Every day, I have the opportunity to work with amazing people throughout our university. They come to campus not because it is a job, but because it is a calling. Many of them are rarely in the public eye; they are not leading classes or serving as emcee at one of the many events on campus. But, their efforts behind the scenes are no less essential to the success of our students, the university and our region.

Matt Baughman is one of those dedicated professionals. Quiet, thoughtful and affable, he joined the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in 1998 and manages its day-to-day affairs, including the budget, personnel and oversight of event planning, in addition to fundraising responsibilities. Born in Southern Illinois and raised in Springfield, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois College and his MBA from SIU Carbondale. Matt, wife Angie, and sons Alex, 8, and Josh, 3, live in Carbondale.

His focus, and that of the institute, is on our students. He is proud of three internship programs he has helped launch, because of the impact such opportunities have on students’ careers. Matt is particularly fond of the Alexander Lane Internship, which honors the first black male student to graduate from our university in the late 1800s. He went on to become a school principal, physician and an Illinois state legislator.

“We honored a trailblazer by putting together a historical research project with the help of faculty and students,” Matt said. “We preserved a part of the university and our state history that wasn’t previously available.”

Matt, Director David Yepsen and the rest of the institute staff take their roles as mentors seriously. They stay in contact with many who were involved with the institute as students and have moved on in their careers.

“It is rewarding to know that they have remained committed to working in public policy or govern-ment or politics, or just the fact they are grounded in an understanding of how government affects them and that they need to be involved in their communities,” Matt said.

We all benefit from the incredible array of speakers and programs sponsored by the institute.

“When you bring in noted speakers, such as a Walter Cronkite or Coretta Scott King or Barbara Bush, the energy that you feel is just tremendous,” Matt said. “It creates a sense of pride on campus and in the region because we draw people from all over to these events. These programs give students and residents the unique opportunity to see people who have created history, who participated in history, or who are part of government today.”

Nor does the institute shy away from tackling tough issues, such as the state’s budget crisis, ethics and legislative redistricting. That’s what the founder, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, had in mind when he famously referred to the institute as a “do tank” and not merely a “think tank.”

“Paul wanted to bring the world to SIU while creating opportunities for students and making a difference in public policy matters, and, in so many ways, we have,” Matt said, “and we continue to do so.”

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

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