For Chrystalla Mouza's money, there’s no better feeling in higher ed than the celebration that ends with the turning of the tassels.
“It is rewarding to see the joy and pride in our students and their loved ones as they reach this important milestone in their lives and professional careers,” says Mouza, hired in July 2022 as dean of the UI’s College of Education.
“Graduation ceremonies also remind me of my own doctoral ceremony, when my mother visited the United States for the first time to be part of this experience. Even though she spoke no English, had only attended elementary school and understood very little of what was happening, I could see the pride in her eyes.”
For Mouza, degree No. 4 came from the same Ivy League institution as Nos. 2 and 3 — Columbia. No. 1 came from the University of Ioannina in Greece, closer to the country where she was born and raised — the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which didn’t have a four-year institution of its own at the time.
She spent the last 19 years at the University of Delaware — where she rose from assistant professor to director and distinguished professor of teacher education — but she knew plenty about Illinois, having married an alum of the UI’s Gies College of Business.
James Anderson’s successor as UI education dean took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in Beyond the Boardroom, his weekly News-Gazette speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.
— If I could trade places for a week with any other business person in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with … a local bakery owner. I like to bake, though I’m not always good at it as I do a lot of eye-balling instead of careful measurement of ingredients.
That’s how my mother used to cook — she never measured anything.
— On my office walls, you’ll find … not much. I’m fortunate to have an entire wall of windows in my office.
I love natural light and even on gloomy days, my office is very bright. I have recently installed a whiteboard, which I use for reminders and planning.
— As far as a professional role model goes ... I do not have a single role model, but I look for inspiration from leaders of the past who made a strong societal impact and broke new ground for future generations: Aristotle, and his commitment to interdisciplinary work in education, physics, medicine and politics; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who not only became the first tenured woman at Columbia Law School, but also co-authored the first casebook on sex discrimination; and Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most influential civil rights leaders in history, who devoted his life to human rights.
— The hardest thing about being a leader is … driving change and making an impact, while remaining flexible and calm in the face of adversity.
— I can’t live without my ... family and morning coffee — with milk, not cream.
— My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … be supportive of each other.
— The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are … respectful, collaborative and reliable.
— My philosophy on meetings is ... have an agenda and focus on productive conversations rather than information that can be communicated via email.
— I’m frugal in that … I am not a big fan of expensive designer clothes, luxury vacations or fancy cars. I prefer functionality, and I often shop online and look for sales specials.
And yes, I drive a Subaru.
— When it comes to the last luxury in which I indulged ... we try to take an annual trip to Greece/Cyprus to visit family and friends. It is an opportunity for our children to learn more about their heritage and experience a slightly different culture.
We usually stay for a few days in Athens, where we reconnect with my husband’s family and friends, take a short trip to an island, and then fly to Cyprus, where my family is from. The beach is our happy place.
Unfortunately, the pandemic interrupted those excursions the last couple of years.
— I wind down after work by … cooking. I like preparing meals, especially different international dishes, for my family.
— I’m up and at ’em every day by … 5:30 a.m. I am a morning person. I love getting up when it is still a little dark and quiet. I’m much more productive in the early part of the day.
— As for my exercise routine … I wish I could say I have one, but it has been a challenge since joining Illinois in my new position. When the weather is nice, my husband and I like to walk around the neighborhood or ride our bikes.
That’s an area I promise myself to work on in 2023; that should be my New Year’s resolution. Ask me again in February ...
— On a 1-to-10 scale, the impact of the pandemic has been an ... 8, quite profound. We could not visit family members abroad while our children missed a lot of milestones, including high school graduation, in-person classes, sports, social activities and much more.
Importantly, my mother passed away in January 2022 — from health complications following COVID.
Nonetheless, I remain grateful for continuing to work during the pandemic, and our children having the ability to work and continue with their educational journeys, even remotely. We should always be appreciative of life and not take it for granted.