Preparing students for jobs that don't exist yet -- that's Diana Sharp's challenge.
The former Harper College assistant provost took over this month as principal of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora. She's now leading the 25-year-old residential high school for gifted students as it works to educate young minds en route to scientific careers, even in fields yet to be imagined.
Sharp, 57, of Batavia, said the school's environment and focus on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, attracted her to make the switch from Harper. As she nears the Aug. 20 beginning of her first year with the school, Sharp said her goals include working on a school improvement plan for accreditation and supporting students as they live and study at IMSA.
"The things that really attracted me were the opportunities to step up to a new position and work more closely with faculty and students ... to work in an institution focused on the STEM curriculum and really preparing students for jobs that aren't even out there yet," Sharp said.
To be ready to pursue developing fields, Sharp said students must be curious, persistent and willing to face and overcome failure.
"We have this concept of quick fails that we talk about around here," Sharp said. "You quickly fail and then you try something else. The great innovations don't always happen just suddenly, you think of it and, poof, you make it happen. There's a lot of trial and error."
Sharp said she will aim to lead the school's faculty in teaching those skills, along with fostering a love of science and math. She has a son who recently became an engineer and a daughter who's a physical therapist, so on a personal level, Sharp said she is familiar with the work that goes into pursuing a STEM field.
Her own background includes a bachelor's in sociology and psychology, a master's degree in higher education and a doctorate in urban education. She has served in administrative positions at five colleges and universities including Harper, where she had been interim dean for the mathematics and science, liberal arts, business and social sciences and resources for learning divisions before becoming assistant provost.
Sharp succeeds former IMSA Principal Eric G. McLaren, who held the post since 1999.
Aside from planning for IMSA's future, Sharp said she is excited to work with the residential aspect of the campus at 1500 Sullivan Road as she begins her tenure as principal.
"It's fun to have a place where students live there, go to school there," Sharp said. "They have accelerated school spirit because of the relationship-building that goes on."