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Chancellor: partnerships key to UIC's long-term success

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Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares chats with students
Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares chats with students at the New Student Welcome Block Party Aug. 23. “Our campus reflects the future of America,” Allen-Meares says.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Leading a campus with nearly 12,000 employees, over 26,000 students, more than 100 buildings, a major medical center and a $1.75 billion operating budget is not a simple job, even in good times.

Since Paula Allen-Meares became UIC chancellor 10 months ago, the list of challenges has grown even longer: a nationwide recession, cutbacks in state funding to higher education and student financial aid, a decades-long backlog in building repairs and new construction, and a change in university administration.

“These challenges are a test of our creative and entrepreneurial talents,” said Allen-Meares, adding that, despite the uncertain times, “it’s important to think long term.”

Collaboration is the key, she said, emphasizing the need to work with other institutions, organizations and agencies.

“We need to deepen and widen our partnerships to address society’s challenges, provide students with opportunities to develop their intellectual interests and to create new streams of revenue, while being very prudent in the management of existing resources,” she said.

To strengthen existing partnerships and establish new ones, Allen-Meares has represented UIC at a long list of community events, from a reception at the National Museum of Mexican Art to a luncheon organized by the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and a benefit dinner for the Hillels of Illinois.

She’s met the state’s top political leaders, including Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Richard Daley, Rep. Danny Davis and Sen. Dick Durbin, along with the Chicago aldermen who represent the wards bordering UIC.

There have been meetings with the presidents and CEOs of the MacArthur Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer and Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, with others planned.

Earlier this month, she led a delegation of campus administrators to Argonne National Laboratory to strengthen ties with the internationally known research facility.

“This outreach is necessary and central to the chancellor’s role,” Allen-Meares said.

“In today’s academic environment, great public urban research institutions are not isolated entities — they forge vibrant and dynamic partnerships and relationships on behalf of their missions.”

Allen-Meares sees interdisciplinary research — bringing together people from different fields to work on a common problem — as another important direction for UIC.

“We need to move away from the tradition of solely relying on the creation of knowledge by the conventional disciplines and create more opportunities for horizontal integration and translational science,” she said.

Soon after joining UIC, Allen-Meares convened a task force to strategize on getting research grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Those efforts paid off: UIC researchers, working with Larry Danziger as interim vice chancellor for research, have received over $55 million in stimulus grants, making the campus one of the top three in Illinois in total stimulus funding from the National Institutes of Health. Many of these grants are for projects that involve collaboration between scientists in different disciplines, including partnerships with researchers at other universities and government agencies.

This fall, Allen-Meares established new funding programs to encourage interdisciplinary research among faculty and graduate students. Twenty-six faculty members to date have applied for the Chancellor’s Discovery Fund, which will award up to five grants of $30,000 over two years for proposals that combine at least two disciplines.

Winners will be announced this month for the Chancellor’s Supplemental Graduate Fellowships, which provide 20 fellowships of $4,000 a year for two years for interdisciplinary research.

“To my way of thinking, universities must create nimble intellectual internal and virtual environments,” she said.

“This notion also applies to how we teach. There are many issues that need multiple intellectual perspectives.”

At the University of Michigan, Allen-Meares was a named professor, chair of the Health Services Committee and an active researcher. Her books have been translated into various languages.

She was principal investigator of the Global Program on Youth, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

She was co-principal investigator of National Institute of Mental Health-funded R01 project, “Pathways for Youth: Risk and Resilience,” studying developmental outcomes for youth whose primary caregiver has a mental illness. She was co-principal investigator of the NIMH Research Center on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health for 10 years.

She continues to lead a Skillman Foundation-funded project that facilitates working partnerships between Detroit community organizations and the university.

A member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, she chairs an institute membership committee section. She is a trustee of the New York Academy of Medicine.

Her research on at-risk youth is cited around the world and her theoretical model for advancing functionality between community, home and schools is used in several countries.

This month, she was appointed to a three-year term on the board of directors of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities.

This background contributes to what she sees as her leadership style.

“I try to be collaborative,” she said. “I want to hear from different voices and stakeholders.”

At the same time, “I’m evidenced-based,” she added.

“I want data, information, to help understand the history: how, why, what critical variables brought us here today. History and the culture of organizations are very important to me.”

UIC has a number of critical needs to be met: more financial aid, the renovation of several colleges and the upgrade of the academic medical center are just a few. The construction of the long-planned Advanced Chemical Technology building still awaits funding.

“We have buildings that need to be renovated or replaced. We need to bring our laboratories and classrooms into the 21st century,” Allen-Meares said.

“And, as important as anything, recruitment and retention, as well as compensation, are issues that are top priority for our excellent faculty and staff.”

Despite the list of challenges she’s already faced during her first 10 months — and the ones that lie ahead — Allen-Meares is upbeat.

“I agree with Arne Duncan: the best thing we can do is to educate — and discover — our way to a better economy,” she said.

“Engagement and commitment — these are the characteristics that our faculty members embody. And our students— it’s amazing, the different languages I hear, the different kinds of people I see.

“Our campus reflects the future of America.”


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Jonasson House, first chancellor's residence, a home with character

Below: Eric Gislason, outgoing interim chancellor, presents new chancellor Paula Allen-Meares with keys to the campus at the Jan. 15 trustees meeting.

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

Eric Gislason, interim chancellor, presents Paula Allen-Meares with keys to the campus

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