Kenneth Edison, Managing Editor
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Troy VanAken has two children but if you asked him, on occasion he might say he’s got three.
“I sometimes view Elmhurst College (EC) as my third child,” said EC’s President as he waited for his lunch to arrive in Oak Brook Maggiano’s with The Leader.
The lunch outing was part of the Leader’s annual date with the President. This year, The Leader sat down with VanAken to reflect on his first year at EC and looked onward to his vision of the college for the years to come.
One of the major events in VanAken’s first year of presidency was the conclusion of the 2016 presidential election. As is the case with colleges across the country, this was a divisive time for EC that saw emotional unrest, student protests and a divide among the student body for some time. This post-election period was a time that VanAken reflected on with some regret.
“Candidly, when I look back who knows if I handled it well,” he said, “Some things you can’t handle well you just have to deal with them.”
VanAken, who was out of the country at the time of the election’s conclusion, looked back wishing that he had a more active role in trying to close the divide among the EC community at the time.
“Had I known, I would have been much more visible, much more vocal. Maybe not saying anything for one side or the other, but just being a part of the conversation.”
The election was just one of many extended storylines that The Leader covered extensively in the 2016-17 school year. Other stories included the flooding of Dinkmeyer Hall’s basement as well as the poor state of EC’s baseball field; much of which was critical of the school.
VanAken addressed his reaction to reading these criticisms.
“At times I do get a little concerned when the Leader or other places are putting these things out there about the college that aren’t the most flattering,” he said. “But I also recognize you guys have a job to do and you can’t be the mouthpiece of the administration. But I would like to see more balance in [The Leader’s] articles.”
As the various pasta dishes arrived at the small table placed square in the middle of the dining doom, the focus shifted to the future of the college and how VanAken plans to oversee his future years of presidency.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what the campus needs or wants from me, but I can only do so much,” said VanAken when asked about improving student immersion on campus. “I’ve already got it planned to go to some of the student clubs’ initial meetings to sell the strategic plan, but also to listen very carefully so that they can understand what’s important to them is important to me.”
The strategic plan VanAken is referring to is a campus wide blueprint for the future of the college which includes proposals as drastic as possibly changing the name of the college to Elmhurst University or University of Elmhurst.
International recruitment was a big talking point for the President, as he mentioned his multiple trips to Vietnam as well as his effort to tease more relationships with schools overseas in hopes of creating a more diverse campus.
“What we’re going to try to do is be more of a destination for international students,” he said. “We do such a good job of sending our student abroad, we’d like to do more to internationalize our own campus.”
He explained that more trips have been planned to other countries like Greece and Colombia in hopes of accepting more international students and creating exchange programs in those countries.
But it wasn’t all business talk with the President. He also touched on some lighter material, confessing his love of classic cars to the Leader. In response to The Leader’s inquiry about the possibility of an EC auto show, an idea VanAken expressed interest in.
“I really like classic cars, they were one of my favorite parts about my trip to Cuba. I’ve got a 1957 Thunderbird and my dad’s got a bunch of old cars that eventually I’ll get,” he said. “It’d be great if we could have [an auto show.] Maybe we could do something in association with homecoming, we could have like a classic car meet maybe the morning of homecoming.”
The Cuba trip alluded to above was one of a few family vacations that VanAken recalled to the Leader.
“We do travel a lot, we went to Cuba. My wife is Puerto Rican and Cuban. Her grandfather was Puerto Rican and her grandmother was Cuban,” he said. “So my kids are Cuban so I wanted them to go there. Though sometimes I think I’m more into their heritage then they are sometimes,” VanAken laughingly hypothesized.
Though there were plenty of laughs and personal anecdotes exchanged throughout the day, the main focus of the interview was VanAken’s inaugural year as President of EC; a year that the Leader graded a C.