More than 400 members of the Bloomington-Normal community gathered to honor the achievements of women in the community during the YWCA of McLean County’s 30th annual Women of Distinction awards banquet.
Three of the eight Women of Distinction award winners this year are from Illinois State University. Nikki Brauer received the award in the business category. Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum won in the creative arts and entertainment category, and Harriett Steinbach was named the Woman of Distinction in the education category.
Four other women from Illinois State were also among the 34 prestigious nominees this year: Kyle Ciani, Shelly Clevenger, Archana Shekara, and Emily Vigneri.
The Women of Distinction awards promote the accomplishments of women in the community, something Liz German, interim president and CEO of the YWCA of McLean County, said is key to the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. “Representation matters,” said German, “and it is important for both men and women to see the incredible women in our community being recognized across all types of industries.”
Illinois State nominees expressed their appreciation for recognition of their personal accomplishments as well as the achievements of their fellow nominees. “It is an honor to be recognized for what I do in the community through my arts,” said Aduonum, a professor of ethnomusicology. “It is doubly honorable to be recognized and nominated along with such great women of distinction.”
Emily Vigneri, a training and development coordinator with Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality, echoed the same sentiment. “I’m humbled to be in the same honoree group as my fellow nominees both at Illinois State and the local community,” she said. “I’ve learned so much living in this community and have met so many individuals who have altered my life for the better.”
Illinois State nominee Kyle Ciani, associate professor in the Department of History and a core faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, was honored to be nominated because the awards acknowledge voices of positive change in the community. According to Ciani, she gained valuable learning experiences while working in the non-profit sector early in her career. “I learned first-hand how societal change comes through the incredibly hard work of lots of dedicated people,” she said. “We simply cannot work successfully in an isolated arena, and the Women of Distinction awards is a wonderful example of this principle. Positive change takes the talents and efforts of diverse voices, and I am honored to be acknowledged as one of those many voices.”
Women of Distinction Award Winner, Business: Nikki Brauer
Nikki Brauer has spent her 26-year career working for Illinois State University, after receiving both her bachelor’s (1990) and master’s (1993) degrees from what is known today as the School of Kinesiology and Recreation. She’s extremely pleased with being a Redbird for life.
Her career has included roles as employee fitness program coordinator, assistant director, and director of faculty staff wellness when working with Human Resources. In her current role as director of the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness within the Division of Student Affairs, she leads a team of dedicated professionals committed to the mission of advancing wellness at all levels.
Brauer sits on American College Health Association Healthy Campus Leadership Team, working with colleagues across the nation building a framework that Institutions of Higher Learning are welcome to adopt. She is also currently vice president of the Administrative Professional Council at Illinois State.
Brauer is married to Eric, who works in Grounds at ISU, and they have a daughter, Chloe, who is 16. They enjoy beach vacations and playing with their Golden Retrievers Romeo (4) and Lola (11 months).
Women of Distinction Award Winner, Creative Arts and Entertainment: Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum
Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum is a professor of ethnomusicology at Illinois State. As an applied musicologist, researcher, writer, teacher, performance artist, and activist, Aduonum is interested in both knowledge for its own sake and in using it to address issues in society. She teaches courses such as Black Music and Ethnomusicology, and she also directs the Illinois State drumming and dance ensemble.
Growing up in Ghana, West Africa, Aduonum said her parents instilled in her at a very young age that girls can do anything they choose to do, including drumming. Their family drumming ensemble, with its different rhythms, tones, and performances, became important media for raising consciousness about diversity, community, pushing boundaries, and questioning norms. Those early teachings had profound implications on Aduonum’s mature life and informed how she raises her children, teaches, creates, and uses art today.
Aduonum is a Queen Mother in Ghana, responsible for engaging the youth, especially young women, towards their progress and success. She wrote the play Walking With My Ancestors based on her experiences in the slave dungeons of Elmina Castle and Cape Coast in Ghana, and the island of Gorée off the coast of Senegal. The play imagines what enslaved Africans—Aduonum’s ancestors—experienced. Aduonum recently won the Outstanding Achievement in a Leading Role award from the American Association of Community Theatre National Festival in Pennsylvania for her performance in Walking With My Ancestors.
Women of Distinction Award Winner, Education: Harriett Steinbach
Harriett Steinbach has worked at Illinois State University for 12 years and is currently the assistant director of service learning at the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. On July 1, she will assume the role of interim director at the center.
