Dr. Susan Kern’s 31-year career at Illinois State—from teaching in Illinois State’s former Department of Home Economics to leading the University’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign—is proof she welcomes any opportunity to make an impact. It’s this passion, coupled with a willingness to meet the needs of Illinois State students, that fueled the establishment of the Susan T. Kern Special Opportunity Endowed Scholarship Fund.

While serving as vice president of University Advancement, Kern received a request for travel funds for a member of the Illinois State Solar Car Team. The student had worked on the University’s first solar car but didn’t have the money needed to go to the car’s exhibition in Texas.

“I thought, ‘You’re telling me she worked on this car and doesn’t get to go and be part of the team?’” recalled Kern. Kern immediately acted, reaching out to friends and colleagues and quickly raised the funds needed for the student’s travel.

From there, the development of a scholarship for similar requests was a natural fit. Kern’s scholarship has since funded opportunities from a trip to fashion week in New York to a student’s travel to Turkey.

The fund, which Kern and her husband Stephen MBA ’80 supported during Redbirds Rising, provides scholarships to help advance women in the workforce. The Kerns have met the recipients of their scholarship and enjoy learning about the Illinois State student experience and hearing about the impact of their investment in students.

Renewable energy and environmental studies graduate Sara Keene ’19, utilized r. Kern’s scholarship to study abroad in Panama with the Illinois State Honors Program.

Sara Keene '19 in Panama in 2018

Sara Keene ’19 in Panama in 2018

“The trip was made financially possible by the Susan T. Kern Special Opportunities Scholarship,” said Keene. “My trip to Panama exposed me to the worldwide issue of energy disparity, which is hindering impoverished communities.”

Keene says the trip has impacted her outlook at work.

“I work as program coordinator for the Clean Air and Community Energy Strategic Plan with the Ecology Action Center, which is a nonprofit environmental agency for McLean County. My trip to Panama opened my eyes to what energy disparity can do to a community. I want to eliminate that inequality.”

As an international student, English Department graduate assistant Sayanti Mondal can only work 20 hours per week, making funds tight. The Susan T. Kern Special Opportunities Scholarship enabled Mondal to present her scholarly work to a group of academics at the Sc[Arti] Conference at the University of Milan.

English Department Graduate Assistant Sayanti Mondal

English Department graduate assistant Sayanti Mondal

Mondal is grateful for the help she received: “The kind opportunity given by Dr. Kern’s scholarship earned me not only a precious experience but also an opportunity to learn more about what I am interested in. I am thankful to them for their kind endeavor.”

For her part, Kern is ecstatic about the far-reaching impact of her scholarship fund.

“The most exciting part about the scholarship is that I don’t know how students will use it,” said Kern. “When I meet with the scholarship recipients and hear the interesting ways they’ve used the scholarship funds, I think, ‘That’s great! That’s exactly what it’s here for.’”

To date, the Redbirds Rising Campaign has created over 225 endowments that provide scholarship funds for students. To learn more about how the Redbirds Rising campaign elevates scholarship, leadership, and innovation on campus, visit RedbirdsRising.IllinoisState.edu.