I have just celebrated my first full year as chancellor – having officially been appointed last October. And in this year, two things about our undergraduate students have really stood out to me since I arrived. Together, I think they go a long way to explaining why this is such a remarkable university with such a distinctive personality.
The first thing you notice here is that our students really take ownership of their learning experience. The students on this campus will never be classified as passive learners. They demand, sometimes quite vocally, that we as a university provide them with opportunities to explore and to affect the world as it is going to be for them – not as it is read in a textbook. We are proud that our faculty strive to provide the richest learning environment. Take the issue of global sustainability and food resources as an example. Our students weren’t content to talk about this as an abstract issue – with faculty they started their own sustainable farm on the campus to act as a laboratory to test techniques and processes that can be emulated elsewhere. That project now involves students and faculty members from agriculture, business and engineering, just to name a few. And, it provides tons of food annually to our own dining halls.
This is not the standard model of a student body on a college campus. But, I see now that it is standard here at Illinois – making this campus so much more vibrant. Students who are truly invested in their college experience create much higher expectations of those of us on the faculty and staff. They push us to rethink and reinvent how we teach them, what we teach them and so often, we are the ones learning in the process. Our faculty have high expectations of the talented and diverse students who come to Illinois – expectations that we see exceeded every year.
The second quality I admire in our students is that they watch out for one another – they understand what it means to be part of a community. This takes so many forms, on a daily basis – from holding doors open, to offering directions to lost visitors to stopping to help a student in a wheelchair in a sudden downpour. I firmly believe it is in these small instances where the true character and spirit of a university is seen – both internally and by the rest of the world. And by force of numbers that character is going to be defined here by the actions of our undergraduates. We talk often about ourselves as the Illinois family. This isn’t something we created as a marketing campaign, or that some consultants suggested. This is something we learned from your sons and daughters.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Postmarks and get just a small picture of what an Illinois education is really about.
Phyllis M. Wise
Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Vice President, University of Illinois