URBANA – When Linda Katehi visited the University of Illinois campus during its provost search, what impressed engineering Professor Jim Coleman the most wasn't her performance during the formal discussions.
"The best part was the time we spent walking from one place to another, just having casual conversation," Coleman said. "Even in casual, informal circumstances, she'll still be passionate about things that are important to her. It was really appealing."
Coleman was a member of the search committee that selected Katehi (pronounced kuh-TAY-hee) as a finalist for provost. The UI announced Monday that Chancellor Richard Herman was recommending Katehi for the job.
Katehi is dean of Purdue University's college of engineering, and an electrical and computer engineer, as is Coleman. He has been aware of her work for some time and called her a distinguished scientist.
He also said they have many friends and colleagues in common at the University of Michigan, where Katehi spent 18 years. He said they described her as a collegial administrator who can bring together many different groups.
"She has the ability to make a difficult decision, and even when she's making a decision you don't like, you still feel like she's your friend and it was done fairly," Coleman said.
"I think she's going to bring a level of energy that we like," he continued. "When we talked to her references and talked to her, it's pretty clear she's a person about getting things moving. Every place she's been, she's jumped in and pushed the gas pedal. That kind of new, fresh energy and life is something you want to get from every new hire."
Ilesanmi Adesida, the UI's interim dean of engineering and an electrical and computer engineering professor, has also known Katehi for some time and served on committees with her.
"She's thoughtful and has a good global view of things, which is very important in the provost's position," he said.
Adesida said he was impressed with her tenure at Purdue, where she hired a number of new faculty, identified strategic areas to invest in, and made diversity a key issue.
"She'll come with a good working knowledge of what a top university should be like," Adesida said. "She will have that drive of accelerating and maintaining excellence. She has that culture that we have here."
Coleman said he was happy the search attracted so many high-quality candidates.
"There are a lot of really remarkable people out there available for administrative positions, so selecting her was easy and hard both, because she was the person we wanted and the fit was the best," he said. "At the same time, there were a lot of good candidates. If you do a nationwide search and you're the University of Illinois, you attract a lot of really remarkable people. That's a compliment to us. The process was very refreshing to me, that very, very good people, including Linda, wanted to come here and saw this as a great place to come."