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NIU undergrad’s exhibit offers historical look at student engagement

February 18, 2019

Oriana Flores isn’t quite sure how to spend her downtime these days after spending hours upon hours sorting through old photos and article clippings to capture how NIU is “Creating Environments that Matter.”

Praised by all who’ve seen it, Flores’ eye-catching exhibit offers a historical look at how students have been engaged at NIU from the early 1900s through today. The research work was presented on Thursday, Feb. 7, during a presentation of the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement

Oriana Flores

It also will be available during the Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day and Community Engagement Showcase on Wednesday, April 17.

After months of work, Flores’ final exhibit exceeded expectations, even those of Flores, an undergraduate College of Health and Human Sciences student. 

“I cried when I first saw it,” said 22-year-old Flores, who visited the Regional History Center at NIU several times a week and credits employees there, as well as Marketing and Creative Services and Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, with helping her put it all together.

“Everyone was just saying how proud they were of me, and this is an incredible experience,” she said. “I don’t think it’s sunk it yet, what I did. It definitely took a village.”

Flores had worked with Kersh on another research project last year as part of Research Rookies. Over the summer, Kersh asked her if she’d like to be involved in a project to help illustrate the importance of student engagement, providing an illustrative example of the need to take the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement seriously. 

She jumped at the offer, mainly because of how much she enjoys working with Kersh, but also out of interest in the topic.

Flores said she first spent time reading articles to understand exactly what student engagement means and to learn best how to represent it. 

“I think it’s important for people to see that engagement is not just research,” she said. “It’s so much more, it’s Visual and Performing Arts, Athletics, engaging with faculty, being in student organizations.”

Kersh supported Oriana’s assertion, noting, “What a gift it is to be in a profession where we can provide students with experiences that spark their interests, encourage the creative and analytical process and support significant learning.”

Flores worked earnestly to find the best photos, preferring candid shots and old article clippings from the Northern Star to illustrate the topic. 

The experience made her feel more connected to NIU than ever before. A 2015 graduate of Chicago High School for the Arts, Flores transferred to NIU from City Colleges of Chicago. 

“College was always in the stars,” she said, but it wasn’t an easy path. 

Being a first-generation student means, “I’m not only going to school; my family’s going to school,” said Flores, whose dream is to become a family therapist in a hospital setting to help the families of children diagnosed with terminal illness.

Joining Research Rookies was one of the best choices she made, she said, as it gave her a sense of belonging. She’d eventually like to see the exhibit put on permanent display on campus.

“I would love to leave some sort of legacy here at Northern Illinois University’s campus,” she said.

Flores has done more than to leave a legacy, Kersh said. “She has been a lighthouse illuminating the return on investment that comes when we create environments that matter for all students, faculty and staff,” she said.