Two Oakton women employees earn national "40 under 40" award

  • Kelly Iwanaga Becker

    Kelly Iwanaga Becker

 
 
Updated 10/17/2020 4:53 PM

As children of immigrants, Kelly Iwanaga Becker and Sameksha "Simi" Khurana overcame many personal challenges to become the first in their families to graduate college in America.

The duo recently was honored with the American Association for Women in Community Colleges' 40 Under 40 Award for their leadership at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines. They are the only Illinois winners this year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The daughter of Japanese and Latin American immigrants, Iwanaga Becker, 39, of Glenview, is assistant vice president for institutional effectiveness and strategic planning at Oakton. She helps the college identify equity gaps due to race, ethnicity, gender, income level, veteran or other minority status.

"It's certainly humbling to be chosen from among people that you know are all doing great and excellent work and are committed to it," Iwanaga Becker said.

Simi Khurana
Simi Khurana

Khurana, 35, of Mount Prospect, is Student Life and campus inclusion coordinator and adviser for Oakton's chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. Under her leadership, the chapter received the Five Star Outstanding Chapter designation. For 10 years, Khurana has co-led Oakton's student-playwright competition for colleges throughout the Midwest.

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"I'm still in a little bit of shock," said Khurana, a first-generation Indian American and Oakton graduate, of receiving the award. "It's nice to see that you're having that impact."

Racial injustice talk

Motivational speaker and former NFL linebacker Robert Jackson will address Elgin Area School District U-46 parents and community members Tuesday on how to talk about racism with their children.
Motivational speaker and former NFL linebacker Robert Jackson will address Elgin Area School District U-46 parents and community members Tuesday on how to talk about racism with their children. - Courtesy of U-46

Former NFL linebacker and motivational speaker Robert Jackson will guide Elgin Area School District U-46 parents on how to talk to children about racism Tuesday.

The U-46 African American Advisory Council is hosting the two-part discussion about "Discussing Racism and Racial Injustices in Your Home."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jackson, a former educator and award-winning author, will lead both sessions from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and on Nov. 17.

"Parenting can be tough as it is. Many kids are confused about where to place their emotions regarding the recent developments unfolding around racial injustice in our country," said Jackson, who is a parent and a grandparent. "Some parents and family members do not know where to begin with discussing racism with their children."

Jackson has spoken at past U-46 Black History Month events.

"As part of the district's ongoing equity work, it's important for U-46 to have these discussions and opportunities year-round," said Teresa Lance, U-46 assistant superintendent of equity and innovation.

The program is open to community members via a Zoom webinar.

Science and religion

Trinity High School in River Forest is among 20 schools nationwide selected to participate in the University of Notre Dame's annual Science and Religion Seminar, July 11-16, to learn teaching methods enhancing dialogue between science and religion in Catholic education.

A team from the all-girls Catholic high school will receive specialized 60-hour training from Notre Dame's McGrath Institute for Church Life. It's the only Illinois school chosen from more than 90 applicants nationwide.

"We want our team to feel empowered in challenging the long-held notion that science and Catholic education exist on separate plains that could never touch," Trinity President Laura Curley said. "Now more than ever, the need to further identify and communicate the ways in which scientific and Catholic principles interact with and complement one another is paramount. How do we respond to new challenges raised by modern science and technology as we hone our ethical decision making?"

Tutoring immigrants

LaGrange Park-based Tutoring English to Advance Change is partnering with Immigrant Solidarity DuPage to help immigrant-owned businesses and families apply for COVID-19 relief funding.

The group has helped more than 350 immigrants and their families and more than 30 immigrant-owned businesses through free English literacy education and mentoring during the pandemic.

According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 91% of Latino-owned businesses, 91% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander-owned businesses, and 75% of Asian-owned businesses have little chance of receiving federal financial assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program because they are either unaware of the program or don't know how to apply.

TEACH offers virtual workshops and access to resources through its website, teachempowers.org, which includes information on services, such as food pantries, mental health, domestic violence, virtual fitness and medical supports.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on our entire country, but for immigrants and those who do not speak English, staying up to date on pandemic protocol, accessing health care, potentially managing losing a job, and more, have added challenges due to cultural and language barriers," TEACH Executive Director Constantine Bitsas said.

The group serves limited English-speaking immigrants in western Cook, DuPage and Will counties, offering free one-on-one tutoring to increase language proficiency. Tutors also teach U.S. culture, customs and practices.

Black America docuseries

A five-part docuseries, "Our America: Living While Black," premieres Monday on WLS-TV Channel 7 Chicago, featuring stories of multigenerational Black families from across the country.
A five-part docuseries, "Our America: Living While Black," premieres Monday on WLS-TV Channel 7 Chicago, featuring stories of multigenerational Black families from across the country. - Courtesy of ABC-Owned Television Stations

A five-part docuseries, "Our America: Living While Black," premieres Monday on WLS-TV Channel 7 Chicago, featuring stories of multigenerational Black families from across the country.

The series highlights the personal journeys of Blacks navigating generations of systemic racism, policing, health care, education, wealth and housing disparities, while seeking to build stronger communities and a better life. One of the featured stories is of the Mohammad family of Chicago.

Each roughly 20-minute episode focuses on maternal morbidity, education disparities, income disparity and generational wealth, honoring family legacies, and policing of Black communities and systemic racism. They will air as part of the 4 p.m. ABC Channel 7 newscast.

It culminates with an hourlong documentary special airing 11 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25. Viewers can stream the docuseries and hourlong special through ABC-owned television stations' apps on streaming platforms.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic at mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com.

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