President, Carl Sandburg College
2013 Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Economics and History Double Major
It's possible that no one knows the world of higher education in Galesburg in
quite the same way as Lori Sundberg '95. That's because she's spent much of her life studying, teaching, and working at Galesburg's two higher education institutions: Knox College and Carl Sandburg College.
After earning her cosmetology certificate from Sandburg in 1977, Sundberg worked in the field, eventually starting her own business. In 1991, while continuing to work and manage her business, she returned to Sandburg to complete general requirements toward a bachelor's degree. By 1993, she had transferred to Knox to pursue a degree in economics and history. Until her graduation in 1995, Sundberg had no plans to change careers -- that is, until a department chair at Sandburg asked her to fill in for a faculty member who had taken a sudden medical leave. She found she liked teaching and, more important, she felt drawn to higher education in a more permanent way. Just a few months later, she accepted a position at Sandburg as the coordinator of institutional research and remained an adjunct instructor. While working and teaching at Sandburg, she then obtained her MBA from Western Illinois University in 1998, and, finally, her doctorate at St. Ambrose University, graduating in 2003 with a degree in business administration. After earning these degrees, she worked in several senior administrative positions at Sandburg, as well as serving as lecturer in economics for Knox for a few years.
Her path eventually led her to become sixth president and first female to lead Carl Sandburg College in July 2010. Much of Sundberg's work has been inspired by a deep love of the Galesburg community, higher education, and the intricate understanding that many roads lead students to pursue higher learning.
Knox Magazine: Describe your Knox experience.
Lori Sundberg: My Knox education was one of the most important and life-changing experiences of my life. It was a time for me to study and learn about many different disciplines and perspectives. It was also a time that challenged me to consider my own deeply held beliefs. "Freedom to flourish" was the phrase used to describe the Knox experience when I was a student there, and I truly felt that nothing could be closer to the truth or more accurate. Knox is a place where everyone is afforded the opportunity and freedom to flourish in their own way. When I'm asked to explain the Knox experience, I always feel that I never quite do it justice. It is a place where students are challenged academically and intellectually more than they think possible, and yet at the same time it is a place where the faculty supports the students more than they realize they need. It is a place where the ability to challenge and argue differing views can be done safely and yet to their fullest extent. I still feel that sense of freedom and comfort when I go back to campus.
KM: How has that experience affected your life?
LS: The Knox experience changed my life. It enabled me to dream bigger dreams for myself and to have the confidence to pursue those dreams. On the intellectual level, it enabled me to think critically, problem solve, and write well. The ability to write well has followed me throughout my time since leaving Knox, and, while I didn't recognize it at the time, it was perhaps one of the greatest gifts of my Knox education.
KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
LS: I would say the privilege of serving as a college president. It is such as honor to be able to be a part of higher education today. The power of higher education cannot be overstated in terms of the change it makes in individuals.
KM: What will you do to celebrate your Alumni Achievement Award?
LS: I will celebrate with my husband over a nice dinner! Going back to college as a nontraditional student, my husband and family made many sacrifices when I was in college and supported me immeasurably in achieving my goals. My husband and my stepdaughter have been my biggest cheerleaders, and so I share this award with them.
KM: What words of advice would you offer to current Knox students?
LS: I would say to take full advantage of the Knox experience. It is something that they will, likely, never experience again. It is an opportunity to grow and to challenge themselves without limits. I would say to develop relationships with the faculty. The faculty is there to support them in those efforts, and they want them to succeed. I would also say to do the study abroad component. I don't have many regrets, but the study abroad program was just not an option for me as a nontraditional student, and it is a regret of mine. I think, at a minimum, all college students should experience another country for all or part of a semester.