About the Program

Administrative Team

Joel Stafstrom

Joel Stafstrom, Ph.D.
Acting Director for University Honors

Honors.  I was very pleased to be named Acting Director of the University Honors Program in July, 2015.  I am a longtime proponent of the ideals of an honors education:  student involvement in research, study abroad, community service and civic engagement, and the imperative to give back as one is able.  I’ve directed Capstone projects, and taught an upper level seminar, mini-sections and in-course contracts.  I’ve been a member of the University Honors committee.  My recent work with the university’s PLUS Baccalaureate Task Force reinstilled in me the importance of student engagement in high impact practices.

Education.  Like many NIU students, I am a first-generation college graduate.  I majored in biology at Dartmouth College and graduated in 1979.  A study abroad program in France fulfilled my language requirement; more importantly, it greatly expanded my cultural awareness and sense of being a global citizen.  As a senior, I completed the equivalent of a Capstone Project and was proud to graduate with honors.  Working under the mentorship of Dr. Nina Allen, I used state-of-the-art microscopes to study cell division in plant cells.  I got hooked on research and quickly headed for graduate school.  At the University of Colorado, Boulder, I studied plant cell wall structural proteins called extensins under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Staehelin (Ph.D. 1985).  I was awarded a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, which I used to study the molecular basis of reversible growth/dormancy transitions in plant meristems with Dr. Ian Sussex at Yale University (completed in 1990).  My own education continues.  In 2011, I spent a sabbatical semester working with Dr. Elizabeth Vierling and Dr. Magdalena Bezanilla at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Scholarship.  I’ve been a proud member of the Department of Biological Sciences since 1990.  My early research continued my postdoctoral work.  In the mid-1990s, my lab cloned a DRG gene – all cells with nuclei (eukaryotes) have related genes.  The fact that DRGs are GTP binding proteins (a type of molecular switch) and are highly conserved (have not changed much over billions of years of evolution) convinced us that they must be important.  The National Institutes of Health agreed, and awarded us two grants to learn more about them.  After many years applying contemporary cellular, genetic and molecular techniques, we’re still trying to figure out the cellular functions of these enigmatic proteins.  I have mentored 2 Ph.D. students (another in progress), about a dozen M.S. students, and over 50 undergraduate researchers. 


Jes Cisneros, Ed.D.
Assistant Director

A native of northern California, Dr. Jes Cisneros has more than a decade of experience working as the Assistant Director of the University Honors Program. While Dr. Cisneros is responsible for all aspects of advising within Honors and is glad to work with all students, his advising role within the office focuses on working closely with junior/senior level students as they enter the second half of the program and prepare for the senior Honors Capstone Projects.

Dr. Cisneros served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the early process of his higher education. He earned a B.A. in History from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an M.A. in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and finally, a M.S.Ed. and Ed.D. in Educational Technology, Research, and Assessment from Northern Illinois University. "Educational technology" aside, Dr. Cisneros very much considers himself a historian who happens to focus on education, schools, and the process of schooling in America. As such, he has presented at and been involved with the American Educational Research Association, and History of Education Society. His work has been published in both educational technology as well as history of education journals.

Dr. Cisneros regularly teaches an Honors section of EPFE 201 (Education as an agent for change) and EPFE 321 (History of American Education) in the Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations of Education. He is also the faculty advisor to the Honors Student Association. In 2010, he was the recipient of NIU's Supportive Professional Staff Presidential Award for Excellence.


Jason Goode, M.A.
Assistant to the Associate Vice Provost for University Honors

Jason Goode joined the University Honors Administrative team as the Assistant to the Associate Vice Provost for university Honors in November 2012. He is a high-level management support professional who develops, recommends, and implements appropriate goals, policies, procedures, assessment, and long-term planning related to national scholarships, fellowships, and academic awards and recognitions for the University Honors Program’s academically motivated student body. He is also the University Honors Program’s liaison to the Office of Scholarships, the Office of Financial Aid, and the diverse array of honor societies at Northern Illinois University (NIU).

Prior to his appointment at University Honors, Jason worked in NIU’s Office of Student Academic Success as a Student Success Specialist (SSS). He was responsible for representing the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This position was new to the campus and Jason helped brand the identity of the SSS through piloting a version of the Absence Tracking Program with an emphasis on English 103, English 104, and Communication 100. He also launched Soup & Success, a program that provides students with lunch as they engage in sessions related to time management, reading strategies, public speaking, financial aid, scholarships, and test anxiety. Jason advanced the development and piloting of a new advising tool created for NIU by the Educational Advisory Board. He has also co-hosted brown bag discussions and training sessions related to Making Achieving Possible (MAP)-Works on campus.

Jason’s previous employment includes serving as an account manager on the preferred team at Motorola Solutions, working as an admissions advisor for Colorado Technical University Online, and teaching COMS 100 as a graduate assistant at NIU. Jason is a proud NIU alumnus with a B.A. in Communication with a focus on media production and a M.A. in Communication Media Studies.

Steve Uhren

Steve Uhren
Acting Assistant for Programming and Communications

Steve joined Honors in July of 2015.

Steve will be leading the programming efforts for the fall of 2015.

He will have a full bio loaded soon. Please visit the page for an updated bio.



