Why are you here and not somewhere else?

IT Services Engagement survey results. Re-formation of the IT Services Project Management Office. Executive Program for Emerging Leaders. Lynda.com courses for managers. Lots of things have been trying to make connections in my brain lately, so I am going to try and write them down. This is the first of several posts where I will try and connect the dots and help myself make sense of how we/I can better understand the best way to contribute while working at UChicago.


This fall, I have the privilege of attending the Executive Program for Emerging Leaders for UChicago staff that is run annually by The Chicago Booth School of Business. Last Friday was our first class, and we had the honor of hearing directly from the new Provost, Daniel Diermeier. Some points that really struck me in his talk with us regarding leadership and careers were:

  1. always think about your role in context of the whole organization, and
  2.  periodically always ask yourself, why am I here, and not somewhere else? This second question had two corollary questions:
    1. can I add more value in different role? and
    2. how is my current role connected to the overall mission of the organization?

Next, in conversation with a relatively new employee (now here a year), she has told me more than once that she’s scoured the UChicago website trying to find its explicit mission somewhere, but that it doesn’t appear to exist. That spurred me to go and look around myself. While I think that the initial About page does a good job of bringing out the important areas (intellectual destination, transformative education, groundbreaking research, a commitment to enrich society), it really isn’t formatted like a typical mission statement. As an alumna, I am more familiar with the school’s motto, “Crescat scientia; vita excolatur,” translated to, “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”

Now, I’ll concede, the motto is a fairly abstract concept – many people probably ask themselves, what does that really mean? Another set of materials provided to us in the EPEL course included an excerpt of “A Report of the University of Chicago Committee on the Criteria of Academic Appointment (Shils Report),” which can be found on the University Provost’s website. Here in the introduction, is a much more concrete explanation of how the University achieves this motto.

The existence of The University of Chicago is justified if it achieves and maintains superior quality in its performance of the three major functions of universities in the modern world. These functions are: (1) the discovery of important new knowledge; (2) the communication of that knowledge to students and the cultivation in them of the understanding and skills which enable them to engage in the further pursuit of knowledge; and (3) the training of students for entry into professions which require for their practice a systematic body of specialized knowledge.

Now that’s a clear explanation as to why UChicago exists!

Finally, we recently took an engagement survey across IT Services. One area that scored low almost across the board was this question: The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important. On Gallup’s site, they explain this as, “This element measures how much an individual identifies with his or her company’s mission and purpose.” So, if we in IT Services are scoring really low on this, it says to me that most people feel so far removed from the University’s purpose that they cannot see how their work supports it. Maybe many of us just feel like a cog in the wheel, feeling siloed, and disconnected from any larger purpose – well, yeah, that is kind of depressing. And it begs the question, why are you here and not somewhere else?

My next role will take on the task of reinventing our IT Services Project Management Office (PMO). We had one in the past, but over the years as leadership, funding, and projects evolved, it was not maintained. One of the goals of the new PMO will be help us better communicate to the rest of the university (and ourselves), the value of IT Services through the important (and often strategic) projects we’re engaged in every day to support the University. I am hoping that through this work of thoughtfully communicating about the work we do, that the PMO can, in our own small part, help drive a better understanding of how each person’s role in IT Services actually does support the purpose of the University, and in my own small way help to fulfill Crescat scientia; vita excolatur.



  1. Excellent post. I enjoyed reading about your reflection on our work as leaders at UChicago. I think the question that Provost posed is an excellent one and one that we should be exploring personally and as a team in ITS. I found the discussion of mission to be particularly interesting — it has me thinking about how important it is to be more overt with our place in the Institution with our team. The selection from the Shils Report provides a rich context for us to connect our daily work to. Thanks for pulling that out. Great post!

  2. I had an alum who had gone to grad school here comment to me last week that what people don’t realize about UChicago is that its paramount mission is the creation of new knowledge, and that it’s one of the best places in the universe for that work.

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