SILS honors graduates, outstanding teachers, and distinguished alumni at commencement

May 14, 2019

The UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) hosted its annual spring commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 12, to celebrate its Bachelor of Science in Information Science (BSIS), Master of Science in Information Science (MSIS), Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS), and Doctor of Philosophy in Information and Library Science (PhD) graduates.

The event also included recognition for exceptional student research, excellence in teaching, and outstanding service to the school, as well as the presentation of the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards to Rose Timmons Dawson (MSLS ’86) and Gerald Holmes (MSLS ’85).

Click here for a pdf of the commencement program

Visit the SILS Flickr album for more photos.

Graduates on the steps of Manning Hall
SILS graduates, faculty, and special guests pose on the steps of Manning Hall before the ceremony

Gerald Holmes, Barbara Moran, Rose Dawson, Gary Marchionini
SILS Distinguished Alumni Award recipients Rose Timmons Dawson (MSLS ’86) and Gerald Holmes (MSLS ’85) pose with former SILS Dean Barbara Moran and current SILS Dean Gary Marchionini.

Welcome Graduates and Guests

Student speaker Sarah Beth Nelson (PhD ’19) welcomed guests and graduates to the Great Hall of the Frank Porter Graham Student Union just after 1 p.m. Sunday. Nelson shared a story about the difficulty of uprooting her family and moving to Chapel Hill for the doctoral program, a transition made much more unpleasant when she, her husband, and son contracted head lice. Her feelings of trepidation and loneliness began to ease when she entered the PhD “dungeon” of offices and met some of her colleagues in the program.

“At SILS I have found mentors, collaborators, commiserators, babysitters,” she said. “This village has helped raise my children, who are now 9 and 7. This village has also raised me as an academic, supporting me on my journey here, to graduation.”

Nelson and her family are now preparing to undertake another move so she can began her appointment at the University of Wisconsin as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, teaching school library media and educational technology courses. The eventual success of her Chapel Hill experience has made her more optimistic about this change, she said.

“Thank you all for being my village. It is an honor to graduate from SILS with you today,” she concluded.

SILS Dean Gary Marchionini congratulated the graduates and their families, and conveyed special greetings to the mothers in the audience as the commencement coincided with Mother’s Day. Marchionini told graduates that wherever they go, whatever they do, their ties to Chapel Hill and SILS would endure, and that he and the faculty were confident they would represent the School well.

He also emphasized the important role graduates can play as information professionals in at a time when individuals, organizations, and governments must grapple with the ethical implications of increasingly powerful digital technologies.

“You can help bridge the digital divide, alleviate information poverty, empower individuals, and strengthen communities,” he said. “The faculty and I know that you are capable of not only making great advancements, but also great contributions, and we look forward seeing the impact you have on our field and on the world.”

“Make a Plan. Then Change It”

Anne Klinefelter, Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, delivered the spring commencement address. She gave graduates four reasons why they should make a plan, and then anticipate changing it, drawing on examples from her own life. First, she told them, “the world changes in mind blowing ways.” As a reference librarian in the late 1980s, she was focused on expanding access to information and combating censorship, but as the internet changed the information landscape, her priorities shifted as well.

“I did not foresee that the payment system for using the internet would be based on trading privacy for information,” she said. “I now draw both on my role as a librarian and a law professor to explore how to find practical solutions to balance information access and privacy.”

Learning more about the experiences of others can alter your worldview and your plan, Klinefelter told graduates. “Whether you read someone’s book or someone’s tweet, conduct formal research, analyze data, or sample opinions through human-centered design. Whether you ask or just listen, getting other people’s perspectives can expand your knowledge, improve your effectiveness in your career, make you a kinder person, and improve the quality of your life,” she said. “It can lead you to change your plan.”

Unexpected opportunities can also prompt you to adjust your trajectory. Klinefelter said she never planned to become a law library director, but management opportunities repeatedly presented themselves until she committed to the role.

Finally, Klinefelter told graduates they should be ready to change their plans because their education at Carolina has prepared them to continue learning and growing throughout their lives.

“If any group of graduates know how to keep learning, it should be this group, experts in information and library science,” she said. “You chose this very fine University and this outstanding School, and that was a great plan. Congratulations and best wishes to you all.”

Click here or below to listen the Klinefelter's full address.

