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March 29, 2011

Jeffrey Chown
Jeffrey Chown

John Hartmann
John Hartmann

Gerald Jensen
Gerald Jensen

Jeffrey Chown, John Hartmann and Gerald Jensen
named 2011 Board of Trustees Professors

DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University has named Jeffrey Chown, John Hartmann and Gerald Jensen as its 2011 Board of Trustees Professors—an honor that recognizes international prominence in research as well as excellence in all facets of teaching.

Chown is a professor and documentary filmmaker in the Department of Communication. Hartmann is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures specializing in Thai language and culture. And Jensen is a professor in the Department of Finance who is highly regarded for his expertise in the business and academic worlds.

“Whether it’s engaging students, inspiring colleagues or expanding the limits of knowledge in their respective fields, our 2011 Board of Trustees Professors do it all exceptionally well,” NIU President John Peters said. “The university and our students have benefitted greatly from the hard work and creativity of Jeffrey Chown, John Hartmann and Gerald Jensen. And we look forward to more good things to come from these exceptional faculty members.”

Established in 2007, the Board of Trustees Professorships honor faculty members who have consistently demonstrated excellence in teaching, academic leadership, scholarship or artistry, and service and outreach. Special emphasis is placed on recognizing those who have earned widespread acclaim for their work while continuing to engage students in their professional activities.

Each BOT Professorship is accompanied by a $10,000 stipend, renewable annually during a 5-year term. The BOT Professorship awards will be presented during the annual Faculty Awards Ceremony and Reception beginning at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 21, in the Altgeld Auditorium. 

Here’s a closer look at the 2011 BOT Professors.

NIU auteur

Jeffrey Chown is a cast of characters: mentor, charismatic teacher, scholarly film critic, NIU ambassador, documentary filmmaker and tireless colleague.

He also stars in the role of Genuinely Nice Guy.

A professor in the Department of Communication, Chown helped develop and champion its Media Studies program, which prepares students for TV, film and video-production work. During his career, he has taught more than 11,000 NIU students—including many who now work as university professors or in the film industry.

“My success, and the worldwide success of films I’ve worked on, are genuinely a result of his inspiration,” says alumnus Robert Katz, a film producer whose credits include “Crash,” winner of the 2006 Oscar for Best Picture.

In addition to preparing students for work in Hollywood, Chown has brought some of its brightest stars to DeKalb, arranging for visits by Katz and “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis, as well as an 80-minute classroom conference call with filmmaker Michael Moore.

Chown first arrived at NIU in 1982. Several years later he authored the book, “Hollywood Auteur: Francis Coppola,” a critical survey of Coppola’s films still used in college coursework today.

Chown is a worldwide authority on Irish films as well. And in 1991, inspired by a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Ireland, he founded NIU’s Media and Culture program at Dublin City University. “It’s one of the major joys of my career,” Chown says. “Placing students with Irish families keeps the costs low, enabling many students to travel abroad for the first time.”

Now one of NIU’s oldest and most successful study abroad programs—with more than 400 alumni—it has been replicated by other top universities and also helped establish the university’s reputation across the pond.

“In Professor Chown, (NIU) has one of its finest international ambassadors, all the more impressive because of (his) genuine modesty and courtesy,” says Luke Gibbons, a professor of Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland.

Peter C. Rollins, emeritus regents professor at Oklahoma State University, says Chown’s scholarly work is world-class. But Rollins is most impressed with Chown’s filmmaking.

“Unlike 99 percent of his international peers, he is not only a film scholar but a filmmaker,” Rollins says.

By collaborating with his students to produce Ken Burns-style documentaries, Chown provides them with work experiences that complement classroom learning. “Dr. Chown embodied the concept of ‘engaged learning’ long before the term gained currency on campus,” says NIU Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher McCord.

Chown’s documentaries have won awards, praise and large audiences, beginning with “Barbed Wire Pioneers.” Its 1998 debut at DeKalb’s Egyptian Theatre drew 1,600 people.

His other films include “John Peter Altgeld: The Eagle Remembered,” “DeKalb Stories” and “Lincoln and the Black Hawk War,” which appeared on Chicago’s PBS Channel 11.

More recently, Chown has been praised for his scholarly examinations of war documentaries. Again, his work incorporates students, who interviewed NIU veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to produce a new film, “Degrees of Reality.” 

All the hard work has brought accolades, including NIU’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award and Presidential Teaching Professorship, and the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award from the Illinois Humanities Council.

Yet Chown is just as prolific in behind-the-scenes service.

He has directed nearly 40 theses, contributed to nearly 200 graduate committees and served on countless administrative groups, including the Faculty Senate and Strategic Planning Task Force. He also served as acting communication department chair, director of its graduate studies and University Honors director.

Citizen of the world

In 1975, John Hartmann, a young professor of Thai language and culture at NIU, received his first research grant to conduct linguistic fieldwork in, of all places, Iowa.

Turns out, that’s where large numbers of Lao refugees had been air-lifted following the Vietnam War.

Hartmann soon compiled a dictionary of Tai Dam, a minority language with origins in northwest Vietnam. With leftover grant money, he hired a graduate student to write a computer program converting the alpha-numeric field data into printable Tai Dam script, which previously could only be reproduced by hand with Chinese brush and ink.

