October 27, 2011

Doctoral student wins inaugural Swartz Award

by Greg Scott

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- An award named in memory of a former Southern Illinois University Carbondale administrator known for his generosity to international students has been presented for the first time.

Yuan Bingxin, an SIU Carbondale doctoral student from China, is this year’s recipient of the Willis Swartz Graduate Student Award.  Scholarships will be presented on an annual basis through income generated from the Willis Swartz endowment.  Preference is given to international and incoming graduate students.

Bingxin, who is studying chemistry and biochemistry, says the scholarship has special meaning.

“It demonstrates that others see me as having potential to impact our society’s future, and that my hard work has really paid off.  The scholarship is also a great honor for my family, who has supported me from the beginning,” she says.  “This award is not an ending; it’s just the beginning.  It makes me want to be better personally and in my academic career.  Additionally, I’m motivated to attain more achievements in chemistry.”

The Willis Swartz Graduate Student Award Endowment was established to honor the work of Willis Swartz, who was hired to chair the department of government at SIU Carbondale in 1930.  He became the first chairman of the graduate council in 1943, and seven years later, Swartz was named the first dean of SIU Carbondale’s Graduate School.  Additionally, Swartz, who served the University for 35 years, was chosen to direct foreign student programs at SIU Carbondale in 1947.

Swartz, who died in 1965, was known for making the transition to college life easier for international students. He was so appreciated that in 1957, a group of 26 Chinese students presented a plaque to Swartz and his wife in grateful appreciation for their help at SIU Carbondale.

A Carbondale couple -- Juh Wah Chen, retired dean of SIU Carbondale’s College of Engineering, and his wife, Han Lin, who received her master’s in science from the University in 1958 -- aspired to establish an endowment in honor of Dean Swartz.  Han Lin communicated this concept to George and Nora Wang of Laguna Beach, Calif., and David and Isabella Yang of San Louis Obispo, Calif., and received their full support.  The Wangs and Yangs obtained their graduate degrees from the University, with the support of Dean Swartz.  Han Lin, along with the Wangs and Yangs, distributed letters to fellow international alumni -- mostly Chinese students who attended from 1950 to 1965 -- soliciting contributions and coordinated this effort.

“We were close to Dean Swartz because he treated international students really well,” Han Lin says.  “Everybody thought very highly of Dean Swartz.  His former students are contributing to this fund to continue this spirit.”

Han Lin says it only took less than a year to generate funds to establish the endowment. 

“These alumni are successful and like to give back to SIU.  And they appreciated Dean Swartz because he did so many little things to help international students as they made the adjustment to college life in the states,” Juh Wah says.  “Dean Swartz often picked students up at the train station, and some international students even stayed at his home.  Dean Swartz did so much for students and was highly regarded.”

John Koropchak, SIU Carbondale vice chancellor for research and graduate school dean, says the award appropriately honors a man who cared deeply for students.

“It is wonderful to learn of the great impact that someone like Dr. Swartz had on students’ lives.  Even after 60 years, he is still fondly remembered,” Koropchak says.  “Dr. and Mrs. Chen have rejuvenated that expression by reorganizing this alumni group to endow this award and create a vehicle for supporting incoming graduate students for years to come.”

Jeff Lorber, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement and executive director of development for the SIU Foundation, says: “This award is a testament to the influence Dr. Swartz had on students.  Particularly, international students who attended SIU Carbondale during that era are forever grateful, and now, they have chosen to give back and support current students in their educational endeavors.  This is a true legacy in honor of a special man who contributed a great deal to this institution and its students.”