Less than two years after its launch, the Engineering Our Future fundraising campaign to support Northern Illinois University engineering programs on the campus of Rock Valley College (RVC) closed in festive fashion on Thursday, Nov. 9, having exceeded its goal by $1.5 million for a total of $7.5 million.
Academic, business and community leaders gathered at the Woodward Technology Center at RVC to celebrate the success and to dedicate the CLARCOR Center for Innovation, named to honor the Clark Legacy Foundation, which made a $1 million gift to the campaign earlier this year.
“For decades, J.L. Clark, or CLARCOR, has been an industry leader in our region. Their manufacturing facilities have employed many of our residents. They made products that were recognizable across our nation,” said LoRayne Logan, campaign co-chair and vice president of the RVC Foundation Board. “Through the Center for Innovation, this impact will live into the future as the number of engineers available in our region will continue to grow. … It is our hope that this space will serve as a hub of activity, growth and innovation for years to come.”
NIU Engineering @ RVC launched in 2016 and will graduate its first class in the spring. The unique partnership allows students to take classes from the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology on the campus of RVC. Since the program was announced, enrollment in RVC engineering classes has more than tripled, RVC President Doug Jensen said. NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman noted that the program was recognized last month with a national award.
“What we are doing here in Rockford is a new benchmark not only for us regionally but also as a national model of excellence,” Freeman said. “This year, NIU Engineering @RVC was recognized by the University Economic Development Association with its prestigious Award of Excellence in Talent and Place Development.”
Sagar Patel, campaign chairman and president of aircraft turbine systems at Woodward, emphasized the importance of NIU, RVC and regional employers working together.
“When we work together as a region, really big things can happen,” he said. “I hope what we take away today is that we can collaborate. The collaboration concept is very simple, but it’s very hard to do.”
The program was launched in part to meet the demands of manufacturers in the Rockford area who were clamoring for a homegrown workforce with the qualifications to excel in today’s high-tech industries. Ten area companies currently offer paid internships to NIU Engineering @ RVC students, fdand at least 25 more have expressed interest in hiring interns from the program, Jensen said. The goal is for every student in the program to have the opportunity to intern at a local company.
“Industry involvement in this type of academic enterprise, especially for engineering, is essential,” NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Dean Donald Peterson said. “Our partnerships with industry are what make our students able to go out and hit the ground running and be productive engineers. Industry partnerships are absolutely invaluable when it comes to the success of our students.”
Jon Bates, president of the Community Foundation for Northern Illinois, was on hand to announce that the RVC Foundation has raised $1.5 million in scholarship funds for Engineering Our Future. The Community Foundation has agreed to match those donations dollar-for-dollar to create a $3 million permanent endowment to provide scholarships to RVC and NIU Engineering @ RVC students. Donations to the scholarship fund continue to be sought in order to grow the number of scholarships available.