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2015 Inductees

During their return to the Illinois State campus, each inductee was paired with a student host, which provided an opportunity to connect with current students and learn more about today's Redbird experience.

Jim Bennett

Jim Bennett

See Jim's acceptance speech from the induction ceremony.

Jim Bennett was intricately involved in campus life at Illinois State and completed a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1987. Early on, Jim found his niche as an elected member of the Association of Residence Halls, serving as President during his senior year. In addition, he founded a campus chapter of the American Red Cross and served a year on the Academic Senate. Jim’s natural leadership abilities also led him to be an advocate for LGBT students and a member of PRIDE. Learning how to lead and serve on campus committees provided a unique foundation for Jim’s career and, in many ways, helped set his path.

Today, Jim has more than 25 years of professional experience in advocacy, strategic planning, and development experience and has dedicated himself to improving the lives of marginalized populations. Jim worked as the marketing and development director for the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and also spent 10 years at the American Red Cross where he led development, marketing, and programmatic initiatives. While at the Red Cross, Jim provided services for veterans of Operation Desert Storm and solicited record-setting contributions to the organization. During this time, Jim also managed to complete a Master of Business Administration from the University of Illinois-Springfield, receiving his degree in 1994.

Jim is currently a leader in the movement to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBT community. He serves as the Midwest Director for Lambda Legal, focusing on public policy, development, and outreach across a 10-state region. He was a lead strategist in the Illinois and Iowa marriage campaigns creating and implementing broad, layered grassroots programs educating thousands and building sustained support for equal marriage rights. In 2013, Bennett chaired Illinois Unites for Marriage, the statewide coalition that led the successful effort to win the freedom to marry in Illinois.

Jim currently serves on the board of RefugeeOne, which supports refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives. As a longtime member of Broadway United Methodist Church, he has advocated locally and nationally for full inclusion of the LGBT community in the Methodist denomination.

Jim has also found a home in Chicago's vibrant theatre community. Having graduated from the famed Second City Conservatory, Jim has written and performed in 14 sketch comedy revues for GayCo Productions, Second City Theatricals, and Annoyance Productions. He performs occasionally with the improv group Schadenfreude and was The Moth Storytelling GrandSLAM champion in 2013.

Tom Ponce

Tom Ponce

See Tom's acceptance speech from the induction ceremony.

Highly active in the community since he was a child, Tom Ponce exemplifies the servant leader model. He discovered his passion while at Illinois State-working to close the achievement gap for disadvantaged youth-and completed his bachelor’s degree in political science and history education in 2009. As one of the founding staff members of and 6th grade humanities teacher at the South Valley Academy Charter School, Tom utilizes many lessons and experiences gained from his time at Illinois State.

While being committed to academic pursuits as part of the Honors program, Tom had a level of involvement unmatched by his peers. During his freshman year, he stepped up to serve as Student Unity Coordinator before running for two terms as President of the Association of Residence Halls (ARH). In the presidential role from 2005 to 2007, Tom led an initiative that resulted in raising more than $10,000 per year for residence hall sustainability efforts. During his tenure with ARH, he was a regular presenter at national and regional conferences helping to enhance the visibility of ISU. Tom served as a Resident Assistant in 2008-2009, his final year on campus. Also in 2008, Tom's dedication to the Illinois State University community was acknowledged as he was selected as Homecoming King.

Through activities such as the Civil Rights Movement trip, Alternative Spring Break, the Anti-Racism and Black Awareness Conference, and Take Back the Night (to combat domestic violence), Tom showed his care for others and commitment to social justice. Participation in LeaderShape, Camp Lead, the Campus Dining Advisory Council, the Mock Trial Team, and numerous other campus and community organizations allowed Tom to further develop his leadership skills, enhance his learning in the classroom, and prepare him for a lifetime of service.

After graduation, Tom joined Teach for America and taught near the Navajo reservation in Gallup, New Mexico helping to cultivate leaders in the community. One of his significant professional achievements in Gallup was helping to create the district's curriculum-based assessment program. Tom was a Teach for America Excellence in Teaching Award Nominee in 2014 due to his outstanding work.

After finishing his commitment to Teach for America, he moved to Albuquerque to help start a new charter school, South Valley Academy, for the underserved population in the city. Tom teaches his students not only academic skills, but also character traits to help them better succeed in life. His lesson plans serve as a model for the school, and his teaching and mentoring style have helped cultivate a positive school culture. Tom spends numerous hours outside of the school day working individually with students in need and providing professional development for other educators.

Elgie Sims

Elgie Sims

See Elgie's acceptance speech from the induction ceremony.

Elgie Sims displayed exemplary leadership skills from the moment he first arrived on Illinois State’s campus. When he graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Elgie had left his mark on ISU through his charismatic style, strong work ethic, and commitment to the University community.

Elgie’s commitment to Illinois State was evident through his involvement in diverse groups across campus. He served as a Resident Assistant in Watterson Towers and held several leadership positions in the Eta Tau chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, leading the group to receive numerous regional awards. Elgie’s positions with the National Pan Hellenic Council and Black Student Union allowed him to further develop the leadership skills that he would use in his future career in public service.

The highlight of Elgie’s involvement at Illinois State was his election to the position of Student Trustee, working with the Board of Trustees to guide the University during years of significant growth.

After graduation, Elgie went to work in the offices for retired Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Jr. While working for Representative Jones, Elgie completed a Master in Public Administration at the University of Illinois-Springfield. He later completed a Juris Doctor at Loyola University while continuing to commute from Springfield to Chicago, where he managed his family’s business.

Elgie is currently serving his second full term as State Representative of the 34 District of Illinois, which includes portions of the South Side of Chicago, Chicago’s south suburbs, and Will and Kankakee counties. During his tenure, Elgie has championed legislation on improving the quality of schools, job creation, availability of affordable housing, and fiscal discipline in government in Springfield.

Elgie remains active in many civic organizations and community boards that work to improve the quality of life for local residents. As a civic leader, he has specifically worked to provide scholarships and books to children in need and to improve safety in the community. Elgie also remains active at the local and regional levels of his fraternity, on a number of business councils, and as a member of the Illinois State Black Colleagues Association. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.