Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois says a junior there has won a $30,000 prize for developing an affordable prosthetic arm for people in developing countries.
The winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize for innovation is Jonathan Naber, a major in materials science and engineering.
Naber has been working with the Illini Prosthetics Team to create an arm that is functional, durable and easily made. He plans to travel to Guatemala this summer to field-test the prototype at a prosthetics clinic in the Central American nation.
The prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program and is administered by the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center.
160 acres of farm property for growing fruit in Southeast Urbana is being sold by the University of Illinois Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.
The successful bidder for the Pomology Farm, or Pell Farm, is not being disclosed, but the property was listed for sale at $3.2 million. U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich says it still had debt on the site adjacent to Meadowbrook Park , that was in excess of $7 million in Fiscal 2009. "The pomology operation had moved from the university so the foundation didn't need the land anymore,' says Kojich. "We're looking to find a way to relieve ourselves of the debt of the property and prepared it for sale."
Kojich says he expects the Foundation to close on the sale within the next couple of months. In 2006, the U of I and its Foundation conducted a land swap, giving up the Pell Farm in exchange for tracts of land used for the South Farms, as well as property near Willard Airport.
The U-S Commerce Department has awarded $22.5 million for Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project. Now, the Champaign and Urbana city councils and the university of Illinois have 30 days to decide if they'll commit matching funds to the project --- a combined total of $1.3 million.
Champaign City Councilman Will Kyles says he's looking forward to a March 16 council meeting with the consultant the two cities hired to review the Big Broadband proposal. Kyles says he wants to ask Doug Dawson about his concerns with the long-term financial viability of the Big Broadband plan.
"I think it's more the sustainability piece that we're concerned about, as in his report he's projected that we would eventually start losing money. And he also talked about how technology is always changing. So I'd definitely want to talk to him," said Kyles
The federal stimulus money announced Tuesday would fund two major components of the Big Broadband project --- the installation of underground fiber-optic rings making up the backbone of service, and fiber-to-the-home installation of the service in areas considered underserved by broadband providers.
Two other components did not win federal funding. They're both aimed at expanding computer access for underserved populations. Big Broadband proponent Mike Smeltzer says efforts are already underway to re-enter those components in the 2nd round of federal funding.
The bid has been awarded, and the long-awaited transformation of one of the University of Illinois' most-used buildings should be underway by the end of the month.
On Tuesday the state awarded the largest bid for the $66 million project to a Peoria contractor. That clears the way for work to begin on Lincoln Hall, which has been empty for more than a year because of deteriorating conditions.
Joe Vitosky is with the U of I's Office of Capital Programs and Real Estate Services. He says when Lincoln Hall is finished in the summer of 2012, it will be a completely upgraded facility.
"Classrooms on the first and second floors, with offices on the third and fourth floors," Vitosky said, listing the changes. "The closed backstage area of the theatre will be converted to a new classroom. We'll have office space on all four floors, we'll replace the floor, ceiling and wall finishes, abate asbestos materials, and we'll be purchasing movable equipment."
But Vitosky says the theater and lecture hall which hosted thousands of U of I students over its 100-year history will still be there.
The U of I unsuccessfully tried to get the classroom facility updated for more than a decade until state lawmakers funded it last year as part of a capital construction program. Vitosky says despite remaining questions over how the state will fund the capital bill, the money is in hand.
The University of Illinois will lose another leader. The head of the Springfield campus, Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, announced his retirement Monday.
Ringeisen says his decision to leave UIS after nearly a decade has everything to do with wanting more time with his grandchildren, and nothing to do with the university's financial troubles. Delays in state payments have led to furloughs and layoffs. Further cuts -- possibly as high as 15% -- are expected.
Ringeisen says he will stay on until the end of October, then he and his wife will move to South Carolina. "It will be difficult to leave a job I love. An institution I love. And a city that has become a wonderful home to Carolyn and me," Ringheisen said.
Ringeisen says since he became chancellor he's proud of overseeing a nationally recognized online degree program ... expanding athletics ... developing a fine arts program ... and transitioning a two-year school into a more traditional four-year one. "The kind of small public arts university that Illinois did not have," Ringheisen said. "Well, it has one now."
