End-of-year Message, May 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dear Colleagues:

Commencement is again upon us – the 21st in UIS’ history as a part of the prestigious U of I system. As this Spring, 2016, semester comes to a close, the end-of-year message continues an ongoing series of regular communications from the Chancellor to the UIS community on issues of importance to the University and to our overall mission and goals.

We have much to celebrate and plan for in the weeks and months ahead. Throughout this year, with an unprecedented state budget crisis looming over our campus, I was so moved to witness students, faculty and staff banding together repeatedly to urge Illinois lawmakers and Governor Rauner to pass a budget that provides adequate support for higher education generally and MAP grants in particular.

With an incomplete state budget, that work will continue in the coming weeks. While a stopgap measure was passed in late April to restore partial state funding to Illinois’ public universities, there is much more to do and I can assure you that our government relations team and our many supporters will continue working feverishly to secure appropriate resources for the U of I system in 2016, 2017 and beyond.

As I reflect upon the 2015-2016 academic calendar, I am appreciative of the frequent, open communication I’ve enjoyed with campus leaders this past year. My sincere thanks to outgoing Campus Senate Chair Kathy Novak, APAC Chair James Burgdorf and CSAC Chair Bobbi Fults. These individuals took on major responsibilities in an effort to make life better for everyone at UIS, and they deserve our collective gratitude for it.

UIS student leaders also deserve special mention – my thanks to Josh Lawson for serving as SGA President and to Dominique Wilson for representing UIS as Student Trustee on the UI Board of Trustees.

It has been a pleasure to share in celebrating the contributions and successes of several exceptional UIS staff members this year, including:

  • Mark Dochterman, Director of the Center for Volunteer and Civic Engagement, who was recognized with the CAPE Award for outstanding performance by an Academic Professional;
  • Patty Sullivan, Graphic Designer in Campus Services, who received the CARE Award for excellence in Civil Service; and
  • Eric Needham, Mailing Equipment Operator in Campus Services, who is this year’s UIS Employee of the Year.

Faculty honors awarded this year included:

  • Dr. Elizabeth Kosmetatou (History) – University Scholar,
  • Dr. Adriana Crocker (Political Science) – Pearson Award for Outstanding Teaching,
  • Dr. Harsh Bapat (Chemistry) – Spencer Award for Exemplary Service,
  • Dr. Rassule Hadidi (MIS) – Award for Faculty Excellence.

My congratulations and sincere thanks to each of our award winners for all that you contribute to our campus and to the larger community. You exemplify “Leadership lived” and inspire our campus community every day.

As you know, our forward momentum continues to be centered on three strategic priorities: growth in visibility, reputation and enrollment; talent acquisition and retention of both faculty and staff; and provision of the facilities that will best provide our students with a comprehensive university experience. Despite the budget challenges, we’ve remained focused on several strategies to advance these priorities and, thanks to the efforts of many, they are working.

You already know that our Spring enrollment was up over last year. I’m glad to report that Summer and Fall 2016 enrollments are also on the rise. I continue to appreciate the work of our outstanding Admissions team who, in partnership with academic, marketing and public relations professionals on our campus, have done a terrific job this year of communicating the UIS story to potential students and their parents.

Of course you know that our physical facilities are also growing! I hope you were able to attend the long-awaited groundbreaking for the new UIS Student Union last week. It was a historic moment for our community and a wonderful celebration – a beautiful day and a fitting kickoff for our long-awaited “campus living room”. I am deeply grateful to the many student leaders who for the past several years have pushed so hard for this much-needed facility, to UI-system President Tim Killeen and retired President Bob Easter who have been so supportive of the project, and most importantly to the donors who believe in our future and who have already contributed over $5 million in gifts to support the project. (If you missed the groundbreaking, you can watch a brief news clip and if you’d like to monitor construction progress over the next several months, you can observe via webcam during daylight hours.

Earlier this week, UIS senior Faith Hook helped us to unveil the newest campus landmark, an exceptional sculpture of our hometown hero, Abraham Lincoln titled, “The Young Lawyer” by renowned artist George Lundeen. The sculpture is a gift to the students of UIS from the John N. Chester Endowment of the UI for the acquisition of works of art to grace the campuses of the University of Illinois. It has been delightful to see students, faculty and staff stopping by to visit Abe at his new home – a lovely plaza created by our talented facilities team between UHB and the Public Affairs Building. I can already see new traditions emerging – shaking hands with Mr. Lincoln or adding a small flower to his lapel. (View a clip of the unveiling ceremony.)

