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Celebrating a lifelong career of service: Jacob Mueller

Jacob Mueller

After 29 years of distinguished and groundbreaking service, Jacob Mueller, assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff in the UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement (ODEE), will be retiring from the university. Mueller’s storied career includes tenures in several colleges and departments as well as work helping to create what is now known as the UIC Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC).

Mueller started his journey at UIC as the first staff member hired at the newly opened Office of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Concerns (OGLBC) in 1995. During his time there–including his stint as interim director in 2000–Mueller and his fellow staff helped build the OGLBC into one of the premier LGBTQ+ centers in the country. The center’s staff utilized innovative, nationally-recognized programming as well as inventive and creative ways to address and meet the needs of a population that, at that time, did not necessarily want to be discovered or have a spotlight shone on it.

“I used to have coffee off-campus with folks who were coming to terms with their own sexuality or that of a family member,” Mueller recalled. “They were afraid to come to the office and it took some time to build a visible UIC population due to societal pressures as well as fear of the consequences of being seen at a queer cultural center.”

In 1998, the OGLBTC conceived, hosted and renamed the Midwest Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Conference, adding the T to the name of the office and the conference in the same year. It was the largest queer youth conference ever held in the United States at the time with over 1500 participants and helped put UIC on the map as a progressive institution and destination for queer students, staff and scholars. Mueller was the architect of the conference from start to finish, which saw Leslie Feinberg as the keynote speaker and brought trans issues to the forefront of the space.

“All these years later, I can still remember the incredible feeling of seeing the students experience joy and being seen. I still have connections with folks I met at that time; all of us committed to affirming students on their journey to freedom,” Mueller reiterated.

In addition to his legacy with the OGLBTC (now the GSC), Mueller has worked for the provost’s office, four vice provosts, the UIC College of Medicine, the UIC Honors College and several campus entities on numerous special projects. He has served on over 15 campus committees including the Inaugural Campus Safety Board, the UIC Neighborhood Centers Founding Leadership Team, Intergroup Dialogue Facilitators Group, Academic Professionals Mentorship Team, Provost’s Working Group Cultural Competency Subcommittee and Alternatives to Policing Task Force. He is a member of the UIC Dispute Mediation Team and holds an MEd in curriculum and instruction with concentrations in urban education and adolescent development.

Mueller was awarded the Janice Watkins Award for Distinguished Civil Service in 2004 and the Chancellor’s Academic Professional Excellence (CAPE) Award in 2015. He was the first and only person to win both awards. Additionally, Mueller has won several other awards related to his work with students and the Safe Zone program.

Mueller joined the ODEE in 2018 with the goal of building better administrative infrastructure and support for its many units and endeavors. With prior experience as an administrator for the cultural centers, he was able to bring his breadth of knowledge and practical implementation skills into that facet of the ODEE’s work as well.

During the pandemic he helped build and launch the UIC Neighborhood Centers in Auburn Gresham and North Lawndale in partnership with Keith Lewis, senior director of community collaboration. The centers are part of the Advancing Racial Equity charge to the campus from former chancellor Michael Amiridis with support from former vice chancellor for diversity, equity and engagement, Amalia Pallares and former vice chancellor for budget, human resources and financial administration, Janet Parker.

“My time at ODEE has been galvanizing and working with our incredible staff and leaders has been a constant source of inspiration. While I have not done anything even close to perfectly, I have worked hard to stay in the background and help people accomplish their goals. If I am running the trains properly, nobody notices me. We want efficiency as well as humanity to touch every aspect of the work. It is incredibly hard to achieve and all I can do is try to emulate my colleagues and mentors, while serving the populations with whom we’ve chosen to spend our professional lives. If this helps folks access (and shape) their participation in the UIC community and beyond, I’m doing my job as a world citizen,” Mueller shared.

With the increasing attacks on DEI work nationwide, Mueller believes that what is needed now more than ever is clear planning, specific strategies for thriving, and a mission that all team members understand and agree upon. He trusts that the current and future ODEE leadership and team will be able to navigate these issues and shore the office up for the unknown challenges ahead. Drawing from the work of Mueller and the ODEE members before him, they have a vision and guide map to transform UIC’s commitment to the work and to the people the office and cultural centers are built to serve.

“UIC exists beyond our campuses,” Mueller asserted. “I think of the neighborhoods and communities with whom we share our lives, and the many facets of Chicago that can be made better with focus and intent. Social justice is more than a goal; it is our imperative.”

A retirement celebration will be held on May 22 from 3pm to 6pm at Student Center East to honor Mueller and his wife, Stacie McCloud, associate dean of the honors college, who is also retiring after 32 years at UIC.