It is homecoming week on the campus of Northern Illinois University, a special time that connects – and in many cases reconnects – current students and faculty to alumni. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people with a common bond.
Last Friday, university leaders from across NIU gathered at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center for the common purpose of discussing strategies to align to, and operationalize, our mission and vision of being a premier student-centered, research-focused public university with the keystone goal of student career success.
We discussed strategies to move NIU forward using our NIU “triangle map” that connects students, academic programs and our supporting service units to the world outside the university. NIU’s distinguishing roles in research and engagement provide additional opportunities and purpose in connecting each.
The triangle map, which some say is more of a tetrahedron, provides a high-level picture of our strategic and organizational playing field. By mapping our individual unit scenarios and action plans on this field, we further align our individual initiatives and encourage our big-picture awareness of opportunities and direction.
Already we are seeing successes where the triangle is being activated to further student career success.
Last year, the NIU Alumni Association partnered with Career Services to pilot a mentoring program that connects students and alumni. An English First Year Composition pilot that included personal conversations with faculty and students, student tracking, training and peer advocates exponentially extended the level of on-campus and community connections and assisted in increasing our first-to-second-year retention. The University Honors Program worked with the Alumni Association on an externship pilot as well.
The triangle is being used in NIU’s Department of Political Science, which has launched a program that has prominent alums interacting with prospective students through a partnership with admissions. Many of these high-profile alumni are providing their time and talents in a student mentoring program once those students reach their junior and senior years.
Media Services is an example where the triangle has been utilized to provide career experience for videographers and multimedia producers. Recently, at the Castle Challenge, Media Services staff and students mentored high school students in producing a high school football video board presentation for the annual Sycamore-DeKalb game at Huskie Stadium.
NIU programs are literally connecting students and academic programs to the world. For example, senior mechanical engineering major Taylor Dupré had life-changing experiences with Engineers Without Borders. Similarly, four engineering and physics students attended the Industrial Physics Forum conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last week and met with Nobel Laureates. In the College of Education, 18 students traveled to Houston as part of Educate U.S., a new program designed to place junior-level teacher licensure candidates in partner school districts throughout the United States.
Closer to home, examples include the full academic year our pre-service teaching student play in K-12 classrooms and the clinical experience that our students have in the College of Health and Human Sciences. In the College of Law, students have the opportunity to gain valuable experience and enhance professional and client relations skills through the Civil Justice and Juvenile Justice Clinics housed at Rockford’s Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic and the Health Advocacy Clinic in Aurora.
These are just a few of the many examples of where the triangle is already being employed. There is much room to expand upon these successes across the enterprise. Studies show that this type of engagement is a critical factor in lifelong success. It is also a place where alumni and other supporters can help students prepare for their lives and careers through providing internships and mentoring, as well as research opportunities. Those interested in getting involved can volunteer through the Career Services website.
So this homecoming weekend, let’s think about the triangle and put it into action. Students can make valuable connections with alumni in their field through faculty. Alumni can use the opportunity to reconnect with their college and academic programs while meeting current students.
The triangle map is working. Let’s build it into our dynamic and collaborative culture.