Teaching Excellence

In addition to recognizing the achievements of it graduates, SILS takes time at its annual spring commencement to celebrate a long-standing tradition of excellence in teaching by presenting the Deborah Barreau Award for Teaching Excellence to one full-time faculty member and one adjunct faculty member.

SILS Assistant Professor Mary Grace Flaherty, the 2018 full-time faculty award winner, presented the 2019 honor to SILS Assistant Professor Amelia Gibson. In her introduction of for the award, Flaherty quoted students who had nominated Gibson. One said Gibson was “approachable both in and out of the classroom and eager to support student success. Students are comfortable being vulnerable in her classes and her office because she treats everyone with respect, even when challenging the thoughts and opinions they bring into the classroom.” Another said her commitment to teaching is “evident in the energy she brings to the classroom and to mentoring. She regularly demonstrates a true, infectious intellectual excitement about the material.”

Leslie Thomson (PhD’19), 2018 winner of the adjunct faculty award, announced that Patrick Hodges (BSIS ’15) is the 2019 recipient. Thomson said that students especially valued the real-world insights and examples Hodges brings to the classroom, drawing from his experiences as a Corporate Information Security Manager. Hodges did not attend the ceremony.

Student Awards and Recognition

SILS Associate Professor Brian Sturm presented the Elfreda Chatman Research Award to MSLS graduate Meg Foster for her master’s research proposal, titled “Open Mike: A Library Teen Services Case Study.”

SILS Assistant Professor Maggie Melo announced the two recipients of the 2018 Dean’s Achievement Award for the highest quality masters’ papers. Kimberly J. Reisler won for her paper, “Cognitive Authority and the Christian Worldview: An Examination of Goodreads Reviews of Christian Books,” which the awards committee praise as “compelling, well written, and a clear contribution to the LIS field at large.” Reviewers also felt that the paper contained “one of the best deductive analyses in masters’ paper so far.”

Qu Jiaming received the award for his paper, “A Medical Literature Search System for Identifying Effective Treatments in Precision Medicine.” Reviewers for the awards committee said the paper was “well written and carefully designed, with broad impact. The technical details and the rationale for this study were clearly articulated, and case studies gave valuable concrete examples of the system in action.”

SILS Associate Professor Jaime Arguello recognized students for earning the SILS Diversity Advocate Certificate, which offers formal recognition to SILS students who are active participants in making the School and the field of information and library science more diversity-friendly. Eleven students earned the distinction this year:

  • Nadia Clifton
  • Meg Foster
  • Amelia Midgett-Nicholson
  • Dezarae Osborne
  • Jamie Ramos
  • Mara Rosenberg
  • Sarah Sculnick
  • Brittany Soder
  • Rachel~Anne Spencer
  • Gina Wessinger

“Congratulations,” Arguello said. “I hope you will continue to work for diversity, equity, and inclusion wherever life takes you next.”

Two-time SILS graduate Rachel~Anne Spencer (BSIS ’17, MSIS ’19) received the Outstanding Service to the School Award, presented by SILS Alumni Association President Claire Leverett. In the introduction for the award, Leverett cited Spencer’s work at the SILS Library as well as her volunteer activities with the Community Workshop Series at SILS. “She actually focused her master’s paper research on creating more accessible information packets for CWS participants, community members who are often taking their first uncertain steps into the world of digital and online technology,” Leverett said. She also praised Spencer’s role in guiding a merger between the undergraduate student group at SILS and ILSSA, which traditionally had been more focused on master’s students, and helping to found the Future Leaders in User Experience (FLUX) student group.

Recognition of the Graduates

With the awards and honors concluded, Undergraduate Student Services Coordinator Tiffany Harris announced the names of the BSIS graduates, and Graduate Student Services Coordinator Lara Bailey announced the MSIS and MSLS degree recipients. The celebration recognized students graduating in May, as well as those who completed their degree requirements in December 2018 and those who will finish in August 2019.

As their names were called, graduates ascended the stage, shook hands with Dean Marchionini, and then proceeded to shake hands and exchange greetings with a line of SILS faculty members.

Bailey also announced the 2019 doctoral graduates, Nina Exner, Heejun Kim, Sara Beth Nelson, Leslie Elizabeth Ann Thomson, and Shenmeng Xu.

Marchionini then instructed graduates to turn their tassels, and after a warm round of applause, invited everyone to join a reception in the lobby.