Alumnus pays it forward with an endowed scholarship for East St. Louis graduates

Darius Robinson and his wife Norlander

Darius Robinson ’95 ’98 recently established an endowment at SIU for students graduating from East St. Louis High School. Robinson graduated from SIU with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and a master’s degree in manufacturing systems.

Robinson said his father was a contributing factor in deciding to establish the scholarship.

“My father, Johnnie Robinson, was a big giver in terms of leadership, discipline, and being a role model. He was my baseball coach in East St. Louis when I was eight years old until I reached 18 years of age. There were a lot of kids on the team who did not have a father figure, so I learned to share my dad with the rest of the team. What is remarkable about my dad is that he did not get paid for that, and he gave many hours to bridge the gap for so many young people,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s father always taught him that when you come home from work, you don’t just come home and focus on yourself.

“You make yourself productive by helping others. He taught me that giving back is how you make a difference in your community and in your life,” he said.

In 2016, Robinson joined I AM ABLE, a not-for-profit Chicago charity that enriches the lives of students from 8th grade through college who aspire to become medical doctors. In addition, Darius joined the Sister Cities Committee of Hanover Park. As a Sister Cities Committee member, Darius volunteers to support an elementary school in Cape Coast Ghana, West Africa. In addition to Cape Coast Ghana, volunteer support is given to an elementary school in Zacatecas Mexico. He volunteers on the weekend and often travels to other countries to help local schools with supplies and needed assistance. Robinson said that by volunteering and through the SIU scholarship he established, he can help a student want to be a better person and get an education so that it gives their life purpose.

“I hope this example of how I am living my life spurs others to pay it forward in their communities and create a cycle of giving back to others,” Robinson said.

Robinson and his wife, Norlander, reside in Hanover Park, Illinois, where Robinson works as an operations manager for Menzies Aviation. His role is to manage the jet fuel and hydrant system that is used to fuel the aircrafts at O’Hare International Airport.

“SIU prepared me well for my career. Most of my professors were industrial engineers and they did a great job of teaching me how to analyze a situation and how to trouble shoot and achieve my objectives,” Robinson said.

When Robinson is not volunteering, he enjoys studying ancient history and religion.

“I consider myself a life student. I’ve made several trips to the pyramids in Egypt and by going through the tombs, I learned how Africans contributed to the world by building the pyramids. I am fascinated by history,” Robinson said.

Kruse: Donors Drive SIU School of Medicine Forward

SIU School of Medicine Dean Jerry Kruse portrait in courtyard

If you talk to Dr. Jerry Kruse for more than a few minutes, you’ll recognize that his life passion is reflected within the mission of SIU School of Medicine, which he has led since 2015. That mission is “to assist the people of central and southern Illinois in meeting their health care needs through education, patient care, research and service to the community.”

Kruse, who has been with the school since 1984, said it was founded to improve the health of central and southern Illinois residents.

Kruse is proud of the advances the School of Medicine has accomplished over the past few years, and he is hopeful for continued improvement with the help of loyal alumni and donors.

“We have been very successful raising scholarships for our students, and we are continuously easing their burden by increasing the number of scholarships we offer each year,” Kruse said. “Yet, our medical students still graduate with significant debt. The median debt is $210,000 so we still have a way to go to produce a balanced workforce.”

Kruse said there are several sectors of healthcare that are rapidly growing, and the SIU School of Medicine is committed to meeting the needs of those sectors.

“The care of women of childbearing age and children has come into focus for us, and we have put significant resources to improve that sector,” he said. “In fact, we are partnering with Community Foundation Springfield-Nurse Family Partnership where physicians and nurses work together to identify women with highest pregnancy risks. We are very pleased with partnerships such as this one and are always looking to partner with other quality like-minded agencies.”

The School of Medicine is also experiencing growing pains, and Kruse recognizes the opportunity for expansion.

“Our student base is growing, and our current educational building is reaching 50 years in age. We are to the point where a new facility is needed. Donors would have the opportunity to honor those close to them by naming lecture halls, reception areas and cafeterias,” he said.

He also said that the school has been successful in receiving named lectureships, endowed professorships, and endowed visiting professorships but that there is always room for more endowments.

“We really appreciate those who have partnered with us in the mission we have developed,” he said.

