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From pre-med to higher ed: Pat Vickerman shares his journey to Redbird country

image of Vice President of University Advancement Pat Vickerman

Vice President of University Advancement Pat Vickerman.

When he was just 5 years old, Illinois State Vice President of University Advancement Pat Vickerman was diagnosed with a rare degenerative hip disease. Over the next several years, he was placed in a body cast, had leg braces, and endured numerous treatments.

Today, Vickerman is an active, healthy outdoorsman and father who keeps up with his three children. He credits the care he received as a young patient for the quality of life he enjoys today. He is grateful to the nurses and physicians of his childhood for more than his physical well-being.

“They made me want to become a physician, but more than that, they inspired me to want to help other people,” he said.

In his third year as a pre-med student, Vickerman changed course. The first-generation college graduate credits faculty and staff at the University of Iowa for helping him find his true calling.

“I wanted to go into medicine to make a difference in people’s lives. While I veered from my original career path, I really feel as though I have been able to translate my desire to have an impact through my university advancement work.”

The support he received during his college years are never far from his mind in his role with Illinois State. He fervently believes the Redbird community is dedicated to delivering positive experiences that help students succeed.

“It is the impact of ISU on our alums’ lives that make this such a rewarding position.”—Pat Vickerman

“That’s part of the charm and the appeal here at Illinois State,” he said. “We have plenty of first-generation college students and alums who were the first in their families to get a degree. That education doesn’t just have an impact on that individual; it has a ripple effect on families forever.”

While University Advancement prepares for the largest giving campaign in Illinois State’s history, Vickerman sat down with the Civil Service Council to talk about his life as a Redbird. This is the third installment in a series of interviews with university leaders answering questions that are important to civil service workers. To submit a story idea or question, email

Related Article: Leadership spotlight: Levester Johnson The VP of Student Affairs speaks with the Civil Service Council

What type of medicine were you originally interested in practicing and why?

It would’ve been anesthesiology or orthopedics. Because of my hip, I spent a lot of time in orthopedic offices. I was able to see the value of the quality physicians, nurses, and health care professionals at the University of Iowa. It is a teaching hospital, and the people helped instill the value of a college degree. In addition, the people really cared about me as a person and helped me and my family work through the emotional and physical concerns.

What is one of the most rewarding aspects of University Advancement for you?

I get really excited about knowing that the money we are raising isn’t simply helping a student pay for their college experience. It is an investment in someone’s future and an investment in the differences they will have the ability to make in their professions and communities. The dollars are important, but it is the impact of ISU on our alums’ lives that make this such a rewarding position—to help that person’s family and that person’s community where they reside.

How do you believe civil service workers, and all employees, can support University Advancement in the upcoming giving campaign and beyond?

What I tell them is to continue to enthusiastically support our students and our faculty. The experience our students receive is directly related to the effort and enthusiasm that our faculty and staff put into Illinois State each and every day. While University Advancement is charged with raising the gifts to benefit ISU, everyone at the University plays an important role in shaping the ISU experience. We have enjoyed record-setting fundraising the last three years—it’s our most productive stretch of fundraising in our 160-year history. It doesn’t just happen by accident. When we do have the benefit of working with a donor who makes a significant commitment, it is very rarely that it happened because of a single person. It’s usually because decades of people at the University helped shape the positive experiences.

The campaign will elevate fundraising at ISU, and further strengthen our culture of philanthropy.

How do you describe the value University Advancement provides to Illinois State?

We’ve all heard the saying that there is no “I” in team. But I am reminded of something Michael Jordan said many years ago, that there is an “I” in win. And we have three “I”s in Illinois State, so in typical ISU fashion we go above and beyond. I’m going to play off of the three “I”s when you look at University Advancement and our role and how we impact the University.

The first one is inform. Our role is to tell the story of Illinois State and what it means to be a Redbird across campus. We inform our stakeholders and our constituencies as to what’s happening on campus, how we’ve evolved and changed, and our achievements and milestones. University Marketing and Communications takes the lead on this. They are the ones helping us all tell the Redbird story.

The second “I” is involvement. This is best exemplified through the work of Alumni Relations. It’s about engaging our alumni and getting them back to campus for Homecoming, Founders Days, etc. or by connecting with them through technological means, like Skype or via social media. With nearly 210,000 alumni worldwide there are so many different ways to be involved. Our Dallas-based alumni chapter is huge, and they are very active. In the past, they have had an alumni gathering on Founders Day where they get together at a local establishment and have a toast to the ole alma mater. The connection doesn’t always have to have an educational component. Sometimes it’s just a chance for them to say, “I am proud to be a Redbird.”

The next “I” is for investment. This is our fundraising and what we call the development side. Our alumni invest their time and their talent through Alumni Relations, but we also need an investment of financial resources to strengthen the ISU experience. So many people think about development as just going out and raising money, but we’re not going to be able to raise money if you don’t have a great story to tell—if our alumni don’t have an outstanding experience while they are here, and if we are not finding new ways to involve them. The way you raise a lot of money is by building meaningful relationships with our alumni and friends. With top-notch faculty and staff and a high-quality educational experience, we have a great deal to be proud of at Illinois State.

What are some of the attributes of Redbird alumni that make them great?

Our students come here ready to work hard and eager to learn. That is part of why they become great alumni. You hear time and time again from employers that ISU alumni hit the ground running. Our faculty and staff do a terrific job preparing our students for their life after Illinois State. With civic engagement playing an important role in the ISU experience, it’s of little wonder why alumni stay connected and engaged with the University. Whether it’s cheering on the Redbirds, participating in business week, or other college/department activities, alumni want to help students prepare for the world that awaits them following graduation.

How do you look at the role of shared governance at the University?

Shared governance at ISU is about a systems approach with faculty and staff actively owning the process to ensure the quality of Illinois State and support of our mission.

It’s a mentality that we are all in this together, and we are going to find a way to do what’s best for the University and the community. It’s part of what really makes ISU such a special place.

What is your favorite ISU tradition?

It’s not easy to choose between Founders Day, Homecoming, commencement, Gamma Phi Circus, or Wear Red on Fridays. While they are all special in their own way, I am a bit of a history buff, so today I’ll select Founders Day. I enjoy reading the names of bell ringers and seeing the anticipation and excitement to ring the bell to celebrate our storied history and celebrate what lies ahead. For Founders Day, it’s a great celebration of all that is great about the institution, from our students, to our faculty and staff, to our distinguished alumni.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Spending time with family is really important to me. We have enjoyed Door County, Wisconsin, for the past couple of decades. It is a special family tradition for me, and we started doing it even before all my kids were born. It’s a great place to be outdoors hiking, biking, boating, fishing, or relaxing on Lake Michigan—it’s a real treat to be with my family, reflect on the past year, and imagine what’s in store for the next year.