By Steve Chaplin
Ann Comerford has always been driven by curiosity. It keeps her bookshelves brimming with books, her podcast queue long, and her desire to back up opinions with information strong.
At the same time, growing up as one of five children taught Comerford the meaning — and necessity – of compromise.
“The combination of those traits has served me well,” Comerford said. “I’ve had amazing experiences in the classroom being encouraged to be vocal, curious, but also informed. Growing up, our family made decisions as a collective quite often, but everyone did not always agree. We had to state our case, argue what we wanted, but also learn to compromise.”
These personality traits have helped Comerford lead through a lens of openness in her role as interim vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Illinois–Springfield — and will undoubtedly help her shine as ACUI’s 2023 president-elect.
In her new role, Comerford will steer the association’s strategic direction, oversee long-term goals, represent the association to members, and set the tone for member experiences, among other responsibilities. This leadership position spans the first year in an ACUI president’s three-year term; elected officials spend their second year as ACUI president and third as past president.
Comerford has devoted three decades to higher education. After graduating from Quincy College (now Quincy University) with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Comerford was not sure where her career would take her, but she did know she wanted to work in a field where she felt connected and successful. Her curiosity eventually led to a four-year role in residence life and student activities, and later a master’s degree in higher education administration from Southern Illinois University–Carbondale.
Comerford’s work experience in student affairs includes roles as director of the university union at Western Illinois University, executive director of the student union at the University of Illinois–Springfield, and her current role as Interim vice chancellor for student affairs at the same institution. In January 2018, she was integral in bringing to life the University of Illinois–Springfield’s brand-new student union, which includes a 2,940-square-foot-ballroom, a 4,000-square-foot student leadership center, and 17,640 square feet of dining services.
Comerford has also devoted countless hours serving ACUI. She was a member of the 2018 annual conference planning committee, served on the International Education Council, was director of ACUI’s Region 9, and has volunteered for several ACUI education courses and institutes as an instructor, a presenter, and a faculty member.
As ACUI president-elect, Comerford plans to focus on how the needs and wants of students and staff are changing — and how ACUI can help move the profession forward in alignment with those shifts. “Our student populations are rapidly changing,” she said. “So how are we staying relevant? How do we still meet student needs?”
One thing that will not change, Comerford said, is the value of community-building.
“I believe that community spaces will always be important, whether at a university, in a town, or at a park. Building community; connecting with others; listening to music, lectures, entertainment; looking at artwork; all those things will remain important,” she said. “We need to consider how we continue to talk about it, how we help people understand that our greater purpose is not just in the moment, but in showing that community is what you should seek and build, wherever you are.”