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John Fanning

John Fanning

Director of college access | Aspire Public Schools | Class of 1987

In the Fanning family, it’s something of a tradition to spend your late teens and early 20s in Champaign-Urbana.

“My dad and his two siblings, plus five of my six siblings and me, plus four cousins I can think of all went to Champaign, many of us at the same time,” says John Fanning, director of college access for Aspire Public Schools of the Bay Area.

“I now work in post-secondary access and success work for low-income urban students — first in Chicago Public Schools and now in Oakland, California. I often comment on how early-going college identities can get formed — by going to college over and over again as a child, for fun and family more than admissions tours, and pretty soon going to and graduating from college becomes your expectation of and hope for yourself, not just other’s expectations and hopes for you.”

As far as Illini favorites, Fanning (BS ’87, commerce/marketing) has more than a few.

— Most memorable spots and adventures: Garner Hall, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, my apartment on Oak Street, ridiculous play in Allerton Park, hacky sack on the Quad, road tripping, and Willie’s, of course. I still have my Mug Club card.”

— Favorite classroom learning experience: “While a business degree in those days was very practical in nature — lots of skill development but not a lot of critical thinking — I did take a comparative economics course with a Russian professor who believed and taught that the ultimate economic system is communism, and that capitalism is step 4 on the route to the nirvana of communism at step 7.

“I loved that class. We were asked to walk away from everything we had heard since birth and consider a completely alternative point of view, in a safe environment where all opinions and questions were welcomed. In the political climate that has evolved since I left UIUC in 1987, I think we could use a lot more of that.”

— Last but not least: “I treasured that UIUC offered me many opportunities for creative pursuits while also pursuing a business degree. I took courses in short story writing, painting, jazz dance, German, multi-variable calculus and coaching swimming — yes, that was a class — and also saw countless concerts.

“I also had my first significant forays into public service, which became my passion and career pursuit. This all helped me feel that many parts of me could be fed and developed by the UIUC experience, not just my intellect.

“May the next 150 years be as rich.”