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Ellen Fireman

Ellen Fireman

Senior lecturer | Department of Statistics

During move-in week ’19, we asked UI faculty members to tell us a story about their own experience of leaving home for the first time. Here’s Senior Statistics Lecturer, 27-year UI faculty member and 1973 Harvard grad Ellen Fireman, holder of a pair of master’s degrees from the UI and winner of the 2005 LAS Lynn Martin Award for Distinguished Women Teachers. (That’s the fun-loving and popular Fireman in the picture upon being introduced as an Illini Jock Jams judge in 2014).

“I arrived at Harvard in 1969, on a fall day that felt like summer. The world was sparkling with possibilities; opportunities around every corner.

“Would I rise to the challenge and seek out the best ones or play it safe to avoid failure? Would I stand out and be noticed or get lost in the crowd? Would I have a glamorous social life or spend nights alone in my dorm room?

"These were my concerns as I walked hand in hand with my mother towards my dorm.

“But as I stood at the edge of the Yard looking out at the sea of freshmen from all different parts of the world and all different backgrounds, I forgot about standing out, I wanted to fit in.

“This was the opportunity that only college could offer me — the once-in-a-lifetime chance to live in a community where what you looked like, where you came from or how much money your parents made had no bearing on where you lived, dined or socialized and certainly no bearing on your job, which was to study and learn as much as possible.

“So my first semester freshman year, I found myself — a middle-class Jewish girl from the suburbs — living side-by-side for two weeks with a Muslim girl who grew up in a palace and became the prime minister of a large country, and a Christian girl from a poor village in Nigeria.

“We were recent arrivals to Harvard still dressed in our native outfits — a sari, an iro and a leather miniskirt — having arguments about religion and government lasting until the wee hours of the morning.

“And 50 years later, the Harvard class of 1973 is still family to me, arguments and all.

“So my advice to incoming freshmen is to embrace the university’s diversity in all its forms, particularly intellectual diversity. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime."