hen asked to reflect on memorable moments from her first year as chair of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Alumni Association Board of Directors, Sherrie Littlejohn (M.S. CS ’82) doesn’t hesitate.
“Speaking at commencement,” she says. “The chance to share my story and connect and hear from our students...that’s what I do. In 40 years of being a leader and an executive, I’ve always loved to hear from the young people on my staff. I want them to know how much I value their voice and their input.”
Littlejohn describes herself as a coach “by definition,” someone who is passionate about growing and developing talent. But she knows that coaching students isn’t a one-woman job. She’s eager to bring together current students with generations of Illinois Tech’s alumni, who can relate better than anyone to the balancing act between academic rigor and planning for a professional future. She adds that hearing from recent graduates is also important, as fresh perspective is just as valuable as decades of workforce experience.
“It’s important that we learn from each other. I’d love to see more seasoned alums mentoring students. So many of our students are first-generation college students and unless they’re in the [M.A. and Lila Self] Leadership Academy or another program, I understand it can be difficult to find that mentor who’s willing to listen. I think alumni can fill that role,” she says.
As Illinois Tech moves into its new strategic plan, Littlejohn is optimistic about the future. She’s also candid about the challenges that the university and higher education as an industry face, and looks to Illinois Tech’s unique position as Chicago’s only tech-focused university as offering a distinctive advantage.
“We’re in a sweet spot the likes of which we haven’t seen before,” she says. “How do we cross industries and engage our values and make the results of our education visible and tangible? How can our education solve social problems? The future demands that we don’t just sit in our own little worlds. Illinois Tech has given us this great foundation, so I believe we as alumni have a responsibility to reach out and bring others along with us.”
She adds that untold opportunities will arise out of the new Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, so long as the greater Illinois Tech community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni are committed to bringing innovative thinking to education and to applying ideas to solving real-world problems.
“We have a role to play in making Chicago that heartbeat of the technology sector,” says Littlejohn. “It will take a lot of commitment to get there, but it’s a worthy goal.”