150 Stories of Philanthropy: Kayak trip ends; fundraiser continues

By Jeff Wilson

Nejmanowski reflects on his journey, the power of the great outdoors

Seventy-three days and a handful of alligators later, Greg Nejmanowski’s kayak trip down the Mississippi River was over.

He dropped his kayak in the water in May at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, and it came out earlier this month in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip, called Paddle for Patriots, is a fundraiser for the Veteran Adventures program at SIU’s Touch of Nature. The goal is to raise $25,000, and there’s still time to donate at https://salukifunder.siu.edu/project/15565.

“It’s been worth it,” said Nejmanowski, an SIU alumnus, Touch of Nature graduate assistant and Veteran Adventures coordinator. “This trip has inspired me to continue helping vets, to serve those who served us.”

Other than a couple of close calls with recreational boats – including one instance when he thought he was going to have to abandon ship – Nejmanowski said the trip went well. Floodwaters complicated things a bit and forced one of his planned events to be moved from Grand Tower to Chester, but he said the high water also led to less river traffic.

“It went smoothly, but it was hard,” he said. “Had I not had an inspiration, a passion, it would’ve been much harder.”

The expedition started slowly, but picked up steam as he passed St. Louis. From that point on, it was mostly open water. Nejmanowski set up camp each night on sandy beaches, largely in areas inaccessible by land because of the flooding.

“It was kind of nice living on the minimum, and the simplicity of it,” he said. “So much wisdom comes from simplicity.”

Making a few friends along the way

The vast majority of the time, Nejmanowski was by himself. He did, however, have run-ins with a few alligators and several people along the way, including one particularly special family.

“It’s such a rush being in the water with an alligator, at their level,” he said. “They’re not really all that interested in you, but they will come check you out.”

As he neared the final section of his trip, he met the Leedom family in Louisiana. It wasn’t a planned meeting. They saw Nejmanowski walking by the river and asked if he needed a ride. The father, wife and son took Nejmanowski back to his kayak and along the way, they struck up a conversation.

“I told him what I was doing, and come to find out, the father was a Vietnam veteran,” Nejmanowski said. “He told me to take his number and call him if I needed anything. The next day I needed some water, so I called, and ended up having lunch at their home.”

The Leedoms asked to be notified when he was about to finish his trip, and Nejmanowski obliged. They were waiting at his final stop to help him celebrate.

“The kindness of humans, ya know?” Nejmanowski said. “We’re now friends for life.”

The healing power of nature

After more than two months on the river, Nejmanowski entered the final stretch of his trip. He took the Atchafalaya River through southern Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico.

“It wasn’t something I could see for a long time,” he said. “I basically went around some trees, and then boom, there’s the Gulf of Mexico. It was so beautiful. There was the prettiest sunset that night.”

Nejmanowski is a firm believer in the healing power of nature. His kayak trip only strengthened that belief.

“Being outdoors has great therapeutic benefits,” he said. “That’s what Veteran Adventures is all about, and I wanted to put it on the map.”

The program offers outdoor activities to veterans, including hunting, hiking, backpacking trips, whitewater rafting and more. The program is funded through grants and private donations, and it recently lost a large state grant.

Through Paddle for Patriots, Nejmanowski hopes to not only fund Veteran Adventures, but bring awareness to the scourge of veteran suicide. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die each day from suicide. That’s approximately double the suicide rate of non-veterans.

“I feel empowered as an individual,” Nejmanowski said. “This trip inspired me to learn more about what nature and outdoor experiences can do to improve people’s quality of life.”

For more information about Paddle for Patriots and Veteran Adventures, search for Paddle for Patriots on Facebook or visit veteranadventures.siu.edu.

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150 Stories of Philanthropy: Cybersecurity program booming

SIU Cyber Security Dawgs

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

A growing number of attacks on computer networks worldwide has increased demand for university graduates with expertise in cyberdefense and cybersecurity, areas that barely existed just a decade ago.

