Close Menu

Inauguration of Alan W. Cramb

September 18, 2015

Good afternoon and thank you for being here—more than 1,300 of you—for this celebration of our university and of our community.

I want to first thank Chairman Bud Wendorf— an excellent leader of our board of trustees, a loyal alumnus, and a generous benefactor—as well as our 3 Regents and our Board of Trustees, who have given so much of their time and resources to make this university successful. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead this great university.

I’d like to ask Bud, our Board of Trustees, and our Regents to rise and be recognized. I would also like to thank Meyer, Lew, John, Indira, Rahul, and Joseph for their warm and kind remarks.

Of course on a day like today, I am reflecting on the path that brought me here and the people who have been part of my journey. A path that, of course, begins with my family. I’d like to recognize my wife Anna and my daughters Liana and Natalie, my sisters Maureen and Kay, and family members Marion, Graham, Jacqui, Lisa, Benno, and Cora who are here today to share this occasion with me.

I grew up in a very small town in Scotland—a town called Saltcoats—and when I was in high school, the rector, on hearing I was leaving in my fifth year to go to Strathclyde University in Glasgow suggested that I study an applied science instead of a pure science.

I can remember that he stopped me in the hallway and said, “Cramb you are good in Math, Physics, and Chemistry—you could make a difference in the applied sciences —look into metallurgy.”

A small conversation that held significant long-term implications!

It would lead me to become a metallurgical engineer, to gain a PhD, to work in industry, to become a Professor, to be chosen to be a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and eventually to become the 9th President of Illinois Institute of Technology. Sometimes good advice comes quickly and without warning! It is worth listening to teachers!

My high school had a motto that has stayed with me through the years. It was, “Ad Astra,” which is Latin for, “to the stars.” I always appreciated the fact that the school’s motto suggested the pathway to success was through education. In addition it was an exhortation to strive for excellence and achievement.

There was no discussion of limitation, only the expectation of continuous effort to allow success at the highest level. The message was, “yes, you can.”

Just as important was family support. I was the first member in my family to ever attend a university.  And my family never told me, “you should not do that.”

They were always saying, “if that’s what you want, that’s great!”  Again a supportive environment that said, “yes, you can,” and often, “do it.”

And when I had the opportunity to come to America to continue my studies, my family never said, “ Why do you want to do that?”

Instead they said, “Yes you can and good luck.”

I travelled to the United States with my lifelong friend Michael Byrne—who is here today—and went through the change that happens when one moves to another country.

I was reminded that another quote related to the stars is, “per aspera ad astra,” meaning, “through hardship to the stars,” and I learned that it is during the struggle that one grows.

Change is never easy, but having gone through the struggle of changing a country, leaving one’s friends and family behind, and joining a quite different educational experience, I found that I had changed and become a different person—a person more comfortable with diverse opinions and more understanding that we are more alike than different.

When I finished my studies at the University of Pennsylvania, I worked for a number of years in the steel industry before deciding that my career should be in education. I had the good fortune of joining Carnegie Mellon University, where our former President John Anderson, then dean of engineering at CMU, gave me the chance to be a department chair. 

Some of my doctoral students and researchers are here today: Wanlin Wang (from China), Vincent Chevrier (from France), Yonsug Chung (from Korea), Martin Valdez (from Argentina) and Tetsuya Nagasaka (from Japan).  A truly international group.

John Anderson encouraged my efforts to become Dean at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and then brought me to IIT as his provost.  Clearly I have a much to thank John Anderson for.  Thank you John.

When you begin as an assistant professor, the path to being a president is unclear at best. It is through the support of family, teachers, and mentors that you find your way. 

And I am fortunate to have had many mentors along my path. Geoff Belton my doctoral advisor, Harry Paxton and Dick Fruehan, colleagues at CMU, Norman Mills my first boss in industry, Keith Brimacombe and many others.

A career in higher education is also demanding, and I could not be here without the love and support of my wife, Anna, and our daughters, Liana and Natalie.  So I thank them especially today.

No president becomes a president without the support of many. And no president can be successful without the continued support of even more people who work behind the scenes to allow success. This inauguration is a good example. I’d like to now recognize all the faculty and staff from the inauguration committees, and those who have spent time over the past few months to allow this day to be successful.

