Editor’s note: This is the debut column of a series about the people of SIU Carbondale and their successes.

The best parts of my job as chancellor of SIU Carbondale are the opportunities I have every day to appreciate the commitment, energy and talent of our students, faculty and staff. Each week, I will offer you a glimpse into the lives of these dedicated individuals, who excel in everything they do.

Our students know that big things are within reach. Just ask Allison Spiller, whose accomplishments reflect lots of hard work — and little sleep.

A junior majoring in music education, Allison is a native of Herrin and 2010 Herrin High School gradu-ate. She lives at home with mom Carla and 13-year-old brother Carl.

Like so many of our students, Allison relies on financial aid and scholarships to pay for her education, which she calls “a great opportunity.”

“Without SIU, I wouldn’t be able to study music education,” she says.

Allison has known since she was a young child that she wants to teach. As an aspiring teacher, she spends more than six hours each week observing in local schools. She performs in our university’s concert choir, is a student representative on our Fine Arts Activity Fee Committee, is music chair in the Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, and participates in the American Choral Director’s Association.

She also is an undergraduate assistant for the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra, teaches private lessons, and is the alto section leader in the choir at First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. All of this is on top of her 19 credit hours this semester, which she says is “a bit low” compared to the spring semester, when she took 24 credit hours. It’s an amazing balancing act, and she has a 3.8 grade point average.

Allison traces her love of music to fifth grade, when she started playing the clarinet. That also was a time in her life that she endured a lot of teasing.

“Music was something I could be proud of. It gave me confidence in myself,” she recalled. “I was very shy, but, because of music, I was able to catch up socially.”

She preferred playing an instrument to singing until her junior year in high school, when she earned the highest score in the Illinois Music Educators Association district auditions. That’s when she decided to focus on voice.

That choice has led to well-deserved accolades. Allison won the Young Artists Competition during last summer’s Southern Illinois Music Festival. She performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony Or-chestra this past summer as well. We have had Allison perform the National Anthem and our “Alma Mater” at major campus events. She is now rehearsing as the lead Dorabella in Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte,” which is scheduled for Feb. 8 and 10 at Shryock Auditorium.

“There is a complexity to opera that doesn’t exist anywhere else in singing,” Allison says. “When you think of mastering singing, you think of opera.” She studies voice with Diane Coloton, lecturer and member of the voice faculty, and her opera coach is Assistant Professor Paul Transue.

Eventually, she wants to pursue a master’s degree in performance, and her ultimate dream is to audi-tion for a major opera. Until then, Allison knows that she has to be practical about her career, so she will become a teacher.

“I want to give every child the opportunity to learn music,” she says. “It helped me develop so much when I was a child that it is inseparable from my personality now.”

With her enthusiasm and drive, she is a wonderful role model for her fellow SIU students. With her talent and dedication, she will inspire the children lucky enough to have her as a teacher.

RITA CHENG is chancellor of SIU Carbondale. Her column appears weekly in Southern Plus.

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