The center was created in 2016, and Steinbach had a hand in the formation of the center’s work when she became the first staff member at Illinois State dedicated to fostering campus-community relationships. She continues to strive to build bridges between community needs, community organizations, and Illinois State faculty and programs. Steinbach also created the Community Consulting Board, a group of community organization representatives who provide community input for the center.
Steinbach, a proud first-generation college student, earned her bachelor’s degree from Eureka College and her master’s from Illinois State. This fall, she is entering the Doctor of Public Administration program through the University of Illinois Springfield. She plans to study campus-community partnerships and town-gown relations.
Along with her husband Lew, Steinbach is proudly raising her son in a home that focuses on social justice.
Women of Distinction Nominees from Illinois State University
Kyle Ciani is an associate professor in the Department of History and a core faculty member for the Women’s and Gender Studies program. She specializes in the histories of women and gender across the Americas, with a focus on social justice issues. Involved with efforts of museum professionals to diversify exhibition spaces, she joined scholars across the country on a committee working to establish a National Women’s History Museum. She also works with middle- and secondary-school professionals on ways to integrate the histories of women and girls into social studies curriculums.
Mentorship and community education are important to Ciani. She has mentored students through Illinois State’s Women’s Mentoring Network, History Majors in the Honors Program, and the registered student organization FLAME (Feminist Led Activist Movement to Empower).
Her presentations to community audiences include those at the United States National Archives and the Department of Agriculture, and locally through Illinois State’s Senior Professionals program, the Association for Women in Communications, Equal Pay Day Coalition, the League of Women Voters, and Professional Women of McLean County. Her book, Choosing to Care: One Hundred Years of Childcare and Social Reform in San Diego, 1850–1950 (University of Nebraska Press) will be in print in October 2019.
Shelly Clevenger is an associate professor at Illinois State University in the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences. She has authored peer-reviewed journal publications and books on the connection between sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, and cyber victimization. Clevenger presented her research at the United Nations Women and a Congressional Briefing. She is also the recipient of the Feminist Criminology Article of the Year Award and the 2018 American Society of Criminology, Division on Women and Crime New Scholar Award.
Clevenger has three books, The Virtual Enemy: The Intersection between Intimate Partner Abuse, Technology, and Cybercrime; Understanding Victimology; and Teaching Theory. She has a fourth book to be published in 2019, Gendering Criminology: Crime and Justice Today. She has also been recognized for her teaching in these areas by Illinois State University with both college and university Faculty Teacher of the Year Awards and the American Society of Criminology, Division of Victimology, Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award and American Society of Criminology, Division of Critical Criminology and Social Justice Teacher of the Year Award.
Before entering academia, Clevenger worked as a therapeutic support staff and mobile therapist for children with behavioral issues, including juvenile sex offenders. She also worked at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doing animal cruelty investigations.
Clevenger is a comic book enthusiast and uses comic books in her classes. She also is the faculty advisor for a study abroad program Sex Crimes and Murder in London and Paris, which runs over spring break.
Archana Shekara’s passion for graphic design is clear through her work in the community and as an associate professor of graphic design at Illinois State University. She has taught courses at Illinois State for the past 10 years after receiving her master’s degree in graphic design from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Shekara is the creative director of Design Streak, a class at Illinois State that has become a working design studio. Design Streak gives Illinois State students the opportunity to work with real-world clients in the community and throughout the Midwest.
Shekara has received many awards and honors for her drive and determination. She is also a steering committee member and co-chair of the marketing and communications committee for Not In Our Town and she serves as the advisor and co-organizer of Festival of India for the McLean County India Association.
Emily Vigneri works at Illinois State University as the training and development coordinator in Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in College Student Personnel Administration, both from Illinois State University. She will complete her master’s in technology in December 2019, also at Illinois State.
Vigneri is a 2013 graduate of the Multicultural Leadership Program (MCLP). Since her graduation, she has volunteered with MCLP as a class facilitator and board member.
During her time in Bloomington-Normal, Vigneri has been involved with Green Top Grocery, Crossroads Handcrafts of the World, the Bloomington Cultural District Commission, For a Better Tomorrow, the Back to School Alliance, and the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts.
This month, she concludes a 2-year term as president of the League of Women Voters of McLean County. She will remain on the LWV of McLean County board as co-chair of the League’s 100th Anniversary Committee. She is also the director of finance and administration for the local chapter of the Association of Talent Development and will join the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation board in August.