Topics: Speakers, Administrative

April 23, 2008

Diane Auer Jones, assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), will be the principal speaker at Ball State University's 152nd commencement exercises on Saturday, May 3. Approximately 2,600 students at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels are expected to receive their diplomas during the 10 a.m. ceremony, traditionally held outdoors on the Fine Arts Terrace.

Jones also will be presented with the President's Medal of Distinction by university head Jo Ann M. Gora, who expects to welcome to the commencement dais, as well, retired faculty member and former ABC News correspondent Steve Bell, Vectren Corp. Chairman Niel C. Ellerbrook and Center for Leadership Development President Dennis Bland.

Bell, emeritus professor of telecommunications, and Ellerbrook, a 1970 Ball State alumnus, will receive honorary doctor of laws degrees, while Bland also will receive the President's Medal.

The honorary degree and the President's Medal are the highest awards presented by the university.

Extraordinary experience

A seasoned Washington policy expert with significant campus experience as both a former classroom instructor in biology and later the director of Princeton University's Office of Government Affairs, Jones was nominated for her current post by President Bush in May 2007 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August of that same year.

Prior to joining the DOE, she had been deputy to the associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy since early 2006.

Jones holds a bachelor's degree from Salisbury State University and a master's degree in applied molecular biology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She is a past professional staff member with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science — where she participated in the preparation and advancement of legislation related to science, mathematics, engineering and technology research and education — and before that served as the lead director for the computer science, engineering and mathematics scholarships program at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

As assistant secretary for postsecondary education, Jones is the chief advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on matters related to higher education policy and legislative proposals. Her responsibilities include, too, administering programs designed to provide financial assistance to eligible students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities, improve postsecondary educational facilities and programs, recruit and prepare disadvantaged students for college success, promote the domestic study of foreign languages and international affairs, and support international education research and exchange activities.

"Diane Auer Jones enjoys an extraordinary range of experience in higher education, which for many years as teacher, legislative aide, campus administrator and now senior government policymaker and advisor she has put to work for the betterment of students and the colleges or universities they attend," observed President Gora of this spring's commencement speaker. "As one such institution benefiting from that experience, Ball State is proud to recognize Assistant Secretary Jones for her many contributions addressing the needs of students and their families."

In addition to her education and government work, Jones is keenly interested in how science can help to improve the environment. She established the Upper Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Assessment Center near her native Baltimore and is the co-founder of Athena Environmental Sciences, Inc., a company that develops microbial products used in environmental bioremediation and molecular biology research.  She's also served as a consultant to Baltimore's Applied Biotech Consortium and the Baltimore County public schools.

Role model

"Achievement is modeled from the top," says Dennis Bland, who as executive director of the Center for Leadership Development (CLD) in Indianapolis is a role model for thousands of inner-city youth at risk of dropping out of school. A beneficiary of CLD programs during his own teen years in the capital city, Bland later graduated from DePauw University and the Indiana University School of Law.

A program facilitator at CLD for two decades, Bland was named executive director in 2000 and last fall helped break ground on a new 17,000-square-foot classroom and administration building for the 30-year-old community agency. The facility — paid for, in part, by the center's largest corporate donation ever, a $1.4 million gift secured by Bland from Eli Lilly and Co. — promises to quadruple the number of students able to access the center's programs. They include Project MR. (Male Responsibility) and Success Prep, offering strategies and teaching skills for academic success to students at the start of their freshmen years in high school. Meanwhile, the semester-long Self-Discovery/Career Exploration Project for students nearing graduation boasts an 82 percent success rate in propelling those young men and women into college.

"Described by Indianapolis Star Editor Dennis Ryerson as 'a soft-spoken, modest, thoroughly religious man,' Dennis Bland is 'making success possible for thousands of young people who otherwise might not have had the chance,'" remarked Gora. "With the awarding of the President's Medal each year, we seek to recognize individuals who have made significant and unselfish contributions to the advancement of the university, the community, the state or the nation. Dennis' service to the students of Indianapolis and people of Indiana already is deserving of recognition, though his greatest contribution may yet to be realized — being a brighter future for us all thanks to his efforts to expand higher education opportunities for more deserving and capable students."

As a member of the Indiana Commission on Higher Education (ICHE), Bland has been a major proponent of the state's KnowHow2Go campaign designed to encourage students, especially those who will be the first in their families to pursue college, to take the necessary steps to turn their dreams of going to college into a reality. This includes finding and applying for the necessary financial resources.

In 2007, only 9 percent of "low-income" students in Indiana completed college — a statistic Bland calls a travesty and an issue of concern for every resident in the state.

The awarding of honorary degrees to Mr. Bell and Mr. Ellerbrook were announced in conjunction with the Board of Trustees' approval on January 25, 2008. More information regarding their tremendous contributions and accomplishments can be found here.