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Chancellor University of Illinois Springfield

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SJR Column: UIS Perspectives, August 2014

My calendar signals that students will soon be arriving for the start of the Fall, 2014 semester at the University of Illinois’ Springfield campus. At the same time we’re greeting students, we’ll also be welcoming 24 new faculty; newcomers from across the country and around the world who will join a community of creative and dedicated professors at UIS and who will also become residents of the Springfield area. These new arrivals are part of what author Thomas Friedman calls the “human intellectual capital” that is such an essential element of a thriving 21st century community … and that is the bedrock of a high-quality university.

Beverly Bunch will be a great example for those new faculty. Dr. Bunch grew up in Macomb, Illinois and earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), an M.P.A. from the prestigious Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon. An expert on budgeting and financial management, Beverly was wooed to UIS in 2001 from UT Austin – another state capitol university. She was attracted to UIS by the opportunity to prepare future leaders for work in government and the non-profit sectors as well as by an appointment in the Center for State Policy and Leadership where she does collaborative research on public affairs issues. Reflecting on her teaching, she says: “There are so many things I can teach my students that they can use. Many are already employed and they are eager to learn things they can apply in their work.”

It seems that both the campus and the community benefit from the “intellectual capital” that Dr. Bunch provides. She chairs the UIS Campus Planning and Budgeting Committee, an important group that provides input for decision-making at the University and she also chairs a panel of volunteers who make funding recommendations for the United Way of Central Illinois.   Beverly and her family are big fans of Springfield’s Washington Park, where she walks her dog every day. She can also be found Saturday mornings at the Lincoln Home historic site –volunteering as a tour guide.

And speaking of Lincoln, we may be able to thank Springfield’s most famous citizen for helping to attract another faculty member to UIS. Holly Kent is a historian who specializes in the early U.S. republic and antebellum eras. A native of New Jersey with a Ph.D. from Lehigh University, Dr. Kent joined the History Department in 2011 in part because of Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “As an undergraduate,” says Dr. Kent, “I attended a small liberal arts college and I’ve appreciated being part of a similar faculty here that invests in young scholars. We’re encouraged to innovate and I enjoy introducing students to things that make them feel productively uncomfortable.”

In a just a few years, Dr. Kent has sunk roots in Springfield, which she cheerfully calls her “first Mid-Western experience”. She collaborates often with the ALPLM, including for a presentation on Hollywood’s interpretation of 19th century women’s fashions (now on You Tube). Holly lives within walking distance of Springfield’s downtown where “there is always something new and interesting going on.” She is a regular at the popular downtown farmer’s market and the new Wm. Van’s Coffee House that opened this past year in a historic Italianate mansion across the street from the Lincoln Visitors Center.

Dorine Brand can truthfully claim that she has been a member of all three University of Illinois communities. A native of Chicago, Dr. Brand earned her undergraduate degree at UIUC, a Masters of Public Health at UIC (in Chicago) and then returned to Urbana-Champaign to earn her Ph.D. before joining the UIS Public Health faculty in 2012. Dr. Brand’s research examines the role of faith-based organizations in reducing health disparities and she has found the Springfield African American community to be a welcoming grassroots partner for her work.

“Public Health is a hands-on discipline,” says Dr. Brand, “and my students need to be involved in the community in order to see outside their own experience.” Her classes often involve an element of community service where students assist with health screenings, fitness programs, nutrition lessons and other culturally-appropriate programming that fosters healthy lifestyles. In fact, Dr. Brand will be doing just that later this month when her outreach program is part of the Family Fun Fest at Springfield’s Emmanuel Temple COGIC.

One of the best things about being a university chancellor is the opportunity to enable and witness firsthand the positive impact of faculty – the intellectual capital of the university – on students, on campus culture and on the broader community. With 24 new faculty soon to join us at UIS, I’m looking forward to the further expansion of that intellectual capital in the coming academic year.