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Baker Report: Sparking a university of trailblazers

November 4, 2016

Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, authors of the 2016 book “Generation Z Goes to College,” understand what our current students want from higher education.

“These students are driven by different motivations, learning styles, characteristics, skill sets and social concerns than previous generations,” the book’s inside flap reads. “If colleges and universities are to stay relevant, they must learn to adapt their courses, programs, processes, environments and initiatives.”

Among suggestions for schools in an interview with Campus Technology, the authors advocate that we “draw a tighter connection between learning outcomes and workforce needs” and “expand the use of experiential learning.”

Great news: NIU is already on it – and we’re leading the way.

Our innovative and differentiating NIU PLUS program, something no other institution offers, will ignite the career success prospects of those who participate.

Launched this semester, NIU PLUS empowers students to blaze their own trails through Progressive Learning in Undergraduate Studies.

Students can customize their general education requirements as they explore their interests in and out of the classroom. They can earn transcript notation for engaged learning. They can learn on the job – and, yes, on the clock – through professional development workshops.

NIU PLUS encourages students to make themselves more marketable after graduation by broadening their academic horizons and enriching every moment.

Every learning experience on campus, whether in a classroom, conducting research next to a professor, writing or directing a play or even delivering pizzas, will add incalculable value to these future leaders of our world.

For example, a student with sights on law school who also cares about protecting our planet’s natural resources can begin preparing now for a career as an environmental attorney. How? They can take courses such as Environmental Biology, Pollution Prevention and Sustainable Production and Community-based and Participatory Action Research under the Sustainability Pathway of Academics PLUS – which has six other fascinating pathways.

Hands-on learning activities strengthen the resumes of students who participate in Engage PLUS. We’ve always offered these “beyond the textbook” opportunities, but now we’re officially recognizing them on transcripts.

Meanwhile, students who juggle classes with jobs often are working solely for the money. We recognize that such employment can offer more than a paycheck, however.

Jobs PLUS hosts seminars that not only teach workplace skills more but also facilitate networking with fellow students, alumni and community members. Better yet? Some might enjoy the chance to attend during work hours and still get paid.

I believe that NIU PLUS is an extraordinary program that reinforces our strategic triangle model connecting students and faculty with alumni and stakeholders. NIU PLUS makes our students well-rounded, motivates them to persist in college and gives them an advantage in the job market.

Please know that we’re actively marketing this to prospective Huskies. We want them to see the amazing opportunities that set NIU apart and, eventually, will set them apart.

My thanks to Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman, Vice Provost Anne Birberick and the numerous NIU faculty, staff and students whose hard work contributed to the design and implementation of NIU PLUS.

Go Huskies!