Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker provided a roadmap for a bold future for NIU in the face of the state’s challenging financial picture during his keynote speech at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s final monthly General Membership Luncheon of 2013 Monday.
The luncheon audience of hundreds of chamber members listened attentively as President Baker outlined his administration’s vision of student career success, the “one main thing” expected to sustain and advance NIU and its campus community in today’s rapidly changing modern world.
“In my estimation, at NIU, the one thing we need to focus on is student CAREER success,” Baker said to the audience, which included a number of NIU alumni.
He said paid internships are the single-most important thing that predicts whether students will get a job after graduation–more important than their grade-point-average, their school or their area of study–and called on the 225,000 NIU alumni in the business community to mentor students and assist in their networking. That message was not new to alumni in the audience, including 2012 graduate Kyle Kliebhan, who works for a hotel management company that runs Marriott and Hilton properties in Warrenville.
“Dr. Baker sends out a weekly email, and I love that. It’s really connected the community and the alums with the university,” Kliebahn said. “Just by being here and talking about his pillars, telling us what we need to be doing as alums and members of the community, that’s great. That’s what we need, and for me being a graduate, that’s what I want as well.”
“So often those in higher education talk about student success; they want students to come to the university and graduate, but that seems to fall a little bit short,” Baker continued, noting a number of college graduates are unemployed and end up moving back home with their parents. “It would be nice if they had a highly-marketable degree and had people knocking at their doors offering them jobs.”
Three more pillars – Ethically Inspired Leadership, Thriving Communities and NIU Financial and Program Viability – support the president’s vision to make NIU “an incredible place” not only intellectually, culturally and socially but economically and physically. Baker wants to make the campus community truly global, with ample opportunity to study abroad along with a vibrant international student population that enhances the learning environment of the DeKalb campus.
He told the group that NIU recently hosted a delegation of 23 leaders from Chinese higher education institutions to explore partnerships and course articulation between the institutions. He said these types of partnerships would provide great experiences for NIU graduates in the global marketplace.
Lauren Diehl, director of sales and marketing for the Naperville Chamber of Commerce, graduated from NIU’s Professional MBA program Sunday, and she also received her bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Northern in 2010. As part of her MBA coursework, she studied in Paris, France, and Barcelona, Spain.
“My Professional MBA program was a one-year program that I did while working full-time, so it was just a fabulous experience for me being able to do that while still being in the workplace simultaneously. It was a great benefit to be learning while having those experiences inside the workplace,” Diehl said.
“Making that trip to Europe, we got to visit Barcelona and Paris and visit several different companies–like HP and Adobe–where we got to learn more about international business from those experiences,” she continued. “It was truly fabulous.”
Baker’s blueprint requires collaboration, integration and perhaps most significantly, a change in university culture, which is already underway. He described the series of focus groups and workshops involving key stakeholder groups that were held during the last six months in order to “unleash the Huskies.” Baker was surprised to find an alumni participant from one of those events in the audience.
Chamber member Danielle Eisenach graduated from Northern in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Organizational/Corporate Communications. She is now the owner of two businesses—Stargazer Events and Red Devil & Associates. She was part of one of the alumni focus groups held in Naperville that talked about their experiences, branding and the future direction for NIU.
“As a person who does marketing, that was exciting,” Eisenach said. “I think it’s really exciting that he’s got a lot of passion in making sure the university excels and thrives. He’s interested in bringing in new students—the right students—and making sure that those students become successful.”
Baker referenced the Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative of the American Association of Colleges and Universities as a key priority in making sure students’ baccalaureate experience includes key competencies needed in today’s business world. LEAP advocates for general education courses to provide students with fundamental skills in critical thinking, cultural literacy, numeracy, writing and communication. This re-imagining of the liberal arts education coursework is key to student career success as NIU moves forward.
Reaction to Baker’s appearance was positive, and he spent approximately a half hour after the event ended speaking individually with members of the audience.
“It was very good, and he did a great job of developing relationships in the room,” Kliebahn added.
“Anytime I go to any sort of event, I find another Huskie in the room,” Eisenach said. “I never thought when I was at NIU that afterward I would be so proud of where I went and carry that with me. It’s so cool.”
Naperville is an important part of the Northern Illinois service region, as it is home to one of the university’s three regional education centers. It is also home to more than 4,200 alumni and nearly 600 current students.
Previous presenters at the Naperville Chamber of Commerce General Membership Luncheon have included United States National Security Advisor James L. Jones, motivational expert Steve Beck, former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Thomas Donohue, and noted futurist Rebecca Ryan. Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel will present the annual State of the City address next month.