Record-Setting Graduation, Scholarship Winner

Lauren Raef and Paul Sandhu weren't sure they'd ever be here. The two had rocky starts to their college careers, but eventually found their way - with Raef knocking out a 4.0 semester GPA and Sandhu getting on the path to medical or pharmacy school.

Record-Setting Graduation

Lauren Raef and Paul Sandhu weren't sure they'd ever be here. The two had rocky starts to their college careers, but eventually found their way - with Raef knocking out a 4.0 semester GPA and Sandhu getting on the path to medical or pharmacy school. This month, they'll cross the stage at Harper College's spring commencement ceremony as part of the largest class of graduates the College has ever had. In all, about 3,500 students - roughly 1,000 more than last year - will collect associate degrees or certificates from Harper in the 2010-2011 year, and a record number will participate in the graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 22. The increased numbers come amid a renewed college-wide emphasis on getting students to the finish line - a response to President Barack Obama's challenge to community colleges nationwide to produce 5 million more graduates by the 2020. "It feels great to actually be graduating," says Raef, a Palatine resident who started at Eastern Illinois University before transferring to Harper and completing an associate degree. She'll return to Eastern this fall to pursue a bachelor's in geology. For Sandhu, who will transfer to Loyola University this fall to finish a bachelor's in biology, graduation "is an ending to one journey, but the beginning of another," he says. The Schaumburg resident fell behind early-on at Harper, but found the inspiration he needed to take academics seriously. "I'm blessed to have so many people who taught me a lot of things," he says. "I can move on, with these lessons, and become a better person." This year's graduating class also represents a variety of other educational journeys, from a 17-year-old who completed her Certified Nursing Assistant certification while in high school to a 73-year-old man who earned an associate degree after taking a variety of classes over three decades. The ceremony is at 2 p.m. outside the Avanté Center on the College's main campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road in Palatine. About 500 Harper graduates are scheduled to attend. Connie Payton, the wife of the late Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton and the head of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation for abused and neglected children, will deliver the keynote address; graduates also will hear from Jake Sadoff, a Distinguished Alumni winner who got his start at Harper before earning his bachelor's at Northern Illinois University and becoming an accomplished businessman and Harper Speech Team mentor.

Press Contact: Erin Brooks, Media Relations Specialist, 847.925.6159,


Scholarship Winner

Amanda Muledy was a 26-year-old bartender with a determined dream of a college degree and a better life when she first arrived at Harper College in 2008. This month, she'll graduate with a full slate of general education credits, a solid start on the English major she plans to continue at Lake Forest College or Northwestern University in the fall, and a prestigious scholarship awarded to only 60 of the nation's community college graduates. Muledy was selected from nearly 800 nominees across the United States as a recipient of the 2011 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides funding for up to three additional years of education at a four-year college or university. The Wheeling resident, who carries a 4.0 GPA and was named to the 2011 All-Illinois Academic Team, is Harper's first-ever recipient. "It's a huge achievement and a great accomplishment," says John Garcia, Muledy's Phi Theta Kappa honors society adviser. "She's considered by the people who have taught her, particularly in our English Department, to be doing work at the level of a Ph.D. student. She's that gifted." Muledy says she's had fun doing all the hard work that got her here - and calls her decision to quit her job and become a full-time student the best move of her life. "I love to learn, and I want to be here. I'm totally convinced that no one at Harper is having a better time than I am," she says. Muledy acknowledges it was scary to plunge into full-time college life while in her late 20s, but "I wouldn't, for any amount of money, trade having this brand-new future ahead of me," she says. "Harper has given me a second chance to prove I am exceptional. I figured it would serve as a stepping stone, but it's been instead more like a catapult. I am extremely grateful." Muledy was involved in a variety of Harper activities, including the Honors Program, and plans to pursue a career in academic publishing. She also hopes to write literary criticism.

Press Contact: Erin Brooks, Media Relations Specialist, 847.925.6159,


Jazzing It Up

American Idol contestant Haley Reinhart honed her jazz talents as a Harper College student - and now you have more chances to do it, too. The College, which for years has offered private lessons in jazz piano and jazz guitar, is expanding its menu to include a full slate of private jazz opportunities - from jazz sax and trumpet to trombone, violin and string bass. Reinhart, who's sitting solidly in the top three on the megahit FOX show, took jazz piano with Instructor Ken Spurr as part of her Harper education. "Haley's success is an outstanding demonstration of the talent that comes out of our music department," Professor Greg Clemons says. "We're looking forward to offering more students more opportunities to study jazz and to excel." The expanded jazz menu will be launched this fall. Private lessons are intended to accommodate all levels of learners, including beginners. Call 847.925.6700 or visit

Press Contact: Erin Brooks, Media Relations Specialist, 847.925.6159,



Fulbright Recipient

Harper College Associate Professor Patricia Hamlen will spend a month in Brazil this summer, representing Harper and the United States' higher education system as a recipient of a Fulbright grant aimed at equipping American educators with an understanding of day-to-day life, culture and society in the South American country. Hamlen, a Harper alumna who teaches cultural anthropology at the College, is one of only 15 academics selected for the July Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program. She'll spend 30 days investigating the cultural, economic and social aspects of Brazilian life, from the roles of slavery and racism to the impact of urbanization; researching the interaction between Brazilian tradition and modern society; and dialoguing with scholars, government officials and others in five states, including Rio de Janeiro. "It's one thing to study cultural anthropology; it's another to actually see things yourself. I'm going to sit down with people and ask them, 'What is your life really like? How do you view the world? How does Brazil fit in?'" Hamlen says. "Their answers will help me bring even more relevance to my classroom. It's important to let our students know how the world is changing, and what they need to be thinking about moving forward." Hamlen took a similar approach three years ago, using a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Peru research trip to conduct interviews and soak up first-person knowledge for the sake of her students. Before that, a trip to Morocco inspired conversations with natives that yielded a wealth of information about the similarities and differences between people across the globe. "It's important to expose our students to the rest of the world - to go somewhere, and to bring back that firsthand experience," Hamlen says. "It's good to be able to say, 'I was there. I saw this happen.' That makes a difference to students, and encourages them to get out there, too." Hamlen was 31 when she left her lab research job to take courses at Harper, eventually earning bachelor's and master's degrees in anthropology from Northern Illinois University and conducting archaeological research in America's Southwest. She has published numerous articles on anthropological issues, and accompanied Harper students on excursions to Peru and across the world. She began teaching fulltime at Harper in 2001.


Media Note: A high-resolution photo of Hamlen is available on Harper's Flickr feed, Audio excerpts of an interview with Hamlen, which offer details of her upcoming trip, are at


Photo Opportunities

Event: Spring Commencement

Date: 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22

Location: Outside the Avanté Center on the main campus

Press Contact: Erin Brooks, Media Relations Specialist, 847.925.6159,


Event: Educational Foundation Golf Open

Date: 11:30 a.m. Monday, June 13

Location: Inverness Golf Club, 102 N. Roselle Road, Palatine

Press Contact: Erin Brooks, Media Relations Specialist, 847.925.6159,