Longtime UI donors announce uniquely sustainable gift

Longtime UI donors announce uniquely sustainable gift

URBANA — A longtime donor to University of Illinois athletics is giving the campus a sizable gift to endow environmental sustainability programs.

Retired Caterpillar executive Stuart Levenick — a 1976 UI forestry graduate and former co-captain of the Illini football team — and his wife, Nancy, are funding an endowed faculty position and a resident scholars program to promote education, research and leadership in sustainability.

One endowment fund will create the Stuart L. and Nancy J. Levenick Sustainability Chair in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

And a leadership program fund named in their honor will establish a resident scholars program at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment.

As a forestry major, Stuart Levenick said he learned the value of a "strong, resilient environment and humanity's place in nurturing it." As the world's population expands, new types of leaders are needed to meet increasing food, clean water, energy, shelter and basic health needs without damaging the environment, he said.

"Sustainability is a hot topic these days, but still in its infancy," Levenick said Wednesday.

The unique structure of the institute, which promotes collaboration with other UI departments and private organizations, provides an opportunity for the UI to be a recognized leader in "creating innovative solutions that are economically and environmentally sustainable," he said.

Levenick and UI officials declined to disclose the exact amount of the gift, but an endowed faculty chair alone requires at least $2 million.

"It's very substantial," said Professor Jeffrey Brawn, who heads the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

'Destination' campus

This will be the first endowed chair for the department.

"That brings us the ability to attract and retain really good people," Brawn said Wednesday. "And it gives us more national visibility. We're just really grateful."

The department has 22 tenure-track faculty members, including social scientists, ecologists and researchers in chemistry, soil and water quality — "a lot of different aspects of what sustainability is all about, from biodiversity to people," he said.

Whoever is chosen for the endowed position will also manage the resident scholars program at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment, which will bring in national and global experts from other universities, the private sector and nonprofit organizations to collaborate with UI researchers and teach students.

"This campus will become a destination for worldwide sustainability experts — offering them creative opportunities and exposing faculty, students and staff on our campus to real-time sustainability solutions from across the globe," said Evan DeLucia, director of the institute.

The new position will solidify collaborations between the two units, Brawn and DeLucia said.

Generous givers

In 2015, another gift from the Levenicks created an iSEE fellowship program to fund faculty and student research as well as instructors for courses for a new sustainability minor. The gift was an integral part of efforts to research real-world solutions to environmental issues and help students learn to be "sustainability-minded" on campus, in the work force and as community leaders, DeLucia said.

A partial match in 2016 from Caterpillar also helped fund the institute's "Collaboratory," which opened in January and features a cutting-edge classroom, media studio and teleconferencing space. It will used by the resident scholars.

The Levenicks also donated $5 million in 2018 for the new UI football performance center and previously endowed a scholarship fund for walk-on football players. Stu Levenick, a former walk-on, was later drafted by the Baltimore Colts.

"I received a tremendous educational experience from the University of Illinois, both in the classroom and on the athletic field, which had a big impact on my life. So, for Nancy and me, it's natural to want to give back and help to ensure the opportunities that I had are available to future students," said Levenick, a longtime Peoria resident who now lives in Naples, Fla.

He is also co-chairing a campus commission to help develop new traditions in the post-Chief Illiniwek era.