Saluki Spotlight – Q & A with Dr. John J Cooper

Dr. John Cooper, he is an SIU alumni from the IMAE (IT) programDr. John J Cooper, a three-degree alumnus of SIU Carbondale, is now a professor and recruiter for the university’s Industrial Management and Applied Engineering (IMAE) program.

He received degrees in Industrial Technology (now IMAE) in 2004; Manufacturing Systems (now Quality Engineering and Management or QEM) in 2006; and Workforce Education and Development in 2011.

As both a professor and an alumnus of SIU, Dr. Cooper’s perspective is a unique one. So, we sat down with him to get his views on everything from SIU, to Extended Campus, and the importance of philanthropy.

Question: What did you like most about the SIU IMAE (and beyond) programs when you attended? 

Answer: To say my experience at SIU was life altering is no exaggeration. There were so many opportunities for growth as an individual that I found I learned as much, if not more, from my SIU experiences outside my classes as I did from the many subjects I studied. I had an opportunity to teach numerous classes and labs as a Teaching Assistant, serve as a manufacturing lab consultant for an award-winning SIU Robotics Team, present my research at a national conference, and so much more. None of these things would have been possible though without the support and guidance of the wonderful IMAE faculty and staff.

Q: What do you like most about your job, especially at your location?

A: My office is located at Daley College in Chicago. This area, Cook County, has the most manufacturing jobs of any county in Illinois and I see so much opportunity for those seeking direction as to career path possibilities. I really enjoy raising awareness of what is available academically and by extension, showing students the pathway to these life-changing opportunities in this well-paying field. Giving hope and a sense of direction to those trying to find their way, whether they are new to the world of work, seeking advancement opportunities in their current career field, or mid-life career changers like myself, is exciting stuff. To see someone’s eyes light up with a renewed spirit and sense of relief after struggling to find their way and have them come back after graduation and say I got a great job because of SIU, “Thank you!” is intoxicating. This is much so much more than just a job. We are changing people’s lives.

Q: What’s it like to interact with students all over the country to help them achieve their goals?

A: I have found that no matter where a student may be located geographically, there is a universal truth they all have in common. They want to get away from working two or three jobs with no benefits just to get by. They want a career with advancement opportunities, a living wage that provides them a healthy work/life balance, doing work they are proud of, and they aren’t afraid of the commitment and hard work needed to make these things happen. Having been in their shoes for many years, I feel privileged to now be part of a team in a position to support and nurture their dreams to fruition.

Q: What does being a Saluki mean to you?

A: When I reflect on my life, I remember growing up with a belief in two commonly accepted facts, education and hard work are the keys to success. I had attained a certain level of success before I came to SIU, but had hit a ceiling on my assent up the career ladder because my associate degrees from the local community colleges only took me so far. I had lots of ambition but no access to a bachelor’s in my rural location, so I spent many frustrating years locked in a dead end job with no potential for advancement. When my life circumstances unexpectedly changed and I was able to attend SIU and earn my bachelor’s degree, it was like the opportunities I had longed for previously, and so much more, were now within my grasp. When recruiting I say, “I am the poor kid who never thought I could go to college and now I am a university professor. SIU has definitely changed my life! Thank you, SIU!” Yes, it’s great to be a Saluki!

Q: Would you ever recommend any SIU Extended Campus, online or on-campus programs to another person?

A: Absolutely! Of course I know the high caliber of instructors in the IMAE and QEM programs and what those programs have done for me personally, so I recommend them without hesitation. Even though I don’t know all the instructors from the other Extended Campus programs, I do know that since SIU is an accredited institution, all instructors for our programs are highly-qualified so I am confident in the quality of those programs as well. But to take it a step further, as a recruiter for many years, I have had the opportunity to compare tuition rates with other universities and have found no other school more affordable than SIU. Plus, SIU has over 700 scholarship opportunities that make earning an advanced degree from SIU more affordable than ever. SIU is a great school, and we have thousands of graduates worldwide who couldn’t agree more!

Q: Would you recommend that others donate to SIU?

A: I would definitely recommend anyone seeking a worthy cause to donate to SIU. Growing up in a low-income home, I didn’t know there was money available for poor kids like me. Without the financial assistance I received, my life could have gone very differently. Your donation can make a huge difference in someone’s life. I know firsthand what a difference these donations can make.

Q: Would you ever consider giving back to SIU Extended Campus programs? If so, why?

A: Yes, I would. I believe there is a need for more outreach to underserved areas. Although I had heard of the IMAE program, I had no access to it because I lived in such a rural area. I would have enrolled in the program 15 years earlier than I did if local access had been available. The list of available online programs through Extended Campus continues to grow to reach those underserved areas, but more needs to be done.

