It was the afternoon of Tuesday, September 4 when I found myself sitting in the lobby of the IIT Tower. I was waiting for my ride to take me to my classes at the Downtown Campus and took a seat next to Vice Provost for Student Access, Success, and Diversity Initiatives (SASDI) Gerald Doyle. We briefly discussed the upcoming TechNews issue, the Illinois Tech Student Community (ITSC) Facebook page, and the excitement of a new year of student organizations and campus events. I watched with amusement as Doyle sat in one of the leather couches in the Tower’s lobby and waved goodbye or struck conversations with the various staff and faculty members leaving the building to go home for the day. Every person who exchanged pleasantries with him talked as if they were old friends (and in many cases, they probably were) and I found myself amazed at the influence and positivity he exuded in every interaction he had.
The following day, like just about every other student on campus, I was completely caught off guard by the news that Doyle would no longer be working at Illinois Tech. An email from Provost Peter Kilpatrick sent that Wednesday reads, “I am writing today to share that Gerald Doyle, Vice Provost for SASDI, has elected to pursue new opportunities outside Illinois Institute of Technology. We thank him for his many years of dedicated service to the Illinois Tech community and especially for his support of students, for whom he was a tireless advocate. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.” This email would then go on to describe the structural changes that will follow Doyle’s departure - the Career Services office will now report to Provost Kilpatrick, the Student Employment Office will report to the Office of Financial Aid, and the Global Leaders program will report to the Office of Community Affairs.
However, the departure of Doyle means much more than changes in campus office structures or lines of accountability. It means the loss of who many on this campus and beyond it regard as the most influential and caring administration member to have ever been a part of the university. It means the loss of a figure who has touched the lives of countless students, staff, and faculty members alike. It means the loss of a central figure whose absence will leave a lasting and saddening impression for many.
But, sadness need not be the only feeling we are left with after his departure. For, as a campus community, we can still unite and find solace in the memories and impacts he has left on us, through his daily interactions and through the many projects he took part in. Olivia Kochanek, a fourth-year civil engineering student, recounts how, “I met Jerry while I was working as a student worker in the Office of Institutional Advancement. I remembered him because he always had a bright smile and greeted us workers at the front desk as soon as he walked in. I got to know him better through Block City, an event IIT holds in the summer for the surrounding community and families of IIT. It's kind of funny, actually, because it went from him telling me about this event briefly to me being the spearhead for helping him plan it that summer!” Later, Kochanek found herself thinking about Doyle fondly, saying to herself, “Wow. Someone from the Illinois Tech staff, reaching out to me, a student, personally, and willing to put his trust in me to help him put on this huge event. I like this guy!”
Third-year architectural engineering student Erica Acton recalls a similar degree of interaction with Doyle, remembering how “he would always come up to the 19th floor of the tower to use the president’s ‘superior Wi-Fi.’ I used to work in the provost’s office, and he would be up there all the time working on his laptop, claiming we had the best Wi-Fi on campus. I think it was just his excuse to talk with upper level admin people at Illinois Tech as they passed him by, but it always put a smile on my face to walk up to work and see him there.”
Even when it came to academics, Doyle would oftentimes help students wherever he could. Doorvesh Santbakshsing, a third-year engineering management student, recounts having to interview someone for a psychology class and picking Doyle. “He was super helpful,” Santbakshsing said. “He went about explaining how Illinois Tech works, and it showed how passionate he was about his job and the success of the school.” Similarly, electrical engineering graduate student Saumya Gupta recounts being asked by Doyle “to tell a student's point of view on a course he was developing. After knowing him for a few months, I wasn't scared to give him critical feedback. He took it so well and thanked me so many times for something most would consider an insult. The reason we all relate to him is that despite his age, he still wants to grow."
Doyle’s amazingly positive influence and unparalleled resonance with others was by no means limited to current students of the university. Third-year social and economic development policy student Erin Monforti recounts meeting him “when I was in 7th grade at an awards dinner for the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois - he took the time to talk to my dad (an Illinois Tech alumnus) and from that point on, Illinois Tech was on my mind. His contribution to the cultivation of a diverse and inclusive campus should be recognized as a model for administrative involvement that ranged from the interpersonal to that of broad oversight.”
