DJ Trela is retiring from the University of Michigan-Flint and exits knowing that he’s had a robust impact on the university as a whole, in the College of Arts and Sciences and CAS faculty, staff and students.
In his 24 years at UM-Flint, Trela has had different positions but will be most remembered for serving as CAS dean from 1999 to 2013.
“From the moment I first began interviewing for the position, I felt a strong affinity to UM-Flint and the city, which reminded me of a smaller version of my hometown in Chicago,” he said. “I have always been proud to call myself a University of Michigan faculty member.”
Trela says that serving as the dean was a job that never got old because there were always new initiatives to pursue, like expanding the number of graduate programs offered by CAS during the 2000s. In addition, he worked to build a diverse group of staff and faculty members, to refine promotion and tenure standards and to codify multiple processes that mystified many because they had never been written down.
When Trela’s time as dean came to an end, he shifted his attention to teaching and university service.
“I really enjoyed teaching freshman and senior honors seminar courses. I have also hugely enjoyed gaining proficiency in online instruction in courses like introduction to fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and crime fiction.”
He also began serving on university-wide committees and became chair of the old faculty council and the recently initiated faculty senate. He also served as chair of the Department of Foreign Languages, and recently chaired the task force that devised a revised campus-wide general education program. These are all points of pride for him because service in these roles required the confidence and support of his faculty colleagues
“The fact that faculty would entrust a former administrator with such important faculty leadership roles is extremely gratifying for me.”
Trela also recognized the contributions of university staff. He said that the faculty role is largely focused on instruction and shaping institutional governance, and in some ways faculty are the most visible part of the university. However, Trela credits university staff for carrying out tasks like registration, recording grades, balancing budgets and even admitting students.
“This is a tremendously productive and dedicated group of people who largely work behind the scenes.”
Trela adds the thing he enjoyed most about working at UM-Flint were the relationships he built with staff, faculty and the campus community.
“In a very real way, Flint became ‘home’ for me. I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying being engaged with alumni and friends of the university and college.”
Trela also reflected on time spent away from home as well. After completing his undergraduate degree in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the early 1980s, he studied abroad and completed his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His focus was Victorian literature, specifically the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle.
“I wish that everyone could be required to study abroad for at least a semester. Immersing yourself in another culture leads to new perspectives, experiences and friends,” he said. “It was a broadening and enlightening experience, which is the very essence of higher education.”
He adds that studying abroad helped him grow as a scholar and as a person as well.
“At first it scared the daylights out of me, but it turned me into the person I am today.”
Trela’s retirement plans include continuing research on the histories of Chicago neighborhoods like the Gold Coast, where he and his husband have a second home, and Sandburg Village. What became the Gold Coast was originally a Catholic cemetery during the 19th century, and Ernest Hemingway briefly lived in the area.
“I am actively researching and will eventually write more about these areas of the city. This is just the tip of the research iceberg.”
CAS interim dean Douglas Knerr said that Trela made wonderful and sustained contributions to UM-Flint throughout his career at the institution.
“We will miss his wise and thoughtful counsel, rapier wit, and steadfast commitment to our students, faculty, and staff.”