NIU President Doug Baker’s call for stronger connections between the university and its host community has generated dozens of ideas from enthusiastic supporters of both town and gown.
In just 12 months, the number of active “communiversity” projects has more than doubled, with many more ideas waiting in the wings.
Rather than limiting new initiatives, Baker challenged top campus officials to create a new system for managing joint NIU/DeKalb projects. The resulting Communiversity Development Strategy puts primary responsibility for NIU/DeKalb projects into the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Regional Development, with oversight from a joint city-university Community Development Committee.
“We have many exciting initiatives under way,” Baker said, “but they need to be managed in a way that leverages our scarce resources. A single coordinating entity that connects and aligns all our planning and development will ensure that we recognize synergies and serve everyone’s interests, and it helps achieve our goal of creating thriving communities.”
Among the initiatives to be managed under the communiversity flag are possible NIU connections to the DeKalb City Center plan; creation of a partnership to guide enhancement of the neighborhood to the northwest of NIU’s campus; and continued support of programs like those begun this summer at University Village.
Recently launched projects in which the city and NIU are collaborating include Phase Two of the DeKalb/NIU housing information project; the Advancing DeKalb County collective impact initiative; and NIU assistance with the City of DeKalb’s strategic plan.
“Doing communiversity projects well requires a central point of contact and a strong network of partners,” said Anne Kaplan, vice president for Outreach, Engagement, and Regional Development. “That primary contact person needs to have a handle on everything that’s going on so we can create synergies between people and projects.”
“Jennifer has strong knowledge of the university and the community, as well as a lot of experience running programs involving multiple stakeholders and agendas,” Kaplan said.
“The director of communiversity initiatives at NIU will assure one point of contact for those projects transcending the two organizations – city and NIU,” said DeKalb Mayor John Rey. “The position will allow for efficient use of resources and engagement of constituents, with priority implementations on those projects of most impact to both organizations and Jennifer brings a strong set of skills to this role.”
Most recently, Groce helped organize NIU’s involvement in the Camp Power summer program, connecting more than 100 NIU students, faculty and staff to support the community collaborative program organized by numerous community agencies to assist children living in University Village.
She has also been working with the City of DeKalb on conversations with residents and stakeholders to strategize on neighborhood improvements on the northwest side of campus.
Groce was most recently a research associate specializing in community development at the Center for Governmental Studies. Prior to that, she was executive director of Re:New DeKalb, a role that included managing a $12 million downtown public improvement initiative.
Kaplan said Groce will continue to draw project support from the Center for Governmental Studies and will also interact with the Division of Operations and Community Relations Vice President Bill Nicklas.
“Between the city and the university, we have many people involved in projects aimed at improving quality of life,” Kaplan said. “It’s important for us to have one person connecting the dots so no opportunities are overlooked.”