CU Schools Foundation to Recognize Five of Our Public High School Alumni at 2017 Gala

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) will celebrate the accomplishments of five of our public high school alumni on Saturday, April 1 at the 2017 CUSF Alumni Recognition Gala at the Refinery in Champaign.  Three different awards will be presented:  Distinguished Alumni Award, Local Business Community Impact Award and the Local Hero Award.  The 2017 Distinguished Alumni honorees are Lisa Gaye Dixon, Centennial High School graduate, class of 1982; Dr. Robert C. Mock Jr., Urbana High School Class of 1984; and George Shapland, Champaign High School, Class of 1949.

Lisa Gaye Dixon has acted professionally both nationally and internationally, worked as a professional acting coach, directed numerous stage productions and recently appeared in two independent films.  Through her work, Ms. Dixon explores the topics of race, culture, economic class and gender.  Since 2005 she has served as an Associate Professor of Theater at the University of Illinois and in her nominator’s words, “has helped the Theatre Department move from a relatively obscure department to one that is graduating students who are nationally recognized in theatre, film, and television.”  In 2014 and 2015 she played the part of the Ghost of Christmas Present, in A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago where she drew rave reviews.

Dr. Robert C. Mock, Jr. spent the last 20 years of his life working in various capacities in higher education.  He currently serves as the President of Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC and is the owner of RBM & Associates, Ltd., a professional consulting firm. Dr. Mock stands out as a remarkable servant leader.  Inspired by the events of 9/11, at the age of 36, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army National Guard and served honorably as an Officer for eight years.  Throughout his life he has consistently given his time to various community organizations including Urban League of Lexington, KY, Goodwill Industries Arkansas Statewide Board, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee in Northwest Arkansas, and Charlotte Regional Partnership Inc.

After graduating from Champaign High School, George Shapland, attended the University of Illinois, graduating in 1955, after serving in the Army Corp of Engineers during the Korean War. He settled in Champaign and started his own construction company. In 1973, he cofounded Flo-Con Systems (now Vesuvius Corporation) in a joint venture with US Steel and served as President until 1990.  Currently he is the President of Shapland Management Company, where he has been involved in numerous residential and commercial developments.  Throughout his career Mr. Shapland has left a positive mark on our community through his business leadership.  His nominator wrote, “What is most incredible to me is the kind, unassuming way George leads and offers his advice.”  He has served as chairman of both the University of Illinois Foundation and Carle Foundation boards and as a director of First Busey, Corp and News Gazette Inc. among many others.

Spencer Atkins of The Atkins Group and 1987 graduate of Central High School will be recognized with the Local Business Community Impact Award.  The Atkins Group strives “to always be committed to the success of Champaign County and actively give back to our community.” They have been instrumental in working with both Champaign and Urbana’s public school districts to ensure quality facilities and fiscal responsibility.

Erin Grace, Urbana High School graduate, class of 2002, will be awarded the Local Hero Award. After graduating from Florida State, Ms. Grace returned to Champaign and started a YoungLives Chapter, which offers support and essential service to teen moms. By providing resources and information about healthcare, jobs, housing and preparing children for school, the organization has positively impacted many young lives.

CUSF solicits nominations for the three alumni awards from the community at large. Distinguished Alumni honorees must have graduated from a Unit 4 or District 116 public high school at least 10 years ago and demonstrate distinguished contributions to our society.  The Local Business Community Impact Award recognizes local business owners who demonstrate an impact on the community through their commitment to philanthropy, service, volunteerism and support.  The Local Hero Award celebrates individuals who willingly volunteer their time and efforts to benefit the local community.  All nominations are reviewed by a selection committee comprised of representatives from the school districts, alumni groups and CU Schools Foundation.

The 2017 CUSF Alumni Recognition Gala will be on Saturday, April 1 at 6:00 pm at the Refinery in Champaign and is open to the public with advance ticket purchase. For tickets or additional information visit: and click on the Benefit Events tab or call 217-398-2873. Proceeds from ticket sales support the mission of CUSF.

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CUSF Seeks Nominations for 2017 Alumni Awards

The Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) is encouraging community members to submit nominations for three public school alumni awards to be presented on April 1 at the 2017 CUSF Gala. The three different awards are:  the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Local Hero Award and the Local Business Community Impact Award.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes graduates of Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana District 116 high schools, including Champaign Centennial High School, Champaign Central High School and Urbana High School, whose achievements, strength of character, and citizenship serve as models to inspire and challenge today’s youth. Distinguished Alumni honorees may be nominated by fellow professionals, friends, family, or local citizens. Nominees must have graduated from a Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana District 116 public high school in 2006 or earlier, and demonstrate exceptional contributions to our society.  Since 2003, this award has been presented to 25 local graduates including journalists Roger Ebert and Bill Geist, economist Sabina Alkire, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, and educator Emily Stipes Watts. A complete list of honorees can be found HERE.

The Local Hero Award celebrates an individual who willingly volunteers time and effort to benefit the local community.  The honoree must be a graduate of Urbana District 116 or Champaign Unit 4 high schools and live within either of the districts’ boundaries.

The Local Business Community Impact Award recognizes a local business owner (with the business located in District 116 or Unit 4 boundaries) who graduated from Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana School District 116 high schools. Award recipients will have demonstrated a commitment to philanthropy, service, volunteerism and support, with a particular emphasis on employing local high school graduates.

