Rolling Out

Adrienne Irmer shares how her diverse experience shapes her professional career

Irmer is contributing to Illinois Tech’s mission
(Photo courtesy of Adrienne Irmer)

Adrienne Irmer is the associate vice president of external affairs for the Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech). In an exclusive interview with rolling out, Irmer shared her career journey and her perspective on government affairs. With a diverse background in public administration and legislative work, including her tenure with Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, Irmer is contributing to Illinois Tech’s mission. Her impressive educational credentials and extensive civic engagement underscore her commitment to advancing the university’s role as a vital institution on Chicago’s South Side.

Share your career journey and how you came to your current role as AVP for external affairs at Illinois Institute of Technology.

If you asked me 20 years ago if I would be working as a government affairs professional, I probably would have laughed. Today, I have a very diverse resume: emergency management and preparedness, workforce development, marketing and communications, electoral campaign consulting, legislative affairs, government administration, public policy development, and even activism. All of this has informed my work and helped build a network of professionals to collaborate with and deepen my impact in my community. While my work involves a lot of lobbying, it is more about building and nurturing relationships, fostering mutual respect, and elevating not just the importance of college access, but lifelong learning.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your professional journey so far?

In my role at the university, I am very proud of my contributions to our vanguard pipeline partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) called Runway 606. [We are] giving CPS students the opportunity to go from a junior in high school to a master’s degree in just six years, leveraging dual credit across CCC campuses. [This is] saving them a lot of money in tuition costs, [and] widening access to an education that accelerates meaningful economic mobility. In my passion work, I am very proud of Pride South Side, cultivating a space to celebrate BIPOC queerness that is safe and invests in our businesses and artistry. Last year, we invested over $75,000 in the community, and this year we aim to invest close to $100,000.

Have you had any mentors who have significantly influenced your career, and what lessons did you learn from them?

I have been blessed with many mentors throughout my life journey. My very first mentor, my mom, always centered the importance of lifelong learning. She taught me that, in life, people may try to take a lot of things from you, but they cannot take your education. I encourage every young or rising professional to be fearless in their acquisition of mentors because they are integral to your leadership development and are invaluable when you need an unbiased sounding board for big career decisions or big leadership moves in your current role. Another memorable lesson I learned from one of my mentors is that I should never hesitate to reach out when I need their insight or sponsorship because that is what a mentor is for.

What advice would you give to young professionals, particularly Black women, aspiring to leadership positions?

Firstly, do everything in your power to ignore any impulse that makes you feel like an imposter. You belong in every space you occupy, so be fearless in taking up space and using your voice. Your lived experience, your education and your intuition are valuable in whatever room you are in, so never ever diminish yourself. Every black woman and every BIPOC person that comes after you can exist more authentically because of the work you do right now.

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