UI's first chief diversity officer: 'Breadth and depth of experience'

 

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CHAMPAIGN — Recruited for a new administrative post at the University of Illinois, engineering Professor Sean Garrick mentioned his upcoming interview to an old friend.

"He said, 'That's like the MIT of the Midwest,'" said Garrick, who was announced Tuesday as the UI's first chief diversity officer pending approval by UI trustees.

An accomplished researcher and poet at heart who also oversees efforts to diversify faculty ranks at the University of Minnesota, Garrick will be the UI's vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, starting Aug. 1. He will be paid $329,999 a year.

The Fulbright scholar is now associate vice provost in Minnesota's Office for Equity and Diversity.

"We had some very, very stellar candidates," Chancellor Robert Jones said. "It was clear that Sean had the breadth and depth of experience to really help move our diversity and equity agenda to the next level."

Jones, who spent 34 years as a professor and administrator at Minnesota, knew Garrick at the time.

"He's an outstanding, well-accomplished, highly regarded faculty member and a professor in mechanical engineering, just a very, very accomplished young man," Jones said.

In addition to leading the newly established Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Garrick will provide advice to the chancellor on diversity and social justice issues, the UI said.

"I'm really, truly thrilled to be stepping into this new role there," he said.

Garrick said he was attracted by the UI's stature and the chance to continue work he started early on at Minnesota to "broaden participation in education," particularly in science and engineering.

"It's something that I thought was important to do, whether it was engaging high school kids or undergraduates and graduate students in engineering, or asking engineering students to think bigger and more broadly about their actual discipline so they can have an impact on the world," he said.

"This type of work really takes, I think, sustained effort to make headway. When a quality institution like that says they want to do something like that, it's just outstanding. I felt like I had no choice.

"In my discipline, it's one of the best places to be," he added.

Early poetry plans

Jones had originally hoped to hire someone for the position early this semester, but the search was extended after the first four finalists interviewed didn't work out. Four more candidates were brought to campus this spring, including Garrick.

"It's been one of the longest searches I think I've run in 30-some-odd years in higher education," Jones said.

A review of the UI's diversity programs last year, commissioned by Jones, found the campus spends $60 million a year on those efforts, mostly for scholarships, but it's unclear how money is prioritized, how programs are assessed and how units are held accountable. The review team recommended creating the new vice chancellor's post to oversee those efforts.

Garrick said the report gave him a sense of "what the challenges are," but he wants to talk to faculty members, staff and students before setting any priorities.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Garrick is the son of college-educated Caribbean immigrants. His dad was an accountant and his mom worked as a manager at an insurance company.

Garrick always liked science and math, but his first major in college was English.

"I thought I was going to be a poet," he said. "My thing was 17th-century poetry — John Donne, John Milton — until someone told me, 'You have to get a job.'"

A man in demand

He earned his doctorate at State University of New York-Buffalo and was hired even before he graduated by Minnesota, under a program Jones supervised to help the engineering school attract talented young scholars of diverse backgrounds. Garrick said he had calls from Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida within a month of taking the Minnesota job.

He's now in the hiring role at Minnesota. As director of the Institute for Diversity, Equity and Advocacy, he started a postdoctoral fellowship program — a more systematic version of the program that recruited him — to try to land talented scholars still in graduate school. Illinois has a similar program, he said.

Minnesota also joined a national partnership of 20 institutions to recruit talented professors before they go on the job market. And Garrick helped start a scholarship program to retain talented professors targeted by other schools, providing small grants for research support or startup projects.

His research is on fluid dynamics, studying how liquids and gases interact.

For one NASA-funded project, Garrick's team studied how smoke is generated in space and whether detection systems developed on Earth would work in zero-gravity.

Most smoke detectors sound alarms based on the size of the particles in smoke, "so the question is, how does the presence of gravity affect what a particle looks like?" he said.

His team developed a computational model to replicate experiments conducted on the International Space Station.

If a wire has a short and started to smoulder and the Teflon started to burn, "can you detect it soon enough to jettison or evacuate?" he asked. "It's a very, very big issue."

Cupcake connection

Garrick earned a Fulbright award last year to work with scientists in Finland and Sweden studying how particles in the atmosphere interact with natural processes to affect cloud cover, in hopes of improving climate change models. He has had several visiting professorships in Finland and Switzerland.

He hopes to apply the analytical skills he acquired through science and engineering to his new job, bringing people together to "achieve these larger goals that span disciplines, that span communities."

Garrick is married to noted pastry chef Alicia Hinze, owner of the Buttered Tin bakery and cafe in St. Paul. She has provided desserts for a James Beard gala and won an episode of TV's "Cupcake Wars." They have two daughters, Sydney, 3, and Milena, 15 months.

Garrick is happy to be staying in the Midwest, calling it "a great place to live." He had planned to stay at Minnesota no more than two years, and despite opportunities to move back East or overseas, "here I am 21 years later."

He won't mind leaving Minnesota's "crazy winters," though his mom thinks the Midwest "is a lot more like Caribbean life than it is New York."

"It's more about people and living than it is about stuff and what's going on," he said. "It's more about what actually, truly matters."

What they make

As vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, Sean Garrick's annual salary will be $329,999. Here's a look at salaries for the five UI vice chancellors and other officers on the chancellor's leadership team, for 2018-19, according to the UI Gray Book:

NamePositionSalary
Robert JonesChancellor$661,980
Josh WhitmanAthletic director$624,240
Andreas CangellarisProvost$495,000
Barry BensonVice chancellor for advancement$348,500*
Susan MartinisVice chancellor for research$337,100
Mark HendersonChief information officer$332,520
Danita Brown-YoungVice chancellor for student affairs$287,885
Michael DeLorenzoSenior associate chancellor$278,615
Paul EllingerAssociate chancellor$275,100
Wanda WardExecutive associate chancellor$262,000
Robin KalerAssociate chancellor$226,816
Mohamed AttallaExecutive director of facilities and services$225,000
Elyne ColeSenior associate chancellor$208,050
Craig StoneDirector of public safety$185,000

* — Portion paid by UI Foundation, the fundraising arm

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).