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Dean Inessa Levi Leading WIU's Liberal Arts Education Efforts

September 21, 2004

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MACOMB, IL - - Some web-based research about Western Illinois University helped current College of Arts and Sciences Dean Inessa Levi decide to apply for the dean position.

“I found the vision statement about Western Illinois being the leading comprehensive university in the United States, and I thought ‘Impressive,’” said Levi, who began her tenure as dean July 1. “It’s very important to me to be in a community of people who strive for the best.”

The interview process and a follow-up visit to campus cemented Levi’s decision to become part of the Western Illinois community.

“I’m really excited to be here. It’s great to be in an organization that has a vision, a focal point,” Levi said. “Western Illinois has excellent people and excellent programs; and academic and professional excellence is a key agenda in becoming a leading comprehensive university.”

Levi came to Western from the University of Louisville, where she was a mathematics professor (July 1986-June 2004) and the associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences (January 2002-June 2004), which offers eight doctoral programs in addition to master’s and bachelor’s degree programs. Included in her college responsibilities were grant and research related activities; the negotiation of start-up funds, equipment and research space arrangement; and the support of graduate programs. During her term funded research increased by 70 percent, the dollar amount of grant submissions doubled and undergraduate research activity increased significantly.

Providing educational and research opportunities remain top agenda items for Levi at Western.

“The key thing for students at a university is learning how to learn; and the liberal arts are a wonderful vehicle for that process,” Levi said. “What is common today will be obsolete tomorrow; therefore, we must teach our students how to learn, and undergraduate and graduate research is invaluable in learning how to learn.”

She cited the summer Earthwatch Institute Student Challenge Awards Program for high-achieving high school students as a model education and research opportunity. Hosted by Western’s College of Arts and Sciences and the biology department, 10 students from across the nation worked two weeks with four biology faculty members on long-term research programs at Western’s Alice L. Kibbe Life Science Station. One of the college’s goals is to secure funding to expand this type of program to area students.

“The research process teaches students to take a real life situation, decide what tools are needed to gather information, use the tools and knowledge of their discipline to dissect the problem and then sort through and discuss the findings in everyday language,” Levi said. “This is great preparation to become a valuable employee or graduate school candidate.

“It doesn’t matter where you are from - - small rural towns or cities. If you have talent you can find the opportunities to express your talent here at Western,” Levi added.

Research and scholarship are also vital to maintain academic excellence for faculty, Levi said.

“As faculty we have to stay professionally alive, and there is a sense of intellectual excitement here at Western,” Levi added. “This is a diverse college, and to me that is exciting.”

Levi is the author of more than 60 articles in algebra, semigroup theory and applications which have been published in scientific journals. She has written six articles about student learning which have been published in educational journals, authored two book chapters and contributed to research reports and laboratory manuals. Levi also has given more than 25 presentations at professional meetings.

She earned her master’s degree (1982) and doctorate (1985) in mathematics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

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