University’s rich legacy is focus of annual celebration

Walking across campus today it’s hard to envision the undeveloped prairie vista Illinois State’s founders encountered. Even more sobering is the scope of their task as they created the first public university in Illinois—building not just a curriculum but a physical infrastructure where it would be taught.

The vision and determination of the men and women who shaped the University are remembered and lauded each February, as the campus community pauses to celebrate Founders Day. This year’s festivities will be held on the 18th, with events carefully chosen to emphasize Illinois State’s past, present, and future.

ISU’s legacy reaches back to February 18, 1857. It was then that Gov. William Bissell signed a bill creating a normal school. The bill stipulated that the community with the best inducements would become the school’s home. Bloomington residents under the leadership of Jesse Fell raised $141,000. Abraham Lincoln, acting as attorney for the board, drew up the bond guaranteeing the Bloomington citizens would fulfill their financial pledges.

Illinois State Normal University was consequently founded as a teacher’s training institution. Classroom doors opened in October of 1857 to a total of 43 students. The founders, including first president Charles Hovey, must have sensed that they were providing more than just books and a place to study. They were literally building a community where teaching and learning would become not just a motto but a way of life.

The work done by our founders more than a century ago established an environment that could and would grow to meet society’s changing needs. For in addition to focusing on the immediate demand for teachers in the 1850s, the University’s forefathers made provisions from the start for an expanded educational mission that today undoubtedly exceeds even their most ambitious expectations.

Faculty, staff, students, and alumni can only ponder how Illinois State’s founders would respond to the University’s present landscape, the broad scope of academic programs, and the commitment to a mission that has evolved beyond teaching to include research and public service.

Illinois State has developed into a multipurpose university with degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. The name was changed to Illinois State University in 1964 to reflect the expanding academic scope.

Today the University is home to approximately 20,000 students from across the country and around the world. They meet on the campus—still prized for its convenient location in the center of the state—to pursue their personal and professional passion in classes across disciplines.

Now one of 12 public universities in Illinois, ISU has 34 academic departments offering more than 160 programs of study in six colleges.

The College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST) is home to students who are fascinated by robotics and manufacturing systems, want to explore the use of wind as an alternative energy source, care about the future of farming, or have a passion for the fashion industry.

CAST trains students in horticulture and computer science, physical education, safety, and construction management. Classes range from human development to law enforcement, with internships and practicum experiences offered as important parts of the academic work.

The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) offers the most majors and enrolls 10,000 students. They study everything from bugs to brain functions, learn how to create a geologic map, speak a foreign language, or work with children overcoming speech impairments.

CAS students have the opportunity to become part of a team on the forefront of laser research, anchor the student television broadcast, or compete as a member of speech and debate teams that are consistently ranked among the nation’s best.

The College of Business (COB) prepares students to be industry executives, international entrepreneurs, and innovators who bring a new energy to the field. Graduates have what they need to succeed in unique programs, including the chance to manage a $400,000 investment portfolio or partner with a business to help it expand globally.

Beyond the core majors of finance, accounting, marketing, and management, COB offers a Professional Sales Institute, which has developed into one of the best programs of its kind in the world. There’s also insurance training unlike any found at other schools.

Students in the College of Education (COE) still help shape the next generation. The college has more than 3,000 students with a passion for touching lives by sparking minds. Degrees are offered in early education, elementary education, middle school education, secondary education, or special education.

Graduates are more than ready to enter their own classroom with confidence because the college has extraordinary student teaching opportunities, including Professional Development Schools that offer a full year of classroom experience.

The College of Fine Arts (CFA) trains students in theatre, music, and art. Theatre majors shine on stage in productions that range from modern comedies to the classics of Shakespeare. Art majors mold one-of-a-kind pieces in the college’s Glass House, while music students use their voices and instruments to wow audiences across the country and beyond.

Madrigal Dinners and the Big Red Marching Machine are just two traditions within CFA, which has a faculty committed to combining the fundamentals of the arts with contemporary technology.

Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) has a 90-year history of preparing nurses to be individual providers and innovative leaders in a field that has never been more in demand. The college is recognized nationally as a leader in best practice for elder adult care.

MCN prepares nurses ready to nurture aging patients, as well as tackle national policy issues that impact long-term care. Students are challenged with a combination of teaching, research, and clinical practice in laboratories equipped with simulation technology.

The majority of students in all the colleges are undergraduates enrolled in courses so stellar that academic excellence has been established across departments. Programs in education, business, sciences, fine arts, nursing, and applied sciences have earned national distinction and international praise.

The fact Illinois State has obtained a 70 percent graduation rate speaks to both the quality of programs and level of satisfaction among students. From studying abroad to honors classes and leadership training, undergraduates find unique and challenging opportunities that give them a competitive advantage come graduation day.

Students especially appreciate the University’s outstanding faculty, who are committed to making a personal connection. Nearly 90 percent of undergraduate classes are taught by faculty members, and the student-faculty ratio is 19 to 1. That’s why ISU students praise the personal attention they receive from faculty, and the quality of their education.

Most of the 1,136 faculty members hold the highest degrees in their field, and are passionate about teaching undergraduate classes. Many are teacher-scholars recognized at national and international levels because of their dedication to super-
ior teaching.

The high-achieving students who enroll at Illinois State are able to partner on lab projects and research initiatives with faculty as undergraduates. They compete nationally and complete research internationally. They experience large-university opportunities, but in a small-college atmosphere.

From convenience to caring, Illinois State is a unique university that empowers students to pursue their passion. That fact is evident from the more than 170,000 alumni living across the country, and making a difference by working around the world. This vast alumni base would be yet another surprise to the forefathers, especially given the first commencement ceremonies held in 1860 celebrated the accomplishments of only 10 graduates.

Such statistics help paint a vivid picture of how significantly the path charted by the University’s founders has widened. But the purpose of the journey along that path has remained constant throughout the years: Everyone associated with Illinois State continues the pursuit of knowledge that has become the institution’s heritage. That alone is cause for a Founders Day celebration.