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Karen Colley Biography

Acting Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate College

Karen Colley is dean of the Graduate College at the University of Illinois Chicago and professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics. Effective July 1, 2022, Dean Colley was appointed acting provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UIC, to take the helm of the university’s academic operations while Provost Javier Reyes serves as interim chancellor. 

On several occasions, Dean Colley has accepted additional leadership roles when the need has arisen, including serving as the interim dean of libraries in 2020 and as the interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs in 2021.  

As dean of the Graduate College, Colley is responsible for the oversight of all master’s and PhD programs across the university’s 16 colleges, including policies related to graduate student assessment, degree requirements and graduate faculty membership. Since joining the Graduate College as dean in 2012, Colley has focused her efforts on supporting historically underserved/underrepresented students during their transition into graduate school and their success in graduate school and beyond through various programs under her guidance. In addition to supporting the long-running Summer Research Opportunities Program that hosts undergraduates to do research with UIC faculty each summer, she is also the director of the NIH-funded Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program, and the UIC Portal to Biomedical Research Careers PREP, which provides a yearlong intensive research experience and professional development opportunity for underrepresented postbaccalaureate scholars who want to apply to PhD programs in the biomedical sciences. 

Furthermore, Colley is the director of the Pipeline to an Inclusive Faculty Program, which supports historically underrepresented UIC PhD students in all disciplines who aspire to be faculty members. Recently, the Graduate College began housing the NSF-supported Bridge to the Doctorate Program. 

As Graduate College dean, Colley has made it a priority to build graduate student professional development programming and support services in collaboration with various offices across the university. As part of this effort, she created the Provost Graduate Internship Award in an effort to provide graduate students with opportunities to explore careers outside the academy. 

Most recently, Colley led the effort for UIC to become a member of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning national network and currently serves as the institutional leader for CIRTL@UIC. In this role, she is working with colleagues in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence to reimagine the courses that comprise the Foundations of College Instruction certificate that was created to assist graduate students to gain training and credentials in pedagogy at the college level. 

Colley was NIH-funded for over 25 years during her research in glycobiology and served her scientific field as the president of the Society for Glycobiology. She also served as chair of the Glycobiology Gordon Research Conference, as well as a member of two NIH study sections and a manuscript reviewer and editorial board member. Currently, Colley is the editor-in-chief for the journal Glycobiology and a member of the NIH TWD-C study section that reviews training programs for underserved trainees at all levels. 

Earlier in her career, Colley began her focus on graduate student education by co-founding and co-leading the Graduate Education in Medical Sciences in the College of Medicine, the first umbrella graduate program at UIC. She also served as the associate director of the Medical Scientist Training Program and as the associate dean for graduate research and education in the College of Medicine, where she provided oversight and guidance for the GEMS Program, MSTP and the Office of Graduate Diversity Programs. Given the growing recognition of her administrative skills, Colley was appointed interim dean for research and the senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Medicine prior to moving into her current position in the Graduate College. 

Colley received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Duke University, and her PhD in biochemistry from Washington University, St. Louis. She continued her training in cell and molecular biology as an NIH-funded postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles, prior to joining UIC in 1991 as an assistant professor in the UIC Department of Biochemistry (now Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics). She attained the rank of full professor in 2002. 

Colley was honored with the American Heart Association Established Investigator Award, she was a member of the Emerging Leadership in Academic Medicine Program, and she has been recognized as a University of Illinois University Scholar, the highest designation for a faculty member within the entire University of Illinois System.