Paul Simon Institute interim director Jak Tichenor makes case for permanent director spot


Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE

Paul Simon Institute interim director Jak Tichenor makes his case in the Paul Simon institute director search Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in the Illinois room of the Student Center. (Auston Mahan | @AustonMahanDE)

By Isabelle Rogers

Jak Tichenor, interim director for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and one of six finalists to become new director, wants to build upon the work he has already done at the bipartisan think tank.

Tichenor presented his plans for the institute Tuesday in the Student Center and if chosen, he will officially take the place of David Yepsen, who retired in October 2016.

His presentation focused on outlined three goals: continuing the events the institute has been running, funding new international programs and overcoming some of the institute’s challenges.


Tichenor said some of the highlights during his time as interim director included a visit from the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Latino Legislative Civic Education Day in the Springfield and having Former Gov. Jim Edgar as the speaker for the institute’s 20th anniversary.

That momentum wouldn’t have been possible without the small, hardworking staff at the institute, Tichenor said.

“It’s a very small staff. When you look at the amount of activity the the Simon Institute engages in, its huge,” Tichenor said. “It is way more impactful than a lot of organizations that have twice the people.”

The first challenge Tichenor said he hopes to overcome is a lack of awareness about the institute.

“We need to take advantage of every opportunity we can to increase our visibility across the state,” Tichenor said.

Tichenor said he started trying to increase awareness by involving the institute with the Illinois Public Television Program.

The Illinois Lawmakers show began to be branded as having program support provided by the institute, which got its name to almost 13 million people on eight public broadcasting stations across the state, Tichenor said.


Before Tichenor became interim director last November, he was the media services consultant for Illinois Public Broadcasting Council, the Lincoln Academy of Illinois and the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

Tichenor also worked as the executive producer and host of the Illinois Lawmakers public television series.

As director, Tichenor said he would want to continue building the institute’s media presence.

He said he plans to relaunch a WSIU show called Talking Politics. The newly relaunched version of this show would be called “on Topic,” Tichenor said, and he plans to offer other public stations in the show for their broadcasts.

To help students become more appealing to possible employers, Tichenor said he wants to create study abroad scholarships and programs.

“Illinois companies need young people with international experience to help them compete in the global economy,” Tichenor said.“We can capitalize on our connections to start our own study abroad programs and scholarships. We literally can’t afford not to.”

Overall, Tichenor said he wants the institute to continue supporting positive student experiences at SIU.

“This institute has been a source of pride for 20 years, thanks to the foundation laid by Paul Simon,” Tichenor said. “The institute, annually, draws thousands of visitors to the Carbondale SIU campus. … Dozens of young men and women have launched their successful careers in government and public service through our many internships, scholarships and programs. There is no question that the institute is life changing and ultimately, world changing.”

Staff writer Isabelle Rogers can be reached at or on Twitter @isabellearogers. 

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