From IWU Magazine, Winter 2012-13 edition
Pioneering judge Elizabeth Robb was among
the alumni honored at Homecoming 2012.
Story by SARAH (ZELLER) JULIAN ’07
Distinguished Alumna and McLean County Chief Justice Elizabeth Robb taught a "Back
to College" session at Homecoming on "Therapeutic Justice: A 'Liberal Arts' Approach
to the Law."
During Illinois Wesleyan’s Homecoming 2012 celebration in October, four IWU alumni
were recognized for their achievements and support of the University.
Elizabeth Robb ’78, recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Award, is a McLean County
chief judge. The Loyalty Award was presented to Coyner Smith ’54, an active alumnus
from Omaha. Karl Pierburg ’98, director of football systems/special projects for the
Atlanta Falcons, received the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award. The winners were recognized
at the annual Alumni Awards Lunch held in the Shirk Center.
In addition Shannon N. Zenk, associate professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago,
was presented the 2012 School of Nursing Distinguished Alumna Award during in a separate
ceremony at the Center for Natural Science.
For Distinguished Alumna Award winner Elizabeth Robb, an IWU education led her to
a trailblazing career as McLean County’s first female associate judge in 1993 and
first female chief judge in 2004. The award honors Robb for her contribution to society,
professional distinction and civic leadership.
Recently, she has pioneered efforts to obtain a $1.2 million federal grant to enhance
the services provided by the drug and mental health courts in McLean County. For more
than 20 years, she has provided internship and mock trial opportunities to Illinois
During her first semester at IWU, Robb enrolled in a Sociology of Women class where
“women’s rights issues moved to the forefront of my awareness,” she recalled in her
acceptance speech. In her service on Student Senate committees, she helped bring a
male feminist to campus “to shake things up a bit.”
Robb also recalled the guidance she received as a student from Professor of History
Paul Bushnell. “Paul was so supportive of my desire to attend law school, at a time
when not many women were doing so,” she said. “For the past 30 years, I’ve maintained
contact with Paul. He has always expressed interest in my career and expresses pride
in my accomplishments and that of many of his students. He displays an obvious love
of history, and that was always conveyed to the classes he taught. He opened my eyes
to the implication of historic events and their impact on policy, culture and societal
changes, and how significant class and cultural movements can affect history.”
Robb continued her involvement with the University in order to give back, she said.
“My gratitude to Illinois Wesleyan is deep. It is here where I learned to think critically,
write well and use my education to promote innovation in our local justice system.
This institution is a gem, a critical asset not only to the many students who pass
through it but also to the community in which it is located.”
At the Awards Lunch, Coyner Smith explained why he supports his alma mater.
Winning this year’s Loyalty Award was Coyner Smith, who was honored for his longtime
support of the University. “If you walk in Presser Hall, you see his influence,” said
the luncheon’s emcee, Marsha Guenzler-Stevens ’78. “Over the last three years, Coyner
and his wife have provided the funding for much-needed renovation to that beloved
old space. And faculty and students and prospective students will feel his influence,
not just in the notes emanating from the practice rooms, but in the ambiance and ethos
of the place.”
Smith served in the Navy for 12 years as an aircraft commander and flight instructor.
In 1968, he and his wife Donna founded Better Business Equipment in Omaha, Neb. The
business has won several awards for service and quality.
Smith recalled enrolling at Wesleyan, when his father took out a loan at a local bank
to fund his education. “Times at Wesleyan in those days were happy days for me. I
remember especially the camaraderie in the School of Music, the collegiate choir and
the tours,” he said. But as his time at IWU came to an end, he was faced with two
major concerns: being drafted into the Army during the Korean War and paying back
the debt he owed his father. He decided to enlist in the Navy to solve them both.
“In those days, a naval aviation cadet earned $100 a month, and I was sending $50
a month home to my father to repay this debt,” Smith said, comparing his experiences
to those students who take out loans today. “In 62 years, things did not change that
much. … That’s the reason we support the Transforming Lives campaign at Illinois Wesleyan
and, within it, the endowments for scholarships for students in need and merit.”
Shannon N. Zenk received the 2012 School of Nursing Distinguished Alumna Award. She
is an associate professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Shannon N. Zenk, associate professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, was presented
the 2012 School of Nursing Distinguished Alumna Award during Homecoming 2012.
Zenk has dedicated her life’s work to researching obesity and the environmental and
socio-economic factors that contribute to this medical condition, publishing more
than 40 articles and conducting multiple research projects. After graduating from
IWU in 1995, she earned a master of science and master of public health degree from
the University of Illinois, Chicago. She earned her doctorate in health behavior and
health education at the University of Michigan.
In 2010, Zenk was elected to the Executive Board of the International Society for
Urban Health, and in the following year, she was awarded the Midwest Nursing Research
Society Harriett Werley New Investigator Award. In 2012, she received a three-year,
$350,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar award. The grant will
allow her to continue research on the contributions of neighborhood physical and social
environments to racial and socio-economic inequalities in health.
Karl Pierburg — named the 2012 Robert M. Montgomery Distinguished Alumnus — is in
his eighth season with the Atlanta Falcons, where he applies his IWU double major
in math and computer science as well as his Titan experience as a four-year football
letterman. To find out more about his accomplishments, read the article linked here.