CARBONDALE -- Paul Sarvela happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Almost 30 years ago, Sarvela found himself next to an SIU dean and an SIU professor at an American Public Health Association poster session.
Before the day was over, the process was set in motion that would eventually take the University of Michigan graduate from project evaluator at Ford Aerospace in Baltimore, Maryland, to the chancellor's office at SIU.
"By the end, they said, 'We have an opening here at SIU, you want to come back to the Midwest?' I said, 'We'll give it a shot,'" Sarvela said.
Sarvela was appointed acting chancellor July 8. The position was not necessarily on Sarvela's to-do list, but the trajectory of his 28-year career at SIU pointed him in the direction of Anthony Hall.
He began his career at SIU as a faculty member, helping the future chancellor understand the responsibilities of the position.
"It's kind of tough your first couple years as assistant professor, and at the same time, try to do a little research and community service. So, I know the demands of what a faculty member are like ... I hope they know that I have walked a mile in their moccasins," Sarvela said.
He later became director of the Center of Rural Health before becoming chair of the School of Health Professions, later designated the School of Allied Health.
He moved on to assume the chair of Applied Sciences and Arts before moving into the position he still, for the time being, holds as Vice President of Academic Affairs.
"It looks like I can't keep a job," Sarvela joked. "Every couple years, they send me off to something else."
Wearing many different hats at various levels will be helpful in making decisions as chancellor, Sarvela said.
"When we talk about policy changes, when we talk about new initiatives, I can kind of anticipate what are the benefits, what are going to be the cost of those things, where might we have some challenges," Sarvela said.
Sarvela was hired, not just for his teaching and scholarly background, but also for his ability to work with people.
"He's still a people person and those skills will serve him well in opening some channels of communications and bringing some folks back into the fold who, for whatever reason, had separated themselves," said President Randy Dunn.
When the work is done, though, the son of a Finnish Lutheran minister knows how to kick back and relax Finnish style.
"I enjoy sitting in the sauna," Sarvela said. "Some people go to the psychologist. I sit in the sauna."
Sarvela's wife, Debbie, is an environmental engineer at SIU.
"She monitors the smoke stacks, tries to keep us out of trouble, which I appreciate," Sarvela said.
They raised their two children in Carbondale. Kristi, 24, is working on her doctorate in music as an oboist at the University of Illinois and their son, John, 21, is a history and geography major at Eastern Illinois University.
"This has been the greatest place, not only for me, but for my wife and my kids," Sarvela said. "We are just so happy that we moved here to Carbondale. It's such a great community. It's a wonderful place to raise your kids. We thought our kids got a great education."