Community Listening Tours Seek to Gather Feedback and New Ideas
Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi embarked on a community listening tour to engage with Bronzeville community leaders.
As part of his efforts to listen and lead based on the collective wisdom of the greater community, Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi held three listening tour sessions with members of the greater Bronzeville community on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. These three distinct sessions were in addition to the four Illinois Tech community listening tours that Echambadi held with students, faculty, and staff. The listening tours were designed to be a forum to share new perspectives and concerns with university administration to help guide future collaboration at the university.
The three distinct listening sessions were held via Zoom, and were tailored to different groups of community stakeholders, including educators and education advocates; business leaders and entrepreneurs; and social service providers, nonprofits, and artists.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to serve and advance Bronzeville, Chicago, and the world by helping to provide access to increased educational opportunities and working to empower our fellow community members to reach their dreams,” says Echambadi. “This stems from working with the community to learn what your needs are, so we can have more inclusive innovation as a whole.”
During the sessions, Echambadi began by sharing his vision for Illinois Tech as an engine of opportunity that empowers students to interweave human-centered skills with technology to become innovators and engaged citizens of the world. He also discussed the ways that the university will reimagine education by building more pathways for local high school students into higher education and by developing lifelong learning opportunities for current students and alumni, as well as members of the greater Chicago community.
However, among his four strategic pillars for the university, Echambadi noted that his pillar of purpose-driven citizenship is perhaps the most important as community leaders.
“Our Bronzeville location gives us an opportunity to serve as a convener of industry, academia, and the Chicago community to drive meaningful impact,” says Echambadi.
Following Echambadi’s introductory remarks, the bulk of each session centered around an open forum for community members to share their questions, concerns, and experiences with Illinois Tech administration.
In the first session, educators and education advocates asked questions about the coordination between local high school and middle school students into existing collegiate programs; the incorporation of Illinois Tech students into existing high school and middle school programs; the establishment of new dual-credit programs that will give students a leg up once they get to college; and how to better include Bronzeville’s historical heritage and culture into the Illinois Tech student experience. Local business leaders and entrepreneurs had the opportunity to discuss the role of anchor institutions like Illinois Tech in community development; what shared resources can be mutually beneficial to the local business community and the university community; and how Illinois Tech is preparing its students not only to lead the future workforce, but do it in a socially responsible way that is rooted in community empowerment.
The last session of the day—which included social service providers, artists, and nonprofits—involved deep discussions around opportunities for increased collaboration through value-additive resources like Illinois Tech’s Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program, volunteer opportunities for students, additional community research initiatives, and how to create a more permeable campus for the benefit of both Illinois Tech and the greater Bronzeville community.
Echambadi said that he is committed to having ongoing meetings, and plans to continue working with the entire community to create more opportunities for collaboration and co-creation.
During the sessions, community members brought up a variety of topics including questions about diversity, student enrollment, local partnership opportunities, campus safety, facilities, and reshaping Illinois Tech’s place within the South Side community.
In order to do so, Echambadi is focused on a recommitment to Illinois Tech’s founding purpose to liberate the collective power of difference to advance technology and progress for all.
“We were founded to be a place of unmatched opportunity and value. One hundred and thirty years ago, minister Frank Wakely Gunsaulus called on the Chicago community to invest in the education of students from all different backgrounds so that they could become impactful leaders in a changing industrial society,” says Echambadi. “Today, Illinois Tech ranks #1 in Illinois and #32 in the nation for lifting students from families in the bottom 20 percent of income to the top 20 percent. Thirty-one percent of undergraduates are federal Pell Grant recipients with serious financial need. We are currently ranked as the #1 best value college in Illinois, after financial aid is awarded. These all show that Illinois Tech can serve as a driver of diverse global and local leaders, and we are committed to helping to ensure inclusion and representation within the tech community more broadly.”
Aside from the listening sessions, Echambadi has also launched the Ask the President question form to capture ongoing questions and feedback from the Illinois Tech community and the surrounding community throughout the year.
“This is my commitment to the entire community,” Echambadi says. “Every voice will be heard. Every experience will be respected. And every identity will be honored here at Illinois Tech.”