UNIVERSITY PARK | Students at Governors State University have a new identity after the school unveiled its first mascot, the Jaguar, on Tuesday.
Orange and white balloons fell, music blared and banners revealed the conclusion of Operation Mascot to chants of "GSU."
"This is a great day. This is a symbol of Governors State University as a full service public university," President Elaine Maimon said. "It's renaissance 2014."
A committee of students, faculty and administrators was charged with running the search. Suggestions were taken from students, staff, faculty and residents of the surrounding communities this spring and four finalists were chosen from more than 400 offerings, 200 of which were unique.
GSU alumnus Joseph Iniguez received $175 for his second-place submission of the "Gladiators." Calvin Rowe received $100 for the "Prairie Wolves" and Steven Alvarado received $50 for the "Bengals." They are GSU students.
Those finalists were voted on by the GSU community, and Jaguars came out on top. More than 30,000 votes were cast and doctoral student Paula Franklin was awarded the top prize of $350.
"When they were asking for a mascot that fits the school, I just considered an animal that's sharp and precise and jaguar just popped into my head," she said. "I got my master's from here and I've seen it grow over the years, and it's only gotten better."
The new mascot is one of several milestones marking the university's recent growth.
Governors State will enroll its first freshman class in the fall. The school was founded in 1869 but had previously only offered junior-level or higher courses. Prairie Place residence hall, scheduled to open in July, will be the first on-campus housing offered.
The Jaguars hope to begin seven sports soon, interim Athletic Director and basketball coach Tony Bates said. GSU expects to have its applications to the NAIA and Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference reviewed in the spring.
"(Naming a mascot) makes the whole student body understand that we stand behind something," Bates said. "We're Jaguar Nation now. We're looking forward to letting the kids have a full college experience."