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Baker Report: Research roundtable and policy discussions on the ‘Hill’

July 23, 2013
Douglas D. Baker

Douglas D. Baker

Greetings from our nation’s capital.  Yesterday I was busy hosting NIU’s first-ever research roundtable, which highlighted the strength and quality of faculty and student research to our nation’s leaders. Thank you to our entire delegation of researchers, students, and administrators for making the day a success.

It is our goal to become the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest.  Our faculty is made up of exceptional educators focused on student career success, yet they are also top researchers who work closely with the Illinois business community, Argonne and Fermilab, other research universities and community colleges to collaborate on both basic and applied research.

Student career success has to be the keystone to all we do at NIU.   Students must leave NIU well equipped to find and excel in jobs in their chosen fields. That means providing them with the technical and life skills within their majors to be successful. We must ensure that we provide a strong academic foundation that teaches critical thinking and communications skills and the ability to work as a part of and lead teams. They need the whole package to succeed.

Research is an extremely important part of what we do at NIU. We need to maintain our commitment to basic research that expands the knowledge frontier, but we must also focus on applied research tied to community wellbeing.

Increasing opportunities for engaged learning is one of the best ways to achieve the goal of student career success.  Internships, studying abroad, volunteerism, undergraduate research – all of these things have the potential to provide transformational learning experiences.

Going forward, NIU’s 146,000 alums who are Illinois residents, can play a major role in helping students find and take advantage of engaged learning experiences.  NIU’s alumni base in the region is one of our greatest assets. They can be a tremendous help at all points in the NIU experience. They can help us attract students to NIU, help new students assimilate to campus culture, act as mentors, provide internships and networking opportunities and, ultimately even job prospects.

As it is, NIU alums make a significant impact economically within the State each year – they earn $4 billion in wages, create $8 billion in GDP for the State of Illinois and contribute more than $200 million to the state’s general revenue fund in taxes.

One of our major goals is to expand NIU’s already extensive partnerships throughout the region, seeking out many more opportunities for faculty and students to help communities identify and solve.  It has always been part of NIU’s mission to serve the region and I want to redouble our efforts.  Whenever possible, engaged learning opportunities should focus on community involvement both for faculty and students.  What I love about this afternoon’s roundtable is that we have three very different types of projects in which NIU faculty and staff are engaged, all of which involve applying their expertise and skills for the betterment of the people of Illinois.

Today I am meeting members of the Illinois delegation on the Hill.  While I definitely want to share NIU’s thoughts about such pressing public policy issues as immigration reform and student loan interest rates, I also am looking forward to exploring with Illinois’ legislators expanding opportunities for NIU faculty, staff and students to lend their expertise to the myriad public policy issues facing the nation, state and northern Illinois region.  Expanding research and engagement opportunities will be the focus of our efforts going forward as we work with the Illinois delegation and Hill and agency staff and program directors.

We have aggressive goals at NIU, and it will take contributions from many in order to reach them.