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BTN Programming Archives




"Carlos Montezuma, Changing is not Vanishing"

As a child, Carlos Montezuma was stolen from his family and sold as a slave. Thirty years later, he returned to save his people. 

Montezuma was born in 1866 in the Arizona territory and named Wassajah or “beckon” in his native Yavapai language. He spent his early childhood on the road with an Italian photographer and performed with Buffalo Bill before starting school in Chicago.

In 1884, Montezuma was the first Native American to graduate from the University of Illinois and one of the first to earn a medical degree.  After working as a reservation doctor, he fought tirelessly for Native American rights and citizenship. When his tribe faced removal from their ancestral home, Montezuma fought for and secured their land and water rights, setting a precedent for other Indian nations.

Carlos Montezuma: Changing is Not Vanishing, a new documentary produced by the University of Illinois, tells the fascinating story of this Yavapai American hero.

"Boxcar to Boardrooms: Mannie Jackson"

This documentary provides the backstory to a name that many know from the basketball court and the boardroom. Growing up in southern Illinois in the 1940s and 50s, Mannie Jackson dreamed of being more than a star athlete; he wanted to be a star in business. He was not willing to accept the limitations placed on him by a society steeped in prejudice. Jackson rose from humble beginnings in a rain-soaked boxcar to become the first African-American captain of the University of Illinois basketball team, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and later Chairman of the Naismith National Basketball Hall of Fame. He left basketball to break through the color barrier of the business world. As a senior executive at Honeywell, he was one of the first African-Americans to serve on multiple Fortune 500 boards of directors. When he purchased the Harlem Globetrotters in 1992, he rescued them from bankruptcy and insured their role in African-American history would not be forgotten.

This is a story of a man who helped change the face of college sports and corporate America. This is a story of a man’s personal struggle against the written and unwritten rules that kept African-Americans from achieving their own potential. It is also the story of a man making peace with the past and giving back to create a better future. Jackson’s philanthropic gifts total over 35 million dollars. His goal is to give $100 million to charity.

Watch it online here.

"Illinois Innovators: Cureton, Gandhi, and Gunn"

Illinois Innovators profiles Grammy winning baritone Nathan Gunn, who was voted “One of the Sexiest Men Alive;” Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi who is continuing his grandfather’s work for peace; and the father of physical fitness, T. K. Cureton. Each fostered the next generation of leaders in politics, science and the arts at the University of Illinois.

Nathan Gunn is a Grammy winning operatic baritone. Between performances at the world’s greatest opera venues, Gunn and his equally gifted wife/accompanist, Julie Gunn, work as tenured professors of music at the University of Illinois. Nathan Gunn is a different sort of opera star, known for putting sex-appeal into the opera world. In 2008, People magazine listed Nathan as “One of the Sexiest Men Alive.” Catching a few moments with Nathan will give viewers a glimpse into a very normal family man who also happens to live in a world few of us will ever experience.

Watch it online here.

Rajmohan Gandhi is the biographer and grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi. He is also a research professor at the University of Illinois Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He continues the work of his grandfather, trying to bring the world together through understanding and cooperation. Since September 11, 2001 he has addressed the issues between the West and the world of Islam. We look at this remarkable man, who is internationally recognized not just for his name, but for his work.

Watch it online here.

Finally, learn of Thomas K. Cureton Jr., who taught at the University of Illinois from 1941 to 1969 and is known as the father of physical fitness. He lectured around the world and wrote more than 50 books encouraging people to lead a healthier life. Professor Cureton served on the U.S. President's Council on Physical Fitness during five administrations. He was also a champion swimmer who once held 14 world records. Thanks to Cureton, the study of physical fitness is now an accepted science.

Watch it online here.

“A Brilliant Idea: Nick Holonyak and the LED”

Nick Holonyak Jr. is called the “Godfather” of the light emitting diode. His scientific career of more than 50 years has changed the world.

People interact with Holonyak’s inventions every day. The technology in visible LED’s, household dimmer switches, lasers that run CD and DVD players and fiber-optic communication networks can all be traced back to his laboratory at the University of Illinois.

Holonyak’s story is the American Dream. The son of an immigrant coal miner in southern Illinois, he was born in 1928. He left back breaking work on the Illinois Central Railroad to become the first in his family to seek higher education.

Holonyak, the John Bardeen Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at Illinois, is still inventing and researching. His most recent invention, the “transistor laser” is the first device that simultaneously outputs electrical current and light.

Alison Davis Wood and Tim Hartin, producers of University of Illinois documentaries for BTN (formerly the Big Ten Network), tell Holonyak’s story, from the coal mines to international acclaim, through the eyes of the innovators to whom Holonyak has been a colleague and mentor.

