October 05, 2009

Scholarship created to honor Mike Lawrence

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A scholarship established to honor Mike Lawrence, the former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will assist students in the institute’s “Student Ambassador Program.”

A fundraising reception and event is set for 6 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 27, at The Warehouse at 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro. A brief program will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Lawrence retired as institute director in November. The veteran newsman, press secretary and political analyst joined the institute in 1997 as associate director, and became director in 2004 following the death of founder and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.

Several of Lawrence’s friends suggested establishing a scholarship in his honor when Lawrence announced his retirement, institute Director David Yepsen said.

“I think it’s a wonderful way to honor him for his years of service to the University, to Illinois and to his readers -- while helping worthy students at the same time,” Yepsen said.

The annual scholarship is for members of the institute’s Student Ambassador Program, with a preference for African American students. An early $5,000 commitment toward the goal of raising at least $50,000 for the scholarship endowment shows the deep level of respect that people have for Lawrence, said Matt Baughman, institute associate director.

“Mike has also had a long-time concern about the problems faced by young African Americans, so we’ll especially be looking at providing support to them,” Yepsen said.

Lawrence is honored the institute is establishing the scholarship, and pleased the beneficiaries are students involved with the institute. Student Ambassadors help host speakers and publicize events. In return for their volunteer service, the institute tries to provide students with direct access to the guest speakers, and events that offer insight into internships and how public policy is made, Lawrence said.

The Student Ambassadors range from freshmen to graduate students.

Lawrence said he stated a preference that African American students receive the scholarship “because diversity is something I have advocated and emphasized since I came to SIUC.”

“I think we have done a good job of bringing diversity into the institute and I want to see that continue and even be expanded,” he said.

Prior to joining SIUC, Lawrence was a press secretary and senior policy adviser to former Gov. Jim Edgar for more than six years. He also was press secretary to Edgar for more than three years while Edgar was Illinois’ secretary of state. Lawrence’s 25-year journalism career focused on Illinois state government and politics, and included a syndicated political column to more than 40 newspapers in Illinois.

“Over the years, Mike has been a real asset to SIU and to the state,” Yepsen said. “He has worked as a respected journalist who crusades for good government. He has also worked as a top assistant to Gov. Jim Edgar, one of the most respected political figures in recent Illinois history. It’s a testimony to Mike’s integrity and ability that when Paul Simon went looking for someone to help him start his institute, he chose and recruited Mike.”

Lawrence, who lives in rural Carbondale with his wife, Marianne, continues to write a column. He is teaching a journalism class on opinion, column and editorial writing. He also continues to mentor students and helps alumni with their careers.

Tickets for the reception are $100 apiece, and there are several other donation and sponsorship levels for the scholarship fund. Payments may be made by credit card, and checks should be made payable to the SIU Foundation. For more information, contact Baughman at 618/453-4001 or baughman@siu.edu.

For more information on how to contribute, visit paulsimoninstitute.org/.