Gerald Blazey named inaugural chair of Illinois Innovation Network Council

The Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) has named Gerald Blazey, NIU’s vice president for research and innovation partnerships, as chair of its newly formed council.

Northern Illinois University Vice President of Research and Innovation Partnerships Jerry Blazey.

The IIN is a group of 15 university-based hubs across the state that aims to boost Illinois’ economy through entrepreneurship, research, education and workforce development. The IIN Council is the network’s governing body, comprising a representative from each hub.

Blazey was installed as chair along with a slate of officers in late September.

“I’m honored to serve as the inaugural chair of the council, and look forward to working with my colleagues at all the hubs to ensure we realize the full potential of the IIN,” Blazey said. A scientist specializing in high energy particle physics, Blazey has had a distinguished career at NIU, in Washington, D.C., and at Fermilab.

NIU joined the IIN a year ago, when it was announced that the network would include a world-class research center on NIU’s campus targeting food systems, water resources and environmental change.

The Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability (NICCS) will be housed in a $22.9 million facility to be built on a 20-acre section of NIU’s far west campus, just north of the Convocation Center. The facility will be approximately 30,000 square feet and will include classrooms, laboratories and collaboration space for work with other Illinois Innovation Network partners. Construction is expected to take place in 2021 and 2022.

“NICCS is an exciting and important initiative for our university, and the Illinois Innovation Network is a vital enterprise for our state,” NIU President Lisa Freeman said. “I’m thrilled to see Dr. Blazey taking a leadership role with the IIN.”

NIU’s center and those at other regional hubs throughout Illinois will be virtually connected to the network’s centerpiece – the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) in downtown Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System, DPI will be home to more than 100 world-class researchers and thousands of students pursuing economy-building discoveries.

In addition to Blazey, other officers named to the IIN Council include Leslie K. Roundtree, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at Chicago State University; Denise Cobb, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; and Joseph A. Rives, senior vice president for strategic planning and initiatives at Western Illinois University. Kyle Harfst, associate vice president for economic development and innovation for the U of I System, will be the IIN’s executive director.

Bylaws approved by the council establish policies around IIN membership, organizational structure, officers, elections and committees.

“It is so encouraging the way these leaders from the state’s public universities have come together to set the IIN up for success,” said Ed Seidel, University of Illinois System vice president for economic development and innovation, whose office is responsible for development of the IIN and Discovery Partners Institute.

“They have prioritized the development of key programs that address state needs and created a clear organizational framework,” Seidel added. “We have witnessed more cooperation among the state’s public universities in the last two years than many people can remember, and that is very inspiring. The IIN is going to chart a remarkable course forward, which will greatly benefit all of our communities and the entire state of Illinois.”

About the Illinois Innovation Network

The Illinois Innovation Network is a statewide network of 15 university-based hubs that aims to grow the economy through entrepreneurship, research, and workforce development. The IIN will harness the strengths of Illinois’ universities to address gaps within communities and regional economies, working with industry and governmental partners to spark innovation, economic growth and prosperity.

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