Pulliam Tower

December 02, 2021

SIU Board of Trustees approve honorary degrees, distinguished service awards

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Former U.S. senator and groundbreaking Illinois politician Roland W. Burris will receive a Distinguished Service Award following approval by the SIU Board of Trustees today (Dec. 2). Burris is one of six individuals recommended by SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin A. Lane for honorary degrees and distinguished service awards.

A 1959 SIU Carbondale graduate in political science, Burris became only the sixth African American to serve in the U.S. Senate and the only SIU graduate to hold that seat when he was appointed in January 2009 to fill the seat vacated by then-President-elect Barack Obama.

The nomination notes Burris’ distinguished career, which included becoming the first African American national bank examiner when hired by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Comptroller of the Currency for the Chicago region in 1963. He was the first African American to hold statewide office in Illinois in 1978 when he was elected comptroller and after three terms was elected attorney general in 1989. His private legal practice focused on environmental, consumer affairs and estate laws, and Burris’ volunteer efforts included serving in leadership roles with the SIU Foundation, the SIU Carbondale College of Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board, Goodwill Industries and the Auditorium Theater of Chicago. Burris’ numerous honors from SIU include the SIU Alumni Achievement Award.

Others who will be honored at commencement in May 2022 or at a future commencement are:

  • Carolyn Taft Grosboll, Distinguished Service Award. Grosboll served as Clerk of the Illinois Supreme Court from January 2011 until her retirement on Nov. 30, where she “played a leading and pivotal role in modernizing and streamlining operations” of the court, while improving “communication, enhanced case management and expanded access to the general public.”

A two-degree SIU Carbondale alumna, she earned her bachelor’s degree in history in 1984 and a law degree from the SIU School of Law in 1987. The nomination notes Grosboll “contributed significantly to the administration of justice and the preservation of natural resources in Illinois throughout her decades of public service to the State of Illinois.”

During her years in private practice Grosboll was a partner in a Springfield law firm and also “excelled as legal counsel and then director of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, president of the Illinois Audubon Society and president of the Board of Directors of Sojourn Shelter and Services, which provides services to domestic violence victims.”

The nomination notes that in all of her endeavors, Grosboll built a “reputation as an intelligent, innovative, effective and unflaggingly professional contributor to the legal system, the environment and public welfare.”

  • John S. Jackson III, Distinguished Service Award. A visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute since 2002, Jackson has served the university for more than 50 years, beginning as an assistant professor in political science in 1969. Jackson went on to become a tenured professor and higher education administrator, including serving as dean of the College of Liberal Arts, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, and interim chancellor.

The nomination notes Jackson “has devoted himself to teaching and mentoring young people who have gone on to careers in local, state, national and international levels.” His research profile and publications are impressive and even in retirement, Jackson is “devoted to making scholarly contributions and works with student researchers to ensure they have the opportunity to realize their own potential to make a mark on the world as they follow their passions.”

Jackson continued to work with international students on summer programs through the U.S. Department of State “promoting international relations and cultural appreciation while teaching about American democracy. He continuously seeks and promotes opportunities for students to gain real world experience through internships in public policy and government service.”

The nomination also notes Jackson’s respected voice continues to provide “keen insights into elections, polling data and societal trends” that help “all Illinoisans better understand our world.” He also oversaw and edited the 357-page “SIU at 150” that “does a beautiful job of telling SIU Carbondale’s rich history.”

  • Thelma Mothershed-Wair, Distinguished Service Award. Mothershed-Wair is perhaps best known as a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who first integrated Little Rock High School in 1957, but she is one of three of those students to attend SIU Carbondale, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in home economics education in 1964. She later earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from SIU Edwardsville in 1970.

The nomination notes Mothershed-Wair “dedicated her professional life to serving students and their families in the East St. Louis school system, working as a home economics teacher and a counselor,” retiring in 1994. She also worked for the St. Clair County Jail Juvenile Detention Center and as a survival skills instructor for women at the American Red Cross Second Chance Shelter for the homeless.

A champion of diversity, inclusivity and equity, and recognizing her bravery and perseverance to overcome segregation of schools and her years of service to others, Mothershed-Wair and the other members of the Little Rock Nine received the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal. The group was also honored with the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

  • Richard Hunt, honorary Doctor of Public Arts degree. The nomination notes that Hunt, who became a visiting artist at SIU Carbondale in 1969 and had a one-person show in 1970 in University Museum’s Mitchell Gallery, “is perhaps the most important living contemporary sculptor in the United States.” While in Carbondale, Hunt taught both sculpture and printmaking, and he has remained “engaged and supportive of SIU Carbondale, helping to facilitate the donation of dozens of important prints and pieces of artwork to the University Museum from a New York City gallery and his own personal collection.”

Hunt has more than 150 public commissions to his name and recently completed a 13-year project “that resulted in a stunning tribute to Ida B. Wells in the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago.” His welded bronze sculpture, “Swing Low,” hangs over the entrance of the lobby of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. His work is on display in more than 20 states, more than any other sculptor, the nomination states. Hunt’s welded bronze work, “Starwalk,” is on display at the University Museum Sculpture Garden near Faner Hall.

Born on the south side of Chicago, Hunt attended the Junior School of Art Institute of Chicago. The youngest exhibiting artist at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, Hunt earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the Art Institute of Chicago. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as one of the first artists to serve on the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts, and he also served on the board of the Smithsonian Institution.

  • Cho-Yee To, honorary Doctor of Educational Leadership degree. An emeritus professor at the University of Michigan and 1967 SIU Carbondale doctoral graduate in education, To “is an internationally recognized educator, scholar and pioneer in multidisciplinary inquiry in educational theory,” the nomination states. To’s dissertation at SIU was “John Dewey’s Conception of the Relation of Education to the Democratic Ideal” and he began his academic career at SIU in the Center for Dewey Studies.

He joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1967 as an assistant professor and was later promoted to associate professor and full professor. To has served as a visiting professor, research professor and dean of education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; the Gerald R. Read Professor at Kent State University; the Ruth Wong Lecturer and T.Y. Wu Lecturer at the National University of Singapore; and the Daisaku Ikeda Lecturer of Soka Gakkai International of Tokyo.

A Hong Kong native, To earned a bachelor’s degree in education from United College of Hong Kong/The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1959 and a master’s degree in education from Washington University in 1963. Washington University recognized To as a distinguished alumnus in 2016, and he earned the Bronze Bauhinia Start from Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2006. He has also received honorary professorships at universities in China, England, Japan, Korea and Malaysia.