Q: If you had $1,000 dollars to give to SIU, where would you decide it should go?

A: Without a doubt, I would give it to the IMAE program in the form of scholarship money for low income students. Not only does this degree open career opportunities to well-paying jobs, but there is so much need from low-income students like I was who just need a hand up.

To learn how you can donate to SIU Extended Campus, click here.

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Hamilton County graduate receives Don and Edith Braden Scholarship

Brandon Peters, a freshman in aviation management, received the Don and Edith Braden Scholarship.
Brandon Peters, a freshman in aviation management, received the Don and Edith Braden Scholarship.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Brandon Peters, SIU freshman and recipient of the Don and Edith Braden scholarship award, graduated from Hamilton County High School in 2020 and is pursuing a degree in aviation management from SIU.

“I was accepted into other universities, such as Purdue and Western Michigan, but SIU just fit me better,” he said. “Plus, it is closer to my family. I also chose SIU because its aviation program is also one of the top programs in the nation.”

Peters recently spoke to his scholarship donor via a conference call and thanked him for the scholarship.

“It costs quite a bit to go to the aviation program, and I told Mr. Braden how thankful I was for his help. So many students here have significant financial debt, and I wanted him to know that with his help. I will graduate with minimal debt,” he said. “I am thankful for people like Mr. Braden who lend a helping hand to students like me.”

Peters also comes from Braden’s parents’ hometown.

“I played as a point guard for Hamilton County High School’s basketball team for all four years. I was fortunate enough to win the Jerry Sloan Award last year, and Mr. Braden actually knew Jerry Sloan (Hall of Fame NBA coach), so we had that shared connection,” he said.

Peters hopes to become a certified flight instructor and someday teach at SIU. Once he accumulates enough hours, he plans to become a commercial airline pilot.

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Donor fulfills parents’ dreams with scholarship fund

Don and Edith Braden
Donor Wayne Braden honored his parents, Don and Edith Braden, by establishing a scholarship in their name.

By Rebecca Renshaw

Wayne Braden isn’t an SIU alumnus, but he certainly has the heart and spirit of a Saluki. Braden recently donated $25,000 for an endowed scholarship and made a $1 million planned gift commitment to honor his parents, Don and Edith Braden, who were from rural southeastern Illinois. The scholarship is to be awarded to a student who graduated from Thompsonville High School or Hamilton County High School in Illinois.

Braden’s parents grew up in Hamilton and Franklin counties in the early 1900s. Both attended one-room schools, but Edith was not able to attend high school as the nearest school was too far for her to travel on horseback or foot. Don was a good student and his father intended for his son to attend SIU and had even saved to begin his education. Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1929 caused their bank to fail and all of Don’s college funds were wiped out. Don and Edith married, and they eventually settled in Detroit where they worked in auto factories.

“Even though their circumstances were beyond their control, my parents deeply regretted not receiving a higher education,” Wayne said. “I think that is why it was important to them that my sister Judy and I got college degrees. Turns out, we both went on and achieved advanced degrees.”

A few years ago, after the Bradens had both passed away, Wayne and Judy began looking for a way to honor their parents and their commitment to education.

“Our attorney suggested that many people establish scholarships in the name of their parents to honor them and we thought that was an excellent idea,” he said. “My dad would have chosen to go to SIU, and he had plans to study engineering. We all know how SIU serves the Southern Illinois region where my parents grew up, so it just made sense to choose SIU for a scholarship in their name. I figured that if we gave a scholarship to a young person from McLeansboro, it would be as if we were looking out for my parents’ neighbors. Looking out for your neighbors was important to my folks, so I wanted to continue looking out for their community.”

Wayne said he has donated to charitable organizations much of his adult life and has been involved with the Salvation Army for several years.

“Charitable gifts are wonderful, and everyone should give back,” he said. “This scholarship in honor of my parents means so much more than just giving to an organization. I recently did a conference call with the young man who is the recipient of my parents’ scholarship. Realizing I was helping him accomplish a very important goal felt deeply satisfying.”

Wayne Braden currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and his sister, Judy Braden Armstrong, resides in Maryville, Michigan.

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Rosser seeks to inspire with $1M basketball scholarship

Dr. James M. Rosser is a three-degree alumnus of SIU.
Dr. James M. Rosser is a three-degree alumnus of SIU.

By Jeff Wilson

Dr. James M. Rosser is thankful for the opportunity presented to him by SIU, and he has been sure to pay it forward at every turn.

“I was very fortunate,” said Rosser BA ’62, MA ’63, Ph.D. ’69. “SIU gave me a new lease on life.”