UIS graduate students who intern in state government will also benefit from a new, student-oriented downtown apartment complex which is making rapid construction progress on the corner of Fourth and Madison and will be available for lease next fall. Though not a UIS project, this new living option will help revitalize downtown Springfield at the same time it provides an appealing housing option for our students.

Innovate Springfield, a business incubator that offers workspace for budding entrepreneurs and social innovators in our community, also opened this year and will become a powerful laboratory for UIS faculty, staff and students in the heart of downtown Springfield.

Though a necessarily incomplete list, here are several examples of the great work of your colleagues – faculty, staff and students – this past year:

  • The UIS Illinois Innocence Project achieved two exonerations involving 15 UIS students who worked tirelessly on behalf of their innocent clients. The project also secured a $753,958 federal grant with the support of U.S. Senator Richard Durbin.
  • Hundreds of UIS students partnered with Springfield’s Hy-Vee to collect and donate more than 18,000 pounds of food to the Central Illinois Foodbank.
  • The offices of Development and Alumni Relations were merged into a single, more collaborative Office of Advancement, with leadership provided by Dr. Jeff Lorber, Vice Chancellor for Advancement.
  • UIS strengthened its reputation as a leader in online learning, earning several new accolades, including the national award for “Strategic Innovation in Online Innovation” from the UPCEA (University Professional & Continuing Education Association).
  • James Welt, who earned a Master’s Degree in History from UIS, persuaded the National Park Service to add a University property (the 1840s-era Strawbridge-Shepherd House) to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Dr. Betsy Goulet, Clinical Assistant Professor of Public Administration, launched the Residential Simulation Laboratory in partnership with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and UIS’ Center for State Policy and Leadership. The laboratory offers training for students, investigators, law enforcement, and other first responders to identify and respond to child maltreatment.
  • Participation in the faculty/staff fund-raising campaign topped more than 40% for the fourth year in a row, a remarkable level of generosity for a public university campus.
  • The staff of WUIS and Illinois Issues Magazine demonstrated their versatility and resilience in the face of state budget cuts and a changing media landscape by merging, going all-digital and maintaining their tradition of journalistic excellence in Central Illinois under a new name – Illinois Public Radio.
  • The “One Book, One UIS” initiative brought civil rights icon U.S. Congressman John Lewis (along with the co-authors of his 3-part graphic novel “MARCH”) to the Sangamon Auditorium for an unforgettable speech and book signing.
  • Sangamon Auditorium director Bob Vaughn and his team brought an array of incredible music, theater, dance and other entertainment to the Auditorium and our Studio Theatre, hosting more than 72,000 people for nearly 100 events.
  • Division II UIS Prairie Stars Athletics successfully completed inaugural seasons for the Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country and Distance Track programs while, at the same time, 150 student athletes made the Athletics Academic Honor Roll and seven earned a perfect 4.0 GPA.
  • UIS golfer Talon Supak won the NCAA Midwest/Central Regional Golf Championship and become the first UIS athlete in Division II history to advance to the NCAA National Championships. Coached by UIS Men’s and Women’s golf coach Frank Marsaglia, Talon will compete for the national title in Denver, Colorado next week.

This Saturday, May 14, it will be my privilege to shake the hands of 1,106 new graduates of the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois. As part of the celebration, UIS alum Donna Sollenberger will offer the commencement speech. Donna earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees from our campus in English and Literature and is CEO of the University of Texas Medical Branch Health System. She was a member of the very first graduating class of Sangamon State University. I’ll be proud to welcome Donna back to Springfield to serve as yet another living example of our incredible alumni achievements.

As we close another academic year, thank you so much for all that you’ve done to make this past year such a great year at UIS. As I wrap up my fifth year serving as your Chancellor, I continue to be inspired by and thankful for the incredible work performed across campus by UIS faculty, staff and students. The positive momentum we have created together continues to propel us closer to our highest aspirations. I am so grateful to you all.

Have a great summer, everyone!

With all best wishes,

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor

Chancellor Susan J. Koch