Illinois Institute of Technology was revitalized and transformed— academically, physically, and financially—during Lew Collens's tenure as seventh president of the institution. Student quality and enrollment dramatically improved; various institutes, centers, and academic programs were created; and the university endowment increased from $50 million to $300 million.
While his 17-year presidency from 1990–2007 was the second longest in the institution's history, Collens's service to the IIT community began much earlier. From 1974–1990, Collens was dean of Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he also taught corporate and securities law. He was then named president in 1990, the same year that the university celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Significant funding was necessary for IIT to experience the transformation that was needed at every level. To accomplish that, in 1996 Collens spearheaded the largest fundraising campaign in the history of IIT—the IIT Challenge Campaign. During that same period, Collens also led a blue-ribbon panel of trustees, faculty, and members from outside the university as the National Commission for IIT, which charted a future direction for renewal of the institution. Obtaining a $120 million pledge from Robert Galvin and Robert Pritzker, the largest single gift in higher education at the time, Collens and commission members launched the Camras Scholarship program. What was at the time the country's largest merit scholarship program for engineers, the program offers full tuition to students who are within the Top 1 percent of IIT's incoming class. The scholarship was instrumental in attracting a quality student body from not only the Midwest but also from across the United States.
Two other programs grew out of recommendations made by the National Commission.
The Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) program is an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to addressing real-world problems through a curriculum emphasizing collaboration, teamwork, and leadership. Using the latest group communication and information-sharing tools, students from various disciplines work side-by-side, developing their skills while grappling with complex issues ranging from ethics to the environment.
The third program that began as a result of commission recommendations was the Master Plan for Main Campus, the first master plan since Ludwig Mies van der Rohe introduced his design in the 1940s. Since 1995, two critically acclaimed structures have been erected, The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, designed by Rem Koolhaas and completed in 2003, and State Street Village student residence hall, designed by Helmut Jahn and also completed in 2003. In addition to new construction efforts, Collens supported Main Campus renovation of architecturally significant buildings, including S. R. Crown Hall, which earned City of Chicago Landmark status in 1997 and National Historic Landmark status in 2001.
By 2000, the Challenge Campaign surpassed its $250 million goal one year ahead of schedule. Collens continued to strengthen IIT's financial assets by increasing the university's endowment from $50 million to $300 million. Also integral to this growth was the 2002 sale of IIT Research Institute's engineering divisions to employees of Alion Science and Technology Corporation, which allowed IIT to invest this profit back into the university. IIT was the recipient of several large grants during the mid- to late '90s, including a $9 million infrastructure/transit improvement grant from the State of Illinois and $8.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a collaborative project with Argonne National Laboratory.
Starting with his election as president of Leadership Greater Chicago in 1996, Collens established himself as both a community leader and as a participant in global affairs. In support of the city's efforts to physically and economically revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding Main Campus, Collens originated the idea of University Technology Park At IIT (UTP), a 1.5 million-square-foot facility that provides faculty expertise, office space, and state-of-the-art laboratories to both start-up and established companies. Opened in November 2006, UTP is expected to generate some 2,500 jobs at all levels of technical, professional, and support expertise over the next decade.
With his vision for urban development, Collens was named in 2003 to the Partnership for New Communities, a program that works to transform former public housing sites into flourishing mixed-use communities. The next year, at the invitation of Mayor Richard M. Daley, he joined a delegation of civic and business leaders to participate in The Shanghai–Chicago Dialogue in China.
Collens strived to develop similar leadership skills among students, championing the Leadership Academy for new and returning students. The program, which began in 1998, recognizes Academy Scholars, who receive funding for their entire university education, and hosts leadership retreats and workshops for all IIT undergraduates. The IIT Chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which collaborated with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild houses destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, got its start through the Leadership Academy.
Throughout his tenure, Collens also oversaw the openings of several new facilities and programs at the university, among them the Daniel L. and Ada F. Rice Campus, the Downtown Campus, the River North Campus, the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, the Institute of Psychology, the Center for the Study of Law and Financial Markets, the Ed Kaplan Entrepreneurial Studies Program, the Department of Mathematics and Science Education, the doctoral program in Architecture, the master's degree program in Financial Markets and Trading, and the bachelor's degree program in Environmental Engineering.
As if in testament to the university's transformation, in 2006, the year that Collens announced his retirement from the presidency, IIT welcomed its largest freshman class in 30 years. In keeping with the university's mission "to educate students from throughout the world for a life of professional achievement, service to society, and individual fulfillment," IIT formed a partnership with Chicago Public Schools to offer admission and full financial support to qualified graduates. In 2007, the scholarship was renamed the Collens Scholarship in recognition of Collens's many contributions to the IIT community.
List of accomplishments