Another social and economic development policy student, Cara Karter (graduated 2016) recalls working as part of SASDI under Doyle’s leadership. “He personally helped me do my job search my senior year and introduced me to many individuals in his network. He wrote me a recommendation letter that cemented my first position out of school. I always appreciated that he would take time to talk to students and advocate for them. He had big ideas about involving students more authentically in the university’s administration. He personally taught me that the best way to market yourself is through introspection - learning to be comfortable showcasing your genuine strengths and unique background. I’ve found a lot of success out of college keeping that in mind.”
Another alum who worked with Doyle, Majed Abdulsamad, (graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture) shared the particularly personal story of being part of “The IIT Syrian Student Initiative, that brought more than 44 Syrian students like me to Chicago's Bronzeville [neighborhood], was the brainchild of Gerald Doyle. And for that, 44 Syrian students and their families will forever be grateful to him. Over the course of six years, Jerry went above and beyond in making sure this initiative didn't stop at finding the financial resources to cover our tuition fees- which was an uphill battle in and of itself. He realized maybe more than we did at the time, what it meant to leave war-torn Syria behind, to study in the US. Whether it was an individual accomplishment for a student, a religious or national holiday, or an emergency vigil for a recent tragedy back home, Jerry was always there to say something inspirational and uplifting.” Abdulsamad continues that, because of Doyle, “Illinois Tech was able to set a precedent for the nation's largest and wealthiest universities to follow when it comes to supporting refugee education... And thanks to Jerry Doyle, I'm sitting in my office in New York city writing this email, after graduating from Illinois Tech's College of Architecture back in 2015- something I wouldn't have even dreamt of six years ago when I was forcibly leaving my hometown, Damascus.”
Beyond the students of Illinois Tech, Doyle also influenced and inspired his fellow co-workers among the staff and faculty of Illinois Tech. A staff member told TechNews that “when I think of Jerry, I see him as the Great Connector - always scheming to see how offices and departments could cross talents and work together on something bigger. I think many would agree that he had great vision and was never out of new ideas. But most importantly he truly cared and you really felt that talking to him. Jerry spoke to everyone as an equal - staff, faculty or student, it didn’t matter. He believed everyone could have good ideas and he genuinely wanted to know what they were. I’d sometimes forget he was a vice-provost because he would just be so open and collaborative with those who crossed his path. Every time he’d come by my office, from nearly the first day I met him, he spoke to me as if I had more power than I really did. At first I thought, “man, he must really be confused about my position here,” but over time I realized he wasn’t confused, he just really believed in me and wanted to see me succeed. I’ll miss his drop-in meetings full of enthusiasm and hope, I’ll miss seeing him at his perch in the Tower Lobby, willfully interfacing with students and staff alike, but most of all, I’ll miss his ability to make you feel influential, like you and your work could truly make a difference.”
These are but a handful of stories from a select few lives that Doyle has touched through his time at Illinois Tech. Without a doubt, there are countless members of the student, staff, and faculty bodies here that have been influenced in numerous ways by their interactions with him. Many of the sentiments shared in this piece will likely resonate with the individuals reading it, but our stories with him will remain unique, ours alone to treasure and ours together to share. Doyle will never truly be gone from us. All we need to do is reach out to him, like he has for so many of us.
TechNews reached out to Doyle for any last words he wished to express to the Illinois Tech body, and he shared the following:
“I have been profoundly shaped and influenced by the compelling nature of the aspirations and dreams of our students; as students, you willingly and enthusiastically accept the challenges of our society, and prepare yourselves through rigorous studies and commitment to what makes us deeply human; you value justice, equity, fairness, diversity, and inclusion. You respect each other, and see each other twice (and thrice) to understand and listen to each other; this is indeed and uncommonly respectful and mindful community at Illinois Tech because of the students - and our faculty and staff - who come together each day to form a more perfect union centered on the ideals, principles and vision that forged our very beginnings and set a beacon for our future.
In each of our lives, there are seasons, and moments to co-create new works of art. This time for me has been unfolding for awhile but as I have, in my work with students in reflecting upon their careers and their purpose that students like yourself have asked me about the next decade of my life, my purpose and my aspirations. These are worthy questions to hold and give space to and now is the time for new ventures to begin. I taught in Tanzania for several years in the early ‘80s, and offer this: Sita sema kwaheri, kwa sababa, na sakia hapa hapa ni nyumbani kwangu. (I shall not say goodbye, because I feel as if this is home.)
Illinois Tech will always be with me. I am indeed grateful to the leadership of the university, the faculty, staff and alumni but above all to the students who have helped me become a better human.