Alumni integral to building the future for honors students

To prepare students for a competitive job market, the University Honors Program is connecting alumni with students and expanding career-related experiences for its students.

To ensure that honors students get opportunities that prepare them for a career, they are now required to utilize EngagePLUS, Northern Illinois University’s program that allows students to gain experience in areas such as leadership, jobs, volunteering and research.

“For each experience that is added to a résumé, the student must put in 80 hours or more in that experience,” said Todd Gilson, director of the University Honors Program, which is comprised of 1,015 students.

Another new advantage for honors students is guaranteed admission in 15 graduate programs on campus, and more degrees are expected to be added in the near future.

Less than a dozen programs in the country are built like the new University Honors Program, which was revamped this fall, Gilson said.

Through a partnership with the NIU Alumni Association, the program continues to offer externships to students during winter break. An externship allows students to shadow an alumnus or alumna at work so they can network and experience the job responsibilities. This opportunity also helps students determine whether they want to pursue a career in the field.

Alumni can fill out a brief profile to indicate their interest in offering an externship or to volunteer in other ways.

“Students want to be connected to alumni, to the people that they want to be in five, 10 or 15 years,” Gilson said.

While alumni help students build social networks, they also benefit as volunteers because they are accessing a pipeline to the best and brightest students in all majors.

Like other institutions, NIU offers scholarships, priority registration, small class sizes and a living-learning community (a residential area for students with similar academic interests) to honors students.

To improve the scholarship process, alumni are needed to review applications from honors students. Faculty and staff will continue to review scholarships, but Gilson wants to involve alumni so each application can be reviewed more than once.

This is an opportunity for alumni to serve as an outside lens so they can connect with great students and help NIU in the process, Gilson said.

Alumni can sign up online to volunteer to become a scholarship reviewer and will be provided with online training so they can review applications from home.

There are many ways to volunteer to support NIU and the student experience. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit the NIU Alumni Association website or contact Liz McKee at lmckee1@niu.edu or 815-753-7400.

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