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Baker Report: Reflecting on an exciting year

May 2, 2014

NIU President Doug D. BakerFriday is reading day on Northern Illinois University’s DeKalb campus—a day used by students to review all they have learned over the course of the year in preparation for final exams next week. As the semester comes to a close, I, too, have had a chance to look back on this past year. It has been an exciting year of change and development.

Over the past 10 months, Northern Illinois University stakeholders have shared their time, talents and experiences in our Bold Futures initiatives. Their input has been invaluable in identifying key areas for NIU to move from good to great in providing the best possible student experience that supports student career success.

Last week, we got to see what happens when we unleash our community with a common goal. The power of these ideas was on display at our Big Bold Event, and the results of their work are viewable online. By working together, many of these ideas can be turned into reality.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have welcomed to campus three finalists in our search for an executive vice president and provost, and we hope to have an announcement in the near future. Thank you to acting executive vice president and provost Lisa Freeman for her outstanding leadership this year.

We are undergoing exciting changes in our academic affairs. The NIU PLUS Task Force is reviewing feedback regarding its proposals in the areas of general education, baccalaureate experience, high impact practices and electronic portfolios. The members have worked hard to re-envision NIU’s baccalaureate experience to blend academic, technical and critical-thinking skills so that students are ready to thrive in the rapidly changing world of work. Our graduates will be prepared to be lifelong learners and able to identify and shape the opportunities of the future.

As our graduates’ opportunities will occur in a global economy, we have made international affairs a priority at NIU to ensure all of our students have worldly perspectives to succeed in their careers. We are also working aggressively to increase our international student enrollment to further diversify our campus and the perspectives we discuss in and out of our classrooms and labs. Yesterday we held a Global NIU Summit focused on ways we can provide welcoming academic and community environment for international students, enhancing the global makeup of our main campus. My thanks to the global affairs faculty and staff for their hard work throughout the year to move us forward.

An 11-person Higher Learning Commission site team visited campus in early March, culminating years of work and self-study related to reaccreditation. The site team expressed confidence in NIU’s culture of assessment and avenues of institutional change. We hope to receive the team’s positive final report in the coming weeks.

Last night my wife, Dana, and I welcomed the faculty award winners into our home to thank them for their outstanding teaching, research, and outreach activities. We are blessed to have outstanding faculty who change students’ lives and extend the boundaries of knowledge every day. Our gratitude goes out to them.

On Monday we celebrated the “Victors,” recognizing the many achievements of our student-athletes. It was an unforgettable year with an undefeated football team in the regular season; Jordan Lynch finishing No. 3 in Heisman Trophy voting, the highest-ever MAC finisher; the volleyball team advancing to the MAC Tournament semis for the fourth straight year; the basketball squads advancing to Cleveland and the men’s team posting a 10-win improvement; and for the first time ever, NIU took the MAC regular season tennis crown.  We also have one of the highest graduation rates in our NCAA division.  We do it the right way.

Saturday, I will be participating in a town hall meeting held by DeKalb Mayor John Rey regarding plans to work together to strengthen the bridge between NIU, downtown and the community. These are important discussions in creating a sense of place—for NIU students, employees and alumni in town as well as for community members on our campus. Together, we can make NIU and the community an even better place.

Wishing our students all the best in their final exams.

Forward Together,