Ringeisen says the search for a successor will begin soon, but that one won't be in place by the time he leaves. He says the provost could take over in the interim with a new chancellor on board early in 2011. Ringeisen says he'll stay on even then as a special advisor to the university president.
Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for the concept of "microfinance". Now a local businessman wants to bring the concept to Champaign-Urbana.
Developer Peter Fox says he's in talks with Yunus to open a branch of Grameen America bank in Champaign-Urbana. He and his wife are pledging $100, 000 toward the project.
"This will be a donation to capitalize the bank", says Fox. "Then after that, we'd raise additional money. Obviously, we would do it on behalf of Grameen and they would set the ground rules. So we're just trying to be the catalyst to get it started --- then they would operate the venture."
Yunus explained the principles of microfinance during a talk Monday nigh at the University of Illinois. It involves the loaning of small amounts of money to people too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans, so they can start or improve their own businesses.
"We run a banking program in New York City right now, in Jackson Hieghts, called Grameen America, exactly the same as we do in Bangladesh, and with the same result", says Yunus. "We have over 2,000 borrowers have there -- all women. Average loan about $1500. Repayment is near 0."
From its start in Bangladesh in the 1980s, Grameen and other organizations offering "microcredit" have spread around the world, including to the U-S. Fox says he's very impressed with Grameen America bank, which currently runs operations in New York, San Francisco and Omaha. He says he'll need to raise another $700,000 to $800,000 for Grameen America to come to Champaign-Urbana.
Yunus' talk at the Univesity of Illinois received a standing ovation from a near-capacity crowd at Foellinger Auditorium on the U of I campus. Afterwards, university Interim President Stanley Ikenberry presented Yunus with the university's Presidential Award and Medallion.
It may be a long, difficult path to recovery for the Illinois economy according to one indicator.
Each month the University of Illinois Flash Index measures tax revenue to give a snapshot of the state's economic performance. Author Fred Giertz says in February the index inched up to 91.5 after two months at 91.2. The reading is well below the dividing line between growth and contraction, and it's been there for the last year and a half.
Giertz says corporate tax receipts in Illinois are showing signs that the recession is breaking, but that hasn't started translating into more employment.
"The stock market has gone up a lot in the last year because of expectations, and businesses are actually starting to do better," Giertz said. "But the problem is that they're not doing as much hiring now because more efficient during the downturn and they don't need as many people to produce the goods (and services) as they did in the past."
Giertz says many observers predict a very slow decline in unemployment rates over the next year, even as the economy improves.
Class sizes will be larger in Danville - and the preschool program would be drastically cut - if proposed budget cuts go into effect.
Administrators propose eliminating 26 teaching positions as well as five teaching assistants and three administrators in the high school and middle schools. The cuts would save close to $2 million. The cuts would also include supplies, textbooks and some extracurricular activities with low participation.
Superintendent Mark Denman says the biggest hit will be in Danville's preschool program, which is not mandatory for districts to offer except for special education.
"I do think the state will come through and provide some level of funding for preschool," Denman said. "But unfortunately, with the laws set by the state with budgeting and notice to staff, we have to make our decisions in March. If we don't, then we're obligated to provide the programs whether the state gives the money or not."
Demnan says 42 teaching and other positions would also be lost until the district is sure the grants that pay for those positions will be continued. He says the state owes District 118 nearly two-and-a-half million dollars in backlogged payments.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
Some University of Illinois students are taking their demand for two administrators' resignations to another level.
Members of Students for Chief Illiniwek found email exchanges that they claim show administrators conspiring to stop a student-sponsored Chief performance at the Assembly Hall last fall. Members of the Urbana campus' student senate are looking over a resolution calling for an investigation of Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano's involvement. And now the leader of a new group opposing Romano, Jerry Vachaparambil, says they may try to recruit help from state lawmakers.
"Because this is a public institution, they can admonish administrators for not acting in the best interest of the taxpayers or the students," Vachaparambil said.
Romano says the email exchanges were not meant to stifle students' right to free speech and assembly. She says they were a conversation between officials struggling with the on-campus performance in light of the U of I's decision to retire the Chief three years ago.
"Administrators often talk back and forth about, well, if we do this what's going to mean and how does that all work," Romano said. "But ultimately, they were able to have their event."
The Student Senate may vote next week on the resolution, which also targets Romano's associate vice chancellor Anna Gonzalez.
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