Raised in East St. Louis, Rosser was the youngest of eight children and the first in his family to attend college. He came to SIU on a basketball scholarship. He was an honor student and earned degrees in health education and microbiology. Now, he’s honoring that experience by establishing a $1 million scholarship for Saluki Men’s Basketball. It’s the single largest endowed scholarship for any Saluki Athletics program.

“I want to help lift men’s basketball back to where it should be and give Coach Bryan Mullins a real leg up,” he said. “In today’s world, major revenue sports are attractive to prospective students.”

Rosser combined two previously established endowments to create a single million-dollar scholarship that will be directed to a men’s basketball player who maintains a 3.0 grade-point average in the field of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).

“This scholarship is not about me,” he said. “It’s about the institution that inspired me to achieve. I want to inspire other people of modest means to create opportunity for those who come after us.”

Part of SIU history

Dr. James M. Rosser (fourth from right) and Dr. Harold R. Bardo (second from left) were members of the 1960-61 Saluki Men’s Basketball team, coached by Harry Gallatin. (Photo provided by Dr. Harold R. Bardo)
Dr. James M. Rosser (fourth from right) and Dr. Harold R. Bardo (second from left) were members of the 1960-61 Saluki Men’s Basketball team, coached by Harry Gallatin. (Photo provided by Dr. Harold R. Bardo)

Coming to SIU in the late 1950s, Rosser has fond memories of his time in Carbondale. He was mentored by some of SIU’s most storied faculty and administrators and friends with some of the university’s most well-known Salukis.

“Don Boydston, the athletic director at the time, set a high standard for us, and he closely monitored our progress,” Rosser said. “I was roommates with Charles Vaughn. Walt Frazier was a very good friend of mine. I was in graduate school when he was playing at SIU.”

One of Rosser’s closest friends from his time at SIU is Dr. Harold R. Bardo. The two men speak on the phone almost daily to this very day.

“I met Jim in 1958. He’s the ultimate example of what can happen for students when they’re given the opportunity. He was able to stay in school and get three degrees from SIU,” said Bardo, who earned three degrees from the SIU System, including his bachelor’s from SIU in 1962, a master’s from SIUE, and a doctorate from the SIU College of Education.

Bardo sees the potential impact of a gift of this magnitude, especially when it’s made by someone of Rosser’s background and stature.

“I know Jim has a lot of really good thoughts about SIU,” Bardo said. “This is a university that has traditionally offered opportunities to all people, particularly those from underrepresented communities. Jim is the ultimate example of what great things can happen. Many people will take pride in that example.”

A distinguished career

Rosser began his career as a member of the faculty at SIU and founded the Black American Studies program in 1968. He received the Alumni Achievement Award in 1982, the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 2003. An Honorary Doctor of Laws degree was conferred by Pepperdine University in 2005.

Rosser served as president of California State University, Los Angeles, from 1979 to 2013, and was named president emeritus in 2013. Prior to his appointment at Cal State LA, he served for five years as vice chancellor of the State of New Jersey Department of Higher Education and served as acting chancellor in 1977. Earlier in his academic career, he was senior associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Kansas, where he was also a tenured faculty member in the School of Pharmacy and the School of Education.

For three years early in his career, he was a research bacteriologist for Eli Lilly and Company. Over the ensuing decades, he promoted science and engineering education, and he sought ways to galvanize the synergies between science and engineering education, research, technology, and industry.

“My hope is that this scholarship will inspire incoming student-athletes to achieve at the highest level,” Rosser said. “I want to encourage them to aspire to be great and effective role models.”

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Ameren Illinois grant to support Paul Simon Institute’s ‘Illinois Authors’ series

Jason Klein, regional director of electric operations (left), and Brad Kloeppel, regional director of natural gas operations (right), pose with John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, to celebrate Ameren’s $10,000 contribution to support the institute’s “Illinois Authors” speaker series.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale received a $10,000 grant from Ameren Illinois to expand its “Illinois Authors” speaker series statewide.

The institute started “Illinois Authors” in August to meet the writers who bring the Prairie State to life. The series builds on the institute’s “Illinois 101” essential reading guide, for which several Illinois leaders recommended histories, biographies, novels, or essays to provide a deeper understanding of the state.

The funding from Ameren Illinois will allow the institute to host a series of public events in 2022 in Carbondale and other Illinois communities.

“The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is very grateful to Ameren Illinois for this generous grant,” John Shaw, institute director, said. “It will help the Institute expand our ‘Illinois Authors’ program, which seeks to deepen our understanding of Illinois through compelling conversations with Prairie State authors. This grant will be instrumental as we present these conversations throughout Illinois.”

The grant funds were made available through the Ameren Cares program. Brad Kloeppel, regional director of natural gas operations for Ameren Illinois, said the key focus of the Ameren Cares program is to connect the company with the communities it serves to help empower and improve the quality of life in Ameren Illinois’ service territories.

