December 08, 2009

Students earn honor named for Robert Lee Sims

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are the first recipients of a new scholarship awarded in honor of a University employee.

Robert Lee Sims was assistant director of Minority Engineering Programs at SIUC’s College of Engineering until his untimely death in January. The two students -- Teilla Bransford of Sparta, and Lauren Roberts of San Diego, are the first recipients of the Robert Lee Sims Helping Hand Award. The award is part of the PROMPT program, which stands for Proactive Recruitment of Multicultural Professionals for Tomorrow.

The students, who are fellows in other University scholarship programs, will receive a $350 award, credited to their bursar account, said Pat McNeil, assistant dean of the underserved fellowship office in the SIUC Graduate School. The students can use the award to pay for books, travel, conference attendance and other education-related expenses.

“We’ve always thought that if a student is proceeding satisfactorily, well, why can’t we help them out with those extra needs that arise?” McNeil said. “Because Robert Sims was the epitome of this idea, and he provided so much of himself, we thought it was appropriate to name it in his memory.”

McNeil said the PROMPT program has reached the $25,000 minimum endowment level, but it wasn’t yet able to generate the $700 annual Sims award for the students. With Sims’ sudden passing, McNeil contacted the College of Engineering and asked for donations from staff and faculty to fund its first disbursement.

“The faculty and staff of engineering came through and made it possible,” she said. She hopes to continue funding the annual award in this manner until such time that the endowment is able to generate adequate funds to do so itself.

McNeil said Sims’ life work was helping students.

“He was so special,” she said, recalling how he used his mathematics background to set up tutorial sessions for engineering students who needed help, especially with statistics. “The word would get out and he’d end up with 20 students there, providing individual assistance to those who needed it.”

To qualify for the award, students must:

•Be a current or former recipient of one of the following fellowship programs: Proactive Recruitment of Multicultural Professionals for Tomorrow (PROMPT), Graduate Dean’s, Bridge to the Doctorate, or Dr. James E. Walker Presidential Scholarship

• Have at least one semester of study remaining.

• Be currently enrolled for at least six graduate credit hours.

The students receiving this first award are well deserving, McNeil said.

Bransford, a master’s student in business, is heavily involved in extracurricular activities, serving as president of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants. She also is one of two student ambassadors for the Illinois Certified Public Accountant Society. She is a Graduate School Dean fellow, as well.

Roberts is a master’s student in documentary photography. Her master’s project is an 80-minute documentary about an orphanage in post-war Libya. Her work is about helping other people and she came with a strong recommendation from her department, McNeil said. Roberts is a fellow of PROMPT.