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Among on-campus festivities for the new school year, last week we greeted a very special guest, U.S. Congressman Sean Casten from Illinois’ 6th District.
The visit offered University leadership an opportunity to thank Congressman Casten for working diligently to move forward the American Rescue Plan legislation which included the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). So far HEERF grants have supported more than 2000 Benedictine University students, a saving grace for those students who have struggled with loss of income and family crisis at the hands of the pandemic.
“The success of our local colleges and universities is critical to the success of our students and to the strength of our community,” said Rep Casten. “This funding, along with the $111,470,142 I fought to secure for colleges in my district will help these valued institutions keep their doors open, employees on payroll, and provide economically struggling students with urgent relief that will allow them to stay on track and complete their education.”
While explaining the significance of the funds and their impact on so many Benedictine students, President Gregory told Rep. Casten about an annual tradition that celebrates and brings together Benedictine’s diverse student body. “Just last week, as we celebrated the beginning of a new school year, we presented incoming freshmen with a red thread bracelet,” said President Gregory. “Because simple as it seems, these red threads represent the fabric of our Benedictine heritage and bind us together on our unified quest…to teach and learn in order to find a place in this world where we can make positive contributions to the common good.”
Later in the afternoon, a representative group of Benedictine’s diverse student body, all of whom benefit from HEERF funds, met with Rep. Casten to discuss their short and long-term goals in education and life, and how the recent emergency funds enabled them to stay on a path to realizing those goals. The group included Ali Ebraheemi (Sophomore); Anna Dudziak (Senior); Yngride Jean Philippe (Senior); Adia Dixon (Senior) and Collin Krause (Junior).
Congressman Casten said one of the great benefits of HEERF is that funds go directly into the hands of people who need them and need them quickly. “I believe that our students’ access to quality higher education should never be hindered by their background, their financial life’s situation, or their documentation status,” said Rep. Casten. “After months fighting to ensure this funding was included in the American Rescue Plan, I am grateful to see Benedictine using it to directly benefit all their students.”
President Gregory referred to the school’s written mission – “to welcome people of diverse faiths and cultures and promote the common good” – as a way of explaining what attracts students to Benedictine. And on the day of the Congressman’s visit, many of these students gathered in person for the first time in quite a while. “We wore masks and paid close attention to safety protocols,” said Benedictine Chief of Staff Pat Ariano. “But it was clear that we all benefited from being on campus with friends and colleagues, enjoying a beautiful summer day.”
After speaking with students, Rep. Casten met with Benedictine’s Dr. Kaveh Hemmat to congratulate him for leading the effort to secure a $195,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to collaborate with scholars from around the globe to produce an annotated translation of the “Book of China,” a travel narrative written by a Persian merchant who toured China in the sixteenth century. Dr. Hemmat is an assistant professor of History, Philosophy, and Theology in Benedictine’s College of Liberal Arts. Dr. Hemmat was joined by Krissy Dulek, Benedictine’s Director of Corporate, Foundation and Government Grants, who assisted him in pursuit of the grant.
Rep. Casten also met with several Benedictine leaders and executives to discuss challenges already faced and still present due to the pandemic, including the difficulty locating and hiring talent, and the related issue of the lack of childcare options faced by so many families. Dr. Kenneth Newbold, Benedictine Provost and Chief Academic Officer, provided Rep. Casten with an overview of the challenges faced during 2020’s virtual school year, and suggested there is a possibility of needing to implement some Covid-related safety measures at the start of this school year.”
Before Rep. Casten parted, President Gregory provided him with a gift that included our red thread bracelet to thank him for all his efforts on our behalf, past and moving forward, and to symbolize that he is now a very special member of the Benedictine community.
To watch the video of Rep. Sean Casten visiting Benedictine University, entitled "How the America Rescue Plan is Benefiting Students" featuring Benedictine Students, please click here.
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has a branch campus in Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 5,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. Benedictine University was also named the second-safest campus in the country and safest campus in Illinois by yourlocalsecurity.com in 2019. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. For more information about the University, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.