EC welcomes 14th college president

VanAken delivers a speech introducing himself to the campus community. Photo by Mia Harman Elmhurst College welcomed its 14th president, Dr. Troy VanAken, at a reception on Thursday Feb. 18 in the Founder's Lounge. VanAken was chosen unanimously by the Board of Trustees. VanAken delivered a speech introducing himself and his wife, Annette VanAken, to the faculty, students, and staff in attendance. Many departments and organizations, including student athletes, were required to attend the reception. He was introduced by Chair of the Board of Trustrees, Barbara Lucks. VanAken spoke about his past experiences, ranging from college president to athletic director, and briefly described why he is a good fit for president. "In the search profile, I think your second sentence said something about being 'intensely student-centric'," he said during the speech. "If you look at my Facebook wall you would see that future and current students really define who Annette and I are." While acknowledging that there is work to be done, VanAken stressed that the reception was simply an introduction. "Today is about saying hello to new friends, to meeting students I didn't get to meet when I was here before, and to celebrate the next chapter in Elmhurst's history," he said. The slogan he used during the speech, and repeated again in an all-campus email sent later that day, was: "Work hard, play hard." This encompassed his predictions for the future of EC, citing the importance of balancing academic achievement with fun. "We are going to use co-curricular actives to further enhance the student experience and develop our sense of community," he said. He briefly mentioned a new strategic plan that he will work to create and implement. Later in the speech, he joked about his ability to bring in revenue, alluding to the $60 million dollar fundraising campaign he oversaw as president of Thiel College. "Be forewarned, even if you're a student now we hope you get a job and make a lot of money," he said. "I plan on being here a while and we will come see you after the fact. That's very important, and we are ready to [raise funds]." In his closing comments, VanAken expressed his respect for the position. "Annette and I will do our very best to respect the confidence you’ve placed in us," he said. "We will serve Elmhurst with passion and we will provide its students with the type of engaged leadership you deserve." Following the speech, a receiving line formed to greet the president. Faculty and staff were encouraged by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs to remain at the back of the line so that students could meet VanAken. He asked each student their name and major, but discussions were discouraged. Dr. Larry Braskamp, interim president of the college, was unable to attend the reception, but spoke with The Leader following the initial announcement. "I did meet with him briefly and I am confident that he will be an excellent leader for Elmhurst College," he said. "I will not be actively involved after Troy arrives. I have not determined what I will do but I am exploring a number of possibilities." Tyler Espino, the student representative for the Presidential Search Committee, expressed excitement about this selection. "Even though it was discouraging when we initially didn't come to a decision, it feels like it was meant to be," he said. "[VanAken] has a wide array of experiences and is more personable than past presidents." Similar confidence was expressed by VanAken himself following the reception. "I am even more honored after having met more members of the community," he said. "I'm excited for the future of Elmhurst, not just because Annette and I are coming to campus, but because of the energy that already exists here." VanAken is the past president of both Thiel and Albion College. At Albion College, he also previously served as the executive vice president, vice president for finance and management, and the athletic director. VanAken will officially take office following the spring semester.