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Chancellor Koch reflects on past year: Leadership changes, branding and student union plans make academic year memorable

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LChancellorooking back on the academic year, Chancellor Susan J. Koch attributes several people to the success of the University. “Part of the job of anybody who is new in the chancellor role is to put together a strong leadership team of their own,” she said.

“The two critical hires I made this year, with the help of some excellent search committees, were hiring the Vice Chancellor for Development Jeff Lorber.” According to Koch, Lorber will be charged with leading fundraising efforts for the university the next few years.

She added that the second new member team is Director of Human Resources Laura Alexander. Koch says Alexander is “another great hire who has brought a lot of talent and experience to the campus.”

“These [new hires] are things that might not be really visible to students every day but are very, very important when we work to deliver on the promises we make to our students,” Koch said.

Chancellor Koch added that another key to success of this academic year rests with the strong relationships she has developed. “We operate in an environment where opinions of all members of our community are very important as we guide the university forward,” she said. “I can’t do this job alone so I need to have input and points of view from faculty, students and staff, and members of the community. I feel as if we’re together and we’ve got very good communication.”

Koch added that events like ‘Cheesecake with the Chancellor’ and ‘Chimichangas with the Chancellor’ have allowed her to stay in touch with the student experience.  Additionally, Koch looks for feedback from the professors at UIS.

“Our faculty [members] are deeply committed to this institution and they create the reputation for the university,” she said. She adds that the ‘Chancellor’s Blog’ and monthly column in the State Journal-Register are other ways she has been able to connect with the community. According to Koch, the monthly SJ-R column is very well-received in the Springfield community.

Branding of the institution has also helped UIS stand out and make this academic year memorable, Koch said. “One of the things I’m pleased with is that we are becoming more and more visible and we’re making a deliberate effort to do that,” she said.  “You have probably seen this – Leadership Lived. We used a consultant last year to help us get there. The consultants did a lot of research for us with students and alums and faculty and staff and what emerged from that is kind of a way for us to talk about our institution, that communicates more clearly who we are and what is distinctive about our institution.”

Koch said this year has been not without its obstacles. “The biggest challenge facing us, really, continues to be budgetary. This State of Illinois, as everyone knows has a pension crisis going on, a budget crisis going on,” she said. “We’re working to be part of the solution for the state because we know the more educated the people we have in the State of Illinois, the better the economy will be – the better off our communities will be. That having been said, the decline in state support for the University of Illinois and the other eight public universities has been on a steady downward trajectory for several years and that has resulted in the stead increases in tuition so I’m very concerned about our continued ability to make this wonderful experience of being a UIS student possible to all qualified students, regardless of their financial needs.”

The most exciting part of the year, according to Koch, are plans for the new Student Union. Twenty-eight firms put forth proposals and with the help of a committee of students, faculty and staff, Dewberry Architects of Peoria, Ill. and Workshop Architects of Milwaukee, Wisc. were selected for this project. Workshop Architects owner Jan van den Kieboom has been to campus more than once to solicit feedback from the campus.

“Jan, along with the Dewberry team and his team [at Workshop], are going to build a landmark building, not just for the campus but for the city of Springfield,” Koch said. “It’s going to be something very, very special and the minute the doors open, it will be the heart of this campus. It’s going to be the destination for all students – undergraduate, graduate, commuters, residential and where faculty and staff are going to want to be.”

Koch added the architecture firms that have been selected have completed student unions at prestigious universities like Northwestern University and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Koch says the designers have begun their work and drawings will available by the fall. If all goes well, the doors of the student union will open the spring of 2016. “We’re in a great place with the student union project and it is the most important building for this campus right now,” she said.

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