Dear iSEE Community,
It is with mixed feelings that I announce that I have stepped down as iSEE’s Baum Family Director, effective Aug. 31. I will be retiring from the University of Illinois in the not too distant future, but I plan to maintain an active research program and involvement in campus sustainability issues as an emeritus professor.
I am very pleased to announce that Madhu Khanna, ACES Distinguished Professor and current Associate Director for Research in iSEE, has agreed to serve as Interim Director. I hope that you will support her with your hard work and dedication just as you have always supported me. In the next few weeks Madhu will evaluate the composition of the iSEE leadership team and start the process of recruiting a new Associate Director for Research.
Since its launch seven years ago, iSEE has grown into a nationally visible institute with vibrant research, education, and sustainability programs. We are unique in shepherding this three-part mission. Since iSEE’s inception we have submitted over $300 million in interdisciplinary research grants and have had a nearly 50% funding rate. Part of iSEE’s success stems from the seed grant program that brings together new combinations of faculty who propose novel solutions to societal grand challenges. In education, the Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Fellows Program, our minor in sustainability, pairs students with major corporations including AB/InBev, John Deere, Bayer, and Johnson Controls to tackle sustainability challenges vexing to the private sector; and Q Magazine, the nation’s first environmental magazine written by students and professionally curated, is about to publish its third volume. On the sustainability front, campus will sign the third Illinois Climate Action Plan this year, a road map to carbon neutrality. To move us toward this goal, our first solar farm is up and running, Solar Farm 2 construction has begun, and negotiations are underway for a major acquisition of additional zero-carbon energy for campus. We have hit our stride!
One of the most visible successes of iSEE was the $115M U.S. Department of Energy grant that led to the formation of the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI). I am also stepping down as CABBI Director and am pleased to announce that Andrew Leakey, Feedstock Production Theme Leader and Professor and Head of Plant Biology and Professor of Crop Sciences at Illinois, has agreed to take on the Director’s role. In the next few weeks Andrew will evaluate the composition of theme leadership across our research portfolio; we have a strong team that has made huge strides in developing “plants as factories,” and he will recruit a new theme leader for feedstocks in short order.
I am enormously grateful to the students, staff, and PIs who have made us so successful, so quickly. The strong commitment to iSEE and guidance provided by the steering committee over the years has been critical to our success. On the sustainability front, I’m enormously grateful to the many folks who have volunteered as SWATeam members for helping transform our campus for the better. Of course, iSEE’s associate directors — research, Madhu Khanna; education/outreach, Gillen Wood; and campus sustainability, Ximing Cai — through their tireless efforts have built iSEE’s impactful and extensive research, education, and sustainability portfolios. Much thanks to Morgan White; she has been instrumental in turning ideas into action for campus sustainability. And thank you, Scott Willenbrock, for your untiring efforts to help me understand the ‘ins and outs’ of renewable energy. iSEE’s communications team under Tony Mancuso’s leadership has done a magnificent job of getting the word out. I’d also like to acknowledge the enormous support and friendship I have enjoyed with Dr. Mohamed Attalla. As Director of Facilities & Services, Mohamed very much shares iSEE’s vision for building a more sustainable campus, and he is moving us toward this goal with great enthusiasm. Amy Rosenbery, iSEE’s Administrative Associate, has been making the institute run from the beginning; thank you, Amy. And last but certainly not least, I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to iSEE Managing Director Jenny Kokini. Jenny has been my partner since the very beginning, getting things done and building iSEE’s administration with great efficiency and humor, and, most importantly, keeping me on the straight and narrow.
It would be an understatement to say that philanthropy is the great enabler at universities. Through generous support from Joel Friedman and Erika Cornelisen, Nancy and Stu Levenick, and Janelle Joseph, iSEE has been able to develop creative, engaging, and effective programs that otherwise would not have been possible.
I will miss sitting in the Director’s chair, but I’m looking forward to watching iSEE’s continued growth and success.
Best wishes and be well.
Evan H. DeLucia