Rockford aerospace initiative wins national award

NIU JiETA photo

A program aimed at accelerating the engineering and high-tech workforce for Rockford’s burgeoning aerospace industry won a national award this week at the University Economic Development Association’s annual summit in Santa Fe, N.M.

Logo of JiET-A (Joint Institute of Engineering & Technology-AerospaceJiET-A, or the Joint Institute for Engineering and Technology – Aerospace, is an innovative partnership among aerospace businesses, higher education institutions, and students in the Rockford area. JiET-A is one of the most significant collaborative initiatives arising from the NIU-led Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (JIAC) grant work in support of the aerospace cluster.

In addition to helping students map out an academic and career path into the aerospace industry, JiET-A partners offer high-quality internships and mentoring that allow graduates to move seamlessly into the aerospace workforce. More than 100 students have been accepted into the program since its inception and nearly 30 have been placed in integrated internships with Rockford’s UTC Aerospace Systems, Woodward and B/E Aerospace.

ueda logoNIU initiated the nomination and accepted the UEDA’s Award for Excellence in Talent Development on behalf of the JiET-A partners, including Rockford-area higher education institutions and economic development and workforce development organizations. Established in 1976, UEDA is the cornerstone membership organization representing higher education, private sector and community economic development stakeholders.

Accepting the award was Rena Cotsones, NIU’s associate vice president for engagement and innovation partnerships. Cotsones serves as chair of the JiET-A governing board, and underscored the importance of collaboration among public and private entities.

Rena Cotsones
Rena Cotsones

“A project like this doesn’t happen without a group of dedicated people coming together to figure out how we can do something together that is far greater than any of us can do on our own,” she told the 200 university economic development leaders at the UEDA Awards ceremony. “The success of this initiative is affirmation of the power of collaboration.”

In addition to NIU, JiET-A partners include the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, EIGERlab, Rock Valley College, Rockford University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Rockford public schools, Belvidere public schools, Kishwaukee College, the Northern Illinois Workforce Alliance, the Boone-Winnebago Regional Office of Education, and a number of the region’s major aerospace companies. UTC Aerospace Systems has given special leadership support to the initiative since its inception. Bill Kroll was the founding executive director of JiET-A and Dan Malaney has recently assumed that leadership position.

Jeff Kaney speaks with NIU President Doug Baker and Promod Vohra
Jeff Kaney speaks with NIU President Doug Baker and Dean Promod Vohra

“Aerospace is the crown jewel of Rockford’s emerging industries,” said Promod Vohra, NIU’s dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, which is ranked 41st in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. “With 30,000 new planes forecast to be delivered in the next 20 years, we must collaborate to produce the workforce that’s needed, and JiET-A is already making inroads into that challenge.”

Jeff Kaney, CEO of the Kaney Group and chairman of the Rockford Area Aerospace Network (RAAN), echoed Vohra’s sentiments.

“The collaborative work that has occurred over the last few years in support of the Rockford aerospace cluster has had a tremendous impact,” Kaney said. “This national award confirms what we already know – that Rockford works best when we work together.”

Awards for engagement and innovation efforts are not new to NIU. Last year, the university was recognized for its collaboration in the area of regional economic development. Weeks after it designated NIU as an “Innovation and Economic Prosperity University,” the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) named NIU the winner of its inaugural “Place” award for “excelling in community, social, and cultural development work.”

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