2022 State of the University Address

Introduction: CSU on the Move

Before I begin, please join me in a virtual round of applause Nekoiya, our student government association president, who provided that warm introduction. Thank you Chair Zopp and Interim Provost Dr. Leslie Roundtree for your unwavering support of the university, our students and my leadership. 

Good afternoon and welcome to the 2022 State of the University Address. This is my fourth State of the University address. I would like to begin my remarks today with a message of deep gratitude. To our students, faculty, staff, alumni, Board of Trustees, friends and to all who comprise the Chicago State University community, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, thank you for tireless work and perseverance, and thank you for your extraordinary service.

This past year, like the one before it, was challenging for our university. About a year ago, we celebrated the arrival of life-saving vaccines and we felt hope and renewal as the pandemic improved. Yet amid our progress, new variants of Covid-19 confronted us, testing our endurance and resolve as a campus community. In the face of the pandemic’s persistent challenges, fulfilling our university’s mission and commitment to our students may at times seemed like a task too big and too complicated for any single one of us, but as time has demonstrated, the task is not too big for all of us.

When I look back on the last twelve months, a year with no shortage of complications and obstacles, there are also no shortage of victories and high points and from it all a clear and compelling story emerges.

A story of a university community bound by a unique sense of purpose, driven by an unyielding commitment to a shared mission. This commitment led us to confront the worst of the pandemic, summoning the best of who we are in pursuit of an important calling known as higher education. It propelled our university to exceptional achievements, achievements that reveal a university community focused on shaping a better tomorrow for our community, our City, our state, nation and world.

Today, as your President, I pause to reflect with you on this difficult yet remarkable year. A year when the traits that define Chicago State University, which include resilience, hope, dedication and commitment were once again on full display. Then, let us look toward the future and consider how, together, we will shape an endlessly bright future for the university.

In 2021, CSU’s commitment to student learning and student success was unmistakable. As of December 2021 we provided student emergency grants in the amount of $2,651,427.91. We provided $4,034,818 in student scholarships for the 2021 calendar year.  We provided our students with the tools needed to be successful such as laptops and internet hot spots. We also provided students with micro grants and modified our policy on student debt to raise the debt ceiling allowing students to continue with their education. We wiped out the debt owed by certain students to Chicago State providing student debt relief in the total amount of $188K.  

Over the last year we’ve heard directly from students about their needs, and have worked diligently to make accessible the support services that will assist them to a Chicago State degree. These services include a revised Wellness Center managed by Advocate Aurora Healthcare that provides comprehensive health screenings, vaccinations, and preventative care. We know that wellness is not only about physical health. Our own data revealed to us the need to increase access to comprehensive mental health services for our students. CSU provides mental health services through META Teletherapy, a 24 hour mental and emotional health platform designed to serve college students through a network of licensed mental health providers.

The scholarships, debt relief, wellness and technology supports were all provided to support student success and retention. However, these tangible and structural supports are not all that is needed to attract students to CSU and then retain our talented student scholars. Illinois universities are now expected to measure and improve student outcomes.

To retain and graduate our students, it requires all of us. As a faculty member you are essential to student retention. As a faculty member you are the most direct path to help students for whom dropping out is a true risk. No matter what the administration attempts to do for students, success in your classrooms is essential.

Here is my charge. As part of our strategic plan, we are committed to being a data-driven culture. Our data tells us that we must improve our graduation rates. As faculty, you know best how and what strategies we can use to improve our student classroom success. I ask that you meet with your Deans, your chairs and your colleagues and examine the data from your courses and your college. Know where your college is seeing and making strides in retention and graduation rates. Retention and completion must be a goal for all of us. Our collective goal must be to help students do their best and keep them on track to graduation.


Research, Academic Innovation and Faculty and Staff Achievement

2021 was also a year of academic innovation and accomplishment for Chicago State and our incredible faculty. Our faculty members continue to lead in their fields, and to be recognized across their disciplines for their extraordinary contributions.  I would need much more time than I have this afternoon to tell you all that has occurred, but I want to share just a few highlights. In March 2021, at the invitation of Rep. Danny Davis, Dr. Leslie Roundtree testified on the impact of Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) before the United States House of Representatives Ways and Means Subcommittee for Worker and Family Support.

