Teaching with passion and purpose

Brandon Thornton ’11, M.S. ’16

Brandon Thornton ’11, M.S. ’16, was chosen as a Regional Teacher of the Year by the Illinois State Board of Education. More than 100 were nominated and 10 chosen for the honor. Thornton teaches special education at Bloomington High School and is completing a doctorate in the field at ISU. He was hired at the high school after student teaching there as an undergraduate. The Rock Island native is a Golden Apple Scholar who was recognized by the College of Education as an Outstanding Young Alumnus last year. He works to inspire others to teach, noting his happiness comes from interacting with students.

Healing by design

Heidi (Dahle) Wang ’02

Interior design and art history graduate Heidi (Dahle) Wang ’02 received the AIA Chicago Dubin Family Young Architect Award for providing exceptional service to vulnerable populations. A partner in Chicago’s Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architecture firm, Wang specializes in research-informed initiatives in memory care and senior living projects. “I am inspired to create healing environments for those who most need them,” Wang said. Her work includes renovation of existing skilled nursing communities and creation of new rehab therapy facilities. She researches lighting for older adults, the effect of light on people with dementia, and special care residential environments.

A message of hope

Michelle (Brown) Smith ’90

Michelle (Brown) Smith ’90 is a visual artist who won an international design contest sponsored by Ralph Lauren for pandemic relief. She used the image of her son, Micah Smith ’17, wearing a mask and standing as the ‘O’ in the word HOPE that was sketched across a white polo. Ralph Lauren printed the design on shirts, with all proceeds given to the World Health Organization for COVID-19 expenses. Smith, who is a police computer technician for the State of Illinois, received a $500 gift card. The company’s foundation also gave $25,000 to the United Negro College Fund to address systemic racism.

Winning with wit

Craig Heyne ’20

Less than a year after completing a creative writing degree, Craig Heyne ’20 is soaring as a comedy writer and content creator for the card game company What Do You Meme? Since his hire in July, he has brought in more than 1 million social media followers and been promoted to a senior-level content strategist. He oversees all content for the company and writes jokes for the card games. He has also become popular on TikTok, where he outlines the history of memes.