This call comes as no surprise, as cyber criminals now show increasing new levels of ambition and sophistication – from multimillion-dollar bank heists to overt attempts at disrupting large networks that support production efforts for critical utilities.

SIU has responded to this demand by offering a specialization in cybersecurity through its School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies, and students typically have jobs lined up before they graduate because of high demand.

A point of pride for the program is the Security Dawgs cyberdefense team, a student organization that gives students hands-on experience through participation in cyberdefense and cybersecurity competitions. The team consistently earns first- or second-place honors in the state’s annual college cyberdefense competitions.

Despite these strengths, the program is in need of financial support to help educate tomorrow’s cybersecurity experts and industry leaders, according to Tom Imboden, associate professor of information systems technologies.

“Investments in equipment and opportunities will keep SIU students in the forefront of the industry,” he said. “For example, we received a grant a few years ago to acquire a remote-access solution that allows SIU to host virtual machines with curriculum content. This gives our students all of the software needed to provide an environment where students can complete lab exercises for the information technology courses they are enrolled in.”

Upkeep to the servers is essential, but costly.

“Our servers are now five years old and need to be upgraded,” Imboden said. “New servers cost around $6,000 each, and they come with an annual fee of $3,000.”

The Security Dawgs also need support getting to, and participating in, competitions.

“Typically, the team has only three weeks’ notice informing them they are invited to compete in the state or regional competitions,” Imboden said. “Ensuring that we have transportation and lodging for 10 students is a challenge. These competitions help put SIU, the program and our students on the map.”

To learn more about the information technologies program, visit isat.siu.edu/. To learn more about the needs of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, visit http://foreversiu.org/colleges-units/applied-sciences-and-arts.php.


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Delaney elected president of SIU Foundation

David Delaney – SIU Foundation Board

CARBONDALE, Ill. – David Delaney, a 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has been elected to a two-year term as chairman of the SIU Foundation.

He replaces Susie Rashid, a 1987 SIU accounting graduate, who now serves as the board’s immediate past president.

Former immediate past president Roger Tedrick, a 1970 political science graduate, continues on the foundation board as a representative of the SIU Board of Trustees. Matthew Solverson, a 1986 engineering graduate, is the foundation’s new president-elect.

Delaney, who studied agriculture at SIU, said the SIU Foundation plays an important role supporting the university.

“The foundation connects the passions of donors with the needs of the university,” he said. “The gifts of alumni and friends support scholarships for students, provides needed funding for facilities and laboratories, and enhance faculty teaching and research.”

The foundation is currently engaged in “Forever SIU: The Campaign for Students,” a three-year fundraising effort that achieved its $75 million goal seven months ahead of schedule. The campaign runs through December 2019.

“Private support enhances the public support that is so critical to SIU’s success,” Delaney said. “The foundation board is very grateful to the governor and our state legislators for increasing funding for higher education across the state – and especially SIU – this year. State funding gives donors confidence and motivates them to further invest in the university.”

Delaney, who has served on the foundation board since 2012, thanked recent foundation board presidents Rashid and Tedrick for their leadership.

“All members of the board are volunteers who believe in the power of donors to advance SIU,” he said. “Susie and Roger have been models for all of us in terms of their dedication and leadership.”

Delaney is currently chief commercial officer for Farmer’s Business Network, which serves nearly 8,000 members across more than 30 million acres of farmland across the U.S. and Canada. He is based in northern Illinois. He was formerly executive vice president and chief operating officer at PotashCorp, the world’s largest fertilizer company.

Rashid owns SWR LLC in Evanston, Illinois, and Tedrick is president of Tedrick Group Risk Management Solutions in Mount Vernon. Solverson is a director of R&D programs for General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in Marion.

The SIU Foundation is an independent, nonprofit corporation that exists solely to serve the educational, service and research missions of SIU Carbondale. As a designated 501(c)(3) organization, the foundation has approval from the Internal Revenue Service to issue tax-deductible receipts for private gifts received to support SIU.


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