When she was 5 years old, Cynthia Grennan ’59 stood in front of a chalkboard and taught a lesson to the dolls lined up on her bench. There was no doubt she would end up in a classroom someday.
“School was the best place in the world for me,” Grennan said. “I loved school. As an only child, school was where the socialization started, and it was a very happy place for me.”
When she retired as a school superintendent in California, she was responsible for 32,000 students. That was a long way from the Illinois farm where she grew up.
She credits Illinois State with literally changing her view of the world. As a student during the University’s centennial in 1957, she was selected for Professor Arthur Watterson’s trip around the world one summer. At 19, she found herself on a jet to Paris, in Egypt, and in India, where she saw people dying on the street of the Hong Kong flu, their bodies loaded onto a hayrack for the funeral pyre.
“When you’re 19 years old, that’ a growing-up experience, but it opens your eyes to the world and to what the needs are,” she said.
On campus, she had friends majoring in special education and found herself helping them by designing a lesson plan on where milk comes from. “That opened the door to me that there were going to be youngsters who came through our classrooms who were going to need special attention,” she said. “It made me sensitive to that.”
When she started teaching in Palatine, she had two special needs students. She went on to get her master’s in special education and later her doctorate. And now she has made a planned gift to benefit the Special Education Assistive Technology (SEAT) Center in the College of Education. All teacher education students go through the SEAT Center, where they learn how to use assistive technology in the classroom, giving students with disabilities the power to learn.
“It’s for everybody, whatever field you’re going into and it has magnificent uses for the kids they’ll be teaching,” she said. “I had been in a quandary on what to do, and when I heard about the SEAT Center, I was hooked.”
The woman who has been to all seven continents and was in Antarctica for her birthday during the millennium celebration wanted to find a unique way to give back to the school that led her to another chalkboard all those years.
“ISU made it possible for me to go to school,” she said, adding she was the recipient of a scholarship. “And now I have this opportunity to give back.”