UI prof at convocation urges students to find deep understanding

UI prof at convocation urges students to find deep understanding

CHAMPAIGN — Find your "Leslie."

The University of Illinois is home to many people willing to mentor students, and art Professor Billie Jean Theide urged new students to find them.

For Theide, that person was Leslie Leupp, an art professor at Indiana University who wore khaki shorts and pink jelly shoes and whose drink of choice was Coke and red wine. He and Theide would visit flea markets, share meals and dance in a basement disco — and he would tear apart students' work, rearranging their creations into something better.

"Leslie wanted me to succeed not by creating art pieces that I liked, but by creating art that was based on a deep understanding of theory, material, function and mastery of process," Theide told about 7,000 new students assembled in the Assembly Hall Friday morning. The professor, an accomplished artist and teacher whose work has been in shows across the U.S. and Europe, delivered the keynote for the new student convocation. The event served as the official welcome to the Class of 2017.

"All your Illinois professors want you to succeed, and we will hold you to rigorous standards because that is how you will reach your potential. You are capable of much more than you realize. It's our job to show you how to exceed your own expectations," she said.

Theide grew up in Iowa ("like oatmeal — it's bland but it's really good for you") and spent Saturday afternoons with her engineer father at his shop surrounded by milling machines and lathes. She inherited her father's large hands and his love of tools and craft. After graduating from Drake University she would go on to attend graduate school at Indiana University (after pleading with the director to give her a chance). That's where she met Leupp.

"All of your professors will invest time and effort into helping you attain your goals. But I hope each of you will find your 'Leslie.'

"Our campus is teeming with incredible mentors, just waiting for those students who share their enthusiasm for scholarship and discovery. They will help you succeed," she told them.

Thiede said she makes art to be happy, but teaching and mentoring students — "that's where I get the deep satisfaction of seeing a new generation succeed."

For the record

After convocation, students had their hand in helping the university capture another world record.

The university broke a Guinness World Record Friday by creating the world's largest serving of salsa. The concoction, all 6,840 pounds of it, beat the previous record of 5,868 pounds by the Asociacin de Productores del Tomates de Los Palacios in Spain.

Some 7,000 pounds of tomatoes, 600 pounds of onions, 20 pounds of jalapeno peppers, 375 lime bunches and 70 gallons of lime juice and kosher salt were used to make the salsa. Some of the produce came from the Student Sustainable Farm on the South Farms.

What the UI farm couldn't produce, "the rest we got locally. That's a lot of happy tomato farmers," said Benjamin Grice, chef for the Florida Avenue Residence Halls.

Chefs prepared a test batch a week ago to determine the right portions of ingredients and for taste.

According to the rules, it didn't need to have cilantro or jalapenos in it, but "what's salsa without cilantro?" Grice said.

In order to qualify, none of the food could be prepared ahead of time. Staff arrived at 5 a.m. Friday to get chopping. The food also needs to be consumed, according to Guinness World Records adjudicator Philip Robertson, who has visited the campus before to oversee the smoothie and the corn-husking records set in 2011 and 2012.

"An army of something like 10,000 hungry, educated locusts will eat it later," he said.

After convocation, students lined up to dump buckets of salsa into the giant container just outside Memorial Stadium. Robertson presented a certificate to campus officials Friday afternoon.

They're planning to set another record as part of the new student convocation next year.

"We haven't decided yet, but we are most definitely working on it," said Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing for dining.

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