UI 150 Hou-Ovnik

Gov. J.B. Pritzker named University of Illinois graduate Grace Hou-Ovnik as secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services in February 2019.

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Memory No. 1,802 on our special, Gies College of Business-powered website comes from Chinese-American GRACE HOU-OVNIK, who’s spent much of her post-UI life working on behalf of those with less.

Her appointment, to secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, was touted by many as a win for the disabled, the poor and immigrants looking for a better life.

Another group that ought to be giddy about Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s February cabinet choice: journalists covering state government.

For a time, as a UI undergrad in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Grace Hou-Ovnik was one of us.

“I felt truly immersed in learning when I entered the journalism program my junior year,” says Hou-Ovnik (BS ’92 journalism). “I discovered the power of writing and the media and how they shape and document historical and current events. The power of the pen.

“During one of our writing assignments, we were required to cover a ‘beat.’ My ‘beat’ was religion, and I remember spending time with a local faith leader who ran a shelter for people who were experiencing homelessness.

“It was eye-opening, humbling and introduced me to the social services sector. I believe that this seed played a role in leading to me where I am now,” says the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, whose stops between C-U and DHS director included the Chinese Mutual Aid Association (executive director, 1998-2003) and Woods Fund of Chicago, a grantmaking foundation “committed to the promotion of social, economic and racial justice” (president, 2012-19).

“Knowing how to write and communicate has served me well over the course of my career. Writing like a journalist, with crispness and directness, is a talent; one that has become more rare in our society over time.

“I appreciated studying historical events through the eyes of a reporter and understand — especially now — how important it is to the foundation of this country.”

News-Gazette