As technology continues to advance, and our need to understand data becomes more integral, Chicago State remains on the forefront of cutting edge scientific research. Chicago State faculty and students are engaging in timely quantum science research and education. As part of a nationwide initiative to boost research in quantum science, the National Science Foundation recently established a $25 million institute in Chicago to investigate quantum sensing for biology and to train a diverse quantum workforce. Under the leadership of Dr. Valerie Goss, Chicago State is an active institutional partner of the Institute.

Our College of Arts and Sciences has entered into a forward- thinking engineering pathway agreement with Morgan State University, one of the nation’s leaders in producing African American engineers. Through this pathway, students complete their education at both CSU and Morgan State and earn both a Physics Engineering and Electrical Engineering degree.

Morgan StateIn addition, Dr. Edmundo Garcia-Solis, who previously served as professor of physics and Department Chair of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. was named Chicago State’s new Associate Provost of Grants and Research Administration. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award his past April by the Chicago Council on Science and Technology for his research in physics and archaeometry. Additionally, Dr. Garcia-Solis and Dr. Austin Harton, CSU Professor of Physics and Engineering, are leading research in cutting-edge technology through a $646,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Dr. Edward Ofori, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was named the Illinois State Higher Education Leader as one of 35 higher education professionals chosen for the 2021 Millennium Leadership Initiative by The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). Professor Roxanne Stevenson received the Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award from the Jazz Education Network which recognizes and Celebrates those whose Unique Voices make the story of jazz music more complete.

At Chicago State, our purpose is not only knowledge for its own sake, but also knowledge with a public purpose. This year, CSU College of Business Dean Derrick Collins joined with the Chicago Urban League, and the State of Illinois’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in launching a first of its kind state-wide study on Illinois’s Black owned businesses. This kind of research, engagement and focused work strengthens the well-being of small businesses and our communities.

College of Education Dean Carolyn Theard-Griggs testified before the Illinois General Assembly representing the Illinois Public universities on issues related to proposed early-childhood legislation.

Her testimony and expertise was essential to ensuring that teacher education for the early-childhood workforce was carefully examined before legislation was passed.


COVID-19, Return to Campus, Commencement, Emergency Scholar Funding and the Mass Vaccination Site

Cougar with MaskCOVID-19 continues to require our attention as a campus community. We will continue to take the necessary steps, such as masking and promoting vaccination as a means to keep our community safe. The leadership of our faculty and staff throughout this pandemic cannot be overstated. Their leadership, coupled with our campus’s low case rates, enabled us to successfully return back to campus this past fall for in-person instruction and campus activities. Our COVID-19 Response Team, consisting of faculty members, staff, and administrators, continues to meet weekly. Our collective efforts to keep the CSU community safe paid off royally on December 16th when we were able to host our final Fall commencement live, in-person at the Jones Convocation Center.  Our first live commencement in over a year.

Throughout the pandemic, Chicago State has remained committed to serving as a resource for our community. This past Spring, in partnership with the City of Chicago, Chicago State hosted the only COVID-19 mass vaccination site on the city’s South Side. We provided over 10,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to our neighbors, the vast majority of which went to Black and Brown Chicagoans. I’d like to thank Mayor Lightfoot and the City of Chicago Department of Health for their partnership and ensuring that Southside residents had access to critical COVID-19 vaccinations. Similarly, we’ve continued to provide free COVID-19 testing for students, faculty, and staff. I’d like to thank our partners at Shield Illinois, Roseland Hospital, Friend Health, Walgreens, and the City of Chicago for providing these essential resources to our campus community.

Mass Vaccination Site


Enrollment Management

Enrollment remains a heavily competitive aspect of higher education. Since 2018, my administration has been laser focused on increasing the university’s enrollment and our work is guided by the university’s strategic plan. Prior to the pandemic, Chicago State experienced its first enrollment increase in ten years. Like other colleges and universities across the nation, COVID-19 temporarily affected that momentum.