For 125 years, Illinois Institute of Technology has played a critical role in graduating leaders. We honored five of those leaders last night when we inducted David Boder, Marty Cooper, Phyllis Lambert, Abraham Marovitz, and Susan Solomon into the IIT Hall of Fame.

These are individuals who have been innovators in their fields, and who represent the best of an Illinois Tech education. And while we celebrate our historical contributions to the world, we must also understand that to be relevant in the long term, a university must constantly change to be relevant to the students who will graduate in the future. Still, we must also be true to our guiding principles.

Thus, we will continue to be a place where talented students can seek knowledge and success regardless of their financial means. In this we honor our heritage and our beginnings. It was Frank Wakeley Gunsaulus, our first president, who convinced Philip Danforth Armour to give the initial gift to fund our university—the outcome of the now famous 1 million dollar sermon.

Throughout our history, we have also had other great leaders–such as Bob Galvin and Bob Pritzker­–step forward to advance the university. And today we are still a university that welcomes bright students from Chicago and makes it possible for them to attend regardless of financial background.

We will also continue to celebrate the international nature of our community, knowing that by coming to IIT, our students truly meet the world.

At Illinois Tech, our U.S. students can have a global experience in Chicago and our international students can enjoy the United States, as I did many years ago.

We will continue to refresh our excellent and rigorous curriculum, ensuring that our graduates have the skills for their first job, as well their entire careers.  And we will continue to hire and develop excellent faculty—the most important people in our university. Could I ask the faculty to please stand and be recognized?

The faculty are the heart of our university without whom we could not achieve our goals or aspirations.

We will continue to be strong in our core business of education and will continue to focus on areas that distinguished us in the past. But we will also grow, make plans to change, and continuously improve.

Together we have the opportunity to become much, much more than that which we have already accomplished. I want us to begin talking more about our future, about our aspirations.  And I want us to make those aspirations a reality.

Looking ahead, we will become:

A university where there is a strong focus on both education and the development of new knowledge—and where excellence is expected and not an aspiration;

A university where outstanding faculty scholarship is combined with an ability to inspire our student body to high achievement;

A university that values creativity, innovation, and the entrepreneurial endeavors of its faculty, students, staff, and alumni;

A university where students are the focus of our endeavors and their success after graduation is the major outcome of their education;

A university whose faculty, students, staff, and alumni have pride in the accomplishments of all;

A university whose culture is inclusive, its people diverse, and its accomplishments more than the sum of its parts;

In short, a premiere, global, technological university, that is based in Chicago.

I see four key points for the future of IIT:

First, we must ensure the success of our graduates by offering them a TOTAL student experience. One which will include a great education in a discipline of their choice and an out of class experience that allows them to grow as people, to develop an appreciation of the accomplishments of others, and to start the path that will allow them to become leaders in their careers.

Second, we must continue to build the visibility of our university as a premier global technological university in Chicago and the world.

Third, we must build a community that supports the achievement of our goals.

And fourth, we must grow.

Let me talk about each of these. About the student experience:

I want our alumni to say that they received a great education, and had the best experience of their lives. In this I do not mean that our education will be any less rigorous but that the out of class room experience will be meaningful, focused on their development, and allow them to become successful professionals.

When I was a student, I was focused only on my education.  But my daughter Liana, a second year college student, has helped me understand the importance of the social and the out of class elements of a university experience, which allow the formal educational experience to be richer and focused on future success.

Our students will develop life skills through participation in clubs and organizations, athletics, and recreation programs. They will have opportunities for personal growth by creating a collaborative environment that encourages students to know one another well. They will apply knowledge learned in the classroom to real world problems with like-minded friends. They will be encouraged to follow their ideas and dreams. They will be preparing for success after graduation.

What we have to offer our students is the ability to become a creative, innovative, and even entrepreneurial leader in a technological or professional field of their choice. To accomplish this promise we will continue to improve our outstanding academic programs while we improve the total student experience.

We will build the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship—the flagship of our commitment to ensure the success of our graduates. And, of course, we will continue to make improvements to our classrooms, laboratories, and facilities focused on student life.

I want to thank the staff of the university, because you play such a critical role in this university. You are often a mentor and friend to students, or a person to talk to when family is far away. 

