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Things are looking up in Rockford

June 4, 2015

Airfest2015-Logo-horizontal[1]Look for Northern Illinois University at the 2015 Rockford AirFest this weekend, June 6-7, at the Rockford-Chicago International Airport. NIU will have a booth in the expo area of the show and will provide visitors university information as well as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Outreach demonstrations.

NIU’s participation in the air show is a natural fit, given the university’s history of engagement in the region and contributions to the region’s aerospace industry in particular.

“NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has partnered with numerous Rockford companies to influence innovation, productivity, profitability,” says NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Dean Promod Vohra. “NIU played a key role in the development of the Rockford Area Aerospace Network (RAAN) and Joint Institute of Engineering and Technology in Aerospace (JiET-A), and we are once again demonstrating NIU’s commitment to the aerospace industry and to Rockford.”

NIU’s Office of Regional Engagement in Rockford serves as a hub for NIU’s many activities in the region. Faculty and staff from multiple colleges and divisions across the university are collaborating with local companies in a variety of ways to advance the community’s economic development goals and meet workforce development goals.

Rena Cotsones, associate vice president for engagement and innovation partnerships, recently shared some outcomes of NIU’s engagement efforts in the region as part of an Illinois Innovation Day event in Springfield.   NIU’s collaborative efforts in Rockford have influenced the following outcomes:

  • 3,000 jobs ($70K avg.) and $300 million investment by Woodward;
  • Renewed focus on STEM education in schools and universities, tied to local high-tech employment opportunities;
  • Clear educational/experiential pathways for students, start-ups and businesses;
  • Higher level of engagement between higher education and local manufacturers and increased understanding of high-tech workforce needs;
  • Enhanced opportunities to link venture development and product development with university expertise and resources; and
  • Collaborative, assets-based approach to regional innovation, economic and workforce development and global competitiveness.

“NIU and its partners have produced excellent outcomes and we have a number of initiatives underway to continue the momentum we have helped create for economic development in the region,” Cotsones says.  “With the recent development of the NIU EIGERlab Innovation Network, we are also helping to expand and link the region’s innovation and entrepreneurship activity to the state and national innovation ecosystem.”

NIU’s successful 2+2 program has streamlined the path for students to receive associate’s degrees at Rock Valley College and transition to baccalaureate engineering degree completion at NIU, helping to build the pipeline of qualified workers in high-tech manufacturing.

In total, NIU has produced approximately 14,000 alumni that reside in greater Rockford.

“We are very proud of our graduates working in Rockford and of their ability to impact manufacturing in the region,” Vohra adds.

As the theme of the air show references, “Things are looking up in Rockford.”

RELATED VIDEO: NIU partners in Rockford to boost pipeline of local aerospace talent (2012)