Carlo Montemagno

Carlo Montemagno

July 20, 2017

Montemagno: ‘Define ourselves by our vision’

by Pete Rosenbery

Incoming Chancellor Carlo Montemagno is optimistic about the university’s future and the role that shared governance will play in moving SIU Carbondale forward. 

Earlier this week at the Student Center, Montemagno emphasized faculty, staff, students, alumni, supporters and the local community will be able to provide ideas and vision on what they believe SIU should be in 2025. His goal is to take the information received from a planned website and email survey to formulate by the end of October a “defined vision of what the objectives and goals” for the university. 

“From that we are going to look at our resources, the things that we do,” he said. “We are going to start pivoting those resources to try and achieve that vision. We will not define ourselves by the resources that we have in hand. We will define ourselves by our vision.” 

The SIU Board of Trustees on July 13 appointed Montemagno, a professor of engineering who founded and led the interdisciplinary Ingenuity Lab based at the University of Alberta in Canada, to be the university’s next chancellor. He begins his new role Aug. 15. 

A three-part financial sustainability plan that includes paying back funds used for operations FY17, reductions in state budgets for FY18, and additional steps going forward, “sets the foundation for providing a platform of financial stability,” Montemagno said. 

The goal is to “invest in programs that make strategic sense to position ourselves to be a leading academic institution nationally by 2025,” he added. 

Montemagno discussed the importance of providing a “world-class personalized educational experience that has comprehensive opportunities.” He also noted that first-generation students are an “integral part of the role and responsibility of a public university.” As a first-generation student himself who understands the challenges and difficulties it can bring, Montemagno said, it is important to make sure those students are prepared to come but to also provide a template for their success once they arrive on campus. 

“We have to make sure the students we bring on have the appropriate preparation and that we provide the appropriate safety net that allows them to be successful. Public universities were created as the American gateway of upward mobility,” he said. 

“They were the tool that our government created to ensure that Johnny or Sally or Katie … no matter what their circumstances are, would have the opportunity to grab onto that brass ring and hold onto it,” Montemagno added. “Our responsibility is to make sure that brass ring is within reach. And, our responsibility is that they hold onto it until they graduate.” 

In spite of budget difficulties, Montemagno, noting that he is “accused of being the eternal optimist,” had no hesitation on becoming chancellor. 

“Money, resources, do not define your vision. They don’t define your success,” he said. “They define the path that you have to take to achieve it, and I have led organizations that have faced just as dire of financial circumstances and we were able to make them successful. That never for a moment entered into my mind as a determiner. Actually, the real determiner was the climate that came from the students and the staff when I came to visit. 

“I saw people who were totally committed to the institution and were dismayed that they weren’t able to achieve the things they wanted. But the fact that they were totally committed to this institution told me that the framework was there, that if we provide the proper path, they will follow … and we will be successful.” 

While indicating that his biggest near-term fear is that a rainstorm will impact the total eclipse on Aug. 21, Montemagno said he is most excited that “no matter where I walk on campus everybody is becoming optimistic of the future.” 

“As we bring everybody together and we all work together, it gives me more and more confidence that we will achieve the things that we want to achieve,” he said. “And my second near term fear is that we allow a small population of naysayers and disillusion to put a damper on the vision of moving forward and the optimism that we should have. The best days of SIU will be ahead of us. There is no doubt in my mind the best days are ahead of us.”