However, we have already begun to look ahead toward next fall and beyond. We’ve worked hard to improve our admissions processes and streamline our services for future and returning Cougars. Our graduate student enrollment continues to show year-over-year increases. This is good news!

We’ve expanded our relationships with K-12 and other youth-serving community partners, and not in the traditional sense: we’ve been intentional about connecting directly to school leadership and those who manage higher education exploration. Personally, I continue to meet with district superintendents and principals, inviting many of them to campus, to share about the amazing opportunities for their students here at CSU. High schools and neighboring districts are eager to engage with Chicago State. This past year we hired a new dual enrollment coordinator, who’s primary focus is to cultivate these relationships and introduce high school students to early college opportunities here at Chicago State.

Our enrollment management team recently held an Enrollment Ambassadors training for university faculty and staff. The team worked hard to develop and share tools we each can use as we champion Chicago State throughout the city, region, and country. We have recently hired a new interim Vice President of Enrollment Management, Bill Sliwa. We’re thrilled to have Bill join us to lead our enrollment efforts as we search for a permanent Vice President of Enrollment Management.


CSU as a Leader in Higher Education Equity Advocacy

Secretary of EducationOn September 21st, CSU was honored to welcome U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona, to campus during his national bus tour. Secretary Cardona’s visit highlighted his recognition of the important role that CSU, as a Predominantly Black Institution, plays in increasing economic mobility for our students and communities. The Secretary met directly with Chicago State students to learn about their experiences, and was briefed about CSU’s advocacy leadership in efforts to increase funding for PBIs. In addition to Secretary Cardona, we were also honored to welcome U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to campus. Dr. Murthy also met directly with CSU students and faculty to learn about the university’s leadership in STEM. 



Chicago State Foundation and Alumni

Securing philanthropic dollars and donations is important to the success of CSU. Universities benefit from philanthropy not only to cover financial aid and operational costs, but also to subsidize tuition, increase access to college for traditionally underserved populations, fund research, and improve the overall quality of education. A strong Chicago State is made possible in part by the incredible work of our chief fundraising partner, the Chicago State University Foundation. As President, I am an ex-officio member of the Board of the Chicago State Foundation and it is expected that I will work hard to bring partnerships and financial resources to the university.

2021 provided another successful season of virtual and in-person programming led by the Foundation highlighted by the 2nd Annual 1stGEN Scholarship Gala presented by J.P. Morgan Chase. I am proud to report that the 2021 gala was a sold-out affair. The Foundation surpassed its fundraising goal and proceeds from the evening totaled over $405,000 in support of CSU student scholarships.

In addition to the financial support of Chase, other companies have come forward to provide donations to support scholarships, mentoring, internships, jobs and other supports for CSU students including:

  • Sterling Bay
  • Walgreens
  • Groupon
  • Northern Trust
  • AT&T
  • Leo Burnett
  • Spark Foundry
  • Hyatt Corporation
  • Exelon
  • Discover Financial

I’m excited to share that through generous private donations the university has also completed construction on our much-needed, on-campus child development center. We are currently in the final stages of licensing approval to open for use. The opening of CSU’s Child Development Center, managed by a full-time director and the College of Education, will fill a critical need for our student body, of which 1/3 report having at least one dependent.

We’re grateful to the CSF Board and the CSF team, led by Executive Director Darrious Hilmon, for its continued operation and growth providing support for the university’s mission-critical work. Also, I am excited to share that through the efforts of Sen. Elgie Sims, the university has applied for a $2.5 million grant to further support the construction and development of the needed childcare resources for the campus. Thank you Senator Sims! I also want to personally thank the Chicago State Chicago Teachers College Alumni Association and President Yvette Warren for their unwavering support of our students and the University.

