WHAT DOES THE OFFICE OF THE VICE CHANCELLOR FOR RESEARCH DO?
All research grants go through our office: federal grants, research board grants, scholar travel funds. We have a very heavy workload for grant work. We also help process applications for academic and scholarship awards.
TELL ME WHAT YOU’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR IN YOUR OFFICE.
I am in charge of day-to-day operations and activities of the office and my primary objectives include managing the calendar for Dr. (Ravi) Iyer (interim vice chancellor for research), coordinating all of his internal and external communication, and managing and providing background materials for his scheduled meetings.
Additionally, he travels extensively and I keep everything in order for a smooth and efficient travel schedule.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE OFFICE ENVIRONMENT?
It’s a complex office and there’s never a typical or average day. The tasks at hand are challenging, time consuming and require a detail-oriented individual. (The vice chancellor) works with U.S. senators, congressmen and top administrators at other universities, both in the U.S. and overseas.
In order to maintain a smooth and effective coordination of the duties and demands of this position, you must be a walking encyclopedia – I’m hoping to be one eventually! Given the demands of the office, I am extremely fortunate to have a depth of support from my office staff. We work as a team.
GIVE ME SOME EXAMPLES WHAT YOU DO.
Right now I’m scheduling a meeting for a group of people coming from Washington, D.C., to meet with different academic groups on campus. There are currently about 85 people scheduled for this meeting and I’m scheduling meetings for seven to eight subgroups. I have only 1 1/2 days to get it all done. That’s the biggest project right now.
WHAT ELSE ARE YOU UP TO?
Coordinating Chancellor Easter’s trip to India – he’s visiting Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai along with the vice chancellor and the dean of engineering and the dean of ACES.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET A TRIP LIKE THAT COORDINATED?
We’ve been working on it for the last two months. It has to be perfect. I’m calling people overseas in India and, of course, there is a 10 1/2 hour time difference. I was up at midnight Sunday making calls.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AT THE UI?
I started at the university in 1987 as an extra help employee. My previous jobs were in agricultural engineering, the College of Education and the department of statistics, where I worked for 16 years. I started my current position in 2009.
TELL ME ABOUT ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO WORK HERE.
Working in the statistics department gave me all the experience that I have today – and the faculty there is awesome. I enjoyed working with students. I miss that. I enjoyed helping out international students; many have become good friends.
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU’RE ORIGINALLY FROM INDIA. HOW DID YOU END UP IN ILLINOIS?
I am originally from Bangalore, India. I followed my husband here. We came to Lincoln, Neb., in 1981, when my husband, who is now a retired microbiologist, was in a graduate program. We then moved to Bourbonnais, Ill. There, I started working at Kmart and I was an Avon representative. Uni High was the main reason we moved to Champaign in 1987– both of our sons, Vikas and Vilas, went to high school there. They work at their own law firm in Boston.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND.
I got my second bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University. I got my first bachelor’s degree in India, where I studied botany, zoology and chemistry.
YOUR CAREER FOLLOWED A MUCH DIFFERENT PATH THAN FROM WHERE IT STARTED. LOOKING BACK, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I never dreamed of working at such as esteemed university as the UI. I wasn’t raised to work outside the home. One time, when my dad visited the campus, he just told me, ‘Don’t ever retire.’ (laughs) I believe in networking. I’ve made a lot of friends and have very good mentors. The staff at Swanlund are great. I get support from all over campus – otherwise I couldn’t do well in this job.
DO YOU EVER GO BACK TO INDIA?
We visit once every two years. My dad is 88 years old. He’s the one who encourages me no matter what I do. He wants to know what races I’m running and asks about work. I had good parents who supported me since my childhood. I do miss India, but people have treated me very well here.
USHA DHAR FAST FACTS
Athletic accomplishments: Dhar was an accomplished and highly decorated athlete growing up in India. Her accomplishments include being named India’s Best Player in a running game called Kho-Kho, as a 13-year-old. She captained both state and university teams for the game. She also was a college athlete, competing in 100-meter races. She was a yoga medalist, participating in state championships. She continues to run 5 miles each day and practices yoga. At the UI’s Homecoming 5K race in 2005, she placed fifth in her age group.
Favorite place to eat: “My home – because of my cooking and my husband’s cooking. We make Indian food at home. I do go out with friends; I like Flat Top Grill.”
Currently reading: David Baldacci’s “The Whole Truth”
Favorite TV shows: Reality shows such as “American Idol.” She was almost a cast member on “Deal or No Deal” in 2008 before it went off the air.