Nomination forms are available on the CU Schools Foundation web site, or can be requested by calling the CUSF office at (217) 398-2873. Nominations should be mailed to CUSF, P.O. Box 1166, Champaign, IL  61824-1166 or emailed to info@cuschoolsfoundation.orgThe deadline for nominations for the three awards is January 13, 2017.   

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New Grants Support Music and the Fine Arts in Local Public Schools

viola-picEdison Middle School student Soumyota Sen plays a new viola purchased with funds from Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation’s The Gift of Music grant program.

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is partnering with Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana School District #116 to pilot two new grant programs—The Gift of Music and A Gift for the Fine Arts. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, nine music teachers in Champaign Unit 4 and three elementary fine arts teachers in Urbana School District #116 were awarded more than $8,000 for special projects this school year.

The Gift of Music ‘s goal is to support and enhance K-12 music education in Champaign Unit 4 schools, and A Gift for the Fine Arts’ goal is support and enhance fine arts education in Urbana School District #116 elementary schools.  Both grant programs have a spring and fall application window. A selection committee reviews proposals and recipients are announced in May and December.  Activities considered for funding include student attendance at a performance, guest artist or artist-in-residence programs, instrument purchase, fine arts focused field trips or school related performances.

Spring recipients of The Gift of Music and A Gift for the Fine Arts grant programs were announced last week and projects include a performance of Opera for the Young at Dr. Howard Elementary in Champaign and a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago for 5th grade art students at Dr. Williams in Urbana.

Earlier this year, Champaign Unit 4 strings teacher Curtis Viselli received funds from The Gift of Music to purchase two cellos and two violas for the strings programs at Bottenfield Elementary and Edison Middle School. “Many of the students involved in school music programs are not able to provide their own instruments. With an increase in student numbers we were running short on school-owned instruments to rent out. With the instruments we purchased, we met our goals for student inclusion and no one was turned away from an orchestra class if they were not able to provide an instrument.”

gift-of-music-picStudents notice a difference in the sound quality of the new instruments. According to Edison cellist Jade Cadman, the new cello is much better than the old one. “It sounds really nice. The old ones needed to be tuned a lot. You can tune this one faster, which gives you more time to practice.” Cadman claims the new instrument has an impact on her performance. “When you walk out on the stage with a shiny instrument, you just feel confident, like you are going to nail it.” Violist Soumyota Sen agrees. “With my old instrument, the sound just kind of faded away.”

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is working with the donor to create two permanent endowments to continue support for the arts in each school district. So far this year, Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation has awarded over $30,000 in classroom grants. The mission of the Foundation is to build a stronger community by developing and supporting innovative programs to make all C-U public school students college/career ready. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Patricia Dessen, or Molly Delaney,

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CUSF Starts the School Year Off By Awarding Two Collaborative Grants

Teachers from Urbana District 116 and Champaign Unit 4 will be working together on two projects this school year, thanks to $8,000 in grants from the CU Schools Foundation.  The grant awards which will benefit 250 students, were announced on Tuesday morning as both school districts prepare to open their doors.

A proposal titled CREATING SUSTAINABLE NUTRITION THROUGH EDUCATION COLLABORATIVE GRANT brings together 100 students from Urbana High School and Edison Middle School to build solar distillation units, harvest water IMG_5184 (1)and make it potable for consumption, plant seeds, test soil, create Farm to Table menus and generate hands-on connections between scientific theory and practice. “This project will be the perfect working lab for my environmental science students and my animal and land science students.  Real world experiences are essential for understanding and honing problem solving skills,” shares Dr. Joni White, UHS Science and Ag Instructor.  Collaborating educators on this project are Edison Middle School teachers Julie Anders and Karen Easton; Urbana High School teachers Kris Sherrick, Becky Weber, Joni White, and Amanda (Perez) Rosser; and University of Illinois Agriculture Intern Maggie Maxstadt.

career awareness webThe second project—a Cross-District Career Awareness Grant titled, CAREER REALISM—is designed to help ninth and tenth graders research and explore careers they might not have considered, in high demand fields such as CULINARY SCIENCE, WELDING, HEALTH CARE, VETERINARY MEDICINE, CARPENTRY, ENGINEERING, CHILD DEVELOPMENT, and more. As part of this project, students and teachers will work together to organize a CAREER REALISM EVENT which will allow students to tour businesses related to their career areas of interest. The grant involves two school districts, three high schools, eight teachers, seven community partners and approximately 150 students.  Champaign Unit 4 teachers Brad Anderson, Robin Bidwell, Marc Changnon, and Dave Johnson are collaborating with Urbana District 116 teachers Pam Furrer, Amanda Perez, Kyle Thomas and Kris Sherrick on this project. This grant was made possible by a generous gift from James and Karen Sue McKechnie.

This is just the beginning of the grants CU Schools Foundation will award this school year. Compact and Competitive Grants will be awarded to teachers at the end of September as well as Gift of Music and Gift of Arts grants in November.  The mission of the Foundation is to build a stronger community by developing and supporting innovative programs to make all C-U public school students college/career ready. For more information call 217-398-2873 or contact Patricia Dessen, or Molly Delaney,



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