Just when Todd BenDor was about ready to scrap the idea of pursuing a Ph.D. in regional planning, he got an invitation to spend Easter weekend 2003 in Champaign.
Frustrated by the lack of attention he’d gotten from Ph.D. advisors at other schools, this opportunity felt different from the get-go.
“I had blown out my knee about 24 hours before my flight and was on crutches. Although I had long missed the UIUC admissions deadline, I still got an invite to come and visit campus,” said BenDor, who’s been on the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill since earning his UI Ph.D. in 2007.
“An aside: on my flight to Champaign, after being re-seated next to the bulkhead to stretch out my leg, I found that my row-mate on the flight was none other than Ralph Nader, the former presidential candidate and social activist who had given a well-attended talk the night before. I took this as a good omen.
“When I arrived to my hotel in Champaign, I got a call from Bruce Hannon, geography professor and my prospective advisor. He was on his way to the hotel. Given that I’d had trouble even getting an email response from advisors at other schools, I deeply appreciated any time he could give me.
“He picked me up and shuttled me around campus for two entire days, showing me the sights and introducing me to faculty and students that he thought I should know. I learned a lot about him, about Illinois, and — in his company — about what kind of person and scholar I could become.
“Before my flight out on Sunday, he invited me over to his daughter’s house for Easter brunch. This was beyond anything I had expected, a gesture that was both kind and welcoming. Four years later, I graduated with my Ph.D. in urban planning.
“My first introduction to the (UI) endeared me enormously to Dr. Hannon. This experience has since guided how I relate to students, visitors and colleagues in my own career.
“Reflecting back on my first introduction to Illinois, I feel a profound sense of forever being welcome in Champaign, a deep thankfulness to the faculty and staff that helped me through my degree and immense gratitude and respect for the man that saw fit to help a limping young man find a school to call home.”