SJR Column: Fortunate in the Opportunities, June 2020
Shortly after becoming Chancellor of the University of Illinois Springfield in 2011, I had lunch at a favorite Chinese restaurant near the UIS campus. When the traditional fortune cookie arrived, the slip of paper inside offered the following prophecy: “You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you.”
That slip of paper has been taped to the screen of my computer ever since – reminding me daily to pursue every opportunity (and embrace every responsibility) that would best serve the interests of UIS and the public good of our community and our state.
As I compose this 90th UIS Perspectives column, the last before my retirement at the end of June, I find myself reflecting on the many ways that prophecy has been realized during the past nine years. Thanks in part to the many students, faculty, staff, community leaders, donors and alums who have contributed in so many ways, we can be proud of the opportunities we have made real … together.
The addition of new academic programs such as Education, Data Analytics, Exercise Science, Biochemistry, Theatre, and a BSN in Nursing (in partnership with Memorial Health System and the University of Illinois Chicago) have made our young university more attractive for prospective students and produced more graduates who are contributing to their communities in meaningful ways.
The University of Illinois System’s Distinguished Faculty Hiring Program has brought new and outstanding teacher/scholars, while more UIS faculty than ever have earned Full Professor rank – confirming their excellence and enabling them to contribute more fully to their academic disciplines and the reputation of the university. At the same time, many young professionals have chosen to advance their careers at UIS – faculty and staff who are “rising stars” both on campus and in the community.
The university’s “Leadership lived” promise, launched in 2012, has been widely adopted and has encouraged new levels of engagement in public affairs as well as community volunteering, activism and campus life. I am especially proud of the Graduate Public Service Internship program that has expanded both here in the state capital and in Chicago – providing hands-on opportunities that prepare students for successful careers as public servants and leaders.
The opening of the Student Union on January 14, 2018, was a decisive moment for the university. This award-winning $21 million building has become the heart of campus life and a valuable resource for the entire community. A sustainable building with a green roof, the Student Union project was successful thanks to determined student body leadership and the generous support of donors who understood what it would mean for the university and for the student experience.
Infrastructure, including campus beautification is so important. It is vital for student recruitment and retention but also because it creates campus pride and a positive environment for staff, faculty and visitors. I’m especially grateful for private support from the University of Illinois Chester Endowment that enabled us to commission “The Young Lawyer,” a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln that has become a campus landmark. The fund also helped create a beautiful and much-beloved Shakespeare Garden as well as supported the purchase of two prominent works of art for the Student Union.
The acquisition of Innovate Springfield, the downtown business and social innovation center, founded by the Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln, and the UIS Field Station on Lake Springfield, formerly the FOP lake club, are new assets that are creating valuable partnerships and providing new opportunities for students. (Maybe a crew team is next!)
Just a few months ago the opening of the Sangamon Experience (funded by an extraordinary $3.8 million private gift) launched an exciting endeavor focused on the history of the Sangamon Valley – a perfect fit for UIS. Opening of the new Center for Lincoln Studies will follow in the coming year.
The increasing success of the university’s young Division II Athletics program is another opportunity being realized. Thanks to exceptional Athletics staff, talented student-athletes and timely donor support, Prairie Stars Baseball, Golf, Softball and Volleyball teams have earned first-time appearances in NCAA Regional and National Championships. The addition of the Cross Country/Track and Field program in 2014 instantly added talented students to our community with both men and women already achieving success in Great Lakes Valley Conference and NCAA competitions. Most important, UIS student athletes are campus leaders who excel in the classroom. In Spring, 2020 they achieved an overall grade point average of 3.52 – the highest in program history!
I have most certainly been “fortunate in the opportunities presented” and I am so very grateful for the many contributions, collaborations and friendships that have helped advance the university and so enriched my (and my husband’s) Illinois experience these past nine years. Though there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, knowing the many who remain committed to the mission and vision of UIS, I am confident the university will face those challenges head on and continue to progress.
Before I assume my new title as Chancellor Emeritus at the end of this month, I’ll tuck that slip of paper into my pocket – inspiration, perhaps, for new opportunities to come. But I’ll always appreciate my time as Chancellor of UIS.
I hope we’ll stay in touch!
Susan J. Koch is Chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield.