As many of you already know, last month President Obama unveiled a new education reform plan. With logistics of the president’s plan still in the early stages, no one can predict what the outcomes may be. And though I’m still not certain how this will directly affect Illinois, I’m happy to see the topic of affordable higher education take center stage. Access to education, to a transformative learning experience that changes not only what we do but also who we are, is inextricably tied to our foundation and mission.
It was an initiative by another U.S. President that created the University of Illinois and set it on a path to what it is today. As one of the original 37 land-grant institutions, we take a special pride in tracing our institutional heritage back to that momentous July day when Abraham Lincoln signed Justin Morrill’s bill into law more than 150 years ago.
We like to talk about our land-grant legacy – and how it democratized educational opportunities – making it accessible to the common man. It meant that no matter what a person’s socioeconomic status or wealth, if a student was able he or she would have the same opportunity to a high-quality education.
In nearly every speech and blog I write, I will inevitably use the words “public” and “land-grant” university. And while on the surface it may seem like just these are just throw-away phrases or institutional jargon, please don’t pass over them. These words are at the heart of Illinois. We understand that a college experience isn’t just four years on a campus in the middle of Illinois. These are the years that transform an individual’s pathand can lead to actions and ideas that change how we all live.
I can think of no better example than a student named Nick. In 1946, he stepped on to this campus, the first ever in his family to attend college. His father was a Southern Illinois coal man who was adamant that his son’s life would not be spent in the dangerous world of the mines. His Illinois experience led to discovery of his passion for engineering and invention, three degrees, a lifelong relationship with his mentor (two-time Nobel Prize recipient, John Bardeen) and the invention of the visible light emitting diode (LED). Of course, I’m talking about Nick Holonyak Jr. What if there had been no Illinois – no public land-grant university for him? Or if he couldn’t have afforded to enroll here? We would, quite literally, not be seeing our world in the same way today.
This year we welcome our new class of freshmen - who just like Nick are figuring out their futures. And just last week I met this year’s Illinois Promise scholars, where we welcomed 295 new scholars, our largest class since the program’s 2005 inception. It is always one of my favorite events of the year. Without our commitment to access and the help of generous donors, none of these bright, capable students sitting in that room would have been able to join the Illinois family. It is a room full of potential Nick Holonyaks. And we have opened a door for them to put their mark on the world.
As we learn more about President Obama’s initiative, I’ll keep you updated on how it will influence what we do here. And while I am always excited to see educational access and opportunity being debated at the highest level in our country, at Illinois, these issues have always been and always will be at the heart of our mission.
We promise students a transformative learning environment here and we promise that we will serve our state, the nation, and the globe by being a pre-eminent public research university with a land grant mission and global impact – a leading center of learning, discovery, and innovation. Keeping these promises begins by ensuring that the Illinois experience is always within reach
Around the Campus
Thank you to the six faculty members who were featured presenters at the September 11, Campus Insights program held in conjunction with the last Board of Trustees meeting. These presentations, with just 20 slides of 20 seconds each, have become a great way for our board members and their guests to really experience the impact our faculty have on the world. Presenters this time were: Stephen Boppart (Bioengineering), Masooda Bashir (Library & Information Science), Angela Wiley (Applied Family Studies), Ruby Mendenhall (African American Studies), Paul Hergenrother (Chemistry), and Tami Bond (Civil & Environmental Engineering). You can see all six of the presentations here.
Congratulations! One hundred forty-two freshmen and sophomores have been designated Chancellor’s Scholars, chosen for their academic excellence and leadership potential, in the Campus Honors Program this fall. Read the full story here.
Congratulations to 10 faculty members who have been named Centennial Scholars in honor of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Read the full story here.