar with the Vulcan greeting of Mr. Spock in the television series “Star Trek,” which debuted in 1966 and went off the air just one month before Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Growing up in Decatur, Illinois, Robert Dennis was fascinated by “Star Trek” and its vision of outer space and space travel.

Both the reality of the moonwalk and the fantasy of “Star Trek” fueled Dennis’ desire to be an astronaut. Unfortunately, poor eyesight and a growth spurt dashed his hopes of physically traveling in outer space.

But he could still dream about it.

“I realized right then that if I couldn’t get into space as an astronaut, then maybe I could go to California and make a movie about space,” he says.

To do that, he would have to do more than dream. He would have to learn the art and science of cinematography.

So Dennis set his sights on SIU.

During his first few days on campus, two things surprised him. The first was a professor who announced to a room full of new students that “if you are in this class to get a job in Hollywood, you may as well walk right out the door.” At that defining moment, Dennis decided that not only would he go to Hollywood, but that he would become a success as well.

The other surprising revelation was that filmmaking had little resemblance to the shows he had watched growing up.

“Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I now know that SIU gave me a deeper appreciation for film – especially experimental, documentary and independent filmmaking,” he says. “SIU opened my mind to a whole world of filmmaking that had nothing to do with my childhood dreams of ‘Star Trek.’ ”

Upon graduating from SIU, Dennis got his master’s degree from the University of Southern California, a widely respected film school that also claims George Lucas as one of its most accomplished alums. Dennis soon met his wife, Patricia, also a USC alum who now serves as senior vice president for The CW television network.

Dennis’ career included working at Lucasfilm, becoming elected as president of the Large Format Cinema Association and serving as a director of post production for HBO Pictures. Dennis also served on a post supervision team for film restoration and preservation at Walt Disney Studios as well as overseeing the 70mm “IMAX” laboratory services at Technicolor. While he and his wife forged successful careers in the challenging world of filmmaking, the couple also shares a strong commitment to the power of education.

That brings us back to Mr. Spock’s desire that others “live long and prosper.”

While Robert and Patricia Dennis have certainly fulfilled that goal, they understand that others may need a hand to do the same. Several years ago, the couple established the Robert Dennis Filmmaking Award, which is given to an outstanding SIU student filmmaker for his or her accomplishments in cinematography.

This past spring they began revamping their wills and recognized it made the best financial sense to establish a revocable family trust. With no children of their own and no extended family members to provide for, the couple determined that they wanted to see most of their estate gift go to youths who really need the help.

They both immediately thought of SIU.

“Patricia and I understand how tough this business can be for young people,” Dennis says. “Patricia listened to my stories about SIU, and the important part it played in my life. We both decided to give back to SIU and encourage students with financial help who need it to continue their filmmaking education.”

The Dennis’ estimated $1.3 million gift is the largest estate gift in the history of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

“When we finalized the trust, we sent off a note to the SIU Foundation announcing our decision – and the reaction was amazing,” Dennis says. “We often ask ourselves, ‘How is it that we turned out to be the people who have pledged this amount to the school? Why haven’t others done the same?’ We’ve already set aside resources for others. It is just the right thing to do to help kids out who can use it more than us.”

Cessna announces 2017 university partners for its third annual Top Hawk program

cessna skyhawk southern illinois university carbondale

WICHITA, Kan. (Nov. 17, 2016) – Cessna Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation Inc., a Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT) company, today announced it has selected the following university partners for the 2017 Top Hawk program: Eastern Kentucky University, The Ohio State University, Auburn University, Southern Illinois University and Louisiana Tech University. Each university will take delivery of a new, custom branded Cessna Skyhawk 172 aircraft in early 2017 to support flight training, recruiting efforts and promotional activities at their respective universities throughout the year.

“Each year, the Top Hawk program continues to expand its reach and we are excited to grow the program with five university partners this year,” said Doug May, vice president, Piston Aircraft. “These universities are renowned for their innovative aviation programs and we are confident they will represent the Top Hawk program and Cessna brand very well as we work together to provide students state-of-the art resources and empower them to choose a rewarding career in aviation.”

Textron Aviation continues to seek top aviation programs to collaborate with and support the advancement of general aviation and the modernization of aircraft training fleets. The company currently works with several universities, training organizations and flight schools throughout the world to support the next generation of aviators and the Top Hawk program plays a vital role in this strategy.

In addition to the aircraft, the top students from each of the five universities will be chosen for a Textron Aviation summer internship. These students will receive valuable exposure beyond flight training to include real world experience from various corporate departments such as sales, marketing, flight operations, integrated supply chain and engineering to promote a career in aviation.

About the Cessna Skyhawk 172
The Skyhawk is the world standard for pilot training and is renowned for offering the best combination of modern features, including the Garmin G1000 avionics system and proven dependability. The aircraft’s high-wing design enables superior flying characteristics ideally suited for pilot training. More Skyhawks have been delivered to customers around the world than any other type of aircraft, with more than 43,000 in service since 1955.


Student Caller Reaches $25,000 Pledge Milestone

Melissa Hull reaches $25,000 pledge milestone as SIU Foundation student caller

The SIU Foundation has a team of dedicated students who call alumni in hopes of raising support for a variety of college funds. Although this challenging job is a group effort, there are opportunities for students to achieve individual milestones during their employment. Melissa Hull is one of those students.

