President’s Letter

Often over the past year I paused in gratitude. Though our mission of transforming lives through learning is always inspiring for me, it seemed particularly so during the pandemic. Several moments stand out among the many. Once, as I walked across the silent campus, I realized that I was profoundly thankful to have meaningful work. Another time, as Tango and I walked the familiar lake path, I again was overwhelmed with deep gratitude for all that we have been given and all that I hope we will share with our students in years to come. In the midst of a testing time, I hoped that we would find the resilience and fortitude to move forward, to transcend current circumstances to envision a vibrant future for our students and our university. In this issue of the Aurora University magazine, we share some of our dreams for the decade ahead.

These articles were written against the backdrop of a global pandemic, but are not about COVID-19. (In fact, the strategic plan itself was drafted prior to the onset of the pandemic.) Our students, faculty, and staff indeed worked hard this last year to adapt and to realize important goals. We took special care of one another and thought too about the welfare of peers, neighbors, and family. Sadly, the past 12 months saw the deaths of dear friends of the university. It was heartbreaking not to be able to travel and join into celebrations of their lives, to offer sympathy face-to-face, and to share memories of happier times. We will not forget these generous souls and the time shared with them. Nor will we forget the work that remains to be done in our country to fulfill the fundamental promises of America.

Aurora University’s new strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in November of 2020, is both practical and aspirational. Some elements reaffirm existing commitments, such as our dedication to providing faculty and staff with highly competitive salaries, wages, and benefits. Given the many pressures on both the revenue and expense sides of our budget, such a promise requires real dedication to realize. We are grateful for the help we have received from alumni and friends in this vital area. In recent years, new endowed professorships in accounting, chaplaincy, ethics, music, and vocation have been noteworthy. I know you will enjoy reading about the exemplary teacher and scholar who soon will join us as the Joe Dunham Distinguished Professor of Ethics.

The new AU plan places a special emphasis on affordability and accessibility. Like alumni from both the Aurora and George Williams sides of the family, almost half of our current students are the first in their families to attempt bachelor’s degrees. Frequently, they shoulder college costs themselves, working several jobs to make tuition payments. For many of these students, even living on campus is beyond reach. So too are prestigious internships in Chicago (that may interfere with work schedules) or study/travel courses with faculty members. Several years ago, as we marked our 125th anniversary, we established the new Study Beyond endowment to help address this problem. Like donor-funded scholarships, these dollars help us broaden and deepen the learning experiences of our students.

One of the boldest initiatives set forth in the new plan is the establishment of a School of Health Science. Here we intend to build upon the strong foundation already present in our nursing, athletic training, exercise science, human-animal studies, and therapeutic recreation programs. A rigorous new constellation of courses will prepare students for continued study in professional fields ranging from medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and public health. Already key faculty leaders are working with colleagues throughout the Chicago area and beyond to fashion the articulation agreements that will allow our graduates to make positive transitions into professional and graduate schools. The new programs will make further meaning of our historic traditions of educating students to help and to heal individuals and society as a whole.

Our best collective efforts will be required to realize the vision set forth in the new strategic plan. Each person and each stakeholder group — students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and trustees — has a distinctive role to play in the next chapter of our story. Toward this end, I know that you will enjoy meeting two members of our Board of Trustees, who not only share graciously with the university, but perform also vital fiduciary functions. They follow in the footsteps of many who came before. Like the alumni featured in the pages that follow, they seek to give something of what they have received. At the end of the day, this is the essence of our story at Aurora University. And so we go forward, comforted and inspired by the miles traveled already and confident and grateful for all we will meet on the road ahead.

Dr. Sherrick SignatureRebecca L. Sherrick, PhD