Work to raise $6 million in support off the NIU Engineering Program at Rock Valley College is off to a good start.
Nearly $3 million already has been committed to the Engineering Our Future campaign, RVC President Mike Mastroianni cheered during a Tuesday afternoon kickoff event in Rockford that attracted captains of industry, elected officials and community leaders.
Finances are needed for capital renovations to RVC’s Woodward Technology Center, instructional support for NIU professors and scholarships for students.
The Woodward Charitable Trust has pledged $2 million, Mastroianni said. Significant leadership gifts also have come from the Stenstrom Foundation, which is providing $400,000, of which $300,000 will fund scholarships; and the Bergstrom Foundation.
Jon Bates, president of the Community Foundation for Northern Illinois, took the podium to announce that his organization will match each dollar given to the campaign – up to $1.5 million – for scholarships.
Campaign chairman Sagar Patel, president of Aircraft Turbine Systems at Woodward, said the gathering marked an “historic day” for the Forest City.
“The unthinkable is happening. We have our own bachelor’s in engineering program,” Patel said. “Engineers are at the core of innovation and economic competitiveness in America.”
First announced last August, Rock Valley College and NIU will begin this fall to offer a program where students can earn their associate degree in engineering from RVC and go on to earn a bachelor’s in engineering from NIU, all on the RVC campus in Rockford.
Graduate students also can earn NIU master’s degrees in engineering at RVC.
“Over the years, we’ve had a number of great partnerships, and on several occasions those partnerships have involved Northern Illinois University. But this is our most ambitious project yet,” Mastroianni said.
“If this were solely a partnership between RVC and NIU to bring four-year engineering degrees to Rockford, that alone would be a major accomplishment, but this is more than that,” he added.
“Thanks to our industry partners – especially Woodward and UTC Aerospace Systems – our students can not only earn four-year engineering degrees from great RVC and NIU faculty, in state-of-the-art facilities right here at this campus, but they also have internship opportunities and career pathways to some of the largest and most innovative aerospace companies in the world, right here in Rockford.”
NIU President Doug Baker told the crowd that he’s proud and grateful for everything that’s been accomplished in such a short time, saying none of it would be possible without Mastroianni.
“He’s a person we trust,” Baker said. “He’s doing this the right way.”
Bradley Robison would agree.
Robison, who graduated from Machesney Park’s Harlem High School in 2014, will earn an associate degree in Engineering Sciences from RVC this spring. He is excited to become an NIU Huskie in the fall – but not in DeKalb.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Why do you want to enroll in the program? Don’t you want to go away and get the college experience?’ My answers to those questions were really quite simple,” said Robison, who is also working as an intern at Woodward.
“I can stay at home. I don’t have to move away from my family. I don’t have to pay for room and board. I can continue to get on-the-job experience working at Woodward, which is something that is so vital nowadays,” he added.
“Also the affordability of the program is fantastic. I don’t know where else you’re going to be able to find a four-year mechanical engineering degree program for maybe less than $50,000.”
Providing “incredible opportunities” for students like Robison is what’s important to the Rock Valley College Foundation Board, President Robert Stenstrom said.
“From the very beginning, the RVC Foundation has played a lead role in helping to make this great partnership possible. It represents our biggest and most ambitious campaign in the history of the college. Most gratifying is how our industry partners have stepped up to make this project possible,” Stenstrom said.
“We are excited to do it because this project will mean so much to our area’s economy and industry,” he added. “Most importantly, it will provide incredible opportunities for our students. Whether they are fresh out of high school, or coming back for more education to further their career, this is a program that meets students where they are at.”
Mike Dunn Jr., a Rock Valley College trustee, encouraged more financial support.
“You’re investing in a very good thing,” Dunn said. “It’s a good investment for the residents of this community. It’s a good investment in industry. It’s a good investment in our students.”
It’s also a good investment in the future, something many speakers reinforced – Promod Vohra, dean of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, the most enthusiastic among them.
“This is a dream. This is an empowerment of your community. This is the future we’re going to leave for our children,” Vohra said. “Let’s change Rockford one engineer at a time.”
Campaign co-chair LoRayne Logan, president of workplace and vice president of the RVC Foundation Board, spoke of the “stories” written by engineers and innovators of the past.
“Allow us to create new stories,” Logan said, smiling over the jobs that come with those and the better lives they provide for families. “Once again, we will be a place on the map.”
Robison shares that goal.
“I know there’s a ton of people that would love to either finish their four-year degree if they have their associate’s, or who maybe might be working full time to support a family who would love to get that engineering degree and move up in their career path at whatever company they’re at,” Robison said.
“Education is the most important asset a person can have. Education is what creates a cure. It develops technology. It creates a solution to a complex problem it innovates the world, and that’s what I want to help do in Rockford,” he said. “I want to innovate Rockford and make it the No. 1 manufacturing capitol of the world like it used to be many, many years before my time.”
To support the Engineering Our Future campaign, contact Susan Glenn, vice president and chief development officer of the RVC Foundation, at (815) 921-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.