Your caring nature allows many students to overcome rough times either academically or personally. Per aspera ad adstra—it is through the struggle that we grow—but no one should have to do this alone. I thank you for caring about our students, for nurturing them, and for focusing on the details of their experience, both in and outside of the classroom. Would staff members please stand so I can applaud you?

And to our second point—raising the visibility of our fine institution. We must show the world who we are. We must show them that we are a premiere, global, technological university based in Chicago. Our reputation begins with the faculty. It is their research and publications, and their global influence, which build the renown of our university.  

Law, Architecture, Business, Science, Engineering, Applied Technology, Design, and Human Science. We have great faculty members in all of our schools and colleges—great scholars and educators.

Our reputation is also built through the success of our students and our alumni, and how they share their pride in their alma mater. The third key point is that of developing a supportive community.

I want today to begin our next great step into the future. I want all of us to leave today united and eager to make this the university it is destined to become.

We have great ambitions for IIT. And those ambitions can only be reached when all of us come together and work as one.

To do this, we need to make sure we have a culture in which we respect one another, care about one another, and support one another. If you do not have a strong community, you cannot have a strong institution. As we work together to become stronger as a group, I want to let you know what I believe in.

I believe in thinking and behaving ethically.

I am guided by the principle of always trying to do the right thing and always trying to do right by others.

I value diversity across the organization. I wish to develop a culture that values all forms of diversity.

We cannot look away when we see something wrong. And we cannot be afraid to confront challenging situations.

Take the time to support a colleague, student, or volunteer. When we work together, we will all accomplish more. And we will do it faster and better than we could have alone. I wish to move this university forward and have it become recognized worldwide for its accomplishments.

I want us to be recognized as a great Chicago university.

As a great American university.

And as a great university of the world.

This leads to the fourth point that I mentioned. To accomplish this task, we must grow! Growth in all areas is necessary.

Growth in student numbers.

Growth in stature.

Growth in academics.

Growth in scholarship and research.

And also growth in pride. Pride in the accomplishments of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. Growth is a concerted effort. It takes each of us here, each of us watching, and each of us who will hear this message in the future, to make this university grow. Yes, together we can!

Our future success begins with using the power of ALL members of the community to share their pride in IIT—in their professional networks, in their communities, and even by wearing the tee shirts I see today.

I speak especially to our 8,000 students and 73,000 alumni, because your numbers are the largest. I ask you to take ownership in the future of your alma mater. Start by telling our story whenever you have the chance. Tell others what an amazing institution this is. Help your alma mater by sending outstanding students its way.

Imagine the power you have to shape our future and strengthen IIT. Look to hire fellow alumni before you hire anyone else. And yes, when you can, support your university financially. As a community we can make a marked, positive change in the life of our university.

These are the things that separate a very good university from a great one. And these are the things that are in your control and offer you a way to make a real difference at Illinois Tech.

I want all alumni, faculty, students...and donors to stand now. I thank you for everything you have done and WILL do for this great university. This has been a truly wonderful day, and there is more to come.

I told you that I want you to leave here today eager and united. So I would like you to take a moment and think about not just the future and vision I have described, but also what the future looks like to you.

What kind of future do you want for IIT?

If you are a student, what do you want to say about this university when you graduate? If you are alumni, what kind of place do you want to come back to? If you are faculty or staff, at what kind of place do you want to work? And if you are friends or volunteers, what kind of place should this university become following your investment of time and resources?

Think about all of this for a moment, and then remember—it is all up to you. I will work hard to guide this university. I will maintain and increase excellence, raise money, tell our story, and improve our position as a top university. But to be successful I will need you to help me. So ask yourselves, “How can I help? How can I make Illinois Tech the place it is destined to be?”

I want to leave you with one final thought. We saw the video earlier about the past presidents and about their eras at IIT. While those stories celebrate their outstanding leadership, there is another story within. And that is the story of all of you—of the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends who helped to define those eras. All of you are embarking on a new era—the one the next movie will describe as my time here.

But never forget that it is your time also. It is, in fact, our time.

It is our time to fulfill the dreams that others had for this university. It is our time to live up to our potential. It is our time to come together as a community. It is our time. And it begins right now.

I look forward to the future and I look forward to getting there— with you.

Thank you.