Joanne Ganshirt
Office Manager

Joanne Ganshirt has worked at the University Honors Program, and Northern Illinois University, for 23 years. As a result, she is an excellent resource person for information about the Honors Program, campus resources, and NIU as a whole. In 2000, Ganshirt was recognized as one of four Outstanding Service Award winners for her dedication and significant contributions to the university community. Joanne oversees the day-to-day functioning of the office, processes student applications, and manages the department budget. She is also the recording secretary for the University Honors Committee and the Committee for the Improvement of Undergraduate Education and is the assistant to the Associate Vice Provost for University Honors.                                                         



Marcy Joslin-Brown

Marcy Joslin-Brown joined the University Honors Program in the summer of 2013. She grew up in Rochelle and attended Rochelle Schools: May Elementary, Rochelle Middle School, and Rochelle Township High School. Ten years after graduating from High School, Marcy attended Northern Illinois University as a non-traditional student and graduated with a B.S. degree in Human Resource Management. She was previously a Customer Service Manager with a large retail company. Marcy is the initial contact person for the Honors Program. She answers the telephone and makes appointments. She is also the primary contact for Dr. Jes Cisneros, Vanessa Segundo, and Jason Goode. Marcy is looking forward greeting University Honors students as well as welcoming all incoming students to our program.

Faculty Advisors


David Ballantine, Ph.D.
Faculty Advisor to the Honors House

Dr. David S. Ballantine, Jr., received his B.S. in Chemistry in 1977 from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1983 from the University of Maryland at College Park. After several years as a researcher at the Naval Research Labs in Washington D.C., Dr. Ballantine joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Illinois University in 1989. He was awarded NIU’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1998, and served as faculty advisor to the NIU Chemistry Club, an ACS Student Affiliate program, from 1998 through 2010. Dr. Ballantine has served as the coordinator for his department’s introductory and general chemistry program and has supervised the laboratory teaching assistants since 1998. Presently, he serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, a position that he has held since 2010.


Nancy Castle, Ph.D.
Alumni Relations & Development Liaison

Professor Castle has been a faculty member at NIU for over 20 years first in the Rehabilitation Counseling program of the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders and currently in teaching in the Community Leadership and Civic Engagement major operated out of the NIU Center on Nongovernmental Organization Leadership and Development (NGOLD). She teaches an Honors Seminar called Class Meets Community which puts students and community agencies together on projects of importance to the community. Her research and teaching interests are in the area of civic engagement and service-learning. She also serves as the coordinator of NIU's service-learning efforts working with faculty across campus who wish to incorporate service-learning into their course curricula. As such, she is a part of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (OSEEL).

Dr. Castle served as the Interim Director of the Honors Program for the 2008 - 2009 academic year and since that time has been a faculty advisor to the Honors House living-learning community. She serves as the ad hoc chair of the Alumni Relations and Development Committee of the Honors Advisory Council and works as a liaison with the NIU Alumni Association.


David Changnon, Ph.D.
Faculty Advisor to the Honors House

David Changnon is an atmospheric scientist specializing in climatological studies and has been a faculty member in the Department of Geography at Northern Illinois University (NIU) for 20 years. His major expertise rests in developing climatological information and models for use by weather-sensitive decision makers in agriculture, utilities, insurance, and transportation. He has served on various committees of two scientific societies and participated in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and on a National Research Council (NRC) Panel titled “Estimating and Communicating Uncertainty in Weather and Seasonal Climate Forecasts.” He has participated in NIU’s Strategic Planning Initiative, serving as the chairperson for the Curricular Innovations Task Force, and the President’s Vision 2020 effort. He has been awarded NIU’s Presidential Teaching Professorship (2008) and Board of Trustees Professorship (2010). He has served as a faculty mentor on more than 25 University Honors in-course projects and has directed more than 10 University Honors capstones. As acting associate vice provost during the 2010-2011 academic year, he participated on the Honors Committee, a role which he will continue in as faculty advisor to the Honors House. Dr. Changnon earned his doctorate at Colorado State University.


Luke Krueger, M.F.A.
Faculty Advisor to The Luminary

Luke Krueger has been a member of the faculty at NIU’s School of Theatre and Dance since 2010, teaching playwriting, theatre history, script analysis and contemporary theatre. He is an accomplished playwright, and a number of his works have been produced around the country. Most recently these include: Father-Daughter Dance (Manhattan Theatre Source); (c)Sullivan: The Place Where People Come to Die (Simple Theatre, Chicago); The Kicker (Outfest, Louisiana State University); and Los Angeles! …Is Underwater and Young Goodman Brown (Northern Illinois University). This year, his adaptation of The Canterbury Tales and a new play Burning Times will open at NIU. (c)Sullivan was published by Next Stage Press in 2011, and Young Goodman Brown was published by Playscripts Inc., in 2012. Prior to working at NIU, he was the first playwright to be named the Emerging Writer in Residence at Penn State University (based at its Altoona branch). He also served as a resident playwright at Northern Stage, a LORT company in Vermont. Previous teaching experience includes stints at Arizona State University, Lake Forest College, and Loyola University (Chicago). He holds a B.A. in English from Miami University and an MFA in Creative Writing (playwriting focus) from Arizona State University. He resides in DeKalb with his wife Christina.