After two years with the SIU Foundation, Hull has successfully raised $25,000. She began as a student caller in 2014 and worked her way to a student supervisor role last year. Her supervisory position keeps her busy as she is responsible for a lot of different tasks.

“As a student caller, I am responsible for making calls to different groups of alumni in hopes of raising money for different college funds,” Hull said. “However, when I am working as a supervisor my job gets a bit busier. I send out the pledges that are collected the night before during calling, I update alumni information in our systems, and also speak with certain alumni that are unreachable during the day. During calling shifts, I will help supervise the callers by answering questions and looking up any information they may need during their calling.”

The student callers have a different perspective of the university since they are connecting with alumni on a regular basis and Hull has been a part of many positive conversations with alumni who loved their time at SIU.

“The best part is reaching out to alumni that loved it here, who can’t wait for your call, and love to hear about upcoming and new developments on campus,” Hull shared. “It really makes you realize how great being in college is and the memories and relationships you obtain here.”

Hull remembers her first $1,000 pledge from an alumnus. They talked on the phone for over forty minutes. During this time, he shared stories from his time as a student, his current employment as well as other interests they found to have in common.

“I had a great time talking to him and he really made me love my job. On top of that I got a great donation for the university that I knew would help out students that needed it.”

Hull was very excited once she hit her $25,000 milestone. The pledge was from a generous alumnus who loved SIU and wanted to give even after his retirement. He was so happy to contribute support to students especially with the current state budget crisis.

“Every call I have like that impacts my view on the university and always makes me very proud to be a Saluki. Hitting $25,000 made me feel like I really helped to make a difference at SIU and help those who needed it most.”

Melissa Hull is a senior majoring in Zoology with a specialization in Pre-Veterinary Medicine and a minor in Chemistry. She has plans to attend veterinary school to receive her DVM. Her focus is on small companion animals and dreams of working in a no-kill animal shelter after completing her education. It was a scholarship opportunity that brought her to SIU. With access to a more affordable education, Melissa understands the value each gift makes in the life of a student.

SIU Crowdfunding: Saluki Food Pantry

SIU Saluki Food Pantry

SIU is working to change statistics where 31% of students on campus need food assistance. The Saluki Food Pantry is located on the lower level of the Student Center. The mission is to serve food students who lack resources to purchase nutritious food. This provides an opportunity for SIU students to serve other students and engage in a conversations and solutions around food insecurity. SIU believes no student should have to choose between essentials such as food and the costs of college while trying to obtain a university degree.

Support the Saluki Food Pantry by bringing in donations or making a gift on the Saluki Food Pantry crowdfunding page.

SIU Crowdfunding: Strong Survivors

Strong Survivors is currently seeking donations through SIU Foundation’s crowdfunding platform. A donation to Strong Survivors SalukiFunder will help this program raise funds for new treadmills. This will benefit participants as well as the SIU student staff members using the SIUC Cancer Rehab Lab. The cancer survivors and caregivers will have the opportunity to exercise on a safe, comfortable and state of the art treadmill. The student staff members will be able to better assess and evaluate the exercise programs and the participants’ cardiovascular capacity.

Strong Survivors Exercise and Nutrition Program for Cancer Survivors and Caregivers utilizes exercise as a therapeutic tool to help cancer survivors and caregivers get through the treatment and recovery process. Co-sponsored by the SIU Department of Kinesiology and the Southern Illinois Healthcare Cancer Institute, this free program is created and administered by SIU student staff members who have completed the Strong Survivors Staff Training Class.

You may make a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one. To make a donation, visit Strong Survivors SalukiFunder.

Reflections from a ’73 SIU Alumnus

radio frequency
“In the early 70’s, I graduated from SIU with an Associates Degree in Electronics Technology. The college was called VTI at that time – which I think later merged with the engineering and schools. In those days we were on the quarter system so we had opportunities for a wide exposure to the field from vacuum tubes to integrated circuits to binary fundamentals. I even earned a commercial FCC radio telephony license as a result of an RF and Radio class.

It wouldn’t have been possible without that great foundation I received at SIU.

I felt I had an excellent understanding of the fundamentals of electronics even though it was packed into 2 years. My thinking was verified when I was hired by GE to work in their Advance Development Lab to assist in the development of quadraphonic FM. I was fortunate to have worked with the inventor of stereo FM for a couple years. After GE, I moved to Caterpillar Tractor Co. where I worked at their technical center. I was assigned a job to apply Radio Frequency FM transmitters on moving engine parts to transmitted sensor information such as temperatures to external recording devices. Later, computers were moving from the DP (data processing) mainframes to more powerful and smaller units. I moved to an area to work with a team to design and build an integrated measurement and control system to automatically hot test diesel engines. The test would run the engine through a number of performance cycles and measure the various temps, pressures, torques, fuel rates, etc. Later, as the Internet developed, I was blessed to move to a team in the early stages of network security (firewalls).

I finished my 40+ year career and I’m now retired. Over all I had a long and blessed career in the industry with fascinating jobs. It wouldn’t have been possible without that great foundation I received at SIU. I write this not to brag about my background, but to encourage future students to pursue technical degrees; you never know where they will lead. Some days I couldn’t believe they paid me to work there!”
– Rick, ’73