“Illinois has such a rich history and we’re happy to support the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute as it helps expose students and the community to its literature as a way to successfully move forward,” Kloeppel said.

Sahlin establishes scholarship for the SIU College of Business and Analytics

Bill Sahlin has lived and worked all over the world, but he hasn’t forgotten the role SIU played in his life over 50 years ago.

“I enjoyed my experience at SIU tremendously. Coming from urban Chicago to a small-town beautiful environment was refreshing. I worked at Neeley Hall as a maintenance manager at night and took classes during the day. Between that job and the scholarship I received, I managed to make ends meet,” said Sahlin.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the SIU College of Business, Sahlin went to Loyola University and received an MBA. Sahlin spent many successful years working for TransUnion Corporation headquartered in Chicago as an accountant. He ultimately worked for the U.S. Department of Defense as a senior auditor and retired from there in 2013.

During his professional career, Sahlin worked all over the world in such countries as Saudi Arabia, China, Taiwan and Thailand. It was during his time in Hong Kong when he met and married his wife Kim. Together, they recently established the Bill and Kim Sahlin Endowed Accounting Scholarship to the SIU College of Business and Analytics. This scholarship will be funded through an estate gift of $62,500.

“I know I never would have received a four-year college degree had it not been for the scholarship I received,” said Sahlin.

“SIU is a good place to go, especially for people like me. Like so many who attended SIU, I was a first-generation student. SIU provided people like me with a good education and it was a great choice. I just want to help a young person who is in the same boat as I once was so many years ago.”

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Saluki Spotlight – Pete Renz – Donor-Teacher-Public Safety professional

Meet Peter Renz, ’97, who majored in Fire Science Management through SIU’s extended campus’ program, now known as Public Safety Management. Renz received his SIU degree at the off-campus location of Quinn Fire Academy with the Chicago Fire Department. He also earned a master’s degree in Non-Profit Administration from the University of Notre Dame in 2001. Peter is a retired fighter from South Holland, Illinois, with a career that spanned 27 years working as an Engineer/Paramedic.

Renz currently works as an instructor, recruiter and as an advisor for the SIU’s Public Safety Management program. He is currently teaching public safety management, research, and risk reduction.

Renz says he receives great satisfaction in working with people from the first handshake all the way to their graduation from the program.

“It is very satisfying to see a student that you first met at a recruiting event or through word of mouth, and then to see them graduate and to see how happy their families are at graduation. After graduation, you can see the gratitude they have for us helping them succeed with a bachelor’s degree or their master’s degree,” said Renz.

Renz credits the SIU Extended Campus Program for allowing him to get his bachelor’s degree and appreciates the help he received from his classmates.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I would not have gone to college. The flexibility of this program allows a student to be successful. I also liked the comradery in the classrooms. Everyone was helping others if they were struggling. I especially enjoyed the labor relations, grant writing, and legal and budget courses,” he said.

Renz says that the courses he took during his time as a student in the SIU Extended Campus Public Safety Management allowed him to apply what he learned directly to his career.

“The labor relations course that I took in college helped me start our firefighter’s union, Local 4109 in South Holland. When I served as a school board president, I was able to negotiate one of the more difficult bargaining sessions, which I also learned from that course. Everyone involved was grateful at the ease of which the contract was hashed out. The grant writing course SIU offered me helped in an innovative way to give raises and fund special projects at the fire department,” said Renz.

Renz says one of the aspects of the extended campus program he enjoys most is that he gets to interact with students all over the country.

“I get to interact with students from a geographically wide range of locations. You quickly realize that every fire department shares many of the same issues from coast to coast,” he said.

Renz also enjoys the variety of his work and his interactions with a wide range of people.

“Depending on where I am on any given day, I may be meeting with the Commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department, or the over 5000 members of the department, to the newest candidates at the academies. I also meet with the union leaders, officers, engineers and firefighters of many departments in the Chicago region,” said Renz.

Renz credits his wife for his success throughout his career.

“My wife, Lori and I were going to college at the same time. She would push me from time to time. She is the smartest person I know. I also learned from others around me that taught me how to do something and how not to do something. You can learn from others’ mistakes,” he said.

As a donor to the SIU Public Safety Management department, Renz gives back because he believes the program has developed him into someone that can make a difference.

“Being a Saluki has taught me to look out for others and to help where I can. You know, I’ve often wished that if I had a $1,000 to give to the program, I would like to start a lending library of public safety management textbooks. We have some students that struggle when it comes to the cost of books. I try to offer alternatives. A $1,000 would be a nice start. My hope is that others will help me give back to such a wonderful SIU program as the SIU Extended Campus,” he said.

To learn how you can donate to SIU Extended Campus, click here.