"Spark of Genius: The Story of John Bardeen"

Imagine a world without computers, cell phones or all modern electronics. This would be a world without John Bardeen. In 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain invented the transistor which amplifies and switches electronic signals. The “solid state” transistor replaced vacuum tubes as the building block of modern radios and other small electronic devices. In this program, Big Ten Network Illinois Campus Programming examines the spark of genius that fired in Bardeen throughout his life and while he worked as a professor in Electrical Engineering and Physics. Bardeen’s first EE grad student Nick Holonyak and his first physics post-doc David Pines share their memories of his groundbreaking work done at Illinois. Other esteemed scientists such as Nobel Prize winner Tony Leggett and US Medal of Science winner Charlie Slichter remember Bardeen as a hard working scientist who was also a loving father and dedicated golfer.

In 1951, Bardeen left a position at Bell Labs to enjoy the freedom of pursuing his own research in Urbana. Here he would become the first person to win two Nobel Prizes in Physics. Bardeen shares his first Nobel with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for the transistor. Bardeen’s second prize is shared with Leon Cooper and J. Robert Schrieffer for their explanation of the theory of superconductivity. They were the first to explain on a microscopic level how a metal has zero electrical resistance at very low temperatures.

"Prairie Solar Home: The Illinois Decathlon Story"

Solar Prairie Home: the Illinois Decathlon story follows a multi-disciplinary team of students from Illinois as they compete in the U. S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon. One of only 20 Universities around the world selected to compete, Illinois took second place overall in the competition to design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar powered house. Teams are judged on ten criteria including lighting design, hot water, home entertainment, engineering and market viability. This documentary follows the team from the earliest days of construction to the final contest on the National Mall in Washington DC.

"Larger Than Life: the Red Grange Story"

Illinois alumnus and sculptor George Lundeen has been creating realistic portrayals of athletes, presidents and animals in his Colorado studio for more than 30 years. Now, Lundeen has been given the honor of creating a 12-foot replica of one of the University's most famous alumni, Harold "Red" Grange. He is charged with creating a sculpture encompassing the persona of an individual whose very name is synonymous with Illinois Football. This program follows Lundeen’s journey, but along the way it also includes a look at the history of Red Grange at Illinois. It goes beyond his football success to reveal Grange as the first sports superstar and the man who transformed the NFL.

"Nothing But the Blues: the Laurie Morvan Band"

Laurie Morvan graduated from Illinois as a stand-out volleyball player, pilot and Electrical Engineering major. After working in the aerospace industry in California, she decided to follow her dream of playing the blues. She formed her own band and set off across the country setting the stage on fire with her own brand of red hot rock and blues. Laurie recently returned to Illinois as a featured artist at Ellnora: The Guitar Festival. This program captures the energy of the Laurie Morvan Band on stage and Laurie shares her memories of Illinois.

"Illinois Filmmakers"

This program showcases a sampling of the best film and video work by Illinois students. It features a range of journalistic and creative endeavors undertaken by students on campus. Interviews with the student-filmmakers are interspersed with clips from a variety of genres including art/experimental, documentary and narrative.

"Final Year"

This half hour program follows a group of senior students with backgrounds ranging from a small farming community to inner city Chicago. Cameras follow them during the last months of their academic year as the play the final home game, sing their last concert and take their last test. Graduating seniors including Fighting Illini basketball players Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham look back at their time at Illinois as well as toward the future. Another featured student, Karlie Elliott, defied the expectations of her small farming community to become a leader in Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and earn her father the title of "King Dad."

"Leadership On and Off the Court"

Illinois places special emphasis on teaching every student leadership skills. This program introduces some of the scholar/athletes who have thrived through leadership training, including basketball players Dee Brown and Chester Frazier. Volleyball setter Hillary Haen talks about her development in the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics Leadership Academy. Also, Illinois discuss why the center is important and why they donate their time mentoring current students in leadership.

"Illinois: Mr. Lincoln's University"

A detailed look at the many ties between the University of Illinois and President Abraham Lincoln.

"It's More than a Well"

Engineers Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization that assists developing countries with engineering projects, sent students and faculty advisors from Illinois to help create a safe and reliable water source for the African village of Adu Auchi, located in the Nigerian state of Enugu. All of the video was shot on location in Nigeria by students who belong to the Illinois Chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

"Illinois Innovators"

Three separate short documentaries showcase the innovation that has been a part of Illinois' history from its earliest days.


Four episodes examining the Overlooked Film Festival and Ebertfest, an annual event showcasing films selected by renowned film critic Roger Ebert, an Illinois alumnus, at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. The video features commentary by Roger's wife, Chaz Ebert, Chancellor Richard Herman, Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, also an Illinois alumnus.

For dates and times when Illinois campus programming is scheduled on the BTN, visit the Big Ten Network schedule page.