In his sixth State of the University Address, Illinois State University President Larry Dietz stressed that the University’s ongoing success, even during challenging times, results from careful planning and a deep devotion to institutional core values. Robust enrollment numbers, increased state support, and generous private financial contributions have also helped Illinois State to further enhance its reputation for excellence.
“When I consider Illinois State’s great success, I reflect on the people responsible: an outstanding faculty, a caring and committed support staff, a talented student body, engaged alumni, friends, and elected officials,” said Dietz. “You are the ones responsible for our remarkable achievements.”
Educate Connect Elevate, Illinois State’s strategic plan, provides the vision and values that are at the heart of all university operations, said Dietz. Through its value of Learning and Scholarship, Illinois State is constantly looking to enhance academic programs to keep pace with today’s world. “We plan this fall to begin a project that will provide space for faculty and the 300 students in the cybersecurity major,” said Dietz. “Meanwhile, the University continues to investigate the addition of engineering programs, most likely in the areas of electrical and mechanical engineering. A campus task force has completed its work on a business plan and facility needs. The next step is hiring an architectural and engineering firm to help us determine the approximate size of the facility we need and programs that could share space with engineering programs.”
Dietz noted increasing diversity of the student body and of student leadership, statewide recognition from the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce for forging relationships with African American-owned firms, and financial support for LGBTQ students who have been rejected by their families are just a few examples of Illinois State’s commitment to the value of Diversity and Inclusion. Dietz used his address to formally announce that a campus Multicultural Center will be located in the current Instructional Technology and Development Center on Main Street. The center is expected to open by fall of 2020.
“The Center will feature student organization office spaces, event and meeting rooms, a full kitchen, a meditation room, gathering spaces, administrative offices, and satellite student support services,” he said. “We look forward to this exciting new space coming to fruition over the course of the next year, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for turning this vision into a reality.”
Respect became a stated core value when the University’s strategic plan was updated and renamed. “I believe the addition was born of a contentious political and social climate rippling throughout the country,” said Dietz. “I have often said that the largest room in the world is the room for improvement, and I believe achieving mutual respect for every individual and every group on campus is always going to be a work in progress.”
Efforts toward that end include the annual Culturally Responsive Campus Community Conference, which educates faculty, staff, students, and community members on the creation of a socially just campus environment; the Leaders of Social Change program that takes students to urban areas to examine leadership through the lens of social justice movements; programs and services to support students who are veterans and active duty military personnel; environmentally conscious decisions about energy usage and campus sustainability; and work with county officials to facilitate the right of students to register and vote in a timely and efficient manner.
Illinois State faculty, staff, and students work across disciplines and with the larger community to fulfill the University’s value of Collaboration. Dietz cited professional development opportunities through Illinois State’s partnership with the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a public-private partnership to construct new residence hall facilities to meet on-campus housing needs, and the work of revitalizing the Bone Student Center as examples of that value. Illinois State is also developing a new start-up incubator to encourage innovation.
“Combined with the University’s collaboration as a hub of the new Illinois Innovation Network, the establishment of a facility to support student, faculty, and community start-ups will help to realize the University’s vision to grow and diversify the local and regional economy,” said Dietz.
“Our value of Individualized Attention is what I would call Illinois State’s ‘signature’ value,” said Dietz. “During the eight years I have served the University, I have heard literally hundreds of times from alumni and current students how their professors and support staff members treated them as individuals, not just as another face in the classroom. Individualized Attention isn’t just a phrase we print on a brochure and hand out at recruitment time.”
Attention to prospective students has yielded positive results in recruiting academically motivated students. “It is our priority to focus on the success of all students to ensure we retain them through graduation,” he said. “We are enhancing efforts to help students thrive in college from admission to commencement, and to develop the skills and career readiness they need as Redbird alumni.”
Dietz noted that Illinois State’s value of Civic Engagement is unmatched in Illinois, and that civic learning is incorporated in classes across disciplines. “We were the first public university with an academic minor in Civic Engagement, and we are the only public university with a Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning,” he said. “In addition, we were national trailblazers in the American Democracy Project and Political Engagement Project.”
Illinois State students have participated in volunteer and service learning opportunities through Alternative Break trips since 2000. This past April, the Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan University joint Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter completed construction of the 25th house in the chapter’s 24-year history. Gamma Phi Circus, the nation’s oldest collegiate circus, is celebrating 90 years of engagement with the campus and community through performances and circus camps.
“The final core value is Integrity, and you have heard me say on many occasions that Integrity binds all of our values together,” said Dietz. “As we plan the vision that is driven by our values, Integrity must also be constantly and consistently present.”
Dietz cited the high standards to which Illinois State student athletes are held, and the success they achieve, both athletically and academically, as examples of Integrity. The highly successful Redbirds Rising fundraising campaign, which has raised over $163 million, represents the University’s long-term commitment to supporting its core values.
“While many institutions are planning for next week, or next year, Illinois State’s vision for Integrity demands we look further into the future to ensure generations of scholarship, leadership, and innovation,” said Dietz. “That’s the mission of Redbirds Rising, a campaign that aimed high and has already surpassed its lofty expectations.”