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Two decades later: RLC STARS program honors students, staff and legacy

Rend Lake College students, faculty, staff and administration gathered last week to celebrate 20 years of STARS in the James “Hummer” Waugh Gymnasium. The STARS (Student Transfer and Retention Support) program staff recognized their students and graduates for an outstanding year of success and determination.

The ceremony opened with Dr. Jeannie Mitchell, Psychology Professor and keynote speaker, who praised the STARS program for continuing to help students for the past two decades.


Dr. Jeannie Mitchell

“I remember hearing about the STARS program 20 years ago, and it is still the unwavering support system for our students that it always was,” said Mitchell. “I would put RLC up against any community college in the state or the nation when it comes to student support. STARS always has your back. Thank you for sharing some of your life and time with us.”

After Mitchell’s speech, Leah Stallman, TRIO Director, spoke about the successes of the RLC program, which will have served over 3,000 students on campus between the 1997 and 2017 academic years. Currently, there are 160 students enrolled in STARS, and of those, 92 percent maintain good academic standing with, at least, a 2.0 grade point average (GPA).

Stallman continued to say that 63 percent of STARS students graduate within four years of starting at RLC, a number much higher than the national average of 41 percent. Of those 63 percent, over 67 percent transfer on to a four-year degree program.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” she finished.

All STARS members of Phi Theta Kappa, the national community college scholastic honor fraternity, were also recognized by standing. Those students included Courtnee Bradham (Waltonville), Rebecca Bumpus (Mt. Vernon), Shelby Collins (Bluford), Brittany Ferris (Benton), Bret McCarty (Mt. Vernon), Michaela Scott (Dahlgren), Maude Wheeler (McLeansboro), and Miriam Ziehm (Dahlgren).

New Student Awards

Several RLC students were accepted into the STARS program in the Spring 2017 semester. They are pictured below.


The new STARS students are, FROM LEFT, Bradley Phillips (Benton), Alan Fox (Tamaroa), and Felicia Chiquito (McLeansboro).
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

Perseverance Award

The Perseverance Award is given to students who demonstrate determination in successfully completing their classes, often while overcoming difficult circumstances. This year, six students were honored with this award, and they are pictured below.


The Perseverance Award winners are, FROM LEFT, Stephany Ziehm (Dahlgren), Javon Stribling (Harvey), Adrian Rice (Mulkeytown), Letia Hollenkamp (Mt. Vernon), Schuyler Bailey (McLeansboro), and Mackenzie Adams (Dahlgren).
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

GPA 4.0

Only a handful of STARS students earned a cumulative 4.0 GPA at the end of the Fall 2016 semester, and for their hard work, they were honored with certificates during the ceremony. Those who attended event are pictured below.


The 4.0 GPA STARS students are, FROM LEFT, Skylyn Simpson (Sesser), Michaela Scott (Dahlgren), Brette Mahan (Benton), and Alexa Beavers (West Frankfort).
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

GPA 3.50 – 3.99

Another 11 STARS students completed the Fall 2016 semester with a cumulative GPA between 3.50 and 3.99. Those who attended ceremony are pictured below.

GPA3.5 3.992017W

The 3.5 to 3.99 GPA STARS students are, FRONT ROW, FROM LEFT, Miriam Ziehm (Dahlgren), Maude Wheeler (McLeansboro), Alyssa VanZant (McLeansboro), Danielle Seidel (Bonnie), and Megan Jordan (Mt. Vernon); BACK ROW, Connor Jackson (Bluford), Allysa Fox (Thompsonville), Sandra Eversole (Mulkeytown), Mariann Cook (Benton), Rebecca Bumpus (Mt. Vernon), and Courtnee Bradham (Waltonville).
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

GPA 3.00 to 3.49

Thirteen students ended their Fall 2016 semester with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) between 3.00 and 3.49. Those who attended ceremony are pictured below.

GPA3.0 3.492017W

The 3.0 to 3.49 GPA STARS studens are, FRONT ROW, FROM LEFT, Rebekkah White (Valier), Sicely Strumpher (McLeansboro), LeeAnn Garrison (Woodlawn), Heather Drew (Benton), Emily Cavinder (Christopher), Ashly Brown (Sesser), and Shanaya Johnson (Mt. Vernon); BACK ROW, Molly McGuire (Benton), Tabitha Hopkins (Whittington), Brandon Meyer (Benton), Kailey Kerkemeyer (Christopher), Dennis Johnson (Benton), and Ashley Atkins (Benton).
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

STARS Graduates

Fifteen STARS students were honored as graduates from RLC. These students graduated in the Fall of 2016 or will graduate in the Spring or Summer 2017. Those who attended ceremony are pictured below.


The STARS graduates are, FRONT ROW, FROM LEFT, Miriam Ziehm (Dahlgren), Sicely Strumpher (McLeansboro), Skylyn Simpson (Sesser), Heather Drew (Benton), Mariann Cook (Benton), Letia Hollenkamp (Mt. Vernon), Ashly Brown (Sesser), and Alexa Beavers (West Frankfort); BACK ROW, Javon Stribling (Harvey), Connor Jackson (Bluford), Tabitha Hopkins (Whittington), Brandon Meyer (Benton), Danielle Seidel (Bonnie), Kailey Kerkemeyer (Christopher), and Megan Jordan (Mt. Vernon).
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

George Cybulski Scholarship Award

The George Cybulski Scholarship Award is named in honor of the late George Cybulski, an 81-year-old RLC student who had a dream to go back to school and earn a degree. The award is given annually to a dedicated student. Brette Mahan of Benton was the recipient of the 2017 Cybulski Award.


George Cybulski Scholarship Award winner Brette Mahan of Benton, LEFT, is pictured with RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

STAR of the Year Award

The STAR of the Year Award is voted on by the STARS staff every year and is given to a student who exemplifies dedication to the program, hard work in the classroom, and great communication skills. Connor Jackson of Bluford was honored as the 2017 Star of the Year.


STAR of the Year winner Connor Jackson of Bluford, LEFT, is pictured with Jessica Phillips, STARS Student Advisor.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

High resolution photos from the event can be found on the RLC Flickr page.

The STARS program is a federally funded program designed to provide participants with the support services they need to successfully complete an associate degree and transfer to a four-year college or university. Eligibility requirements include meeting low-income guidelines, being a first-generation college student (meaning neither parent graduated from a four-year university) or having a documented disability. The program serves 160 students each year. The goal of STARS is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants and help students make the transition from one level of higher education to the next.

The STARS application is available online at You can also add them on Facebook to get updates on events and services:

For more information about the STARS program, visit Leah Stallman in the South Oasis, Rom 108, call 618-437-5321, Ext. 1366 or