As the tenth and first woman president of Bradley University, Joanne Glasser has quickly proven her leadership, not only on campus, but in the community as well. A Baltimore native and former president of Eastern Kentucky University, Glasser received a warm welcome to the Midwest and soon felt at home in Peoria. With a focus on making Bradley an institution of national distinction, Glasser devotes much time and attention to the university’s students, faculty, staff, friends and alumni, always striving to serve each group and individual with the utmost care and respect.
Tell us about your background, education and growing up in Baltimore.
I grew up in a pretty diverse Baltimore neighborhood. There were friends and neighbors of different cultures, religions and backgrounds. When I think back to my youth, I have fond memories of walking to the neighborhood public school with my friends, playing outside in church parking lots and parks, and waiting for the Good Humor ice cream truck to drive down our street. I’d get a nickel from my mom to buy a popsicle, and on really good days, she’d give me a dime for a chocolate ice cream bar. Maybe that’s where I developed my love of chocolate.
My dad was a dentist in Baltimore. I loved going with him to Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles play baseball and the Colts play football. I remember seeing Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas play—those were great teams, and great times to be a child in Baltimore. Those days left me with a love of sports that I carry with me today.
Back in those days, girls didn’t have too many opportunities to be in athletics, so I became a cheerleader. I enjoyed that, but I wonder today what I would have done if I had been born 10 or 20 years later and had more opportunities. So I am especially supportive of women’s sports today because of the benefits—camaraderie, discipline, teamwork— they offer.
In high school, I was president of my freshman class and voted most likely to succeed as a senior. I’m not sure why, but my classmates must have seen something in me.
My parents instilled in me a love of education and a desire to dream big dreams. I have carried those lessons with me and now I see myself passing them along to my students, who I view as my extended family. I believe that, through education, students can turn their dreams into reality.
I did my undergraduate work in political science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then went to law school at the University of Maryland. In those days there weren’t many women going to law school, but my parents encouraged me to pursue my dream. I wanted to be a lawyer ever since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in grade school. I connected with the character Scout and saw the law as a way of helping others. I still believe the law is a noble calling.
Going to law school was a very valuable time for me. It helped form the way I approach problems. From law school I learned to seek out information from all sides before making conclusions or final decisions.
You took an early interest in the fields of politics, law and journalism. Explain how your career path led you to the field of higher education.
During high school, I worked for the Baltimore News American, a newspaper with a history of more than 200 years. Sadly, it stopped publishing in 1986. Working at the News American was a tremendous learning and growing experience. I have enormous respect for journalists because they have a difficult job, but a very important one. Keeping the public informed is critical to our republic.
After law school I went to work as an assistant county attorney. Eventually I began to concentrate on labor issues and became labor commissioner of Baltimore County. It was an appointed position responsible for representing the County Executive in labor negotiations, conducting grievance hearings and advising the county on employment issues.
After taking some time off to raise my family and care for my husband, who had suffered a debilitating stroke, I went to work for Towson University in Baltimore as an executive assistant to the university president and the school’s affirmative action officer. I realized there were more ways to help people than through the law. Eventually I became executive vice president for institutional advancement, directing the university’s first major capital fundraising campaign and a university-wide marketing initiative.
I found I loved working in an academic setting, and especially being around students and faculty. I discovered soon after going to Towson that higher education is my calling. That feeling was reinforced during the six years I was president at Eastern Kentucky University before coming to Bradley.
What were your initial impressions of Peoria? Tell about your first few months in town.
I have been very impressed with Peoria and all of central Illinois. First, the people are so warm and welcoming. They have taken me in as if I have lived here all of my life. It is a very comfortable place to be.
Second, Peoria has tremendous attributes, both natural and professional. The Illinois River is a real jewel, the kind of aesthetic and economic resource that so few communities have. It gives the community a different feel because of its beauty, the vistas from Grand View Drive and the gorgeous wooded bluffs that surround the river valley. And the river has been the economic engine for the region for hundreds of years.
Then there is Caterpillar Inc. Few communities this size are fortunate to host a Fortune 50 company. Caterpillar sets Peoria apart because of its employment, its investment, the public service done by its employees and the company’s significant contributions to the community’s well-being. And with Cat being a global company, Peoria has a more cosmopolitan feel because so many of its workers have lived all across the world, yet call Peoria home.
Finally, Peoria is fortunate to have Bradley here. And, I would add, Bradley is fortunate to be here in Peoria. I don’t believe the successes of the University or the community would be as great without the other. It’s an outstanding partnership. Bradley is an anchor for the West Bluff, indeed for much of the region. I think having neighbors nearby adds a positive atmosphere to the campus.
Bradley attracts students from across the Midwest and throughout the nation. They come to school, and in many cases, like the area. Many get jobs here, settle in central Illinois, raise their families and contribute to the vitality of the community, in large part because they attended Bradley.
Bradley’s academic strengths in engineering, the medical field, the arts, business and education feed the needs of the community. Many of our programs emphasize applied learning, taking existing research and knowledge and finding opportunities to use that information in better, more effective and efficient ways. Our focus on real-world learning and real-world experiences are part of the reason we are such a good fit with Caterpillar. In addition, Bradley has many outreach programs that assist development and the local economy, such as the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, the International Trade Center and the NAFTA Opportunity Center. Bradley also helps facilitate other agencies like the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center.
We have also been successful in encouraging collaboration of seemingly diverse disciplines. So, on our campus, students studying art and communications work with those from engineering and business, and vice versa. In today’s economy, businesses look for employees who are multifaceted and who understand different disciplines. At our campaign gala dinner, we demonstrated how multimedia, the arts, sciences and engineering can all work together to bring excellence to a product.
Your readers may be familiar with some of Bradley’s other strengths. Last year 96 percent of our graduates either found jobs or went on to graduate school. Our speech team is a national power and has been for 30 years. Over that time we’ve won more championships than any other university in the nation. And, of course, Bradley basketball—indeed, all of our sports, theater, music and extracurricular events—get great support from the community. We add to the quality of life in central Illinois and make the Peoria area more distinctive.
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