The school offers an M.D., a master’s degree, and doctoral degree in various biomedical sciences, including a master’s degree for physician assistant students, as well as advanced training in clinical specialties (17 residencies and 13 fellowships). There also is a small number of SIU students each year who pursue combined degree programs in law and medicine, or in medicine and public health.

To support the SIU School of Medicine, visit

Dr. Kelly Higgins: SIU Foundation Board Member and Loyal Supporter of SIU

Dr. Kelly Higgins HeadshotIt has been over 20 years since Dr. Kelly Higgins graduated from SIU School of Medicine, but her loyalty and commitment to the university are what brought her to the SIU Foundation Board of Directors.

“SIU gives students so many opportunities to change the course of their life. I just want to support it in any way I can,” Higgins said. “I got my undergraduate degree here, and I went on to get my medical degree from the SIU School of Medicine. You could say that my blood runs maroon.”

She graduated from SIU in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in physiology and a minor in chemistry. During her time as an undergraduate at the Carbondale campus, she was a member of the Saluki Softball team from 1992 to 1994 and a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

After graduating from SIU School of Medicine in 2001, she completed her residency training in internal medicine at the University of Tennessee in Memphis and served as chief resident for the Department of Internal Medicine from 2003 to 2004. She then practiced medicine in Memphis and Springfield, Illinois, before relocating to Carbondale in 2012. Dr. Higgins practiced medicine at Shawnee Healthcare for seven years before leaving clinical practice in 2020. During her time as an internist with Shawnee Healthcare, Dr. Higgins served as the assistant dean of students for the SIU School of Medicine on the Carbondale campus from January 2016 until June 2017. She also served as a clinical mentor to SIU School of Medicine first-year medical students and was voted Mentor of the Year for 2017-18.

Dr. Higgins is working as an adjunct assistant instructor in the Office of Education and Curriculum at SIU School of Medicine.

Dr. Higgins resides in Carbondale with her husband, Dr. Jeff Lehman, who is also a graduate of SIU School of Medicine Class of 2001, and two children, Lauren and Will. She is a lifetime member of the SIU Alumni Association. Dr. Higgins and her family enjoy attending SIU sporting events, and she enjoys coaching her daughter’s softball teams. Dr. Higgins is also a member of the Women’s Leadership Council and the Women’s Leadership Council Board of Directors, and will start mentoring students when this year’s program launches.

“We’ve been season ticket holders for SIU football and basketball for over 10 years, and we love watching our Salukis compete with some of the strongest teams in the nation,” she said. “The football team’s recent success has energized the university and the community, especially the win against Northwestern. We’re looking forward to a strong finish.”

Dr. Higgins is always encouraging others to give back to SIU and helping students. In July 2021, she was asked to become a board member for the SIU Foundation.

“I received a fantastic education from SIU, and the SIU Medical School is nationally recognized for its many achievements,” she said. “I encourage everyone to continue to support the university’s vision. Getting involved with the university and the SIU Foundation is a great way to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”

People, Purpose & Passion: The Pathway to Success

SIU Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jeffery Burgin headshot

By SIU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jeffery Burgin

“Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.” Warren Bennis

During the spring semester 2022, Southern Illinois University launched its strategic plan IMAGINE 2030. Which describes five main pillars as the guiding initiatives for the next seven years. As the foundation of this plan is student success and engagement. Upon conversation with students and having experienced leadership development at other institutions it was decided that a week of celebration and leadership development would be integral in fostering the very best Salukis moving forward. We are excited to re-establish a week of leadership development activities culminating in a weeks end leadership conference themed People, Purpose & Passion: The Pathway to Success.

Students who actively participate in these leadership development activities will experience the following:

  • Hear from renown speakers and experts in the field of leadership
  • Gain personal competencies
  • Learn to foster an SIU community that focuses on improving programs, services, and the overall experiences of SIU students.
  • Strengthen those leadership skills inherent in all of us (i.e. conflict and risk management, communication, teamwork, and time management).
  • Better understand their ability to work with others and how their personal leadership identity shapes their leadership style and growth.
    • Reflect on one’s own identities through sessions, active engagement, and interactions with others
    • Cultivate further ideas that continue to build community on and off campus

In higher education we recognize that an engaged student is a retained student. As we had record breaking numbers of first year students in 2022, our focus currently is to retain those and all students through academics and overall engagement. This leadership development opportunity will enhance them as individuals and our Saluki community.

Register for the Student Leadership Conference.