Nutrition and dietetics program takes part in new Northwestern Medicine Performance Center

The new Northwestern Medicine Performance Center.

Northern Illinois University Athletics officially dedicated the Northwestern Medicine Performance Center and Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association of NIU Nutrition Center Wednesday morning in front of a gathering of university and community dignitaries, NIU coaches and Huskie student-athletes.

“This is a watershed moment for NIU Athletics,” said NIU Associate Vice-President and Director of Athletics Sean T. Frazier. “It’s a remarkably positive turning point. Our students are job one, we are student-centered. This kicks the door down in terms of the student-athlete experience – in mind, body and spirit.”

The Northwestern Medicine Performance Center addresses three aspects of student-athlete welfare – physical improvements to the NIU strength and conditioning area in the Yordon Center, the addition of  the Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association of NIU Nutrition Center in the Barsema Hall of Champions which will serve all Huskie student-athletes nutritional needs, and an increased emphasis and programming in the area of mental health.

NIU President Lisa Freeman referenced the key partnerships that made the Northwestern Medicine Performance Center & Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association of NIU Nutrition Center a reality.

“This would not happen without strong relationships, Huskie pride and bonds in the Huskie family that transcend time and transcend the walls of the university,” Freeman said. “From the leadership of Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association, who know that having strong athletics makes us stronger in the community, to the partnership with Northwestern Medicine. As the two largest employers in our region, NIU and Northwestern Medicine, working together, have the ability to move everyone forward – the health system, the university and our larger community.”

The Northwestern Medicine Performance Center name is prominently displayed upon entering and inside the weight room, where new inlayed platforms provide a safer setting for all 17 Huskie teams and 400 student-athletes to make physical improvements.

Jay Anderson, President of Northwestern Medicine, said the emphasis on developing the total student-athlete is realized with the completion of the Northwestern Medicine Performance Center.

“The nutrition program, this performance center, with the combination of the performance team, the nutrition team, and the medical team together, that’s the key to success,” Anderson said. “That’s the way for us to really be an elite program – this performance center is that important. We’re doing this because we believe in this program, and we’re just as excited as everybody else with regards to this program. We’re excited for all the teams this is going to serve.”

The creation of the Nutrition Center will positively impact every NIU student-athlete as well, providing healthy nutrition options throughout the day as student-athletes go from workouts to class, from study tables to practice.  The involvement of campus partners, like Campus Dining Services and the College of Health and Human Sciences, will add staffing who will educate student-athletes on nutrition and dietary information, meal planning and more.

Ken Ebersold, President of the Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association of NIU, believes the partnership between the Greek alumni organization and NIU Athletics may be the first of its kind nationally.

“It is unheard of for a fraternity alumni association, I believe, to do something like this,” Ebersold said. “To have the wherewithal, the leadership that we have had over our 50 years here [at NIU] for a fraternity alumni association to do what we have just done, and partnering with Northwestern Medicine, in my mind is unprecedented. Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association takes great pride that for over 10 years, we, as a Greek organization, have been a supporter of the NIU foundation and athletics. With this additional level of support, we will continue to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to NIU students.”

Huskie coaches were just as enthusiastic about the impact on current and prospective NIU student-athletes.

“This facility and the services that it provides for our student athletes puts them in a position to perform at an elite level,” said NIU women’s basketball head coach Lisa Carlsen. “Being able to provide the necessary fueling and consistent fueling that our kids need in order to train the way we need to train them is what this facility is going to provide. From a recruiting standpoint, from a coaching standpoint, we couldn’t be more excited to continue to be able to get to the next level and train our kids the way we know we need to in order to bring championships to NIU.”

The College of Health and Human Sciences, under the direction of Dean Derryl Block, will play a role on the nutrition education and dietetics area.  Frazier was thankful for that partnership which illustrates the symbiosis between athletics and academics at NIU.

“Through the campus partnership with Dean Block and Josephine Umoren in Health and Human Sciences, we will be able to provide students in the areas of nutrition and dietetics with significant experience, using athletics as a tool of education,” Frazier said. “This component and these partnerships put a stamp on the fact that we are a part of the mission and more importantly we’re providing services for our students for the future.”

Addressing the mental health component will be a joint project of NIU Athletics staff in collaboration with Northwestern Medicine, as they will work together to provide mental health services and support.

“We all know that we’re dealing with a real epidemic on mental health and the crisis around mental health issues and support for our students,” Frazier said.  “What we’re doing with this performance center specifically is having education, and, more importantly, joint programming both with Phi Sig and Northwestern Medicine. We’re going to drill down on what those issues are and provide those level of services. We need them in DeKalb, we need them at NIU, and most importantly, we need to be able to help our young people through these tough times.”

All 17 of NIU’s teams will have access to both the upgraded weight room, the nutrition center and and the mental health programming and components. This project highlights the beginning phase of a multi-year plan to enhance NIU student-athlete welfare.

In all, NIU received commitments totaling more than half a million dollars toward the Northwestern Medicine Performance Center & Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association of NIU Nutrition Center, which is the third major project from NIU Athletics’ Campaign to Sustain to be realized, joining the gymnastics pit and Nelson Suite renovation that was completed this winter.

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