One year ago, I began my journey as the dean of the College of ACES. It has been an exciting adventure that has taken me from coast to coast across the country, from border to border in every corner of the state, and around the globe. The ACES family and the Illini Nation welcomed me home with incredible graciousness, support, encouragement, and hope, for which I am eternally grateful. The people I am surrounded by are spectacular and I end this year as I began it: truly humbled to have the opportunity to serve as dean.
Over the last 12 months, I have realized several important things that I was not aware of when I accepted this positon that have motivated me to make my best effort to lead the college forward and have inspired me to have tremendous hope for our future.
First, the statement “it is too expensive to go to University of Illinois” is misleading. Although the upfront costs might be higher than some institutions, being a degree-holder from the University of Illinois pays tremendous dividends. Our first-year retention rate* (94.7%) and four-year graduation rate (76.4%) are among the highest in the nation. Students who come to ACES tend to stay in the college and graduate in four years. Students at other universities may require one to four additional semesters to complete their degrees, which increases tuition costs and delays entry into the work force. ACES graduates earn 27% more over the course of their careers compared to people with similar degrees from other universities. We also distribute nearly $4 million annually in scholarships to ACES students that greatly reduces debt load. The value-added advantage of having an ACES degree is worth the upfront investment, which is a message I broadcast everywhere I go.
Second, the faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of this college are second to none. The term “Illini Pride” has come to life for me as I have met literally hundreds of people who live into the values of the ACES community through their actions. We are a resilient, loyal, dedicated, and diverse group of individuals who stand shoulder to shoulder in our commitment to take on the world’s greatest challenges to improve the quality of people’s lives. Our graduates are among the premiere change agents in their disciplines. Cutting-edge research discoveries are made in every ACES department that are changing the trajectory of success in agricultural, consumer, and environmental sciences around the world. The work our Extension and 4-H personnel do in partnership with local government and public agencies is transforming lives in communities across the state. The challenge we face is that not enough people are aware of what we do, why it matters, and how these efforts impact them. We are on a mission to create awareness around the great work we do in the College of ACES to improve our visibility and impact. We have a fabulous story to tell and I am deeply honored to have an opportunity to serve as the voice of ACES.
Finally, there is no place like home. After a 31-year hiatus from the region, I am thankful to be back in the place I call home. I never imagined being in a situation where I would serve as the leader of the college that I graduated from or live 40 miles from the place I grew up. I am flooded with emotion time and time again, as I sink into the unbelievable opportunity being the dean of ACES has been to me both professionally and personally. This is the only university on this planet that offers me an opportunity to do the work that I love near the place that my family lives. Among the greatest gifts this experience has provided to me, is an opportunity to spend time with my family on a regular basis. Instead of talking about life with each other with 2,000 miles between us, we now live life together in real time. I will forever cherish this priceless gift.
I am grateful to the ACES community and Illini Nation for making my first year as dean nothing short of spectacular. I consider having the opportunity to serve as the dean of ACES to be my moment to give back to the place that has given so much to me. I look forward to working with all of you to continue on our collective journey towards extraordinary.
With hope and optimism,