Northern Illinois University President Douglas Baker addressed a large Radisson Hotel and Conference Center audience at Thursday’s Rockford Chamber of Commerce luncheon, focusing on the important role of higher education in regional transformation.
“I asked people at NIU to point me toward the best examples of where the university is actively engaged with the community, and everyone said, ‘you’ve got to go to Rockford,’” Baker told the crowd, citing numerous examples where NIU is making a positive impact, including the following:
- NIU’s Office for Regional Engagement in Rockford and its ambitious engagement agenda for working with partners to increase educational attainment and drive innovation;
- The many successful partnerships between the NIU College of Education and Rockford Public Schools over many years;
- The millions of dollars in federal funding and technical expertise that the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology helps bring to the community in support of manufacturing;
- The Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic in downtown Rockford, run by the NIU College of Law, houses the Civil Justice Clinic and Juvenile Justice Clinic; and
- NIU’s partnership with and involvement in EIGERlab.
President Baker spoke about his recent trip to Washington, D.C. for the White House College Opportunity Day of Action with Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools Eheren Jarrett. Baker noted that low graduation rates can slow down economic development in Rockford and talked about the commitments the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network is making to promote completion, create K-16 partnerships around college readiness, invest in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The Northern Illinois P-20 Network is making the following six commitments as part of this effort:
- Develop a comprehensive menu of financial literacy activities for P-20 students and families;
- Assess student support services to identify gaps and develop needed interventions;
- Embark on a regional peer mentoring initiative for 400 high-need pre-college and freshman students with 80 trained peer mentors;
- Conduct economic and workforce metadata analysis of workplace shortages and emerging career needs;
- Create new courses aligned with the new Illinois Learning Standards through faculty-to-faculty dialogue, creating shared expectations and aligning course content and rigor; and
- Increase enrollment of adult learners.
Baker said local community members and educators working together can be a catalyst for change, and he cited Transform Rockford as an example.
“It’s mutually beneficial for our students to have life-transforming experiences here in Rockford, learning from the teachers and the students here in the local community,” Baker told reporters at the luncheon.