It wasn’t long before the National Security Agency, which was trying to develop its own computer-aided instruction programs, contacted the young researchers, asking them to produce a much-needed font for standard Thai—an historic first.

So it was that the seeds of Hartmann’s academic career—one that has taken him across the globe and deep into the languages of Southeast Asia—were sown in the Midwest. The Tai Dam project demonstrated the first glimpse of Hartmann’s sweeping vision of language learning and technology, setting him on a path-breaking course. It also initiated a career-long friendship and partnership.
The graduate student, George Henry, is now NIU’s assistant computer science chair. Hartmann, along with Henry and his wife, Patricia, a foreign languages professor, went on to create SEAsite (www.seasite.niu.edu), a worldwide online resource for Southeast Asian languages and cultures. All three are faculty associates of NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Over the years, Hartmann and his many collaborators have received more than $3.3 million in funding—from the likes of the National Science Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, Thai government and U.S. Department of Education—to create online instructional tools benefitting students and teachers around the globe.

Hartmann’s scholarship includes 80 professional papers and 40 published articles. He speaks five languages, sits on editorial boards for academic journals published in Thailand and has served on numerous thesis and dissertation committees, including for Thai students at U.S. and Thai universities.

“Professor Hartmann is a leading figure in the field of Thai Studies,” says Professor Boike Rehbein of Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. “His name has to be included in any list comprising the founding fathers of Tai linguistics.”

Hartmann also contributes scholarship on other Southeast Asia cultures, and his work frequently crosses disciplines. In recent years, he and NIU geographers were the first scholars to apply GIS mapping to the study of place names in Thailand and southern China.

Named a Presidential Teaching Professor in 2006, Hartmann’s commitment to students, who are often key collaborators, also is legendary.

“In his research and teaching, John has never been afraid to think outside of the box,” says Katharina Barbe, foreign languages and literatures chair. “Nor has he ever been afraid to take risks by helping others.”

Hartmann regularly teaches a heavy load of courses, ranging from beginning Thai to graduate-level studies. And he has been known to help newly minted graduates find jobs—including one who now works for NASA and another who fled Laos as a child and now serves as executive director of the San Francisco-based Center for Lao Studies, which Hartmann helped found.

That many former students are now peers is among Hartmann’s greatest accomplishments.

“Countless scholars of my generation have been nourished by his unbounded generosity,” says Professor Theodora Bofman of Northeastern Illinois University. “John Hartmann is the very heartbeat of Thai scholarship in the United States and abroad.”

High yield

Summarizing the career of finance professor Gerald Jensen, one colleague drew upon the lingo of the field, noting that there are no “penny stocks” in Jensen’s portfolio.

Indeed, since he joined the faculty of the NIU College of Business in 1987, Jensen has generated high yield results. He receives outstanding reviews from students; he was a major contributor in the creation of the college’s core curriculum; and he has carved out a name for himself as one of the most prolific authors ever in the field of financial research.

“Dr. Jensen truly exemplifies the type of individual the Board of Trustees Professorships are designed to honor,” said Dean of the NIU College of Business, Denise Schoenbachler. “He excels in every aspect of his job – as a teacher, as a mentor, as a researcher, as a contributor to the college and as a colleague. He is a pillar of the university and is most deserving of this honor.”

His students agree. From freshmen new to the study of finance, to 30-year business veterans returning to secure an MBA, all praise his ability to make complex topics easy to grasp. “His enthusiasm for the subject spills over to the students, and they can’t help but be fascinated by his lectures,” one student said.

Unbeknownst to most students, Jensen influences the education of every undergraduate enrolled in the college. He was part of a team of four faculty that led the development of UBUS 300, the nine-credit hour, cross functional course that introduces students to business principles – an effort that Schoenbachler described as “Herculean.” He was also part of the team that taught the course for its first six years, refining and molding what has become a signature piece of an NIU business education.

Jensen also guides a team of students tasked with investing thousands of dollars on behalf of the NIU Foundation. Under his mentorship, the group has outperformed the market in each of the last three years. 

While respected for his teaching, Jensen is almost in a class unto himself when it comes to research and publishing in the fields of monetary policy and security returns. In 2005, the Journal of Financial Literature ranked him in the top 1.56 percent of most prolific authors over the previous 50 years.

Jensen also has a knack for making that highly technical research accessible to lay audiences, which has made him a media favorite. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes and USA Today and has appeared on television and radio. His work has also been cited in several text books.

Additionally, Jensen is deeply involved with the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, grading and writing CFA exams and attending conferences, and each year sponsors several students who wish to join the CFA Society of Chicago, an association that he says allows him to bring the latest professional developments into the classroom.

The Board of Trustees Professorship is the latest in a long line of honors earned by Jensen. It is also one of the most satisfying because the recognition comes from peers, and it takes into account both teaching and research.

“One of the things that I like about NIU is that it gives me the opportunity to devote equal emphasis to the two dimensions,” Jensen said. “My research and my involvement with the Chartered Financial Analyst organization allow me to bring cutting-edge knowledge to the classroom and ensures that my students are up to date on the latest research and professional developments.”

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Media Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Media Relations & Internal Communications
Phone: 815-753-3635
Email: tparisi@niu.edu