As the seventh of eight children, Dennis Rome was inspired by two older sisters who became teachers.
Despite the challenges faced after Rome lost his father at age 4, his mother encouraged the siblings to become the first generation of their family to pursue college.
He is still working in higher education more than 30 years later, and now aims to make Richmond’s Indiana University East campus even more student-centric.
Offering boxes of healthy snacks outside his office to cultivate a welcoming environment, Rome wants to chat with students about their concerns and suggestions, and make their path to graduation as smooth as possible.
“My goal as chancellor is that when I’m at the end of my term as chancellor, I want to have contributed in a way that I enhanced the teaching and learning experience for students and I made it better than when I arrived,” he said.
Rome has been gaining insights from students, employees and residents since starting as the campus’ seventh chancellor in July.
His formal installation is taking place on campus at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3, led by IU President Pamela Whitten. The ceremony also airs live on Whitewater Community Television.
Although he’s new to IU East, this position offers a homecoming for Rome to the IU system, and he considers it a privilege to return.
Rome first worked for IU as an assistant professor in Bloomington, where he earned tenure and promotion to associate professor. Rome taught Afro-American studies and criminal justice from 1993 to 2004.
Rome said he was fortunate to have great mentors there who influenced his 34-year career in higher education.
He sees IU East as serving a unique regional purpose to meet the needs of employers, traditional college-age students and post-traditional students who seek to boost skills or change careers. Popular programs include psychology, mathematics, criminal justice and health services.
Rome said he is eager to strengthen and add community partnerships, noting the campus began through local leaders’ fundraising efforts. He also hopes to share more resources and increase collaborations, reducing working in silos.
Several changes already have begun, while other ideas will require more time and funding to develop.
A primary focus for Rome is increasing student engagement from all faculty and staff. He’s charged them to learn students’ names, inquire how they’re doing when passing by on campus and ask for any ways to assist them. He’s encouraging workers in all departments to support student activities.
Other initiatives underway include:
- Increasing student workers on campus and raising their minimum hourly wage to $12. Some positions and collaborators with faculty earn more. Rome believes added work opportunities will help keep students engaged with their campus instead of commuting to other positions.
- Creating a welcome desk operated by students to provide information and tours. He wants to cultivate leadership opportunities so graduates are ready to contribute to their communities.
- Strengthening student housing experiences through partnerships with nearby off-campus apartments. Ideas include having a resident adviser, safety patrols and activities and adding new buildings as needed.
- Invest in wellness programs to help students address anxiety and other mental health concerns, which will help with retention.
- Investing in summer bridge programs. This summer, a new Groups Scholars program for underrepresented students helped them learn about university life and balancing work and school.
- In Summer 2025, first-year students can enroll in an intensive seminar, giving faculty opportunities to try out innovative courses.
Additionally, Rome has offered these ideas:
- Create a one-stop shop for students to seek services such as advising/counseling, technology support, enrollment and faculty office hours.
- Invest in career services and opportunities so every student can have an internship or research/lab experiential learning. He’s hopeful that will help keep students in the region. Fundraising is needed to create paid internships.
- Invite high school students to finish their senior year on IUE’s campus to make the transition “absolutely seamless,” saving time and money on degree completion.
- Expand microcredential course offerings to specifically respond to the needs of local employers and post-traditional students. The programs aim to offer more flexible course times in less time than 16-week semesters.
- Work more closely with Reid Health and/or Ivy Tech on health services programs, joint appointments and campus services
Rome says the installation “is really not about me, it’s about recognizing the work of the community in establishing an institution such as this, and just affirming to everyone that not only will these partnerships not change, but the goal is to enhance them.”
He wants to tear down any perceived walls by inviting residents to stop by campus and walk its beautiful trails, visit amenities such as the art gallery and coffee bar, and say hello to students.
“I want people to think of IU East beyond the educational attainment piece but a place that is welcoming, a place where folks here are perceived as approachable, and it really becomes part of that heartbeat of this community,” he said.
Indiana University East Chancellor Dennis Rome’s installation begins at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3, on campus, 2325 Chester Blvd. A livestream watch party will be in Springwood Hall’s Graf Center.
The ceremony also airs live and on replay on Whitewater Community Television.
A public reception follows around 11:45 a.m. in Whitewater Hall’s lobby. That gathering is followed by a 1 p.m. men’s basketball game and 7 p.m. volleyball game, both in the Student Events Center.
Earlier in the week, free public activities include Wednesday’s student poster presentations in Whitewater Hall from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday’s events include Futurecast economics discussion at Vivian Auditorium from 8-9 a.m. and a 7-9 p.m. bonfire behind Hayes Hall for students and alumni.
About Dennis Rome
Rome earned a bachelor’s degree from Bradley University, a master’s in sociology from Howard University and a doctorate from Washington State University.
He recently moved from Chicago, where he was provost and vice president for academic affairs and interim vice president for student affairs at Northeastern Illinois University.
He also had served in leadership roles at University of Wisconsin – Parkside and Columbus State University after teaching Afro-American studies and criminal justice at IU Bloomington.
A version of this article appeared in the November 1 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.