As the University of Michigan celebrates its bicentennial, one longtime U-M staff member is making a commitment to honor staff contributions throughout the university’s history.
For more than 50 years, U-M has been a home for Jagdish Janveja, a project director in Architecture, Engineering and Construction. After emigrating from India and graduating from U-M, he began his career at the university as a civil engineer in the 1960s.
Although he originally believed he would move back to India after 18 months, Janveja’s adoration for the university blossomed, inspiring him to stay.
“I decided, ‘No, I love this place, I love the university atmosphere,'” Janveja, now 80, said. “And I just stayed on.”
A tribute honoring staff
Janveja is now using his passion for the university to help fund a public art tribute on campus that will honor the enduring work and support of U-M staff — past, present and future.
As part of the bicentennial, the Office of the President and Voices of the Staff are sponsoring the public art project, which will honor staff university wide, from administrative assistants and information technology professionals to dining hall chefs and health care workers.
The conversation to create a public tribute for staff began among Voices of the Staff members, said Diane Vasquez, the group’s co-founder and director of human resource operations. That conversation grew into a partnership with the Office of the President to bring artwork to campus that celebrates the dedication and contributions of staff.
The artwork will be chosen in consultation with Voices of the Staff and will be subject to the approval process overseen by the President’s Advisory Committee on Public Art. It will be placed in a prominent location, and the site will be based on the nature of the artwork and the funds available.
A lover of outdoor art, Janveja has provided seed funding of $100,000 for the project, and staff, faculty, students and community members are invited to donate additional funds to support the initiative.
Those who would like to donate can go to myumi.ch/65ngM.
Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, said the university hopes the public art tribute will instill loyalty and pride among staff and encourage even greater engagement and contribution to the university mission.
“We hope the recognition of the staff’s contribution continues the commitment to leaders and best that is Michigan,” Thomas said.
Janveja’s own commitment U-M started in 1962, when he moved from India to Ann Arbor to complete his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. While finishing his master’s degree program in structural engineering, the university offered Janveja a job.
Over the years, Janveja rose through the ranks, from senior civil engineer to his current role as a project director. He’s worked on several facilities projects, such as the construction of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and the renovation and expansion of Michigan Stadium.
“I was fortunate to have good superiors who I worked with,” Janveja said. “They encouraged, they empowered, and I had full professional freedom.”
An advocate for public art
Several years ago, Janveja started giving back to U-M in another way: by advocating for and funding the installation of outdoor public art on campus. His efforts have left their mark at sites like the Ford Library, Michigan Stadium, Museum of Natural History, Bentley Historical Library, the College of Engineering and the soon-to-be-completed Biological Science Building.
Janveja said it’s important to have art on campus because it enriches lives and serves as visual focal points for community members.
Regarding the bicentennial public art tribute for staff, Janveja said staff are the supporting actors on campus that aim to create the atmosphere conducive for teaching, research and public service.
But while several honors and awards are available to faculty and students, he added, staff members sometimes get lost in the background.
The public art tribute for staff is designed to change that.
“I think they will feel proud that their efforts and their hard work is recognized and it’s being commemorated,” Janveja said.
Even after more than 50 years of service, Janveja’s passion for U-M is as strong as ever. He said he still enjoys working and currently has no plans to retire from the university that’s become an extension of his home.
“It has enriched my life, my family’s life,” he said. “I love this place. ‘Go Blue’ is in my blood.”
By Safiya Merchant. Reprinted with permission of The University Record.