iSchool degree prepares Nettles for meaningful career

Saundra Nettles

Saundra Nettles (MS '68) credits the iSchool with teaching her skills, such as systems thinking and interdisciplinary teamwork, that she has been able to transfer across work settings in diverse organizations. Nettles, who also holds a PhD in psychology from Howard University, has served as a special recruit at the Library of Congress, librarian at the Moorland-Spingarn Center at Howard University, principal research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools, and faculty member at the University of Maryland, Georgia Southern University, and University of Illinois.

She decided to earn her MS/LIS degree because of her mentor, Annie McPheeters, a librarian and provider of resources for the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, who was influential in Nettles' learning and desire for social justice.

"I thought that the master's degree would prepare me to become a branch director, as was McPheeters, and creator of the kinds of programs that McPheeters presented. Also, GSLIS [the iSchool] was interdisciplinary, a strong point for me as I had varied interests from African American history to architecture," she said.

Nettles was recently honored for her own mentorship, receiving the 2020 Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award for "inspiring a former student to create an organization which has demonstrably conferred a benefit on the community at large." She was nominated for this honor, which includes a one-time cash award of $25,000, by her former student Christen Clougherty.

"Christen approached me to serve as her stateside mentor in her doctoral studies at the University of Birmingham, U.K.," said Nettles. "Our conversations, often difficult ones, centered on her dissertation and her readings of my research on social change through place-based education. Other topics included social justice and racial/ethnic/gender disparities in education. After she received her degree, we continued our work together as she sought ways to advance her work as a social justice educator. She attributes this sharing as the inspiration for two educational organizations she founded."

Clougherty's organizations include the Nobis Project, of which Nettles served as the first president of the board, and the Susie King Taylor Community School, a K-8 public charter school in Savannah, Georgia.

Nettles' retirement from the University of Illinois, where she was a teaching professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, has allowed her more time for her book projects. One is with a photographer and a curator to create a book and exhibit on the photographs of Ellie Lee Weems, her great uncle. Weems' collection of 461 photographs is currently at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History of the Fulton County Library System.  Another book is forthcoming; it is about her career and writings on positive social change. Her book, Crazy Visitation: A Chronicle of Illness and Recovery (University of Georgia Press, 2001), also held a personal connection for Nettles.

"In 1994, I was diagnosed with an orange-sized meningioma on my left frontal lobe. It had been growing for most of my life. I wrote the book, Crazy Visitation, with a foreword by my neurosurgeon because I found no other books on living with and without a brain tumor," she said.

In addition to her book projects, Nettles is a member of the board of SwaTaleem, an organization founded by former student Ananya Tiwari, PhD candidate in educational psychology and recipient of the 2020 Illinois Innovation Prize. SwaTaleem focuses on addressing educational challenges in order to provide quality education to underrepresented adolescent girls in India. 

Nettles' advice to current students is to keep a journal and always save drafts of their work, because "learning is a layered experience that occurs everywhere."

"The MS/LIS credential afforded me opportunities to work in prestigious libraries and to consult with organizations that specialize in community-based learning environments for children, youth, and women. I have used these experiences to develop and test theories about positive social change," she said.

Updated on
Backto the news archive

Related News

Spectrum Scholar Spotlight: Kyra Lee

A record seventeen iSchool master's students were named 2020-2021 Spectrum Scholars by the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. This "Spectrum Scholar Spotlight" series highlights the School's scholars. MS/LIS student Kyra Lee earned her BA in creative writing with a minor in business administration from Southern Illinois University.

Kyra Lee

Naiman receives Fiddler Faculty Fellowship

Teaching Assistant Professor Jill Naiman has received a Fiddler Innovation Faculty Fellowship from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). The fellowship is part of a $2 million endowment from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden to the University of Illinois in support of the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media (eDream) Institute at NCSA.

Jill Naiman

MS/LIS student brings diversity into classroom library

Students in the second-grade classroom at Villa Grove CUSD #302 are enjoying 80 new culturally diverse books, thanks to the fundraising efforts of their teacher. For Kelly Vail, an iSchool MS/LIS online student, the best part of her teaching job is reading with her students, encouraging the discovery of "books that help them fall in love with reading."

Kelly Vail in her classroom library

Negovschi awarded grant for film preservation

MS/LIS student Ari Negovschi has been selected to receive the 2021 Nancy Mysel Legacy Grant from the Film Noir Foundation. The purpose of the $5,000 grant is "to enhance or benefit a student's film restoration/preservation or moving image archive studies." Negovschi earned her BFA from California Institute of the Arts' Film and Video Program and worked in various fields, including the film industry, before deciding to pursue a degree in library and information science (LIS).

Ari Negovschi

Chan to assist with global strategies as Provost Fellow

Anita Say Chan, associate professor in the iSchool and the Department of Media and Cinema Studies, will share her expertise with campus as the Provost Fellow for International Affairs and Global Strategies for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Provost Fellows Program provides selected Illinois faculty with academic leadership experience in key campus administrative roles. Fellows participate in mentoring and learning opportunities, collaborate with colleagues in the Provost’s and Chancellor's Offices and across campus, and assume leadership roles on critical campus strategic initiatives and projects.

Anita Say Chan