Child Care Center

Campus Improvements

We advanced several capital projects this past year. Improvements to our campus will continue to take place throughout this year. I’d like to start by highlighting the space housing our Wellness Center, which has been completely redesigned and refurbished. Our own internal team completed the construction work. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their hard work.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to the Governor, the General Assembly and the State’s Capital Development Board for their strong support of our capital projects. We have just completed the design phase for our new Health Professionals Simulation Laboratory that will house our health science majors.  This is a state-funded $25 million project.
The rehab and remodeling work has begun on the swimming pools in the Jacoby Dickens Center.  This summer the work is expected to be completed.

We’ve been notified by the State’s Capital Development Board that work on our light poles and campus lighting will begin this Spring, and approximately $6 million has been distributed for repair and updates to our parking lots and sidewalks. We’re excited for these updates and the benefits they’ll provide for our campus and the greater community.


Community Engagement

As a pillar of our strategic plan, we have prioritized authentic, consistent engagement with the greater community. For the third year in a row, Chicago State has produced and distributed an annual report, a copy of which can be found online, to university stakeholders throughout the country highlighting campus activity and successes of the previous year.

In July we held a Community State of the University event to provide university updates to our neighbors and community partners. We are pleased to have been joined by over 200 community members both on campus and virtually. The event was held in partnership with the Rosemoor Community Association and we received financial sponsorship from the law firm of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP, Hale Family McDonalds, and Discover Financial Services. The support of our sponsors enabled us to provide scholarships to 7 CSU students.

Our strategic plan also directs us to think about how we can help support economic revitalization of our community. In 2021, Chicago State partnered with the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development to complete a study of the 95th Street corridor from King Drive to Cottage Grove. This work has been generously supported by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust, and we’ve partnered with an urban planner for technical assistance.

We’ve held 4 public engagement sessions to hear from community members, students, neighborhood advocates, business owners, and stakeholders on the types of development they’d like to see along the corridor, and how Chicago State can be most helpful to the community attracting long-term investment and economic opportunities. We’ve had over 200 people participate in the sessions and over 250 complete an online survey to capture their thoughts and desires for the corridor. In the coming weeks the study will be published and shared out widely for stakeholders. Information on the study and the proposed development plans can be found on the university’s website.


Looking to the Future: Our Budget and Higher Learning Commission Visit

Next month, we will represent CSU before the Appropriation Committees in the Illinois House and Senate. The preparation for the hearings has begun. We are confident that we have an impressive set of accomplishments to present to our legislators to support continued engagement and financial support for the university.

In his 2022 budget address Governor Pritzker recommended a five percent increase for each public university for Fiscal Year 2023. Governor Pritzker also proposed that CSU receive an additional $1.8 million for this year’s budget. This is great news for CSU as the administration and the General Assembly continue to signal support for higher education.

In 2023, the university will go through its reconfirmation of accreditation. The site visit will commence in February 2023. As a university, we have been preparing for this process since 2017. We formed a cross-campus committee, now led by Kay Dawson and Gabrielle Toth, to spearhead this work. We thank them now and in advance for their leadership and service.

The preparation process requires engagement and work from all of us. We must be prepared. If you have been asked to participate in our preparation, I ask that you prioritize the work and your participation. In the coming month, we will review the standards for accreditation with our staff, students and faculty.  It is important for us to have a common and comprehensive understanding of the process. I appreciate your engagement and support.

In Closing

As our campus community moves into this new year we remain laser-focused on:

  • increasing student success;
  • increasing student enrollment and retention;
  • increasing equitable opportunities for all students and the community;
  • and focused preparation for our 2023 HLC site visit.

I want CSU to remain an accessible, first-choice higher education destination for all Illinois students and beyond. As enrollment among Black and low-income college students continues to be negatively impacted by COVID-19, it is more evident than ever that a strong Chicago State is vital for a strong Chicago and a strong Illinois. A Chicago State degree truly continues to prove its life-changing value.

I am incredibly proud of the team here at Chicago State: our students, faculty, staff, Board of Trustees, alumni, and supporters.  I’m proud of the progress we’ve made together, and I’m eager to continue innovating as we work to propel the university forward. We are Ever in Motion!